ASN Vs. BSN: Which Degree Should You Earn? (2023)

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Many prospective nurses find themselves deciding between pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and an associate of science in nursing (ASN)—also called an associate degree in nursing, or an ADN. Both degrees prepare you to become a registered nurse (RN) and meet the requirements for RN licensure—so which one is right for you?

Each degree has its benefits and potential drawbacks, and for many, the choice comes down to their resources and personal career goals. Follow along as we compare ASN vs. BSN programs, including the pros and cons of each.


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An ADN and a BSN are both undergraduate nursing degrees. Generally speaking, associate degrees take about two years to earn, while bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete. Read on to learn more about each degree.

What Is an ADN?

ADN programs build basic nursing skills through classroom learning and hands-on clinical training. As an ADN student, you may encounter courses such as microbiology, health assessment and lifespan development, though exact course offerings vary by program.

You can earn an ADN in two years through an institutionally accredited community college. If you plan to become an RN, your ADN program should also hold programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or your state’s accrediting agency for nursing programs, if applicable.

An ADN program requires approximately 70 credits to complete. It prepares you to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which all prospective registered nurses must pass before applying for state licensure. As an RN-ADN, you can find employment in a traditional hospital system as a community health nurse, an outpatient care nurse or a similar role requiring entry-level nursing skills.

Pros and Cons of Earning an ADN

You may pursue an ADN if you’re looking for a shorter program than a BSN, which can take four years to earn. An ADN enables you to enter the nursing field quickly to start earning a salary and gaining practical nursing experience.

ADN programs are also less competitive and expensive than BSN programs. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that tuition and fees at a public, in-state two-year college cost an average of just $3,501 per year.

On the other hand, ADN programs are not as in-depth or holistic as BSN degrees. ADN students learn basic clinical nursing skills, while BSN students have more time to absorb management, research and higher-level clinical skills. Plus, hospitals with Magnet status—which the American Nurses Credentialing Center confers to denote high-performing hospitals—typically prefer to hire nurses with a BSN.

What Is a BSN?

A BSN is a rigorous, four-year university program that involves intensive clinical training. BSN students spend 300 to 700 hours in various clinical settings and learn leadership skills that prepare them for advanced roles and degrees.

BSN course offerings vary but can include subjects like foundations of professional nursing, health equity, care coordination and case management, and informatics, patient safety and quality improvement. Most BSN programs require 120 or more credits to graduate.

Pros and Cons of Earning a BSN

BSN programs take longer to complete than ADNs, meaning BSN students may not enter the workforce as quickly as they would with just an associate degree. BSN programs can also be significantly more expensive, and you may need to take out student loans to cover the cost of tuition. According to the NCES, tuition and fees at a public, in-state four-year university cost $9,375 per year on average—nearly three times that of a two-year school.

Regarding career outlook, however, many say the pros of earning a BSN outweigh the initial cons. The depth of study required by a BSN program better qualifies students to take on complex nursing tasks.

BSN students are also more likely to pass the NCLEX on their first try: In 2022, 82.32% of bachelor’s graduates passed, versus 77.91% of associate graduates, according to data from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

A BSN degree can propel students into positions with more responsibility and set them up to specialize their careers and earn certifications in particular areas of nursing, such as gerontology or maternal health. BSN graduates are also prepared to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees.

Finally, nurses who hold a BSN earn higher salaries than their ADN counterparts, which can make up for the difference in tuition over time. Payscale reports that BSN graduates earn an average annual salary of about $91,000, versus approximately $74,000 for ADN degree holders.

Do You Need a BSN to Become an RN?

In short, you do not need a BSN to become an RN, but you should examine the state of nursing in the U.S. before you choose which degree to pursue.

Research published in the the journalHealth Affairs shows that hospital settings employing larger proportions of highly educated nurses have better patient outcomes. As the nursing field evolves in response to this type of research, a BSN can make it easier for RNs to land jobs and advance their careers.

In late 2010, the National Academy of Medicine called for 80% of RNs to hold BSN degrees by 2020. The U.S. didn’t quite hit this goal, but in 2020, more than 65% of nurses held a bachelor’s degree, according to NCSBN’s National Nursing Workforce Survey.

