The Nursing Degree Pathfinder

Whether you’re a seasoned NP looking to specialize or a high school graduate with little to no experience, finding the right nursing degree can be tough. Use the Pathfinder below to see which degree options can help you achieve your nursing career goals.

Last Updated: 12/23/2019
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You know you want to become a nurse, but you’re not sure where to start. Or, you’ve been a registered nurse for a few years now, but you don’t know if that MSN is your best move forward. Whether you’re struggling to take your first step or your next one, this guide is for you. The Nursing Degree Pathfinder helps you learn about and understand your nursing degree options based on what you want to do and where you want to go. Press Start to begin your journey.

Who Are You?

Pick the person who best represents where you are now in your nursing journey

  • High School Graduate

    High School Graduate

    You just graduated high school, or you graduated a few years ago and want to explore a new career. You’re looking to break into nursing at an entry-level and are open to career training and/or a full degree program.

  • CNA

    CNA

    You’ve been a CNA for a while and you’re ready for more. You have your eyes on becoming a licensed practical nurse or maybe even a registered nurse, but you’re not 100% sure where to start.

  • Paramedic

    Paramedic

    You’ve worked in the field as a paramedic for a few years and love your job, but you’re ready to move up the professional ladder. An RN seems like a great fit for that next step.

  • LPN/LVN

    LPN/LVN

    You enjoy your work as an LPN/LVN but are looking for more career stability and higher earnings. Becoming an RN seems like the next logical step, but you aren’t sure whether to pursue an ADN or BSN to reach that goal.

  • RN

    RN

    You completed an ADN or BSN program and became an RN. You enjoy this role but feel like there’s still more you want to do and aren’t quite sure whether to pursue a clinical or research-based degree.

  • NP

    NP

    Working as a nurse practitioner allows you to make meaningful differences in the lives of your patients each and every day and you love the work, but it’s time to try your hand at a different job. You are considering both clinical and research/teaching roles, but want to learn more about each.

  • Related Degree Holder

    Related Degree Holder

    You graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a health-related subject you thought fit your interests, but working in that industry the last couple years made you realize it’s not an exact match. You are thinking about entering nursing but want to know what it entails before you move forward.

What’s Your Goal?

Choose the option that best matches your career goals as a nurse

  • To enter a new career fast
  • To build a long-term nursing career
  • To earn a higher salary
  • To advance within nursing
  • To specialize within your current career
  • To change careers within nursing

How to Get There

Click a degree to see how that path can help you succeed

  • CNA Certification

    Certified Nursing Assistant programs typically take between one and four months, with students completing coursework via a state-approved online program, local hospital, vocational school, or community college. The American Red Cross also offers certification classes throughout the United States. Common topics of study include professional communication, patient safety, cleanliness procedures, vital signs, patient care, nutrition, and daily living.

    Requirements vary by state, so check with your board of nursing to learn specifics. Most boards require students to possess a high school diploma or GED upon enrolling, earn passing grades, and participate in an on-site clinical training program. After completing CNA training, students must pass a state-mandated competency exam. If hoping to work in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, licensure may be required. Some states also mandate that CNAs participate in continuing education programs and clear a background check.

    Best for
    Certified Nursing Assistant programs are a great first step if you think you want to work in this field but want to test the waters first. This credential provides access to entry-level nursing jobs with a faster-than-usual education and training cycle.

    Why choose CNA certification?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Certified Nursing Assistants $21,290 $24,340 $28,540 $33,580 $39,560 9% 1-4 mo
    Nursing and Home Health Aides $20,360 $23,000 $26,810 $31,700 $38,440 36% 1-4 mo
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      High schools, junior colleges, vocational schools, hospitals
    • Program options
      Campus, online w/in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Education program must be state-approved. Competency exam to become certified. Some states require background checks.
    • What’s next?
      For CNAs who wish to advance in nursing, an ADN or LPN is the most immediate next step.
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

    ADN programs qualify graduates to work as RNs without pursuing a baccalaureate qualification, making it a great fit if you want to get to work quickly. Typically offered by community colleges and vocational schools, associate degrees in nursing cover basic topics such as human anatomy and physiology, human growth and development, emergency nursing, and nursing care for adults. Some programs include prerequisite courses such as microbiology and chemistry in the curriculum while others expect students to complete these prior to enrolling.

