RN vs. BSN: What You Should Know

Nursing always looks so simple in movies – stick a patient with a needle, save their life and move on. Real-life nursing isn’t so easy, of course, so it stands to reason that Hollywood’s portrayal of a certain category of nurse is also inaccurate.

As you’ve likely discovered in your research, a nurse is never just a “nurse” – a nurse can be a licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), nurse practitioner (NP) or numerous other job titles. So it makes sense that nurses have different levels of education that reflect their varied qualifications and expertise. Nurses can have an associate degree, Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in nursing (MSN).

How do you know which is right for you?

We’ve already covered the LPN versus RN debate, now let’s explore RN versus BSN. It should be noted that one is a job title and one is a degree, but our research shows that it’s  a comparison that confuses many people, given the frequency with which it appears on nursing forums such as Nurse.com and AllNurses.com.

Here, we’ve given you the facts you need so you can make the choice that’s best for your future nursing career.

RN vs. BSN

RN vs. BSN: education requirements

The first thing you should know is that becoming an RN means passing the NCLEX exam. There is no way around it.

To be eligible to sit for the NCLEX you must first earn either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN). The former requires completion of a 21-month program at a career-focused college. The latter is generally a 4-year commitment up front but results in a higher academic credential—something hospitals across the country are seeking in greater numbers.     

In the end, the outcome is the same.

The major difference is the path and time commitment required to become an RN. You can go straight to the job market as an RN or you can further your education with a BSN degree. If you decide on going the ADN route but eventually want to earn the higher academic credential, you can earn a BSN through a "completer program" in as little as 12 additional months and it can often be done online.

RN vs. BSN: job types

OK, this one may seem like a no-brainer. If you have a nursing degree, you’re going to be a nurse, right? Yes, but it’s not that simple.

RNs perform the typical nursing duties that are most commonly portrayed in movies and on TV – they record patient symptoms on a medical chart, operate medical equipment, educate patients on illness and work as part of a medical team, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Having a BSN degree, however, provides a greater variety of options. A nurse with a BSN may do the same things as an RN, or they may choose to work in public health or be a nurse educator. Public health nurses generally educate communities on health issues, while nurse educators prepare the next generation of LPNs and RNs. Nurses in those professions need to have a BSN to even be considered for employment, says Dr. Iris Cornell, dean of Rasmussen College’s RN to BSN degree program.

RN vs. BSN: job outlook and salary

Thanks to your research, you probably already know that nursing is a growing career field. While that’s true, it can also be helpful to know what level of education you need to land the nursing job that’s going to put you on the career path that’s right for you.

An analysis of 187,423 nursing job postings made over three months* shows the level of education employers are seeking in nurses:

  • Post-secondary or associate degree (51 percent)
  • Bachelor’s degree (37 percent)
  • Graduate or professional degree (23 percent)
  • High school (6 percent)

These statistics suggest that a current RN is qualified for 51 percent of available nursing-related jobs, while a nurse with a BSN qualifies for those plus the bachelor’s degree jobs, or 88 percent of all nursing vacancies over the past year. Both are encouraging numbers, especially when compared to the number of jobs available for those hoping to get into the field with a high school diploma.

Further analysis of those job postings can show the mean real-time salary for the positions posted. For the positions requiring a post-secondary or associate degree the mean salary is $66,620 and for a BSN degree it’s $75,484. Keep in mind that those numbers are for jobs across the spectrum of experience levels.

RN vs. BSN: bottom line

So, what type of nurse do you want to be? In the end, regardless of whether you become an RN or have a BSN, you’ll be a nurse, yes. But it’s important to decide where you eventually want your career to go so you can adequately prepare.

If you want to work in a hospital setting for the majority of your career, becoming an RN might be a good option for you. You’ll get to experience the fast-paced atmosphere of working in life-or-death situations. But if you think that someday you’ll look beyond the hospital then you likely want to earn your BSN degree. You’ll be able to lead future nurses as a nurse educator or help communities learn about critical health issues as a public health nurse.

To learn more about your RN versus BSN nursing options, visit Rasmussen College’s School of Nursing page.


Editor's note: The "education requirements" section of this article was updated Mar. 4, 2014 to more accurately portray the two paths to becoming an RN. 

*Source: BurningGlass.com (analysis of nurse job postings, 4/25/2013 to 7/21/2013)

External links provided on Rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

Receive Personalized Information Today

  • Career path guidance
  • Enrollment application
  • Detailed course schedule
  • Personalized financial aid
  • No obligation to enroll
  • Attend a no-obiligation Nursing Information Session
  • Meet the Dean of Nursing
  • Enrollment application
  • Personalized financial aid
  • Career path guidance

What would you like to study?

Previous Education

How can we contact you?

Please complete all fields

By requesting information, I authorize Rasmussen College to contact me by email, phone or text message at the number provided.

Share Your Story Ideas
Our campuses and online community have stories to tell and we want to hear them! Did your campus raise the most money in the community for an organization? Do you have online study tips for other students? Would you like to share a personal success story about overcoming an obstacle while earning your degree?
To have your story idea considered:
  • You must be a faculty member, current student or graduate
  • Story ideas must be regarding Rasmussen College or an inspiring story about a student at Rasmussen College
  • Your submission must be original and may not have been published elsewhere online already
Please Note: Your story idea may be featured on the Rasmussen College News Beat or on one of our social networks. A member of our news team will contact you should we move forward with a blog post.
Feel free to suggest an idea for a blog post to be featured on the Rasmussen College News Beat by filling out the form below:

First Name: (required)

Last Name: (required)

Email Address: (required)

Phone Number: (required)

500 characters or less


Your Story Idea Has Been Submitted

Thank you for sending us a story idea! We’re reviewing submissions and may contact you soon to learn more about your story. In the meantime, make sure to check out our current blogs to see what’s happening on campus.