According to the BLS, jobs in nursing are slated to increase exponentially. But many men and women go into nursing not just because of the great job outlook or the salaries that can go into the six-figure range. For many nurses, taking care of the sick and needy of our population is their life’s work. With an aging population, plus millions of people who are being prescribed medications every year, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for new nurses to find work in hospitals, outpatient health centers, schools and the military.

But if you are an aspiring nurse, what type of nursing degree should you get? If you are confused by the plethora of options, this articles will answer a lot of the questions that you have about different nursing degrees and their job outlooks. After you finish reading this article, you should have a better idea of which nursing degree you would like to pursue.

Associate’s Degree in Nursing

An associate’s degree in nursing is the bare minimum academic qualification that you will need to get in order to become a registered nurse (RN). While one can get work as an RN with just an associate’s degree, you should know that many employers are now requiring their RN job candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. You can obtain an associate’s degree in nursing from a vocational school or a community college.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

As stated before, the BSN is a required academic designation for many, but not every, nursing position in the United States. The BSN degree is obtained from a four-year college or university. During your course of study in a BSN program, you will undergo both training in the classroom, as well as instruction in “clinicals”, which are hands-on training opportunities where nursing students learn to use medical equipment and interact with patients. If you decide to obtain a BSN degree, make sure that any program you are considering is accredited.

Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)

In order to obtain a MSN, you must have a BSN or a bachelor’s degree in a similar field. You could also earn a MSN by enrolling in a nursing program that combines bachelor’s and master’s degree studies in a way that allows you to finish both degrees sooner. Once you finish your MSN studies, you will become an advanced practice nurse (APN/APRN). As an advanced practice nurse, you will have more authority, thus earning more than registered nurses. If you are interested in a specialty such as nurse midwife or forensic nursing, look for MSN programs with a track in your desired field of study.

You will also need an MSN degree to become a mid-level practitioner. Some examples of mid-level practitioners are nurse practitioners (NP) and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA). You can earn an MSN while you work as a nurse. One to two years of coursework is usually what is required in most of these programs.

Doctorate Degrees in Nursing

One can earn two types of doctorate degrees in nursing – a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS/DSN/DNSc). A nurse with a DNP degree focuses on the clinical aspects of nursing while one with a DNS focuses on teaching and/or research.

Nurses with a BSN have the best employment prospects in the job market. However, if you only have an associate’s degree, you can enroll in a RN-to-BSN program at either a community college, 4-year college or university, or even an online program. If you are already working as a nurse, many employers will pay for your RN-to-BSN schooling.

While those who have a BSN are very employable, it is the nurses with a MSN that stand to make the most money. Mid-level practitioners such as nurse practitioners often make salaries that are in, or very close to, the six-figures.

What is the best degree for nursing? If your goal is just to work in a hospital or other health facility, a BSN will more than suffice. If you want more responsibility and the pay that comes with it, you will need to get a master’s degree in nursing. Whatever nursing degree you decide to get, know that you are doing your part to heal the population. It’s a worthy endeavor if there ever was one.