ADN Guide | Nursing Associates Degree

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects nursing positions to grow 15% by 2026, due in part to an aging population and a healthcare shift from acute care to chronic illness management.

The path to a career in nursing can take many forms, but an associate degree in nursing (ADN) offers one of the first steps and most direct routes. ADN graduates can pursue nursing licensure, entry-level healthcare positions, and further education. The following information covers the ADN in detail, including curricula, potential jobs and salaries for graduates, and continuing education opportunities.

What is an Associate Degree in Nursing?

An associate degree is the step between a high school diploma and bachelor's degree. There is a difference between ASN and ADN degrees; an associate degree in nursing may refer to several different two-year degrees:

  • Associate of Nursing (AN)
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN)

All of these degrees provide a relatively quick and inexpensive path to qualifying for the NCLEX-RN and entering the nursing workforce.

Why Should You Earn Your ADN?

While program lengths vary by school, an ADN program typically takes two years to complete and prepares graduates to take the NCLEX-RN. In addition to hospitals, ADN graduates can take positions in other settings, such as government agencies, educational institutions, and other healthcare settings.

How Much Will You Make With an ADN?


What Can I Do With an Associate Degree in Nursing?

ADN graduates benefit from a strong professional outlook as registered nurses. General nurses earn an average of $63,799 per year, but graduates may also pursue specializations and potentially earn higher salaries. The following table highlights some of the most popular specializations for graduates, including career descriptions and salary expectations.

Career Available with an ADN Career Unavailable with an ADN

Nursing CareerADN +Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Neonatal nurses work with newborn babies with illnesses and babies born prematurely. They work in the intensive care unit, monitoring and providing care to patients. They also educate parents and families on their child's condition and care. These nurses need strong observation and communication skills.

Average Salary: $61,540

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; BSN recommended

Alternative BSN Route

Nursing CareerADN +Labor and Delivery Nurse

Labor and delivery nurses typically work in maternity care units, providing support for mothers before, during, and after childbirth. These nurses monitor patient progress and offer advice and medical support. Labor nurses need strong communication skills and compassion, plus knowledge of the birthing process and parenting.

Average Salary: $61,130

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; but a BSN is recommended because of higher salary and better job outlook

Alternative BSN Route | Become a Registered Nurse

Nursing CareerADN +Travel Nurse

Travel nurses often work on short-term contracts, taking assignments at various healthcare sites. The type of work varies by assignment, but travel nurses typically possess a diverse and flexible skill set to accommodate a variety of contracts.

Average Salary: $65,403

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; certifications in specialty area recommended

Become a Travel Nurse

Nursing CareerADN +Emergency Room Nurse

These nurses work in emergency rooms providing care to injured and sick patients. They may perform triage services or deliver direct care to patients. These nurses need compassion, patience, and a strong bedside manner.

Average Salary: $64,576

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; but a BSN is recommended because of higher salary and better job outlook

Alternative BSN Route | Become a Registered Nurse

Nursing CareerADN +Operating Room RN

These nurses work in operating rooms, providing care to patients before, during, and after surgery. They may work as assistants, scrub nurses, or circulating nurses. Operating room nurses boast critical-thinking and adaptive skills, along with the emotional fortitude to deal with traumatic situations.

Average Salary: $68,433

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; but a BSN is recommended because of higher salary and better job outlook

Become a Nurse Practitioner

Source: PayScale

*Key: ADN = Associate Degree in Nursing; BSN = Bachelor of Science in Nursing; MSN = Master of Science in Nursing; DNP = Doctorate of Nursing Practice

Need to Know: ADN vs BSN

Both an associate degree in nursing and a bachelor's degree in nursing prepare graduates to take the NCLEX-RN. However, due to the more extensive education and practice requirements of bachelor's programs, graduates with a BSN typically enjoy more responsibility and higher pay than ADN graduates.

Associate Degree in Nursing

  • Average Salary: $67,000
  • Short length to completion
  • Quick career entry
  • Affordable

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

  • Average Salary: $80,000
  • High demand
  • Greater time and money investment
  • Higher responsibility and salary

While a BSN typically takes longer to complete than an ADN, there are many RN-to-BSN bridge programs that allow bachelor's students to expedite graduation.

Advantages to an Associates Degree in Nursing

  • Provides entry level requirement to become an RN
  • Allows you to try the field without committing to a 4 year program
  • Credits can transfer to another 4 year degree if you want to change paths

Disadvantages to an Associates Degree in Nursing

  • There are better options if you are sure you want to be a nurse
  • Less competitive compared to more educated candidates
  • Does not provide the necessary training to pursue a speciality


Sheila Rae holds an associate degree in nursing and works at a nursing home in Walnut Creek, California. She is currently pursuing an RN and planning to take the NCLEX soon. Sheila is also a junior writer at In her free time, she likes to travel and taste the many gastronomic delights the world has to offer.

Why did you choose to pursue an associate degree in nursing? Was this a field that always interested you?

I have always been interested in pursuing a career in nursing. However, my initial goal was to obtain a BSN degree. Unfortunately, I had to rearrange my plans because of life circumstances and the limitations in my finances.

What are some of the most crucial skills you gained in your program? How do these skills apply to your day-to-day work?

The most crucial skills I learned in my program were the basics: bedside manner, safe patient handling, emergency care, and patient hygiene and personal care. Since I work in a nursing home, these skills are vital to my day-to-day work.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of a career in nursing?

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career is when I see my patients well and happy. I love the feeling of fulfillment I get when an ailing patient is entrusted to me and I am able to nurse him/her back to health.

