Associate Degree In Nursing (ADN): The Ultimate Guide

Earning your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the quickest and cheapest way to become a licensed Registered Nurse.

The ADN comes with unique benefits and drawbacks when compared with other types of nursing education, so it may be a little confusing to know which type of nursing degree is right for you.

To help you figure out if an Associate degree is a good option to start or advance your nursing career, we’ve put together this guide to teach you everything you need to know about the ADN.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what an ADN degree is, how to earn it, and much more.

What Is An Associate Degree In Nursing (ADN)?

An Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN, is a two-year nursing degree that prepares graduates to pass the NCLEX and become licensed Registered Nurses. 

The degree is typically completed at a community college and is the minimum requirement to become an RN.

While an ADN-educated nurse may have more limited scope and autonomy compared to Registered Nurses with more advanced education, their duties are often similar. For example, ADN nurses may carry out responsibilities like:

  • Administering medications and treatments
  • Assessing patients’ conditions
  • Operating and monitoring medical equipment
  • Helping perform diagnostic tests and analyzing results
  • Educating patients on how to manage their conditions

Is An ADN The Same As An RN?

While getting your ADN degree is the minimum requirement to become an RN, they’re technically not exactly the same thing.

The ADN is the basic preparation you need to become a Registered Nurse. Once you earn your Associate Degree in Nursing, you’re eligible to take the NCLEX. This is the exam all RNs must pass in order to become licensed.

It’s also worth noting that many healthcare facilities, especially top-tier and Magnet hospitals, are increasingly favoring RNs who have earned their Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, or BSN. This is a four-year degree program that provides a more extensive educational foundation and allows graduates to perform more advanced nursing duties.

However, both an ADN and BSN allow you to earn your RN license.

Why Should You Get Your ADN Degree?

Earning your Associate Degree in Nursing has a few unique benefits compared to other nursing degrees.

We discuss some of the reasons you should go for your ADN degree below.

1. More Advanced Than LPN

While nurses with an ADN may have more limited scope and autonomy compared to their BSN-educated counterparts, they still have a lot more autonomy than Licensed Practical Nurses, or LPNs.

This makes sense given that you can earn your LPN credentials in about a year. Meanwhile, an ADN degree program typically lasts about two years.

Additionally, Licensed Practical Nurses duties usually involve assisting RNs and other healthcare staff with more basic duties, while ADN nurses are qualified to carry out the more advanced responsibilities of an RN.

Fortunately, if you’re an LPN and would like to become an RN, you can earn your ADN or BSN through an LPN to RN program.

2. Higher Salary Than LPN

Since ADN-educated Registered Nurses perform more advanced duties and have a more extensive educational foundation, they also get paid more than LPNs.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPNs earn an average annual salary of $48,070 per year. Meanwhile, the average annual salary for RNs is $77,600 per year according to BLS.

While it’s worth noting that this RN salary figure represents both ADN- and BSN-educated nurses, there’s no denying that the salary for any type of RN is higher than an LPN on average.

If salary is a key factor in deciding which degree to pursue, you may want to check out Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing programs. On average, BSN nurses make even more than ADN nurses because of their more advanced education and skills, which qualifies them to practice more autonomously.

3. Quicker Than A BSN

While we usually recommend aspiring RNs go straight for their Bachelor’s degree because of the higher salary potential, ability to work more autonomously, better advancement opportunities, and ability to secure employment at top-tier and Magnet hospitals, getting your ADN does have two advantages when compared to the BSN.

One of the advantages is that you can earn your Associate’s degree in less time than a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree.

While you can complete an ADN degree at a community college in about two years, it will take you four years at a college or university to earn your BSN degree.

If you’re looking to become a Registered Nurse as quickly as possible and you aren’t concerned about the benefits that a BSN provides, earning your ADN may be the way to go. Which choice is best depends on your own goals and preferences.

4. Cheaper Than A BSN

The other advantage of getting your ADN as opposed to your BSN is that you can complete an ADN degree program for far less money than a BSN program.

Since Associate Degree in Nursing programs take two less years than a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree and are completed at a community college instead of a traditional four-year university, the cost of the degree is significantly less.

While the extra investment of time and money is often worth it given the advantages BSN nurses have over ADN nurses, the choice that’s best for you will again depend on your own goals and preferences.

5. Bridge to BSN Later

Finally, one more reason to go for your Associate Degree in Nursing is that you can always enroll in an RN to BSN program after you earn your ADN, become a licensed RN, and gain some experience.

By getting your ADN first, you can start working as an RN quicker. When you’re ready, you can enroll in a bridge program to get your more advanced education. 

One of the great benefits of an RN to BSN program is that you can typically continue working as an RN while you’re in the program. In fact, there’s no shortage of online BSN programs that allow you to bridge from RN to BSN while you work as a Registered Nurse.

