Types of Nursing Degrees

NursingDecember 14, 2016

What are the different types of nursing degrees? If you are considering a career in nursing it is helpful to take a closer look at your options. Essentially, to be a nurse, you must obtain licensure. For that, you will need to take a state-administered nursing licensing exam, called the NCLEX. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can take the exam, you will need to enroll in an appropriate program. We’ll begin with entry level nursing, which also happens to be the fastest track to employment as a nurse:

Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) is qualified to dispense medications, take and record vitals, and perform other tasks—but only under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN). Although LPNs can expect to make less than their colleagues with more advanced degrees (e.g. BSN or MSN), coursework is often completed within a year of entering a LPN/LVN program. Some classes may be available online and students who must work should be able to complete coursework while maintaining a job. At the end of study, the student should be ready to take the NCLEX-PN® exam and obtain LPN/LVN licensure.

LPN-to-Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)

These programs are designed to prepare you to become an entry-level RN. Obtaining an Associate’s Degree in Nursing will involve a broadening and deepening of your education. You may be expected to take liberal arts courses and also study relevant subjects such as nutrition, anatomy, and biology. An online program may afford the most scheduling flexibility, but you will probably be required to schedule and participate in real-world clinical rotations at a participating medical facility such as a hospital or clinic. Think of this as another step on your career journey. As an RN, you will take on a little more responsibility and should be eligible for higher pay than a LPN. Upon completion of a two-to-three-year LPN-to-Associate’s Degree in Nursing program, you should be well-prepared to take the NCLEX-RN exam. A similar program is the Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree.


Some institutions allow LPNs to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree without the traditional four years of study. Prior work experience is counted towards your education, although you will still be required to take liberal arts courses. A BSN may qualify you to supervise other nurses and pay is typically more generous for nurses with a BSN than for nurses with an ADN or LPN.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

The BSN is widely viewed as the gold standard for nursing competence and excellence in today’s demanding workplace, and nurses with this degree can command higher salaries. Many positions now require this degree. It represents a substantial time commitment, however. Most programs take about four years to complete. Some coursework may be completed online, depending on the school and/or program. You will, however, need to participate in real-world clinical rotations to get hands-on, practical nursing experience. This degree is required for those pursuing a master’s degree in nursing (MSN).


As we’ve seen, it is possible to obtain your RN license with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). But many nurses will wish to advance their education and employment opportunities by choosing the RN-to-BSN track. When completed, you will have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This route can be somewhat faster and less expensive than obtaining a BSN without pre-existing RN licensure. This typically takes two to three years to complete as opposed to four years for a BSN.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

BSNs who wish to specialize in a particular area of nursing may wish to pursue a MSN. As you might expect, this degree may also pave the way towards higher pay and open certain career doors. MSN programs typically take 18 to 24 months to complete. Nurse practitioners and nurse midwives have typically earned MSN degrees.

Doctoral Degrees

Nurses and doctors ordinarily undergo significantly different education and career tracks, but some nurses choose to pursue doctoral degrees with a focus on specialized areas of nursing. Of course, salaries tend to go up as educational attainment increases. Various doctoral degree options are available, including Doctorate of Nursing Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice, and Doctor of Nursing Science, and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees. Programs typically require two to five additional years of study.