What is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)?
An associate degree in nursing (ADN) is a 2-year nursing degree you can earn to become a registered nurse. This guide will explain everything you need to know about ADN degrees, including what they are, how to get one, top programs, and whether an ADN is worth it.
What is an Associate Degree in Nursing?
An associate degree in nursing (ADN) is the fastest way to become an RN, or registered nurse. In 18 months to two years, you can complete an ADN program to become eligible for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Passing the NCLEX proves your nursing abilities, allowing you to become a licensed RN.
You should consider your educational timeline, budget, and career goals to decide whether an associate's in nursing is right for you. Attending an associate's in nursing program is shorter and less costly than other paths to becoming an RN. But, it can hinder your long-term career growth as more desirable job opportunities often prefer RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The average ADN nurse salary can be less than that of BSN-prepared nurses as well.
Keep reading for more detailed information about ADN degrees. We’ll compare ADN and BSN tracks, discuss how to get an ADN, examine top programs, and share an ADN-trained nurse’s real experiences.
5 Things to Know About ADN Degrees
We asked Breann Kakacek, BSN, RN, to list the top 5 things you need to know about getting a nursing associate degree. Here’s what she had to say:
ADN degrees are typically shorter and less expensive than BSN degrees. This can be a major advantage for students looking to get into the workforce quickly or on a budget.
Some employers prefer to hire BSN nurses, especially Magnet hospitals. This is because BSN nurses have a more in-depth education, focusing on public health, management, and other specialties.
The scope of practice for ADN-prepared nurses is similar to that of BSN-prepared nurses, who must pass the same licensing exam. However, BSN-prepared nurses often receive additional leadership, research, and community health training. This broader education can give them a more comprehensive understanding of nursing practice.
ADN-prepared nurses can start their careers as registered nurses, but they may have limited advancement opportunities compared to BSN-prepared nurses. Many healthcare organizations prefer hiring BSN-prepared nurses for leadership and managerial roles.
If you plan to pursue advanced nursing degrees, such as becoming a nurse practitioner or nurse educator, a BSN degree or higher is generally required. If you want to specialize or move into advanced practice roles, consider a BSN program from the start.
ADN vs BSN Degrees
Both ADN and BSN-trained nurses qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become licensed as registered nurses. Though they are both eligible for work as RNs, there are some distinct differences in ADN and BSN training. Specifically, they differ in completion time, cost, education emphasis, and NCLEX pass rates:
- Takes 18 months-2 years to complete
- Costs $6,000-$20,000 1
- Emphasizes hands-on patient care
- 79% NCLEX pass rate 2
- Takes 4 years to complete
- Costs $20,000 to $100,000 1
- Includes patient care while emphasizing nursing theory
- 83% NCLEX pass rate 2
How to Get an ADN Degree
1. Meet Admission Requirements
The requirements for ADN programs will vary depending on the school. Gaining admission to nursing school is competitive no matter what degree level you’re applying for. So take care to research and meet all program requirements and prerequisites to set yourself up for success.
Some of the most common ADN program admission requirements are:
- High school diploma or GED equivalent
- Meet a minimum high school GPA
- High school chemistry and biology with minimum grade requirements
- Achieve program-specific standards for SAT/ACT math scores
- Pass the HESI entrance exam with a minimum score
- Pass a criminal background check
2. Apply to an Accredited ADN Program
Once you meet nursing school admission requirements, you can begin applying for ADN programs. However, you should always double-check to ensure that you attend an accredited nursing school. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are the most common nursing school accreditors.
3. Create a Financial Plan
Although ADN tuition is among the least expensive nursing degree options, you should still consider the tuition cost before beginning your program. To decide how to pay for nursing school, you should identify your financial needs and explore your options, which include:
- Financial aid/FAFSA
- Nursing scholarships and grants
- Student loans for nurses
- Creating a budget
- Work-study opportunities
- VA benefits, if applicable
4. Attend Your ADN Program
Once accepted, you can attend nursing school to complete your ADN. Most programs will require two major components: classwork and clinical experience. Some common classes that comprise the ADN curriculum include, but are not limited to:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Basic Pharmacology
- Nursing Theory
You’ll also complete clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience and hone your nursing skills. Once you complete the required classwork and clinical hours to your college or university’s standards, you can graduate with your associate degree in nursing.
Remember that your degree doesn’t certify you to begin practicing. After graduation, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to earn RN licensure.
