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More and more employers are looking for nurses who have completed their master’s in nursing. However, attaining this level of education requires time and money.

To ensure students get the highest quality education for the most cost-effective price, compiled this list of the most affordable online master’s in nursing programs. This article also shows how much students can expect to pay for an online master’s in nursing degree, what financial aid resources are available, and how students can find the affordable online master’s in nursing that’s right for them.

Cost Breakdown for an Online Master’s in Nursing Program

There are several costs students must budget for when enrolling in an online master’s in nursing program. Understanding these costs can help students find a program that fits them financially.


Tuition is the primary cost for any degree, whether students enroll in an online, traditional, or hybrid program. Most schools charge a flat per-term tuition fee for full-time students, while part-time students are likelier to pay per credit hour. This cost difference means part-time students may pay less per term than full-time students. However, as all degrees have minimum credit requirements, students who pay per credit will end up paying the same amount (or possibly more) as full-time students by the time they finish their degree.


In addition to tuition, many schools charge fees to cover specific resources or programs. For online master’s in nursing programs, schools may charge students fees for labs, virtual classroom technology, library resources, technical support, and more. Fees may be assessed on a per-term, per-year, or one-time basis. Students may also have to pay fees to outside organizations. For example, most nursing programs require background checks, which students may have to pay for out-of-pocket.

Personal technology

Students must also ensure they can access a reliable personal computer and a high-speed internet connection to succeed in an online program. If students are participating in live online classes, they’ll need a microphone and webcam as well. Before starting their programs, students should assess their current tech setups and determine if they need new equipment, which helps students budget accordingly. Students who need computers or other hardware or software should find out if their school partners with any stores or companies to offer discounts.

Books and other learning materials

Another cost students should account for is books — in a hard copy or digital format — and other required learning materials. The cost of books and learning materials may vary by term, but a representative from the nursing program should be able to provide students with an overall or per-term estimate. While these expenses may be minimal compared to tuition, budgeting for them can help students avoid unexpected costs during the academic year.

Cost savings for online programs

Online programs can eliminate costs like room and board, transportation, childcare, and on-campus student fees. By attending school remotely, students have more control over their cost-of-living expenses. They may be able to live in a more affordable location than where their college is located. The flexibility and convenience of an online master’s in nursing degree program may also make it easier for students to continue working and have a stable income to support them while in school.

Factors Influencing the Cost of an Online Master’s in Nursing Programs

Tuition varies between colleges (and, in some cases, between programs) based on several factors.

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. Therefore, private schools tend to charge higher tuition rates when compared to public universities, which receive federal and state money to help make their tuition lower, especially for in-state students.

Student residency status

Students enrolling at a public university should consider whether the school charges different tuition rates based on where students live. Students who live in the state where the school is located are considered “in-state” and typically pay a lower tuition rate than out-of-state students. However, as online programs have become more popular, more schools offer in-state tuition to all students, regardless of residency. Remember this when researching schools and asking about their tuition policies. Meanwhile, because they don’t receive state funding, private colleges charge all students the same tuition rate, regardless of where they live.

Nonprofit vs. for-profit

Colleges in the U.S. are classified either as non-profit or for-profit entities. All public universities are nonprofit, while private institutions can be nonprofit or for-profit. Although for-profit schools often charge lower tuition rates than private nonprofit institutions, it’s important to remember a key difference between these two types of schools. Nonprofit institutions must reinvest their revenue into their infrastructure, faculty and staff salaries, student services, and more. Meanwhile, the primary mission of for-profit institutions is to ensure shareholders are getting a return on their investment, meaning investment into the school and its students may take a backseat. Regardless of which type of school you’re considering, research how they invest the tuition you pay so you can feel confident you’re getting a good value.

Student military status

It’s common practice for schools to 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.

