Nursing Degrees

Learn what types of nursing degrees are most popular, and how you can earn one to meet your career goals.

Types of Nursing Degrees

It's a good time to be looking at earning a degree in nursing since jobs in this field are quickly on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for registered nurses are expected to rise 15% over the next decade as the healthcare industry is looking to add another 438,000 RN professionals.

So what degree do you need to be a nurse? There are many options to consider when deciding on what nursing degree to pursue. Ultimately, it really comes down to what your career goals are, since each degree will prepare you for a specific set of careers. Here we'll look at the degree options available within the nursing field.

Degree/Program Program Length* Minimum Requirement Career Option*
LPN 1 year High school diploma/GED Licensed Practical Nurse; $45,030; 12% growth
Associate's 2 years High school diploma/GED Registered Nurse; $70,000; 15% growth
Bachelor's 4 years High school diploma/GED Medical and Health Services Manager; $98.350; 20% growth
Master's 1.5-2 years Bachelor's degree Nurse Practitioner; $103,880; 36% growth
Doctorate 4-6 years Master's degree, although some programs may only require a bachelor's Nurse anesthetists; $165,120; 16% growth
* Bureau of Labor Statistics - Salary (2017 median pay), Job Outlook (2016-2026)

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Programs

A career as a licensed practical nurse, does not require a degree, but instead requires you to complete an approved one-year training program and pass the NCLEX-PN exam. This fast-paced degree option is a great way for you to get your foot in the door in the nursing field.

Upon completing your LPN program, you can go straight into the workforce or you can earn a degree in nursing and take the NCLEX-RN to become a registered nurse.

  • Who's it for? LPN programs are designed for students who don't have a degree
  • Degree requirements: Fast-paced, one-year program, after which you must take and pass the NCLEX-PN exam
  • Career options: Licensed practical nurse; assisted living facilities, hospitals, physician's offices

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An associate degree in nursing is the minimum degree necessary to become a registered nurse. ADN programs typically last two years and prepare you to take the NCLEX-RN, which is required to become a registered nurse.

Many students choose an ADN over a BSN program because they can enter the workforce as an RN more quickly than they would with a four-year BSN degree. However, after a few years in the field, registered nurses with an ADN may choose to enroll in an RN-to-BSN program to qualify for more advanced nursing careers.

  • Who's it for? People who want to become a registered nurse without doing a 4-year program
  • Degree requirements: Degree completion can take 2-3 years and includes on-site clinical training
  • Career options: Registered nurse in physician's offices, government agencies, ambulatory healthcare services

Bachelor's Degree in Nursing (BSN)

Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN degree programs, make you more competitive in the RN job market and prepare you for more specialized RN positions that aren't available to associate degree holders. BSN degrees are becoming more and more preferable among employers; in fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends that by 2020, 80% of nurses should have a BSN degree. Some careers include nursing manager, surgical nurse, public health nurse, and research nurse. To become a licensed registered nurse, you'll need to take a pass the NCLEX-RN exam after completing your BSN program.

These four-year programs are well-suited for students who have an ADN or for students pursuing an initial degree. A BSN is also a good option if you're considering pursuing an advanced degree, like a master's degree in nursing (MSN).

Although you may choose to go directly into a BSN program, those with previous credentials in nursing may want to consider other pathways toward becoming a registered nurse or earning their bachelor's degree.

  • Who's it for? Aspiring RNs with the financial resources and time to make a longer commitment; recent high school grads; ADN holders
  • Degree requirements: Takes around 4 years, includes clinical components offers more concentrations
  • Career options: Registered nurse, nurse administrator, nursing informatics specialist, home health nurse

LPN-to-RN Programs

LPN-to-RN programs are for licensed practical nurses who want to either earn their ADN or BSN degree to become registered nurses. Depending on the pathway chosen and the number of credits you transfer, these programs take 1-2 years for an ADN and 2-4 years for a BSN. Upon completion of the program, you'll need to take the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed registered nurse.

  • Who's it for? Licensed practical nurses who want to earn an ADN or BSN to become an RN
  • Degree requirements: 1-2 years for an ADN and 2-4 years for a BSN
  • Career options: Same options as ADN and BSN

LPN-to-BSN Programs

LPN-to-BSN programs are great for students who want to work in nursing before or while pursuing a bachelor's degree to become a registered nurse. Instead of taking four years to complete, like a typical BSN program, LPN-to-BSN programs take 2-4 years depending on the number of credits that you can transfer over. You'll also need to take the NCLEX-RN. LPN-to-BSN program graduates obtain a degree that opens up more career possibilities, since registered nurses with a BSN are eligible for more advanced careers, higher salaries, and are more competitive in the job market.

  • Who's it for? Licensed practical nurses who want to take a job in nursing while they earn a BSN
  • Degree requirements: 2-4 years, depending on the credits that transfer from LPN program
  • Career options: Legal nurse consultant, case manager, occupational health nurse

RN-to-BSN Programs

Another option to earn your bachelor's degree in nursing is RN-to-BSN programs. These programs are designed for students who already have their associate degree and have been practicing as a registered nurse. RN-to-BSN programs take about two years to complete, and upon graduation, students can find more job opportunities and higher salary potential.

