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What Is the Difference Between RN and BSN Degrees?

The main differences between RN and BSN degree programs are the types of programs, the lengths of the program, and career options that follow graduation. Here we discuss what BSN stands for and delve into more details on RN and BSN degree programs. 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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Difference Between RN and BSN

There are multiple degree paths to become a registered nurse (RN). An RN degree (often earned through a diploma or associate's program) and a BSN are two of the most common. Here we break down and discuss each degree option and the differences between them in more detail.

What is an RN Degree?

Students can become an RN by completing a nursing diploma program or an associate's degree program in nursing and then passing the National Council Licensure Examination-RN (NCLEX-RN). Most RN degree programs require prerequisites for admission into the program including a high school diploma and specific coursework.

Associate's degree programs in nursing are typically offered as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degrees. These programs usually take about 2 years to complete and include hands-on clinical work. Students in these programs may take some general education classes and nursing courses in areas such as:

  • Nursing practice
  • Population health
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Nursing skills
  • Health illness concepts

Nursing diploma programs are less common than associate's or bachelor's degree programs in nursing. They are commonly offered through hospitals or other medical facilities. These programs may take as little as 64 weeks to complete and require lab and clinical work in addition to traditional coursework.

What is a BSN Degree?

BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. BSN programs help prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination-RN (NCLEX-RN). These degree programs typically take 4 years to complete, but some may be completed in 3 years, and require more general education courses than an associate's degree. They also include clinical hours and more nursing courses in subjects like:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Ethics
  • Health assessment
  • Nursing care
  • Healthcare policy

BSN programs typically conclude with a capstone and/or practicum experience of some kind. There are also many RN-to-BSN programs for those who already have a diploma or an associate's degree in nursing. These programs usually allow students to earn their BSN in less than 4 years. RN-to-BSN programs are typically popular evening nursing programs for those who work full-time.

BSN vs. RN

Differences RN Degree BSN Degree
Type of Degree Diploma, Associate's, or Bachelor's Bachelor's
Location Hospital, Medical Center, College, or University College or University
Program Length About 2 to 3 Years Typically 4 Years
Post-Graduation Options RN RN, Advanced Degree

Traditionally, a BSN degree program is available at a 4-year institution and takes around 4 years to complete, while the other options for an RN degree (a diploma or an associate's degree program) may be available at additional locations, such as a hospital or community college. Diploma and associate's programs usually take 2 or 3 years to complete.

Another big difference between a BSN and an RN degree is that some positions in hospitals or other locations may require that nurses have a BSN degree. Many nurse practitioner schools also require applicants to hold a BSN before earning their MSN. In short, a BSN usually gives students more career options in the field of nursing.

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