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Why is Nursing School So Expensive?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated March 16, 2023
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    Make no mistake: nursing school comes at a high cost. Find out why and get tips on how to maximize your nursing school education from our healthcare experts.
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    Nursing school costs range from $40,000-$120,000 for bachelor’s programs, and graduate programs are even more expensive. Many aspiring nurses wonder why nursing school is so expensive and whether it’s worth it. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce nursing school costs or lessen your total student loan debt.

    This guide covers the factors behind the high cost of nursing school. It also explores options for financial aid for nursing students and other ways to reduce college costs.

    Reasons Why Nursing School is So Expensive

    Higher education has become more expensive over the last decades, and nursing school is no exception. According to a 2020 Manhattan Institute article, some reasons why college is so expensive include:

    • Expanding campus amenities
    • Growing college administrations
    • Higher demand for a college education
    • Increases in the cost of living

    In addition, nursing students have other costs specific to their field. Karen Wons, MS, RN, CNE, project director for the associate to bachelor’s degree program at Baltimore City Community College, notes:

    “These additional costs often involve uniforms, stethoscopes, and other supplies for clinical rotations; lab fees for high tech simulation labs that use sophisticated mannequins; and testing fees to cover costs of standardized testing throughout the nursing program.”

    Nursing students may also have to pay for transportation to clinical placement and good walking shoes.

    Nursing Degree Costs

    • currency-dollarUniforms: Nursing students must wear uniforms, typically scrubs, in most clinical settings. While scrubs are usually not very expensive, you will need several sets. Some hospitals may provide scrubs.
    • currency-dollarSupplies and Textbooks: Nursing students must also provide some supplies, such as stethoscopes, penlights, lab coats, and nursing shoes for clinical experiences. You must also pay for textbooks, which can total a thousand dollars for the entire program.
    • currency-dollarLab and Clinical Placement fees: Many nursing courses include lab and clinical experience fees. Labs include nursing simulations, where students roleplay patient scenarios in a controlled setting on high-tech manikins. Some schools also charge clinical placement fees.
    • currency-dollarTesting fees: Aspiring nurses must pay for the NCLEX-RN examination once they graduate. Some students also choose to pay additional costs for other test preparation.
    • currency-dollarTraining and Immunizations: Nursing students must pay for CPR training and stay up-to-date on their immunizations.

    How to Reduce the Cost of Attending Nursing School

    Fortunately, there are ways to reduce nursing school costs, including being eligible for loan forgiveness programs. Many organizations, such as foundations, nursing associations, or corporations, provide financial aid for nursing students. You can also find ways to get a high-quality education at a lower price.

    1. 1

      Apply for Financial Aid

      There are many sources for financial aid for nursing students, including grants and scholarships from your school, organizations, and the U.S. and state governments. The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines the federal grants, loans, or other financial aid you may receive. Schools also use the FAFSA form to determine whether you are eligible for scholarships and grants, helping minimize the number of forms you need to complete.

    2. 2

      Attend a Public School with In-State Tuition

      Attending a public school where you qualify for in-state tuition rates helps you significantly cut down on nursing school costs. In-state tuition rates at public schools are much less than at private schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of attending a public four-year university was $9,400 for the 2020-21 school year compared to $36,700 for private institutions.

      Wons advises checking the NCLEX pass rates at your state board of nursing to find high-quality public nursing schools, as “a high pass rate is an indicator of quality.” Be aware that in a very small program, one or two students can skew the records, so check the last several years for smaller schools.

    3. 3

      Enroll in an Accredited Program

      Wons points out, “accreditation is an indicator that the program receives regular rigorous review by major nursing organizations.” You must attend an accredited program to be eligible for most forms of financial aid. You must also graduate from an accredited program to get a nursing license, and most accredited programs do not accept transfer credits from unaccredited programs.

    4. 4

      Consider Getting an ADN First

      You can save on the cost of nursing school if you start with a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) rather than a BSN.

      You can get a nursing license with an ADN and earn a BSN later when your employer might provide tuition assistance. Having a BSN helps you pursue a higher salary and educational and career development.

      Sign-on bonuses can also help cover some tuition costs. If you’re an RN with an ADN, you may also

      consider an RN-to-MSN bridge program to become an advanced practice registered nurse.

      You can even consider becoming a certified nursing assistant or licensed practical nurse, as these programs are generally more affordable. Wons advises to “investigate whether hospitals in your area help to support nursing school costs for those first employed as nursing aids or techs who then pursue a nursing degree.”

    5. 5

      Find a Loan Forgiveness Program

      Once you graduate, you can find or qualify for a student loan forgiveness program. The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment program pays 85% of your nursing school debt, both public and private loans, in exchange for a two-year service commitment in an approved critical shortage facility or nursing school.

      You can qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program if you work in a government or nonprofit position, are on an income-driven repayment plan, and you made 120 payments on your federal student loans.

    Scholarships and Grants for Nursing Students

    Is The Cost of Nursing School Worth It?

    Considering the high earning potential for RNs, nursing school is often worth the price. RNs earn a median salary of $77,600 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average student debt is $16,800 for an associate degree or $26,100 for a bachelor’s if you attended a public institution, reports the National Center for Education Statistics.

    Sarah Gallagher Dvorak, director of admissions at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana, comments, “A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree is in high demand and entry level nursing salaries tend to be higher compared to many other professions. For those reasons, and particularly if you enjoy helping others, a nursing degree is most certainly worth it.”

    Page last reviewed on March 6, 2023

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