ADN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

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What's the difference between ADN and BSN degrees? An ADN is an Associate Degree in Nursing, and a BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Comparing an ADN vs. BSN reveals that a BSN prepares you more thoroughly to excel in nursing, as it has a more comprehensive curriculum.

nurses at table looking at tablet

Nursing is an excellent career choice for many reasons. Aside from the favorable job growth rate, lucrative salary potential, and opportunity to help others meaningfully, nurses can choose from various roles and specialties. Nurses come from all backgrounds, and switching to nursing from an entirely different field is easier than you might think.

As you explore your academic options, questions may arise, such as, “What is an ADN?” and “Should I choose an ADN vs. BSN?” Whether you choose an ADN or BSN, you can pursue a career in nursing. However, there are significant differences between ADN and BSN programs, and you’ll want to carefully consider your options before getting started. Here’s a look at your degree options.

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Eager to begin your nursing career? Check out this guide on the seven steps to becoming an RN.

What Is an ADN?

An ADN is an Associate Degree in Nursing. This is the minimum degree requirement needed to sit for the NCLEX-RN, the national licensure exam that all aspiring nurses must pass to obtain a nursing license from their state.

Some aspiring nurses prefer to enroll in an ADN vs. a BSN program because an ADN program is shorter and typically requires less tuition. However, a quicker, less expensive program isn’t necessarily better. ADN-prepared nurses tend to face considerable career limitations.

What Is a BSN?

So, what is a BSN? A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Earning a BSN will qualify you to sit for the NCLEX-RN and pursue nursing licensure like an ADN. However, this program is typically longer and may require more tuition dollars. Although these attributes might seem like drawbacks, a BSN is the preferred nursing degree among employers and nurses, offering better preparation and employment prospects.

nurses with durags and masks looking at clipboard

What can you do with a BSN? Check out the array of career options nurses can choose from.

The Differences Between ADN and BSN Programs

Carefully considering their differences is essential before choosing between an ADN or BSN program. Reflect upon your career goals to determine which better aligns with your needs.

Length of the Programs

One of the main differences between ADN and BSN is the length of time they require. Many aspiring nurses choose an ADN because it’s a quicker path to enter the workforce. Indeed, a typical ADN program takes two years. In contrast, a standard BSN program requires four years to complete.

However, there is an exception to the four-year timeline. Some students may qualify to enroll in an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, such as the one available at Xavier University in Ohio. ABSN programs are designed for students with previous non-nursing college education. Because of this, they can eliminate courses that aren’t nursing-specific, allowing students to graduate in much less time than a traditional BSN program.

Lengths of Accelerated BSN programs can vary, but most allow students to graduate in as few as 16 months, compared to two years needed to complete an ADN program.


It’s also important to consider curriculum when comparing ADN vs. BSN degrees. Because an ADN typically requires only two years, you might expect that the breadth and depth of the curriculum is far less than a BSN program — and you’d be right. ADN programs usually skim the surface of nursing theory, whereas BSN programs offer a far more comprehensive curriculum.

A BSN program combines in-depth nursing theory with extensive skills and simulation labs. This comprehensive approach prepares future nurses to tackle clinical challenges and apply evidence-based research to improve patient outcomes.

nurse studying at table

NCLEX Pass Rates

The NCLEX can be a formidable hurdle for nursing students nearing graduation. It’s a rigorous exam that requires months of preparation. The last thing you want is to have to retake the exam because you didn’t pass the first time. Not only will you have to deal with the stress of retesting, but you’ll also have to wait to enter the nursing workforce.

Another difference between ADN and BSN programs is their graduates’ first-time NCLEX pass rates. For graduates of ADN programs, the NCLEX pass rate is 79%. For BSN-prepared nurses, it’s 83%. BSN programs prepare future nurses more thoroughly, regardless of whether they are accelerated.

Salary Potential

All registered nurses have the potential to earn a good living. Individual salaries vary considerably, depending on the employer, years of experience, nursing specialty, additional certifications, geographic location, and other factors. In general, however, BSN-prepared nurses can expect to earn more than their ADN-prepared counterparts.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for all RNs, as of May 2022, was $81,220.

Employer Preference

Not only can BSN-prepared nurses expect higher earning potential than ADN graduates, but they may also have an easier time finding a job. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has noted a significant shift toward preferring higher proportions of BSN graduates in hospitals over ADN graduates.

The AACN states that many employers, particularly Magnet hospitals, the U.S. military branches, the U.S. Public Health Service, the Veteran’s Administration (VA), and other entities, prefer or require more highly educated nurses. Furthermore, various professional and legislative bodies have strengthened the push toward requiring a baccalaureate as a minimum nursing qualification.

Xavier nurse with stethoscope smiling at camera

Nursing school requires a lot of hard work. Get some tips on preparing for the first semester of nursing school here.

Opportunities for Career Advancement

Yet another compelling reason why a BSN may be a better choice is the potential for career advancement.

BSN-prepared nurses are well-prepared to take on roles in leadership and management. They have the education needed to enter MSN programs and pursue additional nursing leadership and management training or enter a Ph.D. program to enter the field of nursing research. They can even earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) to pursue an advanced degree in education or nursing leadership or become a board-certified advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

ADN vs. BSN: Which Is Right for You?

Is an ADN or BSN right for you? There is a lot to think about. On the one hand, an ADN might allow you to enter the nursing workforce sooner and require less investment. However, a BSN offers incredible career benefits and helps you care for your patients competently.

Xavier nursing student working with sim manikin

Don’t forget that pursuing a BSN doesn’t necessarily mean returning to college for another four years if you already have a non-nursing college degree. Instead, you could graduate in as few as 16 months from an Accelerated BSN program, less time than a typical ADN program.

Earn Your BSN at Xavier University

At Xavier, you can earn your BSN in as few as 16 months if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Our ABSN program is the only one in Ohio to offer three start dates and three enrollment locations, making higher education more convenient and accessible to second-degree students. Our dedicated instructors go above and beyond to support your success from day one.

With online coursework and in-person experiential learning, our ABSN program can help you acquire the nursing skills you need to create favorable patient outcomes.

Contact an admission counselor today to find out if Xavier’s ABSN program could be the right choice for you.