According to a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 27.7% of hospitals and other healthcare employers require new hires to hold a bachelor’s degree, and 71.7% strongly prefer it.

RN-to-BSN Bridge Programs

If you became an RN with only an ADN, you can still return to school for a BSN degree. RN-to-BSN bridge programs simplify and expedite this process. These bridge programs, which are growing in popularity, allow licensed RNs to bypass many typical BSN program prerequisites and complete their BSN degrees in one to two years instead of four. You can also pursue RN-to-MSN or BSN-to-MSN bridge programs if you want to earn a master’s in nursing.

Common Careers for ADN Graduates

Registered Nurse

Median Annual Salary: $77,600
Required Education: ADN/ASN or BSN, based on employer preference
Job Description: A registered nurse can hold either an ADN or a BSN. An RN uses clinical skills to provide a high standard of care to patients in various hospital and clinic settings. Daily duties of an RN can include:

  • Monitoring patient needs
  • Coordinating care with doctors and other hospital staff
  • Updating patient charts and administering medication

Nurse Manager

Average Annual Salary: Around $92,000
Required Education: ADN/ASN or BSN, based on employer preference
Job Description: Working as a nurse manager shifts your focus from patients to your fellow nurses. Nurses on the hospital or clinic floor report to nurse managers, who create schedules and help mediate disagreements. Nursing managers must have at least five years of experience as floor nurses before transitioning to more managerial and administrative duties.

Nurse Case Manager

Average Annual Salary: Around $77,000
Required Education: ADN/ASN or BSN, based on employer preference
Job Description: Nurse case managers move from acute patient care, or caring for a patient during a specific treatment or following an operation, to creating holistic recovery plans. A nurse case manager’s duties may include helping someone recover from or learn to cope with a life-changing injury or new diagnosis. Many RNs become case managers to specialize in a particular type of patient or a specific condition to provide more comprehensive care.

Common Careers for BSN Graduates

Clinical Nurse Manager

Average Annual Salary: Around $86,600
Required Education: BSN
Job Description: A clinical nurse manager implements new or changing regulations, policies and initiatives. A clinical nurse manager may undertake recruiting, budgeting and training tasks to ensure nurses can provide top-quality patient care. Clinical nurse managers must be detail-oriented and able to collaborate with other clinical managers, doctors and hospital staff.

Nurse Educator

Median Annual Salary: $77,440
Required Education: MSN or doctorate in nursing
Job Description: Policies, treatments and systems in healthcare shift on a near-constant basis. In response, nurse educators ensure that all nurses and staff who work with patients stay updated and on top of their continuing education by providing regular opportunities for learning and evaluation.

Nurse educators also oversee new nurses in hospital settings, create continuing education materials and help implement policies. Beyond hospitals, nurse educators work in higher education and various healthcare-adjacent organizations.

Nursing Director

Average Annual Salary: Around $95,600
Required Education: BSN
Job Description: Nursing directors undertake extra responsibilities to ensure a unit (e.g., psychiatric or maternity), department (e.g., outpatient, inpatient or radiology) or group of departments operates efficiently. A nursing director’s duties may include:

  • Creating business plans and multi-year goals
  • Overseeing policy, procedures and regulatory compliance
  • Advocating for nursing staff and providing mentorship
  • Leading nurses and nurse managers


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About ASN vs. BSN Degrees

Is an ASN the same as an RN?

No; an ASN or ADN is an associate degree conferred to students upon program completion. The RN designation is a license earned by passing the NCLEX and meeting other state licensure requirements. RNs can hold either an ADN or a BSN degree.

Does an ADN make the same as a BSN?

No, an ADN does not make the same salary as a BSN. Nurses with BSN degrees typically earn higher wages than those with only ADNs. Hospitals prefer BSN graduates, and nurses with BSNs have more opportunities to advance their careers.


Is it better to get an ASN or BSN? ›

A BSN is a higher educational credential than an ASN and requires approximately four years to complete. BSN programs cover the same material as an ASN curriculum, but with greater depth and added training in leadership, case management, information management and more.