  • Who's it for? RNs who have an associate's degree and want to upgrade to a BSN
  • Degree requirements: RN-to-BSN programs take about 2 years to complete
  • Career options: RN; school nurse, public health nurse, forensic nurse

Accelerated BSN (Second Degree Nursing) Programs

These programs are designed for students who already have a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing major but want to become registered nurses. Accelerated BSN programs are fast-paced and can take 1-2 years to complete. Students need to take the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed registered nurse. Upon completion of their degree and exam requirement, graduates are eligible for RN positions open to bachelor's degree holders.

  • Who's it for? Students who have a non-nursing bachelor's degree
  • Degree requirements: Fast-paced program; can take 1-2 years
  • Career options: Registered nurse in hospitals, doctor's offices, schools, clinics

Master's Degree in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN, degree requires students have a bachelor's degree in nursing. MSN programs take 1.5-2 years with clinical experience and allow students to specialize in a specific area of nursing they're interested in. Some specialized options include midwifery, anesthesia, or nurse management. Curriculum in an MSN program emphasizes research and usually requires students to complete a thesis.

Graduates holding MSN degrees can find many advanced nursing career options, such as nurse educator, advanced nurse practitioner, research nurse, and clinical nurse specialist. Salary potential for master's degree holders is also higher because of the career options available.

  • Who's it for? Students with a bachelor's degree in nursing looking for advanced opportunities and higher pay
  • Degree requirements: 1.5-2 years; emphasis on research and clinical experience; includes thesis project; several specialization options including anesthesia, midwifery, nurse management
  • Career options: Nurse educator, advanced nurse practitioner, research nurse, clinical nurse specialist

Doctorate in Nursing

A doctorate in nursing is a large time commitment but opens up doors to careers that are in very high demand. Programs can take 4-6 years depending on the program and track you choose. Most programs require that applicants have a master's in nursing (MSN) degree although a few only require a bachelor's degree.

Doctoral nursing programs focus on leadership, patient advocacy, and higher levels of medical knowledge. These degrees are in high demand since the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) strongly recommends that advanced practice nurses (e.g., clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, etc.) seek a doctorate degree in nursing rather than a master's degree.

  • Who's it for? Students with a master's degree in nursing looking to reach the highest levels of the profession
  • Degree requirements: Programs can take 4-6 years; focus is on leadership, research and patient advocacy
  • Career options: Clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists

Ph.D in Nursing

A Ph.D. nursing program is one doctoral degree option available to students. These programs focus on scholarly research and require a teaching and thesis or dissertation component. Graduates of these programs can expect careers as a nurse researcher or in a faculty position instructing future nurses.

  • Who's it for? MSN holders who want to take on teaching and research roles
  • Degree requirements: Degree completion takes 4-6 years; students complete a dissertation or research project
  • Career options: Nurse researcher, nursing faculty

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree

DNP degree programs are more focused on clinical work and nursing practices with students who concentrate on specialties within nursing. Some specialties include adult gerontology, family nurse practitioner, and nurse midwifery. A capstone project or thesis is generally required. Graduates who have earned their DNP degree can seek careers in management, leadership, government, or academic positions.

  • Who's it for? MSN holders who want to fill leadership roles
  • Degree requirements: 4-6 years of study; specializations in adult-gerontology, nurse midwifery and family nurse practitioner; capstone and thesis often required
  • Career options: Nurse practitioner, midwife, executive positions in hospitals

Online Nursing Degree

Online nursing programs are available for all nursing degree levels from LPN all the way through a doctorate in nursing. Whether these programs offer all classes online or in a hybrid format where some coursework is completed on campus, these online nursing degree options are convenient for students who need flexibility in time and location.

Some benefits of an online nursing degree include:

  • Flexibility. You can complete your classes anytime and anywhere that works for you.
  • Cost. Although some programs may have the same tuition for traditional and online nursing programs, the cost of online nursing programs can be substantially less than that of traditional school options.

If you're looking into enrolling in an online program, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Accreditation. Make sure the program you're attending is an accredited, reputable school.
  • Motivation. Online programs work best for students who are intrinsically motivated, since coursework is completed online at your own pace.
  • Clinical component. Most nursing programs require clinical hours to get your degree, so be sure to consider these necessary face-to-face, real world interactions.

What Can You Do with a Nursing Degree?

Career options available to those with a degree in nursing vary depending on the type of degree as well as the specializations you focus on in your degree program. Depending on the nursing degree, you could pursue a career as a licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, nursing assistant, nurse practitioner, or a research nurse, just to name a few.

Since career options, degree pathways, and licensing requirements are so interrelated within the nursing field, be sure to consider which nursing career you'd like to pursue before deciding on a degree path.

Next: View Schools

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.