Between the different types of nursing degrees, choosing the right one for you can be tricky. The most important questions to ask yourself is why do you want to be a nurse and what are your career goals in the profession? There are many pathways to nursing, and the right one for you will depend on a number of factors, not just the nursing school acceptance rates in the US and nursing school acceptance rates in Canada. In this blog, we’ll explore the many different types of nursing degrees and what to expect, plus admission requirements and how to choose the right program for you.

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8 min read

Types of Nursing Degrees: Associate Degree Types of Nursing Degrees: Undergraduate Degree Types of Nursing Degrees: Graduate Degrees Types of Nursing Degrees: Bridge Programs What Type of Nursing Degree is Right for You? FAQs

Types of Nursing Degrees: Associate Degree

The first type of nursing degree you can obtain is the Associate Degree, or Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN). These are commonly 2-year programs and are the quickest and easiest way to become a degree-holding nurse.

To get an ADN, you typically take 2 years of courses at a community college. When you’ve graduated, you’ll be prepared to take the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) and get licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN).

An ADN focuses mainly on building your clinical skills to prepare you for most entry-level nursing positions. You’ll likely

Job Opportunities and Salary Expectations

As an RN with an Associate Degree, you can expect an average salary of 73,000 USD. Most graduates of ADN programs apply for work in hospitals or care facilities. The primary difference between a registered nurse with an associate’s degree and a nurse with a bachelor’s degree or diploma in nursing is the number of job opportunities, pay scale and opportunities for advancement. For example, some jobs may prefer applicants with a bachelor’s degree in nursing over an associate’s degree.

Admission Requirements

If you want to know how to get into nursing school, it’s important to review the common admission requirements. Associate degrees in nursing require a high school diploma or GED in order for you to apply. While most programs don’t have extensive nursing school requirements, you will need a minimum GPA of 2.0 and above for the best chances of getting accepted.

Nursing Diploma Programs

If you’re looking for different entry-level options to nursing, you can enroll in a nursing diploma program. A diploma in nursing is a shorter program than a degree program, and has different career options for graduates.

There are two basic types of nursing diplomas or certificate programs: LPN programs and CNA programs.

LPN diploma programs grant you a diploma in about 1 year, and you can become a licensed practical nurse. CNA diploma programs are even shorter, usually 1-3 months long, and enable you to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. Both of these types of programs have similar admission requirements to an associate degree program, as well.

While these are both good options if you want to shorten the amount of time it takes to become a nurse, note that becoming a CNA or LPN means you will have different job opportunities and a lower average salary. As a certified nursing assistant, you’ll earn an average of $30,000 USD and $48,000 as a licensed practical nurse.

Both CNAs and LPNs can, of course, continue their education or take the NCLEX to become licensed as a Registered Nurse. There are many pathways to nursing, and if you decide to further your nursing career or apply to another healthcare related program, you are able to do so.

First, we’ll look at how you can get an undergraduate degree in nursing.

Types of Nursing Degrees: Undergraduate Degree

For high school students who are interested in a career in nursing, or nursing professionals who want to go back to school to advance their healthcare education, a bachelor’s degree in nursing is the next step.

The undergraduate nursing degree is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), sometimes called a Bachelor in Nursing. These are 4-year degree programs usually offered through a university or medical school. A bachelor’s degree in nursing has a clinical focus, just like an associate’s degree, but also includes more advanced coursework in patient care, medical knowledge, laboratory experience and clinical coursework.

Once you’ve graduated, you’ll next be able to take the NCLEX and get licensed as an RN!

Job Opportunities and Salary Expectations

Just like associate degree holders, bachelor’s degree holders can work as nurses in hospital, care homes, in government positions or for private companies. The average salary for BSN holders is also quite a bit higher, at around 89,000 USD per year. Graduates from BSN program usually have more job opportunities and are eligible for higher-paying positions in more diverse fields. Having a BSN is also a requirement if you want to apply for a graduate degree in nursing to become an advanced nursing professional. It is also sometimes a requirement to enroll in a nurse residency program after you've graduated, although some programs will accept an ADN.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for a bachelor’s degree are also a bit more extensive than a diploma program or associate’s degree. For instance,

a BSN program will require a GPA of 2.5, sometimes 3.0 for the best nursing schools. You will also need to complete all your nursing school prerequisites before applying.

The application to a BSN program will also require you to submit standardized test scores (usually the SAT or ACT, but some programs require nursing-specific admission tests), a nursing school personal statement and several nursing school recommendation letters. You might also need to attend a nursing school interview!

Types of Nursing Degrees: Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees in nursing include both master’s programs, nurse practitioner programs and doctorate programs. A master’s degree in nursing is the gateway to becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) or nurse practitioner (NP).

Here are some examples of graduate nursing degrees:

  1. Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Usually 2 years long, these programs prepare you to become an APRN or NP.
  2. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – The most advanced clinical nursing degree you can complete, it typically takes 3-4 years to graduate.
  3. PhD in Nursing – Another type of doctorate degree which focuses on nursing research and nursing education.

Job Opportunities and Salary Expectations

As an MSN graduate your average salary will jump to 98,000 USD per year, and the potential jobs you can get will be in supervisory nursing roles or more advanced clinical positions. You can even find specialized nursing positions such as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse educator.

As a doctorate degree in nursing graduate, you can earn over 100,000 USD, and you have a wider variety of career options. For example, a PhD in nursing will allow you to move into a research-based role or educational role within the field of nursing and healthcare. A DNP, on the other hand, is for nurses who are interested in advanced clinical positions and specialized nursing roles.