    After finishing all coursework, degree seekers participate in a set number of clinical practicum hours as determined by their state. They must also pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) to qualify for licensure. Some states mandate that RNs pass a criminal background check and participate in continuing education hours. Check with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to get the details about your place of residence.

    Best for
    People who want to work as a registered nurse but aren’t quite ready to devote four years towards a bachelor’s degree. It also appeals to those looking to earn a higher salary than a CNA who can be in school for two years.

    Why choose an ADN?
    Although you can become a registered nurse with an ADN, it may be more difficult to advance without a BSN.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    LPNs & LVNs $33,680 $39,470 $46,240 $54,110 $62,160 11% 1-2 yr
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Community colleges, vocational, and technical schools
    • Program options
      Campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Completion of a state-approved program, passage of NCLEX-RN licensure exam, criminal background check (in some states)
    • What’s next?
      ADN graduates most often pursue a BSN qualification if they want to advance their careers.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

    Often considered the most traditional path into nursing, the BSN exists as a four-year degree and is available at many campus-based and online colleges and universities. The BSN picks up where the ADN leaves off, providing a comprehensive curriculum focused on foundational and advanced nursing topics. Some of these include nursing leadership and management, nursing research, health promotion and risk reduction, and pharmacology. Aside from core nursing topics, BSN learners also take a full complement of general education classes to round out their studies.

    Outside of coursework, all BSN students participate in clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience. Required hours for these rotations vary by state. To become a licensed RN, all students must attend an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Most states also require criminal background checks and continuing education credits. Some RNs pursue certification in particular areas of nursing (e.g., geriatrics, pediatrics) but this is not typically required for generalist roles.

    Best for
    Students who want to pursue a full, four-year degree and make a higher RN salary than their colleagues with ADN qualifications. It also serves those who know they want to progress their careers in the future by cutting down time required in graduate programs.

    Why choose a BSN?
    A BSN can be critical for a registered nurse to advance.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Private and public colleges
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Graduation from an approved program, passage of the NCLEX-RN, active and unencumbered licensure. Some states also require a criminal background check and continuing education.
    • What’s next?
      BSN graduates looking to take the next professional step most commonly pursue MSN, DNP, or PhD in nursing programs.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

    MSN programs typically require two years of full-time study and serve those who already have a few years of nursing experience under their belts. The MSN builds on skills and knowledge gained in ADN and BSN programs, exploring advanced topics such as evidence-based practice for nursing, teaching strategies, advanced pathology, and assessment and intervention for families. In addition to the general curriculum, many nursing departments provide concentrations to help students specialize their knowledge. Common examples include midwifery, family nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, gerontology, nurse anesthetist, and neonatal nurse practitioner. Check with prospective schools to learn about options.

    Aside from coursework, degree seekers must also participate in several clinical experiences to gain nuanced skills and pass a national certification exam. The specific exam you take depends upon the area you plan to work (e.g., nurse anesthesia, midwifery, pediatrics, etc.).

    Best for
    Students who already possess an ADN or BSN and want to take their careers to the next level often enroll in these programs, knowing they’ll have the chance to specialize their knowledge in the field, take on leadership roles, and earn higher salaries.

    Why choose an MSN?
    Although you can become a nurse practitioner with an MSN, it may be tougher to advance without further education. And some teaching positions may be closed to you without a PhD.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    Nursing Instructors, Postsecondary $40,370 $55,620 $73,490 $97,390 $129,070 11% 6-10 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      On campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Unencumbered and active RN license, completion of an accredited graduate program, passage of national certifying exam.
    • What’s next?
      MSN graduates may decide to pursue a DNP or PhD in nursing, depending on whether they hope to work in professional or academic positions.
  • PhD in Nursing

    The PhD in nursing is a terminal degree that prepares graduates for roles based in research and/or college-level teaching. These programs typically require a total of 6-8 years of school and the completion of a dissertation. Courses usually cover healthcare research measurements and methodologies, designing qualitative and quantitative research studies, statistical methods, and advanced studies in nursing health policy. Before moving into the dissertation component, students must pass a comprehensive examination.

