Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant: Cost of Education

Whether you are planning on becoming a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, there’s one thing you can count on for your future- bills.  Tuition costs, while ultimately worth the expense, are high.  But is there a significant difference between the cost of the NP and PA education?  Which route will leave you with the least amount of debt on graduation day?

To compare the cost of becoming a nurse practitioner vs becoming a physician assistant, I looked at tuition for five schools across the country, both public and private, offering both nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs.  Each of these schools offer both a traditional MSN program for nurses looking to continue their education as well as accelerated BSN programs followed by an MSN program for students without nursing degrees looking to become NPs.

Here’s the rundown:

Average cost of physician assistant program: $63,141

Average cost of MSN program (Family Nurse Practitioner): $44,606

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Average cost of accelerated BSN plus MSN program (for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field): $79,499

If you currently have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing, you are eligible enroll in either a physician assistant program, or to get your bachelor’s degree in nursing followed by an MSN to become a nurse practitioner.  If you are already a nurse, you can simply enroll in an MSN program to become an NP.

As you can see, if you don’t hold a nursing degree, becoming a physician assistant is the cheapest path to your medical career.  While tuition is of course dependent on the school you attend, you could save upwards of $16,000 by attending a PA program rather than an accelerated BSN program followed by getting your MSN degree.  If you are already a nurse, continuing your nursing education with an MSN degree will be much more cost effective than switching paths to the PA route.

Keep in mind this is a small sample of schools and is not meant to represent the average cost of attending an NP or PA program overall.  Rather, this small sampling is meant only to compare cost of education between the two career paths. It’s important to remember that cost of education is largely dependent on which program you attend.  Public schools in your state of residence are almost always the least expensive option for your education.


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3 thoughts on “Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant: Cost of Education”

  1. I’d also like to add that PA programs are usually 4 years and require full-time attendance, meaning you probably won’t be able to work. A BSN nurse enrolling in a MSN program (many of which are online programs) can usually complete the program in 18-24 months while still working at least part-time. Working while schooling will decrease total cost once you figure living expenses into the equation!

  2. PA programs are usually 24-27 months in length, not four years. Medical school is usually four years.

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