ADN vs. BSN in Nursing: The Pros and Cons

Amanda Ghosh - 08/23/19

Nursing is one of the few professions that offers multiple ways to earn a license. Prospective nurses can either earn an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree and still enter the field as a licensed nurse with similar salaries and experience levels. However, students should be aware of the pros and cons associated with each type of degree.

Pros of the ADN Degree

1. Less expensive

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) will almost always cost less than a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). An ADN generally costs anywhere from $3,000 at a local community college to $30,000 at a private diploma-granting institution. BSN programs usually charge $40,000 to $200,000.

2. Start working sooner

If you get an ADN you’ll start working a full two years earlier than someone pursuing a BSN. Associate degrees take approximately two years to complete. Bachelor’s degrees require four years of education.

3. Bridge programs incentivize nurses to work first

Bridge programs make the ADN more appealing as they allow the registered nurse to earn his or her bachelor’s and master’s in “one” program.

In a bridge program, you complete one application for both programs. After you finish your BSN, you go directly into the master’s component of the program.

Most bridge programs are offered online with part-time options to suit the working nurse, and many employers will pay for these programs.

Cons of an ADN Degree

1. You’ll probably still need to get a BSN

Several states are implementing a “bachelors in 10” law. If you work in one of these states, you’ll be required to earn your BSN within ten years of earning your RN license. The ability to complete all education requirements at once is appealing to some students, especially those who don’t want an MSN but desire a more traditional college experience.

2. You may have to work and go to school

If you work in a “bachelors in 10” state and you only have a two-year degree you will likely have to work and go to school to comply with state law. This is a drawback for those who believe they will feel overwhelmed trying to work and study at the same time.

3. Your education will take longer

If you don’t want to study full-time while working, you will take longer to complete your education. A part-time BSN program usually takes four to six years to finish. Add an additional two to four years if you plan to pursue an MSN.

4. You will have to apply to school more than once

Unless you’ve had the good fortune of being accepted into a two-year school with guaranteed entry into a BSN or BSN-MSN program, you will have to apply to a bachelor’s program, and possibly an MSN program.

Pros of a BSN Degree

1. Finish minimum requirements in one go

With the advent of “bachelors in 10” laws, most nurses will need to complete a four-year degree in nursing. If you pursue a BSN, you’ll knock those four years out in one go. Not having to go back to school can be very appealing.

2. Gain knowledge of nursing theory and healthcare administration

BSN programs focus more on nursing theory and healthcare administration than ADN programs. If you have an interest in theory and administration, then you’ll enjoy this aspect of a four-year program. However, you should understand that it’s rare for the novice nurse to get a job in nursing administration right off the bat. You’ll probably still have to go through one to two years of med-surge.

Cons of a BSN Degree

1. More expensive

BSN degrees are significantly more costly than ADN degrees. You should think carefully about taking on additional student debt to complete a BSN. Employers will typically pay for all or part of BSN and MSN degrees, so it may not be worth paying for a BSN yourself.

The total difference in lifetime earnings between an ADN-prepared and BSN-prepared nurse is roughly $80,000. This difference can be significantly reduced by the substantial student loan debt that BSN students accrue and the fact that ADN nurses will “catch up” in earnings after getting their BSN—something that’s usually required and covered by their employer, at least in part.

2. Last two years of a BSN don’t necessarily prepare nurses for daily life

It’s not uncommon for students to hear preceptors and professors say that nurses who come through two-year programs are better prepared for the practicalities of nursing. This is because two-year programs don’t focus on theory and administration as much as four-year programs do, so students have only experienced a practical nursing education.

Therefore, it’s worth considering how you’ll settle into nursing. Sometimes, practical training and humility make for a smoother transition. It depends on your perception, attitude, and how well you know yourself and what you need to succeed as a new nurse.

What Will You Choose?

ADN and BSN pathways each offer unique pros and cons. The best degree program is the one that’s right for you. When making your decision, consider how much each program will cost and how long they will take to complete. If you have the luxury of being able to consider how each type of program meshes with your personality you’re your future needs as a professional nurse, definitely consider those factors as well.