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

two nurses playing tug of war

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: The ADN versus BSN debate. Should you get your Associate’s 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 versus BSN debate to set your wheels in motion.

ADN vs. BSN: Education

No matter the route you take, to become a registered nurse, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN 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’s 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 12-24 months.1 BSN programs typically take four years, but some can be completed sooner.

Some nurses choose the ADN degree route to enter the workforce sooner, with the option to obtain a BSN later on in an RN to BSN program. Or, individuals who have already earned a Bachelor’s degree in another field 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 program or a BSN program, your title remains the same: registered nurse.

ADN vs. BSN: Curriculum differences

Both ADN degree and BSN degree 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 degree programs include some courses that aren’t in ADN degree programs. They round out their programs with an emphasis on public health, management and leadership, nursing research, and physical and social sciences. These 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 degree and BSN degree graduates are both registered nurses. But do their careers differ?

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

ADN vs. BSN: Salary & job outlook

When it comes to ADN vs. BSN salary, the difference is not always significant, particularly when just starting a nursing career. BSN nurses 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.2

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.2

As for job prospects, aspiring nurses with their BSN tend to have more jobs to choose from. We used real-time job posting analysis software from Burning-Glass.com to examine more than 1 million nursing jobs posted over the past year. We found that RNs with an Associate’s degree met the minimum education requirements listed for 59 percent of those jobs, while RNs with a BSN qualified for 98 percent of the jobs advertised.3 This shows that employers are understandably more receptive to hiring nurses with additional education, but there are still plenty of opportunities out there for ADN-RNs.

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 healthcare services and outpatient care centers. But a nurse’s degree can also influence their employment at other locations.

BSN nurses may 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, outpatient clinics and assisted living facilities.2

Two paths, one destination

The time has come to make your ADN vs. 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 in nursing.

Now that we’ve navigated the ADN vs. BSN debate, take the first step to your scrubs—check out the Rasmussen College School of Nursing Associate’s degree page and Bachelor’s degree page to explore your options and turn your dreams into a career.

1Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer credits accepted and courses completed each term.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed January 2, 2019] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
3Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 1,357,902 Nursing job postings, January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018).

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Kirsten Slyter

Kirsten is a Content Writer at Collegis Education where she enjoys researching and writing on behalf of Rasmussen College. She understands the difference that education can make and hopes to inspire readers at every stage of their education journey.

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