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RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

How an associate degree vs. a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can lead to different opportunities

Nurse with diverse group of people

The Difference Between RN and BSN

Should you pursue an RN or a BSN? It’s an interesting comparison, but it’s also a trick question. The truth is, you can become an RN by obtaining an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)—OR—by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). So, in reality, RN vs. BSN is not an “apples to apples” comparison.

However, even though taking either path can lead you to graduate and become licensed as a Registered Nurse, there are some differences between the two. Those differences can position you for significantly more nursing career opportunities.

For this article, we will refer to those who become an RN by earning an associate degree, “RNs” (also called ADN-RNs), and those who become an RN by earning a bachelor’s degree, “BSNs” (also called BSN-RNs). This guide will give you all the information you need to understand the difference between these two distinct paths to becoming a nurse.

In addition to this comparison, you can also click here to read more on how to become a Registered Nurse.

RN vs. BSN: Definition

What is an RN?

First, let’s cover the general RN definition. RNs, or Registered Nurses, have finished their educational program, such as an associate degree in nursing, and passed the NCLEX-RN exam. This official exam certifies and licenses a nurse as an RN. In this article, we’ll discuss the process of finishing a nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Remember, as we compare, we will refer to those who graduated with an associate degree (ADN-RN) before licensure as “RN.”

What is a BSN?

The BSN definition is similar because those who graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, called BSNs, also can become RNs. They, too, must prepare for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. However, the coursework and learned skills differ compared to RNs who earn an associate degree. We’ll detail a few of those differences below.

Even though BSNs also license as RNs, we will refer to those who chose to earn a bachelor’s degree (BSN-RN) before their licensure as “BSN.”

RN vs. BSN: Duties & Responsibilities

RN Responsibilities

Registered Nurses work closely with supervising healthcare providers to assess, care for, and educate patients about various health conditions. They coordinate patient care as part of a healthcare team of doctors, specialists, and technicians. They also provide emotional support to patients and their families.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that RNs typically perform duties that include:

  • Assess patients’ conditions and record medical histories and symptoms
  • Administer patients’ medicines and treatments
  • Set up plans for patients’ care or contribute information to existing plans
  • Consult and collaborate with doctors and other healthcare professionals
  • Operate and monitor medical equipment
  • Teach patients and their families how to manage illnesses or injuries
  • Explain what to do at home after treatment

BSN Responsibilities

BSN nurses can perform all of the duties of RNs listed above, plus they may also perform more advanced assignments. Nurse Journal explains that a BSN education prepares nurses for a broader range of responsibilities. These may include more management roles, healthcare decision-making, and teaching and education roles.

Indeed reports that BSN nurses may additionally perform duties like:

  • Providing a diagnosis and treatment plan
  • Use diagnostic testing equipment to assess patient symptoms and health
  • Evaluate and assess patient treatment symptoms and conditions
  • Prescribe and administer medications, IVs, and other medical treatments

From its 2020 National Workforce Survey, the Journal of Nursing Regulation found that BSN nurses make more yearly than those with an associate degree.

  • Some high-paying nursing jobs you may be more likely to obtain with a BSN include Research Nurse, Nurse Educator, and Oncology Nurse. Read about the highest-paying nursing careers.

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RN vs. BSN: Education

Educational Requirements for RNs

To become a Registered Nurse, a student will usually pursue either a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree before seeking to be licensed as an RN.

For those who choose the associate degree in the nursing path (ADN-RN), it can typically take at least two years, but up to four years, to complete. Most ADN programs are focused on clinical experience and usually include courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, and social and behavioral sciences.

Once completing the program, graduates must prepare for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This is the nurse licensure and certification exam that entry-level nurses must pass before working as an RN.

Educational Requirements for BSNs

For those who choose the BSN option (BSN-RN), the BLS reports that this degree typically takes four years to complete. BSN programs include supervised clinical work and the same coursework that ADN programs usually require, and additional courses in communication, leadership, and critical thinking. These skills are essential for many research, consulting, or teaching jobs that often require a BSN.

Once completing a BSN program, graduates must likewise prepare for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam for the state where they plan to work.

RN vs. BSN: Salary

How Much Do RNs Make?

In its most recent data from May of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average RN salary* nationwide was $77,600, or $37.31 per hour. The highest 10 percent of RNs make over $120,000 per year. The five top-paying states for RNs average between $97,230 and $124,000. These salary* ranges translate to an hourly rate of between $46.74 and $59.62 per hour.

How Much Do BSNs Make?

Registered Nurses who have earned their BSN degree also fall into the same salary* ranges as all RNs. However, the BLS clarifies that a bachelor’s degree is often necessary for administrative positions, research, consulting, and teaching—which tend to be the more high-paying jobs. Additionally, some hospitals require new job candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree.

ShiftMed reports that the starting salary* for BSN-RNs can be significantly higher than that of ADN-RNs, boosting the average salary* to over $80,000. The staffing organization also points out that because BSN nurses have more education, they are often better equipped to handle more complex work. Therefore, a BSN salary* can often be higher than other RNs.

Additionally, BSNs may obtain certification in several specialties. Nurse Journal concludes that this can expand job opportunities within their chosen medical specialty and increase their salaries.

RN vs. BSN: Job Outlook

RN Job Outlook

The need for Registered Nurses over the next decade is projected to grow at 6 percent, keeping up with the average growth of all occupations. This includes over 200,000 new openings each year, on average. Much of this demand will be fueled by a significant number of older people, who typically have more health problems and require more medical care.

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BSN Job Outlook

As was the case with projected salary*, the BLS reports the job outlook for all RNs, both ADN-RNs, and BSN-RNs. This means that the 200,000 new nurses hired each month over the next decade include all RNs. However, since many of the jobs at hospitals, especially those that involve nursing management may require a BSN, spending extra time to start your career as a BSN is worth the investment.

The Pros & Cons of Becoming an RN vs. BSN

Before deciding which path to take toward your nursing career, consider your job preferences, your long-term goals, and potential earning power. Then weigh the pros and cons of each path to RN, including the following:

Pros of ADN-RN Cons of ADN-RN
  • Less time and money spent on coursework
  • Enter workforce sooner
  • Begin earning a salary sooner, which can help pay down student loans or debt


  • Fewer available positions
  • Lower earning potential
  • Many hospitals may require you to eventually earn a BSN


Pros of BSN-RN Cons of BSN-RN
  • More available jobs
  • Certification in specialty areas
  • Higher earning potential
  • More time spent in school
  • A bachelor’s degree cost more than an associate’s degree
  • Starting career later


Is Earning a BSN Right For You?

We hope this article has given you a good idea of the differences between an RN and a BSN. Becoming an ADN-RN allows you to begin a nursing career sooner. If this is your number one priority, this could be a good path for you.

A BSN-RN may make more sense if your professional goals include specialized work at a hospital, a management career, or you want to go into teaching and education. If a BSN degree is the right path, click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College.

Take the time now to consider the type of nursing career, job opportunities, and possible management roles you may be interested in the long term. This will help you make the best decision for your career.