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The Different Levels of Nursing Degree Paths

To get a job in nursing, you must receive some form of nursing education. While most nurses start their careers as registered nurses, they can go on to serve in advanced clinical or administrative nursing roles.

Whether you plan to work as an RN through retirement or use it as a launchpad toward an advanced role – it’s essential to understand the different paths of nursing education, what they mean, and the types of careers you can get with them. Our guide will walk you through the different nursing education levels –including the pros and cons of each degree and how each can prepare you for a nursing career.


Associate’s Degree In Nursing

The first level of nursing education starts at the associate level. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year program that prepares students to serve their communities as registered nurses. ADN programs provide a foundational understanding of nursing practice, clinical experience, and patient-focused care.

Graduates of ADN programs can sit for the National Certification Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN), a national certification and critical step for those seeking to become registered nurses. Although ADN programs provide a fast way for you to become a registered nurse, not all states and employers will hire ADN recipients. Make sure to check your employer and state requirements carefully.


  • You can earn your degree in as little as two years
  • One of the fastest ways to enter the workforce as a registered nurse
  • You can sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and become certified as a registered nurse
  • You can continue your education with a bachelor’s degree
  • You still receive clinical and classroom experience


  • Depending on the state you work in or the organization you’ll work for, an associate’s degree in nursing may not be enough to meet the education requirements
  • You will have to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing to pursue an advanced degree in nursing, including graduate and doctoral-level programs in nursing.


Here’s the bottom line

While earning an ADN in nursing is one of the fastest ways of becoming a registered nurse, many states and healthcare organizations require registered nurses to have a bachelor’s degree. While earning an associate’s degree can help you build experience faster and get you into the field quicker. There are limitations in your ability to climb the corporate ladder and pursue future career opportunities in nursing, such as a graduate or doctoral degree, should you choose to do so.

Bachelor’s Degree In Nursing

The second level of nursing education is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). A BSN is the most common nursing education route for someone interested in becoming a registered nurse. Depending on where you are in your academic or vocational journey, BSN programs can range from accelerated completion in one year to 18 months or traditional programs completed in four years.

In addition, special programs, such as RN-BSN or ADN-BSN, offer options for working professionals to get their BSN. Although BSN programs require additional time and monetary commitment, they better prepare students to meet the challenges and the needs of a rapidly growing and changing work environment.


  • A widely accepted degree
  • Offer additional clinical and classroom experience before employment
  • You can sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and become certified as a registered nurse
  • You can pursue advanced degree options, including graduate and doctoral programs
  • You have more opportunities for career advancement with a BSN


  • Maximum of four years or more schooling, depending on the specific degree program.
  • Accelerated and RN-BSN programs can be intensive.


Here’s the bottom line

Earning a BSN is the best way to become a registered nurse. A BSN degree prepares you to meet the certifications and requirements of serving as an RN while opening the door to vocational and career advancements through professional certificates, graduate programs, and more.

Advanced Degrees in Nursing

The third level of nursing education is an advanced degree in nursing. With an advanced degree, you can open the door to new and exciting career opportunities like working as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), Nurse Educator, Nurse Practitioner, or Nurse Administrator.

In addition to graduate programs, doctoral programs include a Ph.D. in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These advanced degrees further build upon the skills you use as a Registered Nurse or Nurse Practitioner – elevating your credential and skill to a more senior or executive level.


  • You can break into new and exciting divisions of nursing practice
  • Allows you to specialize in different nursing practices
  • Can set you on an executive track in nursing


  • Requires a lot of time and dedication to complete
  • Only worth it if you know you need it to obtain your career goals


Here’s the bottom line

A graduate or doctoral degree in nursing can help expand your career to new and exciting opportunities in advanced practice nursing, nursing administration, or executive track positions. First, however, it is essential to consider whether an advanced degree in nursing the right for you both cost and career-wise.

What we offer at the University of Providence

The University of Providence is proud to offer a dynamic lineup of nursing degrees to interested students. We offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing – with different programs centered around preparing new, continuing, or advanced degree seekers to deliver quality, compassionate nursing care to those In need. Each of our nursing programs is nationally certified, offers dynamic and robust course offerings, and is designed to meet the needs of our students.


Traditional BSN

The newest in our lineup of BSN programs, the Traditional BSN, is our first on-campus nursing program here in Great Falls, MT. Our Traditional BSN program offers recent high school graduates the opportunity to earn their BSN through our four-year program. Students will receive a foundational education in liberal arts, along with an advanced understanding of nursing practices taught through in-person lectures, nursing skill labs, clinical placements, and more. In addition, students will be able to learn fundamental nursing skills in our new state-of-the-art simulation lab, designed to replicate a real hospital wing with real hospital scenarios. – including high-fidelity mannequins that offer new, interactive ways for students to administer care and learn new skills.


Online RN-BSN

Designed for already practicing registered nurses who have obtained a two-year degree, the Online RN-BSN program is perfect for registered nurses seeking to get their BSN without taking time off. Designed for working professionals, our RN-BSN program is designed for all lifestyles – including full-time, part-time, and even third-shift workers. Since the program is 100% online and most coursework is administered asynchronously, you can complete work on time. Asynchronous coursework is paired with virtual learning sessions** to deliver the course material that builds upon the skills you already know and use every day as an RN – preparing you to provide better care and opening the door to new and exciting career advancement opportunities.

**Virtual courses for the first and second 8-week sessions are administered on the first, third, fifth, and seventh weeks before transitioning to the first and seventh weeks for the remaining sessions.


Accelerated BSN

Our Accelerated BSN is a one-year, all-inclusive nursing program for those who want to transition into a nursing career. Accelerated BSN students must have a bachelor’s degree before enrollment and reside or live close to one of UP’s two Accelerated BSN clinical site locations in Lewistown, MT, or Anchorage, AK. The Accelerated BSN program prepares students for licensure as RNs through a one-year intensive program that focuses on teaching in-demand nursing skills, principles, foundational nursing practice, and ethical patient care.


If you’re interested in learning more about our programs, visit our nursing page to explore our bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, view accreditation information, and learn how to apply.