Although few people become nurses for the money, determining your potential RN salary is an important part of the decision-making process when contemplating becoming an RN.  The average salary range for an RN is between $38,386 and $73, 879.  While several variables determine a person’s actual RN salary, level of education is one of the most straightforward variables at play.RN Salary

RN Education Basics

There are essentially three ways to become an RN: through an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) through a Diploma Program, or through a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN).  Each program varies from the others by difficulty of admittance, length of time required to complete it, and level of difficulty of the program; however, at the end of each program, graduates are eligible to sit for the Nursing Exam and earn their certification as an RN.

Despite the fact that graduates of all three programs are equally eligible to become RNs, and thus should theoretically have the same knowledge base, employers tend to pay a higher salary to those who have completed the more difficult program.

ADN and Diploma Programs Result in a Solid RN Salary

The Association Degree in Nursing takes approximately two years at a brick-and-mortar institution, and is often offered by community colleges, though some four year universities offer it as well.  Admittance into ADN programs is usually less competitive, though there are still certain prerequisite and GPA requirements that must be met.

In addition to nursing courses, students also complete some related science and math courses, as well as some general education courses, such as English and History.  Nursing courses tend to be more focused on the practical, and less focused on the theories of nursing.  The RN salary for someone with an ADN ranges from about $55,000 to about $61,000, depending on the number of years of experience.

The Diploma program was the primary way in which nurses earned their RN certification prior to the 1970s; now, however, there are only about 100 Diploma Programs offered in the US.  The majority of the program takes place in a hospital, and is almost entirely hands-on learning, versus classroom time.  It takes between two and three years to complete and includes very few non-nursing related classes.  The RN salary range for someone with an RN Diploma is between $49,000 and $59,000.

BSN Leads to Highest Potential RN Salary

The most rigorous route to an RN certification is via a BSN degree.  These degrees are only offered at four year universities, though many can be completed on line.  There are usually more requirements for admittance into a BSN program than into an RN program, and they can be more competitive, especially at traditional brick-and-mortar institutions.

For the student entering the BSN program with no prior nursing or college experience, it takes approximately four years to complete.  Courses cover not only the practical, but also the theoretical side of nursing, and also include all general education courses required for receiving a Bachelor’s Degree.

For students who already have some nursing experience, many universities offer RN to BSN Degrees, or LPN to BSN degrees, and many of these are online programs.  There are also accelerated BSN degrees for people who have already completed a Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field.  These shortened programs usually take around 2 years to complete, depending on the specific program.

Employers look very favorably upon RNs with a BSN, as research has shown a direct link between the number of BSN prepared nurses in a facility and lower patient mortality rates.  BSN prepared nurses are also thought to have a better sense of the big picture because of the greater emphasis on theory in BSN courses.  In addition, nurses who have completed a BSN show a stronger level of commitment and focus because of the greater length of the program.  The average RN salary for someone with a BSN is between approximately $56,000 and $72,000, depending on years of experience.

Why the BSN Makes the Difference

While the RN salary for those with only a few years of experience does not vary significantly between the three different education levels, there is clearly a salary ceiling in place for RNs with either an ADN or a Diploma, as compared with RNs with a BSN degree.  BSN-prepared nurses with 20 or more years of experience can potentially earn up to $11,000 more a year when compared with AND-prepared nurses, and up to $13,000 when compared with Diploma-prepared nurses.

Many nurses who begin with either a Diploma or an ADN later go on to earn their BSN, in part because of the higher salary potential.  For those willing to make the commitment to a more rigorous program, earning a BSN offers the potential for a significantly higher RN salary.

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