associate vs bachelor’s degree in nursing

What’s the Difference Between an ADN and BSN Program?

There are many different pathways to becoming a nurse, and the degree path you choose can affect the trajectory of your nursing career. To become a registered nurse today, the standard prerequisite is an associate degree in Nursing (ADN). However, many nurses are opting to pursue their bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN) to enhance their skills and career prospects. Both an ADN and BSN are great ways to kick off a future in nursing, but before you get started, it’s important to understand the differences between these nursing degrees.

What is an ADN?

An ADN is an associate degree in Nursing, which is typically a two year program that will make you eligible to become a registered nurse (RN). In many states, this level degree is required to take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. Students in ADN programs gain the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to practice as a nurse. They learn about the sciences, practice patient care, and complete clinical rotations in healthcare facilities.

What is a BSN?

A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, an advanced award that typically takes four years to complete. While this degree requires more time in nursing school, it also provides nurses with advanced skills and in-depth knowledge that can be applied to upper-level careers in nursing, like those in leadership. A BSN can be an entry-level degree program, taking four years to complete, or can be completed as a second degree. Many registered nurses go back to school to earn their BSN, after earning an associate, getting licensed, and gaining some experience in the field.

ADN vs. BSN Degree Programs

Both an ADN and BSN degree can qualify you for successful nursing careers after graduation. However, there are key distinctions between these types of programs—and the coursework you will take.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Education

An associate degree in Nursing is designed to prepare students with the fundamental knowledge and expertise needed to provide patient care. These programs focus on helping aspiring RNs develop hands-on nursing skills like taking vital signs, administering medications, collecting laboratory samples, and operating medical equipment. ADN programs also teach prospective nurses how to assess patient symptoms, coordinate treatment plans, and work with patients across the lifespan.

Every ADN program offers a clinical component, which is typically an internship-like experience at a healthcare facility. In addition to this important hands-on training, common courses offered through an associate degree in Nursing are:

  • Anatomy and Physiology II
  • Microbiology
  • Lifespan Development
  • Nursing Skill Development
  • Adults and Wellness Continuum I
  • Adults and Wellness Continuum II
  • Families and the Wellness Continuum
  • Integration of Nursing Practice: Adults with Complex Health Problems

As noted above, an associate degree in Nursing takes about two years to complete, after obtaining the basic prerequisite courses in preparation for nursing school. Some institutions offer flexible scheduling for nursing students. At Goodwin, for example, nursing students can complete their associate degree in just 20 months part-time, with evening and day classes available.

Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) Education

A bachelor’s degree in Nursing is designed to provide an even deeper foundation in the field of nursing. These programs go well beyond the basics of patient care, diving into advanced topics like nursing theory, healthcare policy, nursing leadership, research methods, and more. Graduates of BSN programs typically walk away with the ability to think critically, make ethical decisions, and apply evidence-based practices to their career. Therefore, they qualify for a larger number of roles in and related to nursing.

Common classes found in a BSN program include, but are not limited to:

  • Health Assessment and Skill Development
  • Foundations of Professional Nursing
  • Nursing Research
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Leadership and Management in Nursing
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
  • Pharmacotherapeutics

There are several different types of BSN degree programs, depending on your level of experience and education. Those entering the nursing field and going to college for the first time will require a traditional, entry-level BSN program that takes four years to complete. Aspiring RNs who already have a bachelor’s but are changing careers to nursing, meanwhile, should seek out an accelerated BSN program. And, for already licensed RNs looking to advance their career, an RN-to-BSN program is the best fit.

Here is a breakdown of the BSN degree options available to you:

  • Four-year BSN programs are available for those just starting out in nursing, and do not yet have any college education under their belts.
  • RN-to-BSN programs are a great fit for any RN who wants to advance their education after earning an associate degree.
  • An accelerated BSN program (ABSN) is perfect for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another major, but are now looking to become a nurse.

The type of BSN program will indicate the amount of time needed to spend in nursing school. Entry-level BSN programs take four years to complete, but other options can significantly cut down the number of years required. For example, RN-to-BSN programs are meant to be flexible for already-working nurses. These programs take less than two years to complete part-time. In fact, at Goodwin University, the RN-to-BSN program can be completed in just 12 months part-time, and nurses can maintain their career while earning their bachelor’s degree. The ABSN program, meanwhile, can be accomplished in 16 months full-time.

For many, an ADN program lays the groundwork for a nursing education and helps them get started in the field. This is one of its many benefits. Those who pursue an ADN typically go back to school for their BSN, which can be completed online and at a flexible pace.

ADN vs. BSN Career Outcomes

An associate degree in Nursing prepares graduates to become registered nurses (RNs). After receiving an ADN, graduates are eligible to sit for their nursing license through their state board examination. Upon receiving this license, they can go onto launch careers in many healthcare settings, such as:

  • Community Health Centers
  • Doctors’ Offices
  • Home Health Care Services
  • Hospice Facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Long-term Care Facilities
  • Nursing Supervision & Management
  • Occupational & Industrial Nursing

Alternatively, RNs with an associate degree may advance their ADN through a BSN program after graduation.

While most registered nursing positions can be achieved with an ADN, some nursing fields now require a bachelor’s degree. Common areas where a bachelor’s in Nursing is required include:

  • Military Nursing
  • School Nursing
  • Nursing Education
  • Nursing Forensics
  • Public Health
  • Case Management
  • Leadership
  • Research

On top of the additional career options available to BSN degree holders, there is also salary to consider when weighing these degree options. Research shows that nurses with a BSN degree may have higher earning potential, as well as greater, upward mobility once into their career.

ADN vs. BSN: Which is Right for You?

If you are looking to jumpstart your career as quickly as possible, your best option right now is to pursue your associate degree in Nursing. While it’s true that employers are increasingly seeking nurses with a BSN degree, the ADN is a great way to launch a nursing career fast. With an associate degree in nursing, you can sit for the licensing exam and begin working in the field within two years’ time, putting you ahead of the competition going for the four-year degree. By jumping into the workforce faster, you can build your resume, gain hands-on experience, boost those important networking contacts, and start helping patients in need of care. You can always earn your BSN degree later on! And many nurses do—especially when it can be done entirely online, in just one year, part-time.

With a BSN degree in hand, you can take your pick of more job prospects within the nursing field and potentially qualify for higher pay or advancement opportunities upon landing a role.

However, an ADN program is also a great starting point for nurses who are ready to go and start making an impact in the world of patient care. The great news is, whichever path in nursing you decide to take, you can find opportunity – and soar – in this ever-growing field.

If you would like to learn even more about the ADN or BSN programs at Goodwin University, call 1-800-889-3282 or visit us online today.