November 30, 2020 · 9 min read

Your Questions About Nursing School, Answered

Wondering about the difference between an ADN and a BSN and what it could mean for your nursing career? We answer that question—and many more.

Written and reported by:

Chelsea Lin

Contributing writer

intense woman nurse working on desktop
intense woman nurse working on desktop

Deciding where, if, when, and how to pursue a career in nursing is no easy feat. Whether you’ve spent years contemplating the profession or are just getting started in your research, we know it can be confusing to navigate the back-to-school experience.

We gathered your questions shared on social media and in our surveys, and here, we present answers to some of the questions prospective nursing school students most commonly ask.

Don’t see your question here?
Email your questions to questions@allnursingschools.com and we’ll do some research for you.  We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. You can talk to us there anytime.


Education and Training

Can I apply my previous nursing or healthcare experience toward becoming an RN and/or earning a higher degree?

Registered nurses (RNs) must have at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), but some students decide to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you’re already working in the medical field, there are multiple pathways to work toward becoming an RN.

 Here are two examples:

How much math and science do I have to take to become a nurse?

These subjects appear to be a common fear among prospective students, and the answer depends on the type of nursing you pursue. If you’re interested in the LPN/LVN route, your training program will likely include science courses like anatomy, physiology, human growth and development, and basic nutrition. You may need to meet a math requirement to get into an LPN program.

Whether in an ADN or BSN degree program, a prospective registered nurse will likely need to take health-related science courses, as well as meet math requirements (and liberal arts, too).

Don’t let math anxiety keep you from pursuing your career goals. Revisit the basics—fractions are your friends!—if you feel like you’ve forgotten them since school. And don’t be afraid to hire a tutor to help you navigate college-level coursework that seems daunting.

I am a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a certified medical assistant, and I have practiced in both fields. Do I have to go back to school to become an LPN, or can I just take the LPN exam, get licensed, and start work?

Having experience as a CNA is valuable in terms of knowing that nursing is the right field for you but, unfortunately, most CNA programs don’t apply toward course requirements to become an LPN. To become an LPN, you’ll still have to complete an approximately yearlong training program and then take the NCLEX-LPN exam to qualify for a license.  

Can I really get a nursing degree online?

Since nursing is a hands-on profession, even online nursing programs require in-person clinical training with real patients. Programs that combine online learning with real-world practice are called hybrids.

If you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree and already have a combination of clinical hours and a current RN license, you may be able to find a program that is exclusively online.

Do schools help students find placements to meet clinical training hours, or do I have to do that?

Most schools have faculty advisors who will help find students placements for their clinical training hours. This is definitely something you should ask about, though, as you look at nursing programs.

Registered Nursing

What degree do I need to become an RN?

woman nurse holds ipad

To become an RN, you’ll need either an ADN or a BSN. There are pros and cons to each, of course: An ADN can be less of a time and monetary commitment, making it a good jumping-off point for prospective students with financial concerns, another job, or family to take care of.

A BSN, on the other hand, can lead to a job with more responsibility and higher pay.

If you choose the ADN route now, you can always go after that BSN later. You can even pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing.

What’s the best way to become an RN?

“One of the things I love about nursing is that there are so many doors to get into the nursing profession,” says Beverly Malone, CEO of the National League for Nursing, a membership organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education.

Where to start “depends on your situation,” she says. “Match who you are with what you need,” meaning look for a program that suits your personal and family situation but also helps you achieve the nursing goal you’ve set.

If your goal is to be an RN, you’ll have to complete an ADN or BSN nursing program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and earn a state license.

An LPN-to-RN program allows LPNs to use their experience and prior coursework toward earning an ADN or BSN. The LPN-to-BSN route will take longer but can pay off better in terms of salary and job opportunities.

International Students

If I’ve already worked as a nurse in another country, what do I need to do to work in the U.S.?

You’ll need to meet several requirements to work in the U.S., a process that can take several years. Before you apply, you’ll need:

  • A degree from an accredited nursing program
  • An RN license in your country
  • An RN license in your country

If you meet these requirements, you can start the application process for a visa. This will involve an English-language test, a review of your credentials, a qualifying exam, and more.

School Search

What should I look for in a school?

Picking a school is not a decision to rush—you’ll want to feel welcomed, inspired, and that you’ve gotten the most for your effort and money. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Admissions requirements
  • Accreditation status, ensuring the program meets requirements for state licensing and professional certificates
  • Graduation rate
  • Pass rates for the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-LPN nursing exams, required nationwide
  • Percentage of recent graduates working in nursing
  • Ranking among other state programs

Malone says, besides these factors, “look at the faculty. Examine and investigate what you’re buying. Look to see what kind of relationships (the program) has with the community—that’s even bigger than career placement.

“If you’re looking for a school that recognizes the community and believes in it, you’ll find those kind of relationships (with churches, community centers, and the like.”)

National League for Nursing CEO Shares her Top 3 FAQs

Even after 52 years of nursing, National League for Nursing CEO Beverly Malone still describes her profession with the kind of effervescent joy of a new graduate. “Purpose, passion, and power—that’s what nursing is,” she says. As a nursing advocate, she fields plenty of questions. Here are answers to her top three. 

Is there a shortage of nurses?

“Yes, there’s really a shortage,” Malone says. “Most of us are over 40, even over 50, so there’s this whole issue of how we’re going to replace those who are going to retire or move on.”

Why did you choose to be a nurse?

“I have a great-grandmother who raised me and she was a community healer,” Malone says. “I worshipped the ground she walked on. I thought there was nothing better than to be needed by your community and make a difference in your community,” which Malone says is precisely what nurses do.

Is being a nurse difficult?

Malone thinks it’s the blood people worry about the most, and maybe dealing with accidents where there are multiple things going on at the same time. “But what you find is that you get into your helping mode,” she says. “‘We’ve got to save lives here, colleagues, let’s do it.’ Nurses are such doers, completers of actions. We’ll accompany you through some of the worst things that can happen, and what an honor that is! It’s worth the challenges; it’s so fantastic. We’re one of the few who wake up in the morning and know exactly why we’re here.”

General

Is there a nurse’s oath like the one for physicians?

Yes—while doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, nurses take the Nightingale Pledge, named for Florence Nightingale, who is considered the founder of modern nursing. The pledge calls on nurses to elevate the standard of their profession.

Licensing

Who grants nursing licensure and who can take it away?

After you complete your training, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for a nursing license in the state in which you plan to work. You’ll send your transcripts, application, and fee to the state board that handles licensing. Each state has its own requirements.

If your nursing license is revoked due to violations of your state’s Nurse Practice Act, you might be able to petition the state board to reinstate it

What if I let my license lapse? What do I need to do to start working again?

If you let your license lapse for just a short time, you can generally renew it—perhaps by paying a late fee—without much trouble. But an extended inactive license could require refresher courses. Check your individual state requirements.

Can an LPN with an expired license become a CNA without further training?

While a CNA is a level down from an LPN, you might still be required to take CNA training, which is set by federal law, and a certification exam to be placed on your state’s CNA registry.

If you aren’t on the registry, nursing homes and Medicare and Medicaid facilities can’t hire you, according to Genevieve Gipson, RN, MEd, RNC, and director of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and Career Nurse Assistants Programs Inc.

Your state may have a waiver program or make exceptions, however, so check with your board of nursing or state health department to see if it has special requirements for trained LPNs who want to be CNAs.

Costs and Financial Aid

How much is tuition for nursing programs?

Tuition costs vary widely depending on the type of program you choose—private university versus community college, for example. Another factor is what kind of nurse you want to be.

For example, if you want to be an RN, you can choose a two-year ADN program or a four-year BSN program. Your best bet is to reach out directly to the schools you’re interested in and get the most up-to-date costs.