While working and earning your degree at the same time can be challenging, it makes a great option for ADN-educated nurses looking to advance their career.

Types of ADN Programs

There are two different types of ADN programs you can choose to enroll in.

While one is for LPNs with prior healthcare experience, the other is designed for those with no prior experience.

1. ADN (No Prior Experience)

The first type of ADN program is the one that most will be eligible for, and it is the most straightforward of the degree pathways. The regular Associate Degree in Nursing is designed for students with no prior experience in healthcare or those looking to transition into a nursing career.

It usually takes about two years to complete if you enroll full-time, though you can certainly enroll in a part-time program and take longer to earn your degree.

Additionally, there are online ADN program options available that allow you to get your degree on a more flexible schedule. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to complete your clinical requirements in person.

2. LPN to ADN

The second track for earning your Associate Degree in Nursing is an LPN to ADN program. Only Licensed Practical Nurses are eligible to enroll in this pathway.

However, if you meet that criteria, this is definitely the type of program you’ll want to go with. 

Since LPNs already have some nursing experience under their belt, they can earn their ADN in less time than those with no experience. In fact, you may be able to complete the program in as little as a year.

Of course, the LPN to ADN isn’t the only type of LPN to RN program you can choose to enroll in. There are also LPN to BSN tracks available. The type of program that’s right for you will depend on your own goals and needs.

Online ADN Programs

As we mentioned earlier, there are online ADN programs you can choose to enroll in. Online degrees are much more flexible and allow you to complete your coursework around your schedule.

So, if you’re concerned about needing to work while you earn your degree, an online ADN can be a big help.

While most of the coursework for an online ADN is completed on the computer, keep in mind that you will need to complete your clinical requirements in person. Typically, the school you enroll in will help you find your clinical sites.

While some students may opt to travel to the area of the physical campus of their program to complete their clinicals, other programs may be able to help you find more local clinical sites. This is completely dependent on the school you enroll in.

So, before committing to any program, make sure you contact the school to ensure you know where you’ll be able to complete your clinicals. 

How To Get Your ADN Degree

Getting your ADN is the quickest route to becoming a Registered Nurse, so there are less steps you need to take in order to earn your degree.

However, an ADN program will still be academically challenging, so make sure you follow the steps below to get into a program and complete your degree.

1. Complete Your High School Education or GED

Before you can enroll in an ADN program, you need to complete your high school education or GED. Remember, you need to show schools your academic competency in order to be accepted, so take your secondary education seriously.

While community colleges may not have as stringent admission requirements compared to four-year universities, you still need to obtain a certain level of academic proficiency. This shows schools that you’ll be able to succeed in their courses.

It’s also a good idea to get yourself involved in school activities and volunteer opportunities to show that you’re a good candidate. This will be important if you hope to enroll in more competitive programs with a better track record of student success, like schools with high NCLEX pass rates.

Once you complete your high school education or GED, be sure to collect your transcripts as a record of your academic success. Schools will require these transcripts before you are accepted into any program.

2. Research ADN Programs

While some aspiring RNs may want to start looking at ADN programs prior to completing high school or their GED, others may not consider it until years after graduating. Either way, you’ll need to research Associate Degree in Nursing programs before you begin applying.

When researching programs, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind, like cost to complete the degree, location of the campus, and where you’ll complete your clinical requirements.

One more important thing to consider is NCLEX pass rates. These statistics can often be a good indicator of how well the program prepares students to become an RN.

If a school has a high NCLEX pass rate, you can be confident that you’ll be well prepared to ace the exam and start working as a Registered Nurse.

On the other hand, if a school has a low NCLEX pass rate, it could be an indicator that the school’s educational standards aren’t quite as rigorous as other programs. However, even programs with low pass rates can still adequately prepare you for the exam and success as an RN.

3. Apply To ADN Programs

Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential schools, it’s time to start applying to programs!

Before you apply, be sure to consider each program’s admission requirements. 

Also, while the curriculum likely won’t have too much variation from program to program, try taking a look at the courses each school offers.

You may find that one of your prospective schools offers a curriculum you find more interesting or better suited to your needs. This is why the research you completed in step two is so important.

Next, be sure to follow the steps for admission for each school. If you’re confused about anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to the school’s admission office directly. After all, that’s what they’re there for!

Once you’re clear on everything you need for admission, send in your admission materials. As long as you meet all the requirements and follow all the necessary steps, you should be admitted.

4. Complete Your ADN Program

Once admitted, the school should guide you through to the completion of your degree, which will likely take about two years. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether you’re confused about your course load or something in class. 

At the completion of your program, you’ll be qualified to sit for the NCLEX.

Finally, upon passing the NCLEX, you’ll officially be a licensed Registered Nurse, meaning you can start applying to jobs and working as an RN in healthcare facilities!

How Long Does It Take To Get Your ADN?

For full-time students, it typically takes about two years to earn your ADN degree.

