Paying for Nursing School: 6 Things You Should Know
Choosing to become a nurse is a big deal. You might feel some trepidation as you prepare to launch a new career. At this stage, you're probably trying to gather research on the more practical, logistical concerns you have. Likely, one of the biggest questions on your mind is how to pay for nursing school.
There are many types of nursing programs out there, with different formats and credentials you could pursue. But they all have one thing in common—tuition.
While there’s certainly a range in how much you'll pay for nursing school, depending on the institution, prospective nursing students everywhere should consider a few things before enrolling. If you’re worried about the cost of nursing education, it’s worth taking the time to review your options.
To help facilitate that, we asked nurses how they handled paying for nursing school. Let their advice lead you in a good direction.
Paying for nursing school: Options to consider
1. Look into employer tuition reimbursement
In today’s competitive healthcare market, many employers offer tuition reimbursement or financial assistance programs as a recruitment tactic, according to Alice Benjamin, family nurse practitioner and chief nursing officer for Nurse.org. These programs help employees afford nursing education and are used as an incentive to help bolster the company’s workforce.
The details will vary depending on your employer—some tuition reimbursement arrangements require employees to enroll in certain partner programs, while others are less restrictive. Do your research on employer restrictions or eligibility requirements, and ask your employer (or prospective employer) if they would help you pay for nursing school.
“The downside [to employer tuition reimbursement] is that much of that information is written in fine print somewhere and not well advertised,” Benjamin says. But prospective nursing students who do some asking around might find an amazing option.
She recommends talking to someone from your organization’s human resources department or with a nursing union representative to learn more about tuition reimbursement options. “Do so well in advance because there will be deadlines and requirements that need to be met in order to participate in these programs,” Benjamin says.
2. Get serious about scholarship applications
Nursing scholarships don’t just fall from the sky. The possible award of some scholarship funds is well worth seeking out.
A scholarship or grant application takes time to find and complete. The first step is to hit the internet and research nursing scholarships that might apply to your situation. It can help to explore some of the niche options offered by specialty nursing organizations, Benjamin says.
She explains that many people don’t think of applying to highly-specific nursing scholarship options—and that's a benefit, since a smaller application pool will likely help your odds.
For example, if you are willing to work in a critical shortage facility for 2-3 years after you graduate, you might be interested in the nurse corps scholarships offered through the Health Resources and Services Administration.1
Research state nursing scholarships, as well as scholarships made for specific nursing specialties or areas (such as long-term care nursing or occupational nursing). You might also find scholarship options based on your religious affiliation, gender, race, languages, high school grades and more.
And of course, ask your prospective university about their grants and scholarships. Since websites can be cryptic, it’s worth your time to contact an admissions advisor directly and ask about the financial aid options that might apply to you.
If you have a nurse faculty connection, reach out to them as well! Nurse educators might know of some places you can look for scholarships.
Some nursing scholarships will ask for letters of recommendation in your application. Tracking those down and applying to multiple scholarship options can feel like extra work for an unsure payoff. But even cutting a few thousand dollars off your tuition costs can make a big difference.
You might also want to think about general financial aid for college students since most of those programs and resources will apply to your nursing program as well.
3. If you borrow, take time to understand all the details of your loan
If you can pay for nursing school on savings or take advantage of a tuition reimbursement program, that’s amazing! But many nursing students will seek some kind of loan arrangement for their education.
The typical student loan doesn’t require repayment until after you graduate, drop below half-time enrollment or leave school. But understanding the loan arrangement can help really help you save money. For example, if you take out a private student loan (or unsubsidized federal student loan) and read all the details, you might learn that it will accumulate interest before you graduate, even though you might not have to make payments yet.
That interest accrual can really build up, meaning you will owe more than you first borrowed by the time you graduate.2 With a loan like this, chipping away at the principle by making payments while you are still in school might be more of a priority.
