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ADN vs BSN: Which is Right for You?

4 min readFebruary, 09 2024

If you want a career as a registered nurse (RN), two college degree paths you can choose are an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Nurses are in high demand nationwide, with opportunities available at all levels. Consider your long-term goals and find a program that offers the training you need to advance your career.

The Differences Between an ADN and BSN

You can get the education you need to become an RN through diploma programs, community colleges, and colleges or universities. The main differentiators between an ADN and a BSN are the level of education, the scope of the coursework, and future opportunities. Understand the pros and cons of ADN and BSN degrees, and then choose the career path that makes the most sense for you.

What Is an ADN in Nursing?

An ADN is an entry-level nursing degree. This two-year program, typically offered at community colleges, provides the core training and knowledge to become an RN. Although most ADNs take two years to complete, some schools offer accelerated programs you can finish in 18 months.

The core curriculum for an ADN includes prerequisites like chemistry, anatomy, biology, psychology, and English. Once you enter the ADN program, you’ll focus on specific nursing skills and practices, such as:

  • Nursing Fundamentals
  • Microbiology and Immunology
  • Medical-Surgical Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Psychiatric Nursing

Why an ADN May Be Right for You

An ADN is an excellent option if you’re budget-conscious and want to avoid committing to a four-year undergraduate program. To get an ADN at a public school, you can expect to pay between $6K and $20K for tuition.

Remember that you’ll likely be required to pay certain fees along the way for classroom instruction, labs, and clinical training. Depending on the program, you’ll need extra money for textbooks, lab supplies, uniforms, and other equipment.

Beautiful African American female nursing student smiles confidently while in class. She is taking notes in a notebook. She is wearing a lab coat over blue scrubs and has dark brown hair.

What Is a BSN in Nursing?

If you choose to get a BSN, you’ll commit to a four-year undergraduate program at a college or university. This degree provides broader, more comprehensive training and clinical experience than an ADN. One of the advantages of a BSN over an ADN is that many employers seeking qualified nurses zero in on candidates with a BSN. Although BSN and ADN programs focus on developing clinical patient care skills, the BSN degree also includes coursework around theoretical nursing concepts, public health topics, nursing ethics, pathophysiology, and microbiology.

Why a BSN May Be Right for You

A BSN is required if you ever plan to seek admission to a graduate nursing program. If you have a bachelor’s degree in another area of study or already have an ADN, you can earn a BSN more quickly by taking the nursing-specific classes required. For both the ADN and BSN degrees, make sure your institution is accredited to ensure that your education meets the highest standards and positions you for success on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which you’ll need to pass to become an RN.

Expect tuition costs to run much higher for a BSN vs. an ADN. The average price of a four-year BSN program can range from $40K to over $200K, depending on the university. If you can afford the tuition, the investment can be well worth it in the long run. You’ll earn a higher salary, and many health care facilities only seek candidates with a BSN during the hiring process.

BSN degree holders also typically have more success on the NCLEX licensure examination. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), 82.3% of BSN nurses pass on the first attempt, compared to 77.9% of associate degree holders.

How Does the ADN vs. BSN Salary Stack Up?

Let’s compare a 2-year vs. 4-year nursing degree salary. Payscale reports an average BSN salary of $92K (mid-year 2023) and $75K for an ADN. That’s an average of an extra $17K each year if you complete two more years of education. Over a 30-year career, the salary difference can be over half a million dollars.

Career Opportunities in Nursing

Aside from the BSN vs. ADN debate, the reality is that there’s a shortage of nurses in the United States. The American Hospital Association recently reported that roughly 100,000 fewer nurses are working today than before the COVID-19 pandemic. This shortage has directly impacted patient care, making now an ideal opportunity to enter the nursing profession. Health care organizations and schools actively recruit students, expand financial aid, and update policies to make nursing careers more accessible.

Whichever path you take to become an RN — an ADN or a BSN — you’ll find that a challenging and fulfilling career awaits with plenty of room for growth and advancement.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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