ADN vs. BSN Online Programs: Your Guide to Choosing a Nursing Degree

By craig



  • An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are entry routes to a nursing career.
  • An ADN equips you with basic nursing skills; a BSN prepares you for specialty and leadership roles.
  • The coursework for each degree is different. Considering the goals for your nursing career, salary differences, and employer preferences can help you decide which degree to get.

Deciding the type of nursing program you want can be overwhelming. It’s comforting to learn that there many options, but which one is right for you?

One of the most common dilemmas is choosing between an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) online programs.

While both online nursing programs will allow you to practice in the nursing field, there are several differences you should note. Knowing these differences will allow you to make the best decision for your career. Let’s find out what set them apart!

ADN vs. BSN Online Programs: Differences in Role Preparation

ADN Programs Online

Both an ADN and BSN degree will set you up to help people in the medical field. So, when you’re trying to decide which to pick, you need to note what’s different and what’s the same.

What’s the Same?

You likely want to get a career in nursing to help people, and the good news is you can do this with either an ADN or a BSN. As a nurse, you get to help sick people get better and assist people in becoming their healthiest selves.

You’ll also work to coordinate care with other healthcare team members. Regardless of your specific role, you’ll act as a patient advocate and push for what’s best for the patient.

To become a registered nurse, you need to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). You’re eligible to take this after attending an ADN or a BSN program.

Note: Some BSN programs require you first to be a registered nurse (RN). So, you need to get your ADN, pass the NCLEX, and then take the BSN courses.

You can work as an RN if you have your ADN or BSN. And you may decide to practice as an RN to gain practical work experience before pursuing careers available to you with a BSN.

What’s Different?

In general, an ADN program prepares you for the basics of nursing and direct patient care. Meanwhile, a BSN program prepares you for further education and leadership roles. It allows you to explore advanced nursing concepts, such as understanding disease processes and nursing theory.

What you want to do in your nursing career can help you decide which online nursing program is best for you. But a BSN does open up more opportunities for career advancement. For example, you could work as a nurse educator with a BSN degree.

Working as a nurse educator will change the outlook of your interactions with patients. Instead of working directly at the bedside with a set number of patients, you might work with several patients over shorter time slots to teach them critical health concepts.

Pursuing a BSN degree is also a typical first step in pursuing an advanced practice nursing degree like a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist.

ADN vs. BSN Online Programs: Competency Differences

The type of coursework you’ll need to complete in each program is slightly different. You usually need to satisfy all ADN requirements and additional BSN coursework to get your BSN.

But the order you complete the courses might change depending on the program. For example, you might be able to take some BSN classes while you’re still meeting your ADN requirements.

ADN Requirements

Most online ADN programs focus on the core skills you’ll need in nursing practice. You’ll learn nursing skills like giving medications, starting IVs, and changing dressings. In addition, you’ll learn to apply these skills in practical clinical settings.

After completing an ADN program, you’ll be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and practice as a registered nurse. Standard courses may include the following:

  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical practice and clinical care management
  • Mental health
  • Health and illness across different populations

Most online nursing programs also require a certain amount of prerequisites before you can join the program. You’ll likely need to take courses in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, psychology, and statistics. The specifics of your prerequisites will depend on the school you attend.

BSN Requirements

In addition to the coursework in an ADN program, online BSN programs delve deeper into nursing theory and concepts that prepare you for management. Additional courses for a BSN degree may focus on leadership, communication, and critical thinking.

Some courses you might take for a BSN program include the following:

Nursing Ethics

The concept of ethical decision-making comes up frequently in the healthcare field. It’s helpful to learn how to respond to ethical decisions that can arise in your nursing career.

Nursing Informatics

It’s helpful to grasp the use of electronic health records and how technology impacts patient care.

Nursing Research

Healthcare constantly involves collecting evidence and implementing practices based on the data. Nursing research introduces you to concepts like answering clinical questions and research.

Nursing Leadership

Becoming a good leader involves multiple skills and character traits. Leadership courses can help you explore what leadership positions are available to you as a nurse.

Advanced Pathophysiology

This coursework focuses on disease processes in the body and lets you delve into how to best treat these diseases.

Health Assessment

While you learn assessment skills with your ADN degree, courses in health assessment can help you learn more in-depth and focused evaluations that allow you to perform more thorough patient care.

A BSN degree program may also require you to do a professional capstone project and take some upper-level liberal arts electives.

You may also take elective courses in the areas that interest you. For example, you might choose to take a course focusing on the care of a specific population group like geriatrics or pediatrics. Or you might take a course focusing on a particular area of health, such as psychiatric care.

How to Decide if an ADN or BSN Is Best for You

Choosing between an online ADN and BSN program depends on your situation and your goals for your nursing career. You should take the following factors into account as you make your decision:

What Kind of Nurse Do You Want to Be?

Are you looking to specialize in a specific area? Then it might be helpful for you to get your BSN degree. But it all depends on what areas you’re interested in and what role you want to play in the healthcare field.

Do You See Yourself in Direct or Indirect Patient Care?

An online BSN program can lead to careers that shift away from the bedside but still provide vital care to patients. A BSN degree can make this career shift easier if you’re interested in such a job away from the bedside.

