How Much Can You Earn with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing?

salaried professional with adn checks patient vitals on tablet

If you’re looking to enter the field of healthcare quickly, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) can be a solid choice for jump-starting your career. This degree will prepare you to take on entry-level nursing roles and give you a strong foundation as you move up in the field. Earning an ADN can also put you in a great position if you choose to go back to school to advance your education with a bachelor’s degree.

Interested to find out more about the nursing roles you could get with an associate’s degree? Read on to learn all about the positions that an ADN can prepare you for and what kinds of salaries you might expect to earn. 

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Jobs for Nurses with ADN Degrees

Having your ADN can make you eligible for several different kinds of positions. Depending on the job, you’ll need to complete additional training and testing requirements before you can begin work.

Certified nursing assistant

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Certified nursing assistant (CNA) jobs are the most entry-level roles in nursing. Some CNAs may hold an associate’s degree, but you actually only need to complete 75 hours of state-approved training before you can sit for an exam. Exams vary by state but will include both a written section and a practical skills assessment.

As a CNA, you’ll be responsible for tasks such as taking vital signs and helping patients with daily activities such as bathing and dressing. CNAs generally find work in nursing homes, hospitals, or with home health providers. Working as a CNA can be a good choice when you first enter the field or while you’re pursuing a more advanced degree. Many nursing students work as CNAs while they’re in school, and some programs might even grant advanced standing to students who hold CNA licensing.

Licensed practical nurse

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With an ADN, you can also work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), or what’s known as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in Texas and California. LPNs work under the supervision of registered nurses (RNs) and have more responsibilities than CNAs. Your additional job duties as an LPN will include wound dressing, medication administration, and record keeping.

In most cases, earning an LPN requires 12–18 months of schooling. There are community college, technical school, hospital-based, and online programs that allow you to earn a certificate or degree as an LPN or LVN. You’ll also need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) before you’ll be granted a license.

Working as an LPN can be a good way to start your career quickly. You’ll gain valuable experience and be able to work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, doctor’s offices, medical centers, and nursing homes. Many of these employers might offer tuition assistance or reimbursement, allowing you to pursue your RN certification as you work. Some colleges also offer LPN-to-BSN programs than can help you fast-track your degree and advance your career.

Registered nurse

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An ADN traditionally leads to certification as a registered nurse. However, in recent years, more employers are requiring RNs to hold a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN), and by 2020, it’s predicted that the majority of employers will have this requirement. Additionally, many states are considering legislation that will call for current RNs with associate’s degrees to eventually earn their BSN in order to keep their license. New York has already passed legislation giving ADN-level RNs 10 years to earn a BSN, and other states are expected to follow suit.

However, an ADN is still a strong start to a nursing career. Once you have your degree, you’ll need to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam after in order to earn your license. As an RN, you can also take specialty exams for an additional certification, which open up more career opportunities and increase your earning potential.

As an ADN-level RN, you’ll be able to take on more in-depth duties and leadership tasks. You’ll have a much broader scope of responsibilities than CNAs or LPNs, including coming up with patient treatment plans, conducting testing, and teaching patients about medications or other treatments. Most RNs find work in hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes and may work in specialized units or with specific populations. Examples include acute care, pediatrics, geriatrics, psychiatry, postsurgical care, rehabilitation, and more.

Additional RN career options

When you think of the role of a registered nurse, you probably picture interactions with patients in hospital units, doctor’s offices, or nursing homes. While these are the most common careers paths, there are actually a number of different options for RNs that you might be less familiar with. Some positions to consider include:

  • Forensic nursing: Forensic nurses work with incarcerated patients who need medical or psychiatric care. As a forensic nurse, you might also examine the victims of crimes and make recommendations for further treatment. Forensic nurses are sometimes called upon in cases of suspicious death or suspected abuse.
  • Home health nursing: Home health nurses visit patients in their private homes to provide the individualized care they need. By administering medications and treatments in a patient’s own residence, you can help them stay out of a nursing facility and allow them to enjoy the comfort of their own home.
  • Legal nurse consulting: Legal nurse consultants use their medical knowledge to assist in legal cases. As a legal nurse consultant, you might work with lawyers to explain a victim’s medical records or testify about their injuries to a court.
  • Nursing informatics: Nursing informatics is a specialty that deals with the technology used within healthcare. Nurse informaticists generally don’t provide direct patient care, but instead oversee the systems that healthcare facilities use. For example, a nurse informaticist employed at a hospital might analyze patient outcomes to see how current policies could be improved.
  • Occupational health nursing: Occupational health nurses are employed by companies to encourage overall employee well-being. They can administer health screenings, give presentations about health and safety best practices, and recommend policies and procedures to improve wellness in and out of the workplace.
  • Parish nursing: A parish nurse provides health services to those within a community of faith. In this unique role, you might organize support groups for church members who are dealing with similar health issues or provide 1-on-1 counseling to members with medical concerns.
  • Public health nursing: As a public health nurse, you work within your community to promote better health and well-being. You might set up health screenings in public settings or work on issues that are specific to your community, such as a virus outbreak or drug epidemic.
  • School nursing: As an employee of a school or school district, a school nurse not only handles the health needs of students during the day, but works with parents, teachers, and school administration to improve the overall health of the community.
  • Travel nursing: Working on short-term assignments that typically last 8–26 weeks, travel nurses move around the country—or the world—depending on the need. As a travel nurse, your assignment opportunities arise due to factors such as shortages or natural disasters, but in most cases, you can still choose which locations and assignments to accept.