Are there additional costs to nursing school?

Yes—tuition isn’t the only cost you’re looking at. Here are a few others:

  • Scrubs and equipment
  • Textbooks
  • Additional tests and screenings (background check, drug screening, etc.)
  • Licensing fees

How do I get financial aid?

To qualify for financial assistance, including grants and loans, your school must be accredited, and you’ll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But that’s not the only avenue to financial aid.

male nurse with stethoscope holds ipad

Look into scholarships that you may qualify for—there are many options out there, including scholarships specifically for nursing students, single parents, first-generation college students, and more.

Can I go to school for free? I’ve heard about loan forgiveness—how does that work?

“Free” may be a stretch, but there are programs out there, like Nurse Corps, that will pay your tuition, fees, and other educational costs. In return, you must commit to working in an area where there’s a critical shortage of nurses for a set period of time, once you graduate.

Another government program, the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program, has similar terms. It requires nurses to work for up to three years in an area with an underserved population and, in return, it’ll pay off up to 85% of your loan balance.

How do I get tuition reimbursement from my employer?

If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, talk with your benefits representative about the organization’s reimbursement policy. It might have very specific terms for reimbursement, including the types of classes you take and whether you complete a program. Your employer also might require documentation from the school you attend.

Salary

Will earning a BSN make a difference in my RN salary versus whether I just have an associate degree?

Earning a BSN can definitely have a positive impact on your salary: It can make you more desirable to employers, qualify you for a wider variety of jobs, and open doors to leadership opportunities.

Careers and Jobs

What’s the role of a CNA, and can the job vary by state?

Educational and licensing requirements for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) do vary by state, but the role is generally the same everywhere: helping patients with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, grooming, toileting, and moving around. It can be a physically demanding, though rewarding, profession.

What’s the difference between the roles of an LPN and RN?

The differences are distinct. LPNs provide basic medical care for patients, like checking their vitals, ensuring their comfort, and discussing healthcare issues with them. RNs, on the other hand, may perform diagnostic tests, administer medications, put together treatment plans, and supervise other medical workers, including LPNs.

Can travel nurses work with an associate degree, or is a bachelor’s required? Do they need a specialty?

Travel nurses, who work temporary positions in areas with shortages, must have an RN license, which means an ADN is fine. Having a specialty is not necessary, though it may lead to more destination options and higher pay. 

Applying and Enrollment

I’ve requested information from some schools but haven’t heard back. Who do I contact?

Reach out directly to the nursing programs, if that’s an option. A quick phone call usually will yield better results than an email, especially if you’re following up with specific questions.

Otherwise, contact the program’s admissions department—and remember, staff is there to help sell you on the school, so get your questions answered!


beverly malone

With professional insight from:

Beverly Malone

CEO of the National League for Nursing

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October 23, 2020 · 15 min read

The Top States for Nurses to Work

From salaries and cost of living to educational resources and job prospects, we’ve ranked the 50 states for nursing professionals.


niki stojnik

Written and reported by:

Niki Stojnic

Contributing writer


Whether working in the ER, in a family practice clinic, or anywhere in between, registered nurses are in demand—everywhere. In fact, nurses comprise the largest portion of the healthcare workforce, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing: There are more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide, and they make up one of the largest segments of the U.S. workforce.

All of that means you can be choosy as you’re deciding where to live and work as a nurse. The employment options for nursing are good in all 50 states, but factor in average salaries, cost of living, the flexibility to work across state lines and other information, and some states come out clearly on top. 

We’ve ranked all 50 states based on three main considerations:

  • Average salary of a registered nurse (adjusted for cost of living)
  • Density of RN jobs in a given area (location quotient)
  • Demand for the profession in the region

In each state’s profile, we included the average salary to highlight the cost of living difference, as well as some other helpful data. Combined, these factors fill in a picture of:

  • What you might be able to expect in terms of job availability
  • Where to look for jobs at different salary levels
  • How salaries compare to the state and national average
  • Where you might find more continuing education programs, based on the number of schools nearby

Higher Education May Take You Further, Wherever You Live

Access to education is increasingly important because your options for employment, regardless of where you live, could get even better if you are a registered nurse prepared with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree or higher. 

“Employers are looking for highly skilled nurses able to translate the latest scientific evidence into practice,” Deborah Trautman, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, says about the marketability of earning a bachelor’s degree, especially if you’re looking to make a jump across state lines. “They are also looking for nurses to lead and contribute to team-based care as interprofessional practice takes hold in many settings.”

“All of these new demands underscore the need for a well-educated nursing workforce able to meet contemporary practice expectations,” says Trautman. “Research shows that more highly educated RNs are linked to lower patient mortality rates, fewer medication errors, and other positive care outcomes.”


Growth and Opportunity Across the Country

In addition to representing a big part of the workforce, the nursing profession isn’t slowing down any time soon, either. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 7.2% growth in this career through 2029. Thanks to increased demand for healthcare services from a large baby boomer population, more demand for preventive care, and an increase in chronic conditions, coupled with ongoing nursing shortages that existed even before the pandemic, the need for nurses is bigger than ever.

Nurse Licensing is state specific, but you can currently work across state lines with the same license in 34 states.

The rewards for working as a registered nurse are strong—and some incentives are getting stronger. The national average salary for registered nurses is $77,460 and higher for those working in medical and surgical hospitals ($79,460) and outpatient care centers ($84,720), according to the BLS. In addition to a shortage of nurses with baccalaureate degrees, demand for nurses with master’s degrees also outpaces supply.

And while licensing is state-specific, you’ll be able to work across state lines in 34 states that are part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact.

No matter where in the United States you’re pursuing your nursing degree or looking to land a job—whether you want to stay close to home or embark on a new adventure as a travel nurse—use this guide to help narrow down your options.

State of Demand: Top Five Places that Need Nurses the Most

Where most states expect about a 2.5% change in demand for registered nurses, these five regions have the highest potential demand through 2021, according to Projections Central. And that means more opportunities could exist here for the next generation of professionals.

State

Anticipated Change in Demand for Nurses


Arizona

6.9%

Utah

5.3%

Colorado

5%

Nevada

5%

New York

4.9%

The Rankings

Glossary of terms

(see Methodology for more information)

AACN: American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the national association for nursing academics, which works to establish and implement quality standards for nursing education and promote public support for nursing education, research and practice.

COL: Cost of living

Location quotient: The ratio of the concentration of nurses in an area compared to the national average; above one means a higher concentration of nurses than average, and below one means a lower concentration than average.

Pending legislation: States that are in the process of entering the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact.

50

Louisiana

$65,850
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $34,412
  • Highest average salary: New Orleans-Metairie, $69,500
  • Lowest average salary: Lafayette, $60,940
  • Location quotient: 1.05
  • Change in demand for nurses: N/A
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools

Notes: Louisiana’s highest salary is centered on the well-known New Orleans area but hits below the national average; however, the concentration of nurses is above average.

49

Oklahoma

$64,800
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $35,672
  • Highest average salary: Oklahoma City, $66,510
  • Lowest average salary: Lawton, $56,290
  • Location quotient: 0.95
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools
48

Virginia

$71,870
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $38,156
  • Highest average salary: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia), $83,370
  • Lowest average salary: Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol (Tennessee, Virginia), $56,330
  • Location quotient: 0.84
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.5%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 27 AACN-member schools
47

Wyoming

$68,690
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $38,792
  • Highest average salary: Cheyenne, $77,680
  • Lowest average salary: Casper, $64,360
  • Location quotient: 0.92
  • Change in demand for nurses: 1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: One AACN-member school (University of Wyoming)

Notes: The least populous state in the country is filled with natural beauty—but a peak salary at around the national average, a lower-than-average location quotient, one AACN school, and sluggish demand could make it less appealing for new grads.

