Is Nursing School Worth It? Graduates Share Their Stories
There’s no question that going into the healthcare field takes a mix of guts, desire and hard work. Nurses get up close and personal with patients going through difficult times in their lives and help them get back on a healthy track. Having that kind of impact takes a high level of training and professional know-how. That’s where nursing school comes in.
You can see yourself working as a nurse, but you’re not so sure about nursing school. Going to nursing school is a significant investment of both time and money. With that in mind, it’s only natural to wonder whether nursing school is really worth it.
To give you some insight into this important decision, we asked several Rasmussen University nursing graduates about their experiences. As you read on, consider what it might look like to put yourself in their shoes—and if you’re ready to take that next step.
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Is nursing school worth it? The simple answer
Whether or not attending nursing school is worth it is ultimately a personal decision. While some individuals may thrive as nurses, others may find a different career in healthcare that fits them better. Knowing what to expect and how your life will change in nursing school is key to making this important decision.
If you’re considering going back to school for nursing, research the benefits and the costs of nursing school. Research can include hands-on experiences such as shadowing a nurse or conducting an informational interview with one. Keep reading to hear from recent nursing grads on why nursing school is a worthwhile investment.
4 Reasons why nursing school is worth it
There are many reasons why nursing school is worth it, and odds are good you’ve already considered some of them. Let’s get into the pros.
1. Nursing is a career you can depend on
While nursing school and learning can be enjoyable in and of itself, you’ll graduate ready to take the corresponding National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)® test needed to obtain a nursing license. While the state you live in may have requirements for maintaining an active nursing license, you’ll have skills you can always come back to.
“You’ll have a license you can lean on for the rest of your life,” says Alex Harris, a Rasmussen University Professional Nursing graduate. Though Harris says he originally considered becoming a doctor or a physician assistant, he started considering nursing when he was working as a medical scribe and emergency center technician in an emergency department. In that role, Harris had the chance to work closely with both doctors and nurses. Ultimately, Harris says he decided he wanted the flexibility, job security and the travel opportunities that nursing can provide. “Once I actually looked at the pros and the cons, it was a no brainer,” he says.
There’s reason to believe the job market for nurses will stay strong. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1 Advanced nursing roles are also on track for growth, with the BLS projecting employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners to grow 45 percent from 2020 to 2030.1 While these roles require a Master’s or Doctorate degree, they are options for nurses looking to return to school and expand their scope of responsibilities.
Additionally, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be placing additional strain on the workforce and amplifying the need for nurses in the U.S. as some established nurses opt to leave the field. While those circumstances are unfortunate, this could lead to additional demand—a welcome sight for those just entering the field.
2. A fulfilling career
Though there will be tough days and even seasons that are harder than others, you’ll know that your job is making a tangible difference in the lives of others. While that may be difficult to keep in mind when you’re in the thick of a long pharmacology study session or having your first experience with a difficult patient during clinicals, it really can help keep the effort in perspective.
Samantha Schulenburg, a Rasmussen University Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduate, says her overall motivation “to love and serve the people who need it most” and the ability to help people in vulnerable situations is what drew her to this field.
Schulenburg says that even when she was tired or frustrated during nursing school, she did her best to remind herself that she was working towards a career with an impact that’s about more than herself. She encourages other nursing students to do the same. “All the time, energy, and literal blood, sweat and tears are going to make you a better nurse,” she says.
3. Solid earning potential
Attending nursing school is an investment, and like any investment, you’ll want to consider the potential payoff. The good news is that nursing roles appear to be on solid ground. That said, there are differences in earning potential depending on the type of nursing degree and license you pursue.
The 2020 median annual salary for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) was $48,820, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 These nurses complete shorter academic programs than their registered nurse (RN) counterparts and often work under the supervision of a physician or RN.
Registered nurses, who make up the largest portion of the nursing workforce, complete a longer academic program and have an expanded scope of patient care responsibilities. The 2020 median annual salary for RNs was $75,330, according to the BLS.1
Fiona Gabay, BSN, notes that that though nursing school was tough, knowing she was on a path toward getting a good job where she could earn a solid living was encouraging.
4. Flexibility that’s hard to find in other careers
One of the main benefits of nursing is the flexibility it provides. You can truly create a career that grows with you whether you stay at bedside, get into management or work in research—you’ll have a lot of options for branching out.
Another piece of the flexibility picture has to do with your scheduling. While not always in their total control, it’s common for nurses to work nontraditional schedules. They might work 10-hour shifts 4 days per week and are then off for 3 days.
