Associate’s Degree in Nursing Programs (ADN)

An Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN degree) will prepare you and allow you to take the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse). Every state in the U.S. requires aspiring nurses to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurses.

To view schools offering ADN programs in your state, jump to the ADN Programs by State section on this page and click on your state of interest.

Nursing Schools Guide is here to help you find which program suits you best. We have gathered research and resources for those looking to get their ADN, and for current ADN-holders looking to further their education.

Why you should obtain an associate’s degree in nursing

There are multiple reasons to choose the associate-level route to become a registered nurse. Below are some of the top reasons we have found in our research.

ADN programs tend to be shorter (2 to 4 years)

One of the reasons most RNs decide on the ADN route is program flexibility, especially with the length-of-program. Most ADN programs are shorter than other BSN and related coursework – some can be completed in as little as 2 years, and others can take up to 4 years. Obtaining an associate degree in nursing will allow you to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which is an excellent way to begin your nursing career. Most nurses actually continue their education as they are working – a great way for ambitious nurses to continue to advance.

ADN degrees tend to be less expensive

Another reason candidates choose to pursue an ADN is because of the cost of the program compared to a BSN. BSN programs are typically taught at traditional universities, which can have tuition rates as high as $30,000 per year or more. ADN programs are typically taught at junior colleges or career colleges and cost much less. Additionally, you are typically in a shorter program, so a two-year program will only require two years’ worth of tuition.

Many registered nurses who have obtained an ADN have found that employers are open for them to pursue an RN-BSN or RN-MSN transitional program while they are working. In this day and age, there are a ton of online RN-BSN programs that can allow for flexibility as well. Some employers even have employee tuition reimbursement programs that will pay for your education – a great way to save money!

An ADN prepares you for the NCLEX-RN

An associate degree in nursing and its coursework can help you get prepped for the NCLEX-RN exam. Hands-on learning and studying will assist in your preparation, which is definitely needed for the exam, and should make the actual test much easier to pass. Once you pass, you become a registered nurse! Because passing the NCLEX-RN exam is a requirement for registered nurses, you should make sure to prepare yourself as best as you can.

The growth of healthcare should require more registered nurses

With the substantial growth of healthcare positions in the United States, there is a need for registered nurses both now and in the future. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), there is a shortage of over 6,000 primary care positions in the U.S., and that is just right now. See the below chart and the HRSA website for more detailed information.

*Map from HRSA website.

Associate Degree in Nursing- The Entry Level For Registered Nurses

The ADN is one of the entry-level paths into the much-desired nursing profession alongside diploma and baccalaureate nursing pathways. The ADN is no doubt the most preferred choice for students wishing to become registered nurses (RN) in the shortest time possible. So, if you were not sure of where to kick-start your nursing career, you are just at the right place.

As an entry-level nursing path, you will be prepared to take the National Council Licensure Examination for RN (NCLEX-RN); the first step in becoming a registered nurse in as short as two years. The nursing associate degree also serves as a stepping stone to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) should you have such future prospects.

Scope of Study for Associate Degree Nursing Programs

Generally, the associates in nursing programs focus on the technical aspects of the nursing career. This means students become more involved in patient care at an early stage during the program. As opposed to BSN programs, ADN programs coursework bypass basic education, theory, and philosophical aspects of the nursing field.  You get to study the “meat” of effectively working in a clinical environment. The idea is getting you to become a nurse in the shortest time possible but ensuring you have grasped all the major competencies expected of a nurse. This scope is also observed in diploma nursing programs though the latter is even more immensely geared towards technical skills than the ADN.

Types of the Associate Nursing Degrees

There are two variations of the 2-year associate nursing degrees:

  • Associate in Applied Science in Nursing (AAS)
  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

The difference between the two programs depends on the immediate prospect of the students upon completion.  If you are intending to transfer to a four-year college or university to complete a BSN degree immediately after completion, the ASN degree is the choice for you. But this doesn’t mean that you cannot enter the workforce immediately after completion. It is only that the associate in science is designed to cover most of what a typical BSN program offers at freshman and sophomore years.

On the other hand, the associate of applied nursing degree is a career-oriented program. This means that much of the coursework is technical and geared towards the daily clinical roles of an entry-level registered nurse. This option prepares students for immediate entry into nursing practice. If a student enrolls in a school where the AAS is the ADN program available, they should individually consult with their program director to be advised on transfer options. This is because you can take certain courses that are not completely transferable for a 4-year BSN degree. In most cases, more courses are added to such a student’s curriculum to increase the number of transferable courses.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that both options prepare student nurses to become academically eligible for the NCLEX-RN exams.

ADN vs. Diploma in Nursing-Which is Better?

Whereas the two are entry-level programs for a professional nursing career, there are eminent differences between the two. One of the most outspoken is the ability to transfer nursing credits directly into BSN programs. While the ADN graduates receive automatic credit transfers for prior coursework, most often, diploma graduates need to take some challenging tests to facilitate credit transfer.  It is also common for diploma nursing programs to take a longer time to complete; 3 years of full time as compared to the two years for the nursing associate degrees.

Programs Locations

Almost all associate of nursing degree programs are offered in community colleges, county colleges, and junior colleges. Only a handful of ASN and AAS programs exist in universities and 4-year colleges. They usually form a bridging platform for students who might be experiencing financial constraints making the university entry-level BSN impossible. This degree is sought by students who live in neighborhoods close to the school and as such, most students hail from the same locality or county. Actually, some schools restrict admission into their ADN programs to applicants from the county supporting the college.

Joint Diploma and Associate Degree in Nursing Programs

In the early 1970s, diploma nursing programs were much more prevalent than any other entry-level nursing option. However, in the recent past, hospital-based nursing schools offering diplomas have started merging with community colleges in offering education pathways leading to the NCLEX-RN exam. This is because career advancement opportunities for ADN graduates are better than those of the diploma graduates.

Under this plan, the hospital, medical center, or healthcare facility offers nursing courses and other clinical requirements while the affiliated community college offers general education and liberal arts courses.  One outstanding aspect of such joint programs is that upon completion, you receive 2 awards: a Diploma from the hospital-based school of nursing and an Associates’ nursing degree from the community college. This is seen as a way for hospital schools of nursing to become competitive and maintain admission into their nursing programs. But overall, the future of diploma nursing programs is very bleak and seems to be coming to an end not so long into the future.

Any Online Associate of Nursing Degrees out There?

As a technical and hands-on –career, it is almost impossible to find a fully online entry-level nursing program. The common observation is for students to have the chance to complete their non-clinical didactic and liberal arts courses online and clinical courses on campus or at a selected clinical site. At the moment, there are no known online ADN programs available and the so-called online options are a combination of both online and site-based learning. Even in this case, only a handful of nursing schools offer the online ADN as compared to the BSN. Fresh entry programs for candidates with no prior nursing education usually use the full-time onsite options. The aforementioned online options for the ADN are usually for students who exhibit a certain level of nursing experience such as:

  • Online Licensed Practical Nurse to Associate Degree Nursing (LPN to ADN/ASN/AAS)
  • Online Paramedic to AAS/ASN/RN