Types of Nursing Degrees | Salary & Requirements

There are numerous paths to becoming a nurse or advancing your nursing education. While these options make nursing one of the most personal and customizable career journeys, they also make it complicated. You may find yourself asking which nursing degree is right for you based on your educational background, career goals, or budget.

That’s why we laid out everything you need to know about nursing degrees and the levels of nursing. From entry-level vocational nurse programs to a Ph.D. in Nursing, we’ll walk you through each option to find a path that suits you.

Read on to find out more about nursing degrees, their requirements, salary, job outlook, and more!

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

A certified nursing assistant, or CNA, helps patients with activities of daily living and other healthcare needs under the direct supervision of a Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse. 

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

An LPN is responsible for tasks such as measuring vital signs, giving oral medications, and providing patients with essential care, like helping them eat, dress, bathe, etc. They also assist Registered Nurses (RNs) and Doctors.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing is the shortest route to becoming a Registered Nurse.

Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A BSN, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is a four-year degree in nursing that is one of two degrees available to nurses. 

Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)

There are several types of Master of Science in Nursing degrees depending on which advanced practice specialty you want to pursue. No matter what, an MSN opens the door to elevated career opportunities in the nursing field and beyond.

This graduate degree endows you with the credentials and skills to work in clinical and non-clinical environments. Many MSN nurses have greater autonomy, working independently or as part of a team to make critical healthcare decisions.

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

A DNP is a terminal nursing degree rooted in clinical practice and intended for advanced practice nurse practitioners.

Ph.D. in Nursing

A Ph.D. in Nursing degree prepares you for a science and research-focused career spent furthering knowledge that is essential to nurses and nursing education at all levels.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing your nursing degree. And the good news is you don’t need to make a decision about how far you want to take your education all at once!

You may decide you want to enter the field quickly and for as little money as possible. If that is the case, an LPN degree might be a great place to start. Many LPNs gain nursing experience and later decide that they want to go back to school to become an RN. Many LPNs attend school and earn advanced education while working in the field.

To move forward and become an RN, you will need to decide on a degree program that will earn you eligibility to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Passing the NCLEX exam is how you become licensed to be an RN in your state.

Earning an ADN or A BSN are the two pathways to starting your career as a registered nurse. Nursing school accreditation is a supremely important factor to consider as you select a program. The two accrediting bodies for nursing programs in the US are:

If you attend a nursing school that does not have national accreditation, you will not be eligible to sit for the NCLEX exam to earn your RN licensure, and you will be unable to earn other advanced degrees such as an MSN, DNP, or Ph.D. in Nursing.

RNs often earn a few years of experience in the field before deciding to advance their education with an MSN, DNP, or Ph.D.  But it’s not required. Having experience in the field is helpful for nurses because they know what specialties they are most interested in, and it helps to narrow down the type of advanced nursing degree program they want. Just make sure that your advanced nursing degree program is also accredited.

Choosing a nursing degree will seem much less daunting once you have a few years of experience in your field. Nursing experience will also allow you to talk with other nurses in advanced practice roles and ask them detailed questions about their careers.

We’ll cover the differences between the following primary types of nursing degrees:

An LPN license provides a nurse with a functioning license to provide basic nursing care. However, an LPN is more limited in the care they can provide than an RN. An LPN, for instance, does not have the scope of practice to deliver certain types of medications, so their work opportunities may be more restricted. 

In some states, such as California, LPNs are also called LVNs, or Licensed Vocational Nurses, so you may see the terms LPN or LVN used interchangeably. 

There are two ways to become an LPN: 

  1. Diploma-based program: Awards you an LPN degree based on clinical hours rather than just classroom hours.

  2. Associate’s degree program: Also awards you an LPN degree upon completion. 

LPN Degree Time commitment

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse in as little time as possible, becoming an LPN might be the best path for you. Even faster than the 2-year ADN degree, LPN programs can take as little as 12-15 months to complete. In comparison, associate degree RN programs take about 18-24 months.

See also  How to Go From RN to MSN

Depending on the school, your LPN diploma may not count toward a degree if you choose to pursue RN or APRN licensure. So it’s worth weighing the pros and cons of how long your future education commitments will take before pursuing an LPN program.

LPN Degree Cost

The cost of this nursing degree will vary depending on whether you choose a diploma or an associate degree program. The most affordable way to become an LPN may be through a local community college. Choosing an online program may cost you considerably more, so be sure to do your research before choosing a school. 

