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ADN vs BSN: Salary, Scope of Practice & Opportunities


For students who want to become registered nurses (RNs), choosing the right educational path can be a challenge. The two chief paths are an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN),which have different features and advantages, and can lead to different career paths.


Another option combines both degrees: Acquire an ADN, get licensed as an RN, and then pursue an RN to BSN program. In an online program such as Maryville University’s online BSN programs, RNs can pursue a BSN while continuing to work their current jobs.


Understanding the differences between an ADN versus a BSN and the job opportunities and salary levels associated with them can help a student decide which degree best fits their professional goals.

What Is an ADN Degree?

An ADN, also known as an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), is a two-year degree that focuses on the technical skills needed to work as a nurse. It provides the medical knowledge and clinical experience needed to pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam and become an RN.


Although an ADN is a two-year degree, it requires a year of prerequisite courses. It’s possible to take those courses while taking courses for an ADN, but for most students, the entire process takes up to three years.


Obtaining an ADN offers some advantages compared to a BSN:


  • A student can attain the degree and start working as an RN more quickly.
  • Because it takes less time, it can cost less than a BSN.
  • ADNs are typically offered by community colleges, providing potential savings on tuition, fees, housing, and relocation costs associated with traditional universities.
  • Educational Flexibility. A student can get an ADN and later decide to pursue a BSN.

Jobs with an ADN Degree: Careers and Salary

An ADN opens up a wide variety of nursing jobs, particularly when you consider the high demand for new nurses. The U.S. may face a shortage of more than 918,000 nurses by 2030, according to forecasts from the American Journal of Medical Quality.


For an ADN, nursing jobs are typically in direct patient care. The median annual salary for ADN graduates was approximately $74,000 as of November 2022, according to Payscale. The following is a sampling of typical jobs for nurses who have an ADN, with salary data from Payscale:


  • Emergency Room Nurse. ER nurses work in a high-pressure environment, caring for patients with acute health problems such as major injuries, heart attacks, strokes, and other traumas. Their care requires the ability to quickly assess patients’ conditions, monitor vital signs, and carry out detailed treatment regimens. The median annual salary for ER nurses was about $75,000 as of December 2022.
  • Oncology Nurse. Oncology nurses work with cancer patients, under direction of a physician, to administer treatments such as chemotherapy. They also counsel patients on taking medications, communicate with families, and direct patients to other resources, such as mental health counseling. The median annual salary for oncology nurses was about $80,000 as of December 2022.
  • Home Care Nurse. Home care nurses work in their patients’ residences, typically with senior citizens or those with chronic illnesses. They can provide a wide spectrum of care, from giving medications and taking vital signs to assisting with activities of daily living. The median annual salary for home care nurses was about $71,000 as of November 2022.


The chief disadvantage of an ADN is that it can limit career mobility. Nurses who want to move beyond direct patient care into leadership or management positions usually need a BSN to be considered for higher-level roles.

What Is a BSN Degree?

A BSN is a four-year college degree that goes beyond technical nursing skills to a wide range of subjects, including:


  • Management and leadership skills for managing staff
  • Research and technology skills, such as nursing informatics and the use of electronic health records
  • Communication and health promotion with patients
  • Educational skills for instructing other nurses


Although earning a BSN takes more time than an ADN, it offers several advantages:


  • Career Path. A BSN opens up a wider variety of jobs and opportunities for professional advancement.
  • According to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, 48% of RNs have a bachelor’s degree compared to 28% with an associate degree. As more healthcare providers require RNs to have a BSN, the BSN category continues to expand.
  • Accelerated Study. For a nurse who’s already an RN, an RN to BSN program can cut the time to earn the degree in half, to two years or less.

Jobs with a BSN Degree: Careers and Salary

With a BSN, a nurse can pursue a broad range of occupations beyond direct patient care. Nurses with a BSN earned a median annual salary of $91,000 a year as of November 2022, according to Payscale. Salaries can differ depending on work experience, education level, geographic region, and other factors.


The following examples of jobs nurses with a BSN may pursue, alongside their respective salaries according to Payscale, illustrate how diverse the career options and earning potentials can be.


  • Nursing Manager. Becoming a nursing manager can be a first step into a healthcare management role. It involves managing a nursing team, hiring and supervising nurses, scheduling, and making sure standards and regulations are met. The median annual salary for nursing managers was about $91,000 as of December 2022.
  • Nurse Educator. Continuing education is crucial to effective nursing. Nurse educators assess a department’s needs, design education and training programs, and create resources such as manuals and training guides. Their work can range from presentations to large groups to one-on-one evaluation and instruction. The median annual salary for nurse educators was about $81,000 as of December 2022.
  • Nursing Informatics Specialist. Electronic health records and data systems are becoming ever more important in healthcare. Nursing informatics specialists manage those systems for nursing, working with IT departments to design systems, train nurses in using them, and analyze data for reports. The median annual salary for this occupation was about $85,000 as of November 2022.
  • Director of Nursing. Directors of nursing (DONs) oversee all nursing activities at an institution such as a hospital. Their work includes setting policy and budgeting as well as hiring and supervision. DONs also serve as liaisons between nursing departments, other departments, and top management. The median annual salary for directors of nursing was about $89,000 as of October 2022.


Beyond jobs like these, a BSN can provide a foundation for advanced nursing studies. A nurse with a BSN can go on to earn a Master of Science in Nursing as well as advanced practice RN certificates to become a nurse practitioner.

ADN vs. BSN: Find Your Path

ADN and BSN degrees both provide students with the skills they need to become registered nurses. However, students who ultimately want to move into advanced nursing or leadership roles should consider a BSN. An accelerated program such as Maryville University’s online RN to BSN program can enable a working RN to earn a BSN in as little as two years. Explore how the program can expand your professional horizons and move you into higher levels of management and nursing.


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