How To Choose the Right Nursing Degree Program for You

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published February 22, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Training to become a nursing professional can help you purse a rewarding medical career with steady job growth and salary potential. Earning a nursing degree or certification provides the necessary education to work with patients and provide expert care in a wide range of medical facilities. In this article, we explain the types of nursing degrees you can earn and how they compare.

How to choose a nursing degree

Consider these steps to help you choose the right nursing degree program that meets your goals:

1. Think about your timeline

Determine the length of time you want to spend earning your degree. Certain degree programs will allow you to move more quickly into a nursing position.

2. Decide the type of work you want to do

Different degree programs prepare you for certain areas within nursing. If you want to train as a more specialized nurse, you'll need to pursue an advanced degree.

Here are the programs for nursing education:

  • Licensed practical nurse program (LPN)

  • Registered nurse certificate (RN)

  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN)

  • Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

  • Master of science in nursing (MSN)

Related: What Can You Do With A Nursing Degree?

3. Consider the cost

If the financial commitment of a nursing education is a determining factor in your choice of degree, look for an accelerated program. You can always continue your education once you begin work as a nurse.

4. Think about your long-term career goals

The type of nursing degree you choose depends on the career you desire. General practice registered nurses need a certain level of training. However, if you want to move into leadership, an advanced degree is the path toward supervisory positions and specializations.

Differences between LPN vs. RN programs

Here are the differences between LPN and RN programs:

LPN vs. RN programs

An LPN program is an accelerated training path that prepares you to become a licensed practical nurse, also known as a vocational nurse. To qualify for an LPN program, you'll need to pass a nursing certificate program offered through many community colleges. LPN programs typically take less than two years to complete.

An RN diploma or certificate program trains students to become a registered nurse. While these programs are not full academic degrees, they prepare nurses to become licensed as an RN through clinical practice and limited coursework. These programs focus on preparing students for the NCLEX-RN assessment that certifies a nurse as a licensed RN.

To become an RN, you need at least an associate degree in nursing. These certificate programs typically take under two years to complete.

Related: How to Become a Nurse

Skills and responsibilities of an LPN vs. RN

An LPN works in various healthcare facilities to monitor a patient's health and administer basic diagnostic tests. The keep patients comfortable by providing medication and may assist in other medical services. LPNs help registered nurses record information regarding patient care, vital signs and health needs.

A registered nurse is responsible for providing expert care and maintaining the well-being of a patient. They are licensed to administer medical treatment in a variety of ways including diagnostic testing, medication and dosage, operating medical equipment and recording patient health.

Career outlook for LPNs vs RNs

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) forecasts 9% growth in the field of licensed practical nursing. This is faster than the average of most other occupations due to the overall increase in healthcare needs from the aging adult population.

The career outlook for an RN is higher than average with a projected growth of 7% RNs will account for a large portion of the positions in healthcare for the same reason.

Average salary for LPN

The national average salary for an LPN is $26.59 per hour. An LPN also has the opportunity to earn overtime at 1.5 times their hourly rate. Experience, medical specialty and job location also play a role in determining the earning potential for an LPN.

Advantages and disadvantages of LPN programs vs. RN programs

While earning an LPN diploma takes less time than getting fully certified as a registered nurse, advanced earning opportunities and higher-level positions require an RN license.

One advantage of enrolling in an LPN program is that it can allow you to go to work right away as a nurse. You can gain experience that can help you transition to a higher degree program later in your career.

ADN RN vs. BSN RN programs

Here are the differences between ADN and BSN degree programs:

What is an ADN RN ?

An Associate Degree in Nursing focuses on practical training for nurses to begin work in nearly any area of the medical field. This degree is more accelerated than most nursing programs as it specializes in providing nursing professionals with the credentials they need to pass the licensing exam for registered nurses. A typical ADN nursing program will take about two years to complete.

What is a BSN RN degree?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is a four-year college program that trains students to become registered nurses. The first two years of study typically focus on prerequisite classes in science with some lab coursework and general education subjects. The final two years generally involve intensive clinical practice where students begin working in medical facilities and interacting with patients under the guidance of nurse educators.

