ADN, ASN, and AAS Nursing Degrees – What’s the Difference?

By Craig Miller


  • There are three main types of associate degrees in nursing: Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), and an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS).
  • All three degrees allow you to take the NCLEX and practice as a registered nurse.
  • The major differences between the degrees revolve around the coursework, clinical time, and prerequisites. Considering your own career goals and where you want to go to school can help you decide which degree to choose.

An associate degree is the easiest route to becoming a registered nurse (RN). Thankfully, there are different associate degree programs in nursing – ADN, ASN, and AAS – to give you that pathway.

However, with these options comes the headache of choosing the one that’s right for you. That’s why knowing the differences between these associate degrees is an important step.

So, here’s a comprehensive review of the ADN, ASN, and AAS programs. You’ll learn what sets them apart and how to choose the best one for your nursing career.

Why Does the Associate Degree I Get Matter?

Regardless of the associate nursing degree you choose, you’ll be able to take the National Licensure Council examination (NCLEX-RN) at completion. After passing the NCLEX, you can practice as a registered nurse (RN).

So, when it comes to becoming a nurse, any one of these degrees works. You only need to ensure the nursing school has relevant accreditation — however, the coursework for each degree and your opportunities for further education may differ.

Your Role as a Nurse

ADN ASS Nursing Degree
Regardless of the degree, your role will involve working as a registered nurse. As a registered nurse, you’ll:

  • Assess and monitor patients for changes in their condition
  • Work with all members of the healthcare team to promote patient well-being
  • Give medications and carry out treatment prescribed by doctors
  • Educate patients about treatments and healthcare goals
  • Notify providers of changes in patients’ conditions

Nurses act as patient advocates, and they make up an essential part of the healthcare team. Any associate’s nursing degree gives you a chance to make an immense impact in people’s lives as a nurse.

What is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a popular gateway to the nursing profession, and according to Indeed, it’s the most common of ASN and AAS. In general, the coursework for this program includes a mix of general education, nursing courses, and hands-on clinical experience.

Nursing courses major in pediatric, geriatric, and maternal nursing. You’ll also focus on different areas of health like medical-surgical nursing, behavioral health, and community health. In addition, you’ll learn core nursing concepts that apply to all patient care areas.

Compared to ASN and AAS, an ADN degree is the best option for transiting to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.

Remember that every school is different regarding prerequisites and actual course material. But here’s an example of some ADN coursework:

Vernon College offers a mix of specialty and general nursing courses for its ADN degree. It requires students to cover the following concepts:

  • Nursing skills
  • Community-based nursing
  • Health assessment
  • Dosage calculations and pharmacology
  • Clinical and nursing concepts
  • Legal and ethical considerations of nursing
  • Pathophysiology
  • Adult health
  • Nursing care during childbearing and childrearing
  • Mental health

The school also has prerequisite requirements. For example, students need to take classes anatomy and physiology, psychology, microbiology, and human development before entering their nursing program.

What is an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN)?

The Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree often involves more clinical work than ADN and AAS. But the coursework is similar to other associate’s degree programs in nursing.

For example, the ASN degree program at Broward College includes many clinical hours and covers critical nursing skills. Courses include:

  • Nursing process
  • Math for health-related professions
  • Health alterations
  • Health care of women
  • Nursing care for psychiatric patients
  • Nursing care for pediatric patients
  • Nursing trends, practices, and roles

The school also requires students to take human anatomy, psychology, and microbiology courses.

The program is about 72 credits, and students need to complete over 1,000 clinical hours. LPN-RN students only need around 700 clinical hours to complete the program.

What is an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS)?

An Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS) utilizes similar methods as the ADN and ASN programs in teaching core nursing concepts.

However, this degree program focuses on different nursing specialties, allowing you to decide where you want to specialize later on in your career.

As a guide, let’s look at the educational requirements for nursing students at the College of Staten Island. The coursework is 64 credits in total, with the following categorized areas: general requirements, core requirements, and elective coursework. General education requirements include:

  • Writing
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Psychology
  • Ethics

For nursing courses, students cover both essential nursing concepts and scientific concepts:

  • Microbiology and cellular pathology
  • Psychiatric and mental health nursing
  • Medical-surgical nursing
  • Family-centered maternity nursing
  • Child health nursing
  • Nursing therapeutics and pharmacologic management in patient-centered care

How Do I Decide Which Program Is Best for Me?

Several factors come into play when deciding which degree program is right for you. These factors include program length, cost, availability, and learning style.