46

Hawaii

$104,060
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $39,477
  • Highest average salary: Honolulu, $106,550
  • Lowest average salary: N/A
  • Location quotient: 0.88
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Four AACN-member schools

Notes: One of two states that breaks $100K for average salary, the high cost of living in this island paradise cuts that number down to size. Demand trends are upward but concentration of nurses is a little below average.

45

Tennessee

$62,570
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $32,873
  • Highest average salary: Memphis (Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas), $66,730
  • Lowest average salary: Cleveland (yes, there’s one in Tennessee, too), $53,360
  • Location quotient: 1.04
  • Change in demand for nurses: 1.9%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 26 AACN-member schools

Notes: Memphis has the highest average salary in this Southern state; the metropolitan area sprawls across three states: Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

44

Iowa

$60,590
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $30,425
  • Highest average salary: Iowa City, $68,920
  • Lowest average salary: Davenport-Moline-Rock Island (Iowa, Illinois), $54,640
  • Location quotient: 1.05
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.2%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 15 AACN-member schools
43

Arkansas

$61,330
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $32,236
  • Highest average salary: Memphis (Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas), $66,730
  • Lowest average salary: Fort Smith (Arkansas-Oklahoma), $59,120
  • Location quotient: 1.02
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.7%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 10 AACN-member schools

Notes: The highest mean salary, per BLS, is actually in Memphis, which shares borders with Arkansas and Mississippi; but two hours west, the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metropolitan area has a comparable salary that’s just a little lower, at $66,300.

42

Kansas

$62,450
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $32,653
  • Highest average salary: Topeka, $66,270; Kansas City (Missouri, Kansas), $68,130
  • Lowest average salary: Wichita, $57,470
  • Location quotient: 1.07
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 14 AACN-member schools

Notes: The Sunflower State’s largest metro area, Kansas City, straddles Kansas and Missouri and has the highest salary, but Topeka, the state’s capital to the west, isn’t too far behind at $66,270. A higher-than-average location quotient and healthy demand makes it a solid option.

41

South Carolina

$64,840
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $32,733
  • Highest average salary: Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, $69,620
  • Lowest average salary: Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach (South Carolina, North Carolina), $62,750
  • Location quotient: 1.09
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools

40

Montana

$69,340
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $33,550
  • Highest average salary: Missoula, $71,980
  • Lowest average salary: Great Falls, $67,140
  • Location quotient: 1.08
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Three AACN-member schools

39

Maryland

$77,910
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $34,486
  • Highest average salary: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria (DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia), $83,370
  • Lowest average salary: Cumberland (Maryland, West Virginia), $71,610
  • Location quotient: 0.97
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools

38

Idaho

$69,480
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $38,578
  • Highest average salary: Coeur d’Alene, $76,650
  • Lowest average salary: Idaho Falls, $61,740
  • Location quotient: 0.96
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Three AACN-member schools

Notes: The highest mean salary here is in Coeur d’Alene, an outdoorsy, scenic panhandle city—and it’s close to the large, neighboring Washington city of Spokane.

37

Georgia

$69,590
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $39,726
  • Highest average salary: Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, $73,610
  • Lowest average salary: Brunswick, $53,200
  • Location quotient: 0.83
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 23 AACN-member schools

36

New Jersey

$84,280
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $42,397
  • Highest average salary: New York-Newark-Jersey City (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), $93,280
  • Lowest average salary: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton (Pennsylvania, New Jersey), $69,100
  • Location quotient: 0.97
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.8%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Partial implementation, allowing nurses who hold active unencumbered, multi-state licenses issued by Nurse Licensure Compact member states to practice.
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 20 AACN-member schools

Notes: It’s hard to beat the dense metro New York-Newark-Jersey City, which has the top salary spot; but farther south, resort hub Atlantic City-Hammonton holds its own at second place for this state, with an above-average salary at $82,460, plus healthy demand statewide.

35

Alaska

$90,500
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $47,009
  • Highest average salary: Anchorage, $88,860
  • Lowest average salary: Fairbanks, $85,150
  • Location quotient: 0.96
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: One AACN-member school (University of Alaska Anchorage)

34

Vermont

$70,240
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $31,905
  • Highest average salary: Burlington, South Burlington, $70,630
  • Lowest average salary: Northern Vermont nonmetropolitan area, $69,650
  • Location quotient: 1.13
  • Change in demand for nurses: 1.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Pending legislation
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Three AACN-member schools

33

South Dakota

$59,540
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $26,127
  • Highest average salary: Rapid City, $60,600
  • Lowest average salary: East South Dakota nonmetropolitan area, $57,880
  • Location quotient: 1.5
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.7%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Seven AACN-member schools

32

Maine

$69,760
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $30,421
  • Highest average salary: Bangor, $75,740
  • Lowest average salary: Lewiston-Auburn, $66,020
  • Location quotient: 1.17
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Five AACN-member schools

31

Mississippi

$59,750
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $30,924
  • Highest average salary: Jackson, $64,230; Memphis (Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas), $66,730
  • Lowest average salary: Hattiesburg, $52,500
  • Location quotient: 1.29
  • Change in demand for nurses: 1.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Eight AACN-member schools

30

West Virginia

$63,220
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $32,720
  • Highest average salary: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, (D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia), $83,370
  • Lowest average salary: Southern West Virginia nonmetropolitan area, $57,520
  • Location quotient: 1.39
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Eight AACN-member schools

29

Florida

$67,610
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $34,833
  • Highest average salary: Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, $76,040
  • Lowest average salary: Sebring, $46,520
  • Location quotient: 1.02
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 33 AACN-member schools

28

Missouri

$64,160
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $34,999
  • Highest average salary: Columbia, $68,960
  • Lowest average salary: Joplin, $46,640
  • Location quotient: 1.2
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 23 AACN-member schools

27

Utah

$67,970
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $35,026
  • Highest average salary: Salt Lake City, $70,040
  • Lowest average salary: Logan (Utah, Idaho), $62,970
  • Location quotient: 0.71
  • Change in demand for nurses: 5.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Eight AACN-member schools

26

Nebraska

$66,640
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $36,240
  • Highest average salary: Omaha-Council Bluffs (Nebraska, Iowa), $67,240
  • Lowest average salary: Sioux City (Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota), $58,030
  • Location quotient: 1.19
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Six AACN-member schools

25

Indiana

$66,560
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $36,428
  • Highest average salary: Chicago-Naperville-Elgin (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin), $77,430
  • Lowest average salary: Fort Wayne, $59,950
  • Location quotient: 1.08
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.2%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 26 AACN-member schools

24

New Hampshire

$73,880
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $37,152
  • Highest average salary: Boston-Cambridge-Nashua (Massachusetts, New Hampshire), $96,510
  • Lowest average salary: Dover-Durham, (New Hampshire-Maine), $71,420
  • Location quotient: 1.07
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Eight AACN-member schools

23

Pennsylvania

$71,410
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $37,361
  • Highest average salary: New York-Newark-Jersey City (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), $93,280
  • Lowest average salary: Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, (Ohio-Pennsylvania), $58,640
  • Location quotient: 1.24
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.7%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Pending legislation
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 41 AACN-member schools

22

Ohio

$68,220
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $37,820
  • Highest average salary: Cleveland-Elyria, $71,650
  • Lowest average salary: Youngstown-Warren-Boardman (Ohio, Pennsylvania), $58,640
  • Location quotient: 1.13
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Pending legislation
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 39 AACN-member schools

21

Wisconsin

$72,610
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $40,034
  • Highest average salary: Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington (Minnesota, Wisconsin), $84,400
  • Lowest average salary: Eau Claire, $62,680
  • Location quotient: 1.06
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 20 AACN-member schools

20

Connecticut

$83,440
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $40,686
  • Highest average salary: Danbury, $92,380
  • Lowest average salary: Waterbury, $76,200
  • Location quotient: 1.03
  • Change in demand for nurses: 1.8%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools

19

New York

$87,840
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $41,269
  • Highest average salary: New York-Newark-Jersey City (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), $93,280
  • Lowest average salary: Southwest New York nonmetropolitan area, $63,360
  • Location quotient: 0.92
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4.9%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 52 AACN-member schools

Notes: The highest mean salary, centered on the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area, bumps the state average way up. The lowest mean salary is a close call between Ithaca, at $63, 520, just a touch above the Southwest New York nonmetropolitan area.

