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What Is the Difference Between RN and BSN?

The term RN means “registered nurse” and includes most nurses. RNs can have a range of degrees and certifications. As puts it, “a registered nurse is a nurse who has passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses after completing an accredited training program.”

An ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) used to be the gold standard for students looking to start a career in nursing. But in recent years, many current nurses with ADNs are being required to return to school to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and many healthcare providers will not hire nurses without a BSN.

2-Year vs. 4-Year Degrees

An ADN takes an average of two years to complete, while a BSN takes an average of four years. These time frames can change based on a particular student’s course load. As Kelbach says, “An ADN teaches the nursing student the fundamentals and basics of nursing … With a BSN, the nurse has to think more outside the box, with creditable research, leadership, theory, and public health.”

There are advantages to both degrees. “An ADN training program readies nurses to deliver direct patient treatment or carry out other qualified nursing duties and responsibilities inside the field of healthcare,” says Exercise Science Guide. With an ADN, students can also enter the workforce sooner than those who go for a BSN from the start.

A BSN, on the other hand, leads to a wider range of job prospects for nurses. “A BSN makes nurses more desirable to employers who may want to hire someone who has advanced education,” writes Kelbach.

Opening Doors for Specialized Certifications

For nurses who wish to specialize or take on larger roles, a BSN is often a requirement. “A bachelor’s in nursing is needed for acceptance into a master’s nursing program, which can lead to careers in healthcare administration, or specialty nursing roles like nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or clinical nurse leader,” says Exercise Science Guide.

From this perspective, a BSN allows for a significantly higher level of professional advancement than an ADN education.

Salary Differences Between ADN and BSN

Naturally, a BSN often leads to higher-paying nursing jobs than an ADN. According to, as of February 2018, RNs with an ADN made an average salary of $57,249 per year, while RNs with a BSN earn an average of $61,731.

Regardless of which level of education you feel is right for you, the option of earning an ADN and returning to school to get a BSN later, while continuing to work, is an increasingly popular choice. With the rise of accredited online RN to BSN programs and many healthcare providers striving for a higher standard of nursing, a BSN has never been more accessible for nurses already in the workforce.

It’s a great time to advance from an ADN to a BSN and give your career a boost — whether or not this is a requirement from your employer.

Learn more about the Northern Kentucky University online RN to BSN program.

Sources: What Is the Difference Between RN and BSN Degrees?

Chron: The Difference Between RN & BSN

Exercise Science Guide: Difference Between ASN and BSN Nursing Degrees

Nursing Explorer: ADN vs. BSN – The Big Debate

PayScale: Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) Average Salary

PayScale: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree Average Salary

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