Types of Nursing Degrees

8 Min Read Published February 23, 2024

Want to pursue nursing but don't know which degree is right for you? This article examines every type of nursing degree to help you determine which education path suits your career goals.

Ultimate Nursing Degree Guide

Nursing is one of the most personal and customizable careers. With several paths to entering the field, you may find yourself asking which nursing degree suits you based on your education, aspirations, and budget.

That’s why we curated this comprehensive list of nursing degrees for each level of nursing. Read on to learn about nursing education, degree requirements, salary, job outlook, and more.

What Types of Nursing Degrees Can I Pursue?

CNAs help patients with daily living activities and other healthcare needs under the supervision of a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse.
LPNs measure vital signs, give oral medications, and provide essential care, like helping patients eat, dress, and bathe.
The two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing is the fastest way to become a registered nurse.
A BSN is a four-year degree you can earn to become a registered nurse. Many employers prefer BSN-RNs to ADN-RNs.
There are several types of Master of Science in Nursing degrees, depending on which advanced practice specialty you want to pursue. MSN nurses have greater autonomy, working independently or as part of a team to make critical healthcare decisions.
A DNP is a terminal nursing degree rooted in clinical practice and intended for advanced practice nurse practitioners, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and nurse leaders.
A Ph.D. in Nursing prepares you for a science and research-focused career spent furthering knowledge that is essential to nurses and nursing education at all levels.


Every Type of Nursing Degree: An In-Depth Review

In this section, we’ll explore nursing degrees at every level, beginning with the CNA and building to the Ph.D. in Nursing. Read on to find an education path that suits your nursing career goals.

Certified Nursing Assistant Certificate

  • Salary: $30,290 annually; $14.56 per hour (BLS)
  • Program Length: 4-12 weeks
  • Program Cost: $400-$1200
  • Job Outlook: 4% growth from 2022 to 2032 (BLS)

CNAs work under the direction of LPNs or RNs, providing basic care to patients. Common CNA duties include dressing patients, bathing them, and checking vital signs. You can find work as a CNA at several locations, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, home health centers, and skilled nursing facilities.

Is a CNA Right For Me?

Earning a CNA is right for you if you need to start working very quickly without spending much money. Becoming a CNA is the fastest route to enter the nursing field and a low-risk way to explore nursing as a career without investing too much money. However, working as a CNA does not pay well, and may not be ideal for people with large financial obligations.

Licensed Practical Nurse Diploma or Degree

  • Salary: $54,620 annually; $26.26 per hour (BLS)
  • Program Length: 12-15 months
  • Program Cost: $4,000-$19,000
  • Job Outlook: 5% growth from 2022 to 2023 (BLS)

An LPN license provides a nurse with a functioning license to provide basic nursing care. LPNs work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. LPNs still have supervisory and direct patient care responsibilities but a more limited scope of practice than an RN.

Is an LPN Right For Me?

An LPN license is perfect for someone who wants to enter the nursing field as fast as possible on a budget. Becoming an LPN can help you lay the foundation for your career, allowing you to continue your education through an LPN to RN bridge program while working in the field.

Search LPN to RN Programs

LPNs: Achieve's Test-Out Bridge Program makes achieving your BSN faster and more affordable, and previous college credits will count toward your advanced degree. All applicants must be current LVN or LPN.

Are you a LPN/LVN?

Associate Degree in Nursing

  • Salary: $81,220 annually; $39.05 per hour (BLS)
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Program Cost: $4,000-$19,000
  • Job Outlook: 6% growth from 2022 to 2023 (BLS)

A 2-year ADN is the quickest way to become a registered nurse (RN). After completing an accredited program, you can take the NCLEX to earn your RN licensure. As an ADN-RN, you’ll perform several nursing job duties like patient assessments, starting IVs, drawing blood, and administering medication.

Is an ADN Right For Me?

Before pursuing an ADN, you should understand that nursing organizations do recommend a BSN as a basic minimum requirement for registered nurses.

In general, employers prefer BSN-RNs over ADN-RNs, despite having the same credentials. ADN-RNs also often earn less money than their BSN-educated counterparts. This degree is right for you if the quick career entry and low education costs outweigh those cons.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

  • Salary: $81,220 annually; $39.05 per hour (BLS)
  • Program Length: 4 years
  • Program Cost: 40,000-$100,000
  • Job Outlook: 6% growth from 2022 to 2023 (BLS)

Earning a BSN degree takes two more years of education than an ADN. Upon graduating from an accredited four-year BSN program, you may sit the NCLEX and earn RN licensure in your state.

BSNs have the same duties and responsibilities as ADNs. However,  BSN nurses may have the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities and move into more advanced positions.

