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). View article »

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  • 0:04 ASN and BSN Degree Overviews
  • 0:48 Program Coursework
  • 1:35 Licensure Exam
  • 2:15 Career and CE Options

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Video Transcript

ASN and BSN Degree Overviews

Students interested in a career in the nursing field can work as a registered nurse with an associate's degree in nursing or go on to earn a bachelor's degree at a four-year university or college. The following gives an overview of each degree program.

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

Students earn a Bachelor or Science in Nursing (BSN) at a 4-year college or university. Accelerated programs are available for those seeking a 3-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

Licensure Exam

Students successfully completing either program are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, or NCLEX-RN. The purpose of this examination is to determine if the candidate has the necessary skills to safely begin practicing as an entry-level nurse. This computerized exam consists of a maximum of 265 questions (mostly multiple-choice), and the number of questions a candidate will need to answer depends on how well they're doing. At minimum they'll need to answer 75 questions. Candidates have a maximum of six hours to complete the exam.

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Career and CE Options

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.

Because of the demand for highly skilled nurses, many schools have added an RN-to-BSN option to their nursing programs. These accelerated programs are designed for practicing RNs with an ASN who want to continue their education to the 4-year level. Many are offered partially or completely online so nurses can continue to work full-time while pursing their degree. Timelines for completion vary, but many programs can be completed in as little as one year if the student studies full-time. Part-time options are also available, with some schools allowing students to take as little as one class per semester with no deadline for completion of the program.

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.

Graduating nursing students in either an associate's or bachelor's degree program in nursing are qualified for an entry-level position as a registered nurse upon passing state licensing requirements. Those completing a bachelor's degree have a more highly specialized curriculum, which may allow them to advance more quickly into a management position.

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