LPN Job Responsibilities

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), LPNs work under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. Depending on where you work as an LPN, you may report to an RN as your direct supervisor.

For example, many long-term care facilities employ LPNs as direct nursing care providers on teams headed by RNs. LPNs still have supervisory and direct patient care responsibilities but a more limited scope of practice than an RN.

LPN Job Outlook

The BLS notes that the job outlook for LPNs from  2022 -2032 is 5%, which is faster than the average of all other careers. 

Where LPNs Can Work

The BLS explains that most LPNs work full-time in a variety of settings: nursing homes, extended care facilities, hospitals, physicians’ offices, or even private care settings. 

LPN Salary

According to the BLS, the median pay for an LPN in the United States is $54,620 annually or $26.26 per hour, which is less than an RN can make and considerably less than advanced practice nurses can make.

Is an LPN Right For You?

Choosing whether to become an LPN or RN ultimately depends on your career goals.

Career Limitations

Becoming an LPN may offer you a faster way to enter the nursing field and earn income right away, but it may place you in a more limited role. You would have to go back to school through an LPN to RN bridge program to open up more opportunities.

Additionally, becoming an LPN can limit your career prospects. Some workplaces prefer hiring RNs, making it difficult to find jobs with LPN licensure alone.

May Not Save Money or Time

Becoming an LPN is not always necessarily cheaper or faster than becoming an RN, so it’s worth looking thoroughly into both degree programs before deciding. If an LPN program will take just as long and cost just as much as an RN program, it may be worthwhile to choose the RN route to secure employment and have a baseline to expand your career later down the road if you would like.

Lower Salary Than Other Nursing Careers

Finally, you should consider compensation before pursuing this nursing degree. In general, RNs make more upon graduating than LPNs. They also have more room to grow as they gain more clinical experience. 

If you decide on an RN license, you will need to choose between an Associate’s Degree in Nursing program (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.

Either degree leads to RN licensure, which you earn after completing the program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. However, the education behind an ADN and a BSN degree are different.

ADN License

The appeal of an ADN degree is that it is a significantly more affordable and faster route to nursing. ADN programs take about two years to complete at a community or junior college.

ADN Degree Time Commitment

ADN programs take about two years to complete at a community or junior college. However, the program length also depends on whether students go to school full-time or part-time. Some part-time students may take up to three years to complete an ADN.

Additionally, you should be aware that some ADN programs have long waitlists. Depending on the school, you may have to wait several years before getting in. So, in some cases, this nursing degree may take longer to finish than a BSN. However, many waitlist programs have fewer requirements and less competition, making them beneficial for certain students.

If you’re considering a waitlist ADN program, you should understand the risks. Your prerequisite courses can expire while you wait, meaning you would have to retake those classes to be an eligible candidate. 

ADN Degree Cost

ADN program costs vary depending on the institution you choose. However, tuition typically ranges anywhere between $4,000 and $19,000.

ADN Job Responsibilities

An ADN with an RN license can do the same patient care tasks as a BSN with an RN license. However, it is essential to remember that most hiring managers prefer to hire BSN-trained nurses. You will have significantly more employment opportunities with a BSN. 

ADN Job responsibilities typically include:

  • Recording patient information
  • Taking and monitoring vital signs
  • Patient assessments
  • Providing patient education
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Starting IVs and drawing blood
  • Giving oral and intravenous medications
  • Collaborating with other health care professionals to ensure high-quality patient care

ADN Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the job outlook for all RNs (including ADNs and BSNs) is good. They estimate that the profession will continue to grow by 6% from 2022-2032, with a need for an additional 177,400 RNs during that time. 

It is important to know that the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) recognizes a BSN as the minimum education requirement for nursing professionals and encourages anyone seeking a nursing career to consider a BSN degree.

See also  The Ultimate BSN Degree Guide

Where ADNs Can Work

ADN nurses can find employment in hospitals, medical offices, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, outpatient clinics, and schools. Many ADN-prepared nurses also serve in the military.

ADN Salary

The BLS reports that ADN-prepared nurses earn a median annual income of $81,220 or $39.05 per hour (May 2022). However, ADN nurses have fewer opportunities for career advancement than BSN-trained RNs. Most ADN nurses work with patients at the bedside and do not advance into higher-paying administrative roles. 

