Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) Programs

Pursuing a nursing career is a smart decision. You have flexibility, a generous income, opportunity for growth and a genuine chance to help those in need. However, there are several education paths you could take on your way to becoming a nurse, and not all of them present equal possibilities. For those of you wondering if an Associate Degree is really as glorious as it’s hyped up to be, or if the two additional Bachelor’s Degree years are still worth carrying out in today’s marketplace, here is a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before joining an ADN program.

Who is this program for?

An Associate Degree is by far the most prevalent method of becoming a nurse. Although it used to be less common in previous years, this type of certification has recently gained immense popularity – which means more competition for you in the workplace – and appreciation from potential employers. If you are interested in basic nursing and finishing your studies as soon as possible, but also want to have the possibility to work, earn a more-than-decent salary and invaluable experience as soon as you have received your certification, then this is undoubtedly the right program for you.

However, if you want to achieve all these goals in the near future, but you have no nursing education or qualifications, you might want to consider other options. Not meeting requirements for an ADN (and there are quite a few), albeit frustrating, should not discourage you from fighting for your dream job. You can apply for a nursing diploma program instead (which will allow you to start working within a real hospital during your studies). On the other hand, if the prerequisites do not raise any issues, then an ADN is a surefire, quick way of landing a job and beginning your practice as early as possible.

You might be asking: why should I struggle with a 4-year BSN program if an Associate Degree is so much easier and convenient to obtain? Depending on your career goals and financial needs, you may not have to. An ADN is a bit of a catch-22, but it can still be used effectively, either as a means of jumpstarting your nursing career or a stepping stone to higher education and a better paying job.

What can an Associate Degree do for you?

In 2017, over 35,000 new healthcare positions were introduced. The job prospects for nurses have been growing at an exponential rate and will continue to do so over the next few years. An Associate Degree is your most reliable gateway into nursing, and also your best option in terms of quality education at an affordable price.

The length of time, tuition costs and credit hours required to complete a full-fledged BSN program are not very appealing to someone with low to no income and zero work experience or a busy schedule. An ADN offers you the opportunity to avoid all of these issues and enroll in hassle-free courses that allow you to start working only two years after admission. You will be trained and learn how to develop clinical competence, independent decision-making, ethical responsibilities, as well as effective communication with patients, staff members, and families. By the end of your studies, you will have resourceful skills, a viable degree and several job positions to apply for.

What do you need for the program?

This is an overlooked, but essential aspect of selecting an ADN program. Before making any plans to enroll, make sure you check to see if you meet the university or institution’s requirements. Depending on the school of your choice, the exact qualifications and titles will vary. But here are some pervasive prerequisites common for most Associate Degree programs: anatomy and physiology, English, psychology, chemistry, statistics, and microbiology. In addition, you will most likely be required to submit your test scores (SAT or ACT), a statement of purpose and letters of recommendations. You also need to have passing grades for all of the prerequisites courses, a minimum of 16 credits of General Education and a high school GPA of at least 2.5 or a college GPA of 2.0 or above. Some healthcare programs also demand that you have CPR training or certain “readiness” tests in English or math to check your academic skills and place you at a specific level accordingly. You will also need to be cleared by the campus police and have a 75% score or more for the HESI A2 Admission Assessment.

What will you learn?

All Associate Degree programs have a similar structure and core curriculum. During your studies, you will learn how to provide quality care to infants, adults, families and across the lifespan, all within designated healthcare facilities or outpatient settings. You will have extensive coursework half of which will involve general education classes; the other half will pertain exclusively to your area of study and nursing specialization. You will be required to complete clinical work and garner firsthand experience with treating patients and successfully interacting with medical professionals.

Your standard classes will include topics like natural and social sciences, humanities, communications, and mathematics. In terms of nursing, you will learn observation, dexterity, understanding human relationships, health assessment, problem-solving and emotional coping skills. You will focus on holistic, patient-centered care, collaboration and teamwork, leadership, evidence-based practice and quality improvement. In the first year of study, you will be mainly concerned with familiarizing yourself with the fundamentals of nursing, elementary concepts, and essential procedures. In the second year, you will delve more into healthcare for specialized populations, on-site work within medical facilities, and non-clinical nursing.

The different ramifications of your curriculum will vary according to the university you decide on. But here are the main course titles and classes that you will attend in your two-year study period for an ADN:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Fundamentals of Nursing
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology
  • Nursing Practice Concepts
  • Health Illness Concepts
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Application of Nursing Skills
  • Family Health
  • Perspectives in Nursing
  • Population Health and Education Concepts

How long does the program last?

