The Highest-Paying States for New Nurse Graduates

Maura Deering, J.D.
Updated August 8, 2022
Are you searching for your first nursing job? Learn about the highest-paying states for nursing graduates and nurse starting salaries by state.
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Whether you are a nursing student or recent graduate, you may wonder about entry-level nurse salaries. This guide explores median nursing salaries in the U.S. by experience level and breaks down data into the highest-paying states for new nurses. We also list the median earnings two years post-graduation in all 50 states.

This information can help you decide on the best state to launch your nursing career.

What Is the Starting Salary for New Nurses?

As shown in the table below, the median annual nurse starting salary during year one of licensure totals $50,000. After the first year, nurse annual earnings increase by $5,000-$10,000 as you gain more job experience. New nurses can expect their first year or two to include becoming familiar with the workplace and its systems, caring for patients, working on teams of health professionals, and updating patient charts.

The table below lists median nationwide salaries as reported by participants in the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. However, earnings can vary quite a bit depending on where you work (geographic location and setting), your degree level (associate or bachelor’s), your residency experience, and your specialization area, if applicable.

Median Annual Salary by Number of Years Licensed as an RN
Number of Years Licensed as an RNMedian Annual Salary
0-1 Year$50,000
2-5 Years$60,000
6-10 Years$65,000
11 Years or More$75,000

Source:The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey

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The Highest-Paying States for New Nurses

This section lists the highest-paying states for nursing graduates, offers reasons why these states pay higher salaries, and discusses other factors that contribute to each state’s positive environment for nurses.

1 Alaska – $89,260

Alaska offers stunning natural landscapes, outdoor recreation, and the highest pay for new nurses in the United States. Alaska nursing salaries stretch even further because the state ranks 11th for cost of living at just 3% above the national average. In addition, Alaska needs registered nurses (RNs) and faces a projected shortfall of 5,400 nurses from 2020-2030.

2 California – $87,620

California nursing salariesrank high primarily because of a projected shortfall of 44,500 RNs from 2020-2030. Another factor is the state’s high cost of living, which exceeds the national average by more than 10%. California features beautiful beaches, mountains, deserts, and world-class cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with state-mandated RN-to-patient ratios.

3 Connecticut – $75,100

Connecticut’s fall foliage, scenic rivers and coastal areas, and seven hospitals with designated Magnet status for nursing program excellence make the state attractive for new nurses. Connecticut ranks just above Alaska in the 10th spot for cost of living, which surpasses the national average by 3%.

4 New Jersey $74,260

New Jersey’s high salaries for nurses reflect a projected shortfall of 11,400 RNs from 2020-2030. The state also ranks third for cost of living, reported at more than 11% above the national average. New Jersey hosts 34 Magnet-designated hospitals and belongs to the Nursing Licensure Compact (NLC), which allows RNs to practice under a multistate license.

5 Delaware – $73,320

Delaware rounds out our list of states with the top five highest nurse starting salaries, bolstered by a cost-of-living index that falls below the national average by just over 2%. Delaware nursing salaries are further augmented by the state’s tax advantages, and, as an NLC state, Delaware offers opportunities for RNs to pursue employment in nearby Maryland and New Jersey.

New Nurse Graduate Salaries by State

The following table lists the median new nursing graduate salaries earned two years after graduation for all 50 states. The data was compiled from College Scorecard and bases the post-graduation salaries on the highest level of education attained. Alaska tops the list with wages over $89,000, and Kansas nurses log the lowest earnings at just under $55,000.

Median Earnings of New Nurse Graduates
StateMedian Earnings 2 Years After Graduation
District of Columbia$85,700
New Jersey$74,260


New York








Rhode Island




New Hampshire








New Mexico












North Dakota
















West Virginia










South Carolina


South Dakota












North Carolina














Source:College Scorecard Data by Field of Study 2022

Sources and Methodology

The median annual salary of nurses by the number of years licensed as a registered nurse is collected from the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. Salary figures include overtime and bonuses. Salary figures do not include sign-on bonuses.

Annual nursing salary data by state is collected from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard‘s most recent data by field of study, last updated on May 2, 2022. Data reflects the median earnings of graduates two years after earning their highest level of education in the field of registered nursing, nursing administration, nursing research, and clinical nursing. Data is calculated at the institutional level.

Both data sources are subject to limitations. Due to the difficulties of conducting national surveys, certain groups or regions may be under or overrepresented.

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