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ADN vs. BSN: A Comparison of Advantages and Disadvantages


Registered Nurses (RN’s) may have either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. Many people who are considering a career in nursing wonder what the difference is between an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). There are some similarities between these degrees and some important differences.


Associate’s Degree

An associate’s degree in nursing is a two year degree that typically also requires a year of prerequisite courses. These prerequisite courses may be done during the two years of nursing education, but typically add an extra year of study, making most ADN courses three years.




Time: An ADN provides the core education needed to become an RN in a shorter time than it takes to obtain a BSN. This allows those who pursue an ADN to start practicing as a nurse earlier and reduces the amount of time that has to be spent pursuing an education.

Cost: It typically costs less to obtain an ADN, due to both the decreased time in school and because the schools that typically offer ADNs are community colleges with lower tuition costs than larger universities.




Limited long-term opportunities: To advance in the field of nursing into a position involving higher level skills, such as education or management, a BSN is typically required. Even in advanced positions where a BSN is not required, candidates with a BSN will typically be preferred.  

Limited jobs in competitive markets: Larger, more competitive markets, such as large cities or teaching hospitals, may be less likely to hire ADN-educated nurses. In some markets, like New York City, it may be practically impossible to get a job as an RN without a BSN.


Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in nursing is a four year degree that includes the same training on clinical skills as an assoricate’s degree, while also adding additional training on management, leadership, and research. 




Long-term benefits: A BSN allows for opportunities for professional advancement that someone with an ADN will not have access to. Opportunities such as management, teaching, or quality assurance all typically require a BSN.

Higher quality education: A BSN education is more in-depth than an ADN education, and some studies have indicated that patients who are cared for by nurses with a BSN are more likely to experience a positive outcome.




Pay: The pay for a BSN-educated nurse is very similar to the pay for an ADN-educated nurse in the same position. While BSN nurses may have more opportunities for positions that pay better, they will not typically be paid significantly better in positions that ADN-educated nurses work.

More time and cost: Pursing a BSN degree takes longer than an ADN and is normally done through a four-year university. This makes it cost more and take longer than an ADN. The increased cost and time for a BSN is the most significant disadvantage to this option.



Overall, a BSN education provides more long-term opportunities for career advancement and improvement as a nurse, but this degree costs more and takes longer. An ADN education is quicker and less expensive to obtain, but it is not ideal when taking long-term nursing goals into consideration. ASN and BSN-educated nurses both have the same scope of practice, and there is no difference in what they are permitted to do in a clinical situation when caring for patients. ADN and BSN-educated nurses also have roughly the same level of skill and knowledge when it comes to how well they take care of patients, although some studies have shown a slight advantage for BSN-educated nurses. 

One popular alternative to choosing one or the other that helps nurses to have the best of both options is to first obtain an ADN-level education, then start practicing as a nurse while pursuing a BSN degree. There are several bridge programs that allow someone with an ADN to achieve a BSN in one to two years. This allows nurses to begin their careers more quickly, while still eventually having access to the benefits of a BSN degree. It also can help from the cost standpoint of education, as many employers will pay at least part of the cost for ADN-educated nurses to pursue a BSN.

Whether future nurses pursues an ADN or a BSN degree, they will find both to be a challenging education and a rewarding career. Regardless of the level of education, nursing will offer many opportunities and be rewarding both intrinsically and extrinsically.

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About Benjamin "Caleb" Williams RN, BA, CEN

Caleb is an Ivy League-educated nurse consultant with a strong clinical background, including supervisory positions within ICU and ER settings. In addition to his clinical work, Caleb practices as an expert nurse consultant and nurse writer, having written hundreds of healthcare-related articles and advised major businesses across the country on healthcare matters. He is a member of the Emergency Nurses Association and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and holds multiple advanced certifications in emergency and trauma nursing.

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