A full ADN program can take as little as two years to complete. In fact, this is one of the main advantages of pursuing an Associate Degree, aside from low tuition costs, recognition from employers and increased earning potential. Given that a traditional university program takes almost double the time to carry out, you will be able to start working and gaining income much sooner than your BSN colleagues.

The core curriculum of a Bachelor’s Degree program and an Associate Degree program does not differ as much as one would expect. This means that you might find it more difficult to absorb the amount of information in ADN studies since you need to do so twice as quickly as you normally would on a conventional track. But if you’re a fast learner, you can easily keep up the pace even in this type of environment. The workload is not overbearingly crammed into the curriculum or poorly structured – it can be done with a lot of dedication and the right attitude. At the same time, a BSN program will offer you more in-depth, specialized instruction, as well as clinical practice and it will open up more opportunities for you than the popular ADN.

Do you need clinical hours for this program?

Most nursing programs require extensive clinical hours to complete. An Associate Degree program is no different. You will need to work in a variety of settings, side-by-side with peers, mentors, patients and professional nurses and finish a minimum of 400 hours of clinical practice. It is important to note that the total number of clinical hours demanded in an ADN program is veries according to each school, university or institution. Moreover, most state boards do not set forth a specific number or minimum necessary for completion. But this type of training includes the fewest clinical hours of all nursing programs (whether we are discussing a BSN, an MSN or a traditional nursing diploma).

What to pursue first – an Associate Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree?

The number of Associate Degrees is conclusively exceeding that of Bachelor’s Degrees, according to reports by The National Center for Education Statistics. This has created a hefty amount of competition between private universities, online agencies, and public community colleges, all of which now bring forth some form of ADN program for its students. But just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is the right choice for you.

Depending on your career and academic goals, starting a BSN might be a more favorable decision. However, this is not the case if you want to start working as soon as possible, and most nursing students do. Most employers only require you to earn 60 college credits. If you want to cover the basics of nursing and quickly land a stable job, there is simply no need to spend another lengthy two years earning an additional 60 credits just to receive a formal degree before practicing. This is why many to-be professionals opt for an Associate Degree first.

Additionally, you should undoubtedly consider an ADN program if you have little to no college education. This might be the result of switching career paths, specializing in a different field or simply not having had the opportunity to go to college. If you are in this position, it is the most flexible and budget-friendly method of building a foundation for a successful career and learning the ropes of nursing in a short amount of time. Lastly, this type of certification is an excellent option if you do have some college education (say, less than 60-semester credits) and you want to consolidate them into a full-fledged degree fast. Although both a BSN and an ADN will guarantee you higher income and a variety of quality job prospects, the latter requires less money and time to complete.

What are the benefits of pursuing a BSN first? You will have more job opportunities and be able to advance to high-end positions such as a nurse manager. You will also receive comprehensive training for advanced nursing and be able to specialize in less accessible fields like midwifery and anesthesia. Furthermore, the core curriculum of a Bachelor’s Degree program is bound to include more courses with a focus on management, public health, statistics, and leadership. Still, when it comes to nursing practices, patient care, health assessment and medical training, the information is usually the same. You will be required to complete more clinical hours to earn a BSN. (This can be both an advantage and a drawback, depending on your academic goals, as well as whether or not you are working during your studies.).\ However, keep in mind that whether you earn a BSN or an ADN, your title remains the same: RN (registered nurse). Whatever your chosen degree, you will be working side-by-side with both undergraduates and Associate degree holders.

What if I change my mind halfway through the program?

You might want to earn your Bachelor’s Degree first but simply do not have the resources, or you might have decided that a BSN is the better option for you, but you are already enrolled in an ADN program. What do you do? Are there any options or alternatives? Yes, but it will still involve some compromise on your part. If you find yourself in this uncomfortable position, one thing you can do (and many nursing students do) is to finish your ADN program and join the BSN program you really wanted after you start working. This is harder to do than merely completing a traditional 4-year program, but it also presents the most opportunity for growth and firsthand experience.

You can use the credits you’ve earned during your Associate Degree studies and transfer them to your new undergraduate program (particularly popular and encouraged by online agencies). You can also finish your initial program, land a job at a hospital or healthcare facility and receive reimbursement for your nursing school tuition (the BSN you desire) while working for that medical institution.

