How Much Debt Will You Have After Nursing School?

by

Published December 15, 2022

check mark Reviewed by

Our Integrity Network

NurseJournal.org is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.

Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:

  • Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
  • Provide specific, corrective feedback.
  • Identify critical information that writers may have missed.

Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for NurseJournal.org as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Explore our full list of Integrity Network members.

Most nurses require student loans to complete their education. Find out how you can reduce your upfront costs and pay down loans faster.
mini logo
NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Nurse typing on laptop in a cafe with books and a coffee Credit: FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute professional financial advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this website should contact a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.


Nearly three-quarters of nursing students graduate with student loan debt. Nursing student loans are the largest source of funding to cover rising tuition bills. Nursing student loan debt is also one of the largest financial burdens faced by working families.

Candidates can lower their nursing student loan debt by taking several steps to reduce their upfront costs. Explore the average nursing school debt, nursing student loan forgiveness, and tips for paying off nursing school debt.

The Cost of Nursing School

The average tuition and fees in 2020-2021 for a two-year associate program for first-time, full-time undergraduate students ranged from $3,900 per year for a public program to $18,000 per year for a private nonprofit school.

Students attending a four-year bachelor program could expect to pay from $9,400 per year for a public school to $37,600 for a private nonprofit program. The average cost of a master's degree in a science field was $62,300.

Several factors influence the cost of a nursing program and subsequently nursing school debt. These include whether the program is at a public or private institution, the length of the program, the cost per credit hour, and if the student is in state or out of state.

Reducing the Upfront Cost of Nursing School

Nursing school candidates have options to lower the upfront cost of their program by exploring their eligibility for nursing scholarships, grants, and employer tuition reimbursement programs.

It is crucial that nurses pay close attention to the details in a tuition reimbursement contract offered by their employer. These often require the nurse to work for the institution for a period of time after accepting the payment.

Featured Online RN-to-BSN in Nursing Programs

How Much Loan Debt Do Nursing Students Have?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracks the average debt for individuals graduating with associate and bachelor's degrees. The average debt of students graduating during the 2017-2018 academic year from any two-year program was $23,500.

The average debt in the same academic year from any four-year program was $30,200. Students attending a public school averaged lower loan debt and those attending private institutions generally had more debt.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing found that 69% of students attending a graduate-level program took out federal student loans. The median level of nursing student loan debt at the completion of the program ranged from $40,000-$54,900.

The U.S. Department of Education's (ED) College Scorecard tracks school- and program-specific data, including debt accrued by graduates. We compiled the numbers for median loan debt across hundreds of nursing programs in the U.S. The most recent data looks at cohorts of students who graduated from 2017-2019.

Note: The following data only accounts for direct and grad PLUS loans from the federal government. It does not include debt from private loans or other federal loans, such as parent PLUS.

Median Direct Loan Debt for Associate Nursing Programs
(Across 699 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Median Loan Debt
97 Up to $10,000
511 $10,000-$20,000
89 $20,000-$30,000
2 Over $30,000

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Median Direct Loan Debt for Nursing Bachelor's Programs
(Across 867 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Median Loan Debt
14 Up to $10,000
281 $10,000-$20,000
530 $20,000-$30,000
41 $30,000-$40,000
1 Over $40,000

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Median Direct and Grad PLUS Loan Debt for Nursing Master's Programs
(Across 383 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Median Loan Debt
245 Up to $50,000
111 $50,000-$100,000
25 $100,000-$150,000
2 Over $150,000

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Median Direct and Grad PLUS Loan Debt for Nursing Doctoral Programs
(Across 96 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Median Loan Debt
20 Up to $50,000
61 $50,000-$100,000
12 $100,000-$150,000
3 Over $150,000

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

These are median measures of nursing student debt. This means that your debt can vary depending on several factors. The cost of your nursing program, how much you can work during school, how much you need to borrow, and the amount of financial aid you receive all influence your nursing loan debt.

Paying Off Nursing School Debt

It takes the average borrower 20 years to pay off their student loan debt. For some professional graduate students, it can take roughly 45 years to pay off their undergraduate and graduate student loans.

Several factors impact the time line of nursing student loan repayment programs. For example, students who can pay more on the principal of the loan each month can significantly shorten the time to completely repay the loan.

A nurse's ability to repay their nursing student loan debt depends on their living expenses, salary, the interest rate on the loan, the established monthly payment, and eligibility for loan forgiveness programs. Nurses may also shorten the repayment period by refinancing the loan if they find a lower interest rate.

How Much Do Nursing Graduates Earn?

Nursing is a stable career and offers graduates opportunities to find employment in hospitals, clinics, businesses, schools, and community centers. Salary varies depending on where a nurse works, the geographical location, and the nurse's experience.

Nurses can negotiate for a higher salary when they are certified to care for a specific population or have experiences that may positively influence patient care. The following tables highlight the average hourly pay a nurse may expect based on their years of experience and practice.