18

Texas

$74,540
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $43,906
  • Highest average salary: Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, $81,350
  • Lowest average salary: San Angelo, $61,760
  • Location quotient: 0.86
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 44 AACN-member schools

17

New Mexico

$73,300
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $44,005
  • Highest average salary: Santa Fe, $75,810
  • Lowest average salary: Las Cruces, $68,120
  • Location quotient: 1.04
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.9%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Four AACN-member schools

16

Oregon

$92,960
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $48,030
  • Highest average salary: Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro (Oregon, Washington), $95,420
  • Lowest average salary: Albany, $80,490
  • Location quotient: 0.95
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Six AACN-member schools

15

Washington

$86,170
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $49,108
  • Highest average salary: Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, $90,730
  • Lowest average salary: Bellingham, $59,300
  • Location quotient: 0.86
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools

Notes: The highest mean salary centers on the densest economic engine in this Pacific Northwest state, the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue region. There’s a robust demand for registered nurses here, and additional opportunity in smaller metropolitan regions as well, including Spokane on the agricultural and arid east side of the state, and in and around the state capital, Olympia.

14

Rhode Island

$82,310
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $42,335
  • Highest average salary: Norwich-New London-Westerly (Connecticut, Rhode Island), $84,640
  • Lowest average salary: Providence-Warwick (Rhode Island, Massachusetts), $82,170
  • Location quotient: 1.29
  • Change in demand for nurses: 1.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Pending legislation
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Three AACN-member schools

13

Alabama

$60,230
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $30,332
  • Highest average salary: Montgomery, $65,200
  • Lowest average salary: Decatur, $49,980
  • Location quotient: 1.23
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.8%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 12 AACN-member schools

12

North Dakota

$66,290
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $33,212
  • Highest average salary: Fargo (North Dakota, Minnesota), $68,110
  • Lowest average salary: Bismarck, $62,050
  • Location quotient: 1.14
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4.1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Five AACN-member schools

11

Kentucky

$63,750
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $33,317
  • Highest average salary: Cincinnati (Ohio, Kentucky), $70,370
  • Lowest average salary: Bowling Green, $59,240
  • Location quotient: 1.14
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 17 AACN-member schools

10

North Carolina

$66,440
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $34,667
  • Highest average salary: Fayetteville, $71,790
  • Lowest average salary: Mountain North Carolina nonmetropolitan area, $60,310
  • Location quotient: 1.1
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 24 AACN-member schools

9

Delaware

$74,100
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $37,908
  • Highest average salary: Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland), $77,640
  • Lowest average salary: Dover, $69,400
  • Location quotient: 1.28
  • Change in demand for nurses: 4.3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Two AACN-member schools

8

Colorado

$76,230
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $40,875
  • Highest average salary: Boulder, $80,040
  • Lowest average salary: Eastern and Southern Colorado nonmetropolitan area, $64,330
  • Location quotient: 0.97
  • Change in demand for nurses: 5%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 14 AACN-member schools

Notes: In contrast to its similarly sized scenic and outdoor-activity oriented neighbor to the north, Wyoming, this more densely populated state makes the top 10 list of states for nurses, with a higher-than-average increase in demand, 14 colleges for continuing education, and a just slightly above-average cost of living.

7

Illinois

$73,510
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $41,871
  • Highest average salary: Chicago-Naperville-Elgin (Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin), $77,430
  • Lowest average salary: Davenport-Moline-Rock Island (Iowa, Illinois), $54,640
  • Location quotient: 1.06
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 38 AACN-member schools

6

Michigan

$73,200
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $43,436
  • Highest average salary: Ann Arbor, $79,340
  • Lowest average salary: Upper peninsula of Michigan nonmetropolitan area, $63,250
  • Location quotient: 1.1
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.1%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Pending legislation
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 25 AACN-member schools

Notes: The highest average salary here is in the home of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Cross-state licensing is pending legislation, while the concentration of nursing jobs across the state and the demand are about average.

5

Arizona

$78,330
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $45,854
  • Highest average salary: Arizona nonmetropolitan area, $85,510
  • Lowest average salary: Lake Havasu City-Kingman, $69,450
  • Location quotient: 0.94
  • Change in demand for nurses: 6.9%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Yes
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Eight AACN-member schools

Notes: Prescott, located in central Arizona a couple of hours north of the state’s capital, just edges out the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolitan area in salary ($79,370 vs. $79,200). But ultimately the highest salary goes to the state’s nonmetropolitan area, the only state on our list where that is the case.

4

Minnesota

$80,130
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $46,114
  • Highest average salary: Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington (Minnesota, Wisconsin), $84,400
  • Lowest average salary: Duluth, $68,040
  • Location quotient: 1.21
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.7%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 23 AACN-member schools

3

Massachusetts

$93,160
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $49,100
  • Highest average salary: Boston-Cambridge-Nashua (Massachusetts, New Hampshire), $96,510
  • Lowest average salary: Massachusetts nonmetropolitan area, $79,720
  • Location quotient: 1.1
  • Change in demand for nurses: 2.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: Pending legislation
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 25 AACN-member schools

Notes: Cross-state licensing is pending here, so keep an eye on it if you are keeping your travel options open. Demand here is above average, and the concentration of nurses is also above average.

2

California

$113,240
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $62,451
  • Highest average salary: San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, $140,740
  • Lowest average salary: Chico, $85,080
  • Location quotient: 0.86
  • Change in demand for nurses: 3.6%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: 51 AACN-member schools

Notes: This large state has a salary swing that reflects the diversity of landscape and living throughout. Sleepy college town Chico in the north has dramatically different needs than Silicon Valley’s sprawling San Jose area.

1

Nevada

$88,380
Average RN Salary
  • COL-adjusted salary: $52,054
  • Highest average salary: Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, $91,330
  • Lowest average salary: Reno, $78,800
  • Location quotient: 0.81
  • Change in demand for nurses: 5%
  • Cross-state licensing permitted: No
  • Ongoing education opportunities: Six AACN-member schools

Notes: Our number one state just beats out its neighbor to the west in a few areas: Cost-of-living takes a smaller chunk of change from the mean salary here, while it logs a slightly higher percentage demand trend through 2021.


Methodology and Sources

To determine the best states for nurses to work and live in, we ranked all 50 states on three main considerations: salary adjusted for cost of living, job opportunity, and change in demand for nurses. We then sorted by each of our three factors, to see how states were distributed in each category—for example, how many states had average (mean) salaries of $40,000 or above, how many had a 2% change in job demand, etc. Based on that, we assigned points to number ranges for each.

We added each state’s points together, and then sorted based on their totals. Naturally, there were ties (except for one state that earned 10 points!). To break those ties, within each grouping, we sorted further by salary, weighing states with higher mean salaries more heavily.

