ADN vs. BSN: Your Guide to Help You Decide on a Nursing Degree

ADN vs. BSN: Your Guide to Help You Decide on a Nursing Degree

You’ve been thinking about a career in nursing for a while now. It’s something you’ve always wanted — a steady and reliable career that puts food on the table and also allows you to live out your passion of helping others. But you’re not one to make uneducated decisions. You want to know what you’re getting into — and how to best go about it.

That’s where your dilemma comes in: Should you get your associate or bachelor’s degree to become a nurse? Graduates from ADN and BSN programs both become registered nurses — RNs — upon graduating and passing the NCLEX exam. But what differences come with these degrees? And which degree path is best suited for you?

Join us as we explore the ADN vs. BSN debate and see if it sets your wheels in motion.

ADN vs. BSN: Education requirements

To become a nurse, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX exam. This is taken after graduating from a nursing program and is your final hurdle to obtaining those credentials. But what about the nursing programs?

There are many paths to the same career. Nurses can choose from either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). ADN programs from career-focused colleges can be completed in as few as 18-24 months.1 BSN programs typically take four years, but some can be completed sooner.

Some nurses choose the ADN route to enter the workforce sooner and obtain their BSN later on in an RN-to-BSN program. Or, individuals who already earned a bachelor’s degree and want to change careers can pursue second degree options to earn their BSN in a shorter amount of time.

You have plenty of entrance options to a career in nursing, but one thing is for certain — whether you opt for an ADN or BSN degree, your title remains the same: registered nurse.

ADN vs. BSN: Curriculum differences

Both ADN and BSN programs contain the core courses needed to teach you the competencies of nursing. And they both contain nursing student clinicals to provide students with hands-on learning with real patients in healthcare settings.

But BSN programs include some courses that aren’t in ADN programs. They round-out their programs with an emphasis on public health, management and leadership, nursing research and physical and social sciences. The additional courses are meant to provide students with more professional development and a heightened understanding of the issues affecting patient care and healthcare delivery.

ADN vs. BSN: Career opportunities

ADN and BSN graduates are both registered nurses. But do their careers differ?

As registered nurses, those with their ADN or their BSN work side-by-side caring for patients: They administer care, update medical charts and monitor patients’ symptoms, among many other duties.

However, nurses with their BSN are sometimes tasked with a greater variety of duties than nurses with their ADN. The BSN also can open doors for leadership and management positions. Some nursing specialties, like public health, nurse education and nurse research also require a BSN.

ADN vs. BSN: Salary & outlook

When it comes to the earnings of nurses with their ADN vs. BSN, the difference is not always  significant. BSNs in some circumstances earn more, but salary shouldn’t be the main motivator for the degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $70,000 in 2017 — though salaries can vary by specialty, state and employer.

Looking ahead, the nursing field is projected to grow 15 percent through 2026 — much faster than the average rate of all fields, which is 7 percent.

As for job prospects, aspiring nurses with their BSN tend to have more jobs to choose from. We used real-time job analysis software from to examine more than 1.3 million nursing jobs posted over the past year.2 We found that RNs with an associate degree only qualified for 53 percent of those jobs, while RNs with a BSN qualified for 82 percent of the jobs.

ADN vs. BSN: titles and employers

Will your degree impact where you can work? Somewhat.

ADN and BSN nurses are largely employed in hospitals, home health care services and outpatient care centers. But a nurse’s degree can also influence their employment at other locations.

BSN nurses have an advantage for employment as school nurses, nurse educators in colleges and with insurance carriers as case managers, while ADN nurses have an edge up on employment in nursing care facilities, retirement communities and assisted living facilities.

When it comes to job titles for ADN versus BSN nurses, the most common title for both is registered nurse. Other common titles for both degrees include home health registered nurse and staff nurse. Some titles, such as case manager and nurse manager are favored for BSN nurses.3

Two paths, one destination

The time has come to make your ADN versus BSN decision. It’s a big first step in your nursing career, but rest easy knowing either choice will allow you to touch thousands of lives throughout your years at the bedside.

Take the first step to your scrubs — check out the Rasmussen College School of Nursing associate degree page and bachelor’s degree page to explore your options and turn your dreams into a career.

1Time to complete is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.

2Source: (Analysis of 1,342,293 Registered Nurse job postings May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016)

3Source: (Analysis of 449,952 Registered Nurse job postings May 1, 2015 to April 30, 2016)

Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

Kristina Ericksen

Kristina is a Digital Writer at Collegis Education where she creates informative content on behalf of Rasmussen College. She is passionate about the power of education and enjoys connecting students to bright futures.


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