Entry-Level Nursing Degree Programs
Learn the 4-year BSN, 2-year associate's degree and 2- to 3-year nursing diploma.
Entry-Level Nursing Degree: RN Licensure Options
So you've decided you want to become a nurse but you're not sure where to go from here—after all, there are so many nursing school and program choices and you have to find the right nursing career path to complement your individual nursing career interests.
Well you can start by reading about entry-level nursing degree programs to learn the different ways to become a registered nurse (RN)—a degree that is in high demand due to the current nursing shortage.
Associate's Degree in Nursing, Nursing Diploma and BSN Degree
There are three different entry-level nursing degree paths into nursing, each offered by a different type of school:
- The 4-year BSN is the preferred entry-level nursing program by most nursing leaders because it provides the best opportunities in today's job market. If you look in the classifieds, you'll find that a BSN is a requirement for many positions and is the entry point for professional nursing practice.
- The 2-year associate's degree focuses more on technical skills than theory and is often a stepping stone to the BSN. The associate's degree allows a student to become a registered nurse and earn money more quickly than a 4-year BSN program, so it works better for many students. It is the entry-level nursing degree for technical nursing practice.
- The nursing diploma, a 2- to 3-year experience was a more common entry-level nursing degree before the 1970s, when there were more than 800 diploma schools in existence. There are now less than 100 such schools. A nursing diploma experience prepares students for work in a hospital or other inpatient facility.
While each of these entry-level nursing degree paths qualifies you to take the RN licensure exam (the NCLEX-RN® examination), you'll find that each qualifies you for different types of jobs.
Compare Degree Programs
The chart below will help you distinguish the differences between nursing degree programs:
|Diploma||Associate's Degree (ADN)||Bachelor of Science (BSN)|
|Usually 3-year program||Usually 2-year program||Usually 4-5 year program|
|Located in a hospital, sometimes in conjunction with a community college||Usually located in a community college||Located in colleges and universities|
|Prepares nurses for staff positions in hospitals and other inpatient facilities||Prepares nurses for staff positions in hospitals and other inpatients facilities||Prepares nurses for positions in both inpatient and community settings|
Choosing Between Nursing Programs
Choosing an entry-level nursing program is a very personal choice. For many prospective students, the choice involves complex tradeoffs between finances (e.g. need to support a family), your age (high school graduate vs. mid-life career change), and future career plans:
Bachelor's in a Non-Nursing Field
If you are wanting to go into nursing and got your bachelor's in a non-nursing field, then you probably want an Accelerated BSN or Second Degree BSN program. These programs are for students with a previous bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field of study. Accelerated programs are often intense, fast paced courses, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher is required, but they can let you earn a BSN in as little as 12 to16 months.
RN-to-BSN programs are designed for Registered Nurses who are graduates of associate's degree or diploma programs who want to complete their BSN degree. It provides credit for nursing skills already learned through school or work experience. Most often these programs are available with a very flexible schedule designed to meet the needs of working nurses.
Classes might meet only evenings, or weekends. Some schools have "RN-only" classes which are separate from classes taught to pre-licensure students. Many schools have multiple start dates each year for these programs, rather than just one date in the Fall. Several online RN-to-BSN programs are available.
Some schools have LPN-to-Associates or LPN-to-BSN programs. These programs are designed for Licensed Practical Nurses who want to earn a degree that will enable them to sit for the NCLEX® examination. It provides credit for nursing skills already learned through work experience or an LPN program.
Source: Dunham, Kelli S. "How to Survive and Maybe Even Love Nursing School."
How to Pay for Nursing School
As nursing school tuition has increased, a rising number of nursing scholarships and grants have become available for qualifying candidates. Nursing school is expensive, but there are many grants, loans, scholarships, work-study and loan forgiveness programs available to hard-working students. Gain access to nursing school financial first aid.
How to Get Nursing Scholarships
Many scholarship and grant opportunities are available to nursing students to encourage people to enter the nursing field and help alleviate the increasing nursing shortages. With a little research, you can learn how to obtain this free money for your nursing school education. Learn how to uncover these nursing scholarship and grant sources to help free you from financial worries.