Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Want to learn more about getting your ADN? This resource explores the requirements, classes, outcomes and more of getting your Associate's Degree in Nursing.

ADN Degree

Earning an associate's degree in nursing, or ADN, is an quickest route entering the nursing field as a registered nurse or other entry-level nursing positions. Associate's degree programs in nursing can be found at community colleges and other two-year institutions, and will prepare you to meet the educational requirements to become a registered nurse and take the NCLEX-RN exam.

Associate Degree in Nursing Requirements

There are a number of prerequisites to enter ADN programs.

  1. Take the SAT or ACT
  2. Take necessary coursework for your desired ADN program
  3. Get your high school diploma or GED
  4. Take any additional exams required by your desired programs

The first step to take in preparation for enrollment in an ADN program is to take your ACT or SAT exam. Some schools have minimum score requirements, so you'll want to ensure you get the scores necessary to apply to your desired programs. You'll also want to make sure you're taking the necessary math and science coursework in high school. For example, a program may require algebra II, biology, and chemistry. It's also important to note that some schools may have GPA requirements.

It's important to be aware of the exact testing requirements of the associate's degree program to which you are applying. For instance, some schools require that you have already completed a certified nursing assistant program while other programs may require you to have completed specific science or pre-nursing courses. You might be required to take the National League for Nursing's Pre-Admission Exam (PAX) or the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS).

You may need to meet other specialized requirements before entrance into your clinical courses, such as providing CPR certification, a negative TB test, and passing a background check and drug and alcohol screening. You will also have to prove that you can fulfill the physical requirements of the nursing program.

Online Associate's Degree in Nursing

If you require more flexibility in your studies than a traditional, on-campus associate's degree in nursing program, you should consider earning your degree through an online program. Online associate's degree in nursing programs typically operate in a hybrid format, where your academic coursework can be completed online, but you will need to go to campus or another approved location for labs and clinical training.

Online programs are a great option if you're planning on working while earning your degree, or if you have other life commitments that make fully in-person programs difficult to attend.

ADN Classes

In earning your associate's degree in nursing, you will take classes that will prepare you both for entry-level jobs in nursing and for future educational pursuits. In most ADN programs, your coursework will be split between general education liberal arts classes, nursing classes, and clinical work.

The general education courses will give you a liberal arts background and help you develop the critical thinking and writing skills necessary to be a successful nurse. Some common courses include chemistry, English composition, and psychology.

The core of your curriculum will be nursing courses. In these classes, you will learn about:

  • The nursing process
  • Specific clinical skills
  • Nursing technology
  • Therapeutic communications

You could also take courses specific to various nursing areas, such as maternal and child health nursing, psychiatric nursing, and surgical nursing.

In addition to your classes, you will gain direct patient care experience at clinical work sites. Expect to be exposed to a variety of sites through the course of your associate's degree program. Some examples of clinical sites where you might work include a children's hospital, your city's public health department, or a hospice.

How Long is an Associate Degree in Nursing

Typically, the an associate's degree in nursing can be completed from two to two and a half years of full-time study. Part time programs, which may be offered on the weekend or in the evenings, can take three years. If you enter the program without all of the prerequisites, additional courses may be required and it may take longer to complete the requirements.

LPN vs. ADN

LPN ADN
One year to complete Two years to complete
Prepares you to be a licensed practical nurse Prepares you to be an RN
Eligible for the NCLEX-PN exam Eligible for the NCLEX-RN exam
Lower earning potential Higher earning potential

You might be wondering about the difference between a licensed practical nurse (LPN) program and an associate's degree in nursing. An LPN program is a shorter certificate or diploma program that takes around 12 months to complete. Coursework is typically split between classroom learning and hands-on learning. On the other hand, an ADN degree takes at least two years to complete, but prepares your for a career as a registered nurse.

A major distinction between an LPN program and an ADN degree program is which professional exam graduates may sit for. Students that graduate from an LPN program take the NCLEX-PN exam to become a licensed practical nurse while those with an associate's degree in nursing are qualified to sit for the national nursing exam to qualify as a registered nurse, the NCLEX-RN.

Both LPNs and RNs provide patient care, but LPNs usually work under the supervision of an RN. Registered nurses also have a higher earning potential and more opportunities to specialize and advance their career. It does take more time to earn the ADN due to the high level of responsibility for those who hold this degree.

ADN vs. BSN

Graduates of both the ADN and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam; however, there are differences you should consider when deciding which degree to pursue.

ADN BSN
Two years to complete Four years to complete
Less competitive in the job market More competitive in the job market

A BSN program will typically take longer to complete, usually requiring four years of full-time study. While the basic nursing courses are similar between the degrees, if you enroll in an BSN program you will have more liberal arts classes, as well as the opportunity to take more specific nursing courses in leadership, research, and social issues.

There are often expanded opportunities for those who hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. For instance, some hospitals with a specific designation as a magnet hospital will only hire those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and many nurse leadership positions are limited to applicants who hold a bachelor's degree. In addition, a bachelor's degree is necessary before undertaking study for advanced practice nursing careers, such as a nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife.

If you begin your nursing career with an associate's degree in nursing, you may at some point decide to advance your education and earn a bachelor's degree in order to prepare for advance positions. In this case, you could enroll in a RN to BSN program. These bridge programs can often be completed in two years. In addition, some ADN programs have specific articulation agreements with bachelor's degree programs, where graduates are guaranteed entry if they complete the associate's degree program with a specific grade point average.

What Can You Do with an Associate's Degree in Nursing?

Once you finish the associate's degree in nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you will be qualified to work as a registered nurse. Nurses play a truly crucial role within the health care industry and will continue to grow in importance as the population ages. As a nurse, some of your specific duties might include:

  • Taking a physical health history from a patient
  • Checking vital signs
  • Drawing blood
  • Educating patients regarding their health condition
  • Coordinating care with physician specialists

Some of the specific positions you might consider and their salaries include:

Job Title Average Hourly Wage
Registered Nurse $27,23
Emergency Room RN $29.39
Operating Room RN $30.90
Hospice RN $28.60
Psychiatric RN $28.36
Charge Nurse $30.23
Critical Care RN $31.19

*All statistics come from PayScale.com (2018).