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Nurse practitioners are some of the most in-demand healthcare professionals, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting a 38% increase in employment for the field through 2032. Also known as advanced practice registered nurses, these individuals provide primary and specialty healthcare to various patient populations in a range of settings.

Because of the specialized knowledge the field requires, a master’s degree is the minimum education requirement for becoming a nurse practitioner. For cost-conscious students who want to find the cheapest online nurse practitioner programs, Intelligent.com compiled this list of high-quality and affordable degree programs to help aspiring nurse practitioners get the education they need to advance their careers.

This article also includes expert advice on how to pay for a nurse practitioner degree and choose the right degree program for your budget and education goals.

Cost Breakdown for Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Tuition is the primary cost students may think of when searching for the cheapest online nurse practitioner programs, but there are additional costs to budget for as well. Understanding these costs can help students find a program that works for them financially.

Tuition

Tuition is the main cost associated with earning a degree. Schools set a per-credit tuition fee and charge students based on how many credits they enroll in per term. This often means students who enroll part-time pay less each term. However, all programs have a minimum number of credits required for graduation, so even part-time students will end up paying the same amount (or possibly more) as full-time students by the time they complete their degree. Students seeking the cheapest online nurse practitioner program should look not only at the per-credit tuition cost but also how many overall credits the program requires.

Fees

Schools also commonly assess additional fees to cover specific resources needed for a particular program. For example, students in nurse practitioner programs may have to pay fees for background checks and labs. Online programs may also charge fees for virtual classroom technology, library resources, or technical support. Schools may assess fees on a per-term, per-year, or one-time-only basis.

Personal technology

Online students must be prepared with reliable technology, including personal computers and high-speed internet access. If students are participating in live online classes, they’ll need a microphone and webcam as well. Before starting your program, assess your current tech setup and determine if you need any new equipment or an upgrade to your internet access. If you need a new computer or software, check if your school partners with stores or companies to offer students discounts on technology.

Books and other learning materials

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average postsecondary student spends between $628 and $1,200 annually for books and supplies. Program representatives can provide more details about how much students in a nurse practitioner program should expect to spend on books, allowing students to factor those costs into their budget.

Cost savings for online programs

Attending a nurse practitioner degree program online can eliminate costs like room and board, transportation, childcare, and on-campus student fees. Students who attend school remotely also have more control over their cost-of-living expenses, as they may be able to live somewhere more affordable than where the college is located. The flexibility and convenience of an online nurse practitioner program may also make it easier for students to work and have a stable income while in school.

Factors Influencing the Cost of Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

There are a number of factors that contribute to how colleges set their tuition rates, which can influence what type of institution a student chooses for earning their online nurse practitioner degree.

Public vs. private institutions

A school’s status as a private or public institution plays a significant role in determining its tuition. Private colleges rely mainly on tuition, endowments, and investments to fund their operations, so they typically charge higher tuition rates than public universities. Public colleges receive federal and state money to operate, with the intention of providing more affordable education options to students.

Student residency status

Because public colleges receive state tax dollars to support their operations, students who attend a public school in the state where they reside pay lower tuition rates than those who attend from out-of-state. Private colleges charge all students the same tuition rate, regardless of where they live.

However, as online programs have become more popular, more public schools are offering in-state tuition to all students, regardless of residency. If you’re considering any public institutions, ask about their tuition policies to see if you are eligible for an in-state tuition rate.

Nonprofit vs. for-profit

Colleges in the U.S. are classified either as non-profit or for-profit entities. All public universities are nonprofit. Private institutions can be nonprofit or for-profit. For-profit schools often charge lower tuition rates than private nonprofit colleges, but it’s important to remember that the primary mission of a for-profit school is to earn money for investors and shareholders. Therefore, investment into the school’s infrastructure and its students may take a backseat to other priorities, which can impact the quality of education students receive. Meanwhile, at non-profit schools, revenues must be reinvested into the institution in the form of faculty and staff salaries, student services, infrastructure, and more.

Student military status

Schools commonly offer discounted tuition rates to veterans, active-duty service members, and their spouses or children. Students who think they may be eligible for discounted tuition based on past or current military service should check with their school’s financial aid or military services office.

Best 50 Accredited Nurse Practitioner Programs

Most Affordable Online Nurse Practitioner Programs_2024 badge
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University of West Florida
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Ohio University
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University of Southern Indiana
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University of Texas at Arlington
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NMSU Global
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Rockhurst University
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Midwestern State University
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Arkansas State University
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University of Arizona
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Columbus State University
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Angelo State University
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Youngstown State University
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University of Nevada Reno
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McNeese State University
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University of Central Missouri
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Kent State University
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Radford University
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Marshall University
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Northern Kentucky University
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Northern Arizona University
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Texas Woman's University
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University of Missouri
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Eastern Kentucky University
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University of Alabama
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Weber State University
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Old Dominion University
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William Paterson University
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University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
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University of South Alabama
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Texas A&M International University
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University of Cincinnati
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Campbellsville University
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King University
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University of Memphis
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Indiana State University
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Middle Georgia State University
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South Dakota State University
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St. Thomas University
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Morehead State University
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Wheeling University
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Wilkes University
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Briar Cliff University
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Northern Michigan University
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Saint Joseph's College of Maine
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The University of Mississippi
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Troy University
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Montana State University
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Southeastern Louisiana University
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Delta State University
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Manhattanville College

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the most affordable online nurse practitioner programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education.

We evaluated each degree program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and student resources. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

How to Pay for an Online Nurse Practitioner Program

Even if you find the cheapest online nurse practitioner program, you’ll still likely have to pay something for your degree. There are a variety of ways to cover costs associated with a nurse practitioner degree program.

