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RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

After you’ve decided to pursue a career in nursing, the next step is to explore what educational path is best suited to you and your future career goals. For many prospective nursing students, this boils down to a question of: what’s the difference between RN vs. BSN? The simplest answer is that RN is a license, while BSN is a degree. And while earning your RN license is a crucial step in becoming a nurse, there are actually multiple educational paths to get there. The two most common are earning an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN). So, what are the key differences and why choose one program over another?

The bottom line is that either an ASN or BSN program can prepare you for a successful nursing career, but there are some important factors to consider, including: program length, career options, earning potential, and of course, tuition costs. You should also consider the current state of the healthcare industry, as after an Institute of Medicine report officially recommended that 80% of RNs achieve their BSN degrees by 2020,  many prominent healthcare organizations and employers are now favoring BSN-prepared nurses over those with ASN degrees alone.

Read on to learn more about the key differences between each program, so you can make the best, most informed decision for your education and future healthcare career.

 1) Program Length & Degree Type

An ASN program means that you will earn an Associate’s of Science in Nursing degree upon graduating. There are generally two types of ASN programs available to prospective nursing students: 1) accelerated programs (like Ameritech’s ASN program), which typically take around 4-5 semesters to complete and 2) non-accelerated ASN programs, which can be completed in around two years.

A BSN program will award you with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree upon graduating. Similar to ASN programs, BSN programs come in a couple of different types: 1) accelerated pre-licensure BSN programs (like Ameritech’s BSN program), which can be completed in around nine semesters and 2) standard four year Bachelor’s Degree programs.

For students who are already licensed and working as registered nurses, there is a third option available: RN-BSN degree completion programs, like Ameritech’s, which can be completed online in less than a year.

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2) Curriculum

Regardless of whether you choose an accelerated or non-accelerated format, ASN programs will prepare you to deliver basic clinical patient care through the study of anatomy and physiology, biology, pharmacology, and psychology. ASN programs typically conclude with an externship where you will gain hands-on experience working at a real-world medical facility, as well as a review course to help you prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam (the exam you must pass in order to become licensed as a registered nurse). In your final semester, you will also do a capstone project, synthesizing research and analysis around a topic of your choosing.

BSN programs build on the curriculum requirements of the ASN and typically require approximately 1-2 years’ worth of additional coursework, depending on what program type you choose. In addition to covering all of the topics included in an ASN program, BSN programs will also include technical skills like data gathering and statistics, as well as more holistic skill-building in critical thinking, leadership, communication, and problem-solving. Like an ASN program, a BSN program will typically include a review course to prepare you for the NCLEX-RN exam, as well as a capstone project.

Of course, after completing either program, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX exam in order to earn your RN license and start work as a registered nurse. However, with Ameritech’s accelerated BSN program, you do not need to wait until the end of your BSN program to take the exam. Instead, you can take it as soon as your ASN-level coursework is done (at around 20 months) and then, finish the remainder of your BSN degree online, on your own schedule. That means you can complete our BSN program while you work—earning an income and gaining experience as a registered nurse along the way.

3) Career Opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is projected to grow by 12% between 2018-2028, compared to just 5% growth for all other occupations. With a much higher than average job growth rate, this is great news for anyone considering a nursing career—regardless of whether you choose an ASN or BSN program.

However, if you would like to go beyond basic clinical nursing by pursuing a higher-paying nursing specialty, a teaching role, or a leadership position in nursing, you’ll likely need to earn a BSN degree in order to do it.

Additionally, many prominent healthcare organizations are now recommending and favoring BSN-prepared nurses. For example:

  • A 2010 Institute of Medicine report officially recommended that 80% of RNs achieve their BSN degree by 2020.
  • As of 2013, hospitals now require 100% of their management staff (Chief Nursing Officers) to have a BSN or higher level of education in order to be designated as top-tier “magnet” facilities by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
  • Some state legislatures have begun to propose “BSN in 10” laws requiring that nurses without a BSN degree return to school and attain one within their first decade on the job. In fact, New York State’s “BSN in 10” measure has already been signed into law.
  • According to the AACN’s 2018 annual report, 49% pf employers currently require a BSN degree for all new registered nurse hires, while 86.3% strongly prefer BSN-prepared nurses.

