LPN vs. RN vs. BSN: What Are the Different Types of Nursing Degrees?

By 05:11 Mon, 24 Jul 2017 Comments

If you are reading this article, you probably fall into one of two categories: you are interested in starting a career in nursing or you are already a nurse and you want to take your career to the next level with some education.

No matter what category you fall into, you might be finding it difficult to sort out all the degree options there are for nursing students. From associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees to advanced certificates, you need to sort out what each degree program type is and what each one does. That’s where your helpful friends at ClassesandCareers.com come in.

To make all the different types of nursing degrees easier to understand, we’ve scoured the websites of the nation’s most popular nursing programs and come up with this list of the nine most common types of nursing degree programs:




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1. Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

Designed to take a full-time student two years to complete, this type of degree is lower on the totem pole of nursing degrees. You’ll usually find these types of degree programs at junior and community colleges or nursing schools, although it’s not uncommon to find them at four-year universities, as well. But what can you do with an ASN degree?

Most students use this degree to be able to sit for the NCLEX-RN test and apply for licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN). In fact, an ASN or a nursing diploma tend to be the gateway to starting a nursing career. So if you just ant to get that nursing career started as quickly as possible, an ASN might be the right choice for you.

2. Traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Like so many of the other major programs you’ll find at a four-year college or university, the traditional BSN program is designed for students who have completed a good number of their general education courses, a handful of prerequisite courses, and are ready to focus on the degree that will lead them into their chosen career. This program is designed to start halfway through a student’s college experience and take another two years to complete. Like the ASN, the traditional BSN will allow you to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for licensure as a RN. But what makes this degree any different from the ASN?

With the extra time it takes to complete this degree, the BSN brings students a more well-rounded education in the social sciences and other general education courses. It also requires additional courses that train students in nursing science, research, and leadership. Finally, a BSN qualifies the student for greater advancement in the nursing field and higher salaries.

3. RN to BSN

What if you’ve already started a nursing career as a RN but you want the added benefits of a BSN? Well then, the RN to BSN option is for you. As you might’ve already guessed, this degree program type is for students who already who already have an associate’s or diploma in nursing, and are working as RN’s, and gives them the additional courses and training they need to earn a BSN. In most of the cases we found, these programs were designed to work around a nurse’s busy schedule and are often accelerated to take less time to complete.

4. Accelerated Baccalaureate

Some students earn their bachelor’s degree in one area of study only to find that they actually want to pursue a career in nursing. Rather than go back and redo their entire four-year college experience, these college graduates can enter an accelerated nursing baccalaureate program. Accelerated means the program can be completed in 12 short months. Along the way, students acquire all the knowledge and training they need to become a licensed RN and the credentials to get the greater earning power of a BSN.

5. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

If you want to move up to becoming a nursing manager or nursing educator, you might want to consider taking your education to the next level with this degree. Often, the MSN is also a prerequisite for nurses who are considering getting a doctoral degree in nursing. The degree used to also be mandatory to become an advanced practice registered nurse.

If you are interested in pursuing a MSN, you’ll want to consider what you want to focus your studies on. Common tracks include nursing administration, nursing education, family nursing, pediatric, neonatal, mental health, and more. And, yes, this higher degree often means greater earning potential and career opportunity.

6. RN to MSN

What if you are a working RN and want to pursue a BSN and a MSN in one program? The RN to MSN program will give you all the courses and training you need to earn a BSN and then continue forward into the graduate level courses and training on the MSN. Like the RN to BSN, this type of program is designed to work around the schedule of working RN’s. The assumed advantages here are that you get all that education out of the way without having to interrupt your career, and you get to enjoy the career and salary benefits faster.

7. Advanced Certificate Programs

Advanced certificate programs are designed for nurses who hold a MSN but want to expand their knowledge and training into other areas of advanced nursing practice. For example, a MSN-holding nurse who specializes in neonatal health may want to also earn an advanced certificate in gynecological health.

8. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

This is where our research became a little more difficult. To translate, it gets a little harder to tell what exactly can be done with this degree, although it does sound impressive. So rather than trying to explain it ourselves, we decided to just tell you what the American Association of Colleges of Nursing had to say about DNP degrees:

In many institutions, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including Nurse Practitioners, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Nurse Mid-Wives, and Certified Nurse Anesthetists, are prepared in master’s-degree programs that often carry a credit load equivalent to doctoral degrees in the other health professions. AACN’s position statement calls for educating APRNs and nurses seeking top systems/organizational roles in DNP programs.

DNP curricula build on traditional master’s programs by providing education in evidence-based practice, quality improvement, and systems leadership, among other key areas.

The DNP is designed for nurses seeking a terminal degree in nursing practice and offers an alternative to research-focused doctoral programs. DNP-prepared nurses are well-equipped to fully implement the science developed by nurse researchers prepared in PhD, DNSc, and other research-focused nursing doctorates.

So it sounds like the DNP is meant to elevate nurses almost a doctor-like level while keeping them in a more clinical, practice-related setting. That’s our best shot. But if your are thinking of pursuing a DNP, you probably understand all of this perfectly.

9. Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (DPN)

This degree is very similar to the DNP, but it is research-, instead of practice-, focused. This is ideal for nurses who want to go into pure nursing research or who want to teach nursing at the college level. Like many of the other degree programs we’ve mentioned above, this program lets students specialize in one area, like nursing education or sustainable health. These programs can take several years, as is the case with most doctoral programs.

So there’s your crash course in nursing degree programs. Want to learn more? Get matched to Nursing Programs and talk to school representatives through our Nursing Page to get more information.



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