What are the Different Types of
Nursing Degrees and Nursing Programs?
Overview of Nursing Degrees
If you are a beginner starting to look into nursing studies, you probably found out
already there are many possible nursing degrees, each degree coming with its own requirements,
advantages and disadvantages, and initials. Were you able to make some sense of all these different
possibilities? I would like to try and make things a bit clearer.
There are 2 groups of nursing degrees: One is the group of nursing academic degrees, meaning the
degrees which indicate the level of your academic studies. In the second group are the nursing
certifications, where the certification level indicates the level and type of nursing you are licensed
to do. Though the exact tasks you may fulfill in your nursing job depend also on your academic studies
level and not only on your nursing certification.
Letís start with the academic degrees. I will start from the lowest degree,
requiring the least studying, till the furthest:
ASN or ADN Degree
ASN is initials for Associate of Nursing, or Associate of Science in Nursing. In some schools this
degree is call ADN, initials for Associate Degree in Nursing. ASN or ADN programs are offered in
Junior and Community Colleges, which make them more affordable, and will typically take 2 full years
of studies. You get all the actual nursing courses as in a BSN, but very little nursing theory and no
research. If you donít plan on furthering your education, or moving into a management job, this can be
a good choice for you, as it can will usually be much less expensive than a full BSN degree. You may
also choose to start off with an ASN so that you finish this first stage as quickly as possible, and
complete your education only later when you are more experienced.
This 2-3 years course was more common before the 1970s, but is still offered by some nursing schools,
usually hospital-based nursing schools. The level of the academic studies for this degree will be somewhere between the ASN degree and the BSN, and it prepares the student to work in a hospital or some other inpatient facility.
This means a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. A BSN programs will typically take 4 years to complete.
You get here higher level of studies than the ASN or Nursing Diploma, and hence more career
opportunities. It is also a requirement if you want to move forward to a higher education level, or
to a NP certification, but you may find programs which will let you start from an ASN and move to a BSN
and then an MSN within the same curriculum.
An MSN is a Master of Science in nursing degree, and is sought out by nurses going for a more advanced
career. Completing an MSN degree will typically take between 18 to 24 months. Classes for this level
will usually be scheduled in Fridays and evenings to accommodate students who are working already part
Not many nurses get to this level of academic learning, and therefore nurses with doctoral degrees are
expected to have tremendous job demand over the next ten years. These programs prepare nurses for
careers in health administration (a PhD is the preferred degree for nursing executives), clinical
research, and advanced clinical practice. A Nursing Ph.D. program may take from four to six years to
complete, during which you will focus on a specific research area of your choice. The program will
also include training in research methods and in some leadership skills, and courses in history and
philosophy of nursing science.
As I said before, parallel to the academic nursing degrees, there is also a system of practical nursing certifications, which indicates the level of practical tasks you are allowed to perform. For each of these degrees you have to pass a state certification exam. Again, I will list these degrees from the first (minimal tasks) to the most advanced:
LPN or LVN Degree
The initials stand for Licensed Practical Nurse or Licensed Vocational Nurse Ė two different initials
for the same type of license. This is the entry level into the nursing world, and may be chosen as a
starting point to check out if this world suits you and your needs. Then you may, if you chose to get
to a more advanced level, follow an ASN programs, than get a RN license etc.
There are shorter waiting lists to get into LPN programs, and the only requirement is a GED or high
school diploma. You also have to pass the entrance exam which requires college level algebra and
English test. A Licensed practical or vocational nurse will provide the basic bedside care for the
sick or injured, and will work directly with the patients: giving injections, taking vital signs,
performing basic diagnostic tests etc. In order to earn your LPN degree you will have to pass the
NCLEX-PN state board exam.
The majority of workers in the health care industry are registered nurses (RNs). An RN position is
senior to that of a LPN, and may include also management tasks and many other career options. In order
to become a registered nurse you should have first a nursing academic career Ė an ASN, BSN or a nursing
diploma. Then you can pass the national licensing examination, the NCLEX-RN.
NP stands for Nurse Practitioner. A nurse practitioner is an advanced nursing degree, given to registered nurses who completed an advanced academic degree program (MSN or Ph.D. program) and specialized in some specific area, such as family health, geriatric care, womenís health, etc. Then the candidate should pass the state board licensing exam.
A nurse practitioner is actually only one of the APN (Advanced Practice Nurse) possibilities. An APN will have an advanced nursing degree, and will have a specific training and license for advanced work in some nursing field. The other APN possibilities are:
CRNA Certified Nurse Anesthetist, administering anesthesia for all types of surgery.
CNS Clinical Nurse Specialist, providing specialist care in a number of areas, such as
cardiology, oncology and more.
CNM Certifies Nurse Midwife, providing prenatal care, delivering babies, and postpartum care
to normal healthy women.