Nursing Degrees

Depending on what type of nurse you want to become, you need to find the nursing degree that works for you and your goals.

Why should you pursue a nursing degree?
In response to the changing needs of the US healthcare system, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a call to increase the education level of the nursing workforce. The IOM predicts new healthcare pressures will necessitate an 80% BSN educated workforce by 2020.

The organization’s report, released in 2010, has sparked an explosion of new nursing degree programs to fill the growing need. In combination with the country’s predicted nursing shortage of approximately one million nurses by 2022, the time is ripe to enter the field as a new nurse or further your education with a nursing degree!

Take a look at the different nursing degrees that you can enroll in today.

Nursing: The Fastest Occupation Growth19%+

Different Type of Nursing Degrees

Nursing degrees are not one-size-fits-all. The best nursing degree program for you is going to depend on your needs and career goals.

Keep in mind that if you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse, you can enroll in a diploma program, an ADN program, or a BSN program — all will prepare you to sit for the NCLEX-RN licensure test.

Take a look at this simple breakdown of the different nursing degrees. The nursing degrees are listed from the lower degree level, to the highest nursing degree you can pursue: the doctorate in nursing.

  • Type of Nursing DegreeAssociate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

    • Earnings Potential*
      $55,719
    • Degree Cost*
      $6,694
    • Time to Completion
      2 Years
    • Sample Job
      Registered Nurse
    Learn More
  • Type of Nursing DegreeBachelor’s Degree in Nursing

    • Earnings Potential*
      $81,240
    • Degree Cost*
      $35,556
    • Time to Completion
      4 Years
    • Sample Job
      Nursing Manager
    Learn More
  • Type of Nursing DegreeMaster’s Degree in Nursing

    • Earnings Potential*
      $87,719
    • Degree Cost*
      $21,459
    • Time to Completion
      2 Years
    • Sample Job
      Clinical Nurse Specialist
    Learn More
  • Type of Nursing DegreeDoctor of Nursing Practice Degree (DNP)

    • Earnings Potential*
      $105,000
    • Degree Cost*
      Varies
    • Time to Completion
      4+ Years
    • Sample Job
      Adult Nurse Practitioner
    Learn More

The Different Nursing Degree Paths Explained

Nurses are needed in all specializations, and as the Baby Boomer generation ages, job opportunities for recent graduates are rising dramatically. To meet this demand, schools have augmented their nursing degree options, and many of them are offering degrees entirely online.

These degrees are designed to fit into the schedules of busy professionals who work full-time. Many students in RN programs already have some professional nursing experience as well: it’s natural for students to pursue an LPN, figure out a specialty they want to pursue, and return to school for their RN.

Online degrees are also perfect for non-traditional students and distance learners who might not fit well in a more traditional program. A few examples of non-traditional students that often succeed in nursing include:


Older students

It’s not at all unusual for students to return to school for a BSN after embarking on a professional career. Some of these students have worked in nursing before, but many are in the midst of a career change. The online format makes it easy for older students to take classes without disrupting their current professional responsibilities or other obligations. Most courses are taught asynchronously, which allows all distance learners to watch lectures, study, and complete assignments at their convenience.

Students with a bachelor’s degree

Many nursing programs cater to students who already have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. Students who already hold a degree should pursue nursing in a secondary BSN program. In a secondary BSN degree, distance learners don’t have to worry about taking general education classes. Instead, they start with degree-specific material, which ultimately expedites the graduation process.

Part-time students

Even though the distance format usually features asynchronous courses, online classes aren’t any easier than traditional programs. Online nursing programs are rigorous, and to graduate, you must be motivated and have sufficient time to dedicate to your studies. If you want to start pursuing a nursing degree, but don’t have the time to commit to a full-time program, you can still pursue your BSN part-time. In a part-time program, you’ll take only or two classes per term, allowing you to work towards your BSN at a more manageable pace.


If you’re not sure whether you want to pursue a nursing degree, that’s ok: for many prospective students, it’s helpful to get some experience before making any big decisions. You could volunteer at a hospital or local healthcare facility, or go to a nursing camp to get a better idea of the environment you’d be working in. You can also take a look at some of the testimonials and career resources we have here on our site.

If you do decide to pursue nursing, it’s important to find the right program for you. Check out our brief degree descriptions below, and then explore our in-depth nursing degree pages for more information.

No Degree

  • Certification: LPN (licensed professional nurse)
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Description: An introductory position in nursing, LPNs don’t need to hold a degree, but they must pass the NCLEX-PN exam before they can work; in order to take the test, you have to take a year-long, state-approved training program. On the job, LPN’s help RN’s by measuring a patient’s vital signs, communicating with patients, and ensuring their comfort. In many cases, an LPN will eventually return to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree once they’ve determined which branch of nursing they want to work in full-time.

Undergraduate Degree

  • Certification: Associate (ADN)
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Description: Two-year programs that prepare students for introductory positions in the field, or to transfer to a four-year school for a BSN. ADN programs provide students with an introduction to the field, and cover general nursing principles and material.

 

  • Certification: Bachelor’s (BSN)
  • Prerequisites: None
  • Description: A BSN program is a four-year degree. Here, students will pursue a degree in a nursing speciality, such as gerontology, surgical, dental, or many more.

