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.

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. Accelerated programs are available for those seeking a three-year degree in order to enter the workforce at a quicker pace.

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. 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 more specialized or higher level coursework, but many similar classes to ASN programs. 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 concepts
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Surgical 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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