Salary adjusted for cost of living

This number comes from the average cost of living for a single adult in the U.S. ($33,480, the total cost of food, shelter, transportation, and utilities—calculated from a 2018 Consumer Expenditure Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) multiplied by the cost of living (COL) index in each state, which is then subtracted from the average annual salary of a registered nurse in each state, according to 2019 figures from the BLS. The resulting figure demonstrates remaining disposable income.

Points Assigned

$50,000–$60,000 or higher = 4 points
$40,000 = 3 points
$30,000 = 2 points
$20,000 = 1 point

Location quotient

This number is the ratio of the concentration of nurses in an area to the national average, from the BLS. It is a measurement of job opportunity available in a state. A value of one is average; above that means a higher concentration of nurses than average, and below that means a lower concentration than average.

Points Assigned

1.1–1.5 = 4 points
1–1.09 = 3 points
0.6–1 = 2 points

Change in demand for nurses

This number, sourced from State Short Term Occupational Projections (2019–2021) from Projections Central, demonstrates the need for nursing in an area by comparing the number of nurses employed in a state in 2019 to projected numbers through 2021.

Points Assigned

5%–6.9% = 4 points
3%–4.9% = 3 points
0%–2.9% = 2 points

We added further details to each state’s profile, including the average salary to illustrate the cost-of-living difference, as well as areas in each state with the highest and lowest mean salaries (note: the BLS often groups regions and states with some figures, especially if a metropolitan area borders multiple states). We also highlight employment projections and added other insights where applicable.

In addition, we include the number of schools available where you can pursue additional training, but did not use it to rank. Access to ongoing education—based on the number of colleges in each state that offer nursing training, per the American Association of Colleges of Nursing—is included because continuing learning is an integral part of maintaining a nursing career. Note: the figure does not include non-member colleges or colleges with associate degree programs.


How Nursing Licensure Varies by State

If you’re considering a move out of state to start your career as a registered nurse, it’s important to keep licensure in mind. Nursing licensure is very state specific, so take a look at the credentials needed to get a job in the state you are aiming for by checking its board of nursing; the National Council of State Boards of Nursing has a drop-down menu linking to each state’s board, which has licensing information and industry news.

In addition, 34 states are part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact. If you have a license in one of these states as your primary residence, you can practice with your license across participating state lines (another six states are in the process of enacting legislation to join the compact). This is an especially good option for those who want to consider travel nursing or similarly mobile specialties.


State-Specific Financial Aid

Financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, or loans vary greatly by school—and by state. While some states offer residents enticing incentives to start your education, there are other place-bound opportunities that can help pay for current schooling or help pay off loans once you’re out in the workforce. (Don’t forget to fill out the FAFSA to receive any financial aid!)

Loan Forgiveness

Options vary by state and school, but some states offer loan forgiveness for agreeing to work in specific areas or facilities in need for a couple of years. Because of this requirement, you will want to consider this option carefully if you’re looking to move out of state.

Grants and Scholarships

There are many scholarships available for nursing students, and many state-specific scholarships have emerged to address nursing shortages in certain areas. Your school’s financial and merit aid office will be one of the best sources of information for finding such scholarships in your area.

You can also look into options that reward you for pursuing certain specialties in a specific state. For example, in Washington, the Washington State Opportunity Baccalaureate Scholarship provides up to $22,500 in financial aid, along with career-launching support services, to students pursuing high-demand STEM and healthcare majors.


deborah trautman

With professional insight from:

Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN

President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)


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Recommended For You

October 13, 2020 · 7 min read

Is a DNP the New MSN?

A doctorate may be replacing the master’s as the go-to degree for some advanced nursing programs. Is yours one of them?

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing writer

woman works on laptop in dimly lit office
woman works on laptop in dimly lit office

Working toward advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) licensure is a common goal for many nurses looking for an elevated position that offers increased autonomy, more opportunities to advance, and potentially better pay. For years, the Master of Science in Nursing—or MSN— has been the go-to degree for nurses seeking these advanced roles.

But change is in the air. A doctoral degree will be the entry-level degree mandated for nurse anesthetists (one of several APRN nursing roles) by 2025. Requirements for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists may not be far behind: while the MSN is currently the standard, many nursing associations are recommending a move to a doctorate as the entry-level degree requirement for these advanced nursing roles.


What’s a Doctorate and Why the Shift?

A doctoral degree—most often, the Doctorate of Nursing Practice in the nursing profession—is an advanced degree that allows nurses to broaden their scope of practice. The degree takes a few years longer to earn than an MSN, but it also goes more in depth than an MSN degree. A doctorate will build on the nursing knowledge you already have and can prepare you for high-level and leadership roles.

The move to a DNP and other doctoral degrees reflects both the increasingly complex knowledge APRNs need and the increased role of nurses in healthcare leadership.

The move to a DNP and other doctoral degrees reflects both the increasingly complex knowledge APRNs need and the increased role of nurses in healthcare leadership. Because of this, “it makes sense for nursing to have its own practice doctorate, especially for those who are working in advanced practice, leadership levels, and teaching,” says Sara Hunt, DNP, MSN, FNP-C, PHN, a family nurse practitioner who holds a doctorate.

Patient safety and quality of care are other huge factors in the push toward doctorates, especially following an influential report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) back in 1999 that highlighted the significant physical and monetary cost of errors made in hospitals and suggested ways to mitigate them. Hunt believes the IOM recommendations have made a significant impact on the growing push toward doctoral degrees.

Some other factors driving the shift, according to Hunt, are:

  • The rapid expansion of knowledge in the field of nursing
  • The increased complexity of basic patient care
  • Shortages of nursing personnel
  • Demands for a higher level of preparation for leaders who can design and assess care
  • Shortages of doctorally prepared nursing faculty

What APRN Roles Are Affected?

Nursing association recommendations that encourage nurses pursuing an advanced practice role consider a doctorate instead of a master’s can be confusing. Is a doctoral degree required or not? The answer depends on the nursing role you’re seeking. 

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are the only APRN-level job with a definitive change in directive. Right now, an MSN degree is sufficient, but you’ll need a doctoral degree to earn APRN licensure in the field after 2025. While a DNP is a popular option, students can also choose to earn another doctoral degree, including:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS or DNSc)
  • Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP)
  • Doctor of Management Practice in Nurse Anesthesia (DMPNA)

Because of this change, all CRNA nursing programs are making the shift from MSN programs to doctorate programs starting January 1, 2022.

Nurse Practitioners

Right now, aspiring NPs can graduate with an MSN and earn their APRN license. An MSN will allow you to take a certification exam in any specialty from any licensing board and apply for licensure in any state. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has been advocating DNP degrees for NPs since 2004, and in 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) backed up this position and committed to DNPs as the new entry-level standard for NPs by 2025. That said, the nurse practitioner community has not taken the final step of requiring the DNP as the entry-level degree for nurse practitioners—yet.

Clinical Nurse Specialists

Clinical nurse specialists can still enter the field with an MSN. This could change in coming years, however, given the movement toward doctoral degrees for nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. In fact, the National Association of Certified Nurse Specialists has recommended the DNP as an entry-level degree for CNSs by 2030.

Nurse Midwives

The MSN has been—and remains—the degree requirement for nurse midwives, with no active movement to shift to a doctorate. The American College of Nurse-Midwives does not endorse any proposal that the DNP become a requirement for entry into midwifery practice. Their position statement emphasizes that “no data are available addressing the need for additional education to practice safely as a midwife” and that “the requirement of an additional degree would result in a substantive increase in expense and time to students and educational institutions.”


What if I’m Already Enrolled in an MSN Program?