Is getting ADN harder than BSN? ›

ADN programs are also generally easier to get into than BSN programs and they are not as costly. There are many advantages to both ADNs and BSNs. To help decide which program might be right for you, consider cost, program length, salary potential, and career advancement opportunities.

Is an associates degree in nursing good enough? ›

A registered nurse is able to practice within their field with only an associates degree, but a BSN is the preferred level of education for many nurse specialties throughout the medical career landscape.

Do ADN and BSN make the same amount of money? ›

While registered nurses with either an ADN or BSN may have similar starting salaries, the potential for advancement and higher pay is greater for those with a BSN.

What is the highest paid ASN nurse? ›

ASN Nurse Salary in California
Annual SalaryMonthly Pay
Top Earners$123,872$10,322
75th Percentile$91,557$7,629
25th Percentile$62,670$5,222

Why is BSN preferred over ADN? ›

Choosing between an ADN and BSN degree also involves thinking about the kind of nursing career you want to build. A BSN degree provides you with more employment opportunities, as well as a chance to earn a higher salary. With a BSN degree, you will also be able to provide a wider range of healthcare to patients.

What is the hardest nursing degree? ›

Hardest Nursing School Classes
  • Pathophysiology. In this course, students learn how different anatomical systems work and how diseases or injuries affect these systems. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Medical Surgical 1 (also known as Adult Health 1) ...
  • Evidence-Based Practice.

What is the most difficult degree to obtain nursing? ›

"According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing is the toughest degree to receive, and with good reason. The program is full of impossibly hard exams, countless clinical hours, and being covered in things that must not be named.

Should I pursue a ADN or BSN? ›

Both ADN and BSN degrees prepare nurses for entry-level roles. However, a BSN degree is designed to offer more career opportunities for upward mobility, and that comes with a bigger paycheck. The starting salary for a registered nurse with a BSN can be, at the beginning, similar to what an ADN nurse earns.

Do ADN and BSN take the same Nclex? ›

After earning their degree, BSN graduates are required to pass the same NCLEX-RN test taken by ADN candidates. As a result of the additional education, BSN-RNs are otherwise better positioned for certain nursing specialties, career advancement opportunities, and better pay.

Is nursing a good second career? ›

In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow by approximately 195,400 new positions by 2031. Whether you're pursuing nursing for increased job security, flexibility, or satisfaction, nursing is a viable second career choice for you.

Are nursing degrees worth it? ›

Becoming a Registered Nurse is a solid career choice when it comes to job security, salary potential, and fulfillment. For nurses who plan to work in California, the rewards and opportunities are even more promising. The average registered nurse salary in California is often higher than any other state!

Are BSN nurses safer than ADN nurses? ›

Over the past two decades, a substantial body of research in the U.S. and abroad has documented that hospitals with a higher proportion of registered nurses with a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) experience significantly fewer deaths, have shorter hospital stays and fewer readmissions, and have lower Medicare ...

How hard is the Nclex exam? ›

NCLEX Pass Rates

The second-attempt pass rate for domestically-educated students taking the test was 45.56%. These results demonstrate that it is a pretty difficult test. The questions are designed to test your critical thinking, knowledge of the nursing process, and assessment skills.

What is the difference between ADN and ASN? ›

ADN focuses on comprehensive nursing courses and clinical practice. ASN focuses primarily on clinical practice while also providing nursing courses. AAS is a career-focused program that provides basic nursing education.

What is the salary range for ASN? ›

ASN Nurse Salary
Annual SalaryHourly Wage
Top Earners$126,500$61
75th Percentile$93,500$45
25th Percentile$64,000$31

What type of nurse is most in demand? ›

What type of RN is most in demand? All RNs are in demand more than other occupations. The BLS projects 6% job growth for all RNs between 2021 and2031, compared to 5% job growth for all occupations. Some specialties that are in especially high demand are neonatal nursing, surgical nursing, and critical care nursing.

Which unit pays nurses the most? ›

25 Highest Paying Nursing Specialties
  1. Certified Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) ...
  2. Neonatal Nurse. ...
  3. Cardiac Nurse Practitioner. ...
  4. Oncology Nurse. ...
  5. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner. ...
  6. General Nurse Practitioner. ...
  7. Family Nurse Practitioner. ...
  8. Nurse Midwife.

