What Is a BSN vs. RN in Nursing?

Professional woman smiling while outdoors
Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse asks her colleague, What is a BSN in nursing?

If you’re just entering the medical field, or you’ve just started to learn about nursing education, you’ve probably noticed that medicine is full of acronyms. RN, BSN, ADN, LPN — each of these is a different nursing qualification. Depending on your unique needs, you might want to pursue one over the other. But what is a BSN in nursing, and how does it compare to an RN?

First let’s break down some of the most common acronyms in nursing:

  • RN (registered nurse): A legal license that allows you to practice nursing in your state.
  • BSN (bachelor of science in nursing): A four-year degree that prepares you for practice.
  • ADN (associate degree in nursing): A two-year degree that prepares you for practice.

Each of these might sound similar, but depending on the nursing path you pursue, you might have different job opportunities down the road. Also, these qualifications are associated with different salaries.

What Is a BSN vs. RN?

A BSN is a degree, while an RN is a legal license to practice nursing. If you want to become an RN, going to a four-year university to get your BSN is one way to be qualified to take the licensure exam. Nursing leaders call this the preferred degree to practice, and more than 70% of nurses in the workforce have a BSN.

You might have seen someone’s qualifications at clinicals and wondered, What is a BSN nurse? These acronyms can be confusing because of how they’re listed behind someone’s name. For example:

  • Sandy Smith, RN, BSN is a registered nurse who has completed a bachelor’s degree.
  • Sandy Smith, RN is a registered nurse who completed an ADN degree, but this isn’t usually listed as a separate qualification.

Compared to a BSN degree, an ADN is a shorter — and often less expensive — path to licensure. ADN-prepared nurses still go through rigorous coursework and clinical practice, but they take fewer professional development classes. If entering the nursing workforce is your priority, getting an ADN degree might be right for you. Learn more about comparing BSN and ADN degrees.

Even though their educations are slightly different, ADN- and BSN-prepared nurses take the same NCLEX for RN licensure, and they work alongside each other in post-acute and acute care settings. Their scope of practice is the same, and they can both get advanced specialty certifications.

What Is a BSN Degree?

In nursing a BSN is an undergraduate degree and the highest level of preparatory education to enter the field. Today, many employers prefer BSN-prepared nurses because they’ve been shown to improve patient outcomes. As nursing professionalism evolves, some leaders in the field believe new nurses should be required to complete a bachelor’s to practice.

While ADN degrees teach the basics of nursing care, the additional coursework in a BSN degree expands on this knowledge base. For example, BSN-prepared nurses usually take these courses as well as the classes that ADN-prepared nurses take:

  • Global and population health
  • Nursing professionalism
  • Healthcare policy and economics
  • Writing composition
  • Leadership and professional growth

How Long Does It Take to Get a BSN?

Standard BSN programs take at least four years to complete. However, if you’ve already completed your prerequisite courses at a community college or university, some accelerated programs may be faster. You might also be able to finish earlier by taking courses over the summer.

If you’re an ADN-prepared nurse thinking about going back to school for your bachelor’s, bridge programs can be even shorter. RN-to-BSN programs are often online and can take just a few semesters.

BSN Degree Requirements

To apply for nursing school to get your BSN, you’ll need to complete some basic requirements first. In many four-year schools, you’ll enter as a freshman without a major and enroll in prerequisite courses for the first year or two. Once you’ve completed your prerequisites, you can apply for the nursing program within your school. These are some of the most common requirements to enter nursing school:

  • Prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology, biology, and chemistry
  • A cumulative GPA of 2.8 or higher
  • Standardized test scores such as the HESI, TEAS, or NLN PAX

What Is a BSN Salary Compared to an ADN Salary?

While both degrees prepare you for the same career, you may have a lower salary as an ADN-prepared nurse. ADN nurses make between $64,769 and $68,908 per year, while nurses with a BSN nurses between $65,936 and $70,154 per year.

Additionally, a BSN may be a better long-term path because it opens you up to more leadership opportunities. If you want to grow your nursing career into academics, research, or becoming a nurse practitioner, the BSN is a better choice.

On the other hand, you can always go the faster track with an ADN, become an RN, and go back to school for your BSN. No matter what track you choose, the nursing field is full of opportunities for professional growth and continued learning.

Put Your Degree to Work

What is a BSN or ADN nurse to do when they’re looking for new opportunities? IntelyCare can help. If you’re on the hunt for your next nursing job, sign up for personalized job notifications to find the latest opportunities.