ADN vs a BSN Degree: What’s The Difference

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

Study Consultant at Gradehacker

Updated April 13, 2022

Helping others has always been a passion in your life, so you’ve been thinking about getting a degree in nursing for a while. Pursuing a career in 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 as you are just one click away from 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’s 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 correct answer; however, choosing between these degrees depends on your career goals in the long run. You will also find out how both degree options will lead you to obtain your Registered Nurse (RN) license, which is critical for any nursing professional who wants to access better job opportunities and work almost anywhere in the US.

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? 

You have to ask yourself these questions to decrease your stress while choosing a nursing degree program to help you reach your goals sooner and more effectively to become the prepared nurse practitioner 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 educational pathways you can take. 

One is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program, and the other is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both of them will prepare you to work in a medical facility, perform primary nursing care, and, most importantly, make you eligible for the NCLEX-PN exam, which will allow you to get your RN license.

Becoming a licensed nurse is a critical milestone to achieve regardless of which nursing degree you opt for. This is because it assures the public and employees that you are, in fact, an applicant who completed a nursing education program.

Which one takes longer: ADN or BSN?

An ADN degree takes about two years, while a BSN program takes four years to complete. However, it is possible to access accelerated classes for the latter so you can achieve this nursing program sooner. To apply to this type of program, you’ll need to be a nursing graduate from a training course or any degree related to the healthcare field.

Picking between these two depends on your personal circumstances and overall professional goals. With an ADN, you can start to work sooner, but you will have better entry-level job opportunities with a BSN 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 four-year program is more challenging than an ADN one.

First of all, a BSN 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, clinical experiences, and research skills. An ADN nursing degree explores these concepts too but does not deepen them as much.

Due to its more complete curriculum, BSN degree graduates will have better professional development skills such as teaching, clinical skills, or medical research. On the other hand, ADN-educated nurses will be prepared to work exclusively in nursing care 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 growth for 2030 is 9% and that employees in the field of nursing are expected to earn an annual salary of $75,330 as of September 2021. 

However, there is definitely a difference between BSN and ADN salaries

According to NursingProcess, an ADN-level registered nurse earns an average salary of $70,820 per year, depending on the state. Meanwhile, RNs with a BSN degree earn a median salary of $84,250 per year.

Nurses specialized in anesthesia or psychiatry are among the highest paid ones in the nursing field. You will definitely need a BSN to access these programs 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 (ACCN), 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, replacing assistive roles with professional personnel is prevalent.

Due to the constant need for improving patient outcomes to maintain the Standards of Care in Nursing, professionals with better clinical skills are neededA 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 that 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 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, here are 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 $70,820 annually, while a BSN salary is $84,250 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 your nursing career goals 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 nursing career path no matter where you begin, we are happy to guide you through other important milestones such as the NCLEX-RN exam or even throughout your entire nursing classes; until you get your well-deserved diploma!

If you are interested in finding the best tips for nursing students, don’t miss our related blogs:

Picture of 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