Nursing Diploma vs. Nursing Degree


The terms “Diploma” and “Degree” are used almost interchangeably in some contexts, but nursing isn’t one of them. A nursing diploma vs. nursing degree is a day or night difference, for some nurses.

Some of the major differences between a nursing diploma and a nursing degree include:

–        The amount of time they take. A nursing diploma generally comes from a shorter program than a nursing degree.

–        How much they cost. Shorter diploma programs are generally somewhat less expensive.

–        Who runs them. Diploma programs are usually run by teaching hospitals, while degree programs are run by colleges or universities.

–        How they transfer. Diploma programs generally cannot transfer to colleges or universities, though there are some exceptions. Degree programs generally can.

–        Continuing education prospects. Some continuing education programs for nurses will take RNs or LPNs with diplomas, others will require a bachelor’s degree or better.

–        Job prospects. Although both nursing diplomas and nursing degrees qualify nursing students to sit for their NCLEX-RN, the sad fact is that many employers end up giving preference to students with one or the other.

How Do I Know Which is Right for Me?

If you’re struggling with the question of obtaining a nursing diploma vs. nursing degree, your first step should be to contact your state’s Board of Nursing. The Board of Nursing is an organization that governs educational standards, licensure, and other critical aspects of the nursing industry. They will be able to provide you with lists of approved nursing programs in your state, and may be able to give you some information on financial aid, as well.

You will need to graduate from a Board-approved nursing program in order to be able to take your licensure examination to become an RN. If you don’t see any nursing degree programs in your area on the Board’s list, then it may be easier for you to go through a diploma program offered by a local hospital.

If you know that being an RN is not your end goal for your career, and you would rather become an advanced practice registered nurse, nurse educator, or nursing informatics specialist, then you should get a degree instead of a diploma. Some diploma credits transfer, but not all of them do. A bachelor’s degree may make it easier for you to continue your education later on.

Lately, the trend is to choose job applicants with more education, which favors nurses with degrees. This is especially true for things like management and leadership positions. If you do want to remain an RN, but career advancement is still important to you, then it’s worth your while to get a nursing degree instead of a diploma.

Who Offers Nursing Diploma and Degree Programs?

Which schools offers which degree program is a function of your State’s Board of Nursing’s requirements for nursing education. States that only require nurses to have a diploma or better to become RNs or LPNs may have degrees offered by community colleges. Michigan, for example, has a long list of associate’s degree programs for RNs from schools like ITT, Mid Michigan Community College, and Northwestern Community College, as well as BSN programs offered by schools like Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Nursing students can take their NCLEX-RN and become registered nurses with a degree from any of these schools. They also have schools that offer certificates (not degrees) for any student who wants to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), but no diploma programs for RN professionals.

In terms of nursing diplomas, some programs are affiliated with schools, and some are not. New York has a nursing diploma program run out of the Arnot-Ogden Medical Center that is affiliated with the University of the State of New York, for example, which makes it easier for students to continue their education beyond the diploma level. San Antonio, Texas, has a vocational/practical nurse diploma program, which is run completely out of Kaplan College.

The nursing diploma vs. nursing degree question continues, especially as most states’ Boards of Nursing continue to tighten their educational requirements for nurses. For some students, diplomas are better. For others, the reverse is true. Ultimately, the choice of which one is right for you depends on a lot of different factors, all of which have to be carefully weighed before you can make an informed decision about which nursing program you want to enroll in.

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