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Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Overview

NurseJournal Staff
Updated July 24, 2023
Earning an associate degree in nursing qualifies you to become a registered nurse. Learn what an ADN can do for you and your goals today.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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Average Program Length
2 years

Average Credits Required
60-75 credits

Average Annual Salary

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) prepares you to become a registered nurse (RN) in just two years. Demand for RNs is at an all-time high, and nursing salaries reflect this demand. This guide explores opportunities available to RNs, what kind of a salary you can expect, and how to earn an ADN.

Keep reading for more information on what an associate degree in nursing can do for you.

Opportunities With an ADN

Many nurses start by earning an ADN because of its value and flexibility. An ADN lets you become an RN after just two years, so it can be ideal for career changers, those who need to start earning as soon as possible, or those who are not positive that they want to commit to a nursing career.

If you choose to advance your career, you can apply your credits and work experience to earn a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). To become an advanced practice registered nurse, you would need to complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) after earning a BSN.

  1. 1

    Explore the Nursing Field

    See if a nursing career fits your goals and temperaments without committing to a four-year program.
  2. 2

    Credit Transfer

    Credits from an ADN can transfer to a four-year college to obtain a BSN.
  3. 3

    Become an RN

    Earning an ADN provides the necessary credentials and prepares students to take the NCLEX-RN.
  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Graduates hold skills in critical thinking, communication, and organization.

Featured Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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Featured ADN Specialties

An ADN program offers learners one of the fastest paths to becoming an RN. On this page, find admission requirements, earning potential, and much more.

Registered Nurse

RNs lead teams of nurses to care for patients in clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. They work the day or night shift to monitor and treat caseloads of patients, including infants, adults, and the elderly. In 16 states, RNs also prescribe medications.


Job Outlook
9% increase from 2020-2030


OBGYN nurses provide medical services to women and infants. Under the direction of obstetricians and gynecologists, they deliver care in clinics, private doctors’ offices, and hospitals. They may focus on helping women in various stages of reproduction, including pregnancy, labor, or postpartum.


Job Outlook
9% increase from 2020-2030

Emergency Room Nurse

Emergency room nurses play a vital role in emergency departments. They provide care to patients experiencing medical emergencies and perform triage, determining which cases are true emergencies and need immediate care.


Job Outlook
9% increase from 2020-2030

Neonatal Nurse

Neonatal nurses administer care to sick or critically ill infants in the ICU or neonatal intensive care unit. The job includes working with pediatricians and nursing staff, while also providing instructions to parents. Most hold years of experience as RNs and neonatal nursing certificates.


Job Outlook
9% increase from 2020-2030

How Much Will I Make With an Associate Degree in Nursing?

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate RNs with a bachelor’s degree from those with an associate degree in nursing, it reports a median annual salary of $77,600 for all RNs. The lowest-paid 10% of RNs earned $59,450 or less as of May 2021, and the highest 10% earned $120,250 or more. Factors affecting salaries include local cost of living and demand, certifications and education, and experience.

COVID-19 drove high levels of nurse burnout, causing many nurses to leave their positions. Some even left healthcare entirely. This combined with the aging U.S. population should keep demand strong. In fact, the BLS projects 9% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for RNs.

Annual Salary
Source: Payscale, July 2022

Monthly Salary
Source: Payscale, July 2022

Hourly Salary
Source: Payscale, July 2022

How to Get an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Most ADN students attend public community college programs. Program requirements vary, but most require a high school diploma or GED certificate, an application, and an official transcript. Many require passing grades in math, science, and English courses. Some may require standardized test scores, such as the ACT and SAT. While not all associate degree in nursing programs have a GPA requirement, applicants with a 2.0 or higher are more likely to be admitted.

Once you graduate with your ADN, you must take the NCLEX-RN to apply for a state nursing license. The NCLEX-RN is a standardized multi-hour test covering nursing practice, including specific nursing skills, communications, and legal and ethical aspects of nursing.

Only graduates of accredited programs are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN and become nurses.

Admission Requirements for an ADN Program

Admission requirements for two-year ADN programs vary by school. However, applicants must typically submit:

  • A high school diploma or GED certificate
  • Proof of completing high school coursework in math, biology, chemistry, English, world languages, and humanities
  • Official transcripts
  • A high school GPA of 2.0 or higher
  • ACT scores (18 in English, 19 in math) and SAT scores (450 in English, 460 in math)
  • An application and supplemental materials, including a resume, recommendation letters, and a personal essay outlining reasons for pursuing an ADN. Candidates may also need to describe their career goals, along with any applicable training, such as CPR, first aid, and volunteer or work experience

Core Concepts of an ADN Program

The associate degree in nursing explores nursing safely, ethically, and legally. Coursework covers foundations, such as how healthcare works; safety, ethical, and legal concerns; and patient-centered care. Students learn practical skills, such as running tests, taking vitals, and administering medical treatments; nursing practices like infection and injury prevention; organizational skills like updating healthcare records, communication, and collaboration; and skills for caring for different types of patients, including pediatric, maternity, and geriatric populations.

Clinical and Lab Components in an ADN Program

In addition to coursework, the ADN curriculum includes simulation labs and on-site clinical rotations.

  • Simulation labs allow students to practice skills in a controlled, safe environment.
  • In clinical rotations, students learn to care for patients under the direction of a staff nurse and assigned clinical instructor. Students learn, under supervision, to care for a small number of patients.
  • Accredited ADN programs typically include 500 hours of clinical experiences and meet state licensure and national accreditation requirements

What to Expect From an Online ADN Program

Distance learners receive the same training as their on-campus counterparts. While coursework is delivered online, clinical hours must be completed in person at a healthcare facility near the student’s home. However, during the current pandemic, some programs may offer virtual clinical experiences.

Online courses fall into two categories: asynchronous, which includes pre-recorded lectures students can access on their own schedules, and synchronous, which simulates the traditional classroom experience through a live feed or similar format. Remote learners need a reliable internet connection and a computer. Programs offer tech support and services, such as advising, counseling, and tutoring, online or by phone.

Should I Get an ADN or BSN?

An associate degree in nursing and a bachelor’s degree in nursing both prepare graduates to take the NCLEX-RN. However, due to the more extensive education and practice requirements involved in bachelor’s programs, graduates with a BSN typically enjoy more responsibility and higher pay than ADN-holders.

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

Advantages to an ADN

  • check-circleProvides necessary credential to become an RN
  • check-circleAllows candidates to explore the field without committing to a four-year program
  • check-circleCredits can potentially transfer to another four-year degree

Disadvantages to an ADN

  • x-circleThere are better options for individuals committed to a nursing career
  • x-circleLess competitive in the job market
  • x-circleDoes not provide the necessary training to pursue a speciality

Explore ADN Programs

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.