The trouble with an Associate Degree

Choosing an ADN is a popular and profitable decision, but it is also very tricky. There are a few aspects involved in earning an Associate Degree that might be a deal breaker for you. One of them is the fact that you might be perceived by some as “less” than nurses with a BSN, even if you are equally qualified and both of you perform excellently at your tasks or even when you outweigh your colleagues in terms of expertise. In fact, there have been several cases where an ADN holder is never considered for a management position, and the job is awarded to a much less qualified and suitable nurse simply because he or she has a Bachelor’s Degree. Although this can be an exception, these things do happen, and it is important that you know what you are signing up for with an ADN program. On the other hand, you can always work towards your BSN after obtaining your first formal degree if a similar issue arises and apply for any high-end position you desire.

The flip side of this touchy subject is the fact that BSN nurses receive more comprehensive and far-reaching training, as well as more opportunities for improvement during the longer hours of clinical practice. There might be specialized healthcare areas where you will become more knowledgeable and experienced with a BSN. Furthermore, in 2010, The Institute of Medicine issued a new mandate that requires 80% of RNs (registered nurses) working in hospitals to also earn a Bachelor’s Degree by 2020. This has caused some controversy because it essentially forces working nurses (who only own an ADN) to go back to school to earn additional certification. However, it is essential that you are aware of this and other legislation that might impede or alter your career goals. Nonetheless, an Associate Degree is an excellent choice as a first step towards a successful nursing career. And you can always opt for reimbursement, financial aid or pursuing further education in your later years to earn higher certifications.

Are there any online options?

What can you expect from an online program to earn an Associate Degree? First, flexibility. You will be able to study whenever you like and have the time; you will receive specialized instruction from well-trained professionals and must pass a wide range of all-encompassing examinations. It is important to note that most online programs still require clinical hours to help you garner experience before you begin your practice. Secondly, you will have lower costs. There are several fees and taxes aside from tuition that are diminished or eliminated if you choose e-learning. Last, you will save time. Depending on what school you choose, the Associate Degree program may take less to complete than a traditional on-campus one. The fastest ADN track you can carry out online lasts 18 months.

What are some reliable online options? You should first check your local college and see if they offer any distance or e-learning alternatives (many higher education institutions do these days). Aside from this, the most popular online ADN program is offered by Kaplan University and requires clinical practice at various hospitals in Florida. With this in mind, here are some of the most renowned faculties that offer online options for earning your Associate Degree:

  • University of Arizona
  • Drexel University
  • Capella University
  • Grantham University
  • South University
  • Sacred Heart University
  • Concordia University Wisconsin
  • Grand Canyon University

How much does the program cost?

Costs for an ADN program vary according to whether or not you study on-campus. For instance, the tuition for the online program at Kaplan University is $40,000. However, prices generally range between $2,000 (in-state tuition) to $12,000 (out-of-state tuition). You can check with your local community college or your chosen university for an exact figure for the ADN program you’re interested in.

Is the program accredited?

Yes, any Associate Degree program you decide to pursue should be officially authorized, preferably by The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN). Whether you are studying at a widely-known university or receiving your certification online, you should never underestimate the importance of accreditation. It can help you determine the quality and overall standard of the education you will be receiving, and it will also ensure that your certification is legitimate. It is especially recommended that you check accreditation if the institution you are obtaining the degree from is offering an online program.

In order to become a registered nurse and start working, you will have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination. You will receive in-depth training and guidance to help you with the test during your two years of study, but make sure that you also familiarize yourself with the format and curriculum of the exam.

Where can you work with an Associate Degree in Nursing?

As an ADN holder, you will be able to work in residential care facilities, hospitals, universities, private schools and other healthcare institutions. You can work as an RN in a hospital, become a physician’s office nurse, take a job in an outpatient setting or as a personal nurse. You are also eligible to practice in a nursing care facility. Here are a few options you can pursue:

  • Trauma nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Office nurse
  • Travel nurse
  • Psychiatric nurse
  • Emergency department nurse
  • School nurse
  • Forensic nurse
  • Occupational health nurse
  • Scrub nurse
  • Intensive care nurse
  • Geriatric nurse

How much will you earn in these positions? It depends on which one you decide to apply for and how long you stay, but a nurse with an Associate Degree generally earns anywhere between $59,000 (with less than one year of experience) and over $70,000 (with a minimum of 20 years under your belt).