Graduate Degree

  • Certification: Master’s (MSN)
  • Prerequisites: BSN
  • Description: MSN curriculums provide students an opportunity to dive deeper into their choice of subject material. The curriculum is largely research-based, and students are often tasked with completing a thesis, or a project that requires comparable research. For MSN-holders who are interested in working in academia, or in an executive role in private practice, a doctorate degree in the field may also be appropriate.

How to get a nursing degree

What type of nurse do you want to be?

There are a number of factors to weigh when making this decision that will affect the nursing degree you should and can pursue. Consider the following:

  • Where do you want to work?
  • What is the minimum salary you need?
  • What type of patients do you want to work with?
  • How long are you willing to spend in school?

Again: the type of nursing you want to practice will largely determine the nursing degree you pursue. However, it is important to remember you do not have to complete all of your education at once. You can get an ADN or BSN nursing degree and then enter the workforce for several years to try out a couple different specialities.

Job titles and responsibilities change depending on the population you want to work with, the amount of school you want, your future salary expectations, and several other factors. To give you an idea about possible careers in the field, we built the following table to describe a few of the more popular positions in nursing.

Career Title Minimum Nursing Degree Required Work Settings Average Salary
Registered Nurse ADN Hospitals and clinics $57,077
School Nurse ADN Schools $40,146
Nurse Practitioner MSN Hospitals and clinics $85,522
Travel Nurse ADN Variable $63,039
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner ADN Variable $56,407
Nurse Anesthetist MSN Hospitals & clinics $133,115
Nurse Educator BSN Universities $73,150
Obstetrics and Gynecology Nurse BSN Hospitals & clinics $60,000
Certified Nursing Assistant Diploma or Certificate Hospitals & clinics $25,710
Flight Nurse BSN Helicopters and planes $61,752

Compare Programs

Once you have an idea of what type of nursing you would like to pursue, you can refer to our nursing career pages to determine the minimum nursing degree you will need. At this point, you should start comparing various nursing degree programs. Take into account:

  • Tuition
  • Online, campus, or hybrid
  • Clinical requirements

As you start looking at nursing programs, you’ll notice something pretty quickly: they’re all very different! Various schools offer different classes, nursing specialties, and clinical requirements — and that’s just with respect to the curriculum. You’ll also find that schools offer very different start dates, tuition rates, application materials, etc. If you’re not prepared to evaluate a variety of factors across programs, choosing a school can be quite intimidating.

Fortunately, there’s a way to make it easier. You can try creating a filterable spreadsheet of your target schools that tracks your most important criteria. Naturally, the inputs will vary from person to person: some people may have strict tuition caps, while others will only be interested in programs offered entirely online. Regardless of your criteria, a filterable spreadsheet will help you easily compare your target schools, and make choosing a program that much more manageable. Ultimately, there are dozens of programs that could potentially suit your academic and career ambitions, and it’s important for you to have a system to help you compare your choices. Here is a sample of what your spreadsheet may look like:

Program School Tuition Online? Specialties Pros Cons
Bachelor of Science in Nursing Seattle University $58,434 No International Clinical Opportunities Local, 8:1 student to faculty ratio Expensive
RN to BSN SNHU $38,400 Yes General Nursing Scheduling flexibility, cheaper Not local

As you’re searching for the right schools, you’ll undoubtedly find a number of online programs that satisfy most of your criteria. Online nursing programs have become increasingly popular throughout the past decade: the asynchronous format allows students to study at their convenience and to work full-time while they complete their degree. Whether you’re pursuing an ADN, BSN, MSN, or any other credential, you’ll be able to prepare for the rewarding career of your dreams in an online program. Online BSN and ADN programs are slightly more common than graduate programs, but with a little searching, you should be able to find a variety of schools catering to your academic interests. If you have any other questions about online programs — how to find them, how employers view them, etc. — feel free to consult our page on this topic.

Apply and Enroll

Now that you’ve narrowed the number of schools under your purview, it’s time to start applying. Select at least three schools you would like to attend and send out applications. It is important to make sure you meet the minimum requirements to apply to a school’s nursing degree program, otherwise you will be wasting an application fee.

Once you receive your acceptance letters, you need to weigh some final options. The most important factor will likely be funding; do any of your schools offer tuition discounts or awards?

Study

Getting accepted to and enrolling in a nursing degree program is a fantastic victory. However, you’re just getting started. Nurses are in need, but the top jobs are highly competitive. Studying to achieve the best grades will not only help you graduate with your nursing degree, but it will make a huge difference when applying for jobs.

Network

School is one of the best opportunities you have to make professional connections with peers and mentors. As a part of your nursing degree, you’ll likely be completing on-site clinicals. Use this opportunity to network with the people who work there.

Professors are often connected to many area hospitals, and leaving a good impression on them can help you significantly when it comes to finding a job.

A strong peer network can provide support after graduation and also help alert you to job opportunities you would not have found on your own.

You should also be searching for and talking to potential employers while you are in school. This will give you a huge advantage after you get your nursing degree.

Graduate

Congratulations! Graduating with a your nursing degree is a huge success. It takes time, effort and dedication. If you followed this brief guide, you should be equipped with everything necessary to leave school with your nursing degree and make a positive difference in the nursing community!

Continuing Education

In the world of healthcare, there is always more to learn. Nursing degrees aren’t the only education requirements; you’ll likely have to complete continuing education courses.

Stay on the lookout for more opportunities to increase your nursing knowledge and move into different specialities.