Types of Nursing Degree Programs

by Brittney Wilson BSN, RN, NurseJournal.org   

What are the different types of nursing degrees offered today? There are some career paths that are very clear cut in terms of their education. But with nursing, there are many educational paths that you can take, whether you are interested in becoming an LPN, an RN, a nurse practitioner or another type of advanced practice nurse. It all depends upon what your career goals are, how much money you want to make, and what exactly you want to do in your nursing work.

Generally speaking, there are three basic pathways to become a nurse:

  • A two or three year diploma program, which allows you to become an RN at a lower level than an RN with a full bachelor’s degree.

  • A two year associate’s degree, which also provides the RN designation at a lower than bachelor’s degree level.

  • A four year Bachelor of Science degree that results in an RN designation.

The highest number of nurses currently graduate from associate degree programs, followed by bachelor’s degree programs, and then diploma programs.

Types of Nursing Degrees

Multiple Certifications

There also are many different certifications that you can earn with more education after you become an RN, including nurse practitioner (NP), licensed practical nurse (LPN), clinical nurse leader, certified nurse anesthetist and many more. You also can choose a bridge program, which can allow, for example, an LPN, to earn both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously. This will take you considerably less time than if you got both degrees separately.

The good news in nursing education is that you can begin at a relatively entry level, such as with an associates degree or diploma. This is enough education to get your foot in the door, and to get some nursing experience. Then, you can go back to school to earn your bachelor’s degree or master of science degree if you choose.

If you just want to become a nurse to help people and to just get your career started, we recommend that you earn your LPN or RN diploma. These entry level designations will allow you to gain the experience and education you need to go back eventually and earn your bachelor’s or higher degree.

Below are more details about the various levels of nursing degrees.

Entry Level

One of the best ways to get into a nursing career is to earn a diploma or an associate’s degree in nursing. Earning one of these take from one to two years, and you then are able to enter the field of nursing at an entry level. This allows you to gain valuable work experience, so that you can eventually earn a higher degree to boost your career potential. After you earn this entry level degree, you then can earn a higher degree. You also can choose to enter a bridge program, where you can earn your BSN and MSN simultaneously in less time than if you took both programs separately.

  • Diploma in Nursing

  • Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ASN)

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)


If you want to earn more money and have more responsibility in your nursing career, you eventually will need to earn your Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, or BSN. This is a four year degree that combines learning in the classroom with clinical training. There are some BSNs available that allow you to earn your degree in less time if you already are an experienced RN with an associate’s degree or a diploma.

  • Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)

  • LPN to BSN (LPN can earn bachelor’s in four semesters)

  • RN to BSN (Associate’s holder can earn bachelor’s)


For the nurse who wants to really increase her earning and career potential, the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a great option. Earning your MSN is mandatory for you to work in advanced nursing practice as a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse specialist. Some MSN programs also have a specialized track or focus in many types of specialties, such as oncology or pediatrics.

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

  • Direct Entry MSN (for non-nurses with bachelor’s in another field)

  • RN to MSN (for RNs with an associate’s degree)

  • MSN – Nurse Practitioner (NP)

  • MSN – Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

  • MSN – Clinical Nurse Leader

  • MSN – Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)

  • MSN – Certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA)


The highest level of nursing degree that you can earn is a doctor of nursing practice, or DNP. You need to have a bachelor’s degree at least to enter a DNP program. You also usually already have your MSN in this program, but there are some DNP programs that allow you to earn your MSN and DNP at the same time. If you want to teach nursing in a university or conduct extensive research, the DNP may be for you.

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

About the Author

Brittney Wilson BSN, RN
Brittney Wilson BSN, RN /

Brittney Wilson, BSN, RN, also known as The Nerdy Nurse, is a Clinical Informatics Specialist practicing in Georgia. In her day job she gets to do what she loves every day: Combine technology and healthcare to improve patient outcomes. She joined NurseJournal.org to help connect with other nurses in Informatics and educate those considering the field for the first time. Connect with me on Google+

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