Nursing can mean long hours spent on the hospital floor looking after patients. It can be exhausting, and some days, it may feel like there’s not a moment to spare as you dash from patient to patient. That said, caring for those in need as a nurse can be a stable and rewarding career.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in nursing you might be wondering what the average nurse salary, average starting salary for nurses, average registered nurse salary, or average nurse practitioner salary is.
There are a variety of factors that will influence how much money a nurse makes. Things like how many years of experience a nurse has, location, and the type of degree or certifications, can all impact how much money a nurse earns.
Average Salaries for Different Types of Nurses
When considering nursing as a career, it’s helpful to know 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 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 taking one year; that aspiring LVN/LPNs must complete along with passing the NCLEX-PN examination for state licensing. The average salary for LVN/LPNs as of July 2019 was $46,584 a year or $21.73 an hour .
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, students must pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to become a certified RN. RNs typically need to obtain a state license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
Each state has its own licensing board so it’s worth checking individual requirements in the state you plan to practice. The average RN salary as of July 2019 was $62,805 per year or $29.14 per hour .
Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) have gone a step further and pursued additional education after becoming an RN. At a minimum, to become a CNS you must have a master of science in nursing (MSN).
A CNS typically trains extensively in an area of specialty. Some common specialties include emergency, oncology, and women’s health. The average salary for a CNS as of July 2019 was $88,143 annually or $39.66 per hour .
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 as of May 2018 was $110,030 annually or $52.90 per hour .
Average Salaries and Location
Location can also influence an average nurse’s salary. For example, in California, the average salary for an RN was $106,950 while the average in South Dakota was $58,340.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the five top-paying areas in for RNs as of May 2018 are:
• California: The average RN salary is $106,950. The average hourly wage is $51.42.
• Hawaii: The average RN salary is $98,080. The average hourly wage is $47.16.
• District of Columbia: The average RN salary is $92,350. The average hourly wage is $44.40.
• Massachusetts: The average RN salary is $92,140. The average hourly wage is $44.30.
• Oregon: The average RN salary is $91,080. The average hourly wage is $43.79.
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 $10,000 and $15,000.
Taking an associate’s program to become an RN can take between two and three years. This route can cost around $31,000.
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.
The cost of getting an MSN will vary depending on the school you choose but can fall around $36,000 . 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.
There are usually costs beyond 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.
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 scholarship database for nursing schools. Since scholarships don’t need to be repaid, and can be valuable 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 each year.
Student Loan Forgiveness Options for Nurses
There are a number of student loan forgiveness programs available to nurses. Each has its own program requirements so it’s helpful 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, like a government organization, a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization, certain other not-for-profits, or as a volunteer for AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. Complete the Employment Certification Form annually.
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 60% of their outstanding loan balances forgiven over a two-year commitment. Some nurses may qualify to extend to a third year and have an additional 25% of their original loan balance forgiven.
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
Coming off of life as a student, it can be tempting to spend all of your newfound income. But strategies like developing a budget and repayment plan for your student loans can help set you up for financial success.
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 have to review the repayment terms. Each lender will determine their own terms and conditions for the loans they lend.
When you refinance a loan, you take out a new loan with new terms. This loan is then used to repay your existing loans. If you borrowed multiple loans, this means you have the option to consolidate them into one single monthly payment—potentially with a lower interest rate.
Refinancing won’t be for everyone. If you have federal loans and are pursuing a forgiveness program or are taking advantage of income-based repayment, it may not be your best option. When you refinance federal loans, they are no longer eligible for federal protections or benefits.
But with your new degree and new salary, you could potentially qualify for a lower interest rate than the one on your existing loans. A lower interest rate could mean you pay less in interest over the life of the loan, potentially saving you money in the long term. To see how refinancing could impact your student loan, you can take a look at SoFi’s student loan refinancing calculator.
If you’re interested in refinancing, consider SoFi. There are no fees or prepayment penalties when you refinance with SoFi and the application process can be completed easily online. You can find out in just a few minutes if you pre-qualify.
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