What is the Difference Between ADN and BSN in Nursing?

by | Mar 13, 2023 | Nursing Student | 0 comments

If you’re considering becoming a nurse, you may have already realized there are multiple paths to get your license. The most common ways are by obtaining an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). After completing either of these degrees at an accredited nursing school and passing a background check, you are eligible to sit for your NCLEX boards. If you pass, you’re a registered nurse (RN)! So, let’s dig into the difference between an ADN and BSN in nursing.


What’s an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

The nursing associate’s degree program was developed to respond to the shortage of registered nurses (RNs) after World War II and the reform movement dedicated to moving nursing into higher education. The reason for this is because during WWII, many people went off to fight in an effort that left much of America with few available resources – including medical staff members like registered nurses.

As nurses responded to the military’s call for service during World War II, their departures left a severe shortage of RNs in the rest of the country. Initially, the gap was filled with students still completing their education; they worked under the watchful eye of a busy supervisor, putting in overtime to compensate for the shortage of fully trained staff.

An ADN degree is completed at a junior college and completed in as little as two years. ADN degrees typically require about 70 credit hours to graduate.

What’s a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)?

A BSN degree is a 4-year bachelor’s degree rather than an associate’s degree. Therefore, it requires closer to 120 credit hours to complete and is an undergraduate degree.

There are also many different topics that you will learn about in your ADN program that you won’t see in a BSN program, such as leadership, advocacy, health promotion/disease prevention, home care nursing, and much more. It is because the Bachelor’s Degree takes a more general approach to learn about nursing techniques.

In contrast, the associate degree spends less time refining these skills and instead goes into greater detail on specific issues related to patient care.

ADN and BSN: What is the Difference?

There are several key differences between an ADN (Associate Degree Nursing) and a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). Even though both degrees have the same foundation, plenty of additional studies go into earning a BSN. While this might sound like it takes longer to finish your degree program, many people find that they can advance their career more quickly when earning a higher-level degree such as a BSN.

There is quite a difference in length and cost between these two programs to start on this comparison. The ADN takes around two years to complete, whereas the BSN will take you anywhere from 4-6 years if you want to go for the full-time student option. Also, cost-wise, the BSN will cost you more because of the length. It doesn’t take into account if you go full-time or part-time in your schoolwork.

It is also important to note that there will be a difference in jobs available to each degree type after you get done with school. BSN-prepared nurses may be able to take on roles in a healthcare setting that do not involved patient care (quality outcomes, education, assistant manager) while those jobs are typically not available to ADN-prepared RNs.

Further, many hospitals prefer to hire BSN-prepared nurses into their workforce, and if they do hire an ADN RN, they may require the nurse to finish a BSN degree within a certain time frame. This is not true for all hospitals, but is quite common for the larger research institutes in urban areas.

Other Options

If you already have a degree in another field but are interested in becoming a nurse, there are two options available.

The first is an accelerated BSN program. This is open to people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, and can obtain a BSN in as little as 12-18 months of non-stop rigorous coursework. At the completion of the program, graduates are eligible to take the NCLEX examination and will end up with a BSN degree.

The other option is a direct-entry master’s program. This degree is for people who have already have bachelor’s degree (in nursing or an unrelated fee). This program is much longer than the accelerated BSN program, and students will take the NCLEX examination mid-way through the program. Graduates will then have an RN license and an MSN degree.

Naturally, both of these pathways to an RN license and degree are more expensive than the traditional ADN and BSN routes. You can learn more about them here.

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More Resources

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Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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