Do You See Yourself in Management?

Do you envision yourself working with patients or working in a management position? If you intend to coordinate care and oversee the healthcare team, a BSN can help you reach these goals.

What Kind of Time Constraints and Resources Do You Have?

Do you need to start working as soon as possible for financial reasons? Are you currently unable to afford BSN classes? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you might want to start with getting your ADN degree. Then, once you’re employed, your facility might offer you financial help to get your BSN later.

What Are the Requirements in Your State or at Your Facility?

Does your workplace require you to get a BSN degree? Or are you able to work there with an ADN degree? The regulations are quite different at each facility. Check these requirements before you start pursuing your degree.

Do You Want to Work Towards an Advanced Nursing Degree?

Are you interested in becoming a nurse practitioner or a nurse-midwife? If you are, it can be helpful to get your BSN. Many advanced nursing degree programs require you to get your BSN first before accepting you into an advanced degree program.

Exploring Future Options: You Don’t Have to Decide Everything Right Away

If you choose to get your ADN, understand that you still have future education options. Don’t stress and feel like you have to decide to get your BSN right away.RN to BSN programs are pretty popular. These programs allow you to work as an RN and work on your BSN simultaneously. Often, courses are available online to complete at your own pace.

The Benefits of Online Programs

You can earn both your ADN and BSN online. Online programs allow you to have a more flexible schedule than traditional classes. You can design your coursework around your other time commitments.

You can complete lecture material and papers at a pace that works for you. This arrangement allows your primary constraint to be your clinicals. For some bachelor’s degree courses, you may be able to set up your clinical hours. It all depends on the requirements of your school and program.

Time Considerations

In general, it takes about two years to complete your ADN degree, and it may take an additional one to two years to complete your bachelor’s degree after you get your ADN. You should factor in the time commitment as you work to decide which degree you want.

Often, BSN programs have a generous amount of flexibility, particularly online BSN courses for people who are already RNs. You can take classes online and work as a registered nurse simultaneously.

Salary and Career Advancement Opportunities

After considering your own goals, you should also consider the differences in career opportunities, salary differences, employer preferences, and further education related to getting your BSN.

Opportunities Away From the Bedside

Nursing is a diverse field, and there are many opportunities to specialize. While both an ADN and a BSN degree allow you to work in in-patient and out-patient settings, a BSN can open up more opportunities for positions outside of direct nursing care.

For example, getting your BSN can help you pursue specialized nursing career options, such as:

Nurse Manager

You can oversee all healthcare team members for the best possible patient outcomes.

Public Health Nurse

This position involves educating and helping the community in health matters.

Nurse Educator

You can take the extra time patients need to learn about their health. For example, you might teach patients how to take care of themselves after a new diagnosis or after surgery.

School Nurse

You might not strictly need a BSN degree for this position, but the degree can help prepare you to specialize in pediatrics.

Nurse Writer

With your background in understanding disease and nursing, you can also pursue a career as a nurse writer. This role involves writing online information and patient education materials.

Clinical Research Nurse

Healthcare experts constantly study new treatment options and the best way to help patients. As a research nurse, you can be a part of this process by helping with the care of patients in clinical research studies.

Travel Nurse

As a travel nurse, you can go to areas that need nursing care. Some agencies will require you to have a BSN degree and a certain amount of nursing experience before you can pursue this role.

Telemetry Nurse

You would specialize in caring for critically ill patients by monitoring cardiac rhythms in this role.


Do the salaries of an ADN and a BSN differ? While the salary does depend on where you work, you can typically make more money if you have your BSN degree.

As a BSN, you can make over $10,000 more than an ADN in your annual income. As noted by Nightingale College, nurses with a BSN degree tend to be among the top 25% of earners in the nursing profession.

The average income of registered nurses is around $80,000 a year, with an hourly wage of about $38 an hour. The average pay for a nurse with a BSN is closer to $90,000 annually, roughly $45 an hour.

Other factors that determine how much you earn are your specialization and experience level. In general, as you gain more experience, your opportunities for a higher salary will also increase.

Employer Preferences

Many employers prefer nurses to have their BSN degrees, and some hospitals require you to have a BSN degree before starting work. Employers may also help you get your BSN degree after you start working for them.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, about 40% of hospitals and other medical sites require that nurses have their BSN degrees to work for them. About 77% of hospitals and healthcare settings say they prefer to hire BSN graduates.

Knowing where you want to work can help you decide on the nursing program. If your desired workplace prefers to hire nurses with BSN degrees, it can help if you choose an online BSN program.

Advanced Practice Nursing Degrees

Advanced practice degrees offer even more autonomy and career advancement opportunities. Again, it all depends on what you want. Some options for advanced practice nursing degrees include:

  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Getting your BSN degree is a typical first step in getting an advanced practice nursing degree.

ADN vs. BSN Online Programs: Take Your Next Steps

Nursing is a rewarding career, and you can take different paths into the field. It’s up to you to decide whether you prefer the ADN online program or the BSN online course.

A bachelor’s degree in nursing opens up a lot of potential for further education, higher income, and leadership roles. But you need to balance the pros and cons of both degrees before you decide.

Even if you start by getting your ADN, you can still get your BSN later.


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