Types of Nursing Degrees and Nursing Certifications

When it comes to nursing degrees, there are many different options to fit your career and income goals, timeframes, lifestyle, and budget. From education that takes a few months to several years, and includes fundamental nursing skills to advanced specialized practice, there are few professions that offer more varied opportunities than nursing.

There are many ways to pursue a career in nursing.  Some options require minimal training and other nursing careers require wither an undergraduate or graduate nursing degree.  Read below to learn more about the many different types of nursing degrees and certifications that may be right for you.

Nursing Assistant

One way to begin working in the nursing field quickly and with minimal training is by starting out as a nursing assistant. Common job titles at this level include: certified nursing assistant (CNA), registered nursing assistant (RNA), licensed nursing assistant (LNA), direct care worker, care assistant, home assistant or personal care assistant.

Time to Completion: A few weeks to a few months, with a combination of schooling and hands-on clinical experience. After completion, students must take a state test to become certified; requirements vary widely from state to state.

Career Paths: Nursing assistants commonly work in long-term care facilities, where they assist patients with tasks such as bathing, feeding and dressing, and handle documenting and filing of patients’ paperwork.

Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) Degree

Of all the nursing certifications, LPN or LVN programs are the quickest and most convenient options. Because training can be completed at a hospital, vocational technical school, community college and even online, LPN/LVN programs are ideal for students who work or have other obligations.

Time to Completion: About one year.

Career Paths: This flexible, fast-paced program equips students with the most basic skills for becoming a nurse. Completion of an LPN/LVN program makes graduates eligible for licensure after they pass a state-administered nursing exam called the NCLEX-PN.

Here is some information about career options for Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurses provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Quick Facts: Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

2016 Median Pay

$44,090 per year 
$21.20 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education

Postsecondary non-degree award

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

None

On-the-job Training

None

Job Outlook, 2016-2026

12% growth (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook

Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) to Associate Degree (ADN)

LPN to associate degree bridge programs prepare students to become an entry-level registered nurse (RN).

Time to Completion: LPN to ADN programs vary in length, but typically take one year or less to complete. Online hybrid programs are the most convenient option, as they allow students the flexibility of completing some coursework on their own time. However, clinical practice hours will take place at a medical facility.

Career Paths: An associate degree provides a foundation for a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Some employers will even provide tuition reimbursement for nurses seeking to further their education.

Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

An associate of science degree in nursing program (ASN) provides graduates with more technical skills and, for 30% of graduates, serves as the stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). This degree option is ideal for those who want to begin a career as an RN, but are not currently working as an LPN or LVN.

Time to Completion: About two years. Night and weekend courses offered at community colleges or vocational schools make this degree another ideal option for students who are juggling other responsibilities.

Career Paths: This degree works for those who are interested in becoming a registered nurse sooner than the time it would take to complete a four-year BSN degree program.

Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

LPN to BSN bridge programs take into consideration a student’s LPN work experience, which means that students would receive a liberal arts education without going the traditional four-year route to a bachelor’s degree.

Time to Completion: A full-time program can take as little as four academic semesters to complete; though it is possible to complete on a part-time basis. The workload can be more rigorous than other LPN options, which is a consideration for students completing this program amidst work and family obligations.

Career Paths: Completing an LPN to BSN program enables graduates to work as an RN. An RN with a BSN is considered more senior than a nurse with an associate degree and typically earns a higher salary. A BSN paves the way for managerial roles, as well as opens the door to furthering your education with a graduate degree in Nursing.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

When considering the different types of nursing degrees it’s important to understand that a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree is preferred by most healthcare providers and offers a broader range of career opportunities in today’s healthcare field.

So do you want to pursue an ASN or a BSN? According to a study conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), patients cared for by nurses with a BSN have better outcomes and lower rates of mortality. Bachelor’s-level nurses are also more proficient in making diagnoses and evaluating the results of interventions. According to the AACN, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report recommending that the number of nurses with a BSN increase from 50% to 80% by 2020. Many hospitals and other medical facilities follow the IOM guidelines and encourage RNs with an associate degree to earn their BSN within five years of their graduation from an associate degree program.

https://nursejournal.org/bsn-degree/bsn-degree-rn-differences/

Time to Completion: Four years. A BSN program involves an extensive amount of coursework and lab time. While some BSN degree programs include a mix of on-campus and online classes, clinical experiences are always completed onsite at a college campus or hospital.

Career Paths: A BSN degree is required for many nursing positions. For those who have their sights set on one day earning a graduate degree, it is recommended to pursue a BSN program as opposed to the other nursing program options that require less time and offer less training.

Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

This bridge program is designed for registered nurse (RN) graduates with an associate degree who want to earn their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

Time to Completion: About two years. This program provides credit for previous nursing skills and work experience, and is often offered within a very flexible schedule designed for working nurses. Many schools offer online courses and multiple start dates so students don’t have to wait for September to get started.

Career Paths: Nurses with a BSN degree can expect higher salaries and opportunities to take on supervisory positions. It’s also a necessary step for earning a master’s degree.

Second Degree Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

A Second Degree BSN, sometimes called an ABSN, is designed for adults with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree who wish to transition their career into the nursing field.

Time to Completion: A Second Degree BSN typically takes two years or less, since these programs will give credit for previously completed liberal arts requirements. Online programs are available for students who need more flexibility, and some schools offer an accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs that can be completed as quickly as 12 to 20 months. In addition to challenging coursework, students need to account for time spent completing clinical rotations.  

Career Paths: Same as above.

Your GMercyU Path to a Degree in Nursing
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree -ABSN (For students with a bachelor’s in another field who want to become a nurse by taking courses on a full-time basis)
Weekend BSN Degree (For students with a bachelor’s deree in another field who want to become a nurse by completing coursework on the weekends)

Job growth for registered nurses is expected to grow much faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statstics.

Quick Facts: Registered Nurses

2016 Median Pay

$68,450 per year 
$32.91 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education

Bachelor's degree

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

None

On-the-job Training

None

Job Outlook, 2016-2026

15% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program enables a nurse to specialize in different types of nursing through advanced clinical training and research. Many employers offer tuition reimbursement for nurses to further their education.

Time to Completion: Typically 18-24 months. MSN programs—offered online or in a more traditional on-campus format—are very rigorous, as students are learning about an advanced specialty. Most programs require students to complete a final thesis or project.

Career Paths: An MSN can take a nursing career (and salary) to the next level. With advanced skills in a specialty, graduates will be able to care for patients in many of the same ways as a doctor.

Your GMercyU Path to a Degree in Nursing
MSN - Clinical Nurse Specialist – Adult – Gerontology
MSN - Nurse Practitioner Degree
MSN - Nurse Educator
Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certificate


Nurses with advanced degrees and specialty skills will experience much faster than average job growth over the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Quick Facts: Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

2016 Median Pay

$107,460 per year 
$51.67 per hour

Typical Entry-Level Education

Master's degree

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

None

On-the-job Training

None

Job Outlook, 2016-2026

31% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook

Other Nursing Degree Options

RNs with an associate degree have the option of enrolling in an RN to MSN program to earn their MSN immediately after earning their BSN. Direct-entry MSN programs—sometimes called “graduate entry” or “master’s entry” programs—are ideal for adults who have earned non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. This degree option is also perfect for entry-level RNs who know that they want to specialize in an advanced area of nursing.

Time to Completion: Approximately three years (one year of entry-level nursing coursework and two years of master’s-level study). Online RN to MSN programs are available, typically with several start times throughout a year.

Career Paths: These degree programs combine RN licensure preparation with advanced training in a master’s degree nursing specialty.

Doctorate Nursing Degree Programs

While all levels of nursing are expected to see high growth, nurses with doctoral degrees are projected to have tremendous job demand over the next decade. These programs prepare nurses for careers in healthcare administration, clinical research and advanced clinical practice.

Time to Completion: Three to five years, full-time including summers.

Career Paths:

•    A Doctorate of Nursing Education program develops advanced practice nurse specialist skills.
•    A Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program emphasizes clinical practice-oriented leadership development.

Your GMercyU Path to a Doctorate Degree in Nursing
Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc)

At the DNSc level, types of nurses vary even more, as graduates are prepared as nurse scientists with a combination of investigative research, clinical and leadership skills.
Time to Completion: Approximately five years, full time. Part-time programs are available, but will lengthen the program time by several years. Expect challenging coursework, in-depth research, a clinical defense and a final dissertation.
Career Paths: With a DNSc, nurses are able to work in high-level positions such as an administrator, analyst or educator.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs prepare nurse scholars and researchers to make a meaningful impact on the theoretical foundation of nursing practice and health care delivery as a whole.
Time to Completion: Four to five years full time, with part-time options available. While students won’t complete clinical hours, they will be required to complete extensive research and a final dissertation. In general, PhD programs are not suited for juggling coursework with a job.
Career Paths: Nurses with a PhD are qualified for many facets of professional and scholarly roles, from research to public policy formation to leadership in health care delivery and education. Highly qualified nurses with a bachelor’s degree may also consider an MSN/PhD dual degree, an intensive accelerated program that simultaneously offers master’s degree preparation and doctoral-level advanced research training. This program typically takes five years to complete.