Most Affordable 50 Online Master’s in Nursing Programs

Most Affordable Master's in Nursing Programs Badge

FAU College of Nursing

Appalachian State University

University of Central Florida

NMSU Global Campus

California State University Dominguez Hills

Liberty University

Lamar University

Georgetown University

Old Dominion University

University of West Georgia

McNeese State University

University of Arizona

West Texas A&M University

University of Central Missouri

Indiana State University

Indiana University

Ferris State University

Wichita State University

University of Missouri

Ball State University

Drexel University

Utah Valley University

Ohio State University

Spring Hill College

University of West Florida

Cleveland State University

Fairleigh Dickinson University

Eastern Kentucky University

University of Louisiana Monroe

Middle Georgia State University

Georgia Southern University

University of Colorado Colorado Springs

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Fort Hays State University

McKendree University

Tennessee State University

Herzing University

Texas A&M International University

South Dakota State University

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Xavier University

Johns Hopkins School of Nursing

Fitchburg State University

Michigan State University

Missouri State University

Kennesaw State University

Queens University of Charlotte

Vanderbilt University

Texas Woman's University

University of Cincinnati

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the most affordable online master’s in nursing degree programs in the U.S. All are offered at nonprofit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and student resources. We also compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

How to Pay for an Online Master’s in Nursing Degree

There are several ways to pay for an online master’s in nursing degree. In most cases, students will use some combination of the following methods to cover the cost of their degree.


Students who pay tuition and fees directly to the school using their own money (or that of parents or guardians) are paying out of pocket. Depending on their circumstances, students will combine out-of-pocket payments with other financial resources such as loans and scholarships or pay the total amount with their own money. Students using their own money to pay for some or all of their tuition and fees can inquire about payment plans with their school’s financial aid office. Payment plans allow students to break up tuition payments into installments instead of paying one lump sum at the start of the term.

Federal student loans

The U.S. Department of Education’s federal student loan program offers Direct Unsubsidized Loans to graduate students. Federal student loans ‘ interest rates and repayment terms are fixed and generally more favorable than private education loans. To determine eligibility for federal student loans, students and their families (if students are dependents) must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). 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 need to borrow money from private lenders like Sallie Mae, SoFi, and Ascent. Unlike federal student loans, which have interest rates and repayment terms set by Congress, 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.


A scholarship is money awarded to a student to cover educational expenses that doesn’t require repayment. Scholarships may be awarded based on financial need or a student’s achievements, aptitude, or specific demographic. Scholarship sources include schools, employers, individuals, private companies, nonprofits, community and religious groups, and professional organizations. To be considered for most scholarships, especially those based on financial need, students must submit a completed FAFSA and other application materials. 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.


Like scholarships, grants are gift aid that doesn’t have to be repaid, although they are primarily awarded based on need, not merit. Students should find out what types of grants, if any, their school and state offer to online nursing master’s degree students.


Students are awarded Federal Work Study funding as part of their financial aid package based on their financial need. This program allows students to earn money to pay for school and living expenses by working part-time at their college. Students earn at least the federal minimum wage, although some positions pay more based on responsibilities and experience level. Graduate students are eligible for work-study. Interested online students should contact their school to determine if they have remote work-study opportunities.

Employer tuition assistance

Another popular way for students to pay for an online master’s in nursing degree is with financial assistance from their employer. In most cases, employers reimburse employees for some or all of their tuition and school-related expenses. Specific procedures and amounts covered will vary by company. Students who intend to work while completing an online master’s in nursing should check with the company’s HR department to determine if this benefit is available.

Online Master’s in Nursing Career Outlook

Another factor to consider when seeking an affordable online master’s in nursing degree program is the return on investment, not just in salary but also in job opportunities and career satisfaction.

The most common career paths for individuals who earn a master’s in nursing are registered nurses or nurse practitioners. Registered nurses, commonly known as RNs, provide direct care to patients as part of a team of physicians and specialists in hospitals, health clinics, urgent care centers, private practices, and more. The average median salary for RNs is $81,220, and employment in these positions is expected to grow 6% through 2032.

Nurse practitioners, also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), have a broader scope of practice than RNs and can provide a variety of primary and specialty healthcare services. Nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of $125,900, and employment in these positions is expected to grow 38% through 2032, much faster than the average for all other occupations.

An online master’s in nursing can also prepare students for further study at the doctoral level or for teaching positions at universities and academic medical settings.

Within the nursing field, there are many options for specialization, including:

  • Nurse informatics
  • Nurse educator
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Nurse manager/administrator
  • Psychiatric mental health nurse
  • Midwife/doula

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.

The pause on federal student loan repayments enacted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic expired in fall 2023, and payments resumed on October 1, 2023. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s student loan debt relief plan in June 2023.