    Given the academic nature of the degree, admission requirements tend to be intensive. Common mandates include an RN license, GRE scores, minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, and an essay stating how the degree seeker plans to use their PhD. Some states may require nursing doctorates to possess licensure if they plan to work in research, though this is not required in professorial roles.

    Best for
    As discussed earlier, a PhD in nursing is a great fit for nurses who want to focus their studies on research and academia. The DNP, meanwhile, best serves those who want to work in clinical and/or leadership roles.

    Why choose a PhD in Nursing?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nursing Instructors, Postsecondary $40,370 $55,620 $73,490 $97,390 $129,070 11% 6-10 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public or private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      In-person or online. While the PhD does not require clinicals, some schools may mandate several short, campus-based learning intensives throughout the degree.
    • Requirements to work
      RN license, PhD from an accredited school. Some research positions may require licensure/certification.
    • What’s next?
      PhDs act as terminal degrees in the field, but learners can still participate in continuing education and/or seek additional certification to continue building their skills.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

    The Doctor of Nursing Practice is the highest degree attainable by those who want to work in professional nursing roles. These programs, which typically take between three to five years after a bachelor’s, cover cutting-edge studies in integrative applications of evidence-based nursing practice, healthcare economics and finance, and management of healthcare organizations and systems. Like the MSN, DNP programs often provide specializations, with popular options including adult-gerontology acute/primary care, clinical nursing, nursing leadership, and neonatal nurse practitioner.

    While the PhD focuses on building academic skills, the DNP helps learners enhance leadership and clinical abilities. Most graduates work in either direct patient care or nurse management. Degree seekers participate in clinical practicums while enrolled. If students already possess licensure and certification, they typically do not need to retest unless moving to a new state.

    Best for
    Individuals who want to hold a terminal degree in nursing practice and leadership, those who want to increase salary potential, and students interested in taking on research and/or research management positions.

    Why choose a DNP?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public or private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with in-person practica
    • Requirements to work
      Graduation from an accredited program, licensure, and certification
    • What’s next?
      Because the DNP is a terminal degree, no formal program exists beyond it. That being said, individuals can always build additional skills through certifications and continuing education.
  • CNA to LPN

    CNA to LPN programs bridge the education and experience gap between the two professions. Although students with a CNA may take many of the same courses as those without a CNA license do, CNAs in these programs can have certain courses and clinicals waived due to their experience. This can reduce the program length by up to six months. CNA to LPN programs can be found at community colleges, vocational schools, and to a certain extent online. Coursework may include biology, chemistry, anatomy, and psychology, as well as fundamentals in nursing and adult health.

    To work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), program graduates will need to sit for and pass the NCLEX-PN exam. To qualify to take the examination, graduates may need a certain number of clinical experience hours, and to pass a criminal background check. However, requirements vary by state, so every CNA seeking an LPN credential should contact their state’s board of nursing to be safe.

    Best for
    Current CNAs who want to take the next step in their nursing career. Bridge programs give these nursing assistants a chance to move up to practical nursing quickly.

    Why choose a CNA to LPN?
    If you’re a CNA already and have experience, earning an LPN certificate or diploma is a faster route to career growth.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    LPNs & LVNs $33,680 $39,470 $46,240 $54,110 $62,160 11% 1-2 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Community colleges, vocational, and technical schools
    • Program options
      Campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Completion of a state-approved program, passage of NCLEX-PN licensure exam, criminal background check (in some states)
    • What’s next?
      LPNs can go on to earn an ADN or a BSN, which are great stepping stones to become a registered nurse (RN)
  • LPN to ADN

    The LPN to ADN, also known as LPN mobility or LPN transition programs, typically requires 12-24 months depending on whether you enroll on a full- or part-time basis. Applicants should possess both a valid LPN license and related work experience upon enrollment. Classes you’ll likely take include health and illness, community and mental health, professional nursing leadership, and epidemiology. All learners must complete in-person practicum to build hands-on skills. The program director works with online students to find a suitable location near their home.

    Upon graduating, students must pass the NCLEX-RN examination to receive licensure as a registered nurse (RN). Other requirements vary state, so check with your state’s nursing board to learn specifics. Common mandates include passing a criminal background check and participating in a set number of continuing education classes per renewal period.