Is an ADN Right For You?

An ADN will prepare you to sit for the NCLEX and become an RN faster than achieving a BSN and for less money. An associate nursing degree may be right for you if you want to become an RN but don’t want to expand your career beyond patient care.

Choosing an ADN degree is a  personal choice that you will have to make for your professional career, but leading nursing organizations do recommend that anyone who is looking to enter the nursing field consider having a BSN as a basic minimum requirement.

BSN License

Earning a BSN degree takes two more years of education than an ADN. Upon graduating from an accredited four-year BSN program, you may sit the NCLEX and earn RN licensure in your state.

BSN Degree Time Commitment

Students can earn a BSN with four years of full-time study or five to six years part-time. Those with a prior bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field may enroll in an accelerated BSN (ABSN) program, which can take one to two years. ABSN programs pack more education into shorter periods, allowing students to finish and enter the workforce faster.

BSN Degree Cost

Earning a bachelor’s nursing degree is typically more expensive than an ADN program because you will attend a four-year university versus a two-year junior or community college. BSN program costs vary depending on the school and type of BSN program you choose and can range from 40,000 to over $100,000.

BSN Job Responsibilities

ADN and BSN basic job responsibilities do not differ as they both require RN licensure. However,  BSN nurses may have the opportunity to take on additional responsibilities and move into more advanced positions. 

BSN job responsibilities usually include:

  • Recording patient information
  • Taking and monitoring vital signs
  • Patient assessments
  • Providing patient education
  • Performing diagnostic tests
  • Starting IVs and drawing blood
  • Giving oral and intravenous medications
  • Collaborating with other health care professionals to ensure high-quality patient care

BSN Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the job outlook for BSN-trained RNs is good. They estimate that the profession will continue to grow by 6% from 2022-2032, with a need for an additional 177,400 RNs during that time. 

Where BSNs Can Work

BSN nurses can find employment in various locations, including hospitals, medical offices, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, outpatient clinics, and schools. Many BSN-prepared nurses also serve in the military.

BSN Salary

The BLS reports that BSN-prepared nurses earn a median annual income of $81,220 or $39.05 per hour (May 2022). 

Keep in mind that the ACEN recognizes a BSN as the minimum education requirement for nursing professionals and encourages anyone seeking a nursing career to consider a BSN degree. Depending on the facility, some hiring managers will only interview and hire BSN-trained nurses, so more employment opportunities are available for BSN nurses.

Is a BSN Right For You?

Choosing to earn a BSN degree is a personal choice. You should consider several factors before pursuing this nursing degree:

  • Many employers prefer to hire BSN nurses.
  • The ACEN recommends a BSN as the minimum education level to practice as an RN.
  • A BSN may provide more opportunities to earn more money or advance your career.
  • A BSN usually takes about two more years to complete than an ADN.
  • Depending on your prior education level, you may be eligible to attend an accelerated BSN program that you can complete faster than a traditional BSN program. 
  • A BSN program will cost anywhere between $40,000 to $100,000 or more.

Nurses also have the option of pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. There are several ways to get your MSN, from directly entering into an MSN program after completing an undergraduate program to pursuing your MSN part-time while working as an RN to choosing an RN-MSN program. 

There are two types of MSN degrees: 

  1. A non-clinical MSN degree is suitable for nurses seeking managerial positions, those who want to become nurse educators, or those looking to simply advance their education.

  2. An MSN advanced practice nursing degree is the type of degree you would choose if you’re looking to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a Certified Nurse Midwife or Nurse Practitioner.

The most important thing you need to know, however, is that you can get an MSN without having an advanced practice nursing (APN) degree, but in order to have an advanced practice nursing degree, you will need at least a Master’s, if not higher. 

Changes to CRNA Education Requirements

As part of the updated guidelines for Nurse Anesthesiology programs, nurse anesthetists must have a doctorate by 2025. However, it takes at least three years to complete certified registered nurse anesthetist school. So, as of 2022, all nurse anesthesia students should enter and complete doctorate CRNA programs to meet this requirement at graduation.

Read our guide to learn more about the updated CRNA program guidelines.

MSN Degree Requirements

A typical graduate MSN degree will take you around two to four years, depending on the type of program and if you choose to enroll full or part-time. Costs can vary widely, but you can expect to spend a minimum of $30,000 for a master’s degree. 

