What Is a BSN: Differences Between a BSN and ADN

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What is the meaning of “BSN” in nursing? “BSN” is an acronym that stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which we’ll be exploring throughout this article. The BSN is one of the most sought-after and in-demand nursing degrees — and increasingly, is becoming the gold standard for employers when evaluating prospective hires. However, there are also other types of degrees and training programs that can help prepare you for a career in nursing, as we’ll also explore. Read on to learn about the differences between a BSN and ADN, the median salary for RNs and other nurses, why you should consider pursuing your BSN degree, and more.

What is a BSN Degree in Nursing?

As we mentioned above, a BSN is an undergraduate nursing degree. Like other types of bachelor’s degrees, the BSN traditionally takes most students about four years to complete. However, accelerated study options may be available to eligible students enrolled in certain BSN programs, like the accelerated BSN at NU, which you can learn more about here.

Completing a BSN degree prepares students to sit for exams like the NCLEX, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. For now, let’s compare some of the key differences between a BSN degree and other types of nursing degrees and certifications, such as the RN certification.

What is an ADN

ADN stands for Associate Degree in Nursing. It is a two-year undergraduate degree program. After completing an ADN program, graduates are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse (RN). RNs with an ADN degree can work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, and community health centers. The process of becoming an RN with a BSN, along with the types of job duties you’ll perform in this position, are covered in more detail below.

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What Is the Difference Between BSN and ADN in Nursing?

There are critical differences between earning your BSN and Diploma or ADN— differences that have significant impacts on every aspect of your career in healthcare. We’ll help you compare which is right for you by looking at key issues like:

  • Salary differences between RNs with and without bachelor’s degrees
  • Differences in educational requirements for BSN graduates vs. ADNs, and Diploma graduates
  • Whether it’s possible to become a registered nurse without a BSN degree

Education Requirements of a BSN vs. ADN or Diploma in Nursing

As we mentioned a little earlier, the BSN is a bachelor’s degree and is typically structured as a four-year program. In comparison, the associate degree in nursing (ADN) is typically structured as a two-year associate degree program. Diploma programs are hospital-based and can take one to three years to complete, based on the institution.

Before you can obtain RN licensure, you must graduate from an accredited Diploma, ADN or BSN program, meaning you can become an RN with a diploma, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree. Compared to a four-year BSN, an ADN program can generally be completed in about 18 months to two years. Less commonly, some RNs complete diploma programs, which are typically offered by medical facilities like hospitals.

In addition to earning an ADN, BSN, or diploma, you’ll also need to earn a passing score on a competency exam known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, which is a nationwide requirement. There are two varieties of the NCLEX test, depending on your educational background and career focus: the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN, which are compared in more detail here.

Some U.S. states allow unlimited NCLEX attempts, while others restrict the number of attempts a student can make within a given timeframe. For example, the NCSBN’s policy on retaking the NCLEX in California is that test-takers “will be permitted to take the NCLEX eight times a year and there must be 45 test-free days between each examination.” The NCSBN, or National Council of State Boards of Nursing, administers the NCLEX throughout the U.S.

BSN Salary vs. AND Salary

The level of education you attain can significantly impact your earning potential, which is one of the reasons to consider pursuing a BSN, even if you’ve already earned your ADN and are a licensed RN.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses earn a median salary of $77,600, with the top 10% earning more than $120,250 annually. This field is expected to grow by 6% over the decade from 2021 to 2031, which is slightly above the national average (5%). Significantly, the BLS points out that the minimum education level for RNs is typically a bachelor’s degree — more on that subject later — though some RNs hold an associate’s degree or diploma.

Earning your BSN can help you qualify for higher-paid positions compared to registered nurses who hold diplomas or ADNs. According to the BLS, holders of bachelor’s degrees earn a weekly average of over $1,330, while holders of associate’s degrees earn a weekly average of approximately $960.

Can You Become an RN Without a BSN?

Under the right circumstances, yes: you can potentially become an RN without a BSN degree. However, in order to be eligible for RN licensure, you must have an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or diploma from an accredited program to meet academic requirements. You must also pass the appropriate version of the NCLEX- RN exam.

An ADN can help you learn clinical skills rapidly and qualify you for entry-level roles in the nursing field, such as technical roles. However, as we’ll explore later in this article, there is a strong trend in the healthcare industry toward hiring BSN holders and requiring bachelor’s degrees for applicants. If your goal is to become an RN, earning a BSN can help you qualify for more positions

nurse practitioner woman smiling at two female patients

How Long Does It Take to Become a BSN?

