Portrait of a young smiling nurse

CNA to RN: Taking the Next Step in Nursing

Learn how and why CNAs are furthering their education to become Registered Nurses.

Portrait of a young smiling nurse

Many people aspire to become nurses. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or financial means to earn their associates or bachelor’s degree. As a result, some nurses choose to begin their careers as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA). Becoming a CNA is a great way to enter the healthcare industry and begin your journey toward nursing.

As a CNA, you won’t see the same compensation or benefits as an RN. For those looking to advance their career in nursing, there are several advantages to becoming an RN, and it may be easier than you think. This guide will break down all the necessary steps for a CNA to become an RN, as well as what you can expect once you’ve earned your nursing degree.

Disclaimer: Provo College does not currently offer a CNA-to-BSN bridge program. However, we chose to publish this article to provide our readers with as much helpful information as possible about this career advancement opportunity.

CNA vs. RN: What’s the Difference?

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA):

Certified Nursing Assistants are on the frontline of patient care. They are often responsible for some of the day-to-day needs of the patient. Some of the responsibilities of a CNA include:

  • Checking vital signs (blood pressure, temperature)
  • Making patients beds and cleaning rooms
  • Assisting nurses with procedures
  • Serving meals and helping patients eat

CNAs are required to complete a state-approved educational program that teaches them the basics about nursing and clinical work. After completing their program, Nursing Assistants must take a competency exam prior to entering the workforce.

Registered Nurse (RN):

Registered Nurses have more authority and responsibility than Certified Nursing Assistants. Many CNAs assist the RNs in performing these duties, however, it’s the Registered Nurse who is primarily assigned and accountable for these responsibilities. RNs provide patient care and educate patients about their health conditions. Some of the responsibilities held by Registered Nurses include:

  • Assessing patient conditions
  • Administering patient medications and treatments
  • Observing and recording patient responses and results
  • Helping perform diagnostic tests
  • Helping analyze test results

RNs typically take one of three career paths to become nurses:

  1. A diploma from an approved nursing program
  2. An associate degree in nursing (ADN), or
  3. A Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN).

Each educational path varies in time and financial commitment.

How Do I Go from CNA to RN?

In order to make the transition from CNA to RN, you’ll have to decide which educational path works best for you. The good news is that you already have experience in nursing education from when you earned your CNA license.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN):

If you’re looking to take your education in nursing to the next level, and you’d like to secure higher pay and a greater job outlook down the road, earning your BSN may be the best choice for you. You’ll likely be in school up to four years, and it will probably cost more than earning your ADN, but there are serious benefits to holding a BSN.

RNs who have their BSN have higher annual wages, more job opportunities, and greater potential job growth. A large portion of employers require a BSN degree, and the majority favor BSN graduates over other nursing credentials.

BSN sign on a stack of books with a stethoscope

Accelerated BSN Programs:

If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in another subject, an accelerated BSN program allows you to earn your BSN in as little as 12 months. These programs typically have a minimum GPA requirement but are a great option for those who are eligible.

Online RN-to-BSN Programs:

An online RN-to-BSN program is great if you’re working full-time and can’t commit to a campus-based program. The online education system has grown, with many of the online-accelerated programs allowing current RNs to obtain their BSN in one year.

CNA-to-RN Bridge Programs:

The fastest and most efficient way of becoming an RN is enrolling in a CNA-to-RN bridge program. These programs allow you to earn your associate degree in nursing (ADN) in as little as one year. Since you’ve already taken some of the required courses, the RN program completion time can be reduced. Plus, you’ve already got the foundational knowledge to help you complete the program with confidence, all while still working as a CNA.

Once you’ve picked your educational path, you’ll most likely have to complete a few general education classes. Once you’ve completed your Gen Eds, you’ll being taking courses such as anatomy, chemistry, and biology. Clinical hours are required for any RN certification but are more advanced in BSN programs.

All aspiring nurses are required to pass the RN licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN. You’re eligible to take the NCLEX once you’ve completed your RN program. You must pass the exam in order to receive your license. After completing the requirements designated by your state board of nursing, and passing the NCLEX-RN, you will receive your RN license.

How Much Does a CNA to RN Program Cost?