Out-of-pocket

Essentially, this means using your own money (or that of parents or guardians) to pay for tuition and other expenses. Many students pay at least a portion of their degree costs out-of-pocket, even if they also receive loans, scholarships, and grants. Students using their own money to pay for some or all of their tuition and fees should inquire with their school’s financial aid office about payment plans, which allow students to spread out their payments over the course of the term.

Federal student loans

Graduate students are eligible for Direct Unsubsidized Loans through the U.S. Department of Education’s federal student loan program. The interest rates and repayment terms for federal student loans are set by Congress and are typically more favorable than education loans from private lenders. Students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for federal student loans. More information about the FAFSA and student loans is included in the next section.

Private education loans

Because there are limits to how much students can borrow in federal student loans, some may use education loans from private lenders like Sallie Mae, SoFi, and Ascent to make up the difference. Private student loan interest rates and terms vary based on factors like current market rates and individual credit scores. Students who need to take out private education loans should keep an eye on interest rates throughout the year to lock in the most favorable terms possible.

Scholarships

Scholarships are considered gift aid because, unlike loans, they don’t need to be repaid. Students can receive scholarships based on various factors, including financial need, academic or professional achievements, or being part of a specific demographic. For scholarships based on financial need, students typically have to submit a FAFSA form. Scholarship sources include schools, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, community and religious groups, and professional organizations. Although researching and applying for scholarships can be time-consuming, this financial aid is particularly beneficial because students don’t need to worry about repaying it. A few scholarships, even in small amounts, can help decrease the amount students must pay out of pocket or with loans.

Grants

Like scholarships, grants are gift aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Schools typically award grants based on financial need to help fill in gaps not covered by scholarships or loans. To find out what types of grants you may be eligible for, speak to your school’s financial aid office.

Employer tuition assistance

If you’re planning on working while earning your online nurse practitioner degree, find out if your employer offers tuition assistance benefits. The way this benefit is administered varies, but typically, an employer will reimburse students for some or all of the cost of a course after successful completion.

Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

When considering how much to spend on a nurse practitioner degree, it’s also helpful to think about earning potential and job opportunities.

The median annual salary for general nurse practitioners is $126,260, while nurse midwives earn $129,650, and nurse anesthetists earn $212,650. The type of setting in which nurse practitioners work also impacts salaries. For example, nurse practitioners in outpatient healthcare centers earn a median annual wage of $136,920, while those in physicians’ offices earn $126,270.

The employment outlook for nurse practitioners is very strong, with an estimated 29,200 new jobs on average per year through 2032. Because nurse practitioners can perform many of the same tasks as physicians, they’re increasingly in demand as part of care teams in hospitals, clinics, and physicians’ offices.

Nurse practitioners can also increase their earning potential and job prospects by focusing on a specialty, qualifying themselves for more positions. Some popular nurse practitioner specialties include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Neonatal care
  • Psychiatric care
  • Adult-gerontology
  • Women’s health/gynecology
  • Nurse informatics
  • Nurse educator

Applying for Financial Aid

For an in-depth overview of the FAFSA and financial aid application process, check out the Ultimate FAFSA Guide.

Student loan forgiveness and repayment

When borrowing money to pay for college, students should always expect to repay their loans in full and have a clear understanding of interest rates and repayment options before committing to any loans.

Although the Biden administration has made efforts to forgive student loan debt, there is currently no comprehensive action that would eliminate student loan debt for all current and future borrowers.

Some federal student loan forgiveness plans are currently in place, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PLSF). Students may want to consider their eligibility for these programs before borrowing money to pay for their degree.

Dana Marvin, an independent college counselor, offers this guidance to help students borrow wisely for college and repay their student loans as quickly as possible.

“Borrow only what you need and nothing more,” Marvin says. “For example, if you’re eligible to take out a loan for $12,500 per year but only need $8,000, there’s no need to take out a loan for those extra funds. Every dollar you take out in a loan will be paid back and with interest.”

“You can also begin paying off your loans as soon as the funds have been disbursed,” Marvin continues. “Even paying off a few hundred or thousand dollars before finishing school can make a huge difference to those loan amounts post-graduation.” Paying on loans earlier is especially important for graduate students, as interest on unsubsidized loans begins accruing after the loan is disbursed.

How to Choose the Affordable Online Nurse Practitioner Program That’s Right for You

While finding the cheapest online nurse practitioner program might be the priority, there are a number of other factors to consider when choosing the right program.

If you’re attending an online nurse practitioner degree program, consider whether you want a synchronous or asynchronous program. While asynchronous programs offer more flexibility, they also require more independent learning, which may not work for students who prefer interaction with faculty and classmates. Also, consider whether you want to enroll full-time or part-time, as this may affect your options.

Nursing is a heavily regulated field, with licensing requirements that vary by state. Before enrolling in a program, review licensure requirements for the state where you plan to practice to ensure you’ll be able to obtain licensure post-graduation.

Also, reflect on whether a specific type of environment or patient population interests you. This reflection can guide you to programs that offer electives, specializations, and clinical experiences in your area of interest.

When researching programs, confirm that the schools and programs you’re considering have the appropriate accreditation. At the institutional level, schools should have regional accreditation, which you can verify through the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database. Institutional accreditation is important because it affects eligibility for federal financial aid, nursing licensure, and future employment and educational opportunities. At the programmatic level, confirm that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) to ensure that it meets industry standards for nursing education.

Application and eligibility requirements vary by program, so review this information on schools’ websites and speak to admissions counselors if you need clarification.

A standard application for an online nurse practitioner’s master’s program includes:

  • Completed application and fees
  • Official transcripts from previous schools attended
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Resume or CV
  • GRE scores

Applicants to nursing programs must also submit a criminal background check.


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