ADN vs. BSN: Did I choose right?

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I remember back when I was an art student just barely getting the ball rolling on changing my major to nursing. I knew that nursing was what I wanted to do and that switching majors and switching schools was the right thing for me, but the big question was where do I go?

At the time, I didn’t know a lot about nursing schools, other than that the city colleges around my area had good nursing programs. As I looked into it a bit more, I learned that there were LVN programs, RN programs, and that you could get your bachelor’s degree in nursing! Again, it was all new territory. After taking pre-reqs at a city college, I opted to transfer to a university to get my BSN. Since the programs were so impacted, I figured I had a better shot at getting in via the merit system in the BSN program than the lottery program the city college had. Plus, in only one more year I could have my BSN done.

Other than the additional classes, I didn’t really know what the difference was between a BSN and ADN. I figured a BSN degree would be better since I could move up the nursing ladder and get my master’s degree or higher. I just assumed that a BSN degree would provide a better education. I don’t regret choosing the BSN program at all, I love my school, and I think they’re really preparing us well for what’s to come out in the working world. But I have many friends who have gone through ADN programs, or are in them right now, and as I am  comparing my classes with theirs I’m starting to realize that while we do cover the same areas, there are some advantages to ADN programs that the BSN schools are lacking.

In the BSN program, our last three quarters are filled with the “extra” classes, the ones that set us apart from the ADN schools, community health promotion, public health, leadership, case management, all the classes that have to do with a different side of nursing that goes beyond the acute care hospital setting. It’s been very interesting, and more than anything, I am learning about how many different opportunities we have as nurses to reach out an help people in need. But I am noticing that while we’re getting experience in a range of different settings, my friends in ADN programs are getting a much greater and more challenging experience in the hospital setting during their clinical rotations.

Our school only has one-day-a-week hospital rotations, as opposed to two or more, and it seems as though the expectations for my friends in the ADN programs are set higher. They are expected to care for more patients earlier and increase their patient load much more than we are and are tested in NCLEX style in all of their classes, not simply in the classes where teachers prefer that method.

Like I said, I love my school, and I really like how we rotate through everything, but I can’t help feeling like ADN students are getting a much greater clinical experience while in school since that is, above all, their main focus.

ADN and BSN students: what are your thoughts? Do you feel like your school teaches you what you need to know on the same caliber as other schools? Does your school set a high bar of expectations for you?

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Ani Burr, RN

I'm a brand new, full-fledged, fresh-out-of-school RN! And better yet, I landed the job of my dreams working with children. I love what I do, and while everyday on the job is a new (and sometimes scary) experience, I'm taking it all in - absorbing everything I can about this amazing profession we all fell in love with.

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18 Responses to ADN vs. BSN: Did I choose right?

  1. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    Ani, that is a mult-leveled answer! I was a diploma (ADN) graduate when I entered nursing and I did love the emphasis on clinical experiences. I have since then went back for my BSN and now am pursuing my NP. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but that bachelors education prepares you in ways that the ADN/diploma does not. I think it’s split even down the middle, and it has everything to do with opportunity and your goals.
    Either way – I say get out there and get into nursing! :)

  2. Natascha

    I have been going back and forth on this option myself for quite some time. There are 2 community colleges where I live, one offering the 2 year ADN, the other offers LPN program, then a bridge to RN, ADN. I do want my BSN (actually Masters, as I want to be an NP), but with having young children and a husband who works 60+ hrs per week, I am taking the slow, leisurely route there…..the LPN program offers part time options as well as the RN bridge program. I think it all comes down to opportunity and your life circumstances at that time. I wish I could just get it done quickly, but I am not willing to make the sacrifices I would need to in order to do that. And, the nearest 4 year BSN program is a 2 hr drive away. Definitely NOT an option!

  3. Michelle

    I loved my experience as a ADN while in school. Although I must say I couldn’t stand my instructors., but as time transpired I learned that my ADN prepared me moreso than my girlfriend who was in the BSN program, so I gained a greater respect for the task they were trying to accomplish.II must add that we were both LVN’s and really great with our nursing skills and felt the need to pursue a higher calling. She was really in shock when she was in shock when she graduated. I was much more prepared. When I entered the ICU and she the ER she struggled much more and would continuously call me for suggestions answers and to help her mathematically titrate medications. Although it is my goal to one day pursue a higher education… minus the BS and Masters I already posses while being a nurse but not in nursing.. I will. Not because I need it to help me in my day to day. I have ascertained the theory if I want to be in a higher administrative position these would be required of me. I love my ADN experience and wouldn’t give anything for it after seeing the struggle of my friend who is very bright and articulate because she wasn’t able to have the same experience because of the theoretical experiences the BSN requires which is less than the one on one hands on apply the theory to the person experience I encountered.

