Which Degree Should You Earn to Become an RN?

To become an RN, you need a nursing degree. Different degrees are available, each with specific requirements. This article explores the different nursing degrees and their requirements.
Which Degree Should You Earn to Become an RN?

Upon embarking on a Registered Nurse (RN) career path, one of the first decisions to make is choosing the appropriate degree type. Before taking the NCLEX-RN exam and earning your license, you cannot work as an RN. Various degree programs prepare you for the exam, and completing one is mandatory for eligibility. Many individuals prioritize entering the workforce as quickly as possible. However, considering long-term goals before selecting a degree program is crucial. Explore the most common nursing degrees below to determine the best fit for your aspirations.

1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An ADN offers the quickest path to becoming an RN. ADN programs are typically two-year programs offered at community colleges and vocational schools. These programs emphasize technical aspects of nursing rather than theory, resulting in shorter completion times. Thirty percent of ADN graduates pursue Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees, often starting with ADNs to expedite employment as RNs.

2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A BSN is a four-year degree that involves extensive coursework and lab work. It provides a more comprehensive approach to becoming an RN. If considering an advanced degree, even in the future, earning a BSN upfront is generally recommended. Additionally, BSNs are often required for certain positions, and RNs with BSNs tend to earn higher salaries.

3. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Pursuing an MSN or a doctorate-level nursing degree requires prior completion of a BSN. With an MSN, you specialize in a specific area of nursing. These programs typically take 18 to 24 months to complete, and thesis or project completion is often a requirement for graduation. Many RNs opt for joint degrees while pursuing their MSNs, often in areas like hospital administration or public health.

4. Doctorate Nursing Degrees

If you have the ambition and time for a doctorate nursing degree, typically an additional four to six years, it can be a highly rewarding path. Options include Doctor of Nursing Education, Doctor of Nursing Science, and Doctor of Nursing Practice. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in nursing are also available, allowing roles in both scholarly and professional capacities. If seeking executive-level positions or maximizing career opportunities, earning a doctorate nursing degree or PhD in nursing is the way to go. While these programs are rigorous, many RNs are able to complete them while maintaining full-time employment.


If you're feeling pressured to decide on a nursing degree option, don't fret. Even starting with an associate degree, you can always transition to a BSN through a completer program. With a BSN, pursuing master's and doctorate degrees is also possible.

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