LPN Certificates vs. Nursing Associate Degrees: How Do They Differ?

by NurseJournal Staff
• 6 min read
Reviewed by Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Are you interested in becoming an LPN or getting your nursing associate degree? Then, read on to check out the differences between LPNs and RNs.

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LPN Certificates vs. Nursing Associate Degrees: How Do They Differ?

Students considering a nursing career often pursue a bachelor's degree in the discipline. However, the field offers multiple opportunities that do not require a four-year commitment, allowing graduates to begin earning a living and acquiring professional experience. For instance, a licensed practical nursing (LPN) certificate only requires about a year of study, while an associate degree in nursing (ADN) requires two years of study.

However, while LPN programs prepare students to become a licensed practical nurse, ADN programs lead to becoming a registered nurse (RN). LPNs assist RNs and physicians. Responsibilities for LPNs include collecting samples, taking vital signs, providing patient care, and reporting patient statuses to RNs. LPNs often work in long-term care facilities, hospitals, or physicians' offices. These professionals earn a median salary of $48,820. Prospective LPNs must graduate from a certificate program and pass the licensing exam for LPNs.

Students who earn an ADN qualify to take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN), which allows graduates to become licensed RNs. ADN holders examine patients' medical records, track symptoms, administer medication, and collaborate with patients' healthcare teams. These professionals typically work in hospitals and earn $71,560 on average. Graduates often go on to earn their bachelor's degree.

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Advantages to Earning an LPN Certificate or ADN

The demand for nursing professionals continues to grow, creating diverse opportunities for candidates who earn either an LPN or ADN. Each of these career paths offer different advantages. Prospective nurses should consider their professional goals to determine which is right for them.

For example, students with financial obligations or families may choose to earn an LPN since it is the quickest way to enter the field and begin earning a living. In contrast, learners seeking higher wages and advanced roles may want to consider ADN programs, which lead to RN licensure. The following lists explore some advantages to each educational path.

LPN Certificate Advantages

  • An LPN certificate requires only one year of study.
  • This role offers scheduling flexibility.
  • Graduates qualify for fast-tracked LPN-to-RN programs, which last about three years.

ADN Advantages

  • An ADN is the quickest way to become an RN.
  • Many ADN-to-bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs are only nine months long.
  • ADN holders earn more than LPNs and qualify for more opportunities.

Education Differences Between an LPN Certificate and ADN

There are many differences between LPN programs and RN degrees at the associate level. LPN programs require about one year of full-time study. Candidates can find courses at local community colleges, hospitals, or high schools. These programs qualify graduates to take the National Council Licensure Examination for LPNs (NCLEX-PN) exam.

LPN curricula instill entry-level nursing concepts that qualify graduates to work under RNs. LPN programs also typically cost between $10,000-$15,000. While ADN programs require a two-year time commitment, the curriculum includes many of the same courses students take when earning a BSN. In fact, individuals who go on to earn a BSN typically need to focus only on liberal arts coursework.

Community colleges generally offer ADN programs, which often cost up to $20,000. Graduates qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam. These RNs work directly under physicians in hospitals, outpatient care centers, and ambulatory healthcare services.

Program Information LPN Certificate ADN
Institutions Where They Are Provided Community colleges, hospitals, and high schools Community colleges
Program Length One year Two years
Curriculum Entry-level nursing care Comprehensive nursing knowledge and skills
Cost $10,000-$15,000 on average Up to $20,000 on average

Licensure Differences Between an LPN and RN

Candidates should explore their state's requirements to obtain an LPN license versus an RN license to determine which best suits their professional journey. Typically, LPNs may only practice limited patient care tasks. They cannot work in emergency or critical care settings, and they must work under an RN's supervision.

LPNs planning to take the NCLEX-RN must enroll in an LPN-to-RN bridge program if they wish to qualify for the exam. ADN programs lead to the NCLEX-RN exam, which qualifies professionals to manage the same tasks as RNs who are BSN holders.

Career Differences Between an LPN Certificate and ADN

An LPN certificate lets graduates assist RNs with patient care. Duties include monitoring patients, changing bandages, hygienic procedures, and reporting patients' statuses to RNs. LPNs can insert IVs, but they cannot give IV push medications or oversee a blood transfusion. In contrast, RNs can perform these tasks. Some states require additional IV certification for LPNs. Individuals considering an LPN certificate should consider their state's regulations, as LPN privileges vary from state to state.

Most LPNs work in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, hospitals, and physicians' offices. In some states, unlicensed medical staff may report to LPNs, while LPNs report to RNs. While ADN holders often become RNs who provide patient care, RNs also coordinate patient care, assess conditions, manage medical histories, administer medicine and treatments, and collaborate with doctors and patients' healthcare teams.

RNs typically work under a physician as part of a team. They may manage LPNs or certified nursing assistants. Most RNs work in hospitals or for ambulatory healthcare services, nursing facilities, and the government.

Differences in Salary and Career Outlook With an LPN Certificate vs. ADN

The demand for medical professionals across most fields continues to expand. In fact, LPN responsibilities are increasing as RNs take on more responsibilities, relieving physicians from lower-level duties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects a 9% increase in job outlook through 2029 for LPNs, who, as mentioned earlier, earn a median annual salary of $48,820.

LPNs can advance their career by returning to school and enrolling in LPN-to-RN bridge programs, which allow students to earn their degree in as few as 16 months. While these programs allow LPNs to expand their career opportunities, graduates do not qualify for the same leadership opportunities as RNs who are BSN holders.

Students who earn an ADN qualify for RN licensure. The demand for RNs is growing as these professionals assume responsibility for select physician duties. BLS data projects a 7% increase in job outlook through 2029 and an average median salary of $75,330. ADN holders seeking advancement opportunities can enroll in ADN-to-BSN bridge programs.

Questions About LPN Cartificates Vs ADN Degrees

Is becoming an LPN before becoming an RN worth it? Graduates who earn an LPN certificate can begin working in the field and acquire professional experience in under a year, while ADNs need two years before qualifying to take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. RNs, though, enjoy more job opportunities and earn higher salaries.
What is the difference between an RN with an ADN versus a BSN? Both an ADN and a BSN qualify graduates to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed RNs. However, professionals with a BSN qualify for more positions, including management roles. Unlike an ADN program, a BSN curriculum includes liberal arts coursework and general education requirements. ADNs focus on fundamental nursing knowledge and skills.
What can an RN do that an LPN cannot? Additional training and licensure allows RNs to perform more tasks than LPNs. In emergency situations, RNs can administer medications and perform procedures such as basic life support and advanced cardiac life support. RNs can also manage LPNs and medical staff members who do not hold a license to practice.
How long does it take to earn an LPN certificate versus an ADN? Full-time students can earn an LPN certificate in under a year. Learners who wish to earn an ADN can earn their degree in two years of full-time attendance. Individuals planning to study part time may need to double the anticipated program length.
What is the difference between LPNs and RNs? LPNs are practical nurses whose duties include basic nursing care that pertains to patient comfort rather than directly impacting health. Practical nursing may include monitoring patients by checking blood pressure and inserting catheters. RNs are registered nurses who manage patient care by assessing conditions, administering medication, collaborating with patients' healthcare teams, and performing diagnostic tests.

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.


Feature Image: FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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