Sources: Payscale, December 2022; Payscale, December 2022

Monthly Student Loan Payments

College Scorecard calculates estimated monthly payments required to pay off direct student loan debt over a 10-year period. Based on a fixed payment plan and current interest rates, a majority of associate degree-holders would need to pay between $100-$200 a month; bachelor's degree-holders, $200-$300 a month; master's degree-holders, $200-$500 a month; and doctoral degree-holders, $500-$1,000 a month.

You can use the ED's federal student aid loan simulator to calculate your own estimated monthly payments.

Median Estimated Monthly Payments for Nursing Associate Programs
(Across 699 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Estimated Payments
97 Up to $100
511 $101-200
89 $201-$300
2 More than $300

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Median Estimated Monthly Payments for Nursing Bachelor's Programs
(Across 867 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Estimated Payments
14 Up to $100
282 $101-200
529 $201-$300
41 $301-$400
1 More than $400

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Median Estimated Monthly Payments for Nursing Master's Programs
(Across 383 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Estimated Payments
213 Up to $500
139 $501-$1,000
24 $1,001-$1,500
7 $1,501-$2,000

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Median Estimated Monthly Payments for Nursing Doctoral Programs
(Across 96 Public and Private, Nonprofit Schools)
Number of Programs Estimated Payments
15 Up to $500
59 $501-$1,000
17 $1,001-$1,500
5 Over $1,500

Source: College Scorecard Field of Study Data

Student Loan Forgiveness for Nurses

Nurses who are eligible for student loan forgiveness may not need to pay their nursing student loans in full. However, forgiveness programs often come with strings attached.

Loan forgiveness programs offer students the chance to eliminate nursing student loan debt by caring for underserved populations or filling another unmet healthcare need.

However, it's crucial nursing students pay close attention to the requirements before accepting a nursing student loan forgiveness contract to ensure they can meet the requirements.

Nurses who are interested can explore our comprehensive guide to nursing student loan forgiveness options.

Tips to Pay Down Student Loans

In any economy, it can be difficult to stick with a nursing student loan repayment schedule. Yet, there are several good reasons for nurses to pay off their nursing student loans without delay. While many compare student loans with a mortgage, there are several reasons why this is not financially sound.

Although your student loan helped you get an education, it is not backed by an appreciating asset in the same way a mortgage is. In many cases, a mortgage has a lower interest rate than a student loan, and unlike a mortgage, student loans are not discharged in bankruptcy.

When your student loans are paid off, it improves your monthly cash flow and increases the amount you can invest in your future or put away for retirement. Paying off debt helps you to become financially free, and it means you pay less interest over the life of the loan.

Consider these tips to help you stay on track to pay off your loan, or even pay it off early.

  • Automatic debit

    Most loans allow you to sign up for your loan payment to be automatically debited from your account. This ensures your payment is sent on time and some lenders give you a break on the interest.
  • Pay more than the minimum

    If you're able, add more than the minimum to your monthly payment. Even if you can add $50 each month to the payment, it can significantly reduce the amount of interest you pay over time.
  • Use found money

    Are you getting a tax refund? Add it to your next nursing student loan repayment. If you get a raise or another financial windfall, consider putting at least 50% toward your nursing student debt.
  • Pay capitalized interest

    Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest from the minute you sign the loan payments. You can defer paying the interest on those loans while you're in school. However, once your grace period ends at graduation, the interest that accrued is added to the principal of the loan, which increases the amount of interest you'll pay and your monthly payment. Consider paying the interest while you're in school, or paying off the accrued interest before the end of the grace period after graduation.
  • Make extra payments

    There is not usually a prepayment penalty on nursing student loan debt, but lenders may apply the extra payment to the next month's payment. Instead, instruct the lender to apply the overpayment to the current balance.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Cost of Nursing School

How much is the tuition for nursing school?

Tuition varies on several factors, including whether the program is public or private and whether you are an in-state or out-of-state student. The average annual cost for tuition and fees at a public four-year program is $9,400 and can be $37,600 annually for a private nonprofit program.

Is there funding to become a nurse?

Nursing candidates may be eligible for nursing scholarships and grants that do not need to be paid back after graduation. They can find these through the nursing program they are attending, local businesses, national associations, and special interest groups.

How long does it take to pay off student loans as a nurse?

Federal student loan repayment schedules are designed to be paid off over 10 years. Several factors can influence your nursing student loan repayment schedule. Nurses who choose to advance their education are eligible to defer payment on their undergraduate program. This extends the time it takes to repay the loan. Nurses who pay extra each month may pay the loan off sooner.

What is the fastest way to pay down student loans after nursing school?

The quickest way to repay a nursing student loan debt is to have the payment automatically debited from your account so it is always paid on time. Nurses who pay an additional amount each month on the principal amount and apply any financial windfall to the debt find they pay down their nursing school debt fastest.


Related Pages


Sources


Page last reviewed December 1, 2022

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Popular Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.