Nursing Student Loan Debt

You made it into nursing school. Congratulations! Getting into nursing school often seems unnecessarily difficult. Navigating nursing student loan debt and paying for nursing school seems even more daunting. I applied to a community college ADN program and an accelerated BSN program. The ADN program was more difficult to get into! Unfortunately state university cost significantly more than my community college. I had to borrow $35k of nursing student loans for my undergrad BSN program. I most recently borrowed $45k for my nurse practitioner grad program.

I’d never had to borrow student loan debt for my own schooling before, as my parents graciously paid for my previous education. Shortly after my acceptance to my state university nursing school, I received a financial aid letter. This outlined the various options to pay for my tuition every semester. Nursing student loans were the primary option for broke nursing students.

The financial aid letter makes it seem so easy. They even categorized my loans as subsidized or unsubsidized loans. Nursing schools make you feel good about your qualifications for their generous financial aid offer. “You’re gonna be a nurse soon making real money, so congratulations you qualify for at least a decade worth of debt!”

I don’t regret my nursing student loan debt decisions, but I wish I was more informed and aware of their implications.

Major Benefit of Nursing Student Loan Debt

Nursing student loans have the significant benefit of getting you through nursing school as fast as possible. You don’t have any interruptions in your nursing program because of finances. You can concentrate on your nursing program. Most nursing programs now seem to move as cohorts, meaning you pretty much make a commitment to start and finish at a certain time. This makes student loans that much more attractive to the financing of your nursing school.

I immensely benefited from using nursing student loans to fund both my undergrad nursing program and my graduate nurse practitioner program. I didn’t ever have to take a break. In undergrad, I didn’t have to work at all, so I could concentrate fully on my studies. I spent many hours in the depths of the school library during normal work hours studying. I didn’t have to worry about money for school or cost of living.

You as a nursing student would also greatly benefit from this freedom provided by nursing student loan debt. Many of my classmates worked part-time as CNAs, but I didn’t see the point in possibly compromising my grades and place at nursing school doing so especially since student loans were so easy to obtain. It would’ve probably benefited me to have worked as a CNA as I would have had better job connections after graduation and also hopefully have less student debt. With nursing student loan aid, I never had to be concerned about my tuition payments. I could study hard and get into the nursing job market.

Downside of Nursing Student Loans

I took out approximately $35k of nursing student loans for my undergrad and $45k for my nurse practitioner program. It’s been almost 10 years since completing my undergraduate nursing program, and I’m still paying down nursing student loan debt for my nurse practitioner program.

True Financial Cost of Nursing Student Loan Debt

I actually paid off my undergrad student loan debt last year, but it’s still been almost 8 years of payments. When you get a nursing student loan offer, they don’t usually tell you how much money you’re actually borrowing over the long haul. Technically I only borrowed $35k, but $35k with 6% interest over 10 years means I paid back $46k. No one tells you this or at least it wasn’t clearly presented to me as a nursing student that in the end I’ll probably pay $46k over 10 years.

Emotional Drag

Paying back student loans in general over a long period is a drag on your psyche. Student loans pay for education which is not as tangential as a house or car. It’s a little easier to pay a monthly mortgage for a house because you have to live somewhere and property tends to increase in value.

It’s hard to have the same positivity with nursing student loans. Yes, I’ve dramatically increased my earning ability, but after a long night in the hospital, I don’t care. When work starts feeling like a major drag and I’m in an all too common toxic work environment, a monthly payment is just one more irritation.

Alternative Ways to Pay for Nursing School

If you’re looking for a magic bullet to fund nursing school, you’re not going to find one here or anywhere else for that matter. Believe me, I spend a lot of time looking. Nursing student loans fill a needed void for quick financing during school. That’s all they are. Any scheme to raise money quickly for nursing school is a scam. Your best bet for quick money apart from debt for nursing school might be fundraising or something. Unfortunately that doesn’t work for most of us. There are at least 3 great alternatives though.

Nursing Scholarships

I recommend applying for nursing scholarships. This never worked too well for me as I’m a pretty standard person who doesn’t qualify for most scholarships. Even so, I still spent time researching and applying. I recommend everyone at least search and apply.

