Different Types of Nursing Degrees

a nurse tending to a senior patient

Blend Images / Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Brand X Pictures / Getty Images

Just as there are many different types of nurses, there are also many different types of nursing degrees. If you want to become a nurse, you need to determine which nursing degree is required for the nurse career you want. Learn more about the types of nursing degrees available and where to obtain the degree you need for your future nursing career.

Taken in a large group, nurses can best be categorized according to their industry licensure and any further specialized credentials. These categories often denote a particular degree level attained, type of work environment, and even salary range.

Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An associate's degree in nursing is a two-year degree that is obtained from a community college or vocational school. An associate's degree is the minimum requirement to become a registered nurse; however, be advised that many employers are requiring a bachelor's degree for many RN nursing roles.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is required for many, but not all, nursing careers. A BSN, like most bachelor's degrees, is typically a four-year degree from a university or college.

Like most other nursing degrees, a bachelor of science in nursing combines classroom learning with hands-on training called clinicals, which allow students to obtain first-hand experience working with patients in a clinical setting. A BSN should be obtained from an accredited nursing program.

Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

You must have a bachelor's degree in nursing or related field in order to obtain your MSN unless you opt for one of the combined bachelor's/master's programs. A master's degree in nursing is required to become an advanced practice nurse (APN or APRN).

Advanced practice nurses have more clinical authority and autonomy, and typically earn more than "regular" registered nurses. Some master's nursing programs may have a special focus or "track" for certain medical specialties or types of nursing, such as a focus on forensic nursing or a clinical nurse specialist track.

A specialized master's degree is also required to become a mid-level provider, such as a nurse practitioner (NP) or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). Master's degrees are typically one to two years of additional coursework that you can obtain while employed as a nurse.

Sometimes your employer will help pay for your master's degree in nursing if you commit to working for a number of years into the future. An MSN must also be completed from an accredited nursing program.

Doctorate Degrees in Nursing

The highest degree one can earn in nursing is a doctorate level degree. You must first have a bachelor's and then a master's degree before completing the doctorate degree in nursing and becoming what some refer to as Doctor Nurse.

There are two types of doctorates in nursing: a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) which focuses on the clinical aspects of nursing and a Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc, also a DSN or DNS). The latter is the more common choice for those who wish to be professors at nursing programs or researchers.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1.  Barnum, B., (August 13, 1997). "Licensure, Certification, and Accreditation". Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Available Vol. 2, No. 3, Manuscript 1.

  2. Mahaffey, E. (May 31, 2002). "The Relevance of Associate Degree Nursing Education: Past, Present, Future". Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 7 No. 2, Manuscript 2.

  3. Anbari AB. The RN to BSN Transition: A Qualitative Systematic ReviewGlob Qual Nurs Res. 2015;2:2333393615614306. Published 2015 Nov 5. doi:10.1177/2333393615614306

  4. Nelson, M. (May 31, 2002). "Education for Professional Nursing Practice: Looking Backward Into the Future". Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 7 No. 3, Manuscript 3.