Here’s a few examples of specialized nursing jobs:

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Public Health Nurse Specialist
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Emergency Nurse Practitioner
  • Cardiac Nursing Specialist
  • Critical Care Nursing Specialist
  • Certified Nurse-Midwife
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Surgical Nurse Specialist

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for a master’s or doctorate program in nursing can vary from program to program. Typically, you will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree and have all of the nursing school prerequisites. You may also be required to have at least 1-3 years minimum of experience as an RN under your belt.

You’ll submit an application which includes common requirements such as GRE scores, nursing personal statement, recommendation letters, nursing school resume, and admission essays. For graduate nursing programs, it’s common for supplemental essays such as the “case that defined you as a nurse” essay or a nursing reflective essay to be included. These additional essays can help your nursing school application stand out and tell the admissions committee a little more about your nursing journey so far, and why you want to continue your education.

Most graduate nursing programs also require you to attend an admissions interview. Be prepared for tough questions such as conflict scenario interview questions, nursing school behavioral questions, critical thinking nursing interview questions and of course, the super common “tell me about yourself” question.

Get ready for your nursing school interview with these common questions!

Types of Nursing Degrees: Bridge Programs

As we’ve said, there are a myriad different pathway to nursing. If you’ve previously earned a CNA diploma or LPN diploma, you can still enter a degree program by completing all the admission requirements. If you want to jump from a BSN to a doctorate degree in nursing without the master’s degree, you can do this, too! The great thing about the different types of nursing degrees is the variety. We’ll cover some of the different bridge programs out there next.

BSN Bridge Programs

There are LPN to BSN bridge programs as well as RN to BSN bridge programs available. This means if you’re an LPN or RN without a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing, you can apply to a bridge program to earn one.

The advantages here include a potential for higher salary, open the door for more job opportunities and prepare you to become an RN (If you’re an LPN).

Many of these bridge programs award you credit for any coursework you’ve taken previously, and any clinical experience you have. These programs are also quite flexible, offering classes either in-person or online, and on a part-time or full-time basis.

MSN Bridge Programs

There are a few different types of MSN bridge programs:

  • RN to MSN
  • Direct Entry MSN
  • Dual Master’s Degree

Direct Entry MSN programs allow applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a major unrelated to nursing to apply directly for a Master of Science in Nursing and earn their degree in 3 years. RN to MSN programs are for non-degree holders to skip the BSN and earn their graduate degree in nursing instead. This path also takes 3 years, as you’ll need to complete required BSN coursework before advancing to MSN coursework.

Dual master’s degrees in nursing allow you to earn both a master’s level degree in nursing and another degree concurrently. A popular example would be earning a MSN and an MBA if you’re interested in pursuing a career in healthcare administration.

DNP Bridge Programs

While it’s most common to apply for a Doctorate of Nursing Practice after completing a master’s degree in nursing, there are BSN to DNP bridge programs, too. Admission to these programs will, naturally, have higher requirements and standards, so it’s best to have a very high GPA, GRE score and an excellent nursing school application. To graduate, you’ll also need to complete both advanced MSN coursework and advanced clinical coursework.

Nursing school admissions consulting services can advise you on applying to nursing school:

What Type of Nursing Degree is Right for You?

How can you best decide which nursing degree is right for you? With so many options to choose from, the decision will really come down to just a few different factors. But ultimately, what type of nursing degree you pursue will depend on your goals and experience.


1. What are the different types of nursing degrees?

There are 5 general types of nursing degrees: an associate degree in nursing, a bachelor’s of science in nursing, a master’s of science in nursing, a doctorate of nursing practice and a PhD in nursing.

2. What type of nursing degree is best?

The type of nursing degree that is best for you depends on a number of factors. Most notably, your career goals, your level of nursing experience, timeline, budget and program options. Choosing the right nursing degree type for you is a careful process but it will be well worth it to decide what your goals are so you save yourself time and money in applying to programs.

3. What is the highest degree in nursing?

Doctorate degrees in nursing or PhD programs in nursing are the highest level of nursing education you can achieve. A doctorate in nursing practice is the highest level of clinical nursing education you can get, whereas a PhD in nursing is more focused on healthcare research and education.

4. What is the lowest degree in nursing?

The lowest degree in nursing is the associate’s degree in nursing, which is a 2-year program. Aside from this, you can also earn a diploma or certificate in nursing, which is usually 1 year or shorter.

5. What is the highest paying type of nurse?

The highest paid nurses are Nurse Practitioners or Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. These nurses usually hold a master’s degree or higher, and on average earn a salary of 100,000 and above.

6. Which are the easiest nursing degrees to get into?

The easiest nursing degrees to get into are associate degrees, or diploma programs. These usually have higher acceptance rates and fewer admission requirements.

7. Which type of nursing degree should I choose?

The type of nursing degree that you choose will depend on what your career goals and reason for becoming a nurse are, primarily. For instance, if you plan to become a nurse practitioner or a nurse specialist, you’ll need to commit to more years of education and apply to an advanced degree program. Or, if you want to earn a better salary as an RN, you might choose to apply to a BSN program instead.

8. How do I get into nursing school?

To get into nursing school and any type of program, you’ll need to first meet all the admission requirements and submit an excellent application package. It’s best to thoroughly research the programs you want to apply to, making sure you meet all the requirements and can tailor your application to a specific nursing school. Some of the ways you can further personalize your application to a nursing program is by submitting a nursing school letter of intent or nursing school application cover letter.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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