Tips For Navigating Your Way to an Affordable Nursing Degree

Nursing schools already have the stressful dynamic of being one of the more challenging programs to take— being that the curriculum covers much of the basics that doctors have to go through.

Thinking about going to college? Maybe you already have a bachelor's degree but are unsatisfied with your current position and have heard that there is a great demand for nurses that bring great quality of care to the medical industry. Whatever your motivations may be, finding an affordable degree can be tricky in today's scholastic culture. 

Nursing schools already have the stressful dynamic of being one of the more challenging programs to take— being that the curriculum covers much of the basics that doctors have to go through. On top of the long hours of studying, the labs, and clinical work, a great amount of stress can be added just by the costs of attendance. All of these together can weigh very heavily on a student's ability to perform well in a program. Having to do all that studying and holding a job just to pay for college aggravates the situation. 

What some people tend to overlook is that there are other expenses to take into account that are not always included in the obvious tuition rates. Rent, basic living expenses, books, and study supplies all add to the enormous and often unreasonably high costs of school programs. The good news is that there are plenty of paths and programs available to help you reach your goal of becoming a nurse while maintaining some affordability. 

Levels and Types of Nursing Degrees

The cost of nursing programs is dependent on many factors including location (big cities tend to cost more to live in), the type of program, and the length of study associated with the chosen path. There are four different types of levels of learning, all of which are dependent on how much education you may want to take on over the course of a career and what positions you may want to hold working in the medical field. 

The four types are an Associate’s degree (2 years), a Bachelor’s (4 years), a Master’s, and finally, a doctorate. Again, each of these will be dependent on how far in a specific career path you may want to take. What you end up choosing will affect the cost of investment over your lifetime, so it's wise to not jump in all at once. It is advisable to spend time actually working out in the field for a time between programs to refine what specialties you may want to study with more advanced degrees. However, before getting into basic programs, most nursing programs require a prospective student to take and pass the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam. 
On average, a TEAS exam costs about $115; however, the costs will vary depending on factors like testing location, which school is hosting. They are the ones who will set the final price. Additionally, there are several “hidden” fees connected to the place of testing. Everything from scheduling, to proctor, remote exam, and the typical registration fees can get tacked on the final cost. One way to start saving yourself money on the way to a degree in nursing is to start researching which locations may have the lowest total in fees. Just make sure that the location of the test won't restrict which colleges might accept the exam results. Colleges can be weird like that. 

On top of the four primary degree levels listed above, there are “bridge programs” for Registered Nurses (RN’s). These bridge programs are meant for those RN’s who have career experience and are looking to further their education while still working full or part time. 

While the numerous nursing acronyms and abbreviations can get confusing, they serve their purpose, even in the search for the right degree. An “RN-to-BSN” program helps registered nurses with an associate degree work their way into a bachelor’s of nursing. These programs typically last 1-2 years to graduate. An “RN-to- BSN” program offers a faster route to more advanced practices, eventually allowing a nurse with a previously earned RN license to gain a master’s degree. Either way, these programs can lessen not just overall cost, but the time spent in school versus the time spent working and making money. 

Hybrid Learning

Another factor to consider when choosing a nursing school is whether or not you might like to study online, on campus, or in a hybrid program. Generally speaking, the full, on campus program will cost the most money for obvious and previously stated reasons like tuition, dorm housing, and the gambit of college campus fees. However, with a hybrid or fully online program, many of those additional costs are waived all together. Much of the costs associated with a program are spent paying teachers, keeping labs and their costly equipment up to date. 

A hybrid or remote learning environment tends to lower the cost of such necessities— at least for a time. No nursing program will be entirely deficient of lab and clinical work. Either way, the costs associated with living at home, or not having to commute as much, will obviously remove some of the overhead costs associated with whatever program you choose. 

Average Costs of Nursing Schools

The average cost of a nursing degree is, again, going to be dependent on the short term and long term careers goals you may set for yourself, but it is helpful to keep considering for two reasons: First, the affordability of a program is going to vary greatly depending on what level degree you decided to take. Second, the sheer amount of time spent per semester will drive up the overall investment. 

Therefore, another way to lower costs is to take a few more credit hours per semester. In the long run, finishing in less time drives down the cost of living that will accrue over time. The less years in school translates to less rent money, school supplies, and just basic living expenses. However, these expenses should not be the main determinant in what program/s you end up choosing. It is far more important to choose a program that is in line with your forecasted career goals. 

The range of costs of nursing schools and programs is quite broad being that it takes many factors into account like, location, popularity of programs, public or private colleges, and degree type. Generally speaking, the lowest level degree (an associates) can cost as little as $2,000 - $4,000, ranging up to around $15,000 per year at a public program. Just be aware, private schools can double, sometimes even triple, those costs.

One of the best ways to save money on a college degree— nursing program or otherwise— is very simple: start at a community college. The drastic differentiation between fees of four year colleges and community colleges are astounding. What's even more surprising is that many two year schools have very well respected programs and professors that are no less efficacious to your final ability to work as a nurse. 

The typical downside is the lack of college community experience, but little more. If saving as much money as possible is one of the most important factors in your decision-making, start at a public community college. 

Sticker Shock

Everyone knows it, college is expensive, but it is a lot easier to swallow the often exorbitant rates while merely talking about it in concept than to actually sign up for a program. If the college dorm-room, on-campus experience is what you are looking for there then there will be no lack of options available to you. Each of which will give you an educational experience in classrooms, and through the lab and clinical work needed to work efficiently in a medical setting. 

The costs of most four- year, Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs (BSN) range greatly as well. $40,000 - $100,000 for private universities per year, while significantly less at public schools— sometimes even as low as around $14,000 per year. Remember, if you are currently a registered nurse with an associates degree in Nursing (ADN), you can take an RN-to-BSN program to save money. These cost an average of only $24,000.

Master’s degrees have their broad ranges, as will doctoral programs. Master’s programs are going to cost on average, a minimum of around $18,000 per year all the way up to around $60,000 per year; doctoral programs have just as significant lows and highs for costs.  Just remember, each of these advanced degree levels can only be acquired after the previous level was earned. So, when it comes down to it, one of the most direct ways to earn a nursing degree, with costs as high as they are, is to explore the benefits of financial aid or employer tuition benefits. 

Financial Aid

However obvious an option financial aid may be, it is a nearly indispensable resource for the majority of students nowadays. The most exciting type of financial aid is that of grants and scholarships. While some people may presume that scholarships are based more often on academic merit, there genuinely hundreds of scholarships to be found online for everything to your racial background, the clubs you may have participated in during high school, or even the volunteer work that you may have done in the past. While these grants or scholarships can be rare, depending on which you apply for — some have very specific requirements for qualification— if granted, they can make a huge difference in the overall cost of attendance. The more common step is that of Federal Student Aid. While there will be financial standards which can determine the money which is ultimately made available, it is very easy to be granted access to federal support. 

A less common but feasible option is to also look into work-study programs associated with the college or school you are interested in attending. The pay earned is only part of the benefit, work experience gained will always make a resume look better, which is what will be needed after you graduate and start looking for a job. The difference in work experience may be the difference between you and one of your peers getting a job first. 


For anyone considering a degree in nursing, there are not only hundreds of programs to choose from, but a variety of degree levels and paths that can be taken to earn each overtime. Whether going straight into a four- year bachelors program or qualifying for RN licensure eligibility after the completion of an associate's degree, the financial flexibility inherent to these programs is diverse. The newer, more efficient and robust options of hybrid and online learning, while not as traditional, can be just as good a program with less costs. 

If after looking, the program you decide is the best happens to be a bit more than you can afford at the time, then grant and scholarship programs are available by the hundreds online. With all those options exhausted, you can still impress your friends by how much money you save doing things like buying used scrubs, books, and equipment from recent graduates. The bottom line is, even with the sticker shock that comes with most nursing programs today, a path can be found and navigated to an affordable degree.

Sophia Carlisle
Sophia Carlisle is a professional writer.
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