Nursing can be a rewarding career in a couple of important ways. It involves caring for the health of others and helping them through what can be a challenging moment in their lives, which can be satisfying. A nursing degree can mean job stability as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for nurses will increase at 6% per year, faster than the average career growth. And here’s one other important fact: The average registered nurse salary is at a median of $81,220 per year. Compare that with the median US salary for the same period of $54,132, and you can see that nursing can be a lucrative career, too.
The average nursing salary will vary depending on the type of nursing you do. For instance, there’s the average nurse salary vs. the average registered nurse salary vs. the average nurse practitioner salary. Qualifications and other factors will determine how much you make as a nurse.
Read on to learn more about this important topic. The information that follows can help you decide if nursing is the right career path for you, and, if so, which type of nursing you want to pursue.
Average Salaries for Different Types of Nurses
Wondering, “How much do nurses make?” First, understand that when considering nursing as a career, it’s vital to know about the different types of nurses. Each has its own education and certification requirements.
• A licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or licensed practical nurse (LPN) is one of the lowest-paid jobs within the nursing field. Job responsibilities are typically similar for LVN and LPNs. California and Texas use the term LVN, while the rest of the country uses the designation LPN. These positions also have the lowest educational requirements.
While LVN/LPN roles don’t always require a college education, there are usually state-approved training certification programs. Most of these courses take aspiring LVN/LPNs one year to complete, and then they must pass the NCLEX-PN examination for state licensing. How much does a nurse make a year with this kind of credential? The average salary for LVN/LPNs as of 2023 was about $50,580 annually.
• Aspiring registered nurses (RN) typically need a bachelor’s or associate’s degree from an accredited program. There are also some accelerated programs available and some second degree programs for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field.
After successfully completing their chosen coursework, nursing students must then pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to become a certified RN. In addition, RNs usually must obtain a state license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
To drill down on the details here, know that each state has its own licensing board. You may want to research the specific requirements in the state where you plan to practice. How much do RNs make? The average RN salary as of 2023, as noted above, was approximately $88,220 per year. (Below you will find state-by-stage nursing salaries, though not specifically for RNs.)
Next, consider the career of a Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS). This type of nurse has gone a step beyond RN and pursued additional education. At a minimum, you must have a master of science in nursing (MSN) to become a CNS.
A CNS typically trains extensively in a specialty area, such as emergency medicine, oncology, or women’s health. At the end of 2023, the average salary for a CNS was $99,148 annually, which is higher than the RN salary, reflecting the additional education and skills.
• A Nurse Practitioner (NP) holds an advanced degree, but their responsibilities vary slightly when compared with a CNS. For example, in most states, a nurse practitioner is able to prescribe medication, while a CNS is not. The average nurse practitioner salary at the end of 2023 was $124,680 annually.
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Average Salaries and Location
Here’s another factor that can impact the average nurse’s salary: location. After all, wages and overall cost of living can vary dramatically depending on whether you live in, say, a small town or close to a pricey urban center.
Check this chart to see how average nurse salaries compare state by state. Note that these figures reflect LPN salaries, which are at the lower end of the spectrum, but they can give you an idea of how much nurses make by location. This could be good information to consider when deciding where to practice.
|State||Mean Annual Nurse Salary|
|District of Columbia||$62,010|
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Nursing Degree?
The cost of getting a nursing degree varies based on the type of nursing program you choose. Each of the nursing positions listed above requires different degrees and certification.
• The process to become an LVN/LPN generally costs between $1,000 and $5,000.
• Taking an RN two-year associate’s program can cost $3,500 per year at public institutions; $15,470 per year at private schools.
• An alternative is to become an RN through a four-year bachelor’s program. This process works similarly to most other bachelor’s degree programs and typically costs the same as a four-year college or university.
• In addition to having already been an RN, both CNS and NP careers require advanced degrees. Typically, a masters of science in nursing (MSN) is required for both positions, which can cost between $18,000 to $57,000 in total.
• Some choose to further their education, becoming a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These degrees can be expensive but also have the potential to increase a nurse’s salary. After a master’s degree, expect to pay an additional $20,000 to $40,000, but your nursing salary is likely to rise, too.
There are usually costs beyond nursing school tuition. You’ll likely have to buy textbooks and supplies like a lab coat, scrubs, and a stethoscope. Many programs also charge additional lab fees each semester. Many schools will require nursing students to take out liability insurance and get some mandatory immunizations.
After graduating from your chosen program(s), you’ll also likely want to factor in the cost of licensing and exam fees as you enter the job market.
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Paying for Your Nursing Degree
Becoming a nurse can be a pricey process, depending on the path you choose. But there are options available to help students pay for their nursing degree. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has a database of scholarships for nursing schools. As you may know, scholarships don’t need to be repaid. This can make them an especially valuable resource in making ends meet as a nursing student.
In addition, federal aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study, and federal student loans could provide some relief. To apply, students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year.
Student Loan Forgiveness Options for Nurses
There are a number of student loan forgiveness programs available to nurses. Keep in mind that each typically has its own program requirements, so it’s helpful to review them closely to determine whether you qualify.
• Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) forgives certain federal Direct loans after 10 years of qualifying, on-time payments. This program is open to borrowers who work for a qualifying organization. You can find details online about qualifying for the PSLF program to see if you could benefit from it.
• The NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program will repay a portion of a nurse’s eligible student loans when they work full time at a Critical Shortage Facility or as a faculty member at a qualifying nursing school. Those accepted by the program are eligible to have 85% of their outstanding loan balances forgiven over a two-year commitment.
• The National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program provides loan forgiveness to qualifying nurses who commit to working for two years in clinical practice at a National Health Service Corps site.
Repaying Student Loans after Nursing School
If you borrowed federal or private student loans to help you pay for nursing school, developing a repayment strategy can be valuable. Not only will it set you on a path to repaying your debt, it can teach you valuable budgeting skills as well.
If you don’t qualify for any of the available loan forgiveness options, federal student loans come with a few different student loan repayment plans so you can find the option that works best for your budget.
If you relied on private student loans to help you pay for your tuition at nursing school, you may want to review your repayment terms. Each lender will determine their own terms and conditions for the loans they lend.
As you develop a game plan to help you repay your student loans, one option to consider is student loan refinancing.
When you refinance a loan, you take out a new loan with new terms. This loan can then be used to repay your existing loans. If you borrowed multiple loans, that means you could have the option to consolidate them into one single monthly payment — potentially with a lower interest rate.
However, it’s important to keep in mind a couple of factors:
• You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with a longer term.
• If you are considering refinancing federal student loans, know that they come with an array of benefits and protections that are forfeited if you refinance.
To see how refinancing could impact your student loan, you can take a look at this student loan refinancing calculator.
Nursing can be a challenging but rewarding profession, and the average nurse salary could provide a well-paying career. How much do RNs make? The typical salary currently tops $88,000. There are different kinds of nursing degrees and positions, so it’s wise to do your research to understand what each one requires and which might best suit your needs. Also, financing your education as a nurse can also need research to understand the obligation and how you might fund it.
Looking to lower your monthly student loan payment? Refinancing may be one way to do it — by extending your loan term, getting a lower interest rate than what you currently have, or both. (Please note that refinancing federal loans makes them ineligible for federal forgiveness and protections. Also, lengthening your loan term may mean paying more in interest over the life of the loan.) SoFi student loan refinancing offers flexible terms that fit your budget.
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If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
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