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Is Nursing School Worth It?

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
Updated January 23, 2023
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Before choosing the nursing career path, you should carefully consider the cost of tuition, potential salary figures, and return on investment. On this page, we ask nursing professionals about these concerns.
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Is being a nurse worth it? Between nursing school and the career itself, the return on investment (ROI) for nursing has a lot of layers.

There are clearly many benefits. Nursing is a popular career, considered a noble profession with an important function in society. However, there are many factors to consider before taking the plunge.

Nursing school is a major commitment, and the profession demands a great deal from those who join it. Learning clinical skills, memorizing vast amounts of information, and interacting with patients from all walks of life can feel intimidating and complex.

This guide can help those wondering ‘is nursing school worth it?” choose a nursing school and examine the positive and negative aspects of a nursing career.

With an enormous commitment of time, energy, and money, knowing whether nursing school is worth it for you is crucial to consider before taking the bold step of beginning the journey.

Pros of Earning a Nursing Degree

Nursing is a highly respected and trusted profession that over 4 million Americans have currently chosen as a career, not to mention over 300,000 nurse practitioners. Maryanne Tranter, Ph.D., APRN who works in pediatrics shared, “I began my career in nursing because I loved science, wanted to interact with others, and wanted a flexible career with positions available that I could make a living.” Dr. Tranter added, “My degree definitely paid off. I am honored and proud to be a nurse. I love the concept of lifelong learning that is required with this career. I love being such a special part of people’s lives. I love caring for children. I love empowering families.”

The following are some of the top benefits of pursuing a nursing degree.

Pro #1: Nursing Degrees Prepare Graduates for High-Earning Careers

While there are plenty of careers that pay more than nursing (e.g., law, investment banking), many nurses feel that they can earn a good living as a nurse, especially with an advanced degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $77,600 in 2021, and nurse practitioners earned a mean annual wage of $118,040 in the same year.

Emily Weber, DNP, RN, CPN, NEA-BC, had no regrets when it came to nursing ROI. She stated, “The investment made in nursing school has paid for itself many times. The nursing profession has advancement opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of that have yielded a positive financial return on my investment in my nursing school education.”

Adding to the chorus of nurses reporting that their career is an excellent investment, Nancy Brook, MSN, FNP, RN shared: “My nursing career has paid for itself for many reasons; it has been personally rewarding to impact patients’ lives, being a positive part of the healthcare system, and having flexibility as a working parent, as well as an excellent return on investment and more.”

Is being a nurse worth it financially when compared to other occupations? Use this table to compare salaries and timelines.

Comparison of Occupations
OccupationMedian Annual SalaryYears to Become
Physician Assistant$121,5306-9 Years
Nurse Practitioner$118,0406-8 Years
Financial Analyst$95,5704-6 Years
Architect$80,1808-11 Years
Registered Nurse$77,6002-4 Years
Web Developer$77,0302-4 Years
Social Worker$50,3904-8 Years

Source: BLS

Pro #2: A Degree in Nursing Can Lead to Fulfilling Lifelong Careers

Many nurses cite personal and professional fulfillment as reasons they are satisfied with their careers.

[My degree] taught me about my motivation, dedication, persistence and stamina that other degrees and life experiences had not. It has given me a foundation to read and understand what goes into research and the value of research in healthcare. It has allowed me opportunities to continue teaching nursing students.

“All of these things, and the credibility that comes with the education and experience of the Ph.D., has opened doors and allowed me to start my own business. I am hopeful the investment in my Ph.D. will pay off financially with my new business. But the payoff of doing what I want to do is already here.”

For Dr. Emily Weber, nursing is a positive force in her life: “I have many fond memories of earning my initial nursing degree with the support and camaraderie of my fellow nursing school students, and the mentorship of my clinical instructors. My greatest reward of earning my nursing degree is completing the degree and becoming a nurse! I have always felt called to be a nurse and enjoy advocating for patients to promote healing.”

Nancy Brook added, “Having an advanced degree in nursing opens the door to many professional opportunities. Aside from being able to take on positions as an advanced practice nurse (APP, CRNA, NP, CNS) graduates are able to teach at the graduate and undergraduate level, consult, write and take on management positions both in the hospital setting and in industry.”

Pro #3: Flexibility and Freedom of Choice are Central to Nursing

Nurses enjoy the ability to find roles that allow them to be flexible when it comes to their personal lives. When raising young children, a nurse can choose to work during the day while children are in school, or work evenings or nights when younger children need a caregiver at home during the day and a partner can be home at night.

Dr. Maryann Tranter is clear about the benefits: “I have always been able to work the flexible way I wanted and make a living. I could work part time with young children, start teaching nursing students as they got older, and now start my own business using my experience and education as a foundation.”

There are countless employment options available to the curious nurse seeking novel opportunities. Nurses can, of course, be employed within an acute care hospital in a variety of positions, but nurses can also find satisfying work in the ambulatory/outpatient realm, including, but not limited to:

  • Entrepreneurship and business
  • The pharmaceutical and medical device industries
  • Case management and care management
  • Patient advocacy
  • Cruise nurses
  • Physician offices
  • Holistic nursing
  • Functional nursing
  • Home health and hospice
  • Dialysis
  • Corrections
  • Research
  • Informatics
  • Remote/telephonic nursing
  • Public health nursing
  • Occupational health
  • School nursing
  • Nursing education
  • Legal nurse consulting
  • Nurse coaching

Pro #4: Nursing and Healthcare Change With the Times

With advancing technology and the development of new software, hardware, and user interfaces, nurses curious about the ongoing changes can leverage that interest in tech towards their careers.