Why do hospitals want BSN nurses? ›

Many hospitals favor hiring nurses with a BSN because they can reach the IOM's recommendation without losing ADNs who are close to retirement age. If hospitals do hire nurses with an associate degree, they may require them to complete a BSN program within two to five years.

Why nurses should get their BSN? ›

A BSN in nursing is important because it supports better patient outcomes, meets changing industry demands, offers a path toward higher job security, provides higher earning potential, and opens career advancement opportunities. Additionally, a BSN may soon be mandated, so earning one will put you ahead of the curve.

Should all nurses have a BSN? ›

Higher Employment Rates

In addition, 82.4% of employers strongly prefer nurses with a BSN, and 41% of hospitals and healthcare facilities now require a BSN from job candidates.

What is the easiest nursing major? ›

For the easiest nursing degrees, your best options include shorter programs like licensed practical nurse and licensed vocational nurse programs, associate's degree programs, bridge programs for registered nurses seeking bachelor's degrees and hybrid nursing programs.

What is the toughest bachelors degree? ›

What are the hardest degrees in the world? Ranked by Experts
  • Chartered Accountancy.
  • Astrophysics.
  • Quantum Mechanics.
  • Law.
  • Aerospace/ Aeronautical Studies, Engineering.
  • Biomedical Studies, Neurosciences, Biochemistry.
  • Nursing.
  • Dentistry, Medicine.
Dec 16, 2022

What is the biggest difference between ADN and BSN? ›

BSN, ADN, RN: The Difference in The Letters

BSN is a diploma from a 4-year program: A person with a BSN has graduated from a four-year nursing program at a college, university, or nursing school. ADN is a diploma from a 2-year program: A person with an ADN has graduated from a two-year nursing school.

How much does a BSN make in Texas compared to a ADN? ›

Texas BSN Degree Holders vs ADN Degree Holders – Who Earns More? To show the impact having a baccalaureate degree can truly make in your salary, consider that ADN-educated RNs in Texas earn an average of $76,530 a year. BSN-educated RNs earn $6,760 a year more at $83,290 a year, on average.

How much do ADN make in California? ›

How much does an ADN Nurse make in California? As of Apr 10, 2023, the average annual pay for an ADN Nurse in California is $86,058 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $41.37 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,654/week or $7,171/month.

Can I pass NCLEX with ADN? ›

Students who graduate with an ADN may be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam open_in_new, which is the exam required to become licensed as a registered nurse.

Can you pass the NCLEX with an associate's degree? ›

There are three main types of associate degrees in nursing: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), and an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS). All three degrees allow you to take the NCLEX and practice as a registered nurse.

Do you take NCLEX twice for ADN and BSN? ›

The main test that nurses take is the NCLEX, but you do not need to take it more than once after passing. Though there are no other required exams, you may want to take some of the certification exams available.

What is the easiest nursing job that pays well? ›

  • Occupational Health Nurse. About the Job: ...
  • Research Nurse. About the Job: ...
  • Case Management. About the Job: ...
  • School Nurse. About the Job: ...
  • College Health Clinic Nurse. About the Job: ...
  • Community Health Nurse. About the Job: ...
  • Nurse Writer. ...
  • Parenteral/Enteral Nurse.

What is the best path to a nursing degree? ›

The most direct (and common) route to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is to graduate from a four-year baccalaureate program that offers two years of prerequisite and general education classes, followed by two years of advanced nursing and clinical training.

Is 35 too old to start nursing school? ›

A common question often asked by nontraditional students is whether or not they're too old to go to nursing school. The short answer is that you're never too old to go to nursing school. Even if you're not physically able to do certain nursing jobs, there are other nursing specialties you're going to be able to do.

Is earning a nursing degree hard? ›

Nursing school is competitive to get into and challenging to get through. Because programs require many credit hours, nursing students sometimes end up taking multiple difficult courses in one semester. Think of late nights studying for exams in addition to clinicals where you'll gain hands-on nursing experience.