What are some of the greatest challenges you face in nursing?

Working as a nurse in a nursing home is not easy. While one of the things we learned in school is how important it is to not get attached to our patients or let our emotions get the best of us, it's unavoidable when you're already in a real-life setting.

What advice would you give to students considering earning an associate degree in nursing?

One piece of advice I would give students considering pursuing a career as an ADN is to prepare themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally. While it isn't a four-year course, it is by no means an easy route to a career in nursing. You need to devote your time to studying hard and learning all you can in the two-year program.

What To Expect From an ADN Program

Typical ADN Requirements

While the requirements and prerequisites for an ADN program vary by school and student, the following list outlines common application requirements.

  • High school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA
  • High school prerequisite science courses
  • Satisfactory SAT or ACT scores
  • Clean criminal background check
  • Community service experience

How Long Does an ADN Take?

The length of an ADN program varies, but the typical program takes students two years to complete. Part-time students may take longer to complete their degrees, whereas some programs — like an LPN-to-RN program or accelerated programs — can take 12-18 months.

Common Coursework

Each program offers a unique curriculum, but typical ADN programs include some version of the following courses:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology In this course, students examine the human body, learning about its different functions and components. Learners also explore the various systems in the body and how diseases can impact them.
  • Application of Nursing Skills This course teaches students how to apply theoretical nursing concepts to a practical setting. Learners gain practical experience in labs or clinical settings to hone their nursing skills.
  • Population Health Learners explore different healthcare concepts that impact the population. They examine elements of public health, social medicine, epidemics, healthcare systems, and healthcare finance.
  • Pathophysiology In this course, learners examine the impact of diseases and disorders on human anatomy and physiology. They also study appropriate treatment methods.

Online Associate Degree in Nursing Program

Many students benefit from online ADN programs, which feature the flexibility to balance work and family responsibilities with school. To learn more about what to expect in an online ADN program, prospective students should visit the Online Nursing Programs page. Before enrolling, students should ensure that the program is accredited and meets all eligibility and licensing requirements.

The following list outlines some accredited online ADN programs that prospective students can explore.

Allegany College of Maryland

At ACM, students can pursue an LPN-to-RN program, which prepares them to take the NCLEX-RN. Learners can complete the degree in less than 18 months. Most of the courses run asynchronously online through 15-week sessions. Students must complete a 700-hour clinical experience at a local, approved site. For admission, applicants need an LPN and a minimum 2.5 GPA. They may also need to complete a placement test. Once admitted, students must complete a nursing bridge course.

Community College of Baltimore County

The ADN hybrid program at CCBC allows learners to complete the didactic components of the program through asynchronous online delivery. Students complete labs and seminars on the Catonsville campus and clinical components at approved locations. For admission, applicants must complete the admission exam and possess a minimum 2.5 GPA in general education and prerequisite courses. The program takes approximately four semesters to finish and qualifies graduates to take the NCLEX-RN.

John A. Logan College

At JALC, aspiring nurses can jumpstart their careers with the hybrid ADN program. This one-year program follows a year-round schedule, allowing students to take courses through the fall, winter, spring, and summer. Online courses feature asynchronous and synchronous elements. Labs and clinical components take place on campus or at affiliated sites. For admission, candidates must possess a high school diploma or GED and a valid LPN license. Applicants must also complete a pre-entrance exam. 

Northwestern Michigan College

The ADN hybrid program at NMC begins in the fall and spring, and students complete all theory classes online. Online classes may run synchronously or asynchronously, and students can complete them from anywhere. Learners must complete the lab and clinical portions on campus or in a Traverse City location. Successful applicants possess strong GPAs and prerequisite coursework.

Pratt Community College

The hybrid paramedic/LPN-to-RN ADN at PCC allows students to complete theory courses asynchronously online. Students complete lab and clinical elements on campus or at an approved location. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED. They must also pass an entrance exam. Candidates also need a valid LPN or paramedic license and must pass prerequisite courses with a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Purdue University

Purdue offers a hybrid ADN, which enables students to complete classes and seminars online. Online courses combine asynchronous and synchronous delivery. Learners complete labs at a campus location and clinical work at an eligible local site. The program runs through 10-week terms and offers four start dates per year. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED for admission. The program qualifies graduates to take the NCLEX-RN.

Rasmussen College

At Rasmussen College, the online professional ADN combines flexible, asynchronous course delivery with interactive online sessions and allows students to complete their degrees in less than 18 months. Learners with an LPN can pursue the 12-18-month bridge program. The program features four start dates per year and graduates qualify to take the NCLEX-RN. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED and must complete an entrance exam. 

Western Iowa Tech Community College

In the hybrid ADN at WITCC, students take classes online and complete labs and clinical requirements on campus or at a local site. Students can complete the program in less than two years and may start in the spring or fall. For admission, candidates need a valid LPN license, a high school diploma or GED, a minimum 2.0 GPA on prerequisite courses, and satisfactory ACT scores.

If you are an accredited, not-for-profit institution that offers an associate degree in nursing online that isn't listed, please contact us with details about your program, a link to your program page, and proof of accreditation.

Salary by Nursing Degree Level


Post-ADN Educational Paths

For graduates without nursing licensure, bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in nursing provide the skills and training needed to take on specialized nursing positions and managerial roles. For graduates with a nursing license, RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN degrees offer streamlined programs that leverage learners' practical experiences while preparing them for advanced roles in the industry. Students should weigh their interests and goals when considering further education to ensure that they align with what each of these degrees typically provides.

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