There are many ways to become a nurse. From associate and bachelor’s degrees, to advanced programs, each has advantages and disadvantages. Here we list the types of nursing degrees along with the cost and potential salary.
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Nursing Programs (LPN and LVN)
Both the LPN (Licensed Practical Nursing) and LVN (Licensed Vocational Nursing) prepare for essentially the same job. Both programs prepare you to take the NCLEX-PN exam. According to Concord Career Colleges, the biggest difference between the two is the name. California and Texas use the term LVN, while other states use LPN.
LPNs and LVNs work under the direction of registered nurses, nurse practitioners and doctors to provide patient care. LPN and LVN programs typically last about one year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 1, the median pay in 2017 for LPN and LVNs was $45,030 a year or $21.65 per hour. Over the next ten years, the BLS expects jobs to grow at a rate of 12%, which is faster than average.
Generally speaking, one must graduate with a 2 or 4-year degree to become a Registered Nurse (RN). There are programs designed for LPN and LVNs to obtain the necessary education to make this transition, as noted below.
Associate Degrees in Nursing
Like most associate degrees2, there are three types of associate degrees in nursing:
- Associated of Arts — Associate Degree in Nursing or ADN
- Associate of Science — Associate of Science Degree in Nursing or ASN
- Associate of Applied Science — Associate of Applied Science in Nursing or AAS
These degrees are very similar, and it’s common for a school to offer just one of these associate degrees. ADN and ASN degrees are often designed for those looking to continue their education at a 4-year school, while AAS degrees are designed to prepare students for employment. Each of these degrees qualifies a graduate to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam.
ADN — Associate Degree in Nursing
Like associate degrees generally, an ADN takes two years to complete. An ADN qualifies you to take the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) to become a Registered Nurse (RN). While the curriculum varies from school to school, an ADN course of study consists primarily of courses in anatomy, pharmacology, biology and nursing. Some general course work is also required, as this example curriculum shows.3
ASN — Associate of Science Degree in Nursing
An ASN degree is similar to an ADN. The notable difference is that as with all Associate of Science degrees, the curriculum may focus more on math and science. With both degrees, however, the vast majority of coursework will overlap, focusing on those courses necessary for a career as a Registered Nurse.
AAS — Associate of Applied Science in Nursing
An AAS degree, like most Applied Associates degrees, is deigned to prepare students for employment. These degrees often focus on practical coursework, as this example from Queensborough Community College shows.4
LPN to ADN
For those with an LPN (or LVN), the path to an ADN is accelerated. Depending on the coursework taken to obtain an LPN and work experience, these programs can be substantially shorter and less expensive. These programs go by several names, including LPN to ADN, Accelerated ADN, and Bridge ADN.
Average Cost of an Associates Degree in Nursing
The costs will vary based on a number of factors, including whether you attend a public or private school, your state of residence, and your current level of education. As an example, the State College of Florida’s ADN program will cost an estimated $12,869.00. 5 This cost includes tuition, the cost of clinical requirements, books and lab fees.
Bachelors Degrees in Nursing
BSN — Bachelors of Science Degree in Nursing
A BSN is a 4-year baccalaureate program. A typical curriculum will include anatomy, nutrition, nursing care, public health, research and a practicum. Some programs offer 5-year plans. The cost of a BSN can range from $40,000 to $200,000.6
RN to BSN
For those who an Associates Degree who have passed the NCLEX-RN exam, many schools offer an accelerated RN to BSN program.
RN to BSN programs, also known as Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing, cater to working RNs. For example, one can complete the online program at George Mason University in as little as two full semesters. It also offers both full-time and part-time options.7
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing,8 there are more than 720 RN to BSN programs available nationwide. Almost 600 of these programs are offered in full or in part online. The programs typically take between 1 and 2 years to complete, depending upon the school’s requirements and the student’s level of education. The AAACN offers an excellent online tool to search for RN to BSN and other nursing programs.9
Here’s a short video about nurses who have gone back to school to earn their BSN.
