Sonographers have a wide range of training which takes from one to four years to complete (SDMS.org). This means that the return on investment for a sonography career can be extremely variable. As well as the amount of time put into obtaining an education in sonography there are also pay differentials based on location, training, experience and more.
Average Sonography Salaries
The average salary for sonographers in the U.S. is $68,900 per year (BLS.gov). This assumes an associates’ degree which typically takes two years to complete. The lowest-paid 10 percent of sonographers make less than $44,900 per year while the highest-paid 10 percent make more than $90,490.
Pay by Employment Type
Sonographers work in a variety of medical and healthcare facilities. Their wages are variable depending on where they work. The best-paid employment locations are outpatient care centers where sonographers across the U.S. make an average of $69,900. The lowest-paid major employment locations are diagnostic and medical laboratories which pay their sonographers an average of $62,290.
Sonography Program Costs
Sonography programs range from one-year certificate programs to four-year degrees (Whatitcosts.com). Most certificate programs are available only to people who already have a two- or four-year degree so the entry-level program can be considered the associates’ degree in Diagnostic Medical Imaging. The average cost of an associates’ degree in the U.S. is $5088 in total (Degreecentral.com).
The other option for an entry-level program is a bachelor’s degree in sonography. The average cost of a bachelor’s degree at a public university was $28,080 in 2010. The same degree cost $105,092 on average at a private university (CollegeSurfing.com). Choosing a bachelor’s degree instead of an associates’ degree also increases the costs of books and supplies as well as requiring two extra years of living expenses.
A one-year certificate program in sonography which can be completed by anyone with an associates’ degree is offered by Lancaster General College (LancasterGeneralCollege.edu). The fees are either per-credit or per-semester and the full-time rate is $5650 for the year. Books and supplies are not included in this figure.
As well as the tuition for the program there are expenses in the form of books, supplies, room and board and other living costs. Books and supplies are estimated to cost $2014 over the course of the two-year program at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC.edu). The average cost of books and program supplies for a four-year college student was $4400 in total. This figure is for students not attending summer session, however (Scholarships.com).
The average cost of living for a college student on a tight budget is $15,920 per year (Graphs.net). Two years of living expenses at this rate totals $31,814. Four years of low-cost living comes to a total of $63,680.
Using the average cost of an associates’ degree program, the books and supplies figure from Chippewa Valley Technical College and the average living expenses of a college student on a tight budget, the two-year program in sonography costs $38,916. Using the average cost of a bachelor’s degree with books and supplies plus four years of living expenses the total cost of a four-year degree in sonography is $96,160 at a public university. The same figures give a total of $173,172 at a private university.
The post-certificate program assumes one year of living expenses, tuition for the program itself and one-half the cost of books and supplies as the associates’ degree. This totals $22,577 per year. Because it is a one year program this is the total certificate cost as well.
Return on Investment
Accurate figures for starting salaries of sonographers are difficult to find. However, a rough calculation can be made by assuming that first-year sonographers are making less than the 25th percentile of wages in the field which is $53,000 (HealthCareGuides.com). Assuming a starting salary at the 10th percentile means that the sonographer is making approximately $44,900.
Using the same cost of living figure for newly-minted sonographers as for college students, a sonographer making the 10th percentile wage for the profession earns $28,980 beyond what he or she needs for living expenses. At this rate it will take him or her 1.35 years to pay off the total costs of an associates’ degree without dipping into their living expenses.
It would take the same sonographer 3.32 years to pay off a four-year public university degree. It would take him or her 5.96 years to pay off a four-year private university degree on this salary. However, sonographers starting out with a bachelor’s degree can be assumed to be making more money than those starting out with an associates’ degree.
A sonographer making the 25th percentile wage of $53,000 would make $37,080 beyond what they needed to maintain their college student living expenses. Making this salary it would take a sonographer with an associates’ degree approximately just under one year to earn what their entire two-year program cost them. A sonographer making this wage who had gone to a public university for a four-year degree would take approximately 2.6 years to earn back the cost of their education. A sonographer who had attended a four-year degree at a private university could expect to take 4.67 years to earn back the cost of their education.
In the End, The certificate cost is on top of the costs associated with any earlier degree. Sonographers making the 10th percentile wage could pay off the certificate program in just under ten months. Those making the 25th percentile wage would take about seven months to pay off the cost of the program.