    Best for
    People who feel confident they won’t pursue additional education typically choose this option rather than the LPN to BSN path, as do those who want to qualify for RN positions. It’s a great fit for those who need to get in and out of school relatively quickly.

    Why choose an LPN to ADN?
    Although you can become an RN with an ADN only, you may need a BSN to facilitate additional career growth.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Community colleges, hospitals, vocational and technical schools
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with an in-person clinical
    • Requirements to work
      ADN degree from an accredited school, unencumbered and active RN license
    • What’s next?
      Graduates can pursue a BSN or MSN to continue building their skills.
  • LPN to RN/BSN

    The LPN to RN/BSN program requires approximately four years of full-time study and helps expand and build upon knowledge gained during LPN training. Students develop a deeper understanding of important topics such as human anatomy and physiology, comprehensive health assessments for nursing practice, nursing care of adults, and reflective nursing practice. Learners also take courses in English, science, math, and other general education topics to provide a well-rounded education.

    Applicants should possess an active and unencumbered LPN/LVN license alongside relevant experience. As part of degree requirements, students must participate in several practicum rotations at approved health facilities. After graduating, plan to sit for and pass the NCLEX-RN examination, apply for licensure, and pay any relevant fees. Criminal background checks and continuing education credits are also common requirements, but specifics are set by individual state boards of nursing.

    Best for
    Practicing LVNs/LPNs who are ready to step into a role offering more responsibilities, opportunities for growth, and higher levels of pay. The RN/BSN degree appeals to those who can spend more time in school than an ADN program but are not yet ready for graduate-level studies.

    Why choose an LPN to RN/BSN?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private institutions
    • Program options
      On campus or online with in-person practicum components.
    • Requirements to work
      Degree from an accredited institution, completed practicum hours, active and unencumbered license.
    • What’s next?
      If seeking further career advancement, many RNs pursue an MSN degree.
  • Paramedic to ADN

    These programs build on existing knowledge gained in paramedic training programs, making it possible to earn an associate degree in nursing in approximately 12-24 months. After graduating, newly minted RNs can apply for entry-level positions. Because many paramedics continue working while enrolled, most programs offer maximum flexibility to work around existing schedules. Upon applying, you should possess evidence of completed paramedic training from an accredited program, active CPR certification, and unrestricted certification from the National Paramedic Registry.

    Once enrolled, plan to complete classes in areas of nursing health assessments, nursing care in mental health, community health and illness, and global healthcare policy. You must also participate in clinical rotations on-site at an approved facility to gain real-world experience. After completing degree requirements, you must pass the NCLEX-RN examination and apply for licensure in your state. This may require you to pass a background check and participate in continuing education training once licensed.

    Best for
    Paramedic to ADN programs appeal to individuals who have worked in the field for a time but recognize they want to earn higher salaries and take on more responsibilities. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that RNs earn more than double the annual income of paramedics.

    Why choose Paramedic to ADN?
    While a paramedic to ADN program can help you advanced to an LPN or RN position, you may need a BSN to move beyond mid-level nursing.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    LPNs & LVNs $33,680 $39,470 $46,240 $54,110 $62,160 11% 1-2 yr
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Community colleges, vocational and technical schools
    • Program options
      On campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Accredited ADN degree, active and unencumbered license, clear background check
    • What’s next?
      Some students decide to pursue a BSN to continue building skills and opening opportunities for professional advancement.
  • Paramedic to RN

    Paramedic to RN/BSN bridge programs require more time than an ADN (three to four years as opposed to two) but provide learners a more holistic plan of study. Some schools even offer accelerated degrees that can be finished in as few as 28 months. After completing approximately two years of general education courses, students move into studies around lifespan development, safety and patient care in nursing practice, gerontological care, and pharmacotherapy. Throughout the program, degree seekers participate in several clinicals and evidence-based practice modules to help strengthen their understanding of patient care.

    Like other RN programs, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive licensure in their state. Individual state boards of nursing set specific guidelines around how to receive initial licensure and successfully renew it, so check with yours to learn what needs to be done.

