Difference Between Nursing Degrees


Before you make a decision on where you are going to attend school to get a nursing degree you should have an understanding of the difference between nursing degrees and how those differences can affect your future in the nursing field.

If you are trying to decide which degree best suits your needs you are in the right place. The following breakdown of the different types of nursing degrees should help you decide.

Types of Nursing Degrees

The education needed for a nursing degree is essentially the same in regards to the nursing fundamentals and clinical training. There are three basic was to get in to nursing:

  • Associates Degree
  • Bachelors Degree
  • Diploma

Each of these will be explained in more detail below so that you get a broader understanding of the differences and can use that to decide your best educational pathway.

Overview of Differences

Before going into details about the differences in the three nursing degrees, a brief overview is helpful. Many people are anxious to get their education and clinical training out of the way so that they can take the NCLEX-RN and get started working in the medical field. These people most often opt to earn an Associate’s Degree or even a diploma from a medical facility that is offering the nursing program. Both of these options take two to three years, depending on how much time can be devoted completely to school.

A Bachelor’s Degree takes three to four years of school and is more intense with additional classes in the arts and other subject areas that allow the graduate to continue on in school if they desire. The good news is that patients cannot tell the difference between a nurse with an Associate Degree and one with a Bachelor’s Degree.

The work a nurse does and the tasks that can be performed is not based on whether or not there is a BS or an AD degree or even a diploma, it is based on whether or not the student passed the NCLEX-RN exam and earned their certification.

The Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Earning a Bachelor of Science in nursing can take three or four years and is typically taken at a college or university. In addition to the typical courses that are core nursing classes, students in the BSN program take additional college courses that prepare them to go further with their education and thus move further up the ranks in the nursing profession.

In addition, earning a BSN degree allows the nursing student to go into management level nursing jobs once they have their RN certification. Nurses who have their BSN can also run home health care agencies and residential care facilities as administrators.

The Associate Degree in Nursing

The Associate Degree in nursing is somewhat different than a BSN, particularly in the amount of time it takes to complete the program and the cost of the program. Associates Degrees can be earned from both four-year colleges and community colleges. The program is typically a two-year degree, about half the time required to earn a Bachelor’s Degree. The majority of the courses are core nursing classes and clinical experience; however, there are basic math, English and science classes that are required in order to earn the degree.

After graduation, students are eligible to take the nursing certification exam and become registered RNs; however, they are only eligible for entry level nursing position. On the other hand, they do have the basic courses necessary to move on to a BSN if they so desire.

The Diploma in Nursing

There are not as many facilities today offering the nursing diploma as there was in the past; however, there are still some that do. This type of nursing education is typically hospital based where the student works in the hospital and receives their nursing education at the same time. The diploma takes from two to three years to complete, depending on the program structure. Once the program is over, the student is eligible to take the certification exam and become a registered nurse. The downside is that there are no simple stepping stones to go from the diploma to the BSN; you have to start with the basic college courses and then move forward.

Ultimately, the difference between nursing degrees comes down to how far in your nursing career you want to go. If you are happy being a registered nurse and don’t plan on moving into a management position or seeking a higher degree then you can take the shorter path and get your career started; however, if you plan on moving up the ladder, you may want to get your BSN early on and not have to go back to school for it later.

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You might also be interested in one of the following featured nursing programs that are currently accepting students and have online or hybrid nursing programs. You can get in touch with these featured programs directly to get your questions answered. Be sure to check with each program on specific prerequisites for their program!

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