  4. Sue Lewton

    ADN is not a diploma program. that was a three year program that is rarely seen. We started school in Aug and started working in the hospital the next May. We worked 24 hours a week in addition to attending classes. We worked all three shifts and did everything from bed baths and making occupied beds (anyone remember that) to scrubbing in the OR. I went back and got my BSN. Diploma nurses can fill any clinical position in the hospital. All my BSN did was teach me how to manage.

  5. Hi Ani, you have really come around the block with your evaluation of the nursing programs. I agree with you 100%. I have a daughter that graduated with her BSN. She was very confident with her knowledge in nursing. She was also a nurse tech during her half of her nursing education. She said she learned her skills mainly as a tech. Watching her graduate, and several of her friends who were older than most of the students, I saw myself wanting the same career. She advised me to go the ADN route. I did. We compared the lesson plans, tests, and clinical assignments. The ADN route was much more hands on and more rigid in passing on the brightest and most talented nurses. Not to say my daughters BSN is by any means lesser, just more enduring to the students. There is no easy ADN program. It trains one for the real world of nursing on the floor. The BSN is exactly what it sets its students up for, more of a management mind form. However, we both agree the best managers are those with the most experience in floor skills and people skills. periiod.

  6. Marsha

    This is an interesting topic. I am currently enrolled in an ADN to BSN program. I will graduate in December. If you would have asked me this question two years ago my response would have been much different. I agree that the ADN program prepares you for your job as an RN on the floor, but research shows that the BSN nurse is at the same level on the floor within a year of nursing. The BSN student receives a different level of education. They focus on public health and professionalism in nursing. I do believe that the trend in nursing is for a higher diegree and I know for a fact that many hospital managers refuse to higher an ADN nurse.
    I agree that choosing the right program for your situation is important. And the BSN program is not a realistic opportunity for some. I believe that both degrees are equally important, but the BSN is going to have more opportunities for employment.

  7. Victor

    Sue Lewton said it best. All the BSN program did was teach one to manage and administrate.

  8. Marcia L Castro

    i graduated from a Diploma program. The best, more clinical experience of all the nursing programs. Three days a week on the floor,. ICU was a mandatory rotation. which included Peds, Neonatal,Neuro, Trauma, Burn,Cardiovascular, Open Heart and ,Medical,and Surgical ICUs.. We did Home Health with two clients to care for and visit for 8 weeks, We had a course in Management on a unit of our choice. We had it all and we could have our BSN in 1 additional year at a local college. Bring back the diploma grads. We knew our stuff and took very little time to orient as new grads because most of us worked as nurse externs on our days off! Sure the Chemistry,,Anatomy, English, Gerontology,, Psychology Philosophy, Ethics,Nutrition and Pharmacology helped us in our education as nurses but as one of my instructors once said, “All the book learning in the world won’t make you a good nurse. It will help, but it’s the hands on experience and a caring concerned heart that forms you into the kind of nurse your patients want caring for them!”

  9. Char

    A friend of mine noted the difference is simply that between a skilled trade and a profession (professions of course require degrees) with focus differing accordingly. I think that’s fairly accurate based on my experience.

    Here LPNs are the two year diploma nurses (we got rid of our diploma RN program like 15 years ago). They are definitely better equipped for, well, practical nursing. No doubt about that, and they do more of it.

    Degree programs on the other hand tend to concentrate on a much bigger and more theoretical picture, so if you’re someone who only values clinical knowledge (while believing theoretical knowledge to be useless), don’t even bother with the degree. I have a number of people in my class who think this way, and basically all they do is complain “why do I have to learn this?”

    So yeah. Pick the program that fits you.

  10. Trish

    Having graduated from a BSN program, I can say with absolute certainty that the BS nursing students don’t get even close to HALF the hands-on clinical skills that their ADN counterparts do. If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely go the route of the ADN program, and then, WITH EXPERIENCE UNDER MY BELT, take on the BSN program.

    Our clinical experiences sucked. Too many students, no real teaching plan, MIA instructors and assigned RN’s…95% of the time I was left twisting in the wind.

    As a result, when I got on my first job, I knew less, clinically, than my LVN counterparts, who whispered mercilessly about how unsafe they felt I was as a nurse, making me feel woefully inadequate, incompetent, and scared about my scope of practice.

    Not to mention the $125,000 price tag it cost me for this lack of experience, in the loans that I now have to pay off.

    Bottom line: NOT WORTH IT!

    • wkiemle Caption Contest

      I am not sure I completely agree. I am an ADN after 13 years’ LPN experience. I have now been an RN for 3 years. I am currently enrolled in the (same) community college to get my prerequisites for the RN to MSN programs offered in my state. After this semester, I have 1 semester + 1 class left for the pre-reqs.

