You know you want to work as a nurse, and you might even have an idea of what type of job you’d like post-graduation. That’s excellent! To start your career, though, you have one more important decision: What type of nursing degree do you want to pursue? There are many schools and different types of programs out there, but your biggest decision will come down to this choice: an associate’s degree vs. a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Trying to figure out which is right for you? Keep reading, and we’ll look at the pros and cons of each.
Can I Get a Nursing Job with Either Degree?
Before we get started, we want to answer this fundamental question: Can I get a nursing job with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree of science in nursing (BSN)?
Yes, you can get a nursing job with either because both will provide the education and skills needed to get your nursing license to become a registered nurse (RN). Most traditional entry-level RN jobs include basic nursing care like taking vital signs, recording a patient’s medical history and symptoms, administering vaccinations, and more.
ADNs vs. BSNs: The Differences
When you’re deciding between an ADN or a BSN, knowing the core differences between the two can help you make the best decision for your career. Let’s look at the most significant differences between ADNs and BSNs.
The Time It Takes to Get a Degree
Depending on your chosen school and degree, an ADN takes around twenty to twenty-four months to complete. A BSN takes thirty-six to forty-eight months to complete on average, depending on the program and any prior education you may have. It may take less time to acquire your BSN if you already have an associate’s degree since some accelerated BSN programs may allow for speedier completion dates.
Some students prefer to go for their BSNs right from the start, knowing it may open up the door to more opportunities or higher salaries (we’ll talk about both factors in upcoming sections). Others, however, want to get RN degrees as quickly as possible so they can start their careers. This practicality is often particularly appealing for those who may struggle more to attend school due to current financial or life situations. In these cases, attending school for four years may not be as feasible.
The Cost of the Degree
Cost is often a significant factor when students choose between an ADN and a BSN. An ADN can cost as little as $3,000 from a community college or up to $30,000 at a private school or training institution. On the other hand, BSN programs typically cost around $40,000 at an in-state university but can cost up to $200,000 at private schools and degree programs.
In addition to the cost of the degrees themselves, it’s important to consider that the time invested in them has its own cost. If you’re in school for two years instead of four, you get a jump start in incoming earning potential and work experience. It’s also two years less of needing to split your time between studying and potentially working.
The Training You Get
In most programs, ADN programs focus predominantly on clinical techniques, which is why RNs are sometimes referred to as “technical nurses.” You’ll spend much of class time learning the skills needed for day-to-day care, including monitoring patients, updating charts, and administering medication. You will also get strong lab training and hands-on clinical experience working with patients in most ADN programs. (Make sure that you’re looking for a program that offers clinical training with real patients so you can be job-ready once you get your degree.)
A BSN’s education will include valuable technical clinical skills but will also offer more training and education beyond the technical. This degree will also provide training in management, research, and leadership. As a result, BSNs are sometimes referred to as “professional nurses.”
How Competitive Your Degree Is in the Job Marketplace
ADNs and BSNs both can lead to your nursing license, and both qualify you for most entry-level nursing positions. There’s no denying, however, that a BSN is more appealing to most employers. All else being equal, BSNs will often help candidates be considered first over an ADN for most nursing positions.
A 2017 study that examined 586 schools of nursing found that 49% of healthcare facilities required new hires to hold a BSN, and 86.3% of employers had a strong preference for graduates with BSN degrees.
There are a few reasons for this. First, BSN nurses are qualified for more complex procedures under the doctor’s supervision. This qualification makes them more versatile members of any nursing team. Second, the comprehensive education involved in BSN degrees is also good for patient care. For example, a 2014 study found that a 10% increase in BSN-educated nurses on hospital units was tied to a 10.9% potential decrease in patient mortality.
A BSN will also open the door to more diverse types of work, bringing us to our next core difference…
The Types of Work You Can Do
ADNs give nurses the education and training they need to be outstanding technical nurses. As they enter the work field, they’re relatively limited to working strictly with basic patient care.
BSN nurses, however, have a slightly more diverse skill set. They can take on leadership, administrative, or management roles, especially as they gain experience. Some may also be able to work in education, training, nursing research, or public health. Many of these positions require a BSN—not just years of experience—in order to apply.
If you only want to work hands-on with patients, you can focus on an ADN degree. But if you want to branch out and have more options for what to do with your degree, the BSN is easily the better choice here if it’s an option for you. You may also have better luck landing specialty roles with a BSN.
The Salary You Can Earn
ADNs and BSNs typically have different earning potentials when it comes to salary. According to Payscale, the average salary for an ADN nurse is $69,000, while the average salary for a BSN nurse is closer to $84,000. Some healthcare facilities will automatically increase their salaries to candidates with a BSN instead of an ADN, so your starting salary may be higher than that of other new hires. This divide is also partially tied to the fact that nurses with BSN degrees are able to work in more advanced or specialty roles, which can come with higher pay rates.
If you want to earn more, remember that there are always options for nurses with both ADNs and BSNs. Many healthcare facilities are short-staffed right now, so overtime may be available. You can also consider PRN work, which fills staff shortages at different facilities and allows you to work individual shifts on a contract basis. These shifts typically pay higher per-hour rates, and you can take them on as they fit into your schedule. Learn more here.
Associates Degree vs. Bachelor’s in Nursing: Final Thoughts
ADN and BSN degrees both give you an abundance of technical skills that can jumpstart your nursing career. Both have pros and cons. BSN degrees offer more career advancement opportunities and a higher potential salary range. That said, they also take much longer and cost more to acquire on average than ADN degrees, which can be a significant barrier for some students.
Associates degree vs. bachelor’s in nursing: Whichever you choose, we’re so excited for you to embark on your professional career, both in education and hands-on patient work. And we’ll be here to help connect you with PRN shifts when you’re ready!
Want to get involved with the nursing community or talk to working nurses about why they chose a BSN or ADN degree? Get involved here!