If you’ve decided to enroll in a registered nursing program, it’s time to figure out how you’ll be paying for it. The cost of an RN program varies depending on how much educational experience you already have. An accelerated program requires less time in school, therefore less financial commitment. The cost of an accelerated program can range between $17,000 – $90,000. A four-year BSN program varies in cost depending on the type of institution, location, and program curriculum. BSN programs can cost between $40,000 and $200,000.

It can be difficult to fund your higher education, but you should know that there are options available to you. Here are some of the best ways you can fund your education:

  • Federal Based Student Aid (FAFSA): The U.S. Department of Education offers special loans to students with reduced interest rates and personalized repayment plans. Find out more here.
  • Ask your employer about continuing education assistance or work-study programs: Many employers offer tuition-reimbursement and other types of assistance in order to help you earn your RN credential while working.
  • Find a grant: The federal government gives out billions of dollars in grants every year. You’ll just have to do some searching and find the grant that best fits your circumstances.
  • Student Loans: This is a solid option for funding your education, however you’ll be paying back interest ranging from 4%–11% once you’ve completed the program.
  • Scholarships: Finding a scholarship that fits your circumstances may be a daunting task, but it could lead to significant financial assistance. Government sponsored scholarships allow you to earn your degree while also gaining valuable work experience. Many educational institutions offer private scholarships as well. Here at Provo College, we offer a designated CNA scholarship for those looking to further their education in nursing.

Paying for school can be difficult, and no one likes the idea of incurring debt. However, obtaining your RN certification will allow you to earn significantly more money, and ultimately will be worth the financial commitment in the end. Luckily for you, there are options for you to earn your degree while still working full time as a CNA.

Hand arranging blocks of wood with medical icons

CNA vs. RN: Salary and Job Outlook

CNA Salary & Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of CNAs is projected to grow 8% from 2020 to 2030. According to the BLS, the average annual wage for nursing assistants was about $33,000 in May 2021, with the highest 10% of CNA’s earning more than $44,000.

RN Salary & Job Outlook

The job outlook of an RN is about the same as a CNA. The BLS reports that employment of Registered Nurses will grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, which is also about the same as all occupations (8%).

According to the BLS, the average annual wage for RNs was $83,000 in May 2021, with the highest 10% earning more than $120,000. RNs earn almost $50,000 more annually than CNAs.

An added benefit of becoming an RN in terms of job outlook is the opportunity for RNs who have their BSN degree. Those nurses are better equipped to earn managerial or administrative roles. These positions generally provide greater pay raises and advanced job responsibilities.

How Much Do Registered Nurses Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary* earned by RNs in 2021 was around $$83,000 or about $40 per hour. RNs who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $120,000 per year.

Highest-Paying Industries for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Registered Nurses:

Industry Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
General Medical and Surgical


$40.88 $85,020
Offices of Physicians $35.51 $73,860
Home Health Care Services $37.59 $78,190
Outpatient Care Centers $44.74 $93,070
Nursing Care Facilities $34.74 $72,260

Highest-Paying States for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Registered Nurses:

State Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
California $59.62 $124,000
Hawaii $51.22 $106,530
Oregon $47.42 $98,630
District of Columbia $47.38 $98,540
Alaska $46.74 $97,230

Highest-Paying Cities for Registered Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Registered Nurses:

City Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
San Jose, CA $74.63 $155,230
San Francisco, CA $72.90 $151,640
Vallejo, CA $70.37 $146,360
Santa Rosa, CA $68.00 $141,440
Napa, CA $67.15 $139,680
Santa Cruz, CA $67.11 $139,590
Sacramento, CA $65.14 $135,490
Salinas, CA $62.75 $130,520
Modesto, CA $61.41 $127,730
Hanford, CA $60.00 $124,790

Kind nurse with a clipboard

Time to Take the Next Step

Now that you have all the information you need, it’s time to decide on your future. Making the transition from a Certified Nursing Assistant to a Registered Nurse is a decision that requires a lot of commitment. There are several benefits of entering into an RN program that justify this commitment, including:

  • Higher annual wages
  • More job opportunities
  • Greater job security
  • Greater potential job growth

If you’re ready to make the next step, you can find out more about Provo College’s BSN program here.