Working as a nurse is a highly fulfilling career path. When you become a licensed nurse, you are able to dedicate your work to helping others achieve their best health. Yet the path to becoming a nurse can be a bit confusing because there are many different ways to get started. One of those is with a BSN degree. But is a BSN different than an RN, and how do those differences affect your career options? This guide will outline what you need to know about BSN programs, RN programs, and the jobs they potentially open for you as a nurse.

What is an RN?

An RN is a registered nurse. RNs handle a host of nursing duties, including managing and administering medication, evaluating patient health, monitoring patients, and educating patients and their families about their medical needs.

RN is a certification, not a degree level. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the minimum degree required to attain RN certification. Diplomas from approved nursing programs also offer an educational path to become an RN.

RNs will often specialize in a particular field, such as oncology or pediatrics. They can work in hospitals as well as doctor's offices. Some will work in home-care settings or rehab centers.

What is a BSN?

BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. This traditional degree program requires four years of study and is designed to go beyond the basic studies of a two-year RN program. Many entry-level jobs in nursing now require students to have BSN.

A BSN gives a nursing school graduate a competitive edge over someone who only holds an associate degree. Many positions within hospitals highly favor graduates with a four-year degree. In addition, a BSN is the starting point for a master's degree or even a doctoral-level training program for nursing professionals who are considering taking their education to the next level or wish to become a nurse practitioner.

A BSN is a degree that can lead to the classification of registered nurse. After graduating, a nurse with a BSN can become a registered nurse (RN) but with the higher education status behind the name and title.

What is the difference between an RN and BSN?

A BSN is a degree, while an RN is a license. Most RN will start with a two-year ADN rather than the four-year BSN degree, so the term RN is sometimes used to describe nurses who hold an ADN. However, both BSN and ADN nursing professionals are licensed as RNs.

RNs with an ADN (or diploma) and RNs with a BSN have different earning potential. Because a nurse with a BSN has more training, they are preferred for higher-paying positions. A BSN may also be the minimum requirement for certain fields and specialties or for management positions within a healthcare system. All of this leads to higher potential income.

How to Become an RN

To become a licensed RN, you must first complete an ADN or diploma program from an approved nursing school as a minimum educational requirement. During your two years of study in the ADN, you will need to complete hands-on clinical hours. After completing your degree program, you will need to pass the NCLEX to receive your license as a nurse.

How to Become a BSN

Nurses who wish to earn their BSN need to find a four-year degree program in nursing. Some nurses are able to complete the education faster, especially if they are already working as an RN and can enroll in an accelerated RN to BSN program.

During your time in a BSN program, you will complete clinical hours, which give you hands-on practice in nursing. If you are already working as a nurse because you earned your ADN first and started your career as an RN, this can help you meet those requirements.

Before starting a nursing career with a BSN, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This nationwide test is required to license all RNs. Once you pass the NCLEX, you will be given the designation of RN. The fact that you have a BSN degree will open the door to more potential career paths.

Is BSN or RN right for me? Six questions to ask yourself

Deciding whether to start with a two-year or four-year nursing degree is not always easy. These six questions will help you decide if you should earn a BSN or start as an RN with just a two-year degree.

1. Do you want to work in administration?

Roles in administration are almost exclusively reserved for nurses with a BSN or higher. If you picture yourself in a position of leadership, either now or in the future, as part of your nursing career, then you'll want to explore a four-year program. If you want to be able to climb higher within your work environment, then you will need the longer degree program.

2. Do you need to start working quickly?

One of the benefits of graduating with an ADN and applying for an RN license right away is the fact that you can start working right away. If income is needed, this can help you start earning it quickly. Some nurses will start their careers with their two-year degree, then move forward with studies for a BSN while they are working.

3. Do you want to teach?

Nursing education is a growing field within the nursing profession. If you picture yourself in a role as an educator, a BSN is necessary. The added training in a four-year program makes it possible for you to branch out into the world of education. If you find that you like working in education, you can then earn a master's degree to teach on the university or college level.

4. Do you need higher income potential?

Another consideration is the overall income potential offered to nurses with a BSN versus RNs with a two-year degree or a diploma. For entry-level positions, the average income is about the same, but the opportunities for growth are much higher for those with a BSN. As you gain work experience, you will open the door to more opportunities for higher-paying positions.

How much is the difference? According to, nurses with an ADN earn an average salary of $69,708 per year. On the other hand, nurses with a BSN earn an average salary of $85,388 per year. This difference is substantial.

5. Do you need a competitive edge?

Having a BSN gives you a competitive edge when you are searching for a new job or position. Many states are passing legislation requiring hospitals to hire more BSNs than two-year degree nurses, and this makes more comprehensive degree even more valuable. If you are in a highly competitive field or specialty, you may need this competitive edge. The BSN on your resume will set you apart from applicants with just a two-year degree.

6. Do you want improved patient outcomes?

Research has found that nurses with a BSN have better patient outcomes than those with just a two-year degree. In fields with patients who are at high risk for complications, this can be a driving factor in helping you decide between a BSN and a two-year degree. This is also one of the reasons why BSNs are preferred when hiring new nurses in these types of fields.

Is a BSN right for your needs? If you have the funds and time, it will make your future career opportunities more valuable. However, if you need to start working right away, then starting off with a two-year degree and launching your career first may make the most sense.

Launch Your Nursing Career with the Right Training

Holding a BSN will open the door to better career opportunities for any nursing professional. If you are already working as an RN but only have a two-year degree, consider expanding your education by attaining a BSN. University of the Cumberlands offers a convenient online RN to BSN that makes it fast and simple to add to your education, even while you continue working as a nurse. If you are interested in learning more about the RN to BSN degree offered at University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.