RN vs. BSN – A Complete Comparison

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The field of nursing is as diverse as it is rewarding. Nurses can choose specializations and serve in various settings to provide care for patients. They can also obtain different levels of education in order to be qualified to practice. The differences between an RN vs. BSN is based on the educational level that is fulfilled. A BSN can be an RN, but an RN can also practice without a BSN.


Sounds like a lot of acronyms and confusing lingo, doesn’t it?


Don’t worry — we are here to help break down what each stands for and their respective requirements. The educational differences between the two can open different doors to various opportunities and career destinations.


Let’s take a look at what this means in action and practice.



Female RN with a BSN degree
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash



What Is A RN?

The acronym RN stands for registered nurse. A registered nurse is a professional who provides care to patients in a medical setting. Patient treatment includes education, emotional support, and medical management. Nurses also play a role in keeping patient’s medical records up to date.


Registered nurses can choose a specific area of care to work in. For example, they may work in neonatology, geriatrics, or pediatrics. RNs work alongside doctors in every specialized form of medicine and can be found in home-care, rehab centers, clinics, hospitals, and private offices.



What Is A BSN?

A BSN stands for bachelor’s degree of science in nursing. This is typically a four-year program designed for students who wish to become an RN.


A BSN can also be sought after by someone who is already practicing as an RN with an associate’s degree.


RNs who enroll in a BSN program have the goal to enrich and further their education and potentially open the door to higher paying nursing jobs. An RN who has been working in the field and chooses to go back to school for a BSN may also be doing so to land a position that requires a bachelor’s of science in nursing.


The Big Differences Between RN And BSN

Perhaps the most obvious and biggest difference between the two is their level of education. Put simply, a registered nurse can graduate with an associate’s degree, pass the necessary test, and start practicing as a nurse. A BSN has graduated with their bachelor’s degree of science in nursing.


In short, a BSN is a type of RN with a higher distinction in education.



What Is An ADN?

Of the various paths you can take to become an RN, one is to first become an ADN. ADN stands for associate’s degree in nursing. This means that you can obtain your degree in roughly two years as opposed to the four-year degree of a BSN.


Then, after you pass the NCLEX exam and complete licensing requirements, you can start to work as a registered nurse.



Education Requirements

Here’s a look at the educational requirements and paths to become an RN.

  • ADN (~ 2 years ) + NCLEX exam + licensing requirements -> RN
  • BSN (~ 4 years) + NCLEX + licensing requirements -> RN
  • ADN (~2 years) + NCLEX + licensing requirements -> RN -> BSN (back to school) -> RN

One pro of getting an ADN and becoming an RN straight away is that you can gain more work experience earlier. It also requires less upfront cost because there are two less years of schooling required for an ADN when compared to a BSN. That way, if you do want to earn your BSN later, you’ll have gained more work experience and potentially have saved more money to help pay for furthering your education. However, a downside of having an ADN without a BSN is that it could lessen your job opportunities.


WIth a BSN, you open the door to more job opportunities, higher pay, and more job security. On the downside, you have to spend more on education upfront. Yet, it could all be worth it because it may just happen that changes down the line could require a BSN to practice nursing. So it may be a worthwhile venture to get it done from the start.



Job Outlook For RN And BSN

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the field of nursing is expected to grow by 15% through 2026. Both BSNs and RNs with an ADN have a high chance of landing a job. However, it’s important to note that those with a BSN can qualify for the positions that require an ADN only and the positions that require a BSN. This means, according to data analysis, that ADN-RNs will qualify for about 52% of job opportunities, while BSN-RNs may qualify for 93%.



Who Earns More?

Naturally, since a BSN requires more education than a RN, the salary tends to be higher. The average salary of a RN with an ADN is $70,820. The average salary of a RN with a BSN sits at about $84,000 per year.


Of course, this salary depends on your location and level of experience, but this general average showcases how a BSN increases salary potential.



BSN Nurse taking patient’s vitals
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash



Diving Deeper: RN vs. BSN Career Options

As you can see, the education level and salary potential for each designation differs. Additionally, the career paths and specializations do too.


For example, common career paths for a RN with an ADN include:

  • Critical Care Nurse
  • Geriatric Nurse
  • Cardiac Nurse

For those with a BSN, positions include:

  • Orthopedic Nurse
  • Informatics Nurse
  • Nursing Administrator


RN vs BSN: Which Is Right For Me?

Both a RN with an ADN and a BSN provide the necessary education to enter the field of nursing. The decision is highly subjective as to which to choose. Some things to consider when deciding are: the cost of the education, your work experience, and your overall career goals.


It may be a good idea to consider online education as it offers a more affordable and accessible approach to earning your degree, regardless of the level you choose to attain.