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What is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

An ADN degree, or Associate of Science in Nursing, is an associate degree nursing program that provides you with the nursing education and curriculum you need to learn so you can apply for licensure to become a registered nurse (RN), as long as you can also successfully take the NCLEX RN exam and pass. There are options for ADN degrees and online associate nursing programs that can be completed online, though prospective students should be aware that not every component of the nursing degree can be completed in online classes or an online format, such as some lab and clinical courses that take you way beyond nursing theory.

Graduates, when they walk into their first job, will have the skills required as a registered nurse (and some will even work as licensed practical nurses) to give safe, effective care to each one of their patients. You may have opportunities to provide patient care of all ages or you may choose to specialize in one particular age group once you gain a little more experience and education beyond associate degree programs.

Those looking for top online ADN programs should make sure to choose an accredited program and attend an accredited nursing school, preferably by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), so that they will be able to request federal financial aid and their salary offers will also be higher. Also, if you decide to return to nursing school for classes in advanced nursing, such as a BSN degree or other high-level nursing programs, your entrance application will be more seriously considered. As you work on entry into online ADN programs, make sure you stay informed about academic requirements for nursing students in on-campus and online programs, prerequisites, and credits, experience, and degree requirements from your state board of nursing. Just because something is called an associate degree nursing program with online courses does not guarantee that it meets all requirements for you to become a registered nurse.

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Difference of an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) vs. LPN vs. BSN

In BSN programs, you learn similar material to an ADN associate degree in nursing in terms of general education, but it goes into more depth and you'll receive added leadership training, which can help you beyond you becoming a registered nurse. You also get additional training in management and information technology management than you would receive in an ADN program. An LPN to RN takes the same nursing classes that an ADN graduate takes, but they choose to earn a certificate rather than a BSN degree or an ADN degree in nursing. There are bachelor's degrees in nursing (BSN) available 100% online, with only the clinical practice requiring that you participate in hands-on learning in order to gain experience. These online options provide a great deal of flexibility, whether you are just getting into nursing or looking to improve your education.

Your career goals will have a strong influence on the degree/nursing program you select. With a BSN, your nursing education may qualify you for a larger range of registered nurses positions such as nurse practitioner, case manager, or health educator - and you may therefore have an easier time gaining experience.

The time it takes to complete a BSN is longer than the time frame for an ADN program, though some online programs are accelerated. You will have to commit four years of study rather than two years and may spend more time in clinical rotations or earn more clinical hours as a student. This means your tuition costs will be higher if you choose to complete a BSN degree nursing program rather than an ADN program.

Employer preferences may also have an impact on your choice. Increasingly, employers are looking for BSN degree holders as candidates and those with higher degrees as well (MSN and doctoral degrees in nursing).

As for an LPN, they will also provide direct nursing care to patients but will do so under the supervision of a registered nurse or physician. These nurses cannot work independently, whereas registered nurses who complete ADN programs or BSN's can do so. Your eventual salary will also be different. An RN may earn an annual salary of $70,000. An LPN may earn a little more than $45,000, this is because this professional earned a certificate rather than a diploma. Your pay reflects your level of training

Top 10 Best Online Associate in Nursing Programs


Arkansas State University

Score: 84.77

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $7,754
    • Out-of-State: $13,826
  • Net Price: $12,011
  • Acceptance Rate: 70%
  • Retention Rate: 78%
  • Graduation Rate: 53%
  • Total Enrollment: 13,190
  • Undergrad Students: 8,201
  • Graduate Students: 4,989
  • Grads Salary: $41,800
  • Student-to-faculty: 15:1
  • Arkansas State University

Northwestern Michigan College

Score: 77

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $10,076
    • Out-of-State: $12,762
  • Net Price: $6,951
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 92%
  • Graduation Rate: 24%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,098
  • Undergrad Students: 3,098
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $43,400
  • Student-to-faculty: 11:1
  • Northwestern Michigan College

Hutchinson Community College

Score: 75.14

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $3,720
    • Out-of-State: $4,650
  • Net Price: $6,491
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 55%
  • Graduation Rate: 46%
  • Total Enrollment: 4,960
  • Undergrad Students: 4,960
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $38,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 17:1
  • Hutchinson Community College

North Central Missouri College

Score: 74.41

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $7,050
    • Out-of-State: $8,250
  • Net Price: $9,084
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 75%
  • Graduation Rate: 44%
  • Total Enrollment: 1,772
  • Undergrad Students: 1,772
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $39,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • North Central Missouri College

