Have you always wanted to become a nurse but aren’t sure what you need in the way of education and training? If so, continue reading and learn all the facts you need to help you decide which nursing path you want to choose.

Different Degrees for Different Career Paths

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, there are several paths you can choose to achieve this goal, depending on what type of nursing career you want. The final goal for becoming a nurse is eligibility to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Reaching this goal is not contingent on earning one specific degree but rather on earning the degree appropriate for your career choice, according to the American Nurses Association.

Regardless of what degree you choose, your curriculum will always include coursework, laboratory classes and clinical education. As a potential nursing student, you can choose to study at the undergraduate or graduate level.

Undergraduate Programs

• Diploma – Diploma nursing programs, generally offered at hospital-based nursing schools and some community colleges, can usually be completed in less than 18 months. At one time, diploma nursing programs were the most common path towards becoming a registered nurse (RN). Although graduates of nursing diploma programs may become RNs, they may be required to earn a degree to be considered for career advancements. Graduates of diploma programs may have the option of becoming an RN or an LPN (licensed practical nurse).

• Associate Degree in Nursing – This two-year degree, also referred to as ADN, is typically offered at hospital-based schools and community colleges. This degree is today the most common method chosen to become part of the nursing profession. As of 2010, more than 45% of the nurses in the U.S. have started their nursing careers by earning an ADN, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

• Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BS/BSN) – This four-year degree, which can be earned at colleges and universities, is a popular degree among nurses and employers. Students who earn the bachelor’s degree in nursing have the groundwork laid for advanced education in nursing. Although bachelor degree programs generally take four years to complete, nursing students who earn their nursing degrees through diploma or associate degree programs enroll in RN-to-BSN or an ADN-BSN programs, which are accelerated programs.

Graduate Programs

• Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – The MSN is an advanced-level degree that can be used if you, as an RN, want to advance your career and become a nurse educators, nurse administrators or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Students who are enrolling in doctoral degree nursing programs often use the MSN as a prerequisite. Students who are interested in specializing in a specific area of nursing often choose to pursue the MSN. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is generally a requirement for MSN programs.

• Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) – This program is chosen by students who are interested in either teaching nursing education or performing research. Earning a PhD generally takes at least three years. The student usually takes a comprehensive exam after two years and an oral exam after the third year. At this point, the student still needs to complete a dissertation, which can take from one to five years to complete. Students generally need at least a bachelor’s degree to enroll in a PhD program; in some cases, they may need a master’s degree.

• Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – The DNP program represents the highest level of the nursing profession. It’s generally used for nurses who want to become APRNs and specialize in a chosen area of nursing such as midwife, nurse anesthesiologist, or nurse practitioner, among others.