Some federal student loan forgiveness plans are currently in place, including Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PLSF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF). However, these may not apply to students in nursing degree programs. Eligible students will have some or all of their federal student loan debt forgiven upon completing requirements.

Meanwhile, 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.”

Students also don’t have to wait until they finish their program to repay their loans.

“You can begin paying off your loans as soon as the funds have been disbursed,” Marvin says. “If you make an extra few hundred dollars during a summer job or your parents get a big bonus from work, you can use that money to start paying off your loans while you’re still in school. 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.

Lastly, Marvin encourages students and families to be realistic about what they can afford in terms of out-of-pocket costs and loan amounts.

“If attending a certain pricy college is going to put a family into major debt and require potentially dangerous financial decisions, such as taking out a second mortgage on a home or withdrawing from a retirement account early, it may mean a hard conversation of choosing a different school,” she says.

How to Choose the Online Master’s in Nursing Program that’s Right for You

Step 1: Choose your area of study

Establishing parameters for what you’re seeking in an online master’s in nursing degree program early on can make the search process easy and efficient.

First, determine how your current professional and educational background will influence the type of online master’s in nursing degree program you need. Options include an RN-to-MSN, a BSN-to-MSN, or an accelerated/direct-entry MSN degree program. Review licensure requirements for the state where you plan to practice to ensure you consider programs that meet eligibility criteria.

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.

Also, consider your practical needs, such as whether you want to enroll in an asynchronous or synchronous program or plan to enroll full-time or part-time. If cost is an important factor, set a budget for how much you can pay out of pocket to get a sense of how much extra you’ll need from loans and scholarships to cover the program’s cost.

Step 2: Research schools and programs

After setting some basic criteria for what you want in an online nursing master’s degree program, you can begin to research specific schools and programs.

A key piece of information you should confirm for each school is their accreditation status at the institutional and programmatic levels. You can verify institutional accreditation through the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database. Institutional accreditation is important because it can affect eligibility for federal financial aid, nursing licensure, and future employment and educational opportunities. At the programmatic level, determine if the program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) to ensure that it meets industry standards for nursing education.

Other important information students should gather includes:

  • Method of course delivery (synchronous or asynchronous)
  • Faculty bios and qualifications
  • Curriculum, including core coursework, electives, and concentration options
  • Clinical rotation requirements
  • Available support services for online students, including tutoring, counseling, tech support, library resources, and networking opportunities
  • Program costs, including fees

You can find this information on the school’s website or by contacting their admissions office or nursing department. Attending virtual open houses or information sessions can allow you to speak to faculty and current students. You can also follow schools and programs on social media to get insight into day-to-day life in the program.

Step 3: Prepare for applications and tests

Review the program’s admissions requirements and procedures online or by speaking to an admissions counselor. As schools may have different requirements and deadlines, it can be helpful to use a spreadsheet or checklist to keep track of this information.

A standard application for an online master’s in nursing degree program includes:

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

Eligibility requirements will vary based on the type of degree program. For example, students applying to RN-to-MSN or BSN-to-MSN programs must have an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited school and an active RN license. There may also be requirements for a minimum undergraduate GPA and professional experience.

Students applying to direct-entry MSN programs must have an undergraduate degree in a field other than nursing. However, there may be prerequisite coursework students must complete before enrolling.

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

Step 4: Select your program

Once you’ve conducted all your research, compare your options. Eliminate any that don’t meet your needs and apply to the ones that do. The number of programs you apply to is an individual choice. Nursing programs can be competitive, so some students may submit applications to multiple schools. Other students may select one or two schools based on location, cost, curriculum, or faculty. Students who are applying to several programs should budget for application fees.

After receiving your acceptance offers, compare your options based on your priorities and choose the one that meets all or most of your needs.

Step 5: Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Confirm the program’s total cost, including tuition and fees, with a financial aid representative and find out what type of financial aid resources are available to students in online nursing master’s programs.

If you want schools to consider you for need-based aid like loans, grants, and scholarships, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can also explore merit-based aid from your institution and external organizations, such as scholarships, grants, and fellowships.

For students working while earning an MSN, employer tuition assistance benefits may help offset costs. Active-duty military members and veterans may be able to get discounted tuition or use GI Bill benefits to pay for their degrees.

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