LPN to BSN
Those with an LPN can apply the coursework they’ve already taken toward their bachelor’s degree. As a result, one can earn an LPN to BSN in as little as four semesters, although 6 semesters is more common. Hertzog University, for example, offers a 36 month LPN to BSN degree.10 A Similar online program at Indiana State University requires 76 credits.11
Is a BSN Worth the Time and Cost?
Most Registered Nurses have associates degrees. According to one source12, 66% of RNs hold an associate’s degree, 23% a bachelor’s degree, and 11% other degrees. This data raise an important question—why bother with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing? There are several reasons.
First, the pay is better. The average income for a Registered Nurse is $7,000.13. The lowest 10 percent, however, earned less than $48,690. Certainly location and employer play a big part in compensation. But so too does level of education.
Second, it increases your chances of working at a Magnet Hospital. The Magnet Recognition Program is run the the American Nurses Credentialing Center. According to the ANCC,14 the Magnet Recognition Program “designates organizations worldwide where nursing leaders successfully align their nursing strategic goals to improve the organization’s patient outcomes.” To be clear, Magnet hospitals hire RNs with Associate Degrees. Those who have earned a BSN, however, are more likely to get hired, and the trend clearly favors nurses with bachelor’s degrees.
Third, studies show that patient outcomes improve with nurses who have earned a BSN. One study, “a 10% increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor’s degree was associated with a 5% decrease in both the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of admission and the odds of failure to rescue.”15
Finally, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, more and more hospitals are requiring bachelor’s degrees for their nursing residency programs. And those hospitals that do hire associate-degree nurses are requiring completion of a bachelor’s degree, typically within there to five years.16
Master’s of Science Degrees in Nursing
A Master’s of Science in Nursing degree is an advanced degree ideal for those seeking particular career paths. For example, an MSN is typically required to become a Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Nursing Informatics Specialist, Geriatric or Gerontological Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Research, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Forensic Nurse Consultant, Nurse Ethicist, or Nurse Educator. 17
Obtaining an MSN is both hard work and a significant investment. According to U.S. News,18 an online master’s of nursing degree costs anywhere from $35,000 to $60,000 in tuition and fees, and this data are a few years old.
MSN — Master’s of Science in Nursing
Those seeking an MSN typically have a specific career goal in mind. That’s important because MSN degrees offer specific majors and specifies. For example, Duke University School of Nursing19 offers the following majors as part of its MSN program:
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Health Informatics
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Nursing and Health Care Leadership
- Nursing Education
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Acute Care
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Primary Care
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
In addition, Duke studies have the option of adding one of several specialities to their program:
- Pediatric Behavioral and Mental Health
- Veterans Health Care Concentration
As you can see, understanding why you want to obtain an MSN is critical to choosing a major and, if desired, a speciality. It’s also important in choosing a nursing school, as not all schools offer the above diversity of programs. Finally, the above majors require 42 to 49 credit hours to complete.
Many nursing schools offer accelerated degrees (also known as Direct Entry Programs) or dual degrees. Accelerated degrees are designed for non-nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field. With a dual degree, an MSN can be paired with, for example, and MBA. Dual degrees include the following:
- MSN/MBA (Masters of Business Administration): For those looking to serve in hospital management or perhaps consulting.
- MSN/MHA (Masters of Hospital Administration): For those looking to work in hospital administration.
- MSN/MPH (Masters of Public Health): For those looking to work in public health leadership.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
A DNP is a clinical practice degree. A DNP should not be confused with a Ph.D. Both are terminal degrees, but a Ph.D. is research focused.20
There are several paths to a DNP, including BSN-DNP, MSN-DNP, and Post-Master’s DNP.21
The time, effort and money to earn a DNP are significant. The coursework and research requirements are rigorous. On a part-time basis, it’s typical for a DNP to take 3 years of coursework and 500 to 1,000 clinical practice hours.