If you are looking at paths into nursing, you may be wondering about the cost difference to become an LPN versus an RN. Let’s start by clarifying the differences between the degrees: an LPN is a licensed practical nurse and an RN is a registered nurse. The first is a practical nursing degree that generally takes one to two years to complete, while the second is a professional nursing degree that can take between two to fours years to complete, depending on whether you pursue an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

General Costs of the Two Programs

Given that the LPN program is shorter, it’s to be expected that it will also be less expensive. LPN tuition costs can range, depending on the type of program. Some programs will accept college graduates, while others will only work with high school graduates or the equivalent. The latter tend to be less expensive. LPN tuition costs can range from $1,500 to $15,000 per year; generally, the longer the program, the more it will end up costing.

The cost of becoming an RN is likely to be more expensive because you’re in school longer and earning a professional degree. Tuition costs, including clinical fees, may range from $5,000 to $8,000 or more per year if you are working on an associate’s degree or a “bridge” program to move from an LPN to RN. If you decide to pursue a traditional four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a major university, the costs will likely be higher.

Please also see: What is the Difference Between an LPN and an RN?

Count Costs Besides Tuition

When looking at the real cost difference to become an LPN versus an RN, it’s important that you note costs associated with the degree that may not jump out at first glance. Comparing tuition costs is relatively easy, but make sure that you have a good sense of things not included in tuition costs. For either the LPN or RN degree, those may include clinical or lab fees, books and other school supplies, medical equipment (like a stethoscope) and uniforms, and license exam fees. Taken all together they can add up, and you’ll need to factor them into your budget.

Consider Long-Term Career Choices and Job Outlook

It’s also important to realize that cost isn’t the only factor to consider as you choose which degree to pursue. Although the LPN is cheaper to obtain, and will launch you more quickly into the workforce, if you plan to stay in nursing you may likely go on to pursue an RN. Becoming an RN will open up more opportunities and probably lead to a higher salary. With many RNs now being encouraged to complete their BSN, finding a way to finance the four-year degree is a long-term goal. In that case, beginning with your LPN may still be a good idea, especially if you’re eager to begin work, because “bridge” LPN to RN programs can be relatively cost-effective.

In the short run, pursing an LPN is almost certainly less expensive. Just bear in mind that this is a first step in your nursing career. Begin to look ahead and ask questions regarding what long-range path will be most cost effective. Your long-range goals be must be part of the equation when you’re looking at the cost difference to become an LPN versus an RN.