How Much Can You Earn with a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?

female nurse tends to child patient in hospital bed
child patirent being tended by smiling female nurse

Regardless if you’re just starting out in your nursing career or you’re a current RN considering heading back to school, making the choice to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can have a huge impact on how much you can make. You’ll have more opportunities for a wider variety of jobs, more responsibility and leadership positions than with a diploma or associate’s degree (ADN), and you’ll unlock a higher salary.

“A quick look at open RN jobs in my area show that many of them list preferred candidates as those RNs with BSNs,” says Michelle Paul, RN, BSN, an RN Content Specialist at Clipboard Health, a nurse staffing company. “Even within those job postings that don’t specifically list BSN as a preferred qualification, many [employers] will give preferential treatment to those who did graduate with a BSN, especially if they have multiple applicants.”

And, Paul says, a BSN can put you on the path to higher-paying career.

“I’ve been out of nursing school for almost a decade now, and still I remember the many times my nursing professors emphasized to us students how important it was to get a BSN,” says Paul.

A BSN can put you on the path to a higher-paying career.

But even if you have a BSN, what you earn can vary and can depend on a number of factors. From more modest public health nurse jobs to higher-paying trauma or charge nurse roles, learn more about salary ranges and how to build on your BSN to earn even more. Whatever your area of interest is, earning your four-year degree can help set you up for greater success.

How Much Can a Nurse with a BSN Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not have specific data for what nurses with a BSN can earn, but rather publishes figures for what registered nurses make. The average salary for registered nurses is $77,460 a year.

How does that compare to other nursing roles?

Earning a bachelor’s in nursing and working as an RN can put you almost in the middle of the pay spectrum of potential nursing salaries, but significantly ahead of entry level nursing positions, according to BLS figures. Take a look.

Median Salary for BSN/RN

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020

What’s the Highest Earning Potential?

nurse reviews discharge and instruction for care papers with patient

Salaries can range widely for nurses with a BSN. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Registered Nurse salary figures, the lowest end of the earning spectrum averages $53,410 and the highest tops at $116,230.

What you earn depends on a number of factors: which specialty you choose, how competitive your field is, your work environment, and where you live.

Your Salary Depends on What Specialty you Choose

The field of nursing encompasses a wide variety of healthcare paths. Some are more competitive than others, and that is where having a BSN can give you an edge. The following specialties—listed from the highest paying to the lowest—are a sampling of jobs available to those with a BSN.

Pediatric Nurse

Role Recap: Pediatric nurses are skilled healthcare professionals who work as primary care nurses for patients ranging in age from infancy through late teen years. As a pediatric nurse, you might work in a pediatric doctor’s office or assist in specialized units such as the pediatric critical care unit (PICU).

Up Your Worth: Pediatric Nurses can command considerably more than the average with advanced training and certification like a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Role Recap: Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses work with newborns born with serious issues such as congenital disabilities, heart problems, infections, or other functional problems. These nurses often work in a hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Up Your Worth: NICU nurses can earn more by becoming a clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner, both master’s-level programs that lead to higher salaries within the NICU.

Public Health Nurse

Role Recap: Public health nurses typically work with healthcare providers or government agencies to educate the general public about health risk factors. This field might be a great choice if you’re looking for an alternative to day-to-day patient care in settings like hospitals or clinics.

Up Your Worth: Public health nurses who earn Advanced Public Health Nurse-Board Certified (APHN-BC) credentials in areas like disease prevention and education can enjoy more opportunities for career advancement. Applying your public health nursing degree in fields like pharmaceuticals and medicine manufacturing can lead to even higher-paying job opportunities.

Psychiatric Nurse

Role Recap: Psychiatric and behavioral health nurses care for patients receiving treatment for mental illnesses, substance abuse addictions, and eating disorders; working alongside case managers and social workers to provide day-to-day care and discharge supervision.

Up Your Worth: After earning your RN degree and license, you can advance in this fast-paced career field by earning your Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (RN-BC) and selecting a focus like geriatric care or teen mental health.

Staff Nurse (Hospital)

Role Recap: Staff nurses work at hospitals, clinics, and community health centers in a variety of positions caring for patients. As a staff nurse, you might work in fields like occupational health, hospice and geriatric care, pediatric care, or general emergency and hospital healthcare settings.

Up Your Worth: Continuing certification and licensing opportunities will depend on your state, your employer, and your degree program, but can help you advance to positions like charge nurse supervisor.

Critical Care Nurse

Role Recap: Critical care nurses assist in emergency medical situations in hospitals and other medical facilities, working with patients facing life-threatening injuries and illnesses.

Up Your Worth: Earning your BSN can help you command a higher salary and work in specialized settings like trauma units and pediatric clinics. Specialty certifications through the American Association of Critical Care Nurses can also help you stand out among job candidates in your field.

Case Manager

Role Recap: Nursing case managers can expect to work in administrative capacities and assist with the healthcare needs of patients in hospitals, nursing homes, or industrial environments. As a case manager, you could work for companies like Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealth Group. 

Up Your Worth: With a BSN and work experience, you can apply for certification. Earning your certification can help you boost your career even further.

Charge Nurse

Role Recap: A charge nurse supervises a hospital ward or healthcare facility for the duration of a shift, performing supervisory duties in addition to standard RN duties.

