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ADN vs. BSN: Which should you choose?

ADN vs. BSN: Which should you choose?


First of all, let’s establish what each one stands for. A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, while an ADN is an Associates Degree in Nursing. Both degrees lead to getting your RN but there are some differences between the two.

The main difference is the length of time and the amount of credits required to complete the program. An ADN typically takes 2 years to complete while a BSN will take 4 years to complete (including the time spent taking the prerequisites to enter the program.) There are also accelerated BSN programs (18-21 months) for students who have already obtained a previous Bachelor’s degree.

Both programs would include the following in their core curriculum: Adult health, Maternal and newborn nursing, and pediatrics. Psychiatric nursing, community health nursing, and gerontological nursing are sometimes included as well. A BSN program would typically offer more courses in nursing theory, including nursing research, and nursing informatics, which is a field of study that examines how nurses use technology.

Generally speaking, the starting rate is the same for an ADN or a BSN prepared nurse, but because many advanced positions require a BSN, the BSN prepared nurse does have the potential to earn more money. In 2006 the state of California conducted a survey of registered nurses. This survey showed that BSN prepared nurses have a mean income of $75,017 while ADN prepared nurses had a mean income of $70,804.

Advantages to taking an ADN program:

  • It is usually less expensive
  • It is less time consuming – You will become a nurse quicker

Advantages to taking the BSN:

  • You will have more opportunities to advance to higher positions in nursing (for example as a nurse manager.)
  • You will be prepared to enter a advanced degree program (for example, nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist.)

How common is one over the other?

In the state of California in 2006, 46.6% of RN licenses were obtained through ADN programs, while 37.7% of RN licenses were obained through a BSN program. The rest of the RN licenses were obtained through hospital based diploma programs. This is a type of nursing program which is administered by a hospital. When completing a diploma program, one is eligible to sit for the NCLEX (the exam to become an RN), however, no degree is obtained.

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