What Are the Five Types of Nursing Degrees?

If you’ve ever thought about pursuing a career in nursing, this is a great time to start that journey. Nurses are in great demand and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6.2% job growth in nursing jobs through 2031

What you might not know is that the term “nurse” is actually quite broad in how it gets used. Nursing professionals can have a wide range of experience, skills, and degrees to their name and no two career paths are the same.

What are the Different Nursing Degrees?

The five types of nursing degrees are:

  1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  3. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
  4. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  5. PhD in Nursing

Keep reading to learn more about the differences between them, what type of schooling is required for each, and which career options are available for these degrees.

1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

Earning an ADN is a great entry point into nursing and gives nurses a strong foundation for building a career in healthcare. Depending on the program and its curriculum, graduates typically earn their associate degree in nursing in two or three years.

If you are a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and want to increase your earning potential and qualify for an RN license, then this is a great educational option for you. Or, if you are interested in pursuing a nursing career but aren’t sure if you are able to make the time or financial commitment to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), earning an ADN degree can help you jumpstart your nursing career.

To earn your ADN, you’ll need to complete a broad range of nursing and biology courses such as Nursing Health Assessments, Professional Issues in Nursing, Microbiology and Immunology, and more. 

2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A BSN is a step up from an ADN degree in that they require more education and training, BSN nurses take on more responsibility, and nurses with a BSN also enjoy higher earning potential.

BSN degrees take about four years to complete and are typically part of a well-rounded liberal arts education that will include many non-nursing courses. The BSN is primarily targeted toward first-time college students who want to begin a career in nursing, but there are also many people who make a switch to nursing later in their careers, and earning a BSN is an excellent way to make that happen.

Because of the deeper knowledge and experience acquired by nurses who earn a BSN, they are very highly sought after by employers. In fact, according to a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 80% of employers “expressed a strong preference for a bachelor’s degree.”

Many programs also offer RN-to-BSN tracks for nurses who have their license to practice but don’t yet have a nursing degree. RN-to-BSN programs help these nurses complete the education and training required to earn their nursing degree.

3. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing is one of the several advanced nursing degrees that you can earn to open yourself up to increased responsibilities and earning potential. Nurses with advanced degrees are leaders in the workplace and deliver the highest standards of patient care.

MSN programs require a BSN and field experience in order to qualify. The program will help you build on the skills you’ve already learned and set you up to work in any healthcare setting, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, public health agencies, schools, and private practices.

Nurses with an MSN degree can qualify for many different roles, but they most commonly pursue careers as nurse practitioners, nurse administrators, and nurse educators. Many nurses with MSN degrees enjoy six-figure salaries, depending on their role and their state of residence.

Some nursing schools even offer dual degree programs. For instance, Southern’s MSN/MBA program equips graduates with interdisciplinary expertise in nursing, business, and healthcare leadership. Students will also also be positioned to influence healthcare policy and the future direction of the nursing profession.

MSN vs DNP: Two Paths to Becoming an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

4. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Similar to the MSN, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is an advanced nursing degree that requires a deeper time commitment (approximately 75 credit hours) and helps nurses reach the very top of their profession.

How long the DNP takes to complete depends on your level of education and experience. If you have an MSN already, you have a head start and may only need 40-45 credit hours to complete the DNP. If you don’t, you can enroll in a BSN-to-DNP program that’s designed to help nurses earn their doctorate degree at an accelerated pace. And, like with the MSN, there are DNP/MBA dual degree options available.

Generally speaking, nurses with a DNP degree have the same level of knowledge and expertise as nurses with an MSN—and more. DNPs have a broader focus of study, learning how to apply evidence-based care into clinical practice and studying the larger systems at work in healthcare, including the care outcomes of populations and communities.

DNP salaries depend on their area of emphasis, level of experience, and work setting, but DNPs here in Tennessee typically earn around $109,014. Acute Care Nurse Practitioners with a DNP can expect to earn around $117,066.

5. PhD in Nursing

Like the DNP, the PhD in Nursing is a doctorate-level degree that helps nurses become the highest level of experts in their field. 

The main difference between the PhD and the DNP is that the PhD is geared more toward nurses to want to work in academic or research settings. This might involve working in a research lab or in an academic institution providing students with the knowledge and skills to conduct their own research.

Whereas the DNP typically takes 2-4 years to complete, a PhD nursing student can expect to earn their degree in 4-6 years. Their studies focus more on theory, analysis, and statistics and they often work on research projects, grants, and other similar settings.

The salary expectations will vary depending on the field of research and the area in which you live, but the range is approximately $99,000 to $153,000.

 Ready to Earn an Advanced Nursing Degree?

To get an inside look at Southern’s nursing programs, download The Complete Guide to Advanced Nursing Degrees at Southern Adventist University.

In this extensive eBook, you’ll find: 

  • Detailed insights into the MSN and DNP tracks including course curriculums, specializations, and career outlook
  • How you can apply your advanced nursing skills in roles such as Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Adult/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Administrator, and Nurse Educator
  • Nurses who’ve graduated from the program and are sharing their experiences
  • Key dates, deadlines, and prerequisites for applying to the program
button to access advanced nursing degree guide

About the Author

Southern Adventist University

Southern Adventist University

Southern Adventist University is a private Seventh-day Adventist college in Collegedale, Tennessee. Our practical graduate programs equip you with in-demand skills and experience that transfer directly into your career path. We hope to help you accomplish your dreams!

Go to Listing

More Articles

Computer Science Degree vs. Applied Computer Science

If you’re looking to create a successful information technology (IT) career for yourself, then...

March 13, 2024

4 Questions to Ask Before Earning a Master’s Degree in Social Work

Pursuing a service-based career is a noble, challenging, and rewarding path—and one of the best...

March 13, 2024

Request more information

Interested in learning more about Southern's graduate programs? We're happy to help! Just fill out the form to receive additional program resources and insights.