Up Your Worth: After earning your RN degree and licensure, working for a minimum of three to five years in a clinical setting such as an ICU or earning your MSN degree can help you advance your career.

ER Nurse

Role Recap: ER nurses work in fast-paced environments to assist with medical emergencies at facilities like hospitals, urgent care centers, and military armed conflict environments. The field of emergency nursing is an in-demand career field, so you can expect competitive wages and employment opportunities.

Up Your Worth: After earning your BSN degree and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you’ll want to earn your Certified Emergency Nurse credential in access more career opportunities. Additional certifications are available for nurses looking to go into fields like pediatric emergency nursing or flight emergency nursing.

Nurse Navigator

Role Recap: Nurse navigators are specialized nursing professionals who work directly with patients and families, guiding them through every step of treatment connected to major diseases like cancer. As an oncology nurse navigator, for example, you might expect to work for major companies like Cancer Treatment Centers of America or Ascension Health, or in the oncology department of hospitals.

Up Your Worth: Earning additional certification and training for skills like case management, patient counseling, and electronic medical record keeping can open doors for career advancement.

Trauma Nurse

Role Recap: Trauma nurses specialize in care for patients suffering from acute injuries and illnesses like motor vehicle accidents, gunshot or stab wounds, and workplace injuries. As a trauma nurse, you might work at an emergency room unit or in specialized units like med/surg units or ICUs.

Up Your Worth: After earning your associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing and completing your NCLEX-RN exam, earning additional certifications through organizations like the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) in order to qualify for more advanced career opportunities.

Your Salary Depends on Where You Work

One of the selling points of a BSN degree is that, as a Registered Nurse, you can work in a number of different places. Check out the places where RNs are most often employed, and how the salaries compare. Nurses working at outpatient care centers are on the higher end of the spectrum, where nurses working in nursing homes or physicians’ offices are making below the average national salary.

Outpatient Care Centers

Percent of Nurses Employed in the Industry: 15.47%

Annual Median Salary: $68,450

General Medical & Surgical Hospitals

Percent of Nurses Employed in the Industry: 30.69%

Annual Median Salary: $76,840

Government Agencies

Percent of Nurses Employed in the Industry: 5%

Annual Median Salary: $84,490

Ambulatory Healthcare Services

Percent of Nurses Employed in the Industry: 18%

Annual Median Salary: $72,340

Schools and Education Services

Percent of Nurses Employed in the Industry: 3%

Annual Median Salary: $64,630

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Registered Nurses, 2020

The Top Paying States for Registered Nursing

Of course, most jobs in bigger metropolitan areas pay more than those in rural areas, so where you live can make a difference in what you earn. Keep in mind, though, higher pay usually comes with a higher cost of living. According to the most recent BLS figures:

  • California: $113,240
  • Hawaii: $104,060
  • District of Columbia: $94,820
  • Massachusetts: $93,160
  • Oregon: $92,960

It’s not only metropolitan areas that pay RNs well. Certain rural areas—many in states with a high cost of living—also offer fairly high salaries to RNs with a BSN degree. For example, RNs outside Alaska’s most populous cities can command an annual salary around $99,000, according to the BLS. RNs on the Hawaiian island of Kauai can make upwards of $94,000 per year.

Does it Matter How a BSN is Earned?

female nurses wheel patient on gurney to surgery

The good news is, you can command the same salaries regardless of whether your program was completed as a four-year traditional BSN, whether you took a bridge program, or if your education included online classes.

And if you’re wondering whether making the leap from your RN license to earning your BSN is worth it, keep in mind that around half of all RNs now have a bachelor’s degree, which means the field is becoming more competitive.

The salary increase is even more attractive when you earn your BSN starting as an LPN. According to the BLS, in 2018 LPNs made an average of $47.050.

What are the Opportunities to Increase My Earnings?

If you’ve earned your BSN and have been working as an RN for a while, you may want to consider an advanced nursing degree such as a master’s or a doctorate. Both could open the field up to more jobs and larger salaries (MSN-holders can become a Certified Nurse Midwife of a Certified Nurse Practitioner, for example; both which can command six-figure salaries. A doctorate can lead to even higher-paying leadership and research positions).

If you’re looking for a bump in pay, consider adding some specialty certifications to your resume.

If you’re happy with your BSN degree but still looking for a bump in pay, consider adding some specialty certifications to your resume. You’ll be more attractive to employers and may be able to command a higher salary.

A Word About Overtime

Since nurses are often in short supply, opportunities for overtime are plentiful. A Medscape RN/LPN Compensation Report commissioned in 2019 indicated that 40% of RNs worked some amount of overtime each week.

  • 56% worked 1-5 overtime hours
  • 31% worked 6-10 overtime hours
  • 13% worked more than 10 overtime hours

The majority of that overtime was voluntary, according to the report, which may make a job as an RN particularly attractive to those hoping to add hours when they choose. Fifty-seven percent of RNs reported that the overtime they worked was voluntary, while only 15% said it was mandated by their employer. The rest reported that the overtime they worked was an even mix of voluntary and mandated time.

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Michelle Paul, RN, BSN

Content Specialist, Clipboard Health nurse staffing agency