Don’t worry: You can finish any MSN program you’re already in, earn your APRN license, and be able to practice. This includes students currently enrolled in MSN-level CRNA programs. Your program meets the current standards, and you’ll be able to apply for licensure with your state as well as certification when you graduate. Both an MSN and a doctoral degree will prepare you to work as an APRN.

However, keep in mind that if your goal is to be a CRNA, you’ll only be able to start an MSN program through the end of 2021. You’ll need to enroll in a doctoral degree program if you start your CRNA program in 2022 or later. All other aspiring APRNs have a choice.

APRN Degree Requirements: At a Glance


Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: A doctoral degree will be required by 2025

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Until the end of 2021

When you need to enroll in a doctoral degree program: 2022 and later

When you’ll need a doctorate to practice: 2025 and later


Nurse practitioner

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: The DNP is recommended as the entry level standard by 2025

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Anytime

When you need to enroll in a DNP program: No date set currently

When you’ll need a DNP to practice: No date set currently; recommended by 2025


Clinical nurse specialist

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: The DNP is recommended as the entry level standard by 2030

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Anytime

When you need to enroll in a DNP program: No date set currently

When you’ll need a DNP to practice: No date set currently; recommended by 2030


Nurse midwife

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: No changes announced

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Anytime

When you need to enroll in a DNP program: N/A

When you’ll need a DNP to practice: N/A


What If I Just Earned My MSN?

You should be all set if you’ve already earned your MSN. The coming degree changes won’t affect the license you already have. Even current MSN-level educated CRNAs will be able to keep practicing, but all CRNAs who apply for licensure in 2025 or later will need a doctorate.

Firm doctorate requirements for other APRN professions haven’t yet been announced, but it’s a good idea to keep up-to-date in your specialty to keep an eye on the rules and recommendations. There are many ways to make sure you know what’s happening currently, including joining nursing organizations, staying in touch with your alumni association, and following nursing news on social media. You can check out our resources guide for more ideas.


So…Should I Earn an MSN or a Doctorate?

It’s up to you. Right now, you can complete an MSN program and earn the same APRN licensure as if you’d completed a DNP. You may want to consider cost, time, and future goals as you make your decision.

“There are a lot of factors for a student to consider when choosing a healthcare program,” says Hunt. “The role needs to align with (a student’s) personal needs and wants, and the education needs to be realistic for the personal circumstances and finances. Getting an MSN or a DNP can be very expensive, both with time and money, so they need to decide what works best for them.”

Hunt, who earned a DNP as a family nurse practitioner, explains she decided what was best for her career by looking at the current market and trends in nursing.

“I saw the trends early on and the DNP looked like it would quickly saturate the market. So, to remain competitive in a competitive market, I knew I would get my DNP,” she says. “The education was in alignment with my personal goals. I have a passion for health policy, teaching, and advocacy and prefer taking a more global perspective on topics. [Plus], I knew a doctorate would open doors for me.”

So, what’s best for you? Only you can decide, but there a few questions to ask yourself that might help you choose:

  • What are the requirements for APRN jobs in my area?  You can search for jobs in your local area and see what the educational requirements are. See how many jobs ask for a doctoral degree and if there is a pay difference for any jobs that do.
  • What type of APRN licensure am I interested in? Right now, CRNAs, NPs, and CNSs are part of the doctoral degrees discussion; nurse midwives aren’t.
  • What are my APRN goals? Consider if you’re interested in nursing leadership roles, in direct care, or both.
  • How much time am I willing to spend in school? The time it will take you to earn doctorate or master’s depends on the degree you start with, but in general, earning an MSN will be much faster.
  • Are there any bridge or fast-track programs in my area? There are some schools that offer a BSN-to-DNP bridge program that can help you complete your education faster.
  • What is the cost of programs in my area? Look into programs you can afford and research what financial aid is available.

“Ultimately, each nurse will have (to) assess what they want and what works for them,” Hunt says. However, in her opinion, if you can make earning a DNP work for your budget, life, and goals, now might be a great time to go for it.

“The longer you wait to go back and get it, the rustier you’ll be as a student, and you may enter a hyper-competitive market when it becomes a mandate.”


sara hunt

With professional insight from:

Sara Hunt, DNP, MSN, FNP-C, PHN

Family Nurse Practitioner


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August 6, 2020 · 7 min read

9 Tips for Finding Nursing Schools with Strong Diversity and Inclusion Plans

Here are the right questions to ask if you’re looking for a diverse and inclusive nursing school.

erika almanza brown

By Erika Almanza Brown

Erika is a Seattle-based freelance writer covering education and parenting topics.

male and female students walk to class
male and female students walk to class

The demand for diversity, equity, and inclusion at colleges and universities has intensified amid the Black Lives Matter movement, prompting many schools to promise to address these issues. But if you’re looking at nursing schools, whether on-campus or online programs, and issues of diversity are a top priority for you, how do you determine if a school is truly invested in tackling these concerns?

“If you find a school that only utters the phrase ‘diversity’ when it’s only coming from its diversity office, then that school has a problem,” says Shielda G. Rodgers, PhD, RN, associate professor and assistant dean for Inclusive Excellence at the School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Everyone on campus needs to buy into it.”

Considering diversity and inclusion issues will help nurses better understand the needs of different segments of the patient population and deliver better care to these groups.


To understand why diversity, equity, and inclusion can be crucial to a student’s academic experience and success, it’s first important to understand the terms.

Diversity encompasses the potential differences within a population. These differences include ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, race, gender, economic class, abilities, and life experiences.

Inclusion is the intentional and coordinated effort to help everyone, especially those in the minority, feel valued, supported, included, and encouraged to participate.

Equity recognizes that not everyone arrives from the same place with the same advantages and works to allocate college resources to students in greater need.

students studying together

Diversity in educational settings benefits underrepresented students, whether they’re gender nonconforming, have a disability, or are in a racial minority. According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, diversity actually benefits students of all backgrounds.

That’s because exposure to different cultures, perspectives, and experiences can improve critical thinking and analytical skills, and help students compete professionally in the growing global marketplace.

As a result, the nursing industry is working to keep pace with the changing population and expectations. The 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey found that 19.2% of registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. identified as racial minorities. However, the U.S. Census projects that by 2045, the majority population will be made up of non-white racial and ethnic groups. This will require a more diverse nursing workforce that provides quality care and is culturally sensitive.

In 2018-2019, a report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that from entry-level to doctoral nursing programs, around 34% of students were from minority populations. The association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Group (DEIG) is working to improve engagement of underrepresented groups in schools and the workforce.

“If students find a fit where they feel like they belong both academically and non-academically, then they’re more likely to get their degree,” Rodgers says. “Otherwise, they could leave in one year.”


If you’re a student of color and you’re looking at nursing schools—or any schools for that matter—ask these nine questions to determine if a school is effectively executing a diversity, inclusion, and equity plan.

Question

1

Does the school have a diversity and inclusion plan with measurable goals?


“Fundamentally, the diversity plan should be a major component of the school’s strategic plan whereby the primary mission should be to promote inclusive excellence—the integration of a standard of excellence not only in the academic realm but in all facets of inclusion and diversity,” says Rolanda Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN, and assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing.

Additionally, the school should use metrics, such as recruitment and graduation rates, to routinely track and report its progress and hold itself accountable for reaching its goals for diversity and inclusion.

Question

2

Does the school have a detailed plan to not only achieve diversity but to also address discrepancies in retention and graduation rates among minority students?


While it’s important to learn if a nursing school participates in a pipeline program that fosters a diverse student body through partnerships with school districts or other postsecondary institutions, it’s also crucial that the school continuously supports its students to ensure they graduate.

Johnson suggests connecting with current minority students about their personal experiences and whether the school has resources to help set students up for academic success.

