ADN vs a BSN Degree: What’s The Difference

An ADN vs a BSN Degree What’s The Difference
Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Study Consultant at Gradehacker

Helping others has always been a passion in your life, so you’ve been thinking about getting a degree in nursing for a while. Nursing not only channels your interest in healthcare but also offers you a steady, reliable, and valuable income.

Since you want to make an educated decision on which pathway is best for you, you’ll research all the information that our friend Google offers to become a nursing student. You are excited, you are just one click away of finally knowing where your dreams will take you. However, suddenly you find yourself bombed by weird acronyms like ADN, BSN, RN, or PCN that don’t make sense to you at first glance. Which one should you enroll in? What is the difference between BSN and ADN? Will either a BSN or ADN qualify you as a Registered Nurse? This is so confusing and you are getting desperate. You need a simple answer now!

The first thing you have to know is that there is no right answer. Choosing between these degrees depends on your goals in the long run. You will also find out how both degrees will lead you to obtain your Registered Nurse (RN) license, which is a critical step for any nursing professional who wants to access better job opportunities and work almost anywhere in the U.S.

Do you want to finish your degree soon and start to work faster? Do you want to have a better income? Are you interested in providing better patient care? These are questions you have to ask yourself to save yourself a lot of stress while choosing a nursing degree program and to help you reach your goals sooner and more effectively to become the prepared nurse you have always dreamed of.

Since we get this question a lot here at Gradehacker, we have developed this guide “ADN vs. BSN Degree: What’s The Difference?”

Let's start with the basics: What do ADN and BSN mean?

To become a registered nurse (RN), you have two main paths you can take. One is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program. The other one is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both of them will prepare you to work in care facilities, perform primary nursing care, and, most importantly, make you eligible for the NCLEX-PN exam, which will allow you to get your RN license.

The RN licensing is a critical milestone to achieve with whatever degree you opt for an ADN or BSN degree. This is because it assures the public and employees that you are, in fact, an applicant who completed a nursing education program. In some states, you can work without the RN license. Still, about half of the U.S. belongs to the nursing licensure compact. This agreement allows you to practice in a broad range of places throughout the country.

Which one takes longer: ADN or BSN?

An ADN degree takes about two years, while a BSN program takes four years to complete. However, for the latter, it is possible to access accelerated classes so you can achieve this nursing program sooner. Keep in mind that to apply to this type of program, you’ll need to have already completed a nursing training course or any related degree.

Picking between these two depends on your personal circumstances and overall end goals. With an ADN, you can start to work sooner, but with a BSN, you will have better job opportunities due to its focus on more advanced nursing care knowledge.

An ADN vs a BSN Degree What’s The Difference

Is BSN more difficult than ADN?

As mentioned before, a BSN degree program is more complicated than an ADN one. First of all, the former is longer so you will definitely have more classes. Secondly, a BSN works on more complex skills not only related to biology or patient care. You will have to meet more educational requirements related to nursing management, logistics, specialized patient treatments, and research skills. An ADN nursing degree explores these concepts too but does not deepen them as much.

Due to its more complete syllabus, a BSN will lead you to further educational developments such as teaching or medical research, while an ADN degree will prepare you to work exclusively in healthcare facilities.

However, many students prefer to go for an ADN degree first, gain more experience through practice, and then apply to a BSN to RN program to get everything done at once.

Does a BSN nurse earn more than an ADN nurse?

Registered nurse practitioners are on-demand. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)  mentions that job projections for this field are strong, and you are expected to earn an annual wage of $71,730 as of May 2018. However, there is definitely a difference between BSN and ADN salaries.

According to Nightingale.edu, an ADN-level registered nurse earns a median annual salary of $71,730, depending on the state. Meanwhile, RNs with a BSN degree earn a yearly income of $82,000 on average, according to the same source.

Prepared nurses specialized in anesthesia or psychiatry are among the highest paid ones in the nursing field. To access those programs, you will definitely need a BSN since those specializations are qualified as a master’s level (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse degree).

An ADN vs a BSN Degree What’s The Difference

Does a BSN degree program have more nursing job opportunities than an ADN?

According to several studies cited by The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), patient outcomes improve under BSN-registered nurses’ care. Likewise, since they are significantly better prepared in 12 of 16 areas related to quality and safety, there is a prevalence of replacing assistive roles with professional personnel.

Due to the constant need for improving patient outcomes to maintain the Standards of Care in Nursing, professionals with better clinical skills are needed. A 2017 study from the AACN  indicates employers have the level of education at the top of their minds in the hiring process. The study revealed 49% of hospitals and other healthcare facilities require new hires to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and 86.3% of employers show a strong preference for BSN graduates.

However, ADN has a substantial advantage. Even if finding a job in a hospital is more competitive, they have many other nursing fields to explore. Post-acute settings such as ambulatory care, home care, hospice, and long-term care are continually looking for these nurses with this type of educational level.

An ADN vs a BSN Degree What’s The Difference

Can I get an ADN or a BSN through online classes?

Online programs are a timesaver for students who need flexibility while looking to get an advanced education. However, keep in mind that in-person clinical practice will always be an education requirement for both degrees. The number of required hours may vary depending on each institution, but they usually try to meet the RN standards.

Luckily, most online programs allow you to fulfill clinical requirements at a hospital or clinical site close to you. However, your college will have to approve the site and the qualifications of the supervisors who will oversee your clinical work. 

An ADN vs a BSN Degree What’s The Difference

Before you go, some quick things you have to know about BSN and ADN Degrees

When you are on the fence about choosing between an ADN or a BSN degree, always remember these key points:

  • ADN stands for Associate Degree and BSN stands for Bachelor's Degree in Nursing.

    They are not the same, whether in length, education level, and job expectations.

  • An ADN degree lasts two years, while a BSN lasts four years

    Or less depending on if you are eligible for accelerated programs.

  • A BSN degree takes longer, so you will have more classes and be more specialized

    You will study the same topics as an ADN at some point.

  • An ADN nurse earns $71,730 annually while a BSN earns $82,000 on average

    The difference increases when you get an APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Degree). Still, you can access that only through a BSN.

  • While BSN nurses are preferred in hospital settings, ADN nurses have more work fields to explore

    Such as home care facilities and hospices.

  • Both BSN and ADN have online programs to take certain classes.

    Still, you will always need to do an in-person clinical practice in a college-approved medical setting.

So the question remains, should you choose ADN or BSN? The only one who knows that answer is yourself because it depends mainly on what your means and goals are and the time frame in which you want to achieve them. However, now you can make an informed decision thanks to this guide.


Since Gradehacker’s main goal is to help you pursue your desired career path in nursing no matter where you begin, we are happy to guide you through other important milestones such as the NCLEX exam or how to get help you with your entire nursing classes until you get your well-deserved diploma.

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega

Javiera Vega is a Study Consultant and Content Creator for Gradehacker. She has a degree in Education and Literature and is currently working on getting a master’s degree in Linguistics. Even though words, languages, and books are her thing, science and psychology were her hidden passion for many years. Luckily, Gradehacker has allowed her to use all that knowledge by helping many clients with everything they need. Javiera considers herself a proud nerd who likes to learn and read about everything she can find. From movies and comics to microbiology and genetics, every topic is interesting for her. Her curiosity has no limits. Find her on LinkedIn

Here's Some Free Valuable Secrets To Make Your College Journey Easier
What Is It Exactly that Gradehacker Does? (Hint: This Video Answers That & Much More
How We Help You In Your College Journey
See How We Helped Other Non-Traditional Students Like You
Lets Get Social
Made Just For You

Be Part of the College Disrupter Community

Everything you need to know in less than 5 minutes that will make your relationship with college and classes like a gazillion times better.

A Non-Traditional Student's Most Trusted Resource

Discover More Here