BSN Degree vs RN Differences

Are you interested in a career in registered nursing? Then you should know that there are several paths to becoming an RN. It basically comes down to deciding between earning an RN diploma or associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) in about 2 or 3 year’s time, or a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Let’s take a closer look at the options so you can better decide how you want to start your nursing career.

Nursejournal made this video to help explain the different routes to becoming a nurse. Watch now!

Education Requirements

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Earning your RN through a diploma or associate’s degree program is usually a one or two year process. Getting your BSN straight out of high school will take four years. The advantage to earning your RN with a diploma program is that it does not take as much time as a BSN. Once you pass your NCLEX exam, you can then start to work as a nurse. This allows you to gain nursing experience faster. This could be a big benefit for you, if you want to see if nursing is the right career for you, before committing to a BSN program.

Many nurses choose not to earn their BSN right out of high school. However, in many cases, even nurses that start out with an ADN or diploma decide it will greatly benefit their career if they earn their BSN eventually. The good news is that you can earn your BSN after getting your RN diploma or associate’s, often in as little as just two years. These days, there are many RN to BSN degree programs available, and many of them are online.

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*Source: (analysis of nurse job postings, 4/25/2013-7/21/2013)

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Different Job Types

Whether you earn a BSN, ADN or diploma in nursing, you will be involved in direct patient care, but the type of work you do will depend upon your education level.

People with an RN designation will do simple nursing care, such as recording patient symptoms, working with simple medical equipment, educating patients on diseases and illnesses, and working in close consultation with doctors and other nurses.

If you earn your BSN, you will have many more options, some of which will come with more responsibility, but with that comes higher pay. People with a BSN can choose to be a nurse educator, a public health nurse, or to specialize in specific age groups or disease types. A BSN is required to even be considered for a nurse educator position.

A BSN is also a stepping-stone to more advanced nursing roles, including nurse practitioner, nurse midwife or clinical nurse leader. All of those jobs require you to earn your master of science in nursing, or MSN, and holding a BSN first makes this process easier.

Job and Salary Potential

The field of nursing is booming, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that the number of jobs is expected to grow at a brisk 16% from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than average. According to the BLS, there are 2,751,000 licensed RNs in the US today, while 3,190,300 are expected to be in practice by 2024.

The Bureau also reports that the national median salary for RNs at all degree levels was $68,450 as of 2016.

A recent study of 187,000* nursing job ads posted over a 90-day period found that education requirements for the jobs broke down as follows:

  • Diploma or associate’s degree – 51%
  • Bachelor’s degree – 37%
  • Graduate degree – 23%
  • High school – 6%

These stats show that an RN with an ADN or diploma is eligible for 51% of these jobs, while candidates that hold a BSN are going to be eligible for 88%.

And along with better job opportunities also comes better pay. shows the additional earning power that comes with earning a BSN when compared to RNs with an ADN. When entering the field, both ADN and BSN-educated RNs start off at about the same level, earning a median salary just shy of $60,000. But within a few years, the difference in earning potential begins to become very clear. With between 1-4 years experience, the median salary for RNs with an ADN is $61,360:

By comparison, BSNs with the same level of experience earn $8,337 more, with a median salary of $69,697:

When looking at the earning potential for BSNs based on job type and level or responsibility, the differences become even sharper, with BSN clinical supervisors earning a median salary of $70,787 and clinical managers earning $80,418:


Evidence Shows That Nurses With a BSN Give Better Care

For the last 10 years, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been conducting research that shows that higher education does make a difference in the quality of clinical practice. The studies show that patients in the care of nurses with a BSN have better outcomes, including lower rates of mortality.

Also, research shows that nurses who have a BSN are more proficient in making diagnoses and evaluating the results of interventions.

Another Good Reason to Earn Your BSN – It May Be a Requirement in 2020

If you are debating whether an ADN is the best pre-licensure degree as you prepare to become an RN, or if earning a BSN is the better choice, consider the following:

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently released a report recommending that the number of nurses with a BSN increase from 50% to 80% by 2020.

According to the AACN, many hospitals and other medical facilities are following the IOM guidelines and strongly encouraging ADN-prepared RNs to earn their BSN within five years of graduation.

Bottom Line

Earning your RN diploma or ADN is a great start to your nursing career. You can graduate quickly, plus it allows you to start earning money and getting nursing experience right away. This is a good way for you to try out the career and find out if there is a particular area of nursing you would like to devote your career to before you commit to a BSN program.

However, your career and salary options will be limited with only an RN diploma or ADN. And keep in mind that the trend is definitely moving toward the BSN as the standard pre-licensure degree, and in the coming years it may very well be required.

To meet future health management requirements, recent research and public policy recommendations strongly stress the need for more highly educated nurses, with the Institute of Medicine recommending that 80% of all nurses hold a BSN by 2020.