How to Pay for Nursing School: Scholarships, Grants, and Loans

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Nursing students seated at a conference table talk to each other.For individuals who want to pursue a nursing career, paying for nursing education in the era of rising tuition is often a significant concern. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition costs of colleges and universities for first-time, full-time undergraduate students were higher in 2020-2021 than 10 years earlier. The increase in tuition applies to a public, private nonprofit, and private for-profit four-year institutions. Here’s a breakdown of the tuition picture based on 2020-2021 data:

  • Public four-year institutions had an average tuition and fees of $9,400, a 10% increase from 2010-2011.
  • The rate of increase is even larger for private nonprofit four-year institutions, which had average tuition and fees of $37,600, a 19% increase from 2010-2011.

At the graduate level, tuition rates may cause individuals to balk at the opportunity to advance their education. According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a master’s degree can range from $30,000 to $120,000, depending on the school, major, and program length, with a master’s degree in an area of science, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), costing $61,200 on average.

Fortunately, many options are available to help students cover the cost of nursing school. For example, students can apply for loans. Nearly 44 million borrowers in the United States have federal student loan debt, according to the Education Data Initiative.

For nursing students wondering how to pay for nursing school in other ways, additional options include applying for nursing scholarships and federal and state financial aid instruments, such as grants. Students also have nurse loan repayment options.

Nursing is one of the most popular majors for the graduating class of 2022, second only to business, according to Forbes. Many of these nursing students apply for financial aid to help pay for nursing school. The financial aid process can be intense, as individuals and their families may need to spend time putting together documentation that gives an overview of their income.

With this guide, individuals looking to advance their nursing careers can get a comprehensive picture of how to pay for nursing school and access to information and resources that can help them learn about paying for nursing school expenses beyond tuition.

Overview of How to Pay for Nursing School

Just as every student’s journey to earning their nursing degree — whether a BSN or MSN — is different, tuition rates vary too. For example, according to SoFi, the annual average cost of nursing programs can be broken down as follows:

  • In-state tuition at public institutions is $3,500 per year for registered nurse (RN) programs.
  • At private institutions, in-state tuition is $15,470 for RN programs.
  • The tuition range for an MSN degree, required for advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) roles, is $22,000 to $100,000.

For RNs looking to complete their BSN, the median annual cost of tuition for an online program is anywhere between $25,000 to $80,000. SoFi reports that the in-state cost of a BSN program at a public school is $40,000 to $80,000, and between $60,000 and $120,000 at a private school.

Students and their families have an array of options to help them pay for nursing school. Many use their own income and savings to help defray the cost of a nursing program, often in addition to other funding sources. SLM Corporation, known as Sallie Mae, reports that 87% of families paid for college costs using their income and savings in 2022.

Other options include financial aid programs such as scholarships, loans, and grants. According to Sallie Mae, 73% of families paid for college using scholarships and grants, while 41% took out student loans.

Additional Nursing School Costs

Besides tuition, students enrolled in nursing school need to consider other types of expenses. For example, the median annual cost of college textbooks and supplies for full-time undergraduate students at a four-year public university was $1,226 in 2020-2021, according to the Education Data Initiative.

Additional costs include paying fees for certification exams. In the U.S., the fee to register for the mandatory National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam is $200. Other certifications may cost more. For example, for individuals looking to become a family nurse practitioner, the fee from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is $395. However, the fee for members of the American Nurses Association is $295. Other expenses individuals should consider include the cost of transportation and food.

Understanding the different financial aid options and which they may qualify for may help individuals minimize out-of-pocket costs.

Nursing Scholarships

Scholarships are financial awards that students do not have to repay. Scholarships can vary in amount. For example, college scholarship programs from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation can offer students up to $55,000 a year. In addition to helping with tuition expenses, it can help pay for books, room and board, and other costs. This is considered a full-ride scholarship.

Some scholarships offer awards that offer some financial assistance but do not cover the costs of an entire academic year. But applying to as many scholarships as possible can add up and make a significant dent in the cost of college.

Many scholarships are awarded for financial needs. But eligibility requirements vary. Many scholarships are also merit-based. This means that colleges can award a student a scholarship based on their academic record, requiring a minimum GPA. Others are awarded based on a student’s extracurricular achievements or community service.

Scholarships can come from nonprofit organizations and private businesses. They can also be awarded to students based on certain types of nursing degrees, specific backgrounds, and/or certain states/regions. For example, there are various scholarships specifically for military families.

