• FIND A DEGREE
    Sponsored Schools

Differences between ADN and BSN degree programs for aspiring nurses

IMAGE SOURCE: MiraCosta Community College, Flickr, public domain.

If you’re planning for a future in the field of nursing – whether you’re already a nurse or still a student – then you might have questions about advanced degrees. In particular, aspiring and current nurses may wonder whether a bachelor’s or master’s degree program is right for them. These programs have different admissions requirements, cover different coursework and prepare students for different roles. Before jumping into any degree program, it’s a good idea for nurses and prospective nurses to spend a little time learning more about these education options and thinking about which one best fits their goals.

Career Advancement in the Field of Nursing

Registered nurses (RNs) need an undergraduate degree to get started in the field, and bachelor’s degree programs are becoming popular choices. These programs offer more than the basic entry-level nursing education and are often sufficient for attaining leadership and supervisory roles in nursing.

Earning a master’s degree in nursing can prepare students for a new role besides RN: advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs are highly qualified and highly paid nurses who, in many states, have the authority to prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests and diagnose and treat medical conditions.

In the field of nursing, advancing your education can mean anything from simply maintaining your license to entering an advanced new role as an independent provider of specialized health care services.

Research shows that more advanced education of nurses is linked to better patient outcomes.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

By some standards, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is itself an advanced degree. About 60 percent of registered nurses enter the profession with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a diploma, journal Global Qualitative Nursing Research reported. Students who earn their BSN degree right off the bat and nurses who go back to school through RN to BSN programs are already ahead of the curve.

BSN holders spend an additional two years in school compared to their counterparts in ADN programs. Another distinction found in ADN vs. BSN programs is that BSN students take classes in research, leadership and public health that aren’t typically available in associate’s degree programs. Of course, like ADN students, aspiring nurses pursuing a BSN degree complete essential undergraduate courses in core subjects like microbiology, physiology, chemistry and anatomy, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Clinical experience is also a necessary part of BSN degree programs, and bachelor’s degree programs often offer more diverse settings in which to gain that experience than associate’s degree programs do.

A BSN degree equips students with the skills to become a registered nurse. Unlike most ADN and diploma programs, though, this degree path also can prepare students for leadership roles overseeing other nurses and units.

Among the highest paid jobs for BSN degree holders are registered nurse supervisor (with a median salary of $70,329) and nursing director ($81,476), according to U.S. News & World Report.

Master of Science in Nursing Degree

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is an option for experienced, licensed registered nurses to advance their careers. Graduate students in nursing cover higher-level coursework in pharmacology, anatomy and physiology and medical specialties such as pediatric health, geriatric health, oncology and mental health, the BLS reported. Upon completing an MSN degree, students can begin the process of getting licensed and attaining any necessary certifications.

There are different types of APRNs. Most APRNs work as nurse practitioners, nurses who have the advanced credentials to provide many of the same health care services as physicians. Nurse practitioners work in all kinds of medical specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry.  Nurse anesthetists are another type of APRN trained to administer anesthesia for surgical procedures and pain management. Certified nurse midwives, also APRNs, provide obstetrical and gynecological care.

Generally, most Master of Science in Nursing degree programs expect applicants to already have a BSN. However, some programs, known as “bridge” programs, are intended for RNs who hold only an associate’s degree or diploma. In addition to MSN degree programs, there are also doctoral programs like the Ph.D. in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

A Master of Science in Nursing can improve both your salary potential and your job outlook. Nurse midwives earn a median wage of $99,770, the BLS reported, while nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $100,910 and nurse anesthetists earn a median salary of $160,270. All APRN careers have a positive job outlook. Nurse anesthetists can expect a 16 percent growth in opportunities over a decade, well above the seven percent growth predicted for all occupations. For nurse midwives, the rate of expected job growth is 21 percent. Nurse practitioners will see the greatest increase in job growth, with a 36 percent growth in job opportunities.

Over just 10 years, 56,100 new nurse practitioner jobs are expected to become available. 

Students in BSN and MSN degree programs complete coursework in similar subject areas and prepare for advanced roles. The most important differences are how advanced these studies are and what roles in the field of nursing they prepare students to fill.