Aside from scheduling, nurses can work in nearly every area of healthcare. You can explore nursing opportunities in surgery, primary care, emergency medicine and more. While not comprehensive, the list of specializations below can help give you a sense of the variety of specialized options available to nurses:
- Neonatal nursing
- ICU/critical care nursing
- Medical-surgical nursing
- Perioperative nursing
- Labor & delivery nursing
- Emergency nursing
- Home healthcare nurse
- Telemetry nursing
- Post-operative nursing
- Long-term care nursing
- Community health nursing
- Orthopedic nursing
- Pediatric nursing
- Pain management nursing
- Telehealth nursing
- Radiology nursing
- Dialysis nursing
- Cardiac nursing
- Oncology nursing
- Respiratory nursing
- School nursing
- Inpatient nursing
- Outpatient nursing
While it’s true that plenty of nurses like to settle in and focus their career in one specialty, knowing you have options to change things up and move into a new unit can be a big plus for anyone unsure of their ability to stick to the role long term.
4 Things to consider before nursing school
While becoming a nurse comes with a lot of perks, nursing school comes with its own unique set of challenges. Let’s walk through a few considerations you may be mulling over right now.
1. Cost of nursing school
You know nursing school is a serious financial investment, and it’s understandable if you’re worried by the prospect of taking on loans or dipping into your savings to make it through. You’re not alone, as this is a concern for most students. Harris says he tried to keep a long-term perspective when considering the cost.
“Working as a nurse offsets the cost of nursing school multiple times over,” Harris says.
Megan LaBudde, a Rasmussen University BSN graduate, says she used several different tactics to cover the cost, including using some savings, applying for financial aid and getting a job with the work-study program at her campus.
Keep in mind that any school’s financial aid office should be able to help you navigate applying for aid and searching for scholarships.
2. Time commitment
There’s no doubt that between lectures, labs, clinicals, study groups and independent studying, your calendar will be packed. Nursing school is a huge time commitment, especially when considering other life obligations.
It’s important to remember that while time may be tight during nursing school, nursing school isn’t forever. You’ll have to give up some personal time now, but after, you’ll have the opportunity to find a nursing job with a schedule you enjoy.
During nursing school, you’ll figure out a way to prioritize study time while making time for what is truly important to you. For instance, Labudde says when she was in nursing school, she opted to cancel all of her streaming subscriptions and go for ice cream runs with her roommates instead when she needed a break. While cutting out streaming services is a relatively minor sacrifice compared to those making tough decisions about childcare or other family commitments, know that it is possible to find a balance that works—even if that means scaling back on the number of courses you take each term.
3. Academic rigor
Nursing classes will challenge you in nearly every way, but after all, you’re training for a tough job. Making sure you know all you can to provide for patients is key. “What makes it worth the effort is knowing that all of that information will be used in your career as a nurse,” says Labudde, noting that she even uses mnemonics and sayings that she learned in nursing school as a practicing RN now.
A lot of nursing test questions have to do with selecting the “most correct” answer. Even if all the answers are technically right, students must pick the best answer. This helps nursing students grow in their critical thinking and practice for the type of thinking they’ll do on the job. Fiona Gabay, BSN, likes to remind student nurses that they’ll learn a lot of practical skills in on-the-job orientation.
So how hard is nursing school exactly? “It’s going to be harder than you think it will be, but it’ll be more worth it too,” says Harris.
4. Finding a support system
You won’t be going through nursing school on your own. In your cohort, you’ll find other nursing students going through many of the same struggles. Schulenberg was often inspired by her fellow nursing students and comforted that they understood what she was going through.
When asked for advice for current nursing students, Harris recommends reaching out and forming connections with new people you meet through classes and clinicals. “Find people to enjoy the process with. That’s what made it worth it,” says Harris.
Tap into your friends and family as your support system as well. Tell them about your exciting plans and let them know how your life will change as you advance into nursing school. Chances are good they’ll be excited for you, and they’ll do what they can to encourage you.
Is nursing school worth it for you?
It’s only natural to be a little unsure of yourself before taking on a new challenge. Is nursing school worth it? It will definitely be a challenge that will require a lot from you. But if successful, you’ll graduate with confidence and be well on your way to a rewarding career.
“I knew that the frustrating parts of nursing school would pass, and all that hard [work] would pay off in my career as [a] nurse,” LaBudde says.
If you’re still curious about the next steps on what it takes to become a nurse, start with our article “How to Become a Nurse: A Beginner’s Guide.”
1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed October, 2021] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
NCLEX is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.