    Best for
    The Paramedic to RN path is a great option for students who can spend a bit more time in school than is required of an ADN degree. In return for their additional two years in school, graduates can earn higher salaries and take advantage of more opportunities for upward growth.

    Why choose Paramedic to RN?
    If your paramedic to RN program ends with you earning a BSN, you’ll be positioned to move to more advanced nursing.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    LPNs & LVNs $33,680 $39,470 $46,240 $54,110 $62,160 11% 1-2 yr
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Accredited BSN degree, passage of NCLEX-RN exam, licensure
    • What’s next?
      After working as an RN for a while, some individuals may decide to pursue an MSN or DNP.
  • ADN to MSN

    The ADN to MSN degree takes approximately three years of full-time study or four years of part-time learning and provides graduates with the qualifications needed to take on advanced practice and/or leadership roles. This accelerated degree equips students with a general undergraduate education from a BSN program while also incorporating graduate-level topics in areas of healthcare management and finance, research and evidence-based practice, pathophysiology, and patient assessment and health literacy. Some programs also allow learners to concentrate their knowledge in areas of midwifery, critical care, nurse education, or nurse anesthetist.

    Aside from coursework, all students participate in clinical experiences to develop professional practices and specialized knowledge. Assuming graduates already possess an RN license, they do not need to reapply. Those who want to work in a specialized role must seek certification through the relevant credentialing body.

    Best for
    These programs best serve ADN-educated RNs who have worked in the field for a few years and decided they want to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or other position requiring a graduate degree. The accelerated nature makes it far quicker to graduate than if you pursued a BSN first.

    Why choose an ADN to MSN?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    Nursing Instructors, Postsecondary $40,370 $55,620 $73,490 $97,390 $129,070 11% 6-10 yr
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      On campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Active and unencumbered RN license, accredited MSN degree, national certification
    • What’s next?
      Graduates can pursue either a DNP to continue in professional practice or a PhD in nursing if they want to work in academia.
  • ADN to NP

    Similar to the ADN to MSN program, these degrees allow those with an associate degree to leapfrog baccalaureate programs and move into a master’s level degree. They may even sometimes be called MSN programs but distinguish themselves by offering specializations in areas of family nurse practitioner, adult gerontology nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner, and psychiatric nurse practitioner, among others. General core topics include foundations of nursing research, topics in clinical nursing, advanced pharmacology, and population health policy and advocacy.

    ADN to NP programs require three years of full-time study, including a year of clinical rotations to build skills related to their specialization. After graduating, they must apply for and pass a certification exam. To learn about specifics of clinical and certification requirements, speak with a representative at your state board of nursing.

    Why choose an ADN to NP?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      On campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Accredited MSN degree, active and unencumbered RN license, and national certification
    • What’s next?
      Graduates can pursue either a DNP to continue in professional practice or a PhD in nursing if they want to work in academia.
  • RN to BSN

    RN to BSN bridge programs build on skills previously gained from an associate degree and expand your depth of knowledge. Because learners already possess a significant number of credits – alongside professional work experience – most can be completed in one to two years of study, depending on whether you enroll on a full- or part-time basis and whether the program is accelerated.

    You should already hold an accredited associate degree in nursing, an unrestricted RN license, and experience working in the field. Some schools also set minimum GPA requirements and specific course prerequisites. Once admitted, you take a mix of general education and core nursing courses. Topics you may encounter include nursing practice leadership, professional nursing science, aging and health, and issues in cultural health. All students must participate in multiple clinical courses at an approved health facility to graduate.

    Presuming you already hold RN licensure, you do not need to retake the NCLEX-RN exam, but you can apply for certification in specific areas such as gerontology or pediatrics if you so choose.

    Best for
    ADN graduates who pursue bridge programs have typically worked as an RN for a few years but realize they can enjoy more career opportunities by going to school for another year or two. They may also want to specialize the care they provide to a specific population.

    Why choose an RN to BSN?
    The BSN opens up nurses to more advanced careers in the field, and is a great stepping stone to a master’s.

