ADN vs BSN: What Nursing Degree Should You Get?
Written by: Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN
If you’re looking at a nursing school program, chances are, you’re probably deciding between choosing an ADN or a BSN degree. While both programs will ultimately lead you to the opportunity to become a Registered Nurse (RN), there are differences between the two degree pathways.
This guide will explain the differences between the two degrees, the pros and cons of each, and help you decide whether an ADN or BSN degree is right for you.
What is an ADN?
An ADN stands for an Associate’s Degree in Nursing which is a nursing school program that takes two- or three- years to complete. It's typically offered by community colleges or vocational schools and prepares nurses with the education they need in order to become registered nurses.
>>Related: Associate's Degree in Nursing Guide
What is a BSN?
A BSN, on the other hand, is a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. It typically takes at least four years to complete and is offered at universities. Like the ADN, a BSN will also prepare a nursing student to take the NCLEX, which you are required to pass in order to earn your official nursing license.
>> Related: Bachelor of Science in Nursing Guide
What is the Difference Between an ADN and a BSN?
While the majority of the clinical skills taught through both ADN and BSN programs will be the same -- you’ll learn nursing procedures like how to insert an IV or a catheter, for instance -- the primary difference is that a BSN program also teaches expanded skills in critical thinking, leadership, and research and is often preferred by employers.
Both ADN and BSN nurses can work a variety of bedside care RN positions in hospitals and healthcare facilities. BSN nurses do have the opportunity for additional career opportunities, such as advancing onto graduate studies, or moving into more administrative and leadership roles.
Salary Differences for ADNs and BSNs
The salaries for ADN and BSN nurses in bedside care are usually similar to start off, but BSN-prepared RNs do usually have more opportunity for higher earnings. According to PayScale, the average salary for an ADN nurse is $69K, while a BSN may be as high as $84K. The big difference is that BSN-prepared nurses can advance to higher-earning positions, such as going onto an advanced nursing role, or stepping into a leadership or managerial role. And some hospitals place beginning BSN RNs on a higher “step” in their payscale than an ADN, so the earning potential will be higher.
Is an ADN Degree Worth It?
Some hospitals prefer to hire BSN-prepared RNs, so it is a consideration if you have a specific hospital you know you want to work in. For many years, the American Association of Colleges of Nurses has been considering phasing out ADN programs completely in favor of BSN programs, but as of now, that is nowhere near happening for certain, so any future nurses do have the ability to choose between an ADN or BSN program.
ADN vs. BSN Pros and Cons
When deciding between your ADN and BSN, it can be helpful to consider the pros and cons of each degree.
From your budget to time constraints to what future career opportunities are important to you, there are specific advantages and disadvantages to choosing an ADN or a BSN. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
- More affordable: Because ADN degrees are Associate degrees from a community college, they will generally be more affordable than a Bachelor’s degree.
- Faster: In general, an ADN can be a faster degree to complete, although that does vary on the program's prerequisite requirements and if there is a wait list of any kind.
- Can complete while working: Getting your ADN could potentially allow you to work and earn money while you pursue any additional education.
- Employer tuition assistance programs: You may also be eligible for an employer tuition assistance program if your ADN allows you to become employed somewhere, and then you choose to go back to school.
- Step toward earning your BSN: You may be able to complete your BSN online after getting your ADN, saving you time and money in commuting costs.
- Lower salary: Your nursing salary may be lower as an ADN than a BSN nurse.
- Fewer career opportunities: Career opportunities are significantly more limited than with a BSN.
- Potential downsides down the road: If you want to pursue more education, it could be more difficult to be a full-time student and qualify for financial assistance while working as a nurse.
- Fewer job opportunities: Some hospitals may require you to have a BSN, so you may not be able to work in certain areas.
- Job preference: Many hospitals prefer to hire BSN-prepared nurses and some may even require it.
- Expanded knowledge: With a four-year program instead of a two-year one, a BSN will provide you with a larger base of knowledge as a nurse.
- More career opportunities: Having your BSN opens up more career opportunities and the potential for higher salary.
- Prerequisite for graduate programs: You can advance directly into a graduate program, such as an MSN degree program without any additional classes.
- Prerequisite for APRN roles: A BSN is required for any Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) role, such as a Nurse Practitioner or CRNA.
- Time to complete: Getting your BSN directly may take less time than getting your ADN first, then going back for your BSN, because any lapse in time may require additional classes. If you get your ADN, for instance, then wait several years before getting your BSN, you may need to take additional prereq classes to qualify for a BSN program, so it could end up taking longer (and cost more money) than if you had just done the BSN program from the beginning.
- Cost: A BSN program may be more expensive than an ADN program, in some cases, significantly so.
- Time: The BSN program will usually take longer than an ADN program. However, this is not always the case, and the full scope of the ADN program should be considered. For instance, if you enroll in an ADN program that has a year waitlist, and requires classes that fill up quickly, meaning you might have to wait a year before getting into one, your three-year ADN program could easily turn into a four-year one, which is the same amount of time a BSN degree could take.
- Competitive programs: The program may be more competitive than an ADN program. A BSN program may require more prerequisites and a higher GPA for admission, for instance.
How to Choose Between an ADN and BSN?
If you’re choosing between an ADN and a BSN degree program, the good news is that there is no wrong or right answer -- the best degree is the one that works for you. You have to consider what your immediate resources are right now, along with your long-term goals.
If you’re a busy parent who needs to make an income right now and the local community college is just down the road from you, an ADN program might make the most sense to get started as a nurse. On the other hand, if you know you want to become an NP and if you have the ability to take more time pursuing your degree and are able to make it work financially, starting off with your BSN is a great choice.
We urge you to consider your available options, including time, finances, and other obligations, and look at your long-term career goals before making a final decision on choosing an ADN or BSN program.