With the completion of either degree, you have the opportunity to take the NCLEX and become a Registered Nurse.  The Bachelor’s (BSN) degree is typically 4 years of classes that include nursing skills and assessment, as well as extended curriculum in nursing research and community health. Prerequisites are fulfilled within this timeframe, as well. There are an estimated 800 BSN programs in existence. The Associate’s (ASN/ADN) degree is half as long (2 years, without prerequisites) and encompasses the practical patient-care realm of nursing curriculum. ADN programs focus only on basic nursing care (such as assessment and clinical skills). There are about 1,100 of these programs in the US.

As a new or upcoming graduate, finding a job is probably on your mind (after passing the NCLEX!). (Learn How to Pass the NCLEX) It is fairly common for large hospitals to state preference for “BSN prepared” RNs. Others require it. A main reason for this change in hiring practice stems from hospitals’ attempts to achieve Magnet Recognition, a national credentialing program governed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, which deems a hospital’s overall competence.

Most institutions offer a small pay differential to employees who have a BSN. In most parts of the country, floor nurses typically see increased pay in correlation to higher experience and tenure at the specific institution.

So, aside from getting that job, why should you continue on from an Associate to a Bachelor? If you already have the job of your dreams and only went to school for an Associate’s degree, you may still need to go back to school. Many medical centers are considering requiring all of their nurses to be Baccalaureate prepared. With more BSN nurses employed, a hospital has an easier time attaining funding and prestigious laurels such as Magnet Recognition and the Beacon Award. The Institute of Medicine campaigned in 2010 for an 80% baccalaureate-prepared nursing workforce by 2020. Although it hasn’t been passed as a law anywhere yet, it is being lobbied for in a few states’ legislation.

Another reason to further in your education would be to advance your career. Do you plan on staying at the bedside forever? If not, you’ll need your BSN. Most hospitals now require their managers, directors, and nursing educators to have at least a BSN. If you are interested in becoming a FNP, CRNA, or nursing instructor you’ll need a masters; you need to earn your BSN first, though.

If you’re not enrolled in a nursing program already and you have a bachelor’s degree in some other field, you can apply to an accelerated BSN program. These are only 18-21 months long.

If finances play a major role in your decision of which program to attend, an Associate’s degree is probably a better choice. Tuition generally costs much less, and you’ll be able to start working as a nurse faster.

There is also one other less common way to become a nurse: the route of a nursing diploma. Diploma nursing was offered during WWII through the 1970s in order to fulfill the amount of nurses needed. The education was provided by various hospitals and medical centers, instead of traditional colleges. While they are trained extensively by hands-on learning, diploma nurses hold no college degree. There are few institutions that offer this method of attaining your RN, today.

If you have already graduated from an ADN program and are interested in continuing your education, there are “bridge” programs available. RN-BSN and RN-MSN programs (about 700 and 150, respectively) allow you to earn an advanced degree through online classes while practicing as an RN. Many hospitals offer some tuition reimbursement as long as you agree to stay employed with them for a certain period of time; for example, my hospital offers an 80% tuition reimbursement with a 1.5 year contract.

With these facts in mind, it is smart to consider all possibilities to plan for the future. Your career goals can depend on these specific degrees, so hopefully this will help to clarify some of the finite differences between an ASN- and a BSN-prepared nurse.


Eric is a cardiac ICU nurse in Texas. To compensate for a completely inside-job, he spends his free time running around outside with his 4 yr old German Shepherd, Kita - with breaks to check in on here! ;)

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  1. Elizabeth Scala says:

    Great post, which I am bookmarking to come back to. I am always getting questions from my followers and fans on which degree and why. This is a good article describing the options. Thank you for sharing with us.

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