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How Much Does Nursing School Cost?

July 27, 2020 | Staff Writers

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The question “how much does nursing school cost?” doesn’t necessarily come with a straightforward answer. With nursing degree costs, tuition rates vary greatly. For many aspiring nursing professionals, the high earning potential of the career outweighs the high costs of nursing school.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $73,300 in 2019. Advanced practice nurses made even more money, bringing in median earnings of $115,800. Nurses also work in an in-demand industry: the BLS projects that employment within healthcare occupations may increase by 14% from 2018-28.

Nevertheless, degree costs can still seem intimidating. In fact, total tuition costs can range from $6,000 for an associate degree to over $100,000 for an advanced degree. With such a vast range, exactly how much does nursing school cost? This guide explores the answer to that question, considering the many factors that contribute to the wide variation in nursing degree costs.

How Much Does a Nursing Degree Program Cost?

  • ADN Program Cost

    Since associate degrees in nursing (ADN) only last two years, these programs are generally the most affordable. At public universities, students might pay anywhere from $3,000-$10,000 per year, or $6,000-$20,000 overall for the degree.

    Private universities usually charge higher tuition, where students might invest up to $40,000 in their ADN. That said, many ADN programs offer discounted rates for military service members or veterans, and students can apply for scholarships to help mitigate costs.

    Schools break tuition costs down by credit, and ADN programs typically require 60 credits of coursework. In-state programs may cost anywhere from $100-$200 per credit. Out-of-state and private tuition rates commonly cost up to $400 per credit.

    Keep in mind you may need to pay additional lab and general fees. If you live on campus, you must factor room and board into your budget. However, many ADN students live at home and commute to campus.

  • BSN Program Cost

    For a traditional four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program, students can expect total tuition costs of at least $40,000. Tuition can reach up to $80,000, or even upwards of $100,000. BSN degrees typically comprise 120 credits, with colleges and universities charging per credit.

    That said, some public schools offer more affordable tuition, scholarship and other financial aid opportunities, and lowered tuition rates for military members and veterans. Some states offer special government-sponsored financial aid programs for nursing students.

    In addition, colleges sometimes offer special rates for high school graduates with high GPAs or dual credit. Students in RN-to-BSN programs only need to enroll in two years worth of coursework, which halves tuition costs as well.

    On top of tuition costs, nursing candidates need to pay for lab and technology fees, scrubs, insurance, and immunizations. Students who live on campus must also pay for room and board.

  • MSN Program Cost

    Though master of science in nursing (MSN) programs only last 1-2 years, the price of tuition is not necessarily lower than that of a four-year bachelor’s degree. The total cost for an MSN program varies, typically ranging from $35,000-$70,000. Some schools charge up to $100,000.

    The cost differs so widely in part because of credit costs; in-state public university tuition tends to stay low, whereas private and out-of-state public tuition can cost students considerably more. In addition, the number of required credits vary by program.

    Students may need to complete anywhere from 30-60 credits, depending on their specialization. At some prestigious private schools, one credit can cost around $2,000. For a program with 50 required credits of coursework, the full cost of tuition can reach $100,000.

    Just like with undergraduate degrees, students can find many financial aid opportunities to lower these costs. MSN students can often find additional ways to help with costs, too, like graduate assistantships or grants.

  • DNP Program Cost

    Doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs typically cost anywhere from $40,000-$70,000. However, prospective students can also come across degrees that cost less than $30,000.

    A large part of total tuition costs also depend on each incoming student’s educational background. Individuals with a master’s degree usually only need to complete 35-50 credits over the course of 2-3 years. As a general rule, these programs stay on the lower end of the cost scale.

    In contrast, those enrolling in BSN-to-DNP programs might need to complete 60-80 credits, which they can usually do in 3-5 years. Students who enroll in these programs should expect to pay more in tuition. The number of required credits can also vary by specialty.

