two nurses

ADN or BSN… What’s The Difference?

There are two potential degree paths for aspiring nurses. Students who take the first track emerge with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), while students on the second track emerge with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN). While there is some controversy over whether or not one track truly produces better nurses than the other— for example, this RN’s argument against making assumptions about a nurse’s value based on his/her degree— there are still some basic differences between the two paths. But how do you choose which is for you? Use this fact sheet to inform your decision.



  1. Duration: ADNs typically spend 2 years in college (average 70 credit hours), while BSNs typically spend 4 years in college (average 120 credit hours).
  2. Course Material: Both ADNs and BSNs study adult health, maternal and newborn nursing, and pediatrics. However, only BSN students also study nursing theory, research, informatics, humanities, and social science. Additionally, ADNs must complete only one year of supervised clinical practice, while BSNs may be required to complete up to two years.
  3. Licensing: Both ADNs and BSNs take the same national test (NCLEX-RN exam), which qualifies them to apply for state Registered Nurse (RN) licensure.
  4. Average Cost: In-state tuition for ADNs at a public 2-year institution is about $10,730 per year, totaling $21,460 for the entire program. In-state tuition for BSNs at a public 4-year in-state institution is about $18,391 per year, totaling $73,564 for the entire program.


  • ADN
    • Finish education earlier/quicker
    • Less expensive
    • Coursework focuses completely on applicable techniques and patient care
  • BSN
    • Gain experience with theory and aspects of nursing beyond patient care
    • More rounded education (includes multiple disciplines)


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  1. Opportunities for Advancement/Alternate Roles: BSNs may be promoted into a variety of positions, including nurse management and administration, while ADNs typically have fewer opportunities for advancement.
  2. Opportunities for Further Education: ADNs may achieve a BSN by entering an accelerated 18 – 21 month program. BSNs may enter advanced degree programs for specialty credentials such as nurse anesthetist or nurse practitioner.
  3. Salary: Both ADNs and BSNs receive approximately the same starting salary. There is, however, some discrepancy between them for experienced nurses; ADNs earn an average of $60,890 annually, while BSNs earn an average of $66,316 annually.

*Side Note: BSNs who go on to receive MSN or DNP degrees earn about $87,363.

  1. Employability: While both BSNs and ADNs are important for filling a hospital’s staff, BSNs are usually preferred and hired more consistently, and some hospitals only hire BSNs. Additionally, BSNs have greater job security.


  • ADNs
    • May enter accelerated education programs to become BSNs
  • BSNs
    • Easier to find a job
    • More job security
    • Earn ~$5,400 more than ADNs annually
By Erin Coursey, iHire | July 29, 2015
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