>> Related: Top 10 Online RN to BSN Programs

Is a BSN Right For Me?

Despite costing more and taking more time to complete, the benefits of earning a BSN first are undeniable. BSN-RNs earn more money, have more opportunities, and have more options for education advancement.

Master of Science in Nursing

  • Salary: $125,900 annually; $60.53 per hour (BLS)
  • Program Length: 1-2 years
  • Program Cost: $30,000 +
  • Job Outlook: 38% growth from 2022 to 2023 (BLS)

There are two types of MSN degrees. The first is a non-clinical MSN, which is for aspiring nurse administrators, nurse educators, or those simply looking to advance their education. You may also pursue an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) MSN to become a Nurse Practitioner (NP), Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), or Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).

Your duties will depend on whether you choose a non-clinical MSN or an APRN degree. With an APRN degree, you will be eligible to sit for additional licensure in your specialty. In some states, you may be able to open your own clinic or practice as an independent practitioner.

>> Related: Full Practice Authority for Nurse Practitioners by State

Is An MSN Right For Me?

An MSN is right for you if your aspirations include high-level nursing, education, or leadership. APRN specializations can open up career opportunities and give you additional job security. 

However, MSN programs are challenging, expensive, and demand a lot of your time. You should only pursue an MSN if you can financially and academically commit to it.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

  • Salary: $117,859 annually; $57 per hour (ZipRecruiter)
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Program Cost: $40,000-$70,000
  • Job Outlook: 38% growth from 2022 to 2023 (BLS)

DNPs can work as APRNs or take on administrative and executive nursing roles. With a growing demand for DNP-educated applicants for APRN positions, Doctor of Nursing Practice programs are more competitive than ever. If you're considering pursuing a DNP, you must at least achieve the basic general requirements for admission (and, if possible, exceed them).

>> Related: MSN vs DNP: Which is Better?

Is a DNP Right for Me?

Since DNPs can independently run private practices in 23 states, the degree is ideal for nurses who want more autonomy. Additionally, a DNP degree is perfect if you want to maximize your income potential and make a difference in your field, workplace, and community.

Finally, nurses who wish to become Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) must earn a DNP degree by 2025. Read our guide to learn more about the updated CRNA program guidelines.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing

  • Salary: $100,000 annually; $60.45 per hour (Payscale)
  • Program Length: 3-4 years
  • Program Cost: $400-$2,300 per credit
  • Job Outlook:10% growth from 2022 to 2032 (BLS)

A Ph.D. is the less common terminal nursing degree. However, there are distinct reasons someone might pursue it instead of a DNP. Nurses with a Ph.D. in nursing work in research roles. The degree will prepare you to conduct, write, and publish clinical nursing research.

>> Related: DNP vs Ph.D. in Nursing: What’s the Difference?

Is a Ph.D. in Nursing Right For Me?

If you want to pursue high-paying nurse research positions, the Ph.D. in Nursing degree is an excellent end goal. This degree will place you at the forefront of the very evidence-based research that drives the nursing field.

Find Nursing Programs

How To Choose Your Nursing Degree

There are so many factors to consider when choosing your nursing degree. And the good news is you don’t need to make a decision about how far you want to take your education all at once!

Speed & Affordability

Your financial situation may dictate which degree you pursue. If you need to start working quickly, are on a budget, or both, a CNA or LPN program may be right for you. Once you find gainful employment, you can begin pursuing higher nursing degrees while you work.

Licensure & Accreditation

The type of licensure you desire will determine which nursing degree you’ll earn. To become an RN, you’ll need an ADN or BSN from an accredited institution. Once you have your degree, you’ll be eligible to sit the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which will qualify you for RN licensure.

Nursing school accreditation is a supremely important factor to consider as you select a program. The two accrediting bodies for nursing programs in the US are:

If you attend a non-accredited nursing school, you will be ineligible to take the NCLEX and unqualified for graduate nursing programs.

Experience & Career Goals

Though it isn’t always required, many RNs take time to gain experience before pursuing an advanced degree. Experience can help you determine specific areas of interest and career goals while preparing you for graduate school.

Choosing a nursing degree is significantly less intimidating with a few years of experience in the field. You’ll also get the chance to network and learn more about what it's like to work in specialties that interest you.


Chaunie Brusie
Chaunie Brusie
Nurse.org Contributor

Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN is a nurse-turned-writer with experience in critical care, long-term care, and labor and delivery. Her work has appeared everywhere from Glamor to The New York Times to The Washington Post. Chaunie lives with her husband and five kids in the middle of a hay field in Michigan and you can find more of her work here

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