If you have a subsidized federal student loan, like FAFSA® federal student aid (loans based on financial need) to help you pay for nursing school, you shouldn't see interest start accruing while you are still in school at least half-time.
Whether you hold federal or private student loans, read the fine print carefully. For some loan agreements, dropping to less than half-time enrollment in your nursing degree program will trigger interest to start adding up and repayment requirements to begin.
Dropping out of nursing school will have the same effect, for most student loans. So that’s at least some added incentive to keep going and rely on student resources if things get tough.
4. Don’t wait to make payments on student loans (if possible)
If the above section gave you a headache, you’ll understand the temptation to think of student loans and repayments as little as possible. But if you set yourself up to make small payments on your student loan right from the moment you borrow it, you could save a lot of money.
“I wish I would have started paying back my unsubsidized loans while I was still in nursing school,” Benjamin says. “That would have really knocked down a lot of the interest that accumulated.”
“I would recommend paying as much as possible on a monthly basis,” says Karin Ashley, NP. “Paying even small amounts on the principal loan amount will make a huge difference in interest over the life of the loan.”
If you feel like you have enough of a financial cushion to safely chip away at the loan and help keep interest accruals from snowballing, then this is a move you’ll thank yourself for later. Dream of something good you can use those savings on in the future.
5. Consider working for your nursing school
Some nursing programs aren’t compatible with working a part time job. You don’t want to stretch yourself so thin that you jeopardize your education. But if you are getting into the swing of things or can pace out your studies to leave some working room, consider your university as a possible employer.
If your university has student jobs, they might be pretty compatible with your nursing school schedule and a great way to support yourself while gaining extra training. These positions are very familiar with student workers.
“The most important thing I did to lower the financial impact of my nursing school program was to work for the university,” Ashley says. She applied for positions to help pay for nursing school and found that the work arrangements were also beneficial to her overall studies and future nursing career.
“Opportunities to work in the university system have double the benefits,” Ashley says. “You are able to get out of school with less debt, you get experience in your field and gain valuable references.”
Ashley also emphasizes the value of expanding your experience and network through a job. Her experience working in a medical clinic during her program helped her decide which type of facility she wanted to work in and the specialties she liked. “And I gained connections for the job hunt when I graduated.”
6. Call your school’s financial aid office
Once you’ve chosen a nursing school, your university’s financial aid office can really assist with locating opportunities for qualified students to keep costs down.
Talk to your financial aid office, and ask about:
- Scholarship options
- Tuition assistance
- Any other financial resources they’d recommend
While qualification for these forms of aid is not a given, many nursing students never realize that they can make an appointment or call their financial aid office just to ask questions. But your university has a financial aid office for exactly this reason. Take advantage of this amenity!
These professionals are experts in helping students navigate financial options, and you never know what they might suggest.
Do you know how to pay for nursing school?
One thing is for sure—with an aging baby boomer population reaching the peak of its healthcare needs and shortages pushed by the pandemic, no one wants prospective nurses to turn away from the career because they can’t pay for nursing school.
Whether the aid comes from your nursing school, a future employer, a nursing organization or other institutions invested in the future of healthcare, you might find just the help you need with some extra research.
While the cost of your nursing program is usually one of the most important factors, it definitely isn’t the only thing that matters. Even though good nursing programs will cover the important, foundational knowledge you need to become a nurse, they all have different nuances that can impact your experience.
Check out “11 Facts You Didn't Know About the Rasmussen University Nursing Programs” to see what some of these nuances are.
Or for more details on a specific nursing program's tuition, visit our Nursing Programs page.
FAFSA is a registered trademark of U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid
1HSRA Nurse Corps Scholarship Program, 2021. Bureau of Health Workforce [accessed August 8, 2023]. https://bhw.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/bureau-health-workforce/funding/nurse-corps-scholarship-program-fact-sheet.pdf
2How does interest accrue while I am in school? 2021 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. [accessed August 8, 2023]. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/how-does-interest-accrue-while-i-am-in-school-en-593/