Is a Graduate Nursing Degree Worth It?

A graduate degree in nursing will likely lead to a higher salary, but does that benefit outweigh the costs associated with these programs?
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Updated on January 16, 2024
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Scott Harris has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 25 years, including more than 15 years covering healthcare and higher education. As a senior editor with Red Ventures, Scott currently is a contributing editor at BestColleges and edits the "N...
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  • Nursing is one of the most popular advanced degrees in the U.S.
  • Master's and doctoral degrees in nursing often lead to higher earnings.
  • Graduate nursing students often take on more than $45,000 in debt to complete their degree program.

A graduate degree in nursing may be pricey, but data shows that an advanced degree in the field often leads to a favorable return on investment (ROI).

An HEA Group analysis of federal data shows that a master's degree in nursing is one of the most popular master's degrees in the U.S. Additionally, a doctoral degree in nursing is among the country's five most popular doctoral degrees.

Both of these advanced degrees boast relatively low debt-to-earnings ratios compared to other popular majors, suggesting that these programs offer positive financial outcomes for nursing students more often than not.

However, ROI can vary depending on the type of institution a student attends.

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Nursing Master's Degree ROI

The five most popular master's degree programs in the U.S. are business administration, educational administration, registered nursing, social work, and teacher education, according to HEA Group.

A master's degree in nursing offers a similar ROI to a master's in business administration or educational administration, HEA data shows. A nursing master's degree provides considerably better ROI than a master's in social work or teacher education.

Notably, the debt-to-earnings ratio is similar at both public institutions and private, for-profit institutions. The ratio is higher for graduates from private, nonprofit colleges and universities.

A lower ratio means a better ROI for students.

Nursing Master's Degree Debt and Earnings
Institution type Median debt of graduates Median earnings, four years after graduation
Public $47,124 $110,946
Private, nonprofit $60,317 $115,216
Private, for-profit $46,924 $107,275

It's worth noting that these debt figures only take into account federal student loans like Grad PLUS loans. Private loans are not included.

Nursing Doctoral Degree ROI

The five most popular doctoral programs in the U.S. are business administration, clinical counseling and applied psychology, educational administration, nursing, and rehabilitation and therapeutic professions, according to HEA Group.

Once again, a doctoral degree in nursing provides one of the lowest debt-to-earnings ratios of these five programs.

Similar to a master's degree in nursing, a doctoral degree in nursing provides comparative ROI for students who attend a public or private, for-profit institution. The debt-to-earnings ratio is slightly higher for students who attended a private, nonprofit college or university.

Nursing Doctoral Degree Debt and Earnings
Institution type Median debt of graduates Median earnings, four years after graduation
Public $80,107 $136,375
Private, nonprofit $89,855 $132,380
Private, for-profit $66,920 $118,181

While the debt-to-earnings ratio is lowest for nurses who earned their doctoral degree from a private, for-profit institution, graduates from these programs also tend to earn the lowest salaries four years after graduation.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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