I did receive a couple of scholarships from my nursing school for my academic achievement which was helpful. To find a scholarship, your best bet is to try googling “nursing scholarships”. You’ll find a rabbit hole of options. Many nursing schools also have scholarship links on their websites. Try it out.

Working a Job

Nursing students can easily find jobs as a CNA or medical assistant. Many of my classmates were CNAs which as a side-benefit gave them a connection for a future nursing job. I didn’t do this, but I probably should’ve as I could’ve saved thousands of dollars. I also probably would’ve gotten a job right out of undergrad instead of frantically searching for 1-2 months and moving to an undesirable location for my first job.

There’s no avoiding the fact that a job is usually hard work beyond the difficulties of nursing school study. It’s not usually fun or something I want to spend my time doing. If you go into it with the mindset of it being temporary and with the goal of getting you through nursing school, then it won’t seem as bad.

Frugal Lifestyle

When you’re using student loans, every extra dollar counts. Cutting costs in your life can make a big difference. If you have to use nursing student loans, try to borrow as little as possible.

Most of us live a lifestyle that’s either inflated or beyond our financial means. This seems to be true regardless of how much money we have. A doctor expands his lifestyle to fit his larger income. A store clerk fits their lifestyle to their income. The point is they both figured out how to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle on a dramatically different income.

During nursing school, try to live as cheaply as possible and use the extra money to pay for school. This will go a long way in securing your financial life, especially after school. I didn’t take this advice during my undergrad and got involved in the expensive sport of kiteboarding. I enjoyed my time kiteboarding, but it probably wasn’t worth the extra thousands of dollars in student loans.

Technically you’re not supposed to spend your student loans on anything but school or cost of living, but I considered kiteboarding an important part of my cost of living. Yup, it happened. I’m literally paying for it now! Learn to budget and learn to live more frugally yet still comfortably.

Dealing with Nursing Student Loans

You already have nursing student loan debt from nursing school. What can you do now? Unfortunately student loans cannot usually be discharged during bankruptcy, so your student loans are here to stay. Currently there is a lot of buzz from political candidates about erasing student loans, but I wouldn’t count on political talk rescuing you quite yet. There are a few different options and ways to approach your nursing student loan debt though.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

If you work for a qualifying employer and pay 120 payments on your student loans, then you might qualify to have the remainder of your loans forgiven by the government. I haven’t honestly done much research into it because it didn’t seem worth it for my situation plus I didn’t always work for a qualifying employer.

Check out the official PSLF website for more info.  Also check out Student Loan Planner for more helpful and detailed info about PSLF. This might be a great option for you if you have a high amount of student loans or if you have nurse practitioner grad school debt.

Refinance Nursing Student Loans

There are a plethora of private lenders who will refinance your nursing student loan debt for a lower interest rate. I also never did this because student loan refinancing seemed sketchy when I first graduated undergrad, and my plan was to always pay off my student loans early. From experience, I can tell you it always takes longer to repay debt than I’d expect. I could’ve probably saved thousands if I would’ve refinanced. A caveat to refinancing is that you cannot participate in the PSLF, otherwise it seems like a great option today for most nurses.

Check out or the Student Loan Planner for different lenders and deals for refinancing.

(NOTE: I do not have any relationship financial or otherwise with I get literally nothing from them. I just find their content helpful.)

Pay Nurse Student Loan Debt Off Early

There’s no penalty for paying off your nursing student loans early. This was my main strategy. If you pay them off early, then you save on the interest payments that accrue over time.

You will need to work hard to earn extra income and live frugally while paying them off. Doing this results in extra cash to put towards your loans. Check out hacking the nurse pay scale on how to increase your earning ability as a newer nurse.

Paying off your nursing student loans is a powerful goal. It’s empowering to pay extra every month on the loans. I highly recommend this strategy, but it’s not for everyone. Your money might be better used elsewhere. You have to make that decision. I will write in the future about paying off student loans versus saving for retirement. I decided the psychological benefits of someday being debt free are worth it.

What are your thoughts about nursing student loan debt? Comment below and check back regularly to follow my journey towards financial independence.