    Doctoral programs may offer financial aid for students carrying out independent research. These assistantships or fellowships sometimes cover full tuition, and schools might offer a living stipend as well.

How Tuition Cost Can Vary

Nursing school tuition figures depend on factors like format, location, and institution type. Costs can vary for programs offered on-campus and online, a student’s status as in-state or out-of-state impacts tuition, and private nursing schools typically charge more than public institutions.

Online vs. On-Campus Program Cost

In online nursing programs, students complete their coursework using virtual tools. They watch lectures online, turn in assignments through course management systems, and participate in class discussions through virtual chat boards and webcam meetings. Still, distance learners must attend their supervised clinical experiences and sometimes their laboratory requirements on location.

For colleges and universities, the operating expenses for online programs generally do not cost as much as on-campus programs. Therefore, students can generally expect to pay less in tuition fees for distance learning degrees than traditional, on-campus degrees. Online students can also save on other indirect costs, such as transportation and childcare. However, some online programs charge an additional distance learning fee.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Program Costs

Public schools often charge two different tuition rates: one rate for students who live in that state, and another for students coming from another state. The cost for nonresidents is usually higher — sometimes twice as much.

For example, Missouri State University estimates that in-state students pay about $28,000 in total tuition costs, while out-of-state students may pay over $63,000. Several community colleges offer an even lower tuition rate for learners who live within the county.

Keep this difference in cost in mind when researching public schools outside of your state. Also check whether the college or university offers any special scholarships or financial aid opportunities for non-residents to receive in-state tuition. Some schools may participate in tuition reciprocity agreements with neighboring states.

Public vs. Private Nursing School Programs

Although not a hard and fast rule, private colleges generally cost more than public colleges. Public higher education institutions receive taxpayer funds from the state government, which means that students do not need to pay as much in tuition.

Depending on the type of program, degree seekers can usually expect to pay $500 per credit or under at public universities; graduate students might pay more. Private universities might charge nursing students up to $1500 or even $2000 per credit.

Higher cost does not necessarily correlate to a higher-quality education. Many public school programs offer top-ranked nursing programs. Although private universities generally demand higher costs, students might choose these programs if they obtain scholarships, or if they determine that the education and networking opportunities will be worth it in the long run.

Additional Costs of Nursing School

On top of nursing school tuition costs, students should factor in other related expenses, including books, supplies, and transportation.

Typically costing a minimum of a few hundred dollars each semester, textbooks can ultimately cost thousands over the course of 2-4 years. Students also need to invest in their nursing outfits and supplies. Clothing can cost around $200, and lab supplies and stethoscopes might cost $300-$500. Degree seekers should also consider the cost of the $200 NCLEX exam and background checks needed for their licensure application.

Degree seekers may find themselves facing additional everyday costs. They need to factor in transportation to class, which could include the price of gas, road tolls, or public transit. Even individuals pursuing an online degree may need to sort out transportation to their clinical sites.

Students who live on campus must pay for room and board and meal plans. Students with families might need to consider childcare, such as babysitting or daycare for their children, while they attend class. These daily costs may vary greatly by location.

Paying for Nursing School

Although nursing jobs often come with higher-than-average salaries, many aspiring nursing professionals hesitate to start their degree because of nursing school costs. Nearly 70% of degree seekers take out loans at the graduate level, according to a 2017 survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). In addition, survey respondents estimated they took on $40,000-$55,000 of student loan debt.

Students can find several opportunities to help with paying for nursing school. Colleges and universities often offer institution-specific scholarships. Students can also access scholarships through professional associations, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations. You can find a list of nursing scholarships and grants here, in addition to this resource.

Several ADN and BSN programs, including some graduate programs, offer discounted tuition rates for active or former military service members. In addition, students can apply for government aid. The federal, and some state governments, offer student loan forgiveness programs for graduates who pledge to work in areas experiencing high need for healthcare professionals. You can read more about those programs here.

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