Students applying for entrance to a BSN program must show academic competence through a competitive GPA and qualifying ACT or SAT test scores.

Skills and responsibilities of an ADN RN vs. BSN RN

RNs who complete an ADN work with patients to ensure their health and comfort. ADN RNs provide expert medical care through a range of healthcare services, including monitoring patient symptoms, performing routine checkups, administering medication and operating medical equipment.

Registered nurses who earn their BSN often gain a deeper knowledge of medical practices after studying a wider range of healthcare areas. They can become skilled in both practical knowledge and theoretical leadership. A registered nurse with a BSN is more likely to enter into a specialty such as neonatal intensive care or trauma. BSN RNs provide expert care while acting as a counselor to family members. They also communicate with doctors to ensure patients receive the care they need.

Related: Nurse Schedules: Pros, Cons and Tips

Career outlook for ADN RNs vs. BSN RNs

All RNs can expect continued job growth at a 7% increase through the year 2029 according to the BLS. This is faster than most other occupations because of the projected growth of the healthcare industry.

Job openings for highly trained nurses with a BSN degree will continue to be sought after as more medical institutions prefer nursing professionals with a college degree background rather than vocational training.

Average salary for ADN RNs vs. BSN RNs

The national average salary for an RN is $28.89 per hour. Registered nurses have the opportunity to earn overtime, adding an average of up to $11,000 in additional compensation. Salary levels fluctuate based on area of practice and geographical location.

ADN RNs may find higher earning opportunities by specializing in a certain medical field. On the other hand, BSN degree nurses typically earn more than the average RN salary because of specializations. For example, an emergency room nurse can earn an average salary of $37.84 per hour. BSN nurses can also take on leadership roles for an even higher earning potential.

Advantages of ADN RN vs. BSN RN degrees

Advantages of an ADN RN program include:

  • Getting into the healthcare workforce faster than a BSN RN

  • Earning the same license as an BSN RN program graduate

  • Undergoing clinical practice to prepare for working as a registered nurse

  • Paying a smaller up-front cost for your education

  • Having the option to start an advanced education program while you work

Advantages of earning a BSN include:

  • Qualifying for supervisory and specialist roles, which often require a BSN

  • Earning a higher salary sooner

  • Having the potential to grow their career through additional certifications and management opportunities

  • Being more competitive in the job market because many hospitals and other medical facilities prefer hiring nurses with a BSN

BSN RN vs. MSN

Here are the differences between BSN RN and MSN RN degrees:

What is an MSN degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing is an advanced degree that prepares nurses for supervisory roles or specialized practice within a certain area of medical care. An MSN program allows nurses to train as educators, administrators and nurse practitioners. An MSN degree allows you to choose an area of focus for more in-depth specialization than you can earn through a BSN.

Requirements of an MSN RN

For those entering an MSN program with their BSN or ADN, you must hold an RN license and have proven experience in the field through education or work history. MSN programs may also ask applicants to provide resumes, transcripts and letters of recommendation. Full-time students can typically complete their MSN degree within two years.

If you wish to enter into certain MSN programs that accept students without a nursing degree, you'll need a bachelor's degree in another field through an accredited university along with an excellent academic and professional record. Without prior nursing studies, you'll likely need to take prerequisite courses in biology, anatomy and other healthcare-related courses.

Skills and responsibilities of an MSN

Nurses with an MSN are trained medical leaders within their field. They may make important decisions and offer counsel regarding patient care. An MSN RN may also handle patient visits and health screenings independently within a healthcare facility.

Career outlook for MSN

Many medical institutions seek nurses with an MSN degree, especially those qualified to practice independently and provide medical care to help fill in doctor shortages. It's also expected that a large number of supervisory level nurses will retire from the workforce in the coming years, leaving opportunities and a need for more highly skilled nurse leaders.

Average salary for MSN RNs

A nursing professional with a MSN may fill supervisory positions that earn a higher income than other registered nurses. The average salary for a nurse practitioner with an MSN is $116,684 per year.

Advantages and disadvantages of BSN vs. MSN degrees

Earning an MSN is a larger financial commitment than simply earning a BSN. However, nurses with an MSN degree experience greater earning potential and more career growth through leadership and higher-level roles.

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