How Much Student Loan Debt is Normal For Nurses?

Advantages to PRN Jobs,Challenges for Nurses,Challenges for Nursing Assistants,CNA,Healthcare Careers,LPN,RN
Written by
Ana Gotter
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
September 28, 2022

Nobody loves needing to take out student loans, but unfortunately, for many, it’s inevitable. 

Advanced schooling is expensive, and if you want to become a registered nurse, the shortest and most cost-effective route is to receive an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), which can start at almost $6,000 for tuition and books for in-state public schools. That cost only goes up once you start factoring in more expensive programs, private schools, room and board, and more advanced degrees.

So how much student loan debt is typical for nurses? In this post, we’ll look at average nursing student loan debt so that you can prepare financially—and maybe a little emotionally as well! We’ll also talk about a few ways to shave off some of that balance where possible. 

How Much Student Loan Debt Does the Average Nurse Have?

student loan

Student loan debt averages vary significantly based on several factors. The most significant of these factors in your control is what type of nursing degree you choose to pursue. 

Let’s look at average student loan debt for nurses based on degree type. 

Nursing Student Loan Debt for an ADN

  • The average cost of an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) can range from $6,000–$40,000.
  • The average student loan debt for an ADN degree is $19,928.

Nursing Student Loan Debt for BSNs 

  • The average cost of a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is between $8,000 and $55,000.
  • The average student loan debt for a BSN is $23,711.

Nursing Student Loan Debt for MSNs 

  • To get a master of science in nursing (MSN), you’re looking at an average cost range of $35,000–70,000.
  • The average student loan debt for an MSN is $47,321.

Nursing Student Loan Debt for DNPs 

  • The average cost of a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP), which is the highest level of nursing education, ranges from $26,000 to $254,000.
  • The average student loan debt for nurse practitioners is currently $184,787.

What Factors Influence Total Student Loan Debt? 

Multiple factors influence why some nursing students can get through school debt-free while others can end up with tens of thousands of dollars (or more) of student loans. Some you can control, but some you can’t. 

Let’s take a look at each. 

Individual Life Experiences & Responsibilities 

Some nursing students are fortunate and don’t have to take out student loan debt. They may have family that’s able to put them through school, for example, and even pay their living expenses in the process. Other nurses may work hard to get through school debt-free, working a full-time job but taking nursing classes at night, or working a part-time job but living with family and friends at a low cost to avoid or minimize debt.

For some, though, student loan debt is a necessity. It’s common for students to take out loans to cover schooling and to help with living expenses like rent or car payments while they focus on their nursing programs full-time. They may not have families to fall back on and know that getting through school quickly is their best financial option, even if it means student loan debt to tackle later. 

The Type of Degree You Choose  

Different degrees come with different price tags. An associate’s degree may only take a year and a half or two years to complete and is available at most community colleges. As we mentioned above, starting costs for tuition and books may be around $6,000 for the entire degree at a local school.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got the option to get a DNP, which could cost as much as $254,260 at a private or out-of-state school. At the lowest end, you’re looking closer to around $26,000 for a DNP program.

Keep in mind that the cost is just for that individual degree; each program you complete will come with its own cost, so if you go from a BSN to a DNP, you need to pay for both programs, which can drive up student loans significantly. 

It’s important to keep in mind that your job opportunities and potential pay do increase as you reach higher-level degrees, but being aware of student loan debt associated with those degrees is still a good call. 

Private vs. Public Schooling 

Public schools are typically going to be much less expensive than private schools. Private degree programs cost substantially more than in-state public degrees, regardless of which program you’re pursuing. 

The average cost for an undergraduate degree in public schools in 2021–2022 across the country was $10,338 for in-state students, but over $38,000 for private schools.

Getting a degree at a local community college can save you more than choosing a formal university program. You can still get cost savings even if you just start with your associate’s at a community college before transferring to a university for your BSN.

In State vs. Out-of-State Programs 

When it comes to public schools, in-state programs are going to cost much less than out-of-state programs. The tuition will be lower, and in some cases, in-state financing only applies if you pick a school within the state. For example, the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship is a merit-based scholarship that only applies to in-state tuition. If you’ve got your heart set on a specific program out of state, consider getting your undergrad degrees from an in-state school and then look out of state for specialized programs.

Scholarship or Financing Availability

student loan

Scholarship and financing availability can greatly impact the amount of debt that nursing students have. Some financing or scholarships may be available to low-income students, for example. Some states may also have programs that support single parents. 

If you’re already working as a nurse after getting your ADN or BSN, your employer may be willing to pay for you to continue your education to obtain an MSN or a nurse practitioner’s degree. Furthermore, there are often merit-based scholarships based on past school performance. You can also look for scholarships online that may require meeting specific criteria like an essay submission or getting a recommendation from a teacher or politician. 

When looking for scholarships and financing, do the following:

  • Look into state-sponsored funding and scholarships, including need-based programs if you think you qualify.
  • Talk to the financial aid department at the individual schools you’re considering. 
  • Search online for scholarships that you may qualify for, including specific niches like scholarships for nursing students, women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and specific minorities.

Final Thoughts: Tips to Pay Off Nursing Student Loan Debt Faster 

For many, student loans are a necessary means to an end to get the education needed to break into their careers. Scholarships and financing can help, so make sure you look into all of your options before choosing a program and before starting it. It’s much easier to slash potential costs upfront than pay off debt afterward.

Once you have completed your degree and do have some student debt in tow, you can consider the following to help pay it off faster:

  • Live below your means. It’s tempting to hop on a plane and visit every corner of the world whenever you’ve got a few days off back-to-back, but save money where you can to pay off the debt faster. Paying more than the monthly minimum will get rid of that burden quickly.
  • Consider working PRN shifts. PRN nursing work allows you to pick up shifts on demand, even if you’re already working full-time or part-time as a nurse. These shifts typically pay more, making them a great option to pay down nursing student loan debt faster.
  • Refinance student loans if needed. If you already have private student loans with high interest rates, you can talk to an expert about the potential of refinancing the loans at a lower interest rate. As a result, you’ll pay less long-term, and you will be able to pay off loans faster.

Ready to tackle the student loan debt from your nursing degree? Learn more about how Nursa can help you connect with high-paying PRN shifts here.

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Blog published on:
September 28, 2022

Meet Ana, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who specializes in content about nursing finances, career pathways, and nursing education.

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