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The Differences Between the RN and BSN Degrees

Higher Education Articles March 31, 2015

Registered nurses (RN) are nurses who have passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) upon completion of an accredited training program. These programs are available as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) or Associate of Science in Nursing (A.S.N.). The degrees differ in the required coursework for graduation and the time needed to complete them.

Associate of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing Programs

A two-year associate’s degree program at a nursing school or community college may be pursued by aspiring registered nurses. Admission criteria typically require incoming students to hold a GED certificate or a high school diploma. Students at a four-year university or college may earn a BSN.

Prerequisite courses in science and math may need to be taken by applicants to these programs. Previous experience in the healthcare field may also be a requirement for admission to some schools. Schools offer accelerated programs for those who already hold an A.S.N. or for those wishing to earn a second bachelor’s degree.


Coursework in an associate’s degree program is devised to teach basic nursing skills to students by combining classroom lectures and hands-on clinical experiences. Students often take general education courses in English, science, and math. Coursework varies by school and may also cover liberal arts courses to aid students seeking to transfer to a B.S.N. program.

Coursework in a bachelor’s degree program varies owing to the addition of courses in communication, biochemistry, and statistics. Additional general education courses must also be completed by students. But, as in the case of an A.S.N. program, bachelor’s degree program candidates are also required to undergo extensive clinical practicums and basic nursing coursework. Core coursework may include topic areas such as the following:

•Surgical nursing
•Mental health nursing
•Anatomy and physiology
•Nursing fundamentals
•Nursing theory
•Pediatric nursing

Successful completion of the program will entail eligibility to take the NCLEX-RN.

Continuing Education and Career Choices

Those who graduate from either a B.S.N. or A.S.N. program can seek entry-level careers in nursing. Work experience will enable RNs to advance to management positions regardless of the level of degree they hold themselves (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

However, continuing education is the avenue that is most likely to lead to advancement. A B.S.N. degree holder may pursue a master’s or doctoral degree program in nursing, whereby he or she can get trained to become an advanced practice nurses, such as nurse-midwives, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse practitioners.

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