Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Salary Guide

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October 12, 2021

reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

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If you want to get into nursing, becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) could be a good first step. A CNA training program only takes a few weeks to a few months to complete, so you can enter the workforce and start making money right away.

This guide explores the median salary a CNA earns, what a CNA is, and why you might want to consider training to become a certified nursing assistant. You'll also learn what you can do to increase your income as a CNA.

What Is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)?

A certified nursing assistant cares for patients in nursing facilities or other healthcare settings. CNAs help patients get around and assist with grooming, dressing, bathing, feeding, and toileting. They also help monitor the patient's health.

In order to become a CNA, you'll need to complete a CNA training program. These programs typically take 4-12 weeks to complete. However, more in-depth programs may take as long as six months. CNA training programs cover basic patient care, communication, monitoring vital signs, and infection prevention.

To become certified as a CNA, you'll have to complete an approved CNA training program, pass a test, and apply for certification through your state. You'll have to submit your application along with an application fee.

CNAs and medical assistants both assist with medical procedures and care for wounds. However, medical assistants also help with administrative tasks. A training program to become a medical assistant generally takes longer to complete than a CNA training program.

How Much Do Certified Nursing Assistant (CNAs) Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing assistants earned a median annual salary of $30,850 in May 2020. The average wage was $32,050 per year. However, CNA pay varies based on a worker's experience level, geographic region, and industry.

For example, CNAs who work in general medical and surgical hospitals earned an average annual salary of $33,660, while those who worked in home healthcare earned an average of $29,750 per year.

CNA Median Salary

According to BLS data, the median CNA salary has been steadily increasing for the past five years. Nursing assistants made a median annual salary of $26,590 in 2016. Since then, the median nursing assistant salary has increased by $4,260 to $30,850 in 2020.

Median nursing assistant salaries increased roughly 3.5% between 2016 and 2017, 3.7% between 2017 and 2018, 3.9% between 2018 and 2019, and 4.0% between 2019 and 2020. These increases have outpaced the rate of inflation in the U.S.

CNA Salary Outlook

According to PayScale data, CNA pay increases steadily based on the amount of experience a worker has. For example, CNAs with less than one year of experience earned $12.32 per hour, while CNAs with 5-9 years of experience earned an average of $13.38 per hour. Employees with 20 or more years experience reported earning an average of $14.60 per hour. Overall, the average salary for CNAs is roughly $30,000 per year.

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Where Can I Make the Most Money as a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Highest-Paying States for CNAs

The three states that pay CNAs the most all rank among the top 10 most expensive U.S. states to live in. The high cost of living undoubtedly contributes to higher wages, but it also means that those wages may not go as far as they would in other states.

In May 2020, CNAs made the most in Alaska, where the average annual CNA salary was $42,500. In New York and California, CNAs earned average salaries of $40,620 and $39,280 per year, respectively.

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for CNAs

The three highest-paying metropolitan areas are all in California, which has the third-highest cost of living of any state in the United States. The high cost of living necessitates higher wages.

The highest-paying metropolitan areas are San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, where nursing assistants made an average annual salary of $48,420 per year in May 2020. In Santa Cruz-Watsonville and Vallejo-Fairfield they earned average annual salaries of $43,960 and $42,200 per year, respectively.

Highest-Paying Nonmetropolitan Areas for CNAs

Alaska and Hawaii are among the 10 most expensive states in the U.S., so it's not a big surprise to see Alaska and Hawaii/Kauai in the top two spots for highest-paying nonmetropolitan areas for nursing assistants in May 2020. West North Dakota ranked third.

The average annual salary for the Alaska nonmetropolitan area was $45,820. In the Hawaii/Kauai area, the average annual wage was $39,640. And in the West North Dakota nonmetropolitan area, nursing assistants made an average yearly wage of $37,500.

Highest-Paying Workplace Settings for CNAs

In May 2020, the highest-paying setting for nursing assistants was junior colleges, where they made an average annual salary of $49,250. Colleges, universities, and professional schools ranked as the next most lucrative setting for CNAs — these workers earned an average annual salary of $44,870.

The federal executive branch came in third, where CNAs made an average salary of $41,210 per year. The federal executive branch employs nearly 15,0800 CNAs.

How Can I Increase My Pay as a Certified Nursing Assistant?

Consider Relocating

Although most places that pay high wages also have a relatively high cost of living, there is one notable exception: the West North Dakota nonmetropolitan area. It may be worthwhile to move to a region such as this one to earn higher pay. However, it's a good idea to have a job lined up in advance before you move.

Obtain Additional Training

One way to increase your pay is to level up your nursing career by becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN). A full-time LPN program usually takes around one year to complete. After completing the training program, you'll need to take a test and obtain a license from your state to practice as an LPN. According to the BLS, LPNs earned a median salary of $48,820 per year in May 2020 — significantly higher than the median certified nursing assistant salary.

Choose a New Healthcare Specialty

CNA wages can vary significantly based on the industry you work in and the type of work you do. For example, CNAs who work at junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools earned an average of $44,870-$49,250 per year in May 2020. CNAs working in the federal executive branch, for scientific research and development services, and in outpatient care centers also earned more than the CNA average salary.

Consider Career Advancement

To advance your career, consider becoming a registered nurse (RN). RNs earned a median salary of $75,330 per year in May 2020. You can become an RN with either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). However, it is easier to get an RN job with a BSN. After completing your ADN or BSN, you'll have to pass the NCLEX-RN test, then apply for RN licensure with your state. Additionally, your current employer may offer a tuition reimbursement program if you want to advance your education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Salary

What state pays CNAs the most? true

CNAs in Alaska earn the most. The average CNA salary in the state as of May 2020 was $42,500 per year. Alaska also has a high cost of living. This is mostly due to its sparse population and distance from manufacturing centers. Just about everything has to be shipped into the state, which is expensive. Utility costs are also very high in Alaska.

Other high-paying states are New York, California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts, where CNAs earned average annual salaries of $40,620, $39,280, $38,650, and $37,160.

What is the highest salary a CNA can make? true

The BLS reports that the highest-paid CNAs in May 2020 worked at junior colleges and made an average annual salary of $49,250. Other industries that pay more than the average CNA salary are colleges, universities, and professional schools, as well as the federal executive branch. Scientific research and development services and outpatient care centers also offer above-average pay for CNAs.

Do CNAs get paid more in hospitals?

The average annual wage for CNAs who work for general medical and surgical hospitals was $33,660 in May 2020 — slightly higher than the average for all CNAs ($32,050 per year).

CNAs who work in hospitals generally make more than those who work in nursing care facilities, continuing care retirement communities, and assisted living facilities. They also make more than those who work in home healthcare services and individual and family services.

Who gets paid more: CNAs or medical assistants?

Medical assistants typically earn more than CNAs. The median salary for a CNA was $30,850 per year in May 2020, while the median salary for a medical assistant was $35,850 per year. Medical assistants also spend more time in training: roughly one year versus 4-12 weeks for CNA training.

CNAs and medical assistants share some job responsibilities, such as wound care, but medical assistants have more administrative duties. CNAs focus on patient care, while medical assistants also fill out insurance forms and schedule appointments.

Salary negotiation can be a nerve-racking experience. These four tips teach you how to negotiate salary and other job benefits with confidence and clarity. Healthcare education is changing rapidly due to COVID-19. As medical students spend their time volunteering, classes go online and telemedicine picks up steam.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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