ADN Salary

The salary you can earn with an ADN will depend on your job title, location, level of experience, and workplace.

Certified nursing assistant salary

As the most entry-level position, CNAs make the least of all the nursing roles. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that CNAs make an average annual salary of $28,540, or $13.72 an hour.

CNA salary by workplace

Employer Average Annual CNA Salary
General Hospitals$30,640
Skilled Nursing Facilities$27,470
Home Health Services$27,210
Assisted Living/Retirement Communities $26,700

CNA salary by state and city

The state in which you work can have a big impact on your salary as well. The top-paying state for CNAs is Alaska, with an average annual wage of $37,950, nearly $10,000 more than the national average. Other high-paying states include New York, Nevada, California, and Hawaii. Unsurprisingly, living in a metropolitan area can also contribute to a higher salary. You might expect to see greater wages in and around the following locations:

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Salinas, CA
  • Fairbanks, AK
  • Long Island, NY
  • Tyler, TX

Licensed practical nurse salary

With additional training and testing, licensed practical and vocational nurses have higher earning potential than CNAs. According to the BLS, LPNs and LVNs earn an average salary of $45,710 a year, or $21.98 an hour.

LPN salary by workplace

Employer Average Annual LPN/LVN Salary
Skilled Nursing Facilities $47,030
Assisted Living/Retirement Communities $46,710
Home Health Services $46,320
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals $44,860
General Hospitals $44,150
Physicians’ Offices $42,470

LPN salary by state and city

The top-paying states for LPNs include Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska, and Nevada—each of which pay LPNs an average of more than $55,000 a year. Metropolitan areas where you can expect to see higher wages are:

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Boston, MA
  • San Jose, CA
  • Salinas, CA
  • Bridgeport, CT

Registered nurse salary

Due to the number of different options for RN positions, wages vary greatly depending on specialization, education, and employer. The BLS doesn’t track the salary difference between ADN- and BSN-level nurses, but keep in mind that RNs with bachelor’s degrees may have more money-making potential. The BLS reports that RNs in general earn an average annual wage of $73,550, or $35.36 an hour.

RN salary by workplace

EmployerAverage Annual RN Salary
Specialty Hospitals $77,290
General Hospitals $75,820
Outpatient Care Centers $75,680
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals $71,290
Home Health Services $70,230
Physicians’ Offices $66,890
Skilled Nursing Facilities $65,710

RN salary by state and city

While top-paying states include Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Alaska, RNs living in California might expect to see the largest wages in the nation. Not only does the state report the highest average salary—$102,700 a year—but all 10 of the country’s top-paying metro areas are found in California. These include:

  • San Francisco
  • Salinas
  • San Jose
  • Santa Cruz
  • Vallejo
  • Oakland
  • Sacramento
  • Napa
  • Santa Rosa
  • Stockton

Nurse Demand & Job Growth

All jobs in the nursing field have high projected growth rates through 2026. With the baby boomer population continuing to age and a rise in chronic conditions such as diabetes and arthritis, the demand for nurses is only getting higher.

Type of NurseProjected Job Growth through 2026
CNA 11%, with 173,400 new jobs
LPN 12%, with 88,900 new jobs
RN 15%, with 438,100 new jobs

Where are nurses in the most demand?

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study of the areas that’ll be the most in need of nurses by 2030. The states with predicted demand for RNs include:

Demand is predicted to be drastically different across the country, with some states having a surplus of nurses and others having a severe shortage.

The states with predicted demand for RNs include:

  • California
  • Texas
  • New Jersey
  • South Carolina
  • Alaska
  • Georgia
  • South Dakota

The need for LPNs will be even greater, with 33 states expected to see a shortage by 2030. Of the 10 states predicted to the have the highest demand, 7 are in the South:

  • Texas
  • North Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Florida
  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • Tennessee

Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Washington State are also expected to need thousands of additional LPNs.


Ready to Get Started?

By earning your ADN, you’ll be off to a great start in an in-demand career with ample room for growth. Whether you want to work in a hospital, travel the country, or work with a legal team, you can get there with a nursing degree. Use the Find Schools button to explore associate’s degree programs that can help you reach your goals.

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Associate’s Degree in Nursing / LPN-LVN


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LPNs earn your ADN or BSN degree online in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs. All applicants must be either an LPN or LVN to apply.

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