Types of Associate Degree in Nursing Programs
Associate nursing programs have 3 tracks - ADN, ASN, and AAS degrees. Although all three will result in NCLEX-RN eligibility, the coursework in each type of degree has categorical differences. Here's a brief breakdown of the differences in each nursing associate degree:
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN)
Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS)
Top ADN Programs
Selecting an ADN program is an extremely important and personal decision. Aside from considering your budget, schedule, and location, you should also think about accreditation. Your ADN program should be ACEN or CCNE accredited to meet national nursing education standards.
Some of the top ADN programs we’ve found include the following:
Online Associate Degrees in Nursing
It’s impossible to earn an associate's degree in nursing entirely online because every ADN program has in-person clinical components that you must complete to graduate. However, there are several hybrid online ADN programs that provide greater levels of flexibility as you earn your degree.
An ADN prepares you to become a registered nurse. Therefore, you’ll be eligible to apply for any entry-level RN position. As you earn more experience, even more opportunities will open up for you. Here are just a few of the amazing career opportunities you can get with an ADN degree:
1. Hospital Nurse
Hospital nurse is a general term that describes RNs working in hospital settings. Hospital nursing includes bedside positions where you interact with patients directly. As a hospital nurse, you may specialize depending on the department in which you work. Such specializations include but aren’t limited to:
- Family medicine
Keep in mind that hospital nursing is demanding, as you would handle multiple patients each day and may have to be on call.
2. Travel Nurse
Travel nurses work with recruiters and agencies to fill temporary positions at hospitals worldwide. Travel nursing is an excellent option for ADN-trained registered nurses who want flexible careers that keep them on the go. Typically, you’ll need at least two years of nursing experience and an active RN license to become a travel nurse.
Since they are in such high demand and face rigorous requirements, travel nurse salary tends to be higher than other RN jobs. Although your ADN will allow you to become a travel nurse, you will have more limited options than BSN-trained RNs.
3. Home Health Nurse
Home health nursing is another flexible job you can get with an ADN that offers constant scenery changes and a lot of independence. Home health nurses work for an agency or other organization that dispatches nursing care to patients’ homes. Because patient’s needs vary case-by-case, home health nurses provide a range of services, including but not limited to:
- Bathing and feeding
- Monitoring patient conditions
- Ensuring compliance with physician’s orders
- Providing wound care and pain management
- Administering medication
My Experience Earning My ADN
To understand what it’s really like to earn an ADN, we thought we should go straight to the source. Here’s what Breann Kakacek had to say about earning her Associate Degree in Nursing:
“I earned my ADN degree from a community college in two years. The program was rigorous, but it was also gratifying. I learned a lot about the nursing profession and made some great friends along the way. I joined a concurrent program with a university where I received my BSN shortly after my ADN. This program allowed me to bypass the 2-year waitlist to enter the nursing program.
Despite the challenges, I am glad that I earned my ADN degree. It has given me an excellent foundation for my career and opened up many opportunities. I recommend the ADN program to anyone interested in a nursing career. If you want to further your career into management positions, BSN options are available as this degree or higher is usually desired for non-bed-side positions.”
Is an ADN Worth it?
“I earned my ADN degree from a community college in two years. The program was rigorous, but it was also gratifying. I learned a lot about the nursing profession and made some great friends along the way.
I joined a concurrent program with a university where I received my BSN shortly after my ADN. This program allowed me to bypass the 2-year waitlist to enter the nursing program.
Despite the challenges, I am glad that I earned my ADN degree. It has given me an excellent foundation for my career and opened up many opportunities. I recommend the ADN program to anyone interested in a nursing career.
If you want to further your career into management positions, BSN options are available as this degree or higher is usually desired for non-bed-side positions.” – Breann Kakacek, BSN, RN
How long does it take to earn an ADN?
- It takes between 18 months and 2 years to earn an ADN full-time and may take longer for part-time students. Students in LPN to ADN programs may take less time, earning their ADN degree in as little as one year.
How much does it cost to earn an ADN?
- ADN tuition at public schools costs between $6,000-$20,000. However, nursing students at private universities may spend $30-$40,000 or more on an ADN.
Is an ADN the same as an RN?
- ADNs and RNs are not the same. An ADN is a 2-year degree in nursing, while an RN is a nursing credential. ADN graduates can earn RN licensure by completing their degree program and passing the NCLEX-RN.
Do ADN and BSN nurses take the same NCLEX?
- Yes, the NCLEX-RN exam is the same for ADN or BSN-trained nurses.
Other Nursing Degrees to Explore
If you’re considering becoming a nurse, here are some other nursing degrees to check out: