Graduating Nursing School Debt Free IS possible
Updated: Nov 19, 2018
Nursing students have many challenges they go through before they can call themselves a nurse. A challenge that many nurses are finding themselves in is paying back a large student loan. According to nurse.com, the average American BSN graduates with a loan of $30,000 (www.nurse.com, nursing graduates, debt examined). This average may be large for some, but it may also be an under-exaggerated sum for many graduating nurses. If you plan on attending a private nursing school or major university, the school loan can be higher than $60,000. Here are a few guidelines to graduate from nursing school with little to no debt.
The first and major tip is to attend a community college. In the book, The Community College Advantage, the author explains how she graduated from Harvard with half the cost. She attended a community college for her first two years, and then transferred to Harvard to graduate with her bachelors degree (Melville). This author explains that when she graduated, her diploma doesn’t say that she has a bachelors from Harvard with an associates degree from a small community college. It just says that she has a bachelors degree from Harvard.
For nurses, many nursing programs are found at community colleges. The cost of a community college compared to a university is a drastic difference. While a lot of university credits will range from $300 to $500 a credit, many community colleges can range from $100 to $200 a credit. If you get your associates degree from a community college and then start a BSN program from a university, you will graduate with your BSN for half the cost than if you would have started the BSN program at a university from start to finish.
When you are in your first interview as a new grad RN, the employer may ask you where you went to school, but it is not a major concern with most employers. The director of nursing wants to make sure that you will make a valuable asset to the nursing team, and that you are a competent and safe nurse. During the part of the interview where pay is discussed, the employer won’t be willing to give you a higher pay scale just because you went to a prestigious school. You will still be a new grad RN, and you will not make as much money as nurses who have been working for many years.
Going to a community college first will get your foot in the door to nursing where you can start making money, and then start a bridge BSN program to continue your education. There are many BSN programs that hospitals will give tuition reimbursement for, and some hospitals will give a bonus for getting the BSN after the tuition reimbursement. If you have gone this route, you will have paid very little to get your ADN, and then you will not have to pay much to get your BSN. And because you are working as an RN, you will have the means to pay cash for the BSN.
The next thing to remember is that nurses make money, but not that much money. When nurses graduate from nursing school with a large amount of debt, getting a job is usually not a problem. Regardless of what you might hear, there is still a shortage of nurses, and there is a very broad spectrum of work for nurses. It is true that most hospitals are pushing to have all BSN RNs, but there is a lot of valuable work for ADN RNs inside and outside of hospitals. So while getting a job is usually not a concern, if you have a large amount of debt, it will be very hard as a nurse to pay it off. It may be easy to think that if you make $20,000 as a CNA while in school, and that as an RN you can make $70,000, you could just live like you have as a CNA for another year, and then pay off all of your debt the first year as a nurse. This is a dangerous way of thinking that traps many nurses. The debt you will have accrued during nursing school will have interest, and most people are comfortable with paying a monthly rate. This interest will make the $30,000 turn into $40,000 or $50,000 if you make minimum payments.
Remember that life happens. You may be able to live on a small budget now, but that doesn’t mean that you will be comfortable living on that budget in the future. Women get pregnant, spouse may lose job, someone in the family gets sick and has an ER visit, the car gets wrecked and you are back to car shopping, etc. These things will take priority, and even if you were adamant on paying off your school loan, that will need to be put on the back burner until you get your needs met. Your loan will not care about your needs, and will continue to accrue interest, making you have to spend more and more money.
Final tip: Find opportunities for other people to pay for your education. Ask your college about scholarships offered there. If there are scholarships offered at your school, do what it takes to get them. If you need to write essays, write them and turn them in on time, because most scholarships have a deadline. There are also thousands of scholarships available online. Look up on youtube.com how to get scholarships, and you will find that many students receive a large amount of money for college, sometimes even in the six figure range!
If there are opportunities to be in student government, there is a possibility your school will give you money for your position in student government. This will also help you be more marketable for future nursing positions, and will look great on your resume. If you plan on going to graduate school, being in student government will be a great asset to help you get into a nurse practitioner or CRNA program. These graduate programs are looking for nurses with leadership capabilities, and being in student government is a tangible way to show that you are a leader.
Do not forget to ask your financial aid department at your school about grants. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for a grant. A federal grant is money that you will not need to pay back to the government. If you go to a community college, the grant will usually be enough to pay for both semesters and then some. If this is the case, you will have enough money to buy books, and may even have enough left over to pay for your living expenses. You will literally be getting paid to go to school. The money that is left over from a grant after your tuition is paid for will be in the form of a check. It is up to you on how you spend the rest of the grant money, and remember, you don't have to pay it back because it is not a loan. Some students think that they will not qualify, but the only way to know is by applying. So make sure you apply, and do it before the deadline.
If you are already in an expensive nursing program, don’t let the thought of how much debt you have trouble you while in school. Finish your program, and then work hard on getting your debt paid off before it gets out of control. You will be happy you got it taken care of early in your career.
When you graduate from nursing school, it will be stressful as you start your career as a nurse. Don’t let a large amount of debt weigh you down. Work hard at your job, and focus on being a great nurse. If you are debt free as a new nurse, you will be happy with the income boost, and you will have the means to save up for a fun graduation present.
Start with a community college, then transfer to a BSN bridge program.
Remember, nurses don’t make millions. You don’t want debt.
Life happens, you can’t see the future, and debt stays with you regardless of your situation.
Don’t neglect free money. Apply for scholarships, apply for financial aid, and have other people pay for your college.
Melville, D. E. (2013). The community college advantage: your guide to a low-
cost, high-reward college experience. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Nursing graduates college debt, unemployment examined. (2014, September
10). Retrieved February 05, 2018, from