RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

a nurse taking the blood pressure of a patient

If you would like to earn a healthcare degree and enter the nursing field, it’s important to be able to differentiate between two key terms in the industry: RN and BSN. For new nursing students especially, it may be difficult to keep these terms straight. Read more to learn about the differences between an RN and BSN

In this guide:

What Is an RN?

RN is a designation that stands for “registered nurse.” RNs are nurses who graduated from a nursing program with either a nursing diploma, an associate in nursing (ADN) or a BSN degree. They have passed the NCLEX-RN exam that allows them to practice nursing, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. RNs must meet all other licensing requirements mandated by their state’s board of nursing.

What Is a BSN?

A BSN stands for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing — it is an undergraduate-level degree that prepares students to assume a role as an RN after graduating and passing the NCLEX exam. However, those holding a BSN have completed further education than an RN with an associate degree or a nursing diploma. The coursework involved in a BSN program is extensive and introduces in-depth topics related to nursing and the healthcare field.

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How Can Current Nurses Earn a BSN Degree?

If you are already an RN with an associate degree or nursing diploma, there is an option to earn your BSN through an RN to BSN program. RN to BSN programs provide an accelerated way for you to earn your BSN degree by building on your current nursing knowledge and experience. Many colleges and universities offer RN to BSN programs as a way to increase your expertise after becoming licensed. Additionally, RN to BSN programs offer many of the courses online so you can continue to work in your field while completing your coursework.

RN vs. BSN: 3 Key Differences

While you can be granted a designation of RN if you have either a nursing diploma, ADN or BSN degree, there are significant differences between nursing programs.

Course differences

A BSN degree provides a more comprehensive course offering than an ADN degree or a nursing diploma. ADN programs focus primarily on instilling technical skills whereas BSN degrees include a broad liberal arts education in addition to specific nursing courses such as leadership, research, healthcare policy and more.

Both degrees include clinical practice and high-level competency courses. Course offerings of an ADN degree may include topics such as biology, basic pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, acute care and chronic care. While a BSN degree includes courses in these areas, the curriculum is supplemented with courses in areas including population and community health, leadership, pathophysiology and nursing research, to name a few.

Time to completion

ADN programs typically take two years to complete after completing pre-requisite coursework. BSN degrees typically take four years to complete due to the more intensive coursework. RNs may be able to transfer credits into an RN to BSN program to earn their BSN degree at a more accelerated pace. The RN to BSN core courses can be completed in 14 months. Students that transfer in the maximum of 90 credits, including six upper division, may be able to complete the core courses in as little as 12 months.1

Work experience

Research by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has found a correlation between BSN-educated nurses and improved patient outcomes.2 The healthcare field is competitive, and it’s becoming increasingly important to ensure that hospitals and other healthcare facilities are maximizing patient outcomes. With this information in mind, it’s not surprising that there is a need for more BSN-educated nurses.

What Are the Benefits of Having a BSN?

A BSN opens up a variety of opportunities that may be unavailable to those without the degree, including:

Advanced knowledge in nurse education

A bachelor’s in nursing consists of an expansive curriculum that provides knowledge in several important areas of nursing. In the time it takes to earn this degree, you cover numerous topics related to nursing and healthcare that gives you a broader knowledge set, professional development and more in-depth understanding on healthcare issues and patient care.

Career advancement

A BSN provides RNs the opportunity to advance into master’s or doctoral levels of nursing to further their career in the field. BSN-educated nurses can also choose to specialize in areas such as pediatrics, hospice care or obstetrics and gynecology, giving them more experience in their preferred area of nursing and setting them up for advanced opportunities.3

Nursing job opportunities

Having a BSN degree may also set you up for more job opportunities. A 2022 AACN survey of 646 schools of nursing found that 27.7% of hospitals and other healthcare settings require new hires to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Additionally, 71.7% of employers are expressing a strong preference for BSN program graduates.3

Earn Your BSN Degree at GCU

Along with an RN to BSN option for current nurses, GCU offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Pre-licensure degree for aspiring nurses looking to earn their BSN degree and become an RN. If nursing is your passion, consider earning your BSN degree from a trusted, Christian university. Click on the button at the top of your page to get started.


Approved with changes by the dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Feb. 6, 2023.

The entire program requires 120 credits.

Retrieved from AACN, The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice, in December 2022

Retrieved from AACN, Employment of New Nurse Graduates and Employer Preferences for Baccalaureate-Prepared Nurses in February 2023

4 Cannot be used in conjunction with other GCU scholarships or awards.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.