If you are considering becoming a registered nurse (RN) then you likely already know that you will need to complete certain educational requirements in order to attain the position. But which degree, exactly, do you actually need to become a registered nurse?

The answer to that question will vary depending on the requirements of both the state in which you wish to practice as well as the specific employer you hope to work for.

Below, we discuss both of these considerations and provide an overview of the different degrees that will allow you to become a registered nurse.

RN Degree Requirements by State

In order to work as a registered nurse, you will need to complete the licensure requirements as dictated by the state in which you wish to practice. While all states have certain educational requirements in order to qualify for an RN license, these requirements can vary significantly

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In the past, in order to work as a registered nurse in most states, you would have had to earn at least an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). Over time, many states have begun requiring that RNs hold at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in order to qualify for their RN license.

To make matters more complicated, some states will allow an individual to begin practicing as an RN after having earned an associate’s degree in nursing, with the stipulation that the individual earn a bachelor’s degree within a certain window of time. New York, for example, follows a law that is known colloquially as “BSN in 10.” This law states that RNs who have only earned their associate’s degree must complete a BSN within 10 years of obtaining their initial RN license in order to continue as a registered nurse.

To find out which degree is required in your state, you should check with that state’s Department of Public Health, or whichever department or office handles licensure. For example, if you have questions about becoming a registered nurse in Massachusetts, you would contact the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing.

RN Degree Requirements by Employer

The first step to becoming a registered nurse is to complete the educational requirements that are dictated by the state in which you wish to practice, as these requirements will determine whether or not you are eligible for licensure. But it is also important to note that individual employers can, and often do, have their own requirements when considering applicants.

For example, in the state of Massachusetts, and especially in the Boston area, many hospitals will only consider RN applicants who have earned at least their BSN, even though the state only requires an associate’s degree.

For this reason, earning your bachelor’s degree in nursing is likely to offer you the greatest benefits in terms of employability compared to earning your ADN. By earning your BSN, you will increase the number of employers that would be interested in hiring you, even if your state only requires an associate’s degree. Additionally, having earned your BSN will make it easier to practice in a different state should you ever decide to move.

Associate’s Degree in Nursing vs. Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

Below are some of the key differences between an associate’s degree in nursing and a bachelor’s degree in nursing, so that you can feel better equipped that you are choosing the right degree for your career goals.


In some states, an associate’s degree in nursing is the lowest level of education that you can complete and practice as a registered nurse. In others, a bachelor’s degree in nursing is required for licensure. Even in states where an ADN is accepted for licensure, individual employers can require applicants to hold a BSN for consideration.

Time to Complete

Associate’s degree in nursing programs can typically be completed within two to three years, depending on whether you are enrolled as a part-time or full-time student. The average BSN program, on the other hand, tends to take about four years to complete.

If you would like to earn your BSN in less than four years, there are many accelerated nursing programs that can help you achieve that goal. For example, Regis College offers a number of accelerated programs, including:


The average salary earned by registered nurses is approximately $73,300 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

While both ADNs and BSNs are designed to prepare an individual for a career as a nurse, the simple fact remains that completing a BSN requires additional training and education. For this reason, it is possible that RNs who have only completed their associate’s degree may earn less money than those who have completed their BSN. This will ultimately depend on the compensation practices of individual employers, however.

Career Advancement

If your major career goal is to become a registered nurse, then it’s true that an associate’s degree can empower you to do just that, depending on the state in which you wish to practice.

If you wish to advance further in the field, for example by becoming a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse leader, then it’s important to note that you will need to complete a graduate degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice to do so.

Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite for enrolling in a graduate nursing program. With this in mind, if you know for certain that you would like to eventually work in a capacity beyond simply being a registered nurse, then earning your bachelor’s degree likely makes the most sense.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you cannot complete your bachelor’s degree at a later date if you have already earned your associate’s degree. There are many degree programs specifically designed to help RNs with their associate’s degree bridge that gap. For example, at Regis College there is an RN to BSN to MSN Upward Mobility Track. This program empowers an associate’s degree holder to earn their BSN and then their MSN.

Which Degree is Right for You?

Ultimately, which degree you will need to become an RN will depend on a number of factors, including the state in which you wish to practice, the requirements of specific employers, your salary requirements, and your career advancement goals. In most cases, earning a BSN will offer the greatest level of employability, which is why it is increasingly recommended as the degree of choice for aspiring registered nurses.

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