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with on-site clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      BSN degree from an accredited university, active and unencumbered RN license.
    • What’s next?
      Graduates may decide to pursue an MSN or DNP to continue moving up the career ladder.
  • RN to MSN

    While the ADN to MSN is geared toward RNs with an associate degree, the RN to MSN program serves learners who already possess a BSN qualification. Enrolled students spend anywhere from 18 to 48 months completing coursework and practicum requirements, depending on if they enroll full- or part-time and if their school offers an accelerated path. Most require approximately 45 credits including a mix of both core and concentration-specific topics. Core courses touch on subjects such as healthcare quality and safety, healthcare research, clinical pharmacology and therapeutics, and advanced health assessments. Common specializations include acute/clinical studies in gerontology, family nurse practitioner, primary care pediatrics, psychological/mental health nurse practitioner, and nurse education.

    Because RNs already possess licensure, they do not need to apply for any other type upon graduating. Instead, they must pass a national certifying examination in their chosen specialty area.

    Best for
    After working in generalist nursing as an RN for several years, you may find yourself ready to take on more responsibility and/or specialize your services. The MSN is a great fit if so and provides the training needed to work as an NP, nurse educator, nurse anesthetist, or research director.

    Why choose an RN to MSN?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    Nursing Instructors, Postsecondary $40,370 $55,620 $73,490 $97,390 $129,070 11% 6-10 yr
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private institutions
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Active and unencumbered RN license, MSN degree from an accredited program, national specialty certification
    • What’s next?
      Graduates can pursue either a DNP to continue in professional practice or a PhD in nursing if they want to work in academia.
  • BSN to DNP

    The BSN to DNP degree is an accelerated program that provides both MSN and DNP credentials at graduation. Building upon knowledge gained in a bachelor’s of nursing program, the DNP incorporates advanced studies in healthcare practice, policy, and research ethics, health promotion, methodologies in clinical practice scholarship, and advanced pharmacology. Learners participate in several on-site clinicals to build real-world expertise; they must also pass a comprehensive examination and develop an overarching final project demonstrating newly developed skills and knowledge. Specialties vary by institution but may include family nurse practitioner, women’s health nurse practitioner, pediatric acute/primary care, and nurse midwifery.

    Most programs require approximately 75 credits and take three to four years to complete. After meeting graduation requirements, degree seekers must pass a national certifying examination in their chosen specialty.

    Best for
    Individuals who know they want to work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) often select this program as it incorporates master’s and doctoral level studies while allowing them to graduate more quickly than if they pursued both degrees individually.

    Why choose a BSN to DNP?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    Nursing Instructors, Postsecondary $40,370 $55,620 $73,490 $97,390 $129,070 11% 6-10 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public and private institutions
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with in-person clinical rotations
    • Requirements to work
      Active and unencumbered RN license, DNP qualification from an accredited program, national specialty certification.
    • What’s next?
      DNPs act as terminal degrees in the field, but learners can still participate in continuing education and/or seek additional certification to continue building their skills.
  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

    Acute Care Nurse Practitioner isn’t a degree by itself but instead a concentration available to learners pursuing MSN or DNP credentials. Applicants must possess a bachelor of science in nursing, an active an unencumbered RN license, and several years of experience in an acute care setting prior to receiving admittance. Other requirements typically include official transcripts, GRE or GMAT scores, completion of prerequisite courses, minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

    Once accepted, learners move through a sequence of courses designed to build specialized skills in acute care. Common topics include pathophysiology and collaborative care management in acute care, health assessment and clinical reasoning, pharmacotherapeutics, and collaborative change management. All ACNPs in training must participate in numerous practica at approved healthcare facilities. ACNPs use their RN licensure but must pass a national certifying examination given by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

    Best for
    ACNP specializations best serve individuals who want to work in high intensity settings and provide advanced care to those experiencing severe and/or emergency health issues. They also suit those who want to earn six-figure salaries and take on managerial roles.

    Why choose Acute Care Nurse Practitioner?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public or private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      Campus-based or online with in-person practica
    • Requirements to work
      Active and unencumbered RN license, MSN or DNP from an accredited institution, national certification in acute care.
    • What’s next?
      MSN holders may decide to pursue a DNP; those with a DNP can participate in continuing education and/or seek additional certifications.
  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    Because no nurse practitioner degree exists, those hoping to work as family nurse practitioners (FNP) typically pursue either an MSN or DPN and select the FNP concentration. Master’s programs take between one and three years while a DNP takes approximately three to four years. Specialty topics explored include primary care of women, primary care of children and adolescents, application of evidence in family primary care, and primary care of the elderly. Students also participate in several clinicals/preceptorships to hone their hands-on skills prior to graduation.