      Your BSN did not prepare you for the floor as well as an ADN would have. I will give you that one. I have been one to say that I prefer to work alongside new ADNs than BSNs. The Associates programs are simply geared toward bedside nursing. They are more practical. You can learn most of these skills. It takes experience and practice. You also have a headstart over the rest of us.

      If you decide to later pursue an advanced degree, you can do so very easily. Those of us with ADNs must backtrack and take all of our liberal arts classes. We missed those the first go-around. You did not miss them because you went to a university, where they were already required.

      In the long run, your BSN will be worth it; I promise you

  11. Emily

    I am currently in ADN two ladder program for nursing. We start off taking general courses until we get accepted into clinical experience. We get our LPN after 4 quarters, and then we take an externship as an LPN for 250-500 hours. After we’ve completed the externship, we return to school for one refresher quarter and 3 clinical courses to complete our ADN. I’m hoping afterwards to do an RN-BSN completion program where I can add to my clinical knowledge with theory.

  12. Heather

    I started my nursing career as a Medical Assistant. I know a lot of people, including nurses, don’t even think of them as nurses, but I have to say, I learned everything that a LPN does as a Medical Assistant. They are essentially the same, but without the pay. The LPN program I went through was 3 semesters, which included clinicals the whole time. Now I am looking at a bridge program from LPN to ADN, which lasts 3 semesters as well. I will be happy with that, but will continue my education as a nurse to further get my BSN but hopefully taking my time with that.

  13. jessicastreeter Student

    Great article! I think this varies state-by-state though. My BSN program actually has more clinical hours then the ADN program that is local. Of course there are many more ADN programs but I don’t know as much about them or anyone in them. We also have all our tests NCLEX style. I hope I made the right choice for school but I’m never sure since I don’t plan to go back for my Master’s but I suppose I’ll find out soon when I graduate :)

  14. Enfermera3 Student

    I am one semester away from graduating from an ADN program and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I also work at a Hospital as a CNA and have been there almost three years, after seeing other students and speaking to my co-workers (RN’s) we can all see a difference in BSN vs. ADN students. The ADN students are always more prepared, have more skills to practice earlier on, and from my personal experience the nurses trust us as ADN’s more (I think due in part to the reputation of our school) than the BSN students. You get so much more clinical/hands on training in an ADN. I also love my nursing program, we are challenged, they work us hard but we also have such wonderful and dedicated faculty. That can make a big difference in your training as well.

  15. Patrick Student

    I am a current, second year ADM student. I am 19 years old and decided to go this route because it was cheaper and I didn’t want to have to wait a full four years to become a nurse, lolz! I must say that as far as clinical, we’ve had many students from the local BSN program say we do a crazy amount in conjunction with class. Oh and just to note, we have a nursing leadership and management class in my program, I’m in it now with my second med- surf and critical care course. We have to do 400 Practice NCLEX ?’s a week, plus our normal homework, but I feel prepared when I’m faced with nursing knowledge and practice questions! I am glad I chose this path! It’s worked out best for me so far! We are always pushed to further our nursing education. As of now , approximately 95% of our class plan on getting their BSNs and 70% plan on going to get a graduate degree/ enter advanced practice, like me!

  16. techfan

    This is a great, much debated topic in schools of nursing today. My perspective has changed as I have advanced my degree from an ADN nurse to a Master’s prepared nurse and currently in a Post-Master’s NP program in 4 years. I have and will always be a supporter of the ADN program for entry level nursing. Time and money are huge obstacles to face when making decisions on educational tracks. If you have the time and the money, I would suggest you pursue your BSN. If you are short of both of those, as I was in returning to school in my 40’s with 4 kids and a full-time job on the side, the ADN route was really my only option.

    One of the best things about nursing is that your career options are wide open once you obtain your RN. I cannot think of another career where you can really branch into all areas of the medical profession by continuing your education. The ability to transition from ADN, BSN, MSN, and DNP are becoming more and more streamline, online, and achievable for anyone who has the drive to work hard to obtain their long-term goals.

    Bottom line – we are all nurses! We take the same NCLEX exam, work side by side, and have a common heart and compassion for the profession of nursing. Be proud of your accomplishments and, wherever your career leads you, the goal of becoming a nurse is something to be proud of no matter how your education got you there.

  17. Stephanie Dee

    I live in Ontario Canada, and we don’t have the associate degree. I am currently in the BScN program, with three semesters left. When I first started my nursing school journey I had regretted not going through the LPN (we call it RPN) route, but now that I am closer to the end of my program than the beginning I see the advantages of sticking it out. There are a number of the opportunities for the RN, including administration, Masters, or NP.