RN or BSN? A Visual Comparison


Registered nurses (RNs) deliver patient care, educate patients and their families on medical conditions and share their medical knowledge with the community. A career as a registered nurse can be a stable one, thanks to an ever-growing need for nurses as the population ages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses will grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which exceeds that of many other fields. The first step toward launching a career in nursing is through education, either as an RN or BSN.

RN or BSN: What’s the Difference?

RN or BSN | ADN vs BSN RN or BSN | Salary

Aspiring registered nurses can choose one of three educational paths to prepare for a career in healthcare.

  • Nursing diploma programs are typically administered within hospitals and take about three years to complete.
  • Associate degree programs are available at community colleges and take three years to complete.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs are administered by colleges and universities and take four years to complete.

Of these three options, the BSN program is all encompassing. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the BSN program includes all the topics taught in the diploma or associate degree in nursing programs. However, the baccalaureate program goes a step further, giving students a more in-depth look at nursing topics such as nursing research, public and community health and nursing management.

Professional Organizations Endorse the BSN

Recently, national nursing organizations have overwhelmingly supported the Bachelor of Science in Nursing as the entry-level degree of choice for RNs. The Institute of Medicine’s 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, called for 80 percent of nurses to be baccalaureate educated by 2020. This goal represents about a 30 percent jump from the current number of BSN-educated nurses. Moreover, the IOM recommended that diploma-prepared and associate-prepared nurses be encouraged to return to the classroom to secure their BSN. As a result, they may have access to more promotion opportunities and, in turn, a higher salary.

Similarly, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report in 2013 entitled The Case for Academic Progression. This report, like the one from the IOM, stated that patients, providers and healthcare organizations as a whole benefit when nurses earn their BSN. The RWJF argued that as the face of healthcare changes, so do the responsibilities of nurses. Because nurses provide more care coordination and prevention, they must be educated to take on these increasing responsibilities. The BSN helps nurses achieve the education and experience to tackle this workload.

Finally, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) is currently drafting a position statement that supports the BSN as the entry-level degree for an RN. In this draft, the AACN argues that a well-educated workforce is essential to maximize patient safety, manage the complexity of ever-changing healthcare and address provider shortages.

BSN Professional Organizations

Employers Prefer the BSN

Professional organizations are not the only ones supporting a BSN as the entry-level degree in nursing. Research has indicated that many organizations prefer hiring BSN-prepared nurses over those who earned a diploma or associate degree. An August 2017 survey by the AACN provided telling results about the employability of BSN-prepared graduates. Key findings included the following:

  • 94 percent of BSN-prepared graduates obtained an entry-level job within 4 to 6 months of graduation
  • 49 percent of hospitals now require RNs to hold a BSN
  • 86.3 percent of employers stated they have a strong preference for baccalaureate-prepared graduates
BSN Licensure

Advantages of the BSN for RNs

Investing in the four-year BSN degree offers an array of benefits for new RNs. First, as the above research indicates, it will be easier to secure a job with a bachelor’s degree because employers prefer it. However, the advantages don’t stop there. The Health Resources and Services Administration’s 2013 report, The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education, revealed that BSN-prepared nurses experience faster salary growth and higher career earnings than their diploma-prepared and associate-prepared counterparts.

RN and BSN Stats

On a related note, beginning an RN career with a BSN puts the nurse closer to achieving a higher degree, such as the Master of Science in Nursing or the Doctor of Nursing Practice. A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for these graduate-level degree programs, and with these higher degrees comes the potential to secure a management-level position.

RN or BSN Advantages

BSN Program Opportunities

Evaluating RN or BSN options indicates that a baccalaureate degree delivers several key benefits. It improves job opportunities and job security, makes additional educational endeavors within reach and promises higher salary and lifetime earnings. Even more, the BSN complies with nursing organizations’ goals of making it the entry-level degree in the field. Finding the right nursing bachelor’s degree program, then, is key in launching your career as a registered nurse.

D’Youville’s RN-to-BSN online program blends coursework in topics such as evidenced-based practice and community-based nursing with clinical practice, offering a well-rounded education that expertly prepares you for the challenges in a career in healthcare. Our online program is flexible so that you can earn your degree while maintaining your busy life, making it ideal for working nurses. First established in 1942, our nursing programs have a reputation for being some of the best in the region.

RN or BSN | Which is Right for You?