However, it is possible to earn your degree in less time if you have any applicable transfer credits. 

Additionally, if you have prior experience in a nursing role like a Licensed Practical Nurse, you may be able to enroll in an LPN to ADN bridge program. This could allow you to earn your Associate Degree in Nursing in as little as a year.

Finally, if you’re a part-time student, it could take more than two years to complete your Associate’s degree.

ADN Admission Requirements

While admission requirements for ADN programs will vary from school to school, there are some requirements that are typically standard for every program. They include:

  • Proof of Prior Education: You’ll need to show proof that you’ve completed your high school education or GED.
  • School Transcripts: You’ll need to have your high school send your transcripts to your prospective schools. This is to show schools that you are academically proficient. Fortunately, GPA requirements aren’t as stringent for community colleges compared to four-year universities. However, a typical requirement is a minimum 2.0 GPA.
  • Prerequisite Courses: Most colleges require that you’ve already completed certain prerequisite courses, like algebra, chemistry, physiology, biology, and math. Fortunately, these courses are typically mandatory while you’re still in high school.
  • Pre-entrance Exam: Many schools will require that you complete a standardized test, like TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills), in order to gain admission.
  • Health Assessment: Since ADN programs include a clinical requirement in which you interact with actual patients, you’ll need to undergo a physical with your doctor in order to prove to the school that you don’t present any kind of exposure risk to patients.
  • CPR Certification: Some ADN programs will require you to have a CPR certification prior to enrolling, while others include certification in their curriculum. There are four different types of certifications, so be sure to do some research and find out: (1) if you need certification; (2) which type of certification you need.
  • Criminal Background Check: Most prospective ADN students will be required to undergo a criminal background check, which typically involves going to a facility to be fingerprinted. If you have a prior conviction, be sure to be up front about it in your paperwork, because the school will probably find out if you do. If they discover you lied, you’ll likely be denied entry into the program.
  • Drug Screening: Since your clinical training involves working with actual patients, you’ll likely need to undergo a drug screening to ensure the safety of patients you interact with.

ADN Curriculum

While both the ADN and BSN degrees equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to practice as a Registered Nurse, the Associate Degree in Nursing has a greater emphasis on clinical skills, lab training, and core nursing coursework.

Meanwhile, a BSN curriculum emphasizes additional training in research, management, and leadership skills. 

Here is an example ADN curriculum from Northwood Technical College:

  • Nursing Fundamentals
  • Nursing Skills
  • Pharmacology
  • Intro to Clinical Practice
  • Nursing Health Alterations
  • Nursing Health Promotion
  • Clinical Care Across Lifespan
  • Intro To Clinical Care Management
  • Complex Health Alterations I
  • Mental Health and Community Concepts
  • Intermediate Clinical Practice
  • Advanced Skills
  • Complex Health Alterations II
  • Management and Professional Concepts
  • Advanced Clinical Practice
  • Clinical Transition

In addition to nursing-oriented courses, you’ll also need to complete a few general education courses like:

  • English Composition
  • General Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Intro to Sociology

How Much Does An ADN Degree Cost?

The cost of an ADN program can vary a lot depending on a number of factors, like:

  • Whether you enter a program at a community college or four-year university
  • Location
  • Prior credits and nursing experience

However, at some community colleges, you may be able to earn your Associate degree for as little as $5,000. Meanwhile, the more expensive programs may cost you upwards of $20,000.

Be sure to do a little research on cost and financial aid before you begin applying to ADN programs to make sure your top choices fall within your budget.

How Much Does An ADN Nurse Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a Registered Nurse is $77,600 per year.

Unfortunately, BLS does not differentiate the salary for ADN- and BSN-educated nurses. However, according to Payscale, ADN nurses can expect to make an average salary of $73,000 per year.

While the salary for all entry-level nurses will be similar regardless of education level, Payscale reports that BSN nurses can expect to make an average salary of $89,000 per year. This is because nurses with a Bachelor’s degree are prepared to take on more leadership-oriented roles and advance their career in a multitude of different nursing specialities.

Keep in mind that salaries can vary greatly depending on factors like where you’re located and the amount of experience you have as an RN.

Is An Associate Degree in Nursing Worth It?

Given that ADN nurses can perform more advanced duties and have a higher earning potential than their LPN counterparts, an Associate Degree in Nursing is likely worth it. 

Additionally, you can earn your ADN in less time and for less money than a BSN, which makes it an attractive option for those looking to become a Registered Nurse as quickly and cheaply as possible.

However, keep in mind that BSN nurses can take on even more advanced roles and tend to earn more than nurses with their Associate degree, so it’s worth considering going for your Bachelor’s degree right away.

The choice that’s right for you will depend on your own goals and preferences, so give these some thought before committing to any degree program.

If you’re ready to begin looking for a nursing program suited to your needs and interests, click here to begin your search!

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