ADN versus BSN Programs: What's the Difference?

When thinking about whether to pursue a two or four-year program, a prospective RN student may ask, "What are the differences between associate degree (ADN or ASN) programs and bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN) programs?"

Associate Degree in Nursing Programs

Given that most RNs pursue their career through a two-year associate's degree program, admission can be highly competitive. Students usually enter as a cohort, so admissions typically begin in the fall semester. The curricula among nursing schools vary, but usually include core courses geared toward passing the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN), required in all states to work as an entry-level nurse. An associate degree nursing program requires proficiency in college-level English and mathematics, and core courses include:

  • Two levels of anatomy with labs
  • Nursing fundamentals and concepts
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychology and mental health
  • Cultural awareness
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Adult medical and surgical
  • One year of supervised clinical field practice
It's important to consider only state-approved programs that are accredited and whose students have a proven track record of passing the NCLEX. Passing this exam is required in all states before a graduate can obtain a nursing license. Program costs vary as widely as curricula, but public vocational schools are less expensive than private schools. When it comes to finding jobs, ADNs get a two-year head start over BSNs. Because they take fewer classes in less expensive schools, they also spend less money. Although jobs are readily available for ADNs, there are advantages to get your BSN instead.

BSN Programs: Longer Commitment, Higher Cost, and Greater Reward

A BSN requires a four-year commitment, and, like ADN programs, you usually end up getting to know the other students in the program well. A BSN is a liberal arts degree, which means it contains coursework that expands into a variety of disciplines as well as more extensive core nursing classes. Two additional years of school calls for a greater investment in both time and money. BSN programs also require prerequisites like biology, anatomy, and psychology. Coursework within a typical program include:

  • Courses in psychology or sociology
  • Humanities
  • Approximately 20 semester hours of electives
  • Nursing classes similar to ADN curriculum, but often more in-depth (more lab work, etc.)
  • Nursing courses expanding into theory, patient care for differing populations and nursing research
  • Up to two years of supervised clinical practice
The same advice to make sure a program is accredited, state-approved and has a great track record applies to BSN schools. BSN graduates enter the workforce with a number of advantages. They are more apt to be hired, make more money, work as managers and have a much better opportunity to obtain an advanced nursing degree, such as nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner. Whether you choose the ADN or BSN pathway to becoming a registered nurse, rest assured you are needed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RN jobs will increase by 19 percent through 2022. Remember that a degree does not directly equate to quality of practice, and that both good and bad nurses abound — whether they have an ADN or BSN. 

Tags: allied-health, associate degree in nursing, Healthcare and Medical, LPN, nursing, patient care, Registered Nursing, Vocational & Practical Nursing

Charles R. Hooper, MSW

About Charles R. Hooper, MSW

With over 20 years experience as a medical social worker and a master's degree in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have been honored to dedicate most of my professional life to service in health care. I have worked in multiple medical/nursing settings, including cardiology, orthopedics, neurology, trauma care and others. I also founded the medical social work program at a regional trauma center and a very busy emergency department. View all posts by Charles R. Hooper, MSW →