Question

3

What financial programs does the school offer to support economically disadvantaged students?


“Nursing schools are really expensive,” Rodgers says. She advises to comparison shop when considering schools by asking for a list of resources that are available to help cover the full cost of attendance.

That includes not only tuition and room and board but also books, school supplies, uniforms, testing, and traveling to a clinical site for training. There are many scholarships specifically for minority students but she advises, “Be aware of scholarships, grants, and financial aid packages that solely cover room, tuition, and board instead of the total cost of attendance.”

Question

4

Does the school have funded programs or campus affinity groups to provide cultural and socio-economic support for minority students?


As with many health issues, the global COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected the health of Blacks and Latinx communities, while Asians and Asian-Americans have often been on the receiving end of racial slurs regarding the virus’ origin. Schools should provide emergency financial aid to meet basic needs like food and shelter for students, as well as offer mental health services that address their emotional challenges during these stressful times.

Johnson says affinity groups can build a sense of community and belonging. “Students from underrepresented groups have often stated how having such groups are invaluable in that they are able to bond together based on common backgrounds and characteristics,” she says.

Question

5

Does the school provide a variety of educational opportunities on topics of diversity, inclusion, and equity?


Johnson suggests looking for schools that allow students more opportunities to share their experiences and concerns broadly across the school. Some schools require students and faculty to learn about diversity and inclusion through coursework and workshops, an approach that helps educate white students and takes the burden off students of color to solely lead the charge.

This includes creating spaces for white students to learn about their own potential inherent biases, how to confront racial injustice, specific actions to be antiracist, and ways of holding one another accountable to help convert these learners into allies.

Question

6

If a program is online, does it follow a diversity plan?


Johnson says online nursing programs should offer the same opportunities for community and inclusion. “Students must inquire about the strategies and/or plans universities or colleges have in place to create a sense of community virtually,” she says.

She suggests looking for the following, for example: regular check-in sessions held by faculty and student leaders on video conferencing platforms to create opportunities for ongoing communication; virtual meetings and activities organized by student groups to promote a sense of community for underrepresented groups; and virtual advisor-student meetings instead of  email or phone conversations.

Question

7

Does the school look beyond campus for perspectives on racial and social justice?


Schools should welcome a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds, including from community members off campus, when making decisions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Including church leaders, advocates, and city officials in discussions and decisions can benefit campus culture and help the school carry out its policies.

Question

8

Does the school have a hospitable campus that is safe and inclusive for all students?


Across the U.S., many student activists have called on their school leaders to remove sculptures, monuments, building names and accolades that honor controversial historical figures. Ask schools where they stand on these issues. Do campus police and the local police department have a plan in place to help students of color feel safe and welcome?

These circumstances can negatively affect some students. Rodgers strongly suggests that students look at the campus climate because in recent months, colleges and universities have “seen a resurgence in racism, and schools need to address all of that.”

Question

9

Does the school have faculty and staff who are members of minority groups, and does it have a plan to increase those numbers?


According to the 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Education, in 2013-14, 74% of faculty members at the nation’s colleges and universities were white, while 5% were Asian, 4% were Black, and 3% were Hispanic. But a diverse faculty can have a deep impact on course curriculum, campus climate and the academic experience for all students.

There are three significant advantages to having a diverse faculty, according to the Center for Education Data and Research:

  • Students of color benefit from seeing people like themselves in positions of authority.
  • Faculty from minority groups often have higher expectations for their minority students.
  • Faculty who share similar cultures and backgrounds with students can better determine effective teaching strategies and interpret their students’ behaviors.

All of these benefits promote student achievement, so learning what nursing schools are doing to increase diversity among faculty and staff could be another key in finding the school that’s right for you.

Minority Nursing Groups and Associations


Joining a group or an association that supports minority nurses can be a powerful tool in networking and staying on top of important issues. These organizations are a great place to start.

  • The National Coalition of Ethnic Minority Nurse Associations (NCEMNA)
  • Black Nurses Rock
  • National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN)
  • Asian American Pacific Islander Nurses Association (AAPINA)
  • National Black Nurses Association (NBNA)
  • Philippine Nurses Association of America Inc.

Professional Insight From:

Rolanda Johnson, PhD, MSN, RN
Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Vanderbilt University, School of Nursing

Shielda Glover Rodgers, PhD, RN
Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Inclusive Excellence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Nursing

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June 10, 2020 · 10 min read

The Basics of Online Nursing Degrees

From managing your schedule to what classroom delivery looks like, get important tips you need to prepare you for learning online.

By Anna Giorgi

female student video conferencing with teacher
online student on video chat with teacher and classmates

It’s a big decision to decide to go back to school—one that presents a number of challenges for people trying to work one more task into their busy lives. An online degree, which allows students flexibility in where and when they study, is often a great option for nursing students—whether you’re just starting your higher ed journey or you already have some experience under your belt.

Whether you’re going for your associate’s degree, bachelor’s, master’s—or even a doctorate, here’s what you need to know before jumping in.


Is an Online Program Right for You?

Prioritizing and managing course time around an already-busy personal life is the key to success in an online nursing program. The students best suited for online learning are committed, dedicated, and focused.

“You must be goal-driven because it is an environment where you can pick and choose most of the time when you’re going to sign on, when you’re going to do your work,” says Lisa Smith, PhD, RN, CNE, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at Grand Canyon University. “You can’t be distracted by all the opportunities that come up throughout the week that pull your attention away.”

In addition to having the right mindset and skills, having support from your family or partner is important for your success in online learning.

In addition to a focused mindset, it’s also important to have the support of your employer if you think you’ll need to cut back in work or take time off to fulfill clinical hours. Support from your family or significant other is also critical to success in online learning. Your risk of dropping out increases when family members don’t understand the importance of what you’re trying to accomplish, Smith says.


What Nursing Degrees Can Be Earned Online?

Nursing degrees of all types—from entry-level associate’s degrees to upper-level graduate and doctorate degrees—can be earned through an online format, although there are varying levels of clinical, hands-on requirements that must be fulfilled in person at a clinic, hospital or other brick-and-mortar facility.

Check out the specific online requirements for the following nursing degree programs:


Online vs In-Class: What’s the Difference?

Students seeking their nursing degree online are studying, engaging with instructors, and completing most of their coursework remotely; usually from home. Still, the education you receive with an online program provides you with the same skills and experiences provided to students enrolled in on-campus programs.

The unique characteristic of online nursing programs is the flexibility they provide in allowing you to complete your studies on a timeline that works with your lifestyle rather than following a more regimented on-campus schedule. You’re able to choose when you learn while also gaining flexibility in overall program scheduling, since many online programs aren’t limited to traditional fall and spring semesters.

Degree programs delivered online require considerably more technological know-how than their on-campus counterparts, so it’s important to consider your computer skills in weighing your ability to learn effectively online. To prepare for online learning, you should understand how to upload documents, download software, and navigate your school’s website for classes and other educational resources such as online libraries. You may also have to work with software applications such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, depending on your educational program.

“Since online learning is a very different modality than face-to-face, prospective students need to think about how strong their time management skills are,” says Melissa Burdi, DNP, MS, RN, LSSGB, associate dean for the School of Nursing at Purdue University Global. “Do they have a baseline understanding or comfort with technology?  Are they disciplined? Are they strong at basically carving out time in their day or throughout their week to budget and plan for the completion of certain materials?”

Take Our Quiz: Online or On-Campus? Find out What’s Right for You

Are you destined for distance learning or is on-campus life is your best bet?


If you’re thinking about going back to school and wondering whether learning in a traditional classroom setting or getting your degree online is best for you, our quiz can help nudge you in the right direction.