How do you know if nursing is not for you? ›

So, ask yourself how caring are you of other individuals and their needs. In order to be a good nurse, you have to deeply care about people. If you are one of those types of people who just worry about themselves and do not really concentrate on how to help others, then nursing really is not for you.

Do you need a good GPA to be a nurse? ›

While most nursing schools set their minimum GPA requirements at 3.0, there are accelerated nursing programs out there that accept students with 2.7 and 2.8 GPAs. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean you'd receive a lesser nursing education with these programs.

What percentage of nurses hold a BSN? ›

As of 2018, the percentage of nurses that have graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) or higher is about 57% (Campaign for Action, 2020).

What is the difference between a registered nurse and an ASN? ›

ASN vs. RN: What's the difference? An ASN is a type of degree that – along with a BSN – can lead to a career as an RN. To become an RN, you need to complete a certified nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

How many nursing students fail the NCLEX? ›

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) reports 13.43% of NCLEX-RN candidates fail the exam on their first attempt. The number of unsuccessful test-takers is low compared to the more than 86% who pass the exam on their first try.

How many times can I fail my NCLEX? ›

If they fail, they'll need to wait 45 days before retesting. After failing three times, though, they'll need to complete a board-approved remediation program before the next retake. test-takers have six attempts to pass in total.

Is 75 questions on NCLEX good? ›

How many questions on the NCLEX do you need to get right to pass? You must get at least 75 questions correct, or achieve a 95% confidence level, to pass the NCLEX.

Why ASN is better than BSN? ›

The significant difference between ASN and BSN programs is the length of time required to complete each and the cost. In addition, after completing either of these programs, registered nurses will have different job roles and responsibilities and different career advancement and salaries.

Is ASN the same as LPN? ›

Nursing associate degrees prepare nursing students to become registered nurses. On the other hand, licensed practical nurse programs prepare nursing students to become licensed practical nurses. Both LPN and associate degree programs unlock several career opportunities in the nursing field.

Is an ADN the same as an RN? ›

The main difference between the two is that the ADN is a college degree while the RN diploma is, well, a diploma. Both programs take about two years to complete, and both are considered “entry-level.” They also both prepare students to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam for licensure.

Can you skip ADN and get a BSN? ›

But how can you earn your BSN without an ADN? All you need is your high school diploma or your GED. It's mandatory to provide these prerequisites since subjects like math, science, English, and social studies are required before you can enroll for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree Program.

What is the difference between BSN and BS in nursing? ›

Despite the difference in name, the curriculum is essentially the same. If the BSN acronym is used, the institution awarding the degree has a School of Nursing. For institutions that do not have a School of Nursing, the university itself presents the degree, thus awarding a BS in Nursing.

Can you take the NCLEX without a BSN? ›

Do you need a nursing degree to take the NCLEX exam? To take the NCLEX-RN, you'll need a four-year nursing degree from an accredited program. To take the NCLEX-PN, you'll need to complete a related diploma program or certificate course.

Can you challenge the NCLEX without going to nursing school? ›

You cannot challenge the NCLEX exam without going to nursing school. If you're in an RN program, some states may let you challenge the NCLEX-PN part ways through RN school to become an LPN.

Do you have to retake the NCLEX for ADN to BSN? ›

No. Once the ADN-educated nurse passes boards, he/she will never have to take NCLEX again unless the nursing license is allowed to expire. This ADN-educated nurse can go on to earn a BSN, MSN, Ph.

Why do hospitals prefer BSN nurses? ›

Many hospitals favor hiring nurses with a BSN because they can reach the IOM's recommendation without losing ADNs who are close to retirement age. If hospitals do hire nurses with an associate degree, they may require them to complete a BSN program within two to five years.

What is the hardest nursing certification to get? ›

Emergency nursing is considered one of the most difficult fields of nursing, and certification in this specialty is highly desirable.

Can you take the NCLEX with an ASN? ›

Students who graduate from accredited ADN, ASN, or AASN programs qualify to take either of the National Council Licensure Examinations (NCLEX) offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

What percent of nurses have BSN? ›

As of 2018, the percentage of nurses that have graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) or higher is about 57% (Campaign for Action, 2020).


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