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MSN Job Responsibilities

Your responsibilities with a graduate nursing degree will depend on whether you choose a non-clinical MSN or an APRN degree. Without an APRN, a master ‘s-level prepared nurse cannot sit for additional licensure. However, they may have expanded responsibilities at work that could include supervisory actions, research, or other high-level nursing actions. 

With an APRN degree, you will be eligible to sit for additional licensure in your specialty field. In some states, you may even be able to open your own clinic or practice as an independent practitioner. 

MSN Job Outlook

The BLS projects that the career outlook for APRNs will be much brighter than for RNs between 2022-2032. They predict that job growth will increase by 38%, and there will be a need for an additional 123,600 available jobs. The APRN job increasing the most is nurse practitioners; The BLS predicts NPs will grow by 118,600 new nurses by 2032.

 Where You Will Work With an MSN Degree

Most APRNs will work full-time in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and clinics, according to the BLS. 

Salary Differences Between RN and MSN Degree Nurses

MSN degrees don’t always lead to huge salary increases, although, in general, you can expect to make more with an MSN degree. If you’re a floor RN with an MSN degree that is not an advanced nursing practice degree, you may not see an immediate change in your pay. 

You can expect pay increases if you move into higher-level nursing positions as a result of your Master’s degree, such as in management, supervisor, or research and academic-oriented roles. Where you will really see an increase in your pay, however, is through an advanced nursing practice role. 

The BLS notes that APRN nurses earn an average of $125,900 annually or $60.53 per hour.

Is An MSN Degree Right For You? 

For nurses who want to take on a specialized track or pursue a management position, earning a master’s degree can really help set them apart. In fact, for some advanced nursing practices, like family nurse practitioners, a master’s degree is a requirement.

Becoming an advanced practice registered nurse can lead to salary increases, but Master’s programs are intense and challenging and usually take about two years to complete. 

Adding specializations to your nursing career through advanced education can truly open up a lot more career doors and give you additional job security. By weighing the pros and cons of each degree type and thinking about your personal goals, you can choose a program of study that’s right for you.

Doctor of Nursing Practice programs allow nurses to advance their education even further and become nursing leaders.

DNP Degree Requirements

DNP programs are extremely competitive as a result of the growing number of positions requiring an advanced degree. Those considering pursuing a DNP should do everything they can to ensure that they meet the basic general requirements for admission to the schools to which they are applying.

An increasing number of APRN positions have begun seeking advanced nursing degrees. Therefore, DNP programs are extremely competitive. Schools may not even consider students who don’t meet every program requirement.

If you’re considering pursuing a DNP, you must at least achieve the basic general requirements for admission (and, if possible, exceed them). 

Direct-entry DNP Program Requirements:

  • Current U.S Registered Nurse (RN) license in good standing in the state that you will be doing your clinical practice in
  • Minimum of one year of nursing experience, with many programs requiring a minimum of two years
  • Completed application with all appropriate fees and required documents, which may include a resume, a personal statement, and official transcripts
  • Completion of prerequisite courses
  • Minimum GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal interviews

DNP Degree Cost

The cost to earn a DNP varies depending on the university. However, tuition usually ranges somewhere between $40,000 and $70,000. Private institutions typically cost more than public universities.  

DNP Job Responsibilities

In 23 states, DNPs can run private practices independently. If you are interested in operating a medical practice with complete autonomy, a DNP degree may be the right choice for you. However, you will need to research the DNP scope of practice in your state

DNP Job Outlook

DNP-degreed nurses can work in any environment where hands-on healthcare is needed, as well as in healthcare leadership and policy roles. More and more healthcare systems are actively seeking DNP-degreed nurses to fill positions as nurse managers and nurse leaders to qualify for Magnet Hospital status.

Where You Will Work With a DNP Degree

DNPs have a wide range of environments where they can work, including all of the traditional and non-traditional settings where you will find registered nurses. 

Salary Potential for DNP Degree Nurses

According to ZipRecruiter, the median annual salary for a DNP in the US is $117,859 or $57/hr.

Is a DNP Right for You?

If your long-term goals include earning significantly more income, earning the respect of your colleagues and community, and playing a key role in the quality of the healthcare that people receive, then pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree could be the right choice for you!

Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle,, Parents,, and more.






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