So, while an ASN program is certainly the fastest path to become a registered nurse, additional education (like that offered by a BSN or RN-BSN program) may soon become a job requirement, depending on where you plan to work. As more healthcare employers begin requiring BSN degrees and more states pass new minimum educational requirements, earning a BSN degree will likely offer you the most freedom in terms of where you will be qualified to work—both immediately upon entering the workforce and later on in your career.

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3) Earning Potential

According to American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) statistics from 2014, nurses with BSN degrees earn higher wages than those with ASN degrees, noting an average salary of $75,484 per year for BSN-prepared nurses vs. $66,620 each year for ASN-prepared nurses.

When it comes to nursing, the simple fact is that earning potential typically increases with education level. That’s because more advanced degrees can qualify you for higher paying nursing positions and specialties. According to the latest data from the BLS, nurses with a high degree of specialization like nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists earn average salaries of well over $100,000 a year. While some of these positions may require an even more advanced MSN degree, a BSN degree is a required rung on the ladder to the highest tier of earners in the nursing field.

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4) Tuition Costs

While the price difference between an ASN and BSN degree used to be significant, new BSN program offerings (like Ameritech’s pre-licensure BSN program) are beginning to close the gap. Moreover, as BSN programs have become more tailored to working nurses looking to expand their opportunities and meet changing job requirements, the time spent out of the workforce has become less of a factor in calculating overall costs.

That said, earning an Associate’s degree is almost always going to cost less than a Bachelor’s degree, simply due to the decreased number of credit hours required. Actual costs vary greatly depending on which institution you choose, but at Ameritech, you can expect to pay $49,820 for an ASN degree and $57,750 for a BSN degree (with all books and fees included in the cost of both programs). In our experience, many nursing students find the slightly higher cost of a BSN program well worth it, especially when considering the greater earning potential and career advancement opportunities offered by a BSN degree.


ASN vs. BSN Programs: Side-by-Side Comparison

To help you decide which nursing program is right for you, here’s a quick comparison chart outlining the major differences between a typical ASN and BSN degree program.

Nursing Degree Checklist ASN BSN (Pre-Licensure)
NCLEX Required for Licensure? Yes Yes
Can be achieved in 2 years or less? Yes No
Cost of degree totals less than $50K Yes No
Eligible for Clinical Role? Yes Yes
Eligible for Nursing Specialization Tracks? No Yes
Eligible for Educational/Teaching Roles? No Yes
Eligible for Administrative and Management Roles? No Yes
Eligible to work in all 50 states? Yes, but RNs in New York state must achieve their BSN within 10 years of licensure.

For all other states, check with your state’s nursing board for specific work requirements. For Utah, click here.

Eligible to enter an MSN program? No Yes

Learn More About Ameritech’s ASN and BSN Programs

At Ameritech, we offer prospective RNs the choice between a five semester ASN program and an accelerated, nine semester, pre-licensure BSN program (some of which can be completed online). Both tracks will have you ready to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to get licensed as a registered nurse in just 20 months. However, if you are looking to earn a higher salary, advance into nursing leadership positions or specialties, and/or work in a state or healthcare facility that requires a BSN degree (or have the freedom to do so later on in your career), then you may find a BSN is a better choice for your nursing education.

Degree Type Program Length Cost Career Opportunities Median Annual Salary
Ameritech’s Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) Program 20 Months/5 Semesters in-classroom $49,820, including all books and fees Clinical Nurse, Pediatric Nurse (with additional certification), Outpatient Care Provider, Home Healthcare Provider, and many more. $66,620/year
Ameritech’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program 9 Semesters

(5 semesters in-classroom, 4 semesters online)

$57,750, including all books and fees ICU Nurse, Medical Device and Pharmaceutical Sales, Nurse Educator, Hospice/Palliative Care, Nurse Administrator, and many more. $75,484/year


Learn more about Ameritech’s ASN Program »

Learn more about Ameritech’s BSN Program »

If you’re already a working, licensed RN looking to close the gap in your nursing education, Ameritech offers an even faster path towards earning a BSN degree with our accelerated, 100% online RN to BSN degree completion program.

RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?