    At the end of their time in school, newly minted graduates apply for national board certification through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. If planning to enroll in a program offering the FNP concentration, you should hold an RN license, an accredited BSN, and several years of related nursing experience.

    Best for
    FNP programs are a great fit for RNs who want to provide advanced general nursing care across the lifespan. Rather than focusing on a specific population, FNPs see infants, children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly in a typical workday. This qualification allows for higher salaries and leadership opportunities.

    Why choose Family Nurse Practitioner?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public or private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      On-campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Active and unencumbered RN license, MSN or DNP from an accredited institution, board certification from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
    • What’s next?
      MSN holders may decide to pursue a DNP; those with a DNP can participate in continuing education and/or seek additional certifications.
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

    Like other nurse practitioners, those hoping to practice pediatric nursing must pursue an MSN or a DNP with this type of specialization. BSN holders typically spend one to three years or three to five years enrolled, respectively, depending on whether they attend on a full- or part-time basis. Aside from core nursing topics, specialty classes include birth through adolescent development, advanced health assessment applications, and transitions to advanced pediatric nursing care. All students also participate in numerous clinicals throughout the degree to help them build skills in primary and acute care settings.

    Applicants to pediatric nurse practitioner specializations should possess an accredited BSN degree, an active RN license, and at least two years of related nursing experience. Graduates seek board certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.

    Best for
    After working as an RN for several years some nurses may decide to specialize their skills in pediatric primary or acute care nursing at the NP level. These programs give them the qualifications needed to move up the career ladder while also making it possible to earn higher salaries.

    Why choose Pediatric Nurse Practitioner?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public or private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      On-campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      Unencumbered and active RN license, MSN or DNP from an accredited school, and board certification through the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.
    • What’s next?
      MSN holders may decide to pursue a DNP; those with a DNP can participate in continuing education and/or seek additional certifications.
  • Direct-Entry MSN

    Direct-entry MSN programs differ from standard MSNs in that they cater to those with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing topics. These programs help career changers move into the field without spending unnecessary years completing additional education. Building on general education topics already taken, direct-entry MSNs typically take three years of full-time study. The first year focuses on undergraduate nursing topics while the final two build advanced skills. Topics explored include healthcare informatics, nursing theory, evidence-based practice, and healthcare policy trends and issues.

    Applicants should already hold a bachelor’s degree but they do not need an RN license. They will apply for this while enrolled. They also do not need to possess any related professional experience but will participate in at least three semester-long clinicals while enrolled. Some programs allow students to specialize as a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse anesthetist.

    Best for
    Career changers who already possess a bachelor’s degree often gravitate towards these programs. These accelerated degrees build on existing baccalaureate studies, making it possible to gain all required skills and knowledge in a shorter timeframe.

    Why choose a Direct-Entry MSN?

    Occupation Entry-Level Early Career Mid-Career Experienced Late Career Growth Rate Time to Entry
    Nurse Practitioners $78,300 $90,760 $107,030 $125,440 $150,320 26% 7-9 yr
    Nurse Anesthetists $116,820 $143,870 $167,950 $198,470 - 26% 7-8 yr
    Nurse Midwives $70,100 $87,070 $103,770 $124,240 $151,070 26% 7-8 yr
    Nursing Instructors, Postsecondary $40,370 $55,620 $73,490 $97,390 $129,070 11% 6-10 yr
    Registered Nurses $50,800 $58,770 $71,730 $88,350 $106,530 12% 2-4 yr
    • Attainable with this certification
    • Difficult without further education

    Additional Info

    • Where can you learn?
      Public or private colleges and universities
    • Program options
      On campus or online with in-person clinicals
    • Requirements to work
      RN license, accredited MSN degree, national certification in chosen specialty area.
    • What’s next?
      Graduates can pursue a DNP if they want to work in clinical settings or a PhD in nursing if more drawn to research and/or teaching.