For those with interest in information technology, the adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) has given many nurses the chance to become superusers and EMR analysts with advanced skills and expertise.

Companies creating new technologies for the healthcare industry need expert nurses who can provide research and development (R&D) insight.

In the near future, nurses might use augmented reality and virtual reality.

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Cons of Earning a Nursing Degree

There is another side to the “is nursing worth it?” coin: the cost of nursing school.

Con #1: Earning a Nursing Degree Can Be Costly

Nursing school can be expensive, and many nursing students take on the burden of debt in order to complete their education. An associate degree in nursing (ADN) can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000, with some private colleges charging tuition as high as $40,000.

A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) will run a nurse between $40,000 – $100,000, a master of science in nursing (MSN) from $35,000 – $100,000, and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) between $40,000 – $70,000.

Low-interest loans, scholarships, grants, and other forms of student aid can assist nursing students in keeping their college costs down and making their studies financially worthwhile.

Con #2: Earning a Nursing Degree May Take Years of Study

For those wishing or needing to enter the workforce relatively quickly, the time it takes to become a professional nurse may seem off-putting.

A BSN degree is a four-year degree nurses complete at a university. An MSN, the minimum requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner, is often an additional two years following completion of a BSN (a total of approximately 66-72 months for both degrees).

Fortunately for prospective nurses, there are a number of faster and more flexible education options available. The ADN provides a shorter route to professional practice as a registered nurse, with an average 24-month educational experience — including some or most prerequisites, depending on the program.

And for those interested in a non-degree option in order to begin their nursing career, highly affordable Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) programs are approximately 12-18 months from start to finish.

LPNs have a narrower scope of practice than RNs, and have fewer employment settings, but LPN training can be an excellent, affordable on-ramp to the profession. So-called “bridge programs” such as the RN-to-BSN, RN-to-MSN, and LPN-to-BSN frequently offer the convenience of partial or complete online learning. Online classes can decrease the cost of attendance and allow the student to earn a living while pursuing further education and opportunity.

An accelerated BSN provides a route for those with a bachelor’s degree in another discipline to enter into a program that often takes approximately 12-18 months.

How to Know if Nursing is Right for You

Is a nursing degree worth it? Is it the right path for you? The nursing profession is changing in the 21st century, and the breadth and depth of what nurses can do continues to evolve and expand.

For those with a passion for science, skillfully caring for others, and using critical thinking to solve problems and expand knowledge in a dynamic profession, nursing is an excellent choice.

“The healthcare system is always changing; there are constantly new requirements, policies and procedures to keep up with,” said Nancy Brook. “The reward continues to outweigh the challenges as change is a given in any profession. Our role continues to evolve, and with that new opportunity for professional growth and challenge.”

Emily Weber added: “My advice to those considering a nursing degree would be to investigate the various schools of nursing, scholarship opportunities, and employer tuition programs to pick the program that is best for you. After graduation, look for a nursing position that has a robust new graduate orientation and onboarding to support your transition into practice.

“Nursing is a wonderful profession that yields many personal and professional rewards. As a nurse, you are able to impact the lives of others and really can make a difference.”

According to Dr. Maryanne Tranter, the choice is multifaceted. “Do not just do it for the flexibility and income. People who choose this end up becoming burned out sooner. You always need to have a questioning mind and a love of learning as research and knowledge are always changing and nurses need to stay informed.”

Dr. Tranter continued: “You should know that, as a nurse, we have the honor of sharing some of the most intimate and important parts of someone’s life. We cannot take that for granted. It will sometimes use a lot of our energy at times, where the benefits may not seem to be enough. Sometimes we cannot practice the way we know is best due to systemic issues. But those special moments of supporting patients are a gift.

“If you are willing to allow yourself to be there with them and give your support backed by the experience and knowledge to help others, the time put into the degree will always be worth it!”

Meet Our Contributors

Portrait of Emily Weber, DNP, RN, CPN, NEA-BC

Emily Weber, DNP, RN, CPN, NEA-BC

Emily Weber is the chief nursing officer and operations at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Children’s is a designated level IV maternal care facility and level IV NICU, which offers the highest level of comprehensive care for women and premature, sick, and critically ill newborns. In her role, she is responsible for advancing nursing practice, operational performance, and ensuring compliance with the highest professional standards of patient care.


Portrait of Maryanne Tranter

Maryanne Tranter

Dr. Maryanne Tranter is a Ph.D.-prepared pediatric NP with 25 years of experience working with families from different cultures and backgrounds. She specializes in caring for infants, children, and their families.

She aims to walk parents from panic to peace by providing current research and accurate information to empower parents to raise a healthy child.

She also teaches nursing and NP students, along with speaking and consulting around the world. She has been an expert witness, podcast and group interview guest, and contributes to journal publications.


Portrait of Nancy Brook RN, MSN, CFNP

Nancy Brook RN, MSN, CFNP

Nancy Brook is an NP and success coach at Stanford Healthcare. She works with nurses and healthcare professionals who want to create more meaningful careers and healthier lifestyles.


Page last reviewed January 12, 2023

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