Learn about Different Types of Nursing DegreesEdited by Elizabeth Binsfield, BA, RN
The nursing industry is bursting with opportunities for nurses with a variety of degrees and specializations. To choose the right nursing degree for their goals, students should consider their skills, desired career path, time constraints, and budget. Below, students can explore the five most common nursing degree programs to find the best fit for their career goals.
An associate degree in nursing (ADN) can be obtained in two years from either a community college or vocational school. Graduates who pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, can then work as a registered nurse in a number of different settings. Jobs can focus on direct patient care or indirect patient care. To qualify for an ADN program, applicants must have a high school diploma and must take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). Once students are enrolled in the program, their courses include topics like nursing skills and emergency care.
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree that prepares students to work as RNs. There are several paths to enter into this program. Students can apply to this undergraduate program directly out of high school or as a declared major once they’ve already completed general education requirements at their college. Alternatively, second-degree bachelor’s in nursing are available for applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree in another subject and want to make a career change. RNs holding a BSN degree often have more career opportunities and earn a higher salary than RNs with an ADN.
An RN to BSN degree program is an accelerated option for RNs who hold an ADN and want to pursue a more advanced degree. Due to their acquired experience, they aren’t usually required to take basic nursing skills classes and can advance directly to more technical coursework. Classes include science and research-based courses in addition to clinical hours to gain hands-on experience. An RN to BSN program can typically be completed within 18 to 24 months. Working RNs may also be eligible for tuition reimbursement from their current employer.
Earning a Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN, qualifies graduates for specialized jobs with higher salaries compared to those with less advanced degrees. An MSN can also be paired with other master’s programs, including a Master of Public Health, a Master of Business Administration, or a Master of Health Administration. There are many paths to earning an MSN, including RN to MSN programs, BSN to MSN programs, and ADN to MSN programs. These accelerated options allow nurses to obtain their master’s without having to separate each degree throughout the process.
A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the highest clinical degree a nurse can earn. These programs are often designed for current nurses who wish to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Graduates can apply for positions in managerial and administrative roles to manage teams and design healthcare programs. Students can choose an APRN specialization or a non-APRN specialization, depending on post-graduate career goals. Students with an MSN can usually complete the program within one to two years, while students with a BSN may take up to four years to complete the DNP program.
Frequently Asked Questions about Nursing Degrees
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse?
There are a number of paths toward becoming a nurse. The fastest option for becoming a registered nurse (RN) is earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes two years and can be completed at a community college. Graduates can then take the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse. A Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN), which usually takes four years to complete, is quickly becoming the standard for RNs. For more advanced opportunities, students can also pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing. This usually opens the door to deeper specialization and higher salaries in nursing.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Nursing Degree?
This depends on the program chosen. An ADN takes two years to complete, while a BSN takes four years. Those participating in an RN to BSN program can expect to spend two or three years earning the degree. Master’s and doctoral degrees typically add another year or two to the education process. However, the length of time it takes a student to complete any of these programs can take longer if attendance is part-time rather than full-time.
How Do You Get a Nursing Degree?
A nursing degree can be obtained in several different ways. The most basic option is to earn an ADN. Other options include an RN to BSN, BSN, MSN, or DNP. Each program differs in terms of admission requirements and prerequisites, so applicants should review those details to find the program that is the best fit.
Coursework is research- and science-heavy. Students should also expect to take hands-on lab courses as well as completing clinical hours for each degree program. Once the degree is achieved, graduates can sit for professional exams to get the nursing license they have been working towards.
What Can You Do With a Nursing Degree?
A nursing degree offers countless opportunities for both direct and indirect patient care. Nurses often work in hospital settings, physicians' offices, and home care settings. More administrative jobs are also available with employers such as insurance companies or hospital administrative offices. As nurses complete more advanced degrees, more opportunities become available, especially when it comes to specialized positions. Additional education also makes nurses more competitive when applying for leadership or management roles, such as overseeing an entire nursing team.