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Nursing Programs: Should I pursue a BSN, ADN, or diploma program?

By Brendan Conway updated on Thursday, January 24, 2013

So! You want to be a nurse! Brilliant! You have direction! A goal! Go forth and pursue!

What's that? You're not quite sure which nursing programs are right for you? Oh, I see. There are so many different kinds of nursing programs, offering up different kinds of nursing degrees, you're just not sure which to choose. Hmmm. Well, that is a problem, isn't it? Are some nursing programs better than others? Which degree will get you where you want, doing what you want to do?

Good news! Here's the information on different nursing programs and their types that you've been looking for! Read on, intrepid would-be-nurse! Read on!

Types of nursing program

There are three main types of undergraduate nursing program, defined by the type of degree they offer to students upon completion.

Some nursing programs offer students Bachelor of Science degrees in Nursing, known as BSN degrees. These nursing programs are those most like standard baccalaureate programs. Other nursing programs offer students associate degrees in nursing, known as ADNs. The third type of nursing program is one that offers a certificate or a diploma, without a specific type of degree.

  • Nursing programs that offer BSN degrees are normally offered by colleges with nursing programs, instead of schools specifically oriented as nursing schools. BSN programs are likely to take close to four years to complete, as they are closest to standard baccalaureate programs.

  • Nursing programs that offer up ADN degrees, on the other hand, will often take less time than BSN degree programs, as ADN degree programs are often offered up by junior colleges or community colleges. ADN nursing programs can take two to three years from start to finish.

  • Nursing programs that offer diplomas are most often attached to or offered by hospitals. These nursing programs can take students three years to complete. Diploma nursing programs are much less common than either BSN degree programs or ADN programs.

What distinguishes nursing programs?

While all types of nursing program will allow for graduating students to enter into entry-level nursing positions, some will offer up additional opportunities and benefits which will be of great value to advancing careers.

An ADN, for example, would be helpful for getting an entry level position, but it would be far less helpful for the purposes of long-term advancement.

On the other hand, a BSN degree could very well help with advancement beyond entry-level nursing positions. This is because of the additional education and training that would be involved in a BSN program, including clinical, hands-on training which might not be provided in ADN or diploma programs.

This isn't to say that if looking into ADN nursing programs or diploma nursing programs isn't worth it, of course. Those programs might be more affordable and more fitting for specific individuals. What's more, attending ADN or diploma nursing programs would in no way prevent students from later attending colleges with nursing programs at the baccalaureate level. In fact, many students do just that.

You might be able to find a job that offers some form of reimbursement for pursuing a BSN degree, which would make this option all the more viable and attractive. A nursing program which helps students who are already working as nurses to earn their BSN degrees is often referred to as an RN-to-BSN program (RN meaning Registered Nurse).

How do I choose the nursing program for me?

Ultimately, the choice will come down to priorities.

Is it more important to find a nursing program that won't cost you an arm and a leg, and will let you go into the workforce sooner? Then a diploma nursing program or ADN nursing program might be the best.

Are you looking for something that will set you up with a good education, even though it might cost you more time? Then pursue a BSN program.

Regardless of what you decide to pursue, however, it's important to remember that colleges with nursing programs will often also have master's level nursing programs which you still might be able to take advantage of. Furthermore, it's important to make a decision based on your nursing career goals.  

 

About the Author

Brendan Conway is the Web Content Editor for Peterson's Interactive and is well-versed in the world of higher education and admissions. He is a graduate of Hamilton College, and has been working in admissions advice, test-prep advice, career planning advice, and similar fields for the majority of his career since graduation. Brendan endeavors to provide the most relevant, useful, and interesting information via Peterson's Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ feeds. Brendan enjoys lexicological oddities and voraciously reading in his free time.

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