University of Arkansas Community College-Batesville

Score: 73.42

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $3,918
    • Out-of-State: $4,542
  • Net Price: $9,224
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 45%
  • Graduation Rate: 62%
  • Total Enrollment: 1,008
  • Undergrad Students: 1,008
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $31,400
  • Student-to-faculty: 13:1
  • University of Arkansas Community College-Batesville

Allegany College of Maryland

Score: 69.91

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $9,080
    • Out-of-State: $12,050
  • Net Price: $9,943
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 63%
  • Graduation Rate: 35%
  • Total Enrollment: 2,578
  • Undergrad Students: 2,578
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $37,200
  • Student-to-faculty: 11:1
  • Allegany College of Maryland

Northwest Technical College

Score: 68.25

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $6,246
    • Out-of-State: $6,246
  • Net Price: $13,132
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 56%
  • Graduation Rate: 36%
  • Total Enrollment: 721
  • Undergrad Students: 721
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $40,800
  • Student-to-faculty: 16:1
  • Northwest Technical College

Minnesota West Community and Technical College

Score: 63.89

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $6,484
    • Out-of-State: $12,332
  • Net Price: $11,577
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 67%
  • Graduation Rate: 37%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,352
  • Undergrad Students: 3,352
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $34,000
  • Student-to-faculty: 19:1
  • Minnesota West Community and Technical College

Sampson Community College

Score: 63.88

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $2,830
    • Out-of-State: $9,742
  • Net Price: $5,950
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 59%
  • Graduation Rate: 30%
  • Total Enrollment: 1,590
  • Undergrad Students: 1,590
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $28,300
  • Student-to-faculty: 8:1
  • Sampson Community College

John A. Logan College

Score: 63.62

  • Undergraduate Tuition
    • In-State: $5,920
    • Out-of-State: $7,540
  • Net Price: $6,826
  • Acceptance Rate: 100%
  • Retention Rate: 63%
  • Graduation Rate: 31%
  • Total Enrollment: 3,272
  • Undergrad Students: 3,272
  • Graduate Students: N/A
  • Grads Salary: $32,600
  • Student-to-faculty: 20:1
  • John A. Logan College

Requirements to Enter an Online Associate Nursing Degree Program

You’ll need to have all of your paperwork ready to be submitted to the college of your choice. These include official transcripts from each college you may have already attended.

You have to complete a higher-level math course with a grace of “C” or higher; earn an ACT score of 23 or higher in math OR your ALEKS PPL Assessment, with a score of 30 or higher.

Submit your CNA license, if you hold one.

Some colleges will require successful completion of some prerequisite courses before entering an associate degree nursing program. These may include classes such as English, physiology with a lab, and anatomy with a lab. You may be able to enter an ASN program straight out of high school after completing these prerequisites. You need a high school diploma or a GED equivalent; you should have a GPA of at least 2.5.

Important Questions to Ask

How Long Does It Take to Earn An Online Associate Degree in Nursing?

You can expect to make a time commitment to earn your online Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) just as you would with any other degree. This degree falls in the middle, above a practical nursing diploma and under a bachelor’s degree in nursing, though the fact that many of these degrees are available online can make it more accessible for some students.

You will spend between 18 and 24 months in an online ADN program. Upon graduation and licensing, you will be an RN, with the ability to specialize your job role. You will also be able to work in one of many available healthcare settings.

If you are planning to earn your BSN after your ADN, then you will spend about 3.5 years doing so. If you have a bachelor’s in another major, you may be able to earn your BSN in about 18 months with an accelerated online program or on-campus program. If you already have an ADN and work as an RN, you may be able to enter an ADN to BSN bridge program and earn your associate's degree in a relatively short 12 months.

Potential Coursework

Example Courses:

  • Introduction to Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology
  • Family Health Concepts
  • Health & Illness Concepts
  • Mental Health Concepts
  • Acute Concepts
  • Complex Concepts

What is an ASN?

The ASN is an Associate of Science in Nursing, usually earned from local community colleges or vocational schools. The nursing associate degree program you choose should be comprehensive, offering a wide range of courses that culminate in your graduation with your ASN degree. In the program you select, you may have a few options from which to choose: generic, bridge, or accelerated.