How Long Does the Program Take?

When searching programs, it’s essential to check the program’s duration. In general, an associate’s degree takes about two years to complete. But some colleges allow you to complete the degree in a faster time frame.

Ask about prerequisites and how long it takes to complete them. How long will it take to complete the program? How much flexibility does the program allow? Are you able to fit the coursework and timing into your schedule?

Suppose you have a previous degree or practice as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), you might be able to forgo specific prerequisites. Ask about these options as you explore available nursing programs.

Where Do You Want to Study?

Every school is different and will likely offer ADN, ASN, or AAS. Some schools can offer all three.

Your program choice can influence the program you choose and vice versa. If the school offers more than one nursing program, see which is most reputable. Do they have positive reviews from students and organizations?

You also want to consider your future education options. Are you planning on getting your BSN from the same school? Ask the school about how connected the programs are and how well credits transfer from the associate’s program to the bachelor’s degree program.

What Does the Program Cost, and What Scholarship Options Do You Have?

Cost is also a critical factor you need to consider. Your resources and available scholarships may dictate where you decide to go to college. For example, a college with an ADN program might offer to pay part of your tuition fee.

Financial aid and scholarship options are available to you as a nursing student. Research on these options can help inform your decision.

How Best Do You Learn?

How you learn can also impact your decision. For example, are you more of a hands-on learner? An ASN degree often has a higher clinical and lab focus. Consider this program if you learn best by practice.

You can also consider whether you want to earn your degree online. Online programs allow for more flexibility in your class schedule. Still, they require you to set your schedule and be highly disciplined.

If you learn best with face-to-face interactions, an online associate’s program might not be the best choice. Exploring associate’s programs that offer in-person learning can help you narrow your search.

If you want to get your degree online, you can focus your search on online associate degree programs.

What Are Your Future Goals?

Are you planning to your education after your associate’s degree? Are you looking to specialize in a specific area?

What you want to do can help you decide which degree to get. For example, if you aren’t sure where you want to specialize, opt for a program that introduces you to multiple specialties. If you’re going to become an advanced practice nurse, consider a program that transfers well into getting a BSN.

How Do These Degrees Transfer if I Want to Get a Higher Degree?

The ADN degree tends to transfer the easiest compared to ASN and AAS. So, if you’re interested in getting your BSN degree or another advanced practice degree later, consider getting an ADN degree.

It’s essential to consider the program requirements. For example, the school you want to get your BSN from might also accept your AAS or ASN degree as a prerequisite.

Remember, ask questions and keep track of the courses you’ve taken. Every program is a little different because each school is different.

Do Your School Research

Does the school you want to attend offer both an associate’s and bachelor’s degree? Consider getting your degrees from the same school. Doing so can help make the overall process more straightforward.

Alternatively, consider where you want to get your BSN degree. Then, note what colleges they accept credit transfer and previous degrees from.

Is There Any Difference in Salary Between ADN, ASN, and AAS?

There’s excellent earning potential in the nursing field. In 2020, the average annual salary for registered nurses was about $80,000 per year and around $36.00 an hour.

ADN, ASN, and AAS nursing degrees allow you to take the NCLEX and practice as an RN. So, in that sense, there’s not a significant difference in pay between these degrees. But employers will often consider the college where you got your degree, and attending a reputable nursing school can incentivize employers to hire you.

However, your ability to go on to higher education might differ between the degrees. For example, getting your ADN transfers well into earning your bachelor’s degree. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees tend to have higher earning potential and more opportunities for leadership roles.

Beyond your bachelor’s degree, you also have the option to get an advanced practice degree. These degrees offer even more opportunities to specialize and for salary increases.

Overall benefits of an associate degree

An associate degree is an excellent choice for getting a nursing degree. The program itself covers the core nursing skills and concepts you will need for your nursing degree. An associate degree has several benefits:

It allows you to sit for the NCLEX and practice as a registered nurse.
Overall, it is about a 2-3 year time commitment which is shorter than other degree options.
You can jump right into gaining practical clinical experience once you become a registered nurse.

Get Started on Your Nursing Degree Today

Nursing is a rewarding field, and the demand for nurses remains high. There are many options to becoming a nurse, and an associate degree is often the first step to becoming a registered nurse.

When getting your associate degree, you have to choose between ADN, ASN, and AAS. While these programs all serve as a doorway to your NCLEX-RN licensure, they have some uniqueness that sets them apart.

Get started with your degree today!

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