What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse?

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Are you considering a career in nursing? With the growing demand for healthcare professionals, nursing has become an attractive and rewarding career path. However, you may be wondering, “What degree do I need to be a nurse?” In this article, we will explore the various nursing degrees available and help you understand the requirements and benefits associated with each. So, let’s dive in!

Overview of Nursing Degrees

To become a nurse, there are several educational paths you can pursue. Let’s take a closer look at the most common nursing degrees:

1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year program offered by community colleges or technical schools. This degree provides the fundamental knowledge and skills required to become a registered nurse (RN). ADN programs typically combine classroom instruction with hands-on clinical training.

2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree offered by colleges and universities. BSN programs provide a comprehensive education that goes beyond the basic nursing skills taught in ADN programs. This degree encompasses a broader range of subjects, including nursing theory, research, and leadership.

3. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a graduate-level degree that allows nurses to specialize in a specific area of practice. MSN programs are typically pursued by registered nurses who wish to advance their careers and take on roles such as nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse administrator.

4. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a terminal degree in nursing and is the highest level of practice-focused nursing education. DNP programs equip nurses with advanced clinical skills and prepare them for leadership roles in healthcare organizations. This degree is ideal for those aspiring to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

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5. PhD in Nursing

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing is a research-focused degree that prepares nurses for careers in academia, research institutions, or healthcare policy. PhD programs delve into nursing research methodologies, data analysis, and the development of evidence-based practices.

Requirements for Nursing Degrees

Each nursing degree has its own set of requirements, including prerequisites, admission criteria, coursework, clinical training, and licensing or certification exams. Let’s take a closer look at these requirements:

Prerequisites and Admission Criteria

To enroll in a nursing program, you will typically need to meet certain prerequisites, such as completing high school coursework in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Additionally, nursing programs may require you to pass an entrance exam, submit letters of recommendation, and demonstrate proficiency in English.

Coursework and Clinical Training

Nursing degrees involve a combination of classroom instruction and clinical training. The coursework covers subjects like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and patient care. Clinical training allows students to apply their knowledge in real healthcare settings, working alongside experienced nurses and healthcare professionals.

Licensing and Certification Exams

After completing the required nursing degree, aspiring nurses must pass a licensing or certification exam to become registered nurses or advance in their chosen specialty. The specific exam requirements vary depending on the degree and the state or country in which you intend to practice.

Pros and Cons of Different Nursing Degrees

Now that we have explored the different nursing degrees and their requirements, let’s consider the pros and cons associated with each:


  • ADN: Pros – shorter duration, lower cost, opportunity to start working earlier.
  • ADN: Cons – limited career advancement opportunities, potential employers may prefer BSN-educated nurses.
  • BSN: Pros – broader knowledge base, increased job prospects, eligibility for advanced nursing positions.
  • BSN: Cons – longer duration, potentially higher tuition fees.
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  • BSN: Pros – solid foundation for nursing practice, eligibility for entry-level positions in various healthcare settings.
  • BSN: Cons – may limit career growth without further education.
  • MSN: Pros – specialized knowledge and skills, advanced career opportunities, higher salary potential.
  • MSN: Cons – longer duration, requires prior nursing experience.


  • MSN: Pros – specialization in a specific area of practice, eligibility for advanced roles like nurse practitioner or nurse educator.
  • MSN: Cons – limited to certain advanced practice roles.
  • DNP: Pros – highest level of practice-focused education, leadership opportunities, potential for policy involvement.
  • DNP: Cons – longer duration, may not be required for all advanced practice roles.

DNP vs. PhD in Nursing

  • DNP: Pros – clinical focus, prepares nurses for leadership positions in healthcare organizations.
  • DNP: Cons – limited research training.
  • PhD in Nursing: Pros – research-focused, prepares nurses for careers in academia or research institutions.
  • PhD in Nursing: Cons – may not be necessary for all nursing career paths.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Nursing Degrees

Q: What is the minimum degree required to become a nurse?

A: The minimum degree required to become a nurse is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). However, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is increasingly becoming the preferred entry-level degree for many healthcare institutions.

Q: Can I become a nurse with an associate degree?

A: Yes, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) qualifies you to become a registered nurse (RN). However, keep in mind that certain healthcare settings and employers may prefer or require a bachelor’s degree (BSN).

Q: Is it worth pursuing a BSN instead of an ADN?

A: Pursuing a BSN instead of an ADN can have several advantages, including broader knowledge, increased job prospects, and eligibility for advanced nursing positions. However, it ultimately depends on your career goals and the requirements of the healthcare institutions in your area.

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Q: What are the benefits of obtaining a higher-level nursing degree?

A: Obtaining a higher-level nursing degree, such as an MSN or DNP, can lead to specialized knowledge and skills, advanced career opportunities, higher salary potential, and the ability to take on leadership roles in healthcare organizations.

Q: Can I specialize in a specific field of nursing with any degree?

A: Yes, you can specialize in a specific field of nursing with any degree. However, certain specialties may require additional education or certifications beyond the initial nursing degree.

Q: Are there online programs available for nursing degrees?

A: Yes, there are online programs available for nursing degrees at various levels. Online nursing programs offer flexibility for students who may have other commitments but still want to pursue a nursing career.


In conclusion, the degree you need to become a nurse depends on your career goals and the opportunities you seek. While an associate degree in nursing (ADN) can launch your nursing career, a bachelor’s degree (BSN) or higher can provide a competitive edge and open doors to advanced nursing roles. Consider the pros and cons of each degree, evaluate your aspirations, and choose the nursing degree that aligns with your goals. Remember, nursing is a rewarding profession that offers a multitude of opportunities to make a positive impact on people’s lives. So, embark on this fulfilling journey and join the noble field of nursing today!

Note: This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. Always consult with educational institutions and healthcare organizations for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding nursing degree requirements.

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