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Within this associate's degree, you’ll undergo 24 to 30 months’ worth of classes that will give you the education necessary to take your National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCELX-RN). The courses you take may include math, pharmacology, nursing skills, medical-surgical nursing, health assessment, community health, pediatric nursing, professional nursing leadership, obstetrical nursing, or psychiatric nursing. Many of these programs offer at least some courses online, even if the whole program isn't found in an online format.

This degree opens up a rewarding nursing career. Because of an ongoing shortage of nurses, there should be a number of various nursing jobs available that you should be able to accept a job offer shortly after graduating.

What Options Do You Have for Employment with an ASN?

After you graduate and earn your RN certification, you have a wide range of employment choices. Your knowledge and skills are badly needed in many healthcare settings.

You can work in a specialty hospital, for home healthcare services or in a hospital. There’s also an option to work for an insurance carrier or for a nursing care facility. You may be hired to work in an assisted living facility or a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), or you may choose to work in the private practice of several doctors.

Maybe you want some of the job variety that comes with a hospital setting, but you don’t want that much stress. If that’s so, then working in an outpatient care center may suit your career goals.

You could work for other health practitioners in their offices. Professional nursing schools, universities, and colleges often need RNs for their staff. Working here, you will be helping students who need medical care.

Job Outlook

Nurses are always in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of RNs is projected to grow about 15% between 2016 and 2026 - this is much faster than the average projected for all occupations.

Demand for healthcare drives this increase. Our population is aging, bringing more medical problems; Alzheimer’s disease, head injuries, and strokes require long-term care. Hospitals are under stronger pressure from insurance companies to send patients home, often before they are ready for discharge. This means long-term care facilities are taking up the slack. Job growth will be markedly faster in these nursing care facilities.

What are Your Options to Advance?

You can go on to graduate from a BSN program. While you will still be an RN, you will be qualified to take on more complex nursing and medical procedures while a physician supervises your work. In time, you may be put in charge of junior nurses. With your BSN, you can branch out and become a public health nurse, nurse educator, or work in another specialty.

Next, consider an option to move up from your RN position with an early admission to Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice. You will enhance your career and give yourself the opportunity to advance.

Additionally, you could enroll into a bridge program. Your options include earning your MSN, or becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner, Nurse-Midwife, or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Finally, look at enrolling into a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration or a Master of Science in Healthcare Informatics. In both, you will be working in administrative positions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why get an ADN degree?

One of the biggest reasons to earn an ADN is to get into the nursing field quickly. It can gain you licensure, help you find a position in the field, and work as a steppingstone to a bachelor’s degree. This small step into nursing can give workers access to a wide range of career options.

How much can ADN nursing graduates make?

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can help graduates make anywhere from $58-$75,000/year on average. And this is without the option of gaining special experience, certification, or finishing a higher-level degree, which can have a huge impact on your expected income.

How do you become a registered nurse?

An ADN is the minimum requirement for those wishing to become a registered nurse. Other than that, you must also be working in the medical industry and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This will, in most states, be all you need to gain access to full nursing licensure. Of course, each state is able to include extra requirements, so be sure to check with the state in which you plan to work if you hope to gain licensure in nursing.

Am I required to take general education courses prior to earning an associate's degree in nursing?

The question of whether general education courses are required prior to earning an associate's degree in nursing is one that has many answers. Generally, a certain number of credits in general education courses are required for any type of degree program; however, the exact requirements depend on the specific school. For example, some colleges may require students to complete a minimum number of classes in humanities and mathematics before they can be admitted into an associate's nursing program. Other institutions may allow students to take those classes alongside their nursing courses.

In addition to general education credits, many programs have additional prerequisites that must be completed before admission. These may include undergraduate coursework such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology, nutrition and pharmacology. These classes provide foundational knowledge that will help nurse candidates excel in their clinical rotations during the program.

How long does it take to complete most ADN programs?

Most associate degree programs in nursing (ADN) typically take two to three years to complete. Most courses are offered on a full-time basis, although part-time options may be available depending on the school. The duration of the program depends largely on how many classes you can handle while maintaining satisfactory grades, as well as whether or not you need to go through any prerequisites before enrolling in the program.

Students who want to earn their ADN must first sit for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This exam is designed to assess a student's knowledge of nursing theory, clinical judgement and decision making skills. After passing this exam, students will receive their license and be able to practice as Registered Nurses (RNs).

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