Looking for nursing scholarships early is important, as they typically have strict deadlines for applicants. Whichever scholarship an individual applies for, writing targeted letters to committees that select award recipients will likely be part of the process.

Resources: Scholarships for Nursing Students

The following resources are a small sampling of scholarship opportunities for nursing students. The U.S. Department of Labor offers a scholarship search tool for those looking to apply to as many scholarships as possible.

Loans for Nurses

Many nursing students need financial aid to pay for their nursing education. The U.S. Department of Education has loan options for undergraduates with financial needs, such as Direct Subsidized Loans. While the student attends school, the government pays the interest, with a grace period of six months after graduation before the first payment is due.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are intended for both undergraduate and graduate students but require the student to pay the interest while enrolled. Graduate students, professional students, and parents of dependent undergraduates can apply for Direct PLUS Loans. These loans have a higher interest rate.

Private education loans for nurses and other health care professionals are also an option, with entities like Sallie Mae offering loans for undergraduates, graduates, and those pursuing certification. However, they usually require good credit or a cosigner. International nursing students can also take advantage of MPOWER Financing for private loans for nurses, but it requires a U.S. or permanent resident cosigner.

Federal loans typically offer better borrower protections and lower interest rates than private loans. Therefore, it’s crucial to research and consider all loan options carefully before making a decision.

Using Loans to Pay for Nursing School Expenses

When it comes to paying for college, student loans can do more than cover tuition expenses. The cost of attendance (COA) for a college education includes various expenses, such as housing, groceries, and toiletries, which can all be covered by a student loan. Additionally, students can use their loan to pay for textbooks, school supplies, digital devices, and software.

After financial aid is applied to tuition, fees, and room and board, any remaining funds are refunded to the student in the form of a check or direct deposit.

Nurse Loan Repayment

In exploring nursing school options, prospective students need to consider the financial aspects of their education. Before enrolling in a program, individuals should do their research, looking at all their loan options to determine the best fit for their needs.

Soon after graduation, students will have to begin repaying their nursing school loans. What options are available to help pay off the loans? And what types of financial help can nurses struggling to repay their loans take advantage of?

Individuals can turn to state governments and other agencies for help. These agencies may offer forgiveness programs. These programs encourage graduates to take jobs in critical need facilities or communities in exchange for assistance with repaying loans.

Individuals can get on the path to loan forgiveness in return for their service. For example, HRSA offers its Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, which is similar to the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program. Loans provided through the program can help RNs, APRNs, and nurse faculty pay for up to 85% of education debt.

Programs like the HRSA loan forgiveness program can sometimes cover the total cost of tuition and fees. However, some loan forgiveness programs may require a longer commitment. There also may be limitations in terms of geography. Others may provide lower forgiveness amounts.

A critical step for individuals to take when exploring loan options is to submit their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This form helps determine a student’s eligibility for federal student loans and other financial aid, including student loan forgiveness programs.

Nursing Grants and Fellowships

Nursing grants and fellowships can financially support nursing students and professionals in their academic endeavors. These types of financial aid can cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and other expenses.

Government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Education, offer grants. One of the most well-known programs is the Federal Pell Grant program, which offers up to $6,895 a year for undergraduate students earning a bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degree. These grants are awarded based on financial need.

Private foundations and professional associations also offer fellowships for individuals who have already completed their nursing education. The purpose of the fellowships in these cases is to help advance their research or clinical practice in a specific area of nursing. Fellowship funds can support research projects, clinical internships, or specialized training programs that help nurses acquire advanced skills and knowledge.

Several organizations provide nursing grants and fellowships, including the HRSA, National Institutes of Health (NIH), American Nurses Association (ANA), Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Eligibility criteria and application requirements vary for each award, and careful research is essential to determine which award is most suitable for a nursing student or professional. Some fellowships may require specific levels of academic achievement or clinical experience. Others may focus on particular areas of nursing practice or research.

Resources: Grants and Fellowships for Nursing Students

The following resources are a small sampling of grant and fellowship opportunities for nursing students.

Advance Your Nursing Career

Pursuing a nursing degree can set individuals on a path to a rewarding career helping care for and educate patients. And for nurses looking to advance in their careers, pursuing an MSN degree can position them for independent roles in advanced practice nursing, such as nurse practitioner.

Paying for a nursing education may require students to research financial aid options. That’s why it’s important for students to do their research to find the right scholarships, grants, and/or loans to help pay for nursing school and determine their eligibility. To maximize financial aid, prospective students should apply to as many funding sources as possible, as early as possible.