Which is best for you? Let’s find out.

Read each statement below and respond either: Online, or On-Campus.

Keep track of your answers.


Online

On-Campus

Logistics:

The degree I want isn’t available at a convenient location, but I can complete it online without relocating.

The degree I want is within driving distance to my home or I’m willing to relocate to live near or on campus

Type of Experience:

I have a strong social network and don’t have an interest in experiencing campus life.

I want to experience all the activities that campus life has to offer when I’m not involved with academics.

Timing:

I can finish my degree faster with an online program that allows me to progress at my own pace and take classes year-round.

I prefer traditional semester pacing at this point in my studies.

Schedule:

My work/family responsibilities require that I have the convenience to attend classes 24/7 and complete coursework on my own timeline.

I have the opportunity to be a full-time student or I have family/spousal support that makes it easy for me to adjust my calendar without a conflict.

Study Habits:

I’m self-disciplined and can stay on track in a way that helps me keep current on assignments and other course requirements.

I achieve my academic goals best with the structure and accountability that comes with attending on-campus classes on a set schedule.

Instructor Interaction:

I’m comfortable communicating with my instructor via email, discussion boards, or videoconferencing to clarify content and resolve course issues.

I prefer having the option to interact with my instructor and ask questions in real-time. I comprehend new material best when it’s presented in person.

Classmate Interaction:

I’m comfortable using discussion boards and social media to establish relationships and communicate with classmates that I may never meet in person.

I’m not confident reaching out to strangers in a virtual environment. I communicate best in face-to-face interactions.

Communication Skills:

I feel self-conscious speaking in public and prefer written communication when possible.

I’m not shy about raising my hand in class and asking a question or giving an opinion in front of my classmates.

Technological Skills:

I’m confident using technology to learn, communicate, and conduct research. I can usually resolve technical issues easily.

I have basic computer skills but am not comfortable navigating new software and learning platforms. Dealing with technical issues stresses me.

Home Environment:

I have a dedicated study space and all the tools I need to access online classes and interact with teachers and classmates when necessary.

Attending on-campus classes allows me to focus on my learning in an environment free from interruptions or distractions, which isn’t possible at my home.  


How’d you do?

If you answered, “Online” to seven or eight statements, you’re likely good to go for online classes. You probably have the discipline, confidence, and support system in place to handle an online classroom environment.

If you answered “On-Campus” or not sure to four or more statements, you may not be ready to tackle an online program. If you have concerns about technology or about reaching out to instructors and classmates but really want to make online learning work, instructors and advisors may be able to help you navigate the system and understand what they expect from students.


What to Look for In an Online Program

woman taking class online wearing headphones

You can ensure that you’re receiving a quality online education by checking school and program accreditation. Accreditation is a review process that determines whether your school or program meets established criteria that set educational standards.

You must attend an accredited program to qualify for most state nursing licenses and professional specialty certifications. You also need a degree from an accredited program if you want to transfer credits from one school to another.

School accreditation and program accreditation are awarded separately. You can verify a school’s accreditation on a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s also important to verify that your state board of nursing approves the program you’re taking and accepts a degree from there toward the licensure requirements you’ll fulfill later.

You must attend an accredited program to qualify for most state nursing licenses and professional specialty certifications.


How are Online Classes Delivered?

In an online learning environment, students typically access course content at their convenience. This means that some of your work and communication might not take place in real time. Even though you’re not physically sitting in a classroom, online programs offer many ways to engage with your instructor and fellow students.

Using Technology to Create a Connection

Many schools delivering online programs create virtual classrooms where web-based software such as Blackboard or Canvas creates an environment that mirrors a traditional classroom. You’ll access course content, turn in assignments, take quizzes, and interact with your professors and other students through this software.

Collaborating with Classmates and Study Groups

Online programs will often offer ways to help you engage with your instructors and classmates—often in real time. Courses may be delivered live when everyone has to sign on at the same time to a platform like Zoom that allows for real-time interaction through videoconferencing. Other courses may require group projects in which students have to work together. Additionally, many online schools also offer online clubs and organizations so students can socialize and form bonds away from the classroom in the same way they would on a campus.

Many online schools also offer clubs and organizations that allow students to socialize and bond in the same way that they would in a campus format.

Creating a collaborative learning community is critical to online nursing education. “Nursing is not a profession that you can do in a silo, so when you are learning online it’s very important that students have enough opportunity to interact with their classmates and faculty beyond just answering questions and submitting the assignments,” says Grand Canyon University’s Smith. “There needs to be interaction and dialogue.”

Connecting with Your Professor One-on-One

Many online schools require their professors to hold online office hours so students know they can connect as a set time. It will be up to you as an online student to seek out your professors when they’re available and be persistent if they’re not readily accessible. 

Most professors announce their preference for email, discussion boards, or even social media, at the beginning of the course so you know what to expect.

The Best Tech Set-up for Online Learning at Home


Setting up an appropriate at-home learning space can make all the difference in your success as an online student. While you may not have the luxury of designating a separate room for your studies, try to establish a personal workspace that allows you to concentrate.

To set up a home study space that positions you for success:

  • Avoid spaces that have distractions from TVs or central social areas of your home.
  • Consider using headphones if you can’t shut out nearby noise.
  • Choose a spot near a source of natural light, which helps keep you more alert and focused than fluorescent light.
  • Store study essentials like notebooks, pens, and textbooks nearby.
  • Select a chair and writing space that allow you to stay comfortable and focused.

Consult with your school for specific technology requirements and check your equipment against their standards. Most schools operate with high-speed internet. While a phone or tablet may be adequate for checking assignments, a desktop or laptop is recommended for proctored tests and live video. Schools typically provide required software for free or at a discount.


How Much Does an Online Nursing Degree Cost?

The costs of online nursing degree programs vary widely. Many online schools charge by credit hour or quarter credit hour, which is often used for part-time students. Other programs charge by semester. In a program that offers a modularized curriculum, you may be able to progress through as many courses as you can for one flat fee per semester.

In addition, some state schools may differentiate between resident and non-resident tuition for online students while others charge the same online tuition for everyone. Ask the schools you’re exploring for specifics.

To compare prices, use a school’s net price tuition calculator to determine the cost of your degree.

The best way to compare prices among programs is to use a school’s net price tuition calculator tool to determine the total cost of your degree. All schools that participate in the federal financial aid program are required to have a net price calculator on their websites. If you have to complete clinical hours, you’ll likely have to add fees for background checks, fingerprinting, equipment, uniforms, and other supplies.


Can I Get Financial Aid to Help Pay for an Online Degree?

Like traditional on-campus students, those seeking a degree online can also apply for financial aid and income-based scholarships. To qualify, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools and financial institutions use this standard form to determine your eligibility for financial assistance and student loans. Other potential sources of financial aid include school or program awards, nursing scholarships, and military service credits.


Will an Online Degree Make a Difference to an Employer?

Whether you receive your degree online, in a classroom, or a combination of both, isn’t as important to employers as the fact that you attended an accredited program. An online degree prepares you to be just as competitive in the workforce as one earned on campus.

In reality, so much study has been done that validates the quality of online learning that most employers don’t typically consider an online degree as a deterrent to hire, says Smith.


Give Online Learning a Shot!

Online education is becoming more and more mainstream, especially in light of recent global events that shifted the way education is delivered. The proliferation of robust networking and collaboration tools only make pursuing your online nursing degree easier.

“Online learning is an accepted and credible way to earn a high-quality nursing degree,” says Carla D. Sanderson, PhD, RN, provost at Chamberlain University. “Prospective students are encouraged to select the program that best fits their learning preferences and lifestyle needs.”

For even more resources, check out our seven page guide to online learning.

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