The amount of time it will take to earn your BSN degree depends on factors that vary from individual to individual, making it difficult to provide an accurate personalized estimate. With that in mind, the typical range is anywhere from 12 months to four years. So what accounts for this range? Here are some of the variables that will affect how long it takes you to earn your BSN degree:

  • Whether you are a full-time or part-time student
  • Whether you are eligible to transfer old college credits and/or earn college credits based on prior work experience or military experience
  • Whether you succeed in passing the NCLEX on your first attempt
  • Whether you qualify for accelerated study or enroll in an accelerated program

Does a BSN Have the Same Responsibilities as an RN?

RNs who hold BSNs may be assigned different duties as a result of their additional training and education. Below are just a few examples.

Responsibilities of Registered Nurses
  • Administering medications to patients and providing other basic care
  • Collaborating with physicians and healthcare providers
  • Communicating with patients about their current symptoms and medical histories
  • Educating patients about illness/injury management and follow-up care
Responsibilities of BSN Nurses

In addition to performing the types of tasks outlined above, nurses who hold BSNs may also be qualified to handle additional responsibilities. Some examples include:

  • Managing administrative tasks within clinics, hospitals, or other healthcare settings
  • Taking on more leadership roles, like the management and supervision of other nurses
  • Training and educating nurses
  • Working in specialized areas or niches such as infection and quality control

Converting from RN to BSN

Already a licensed RN, but don’t have a BSN degree? If you’re a registered nurse with an associate’s degree or diploma, consider advancing to a BSN — it may not be as difficult as you might think. Chat with an admissions officer to learn more, or read about some potential career options with an RN to BSN degree.

Why is the BSN in Demand?

At this point, you may be wondering: “If there are so many types of nursing degrees, why are BSNs in such high demand by employers?” There are several answers to that question, which are working together to contribute to the increasing demand for BSN holders in the healthcare industry:

  1. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published recommendations that “leaders across all schools of nursing should work together to increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree from 50 to 80 percent by 2020,” resulting in the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) creating its Magnet Recognition Program.
  2. Some U.S. states, such as New York, have introduced new legislation regulating training and education requirements for nurses in recent years.
  3. Most importantly, research has connected increased nursing education with improved patient outcomes — for instance, the finding that “higher levels of education were associated with lower risks of failure to rescue and mortality.” This connection, combined with the IOM’s recommendations and resulting magnet programs, have propelled a larger number of employers away from applicants with ADNs and toward applicants who have earned BSNs.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing – RN Completion Program Page

Start Your Journey to Earning a BSN Degree

Eager to kickstart, advance, or accelerate your career in nursing? Learn new skills and make a positive difference in patient outcomes while furthering your professional development. Earning your degree is the first step on the journey — and NU can help you get there faster.

National University offers a variety of accredited online, on-campus, and hybrid nursing programs for students inside and outside of California. Learn more about our accelerated BSN, California BSN, and RN to BSN programs, then talk to one of our friendly admissions counselors about how you can apply online. You can also read more about the scholarships and financial aid we offer, or how we support Veterans and military students.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing – RN to BSN

At National University, our accelerated RN to BSN program is designed to help you grow your career the fast and flexible way. The RN to BSN program features 100% online courses that can be completed in just four to eight weeks, enabling you to earn your degree in as little as 11 months. This program is designed for students who hold an active, unencumbered RN license in any U.S. state.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Like all of our baccalaureate nursing programs, the BSN at NU is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The Bachelor of Science in Nursing features a clinical component and covers coursework such as medical-surgical nursing, pediatric nursing, community healthcare, nursing leadership and management, and mental health and psychiatric nursing.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) (California)

In addition to being regionally accredited, this program has also been approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN), making this BSN ideal for students whose goal is to achieve and maintain RN licensing in California. Learn more about the BSN (California) option at NU and how it differs from other nursing degrees we offer.

Nursing Degree FAQs

Yes! In fact, according to one source, “Thousands of nurses nationwide are currently in BSN programs while they are still working.”

An ADN is an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, which is generally a two-year program.

There are many different types of nursing careers. Check out our guide to 39 different types of nursing careers!

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) typically takes four years to complete, but there are accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as 12-18 months for students who already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.

The NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) is a standardized test that all nursing graduates must pass in order to become licensed as a nurse in the United States.

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