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What Is the Difference Between RN and BSN Degrees?

A registered nurse (RN) is a nurse who has passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) after completing an accredited training program. These programs come in the form of an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The degrees differ in the time it takes to complete them and the type of coursework required for graduation.

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ASN and BSN Degree Overviews

Aspiring registered nurses can earn a 2-year associate's degree at a community college or nursing school. ASN programs are generally open to those with a high school diploma or GED.

Students earn a BSN at a 4-year college or university. Applicants to these programs may need to take prerequisite courses in math and science. Some schools may also require previous experience in the health care field. Accelerated programs are available for those seeking a second bachelor's degree or for those who already have an ASN.

Program Coursework

The curriculum of an associate's degree program teaches students basic nursing skills through a combination of classroom theory and hands-on clinical practicums. Students often take general education courses in math, science and English. Depending on the school, program curriculum may also include liberal arts courses for students looking to transfer to a BSN program.

The differences in a bachelor's degree curriculum include additional coursework in statistics, biochemistry and communication. Students must also enroll in additional general education courses. But, like students in an ASN program, bachelor's degree candidates also complete basic nursing coursework and extensive clinical practicums.

Typical coursework found in each program may include the following:

  • Nursing theory
  • Nursing fundamentals
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Surgical nursing
  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Microbiology
  • Mental health nursing

Students successfully completing either program are eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN.

Career and Continuing Education Opportunities

Graduates of either an ASN or BSN program are prepared for entry-level nursing careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs can advance to management positions through work experience, regardless of degree level ( However, the most significant advancement comes through continuing education.

Nurses holding a BSN can go on to earn a master's or doctoral degree in nursing. These graduate programs train students to become advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists or nurse-midwives.

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