Types of Nursing Degrees to Choose From

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There are a few main types of nursing degrees. At the undergraduate level, future nurses may earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through a traditional four-year or accelerated program. At the graduate level are a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

two nurses looking at iPad

Are you thinking about transitioning to a second career in healthcare? If you are, then you’ll need to be aware of the different types of nursing degrees, as they can be a little confusing to sort through. For instance, what is a BSN? What is an MSN? What is an NP? And what’s the difference between a BSN vs. MSN? You can use this guide to the different nursing degree types to answer these questions and figure out which educational path is best for your needs.

If you ever have any questions about earning your nursing degree, the admissions advisors at CSP Global are here to assist you. Our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program enables transfer students and non-nursing degree holders to graduate with a BSN in as few as 16 months.

What Can You Do With a Nursing Degree?

Before diving into the different types of nursing degrees, it’s worth asking, “What can you do with a nursing degree?” Well, there is a world of possibilities in the field, which can be categorized according to nursing specialty.

Indeed, you can choose virtually any type of nursing specialty, including specialties in specific patient populations (e.g., pediatrics, adult-gerontology or women’s health) or specialties in certain conditions or areas of health (e.g., oncology, mental health or dialysis). You can also find specialties by departments, such as emergency room nursing, surgical nursing, critical care nursing (intensive care units or ICUs) and urgent care nursing.

cardiac nurse checking patient heartbeat

There are also plenty of alternative nursing careers to consider, such as those that will take you out of the hospital. For example, you might want to take on one of the following roles:

  • Cruise ship nurse
  • School nurse
  • Home health nurse
  • Hospice nurse (hospice care may be provided at a facility or at the patient’s home)
  • Telehealth nurse

You’ll even find nurses working in managerial and administrative roles at healthcare facilities.

No matter what type of nursing career you decide to pursue, you can expect a robust job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job growth for registered nurses (RNs) is expected to be 6% from 2021 through 2031. At this rate of growth, healthcare employers expect to hire around 203,200 new nurses each year over this time period. (The specific job growth rate for each particular nursing specialty may vary.)

Types of Nursing Degrees

Now that you have an idea of the possibilities available to you within the nursing world, let’s take a look at the types of nursing degrees you can pursue. As with other fields, you’ll start with an undergraduate degree that provides broad, foundational knowledge before considering the pursuit of a graduate-level degree.

woman sitting at desk thinking

Still trying to decide if nursing is the right career move for you? Here are 7 questions to ask yourself as you contemplate a career change.

What Is a BSN?

A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Upon successfully graduating with a BSN, you will be qualified to sit for the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). All aspiring nurses must pass the NCLEX in order to obtain a license to practice as a registered nurse.

The length of a BSN degree-conferring program can vary. Traditionally, it’s a four-year program that includes both core curriculum classes and nursing education. Because of the program length, students typically enroll in a four-year BSN program if they don’t have previous college credits or a degree.

Individuals who decide to switch careers to nursing after having already completed some non-nursing college education or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree can enroll in an accelerated BSN program which condenses a traditional four-year BSN education into an accelerated time frame, such as CSP Global’s Accelerated BSN program. Thus, our nursing program builds on your prior knowledge, enabling you to graduate with your BSN in as few as 16 months.

At the undergraduate level, a nursing degree focuses on teaching foundational nursing concepts and evidence-based practices. Instructors teach a wide variety of courses, such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, palliative care and nursing informatics.

CSP nursing students outside studying

Students also participate in experiential learning designed to develop their clinical skills. The program includes nursing labs and multiple clinical learning opportunities in a variety of settings and through a variety of methods including direct care, high fidelity simulation, and community-based experiences.

With a BSN and your registered nursing license, you would be qualified to pursue positions as a nurse in a wide number of nursing specialties. You might also elect to earn additional nursing certifications to enhance your skill set.

What Is an MSN?

An MSN is a Master of Science in Nursing degree. It is a graduate program that explores advanced concepts in nursing and clinical practices and which can either be taken as a general degree program or with an emphasis on a particular clinical area, such as public health nursing, adult-gerontology or family health. With a graduate degree in nursing you can also become a nurse educator and help help the next generation of nurses reach their educational goals!

Why earn an MSN? Enhancing your academic credentials can allow you to pursue higher-level positions and certain specializations as a nurse. For example, you may pursue a leadership position that would still enable you to provide direct patient care, or you might decide to go into management or administration.

Even if you think you might like to earn an MSN, you’ll first need to earn a BSN, obtain your nursing license. A few years of clinical experience can help you decide what will be the best path given your particular interests and goals.

There are many possible pathways into nursing. Here’s a closer look at how to choose your path to an RN career.

nursing instructor standing in front of class of students

What Is a DNP or PhD?

A DNP is a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Like the MSN, the DNP is a graduate degree. Unlike the MSN, the DNP is a terminal degree, which means that it represents the highest possible level of academic achievement in the field—similar to a PhD in nursing. The PhD in nursing is research-focused, whereas the DNP is practice-focused.

Earning a DNP is a more intensive, lengthier experience than earning an MSN. Learners can expect to take a deep dive into the scientific underpinnings of nursing as they explore topics such as emerging areas of human health, population management and translational research.

BSN vs. MSN vs. DNP: Which of These Nursing Degree Types Is Right for You?

Now that you know the answers to questions like, “What is a BSN?” and “What is an MSN?”, you may be faced with another question, “Which of these types of nursing degrees is right for me?” Well, that depends on where you currently are in your nursing education journey.

If you do not yet have any college education, including non-nursing college credits, then you’ll need to apply for a four-year BSN program. Remember that you’ll need to earn a BSN, earn a nursing license and obtain clinical experience before applying for a graduate degree program.

However, if you do have non-nursing college credits, you may qualify for a 16-month path toward a BSN. Your admissions advisor at CSP Global will help you put together an actionable plan to meet the ABSN program admissions requirements.

If you decide later down the line that you want to progress your career, you may go back to school to earn your MSN, DNP, or PhD. The graduate degree that’s best for you will depend on your career goals. For instance, an MSN is a solid choice for nurses who aspire to a position in healthcare management or administration. Some BSN graduates also choose educational programs where they can advance directly from te BSN to DNP/PhD by completing the content for both the MSN and terminal degree!

CSP nursing student standing outside

On the other hand, if you are interested in pursuing an advanced practice nurse role, you may want to opt for a DNP. A DNP, plus board-certification and perhaps other requirements, can qualify you to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse practitioner (NP). But what is an NP and what are the other types of APRNs?

  • Nurse practitioner (NP) – Certified to provide advanced care in one of six patient populations (e.g., family nurse practitioner)
  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS) – Certified to provide advanced care and to promote the improvement of the quality of care throughout the healthcare organization
  • Certified nurse midwife (CNM) – Certified to deliver primary, gynecological and reproductive care, including prenatal, labor and delivery and postnatal care
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) – Certified to provide anesthesia and other pain management services to surgical patients

Begin Your Nursing Education at CSP Global!

No matter where your future career as a nurse takes you, your nursing education can begin at CSP Global. If you have a minimum of 54 non-nursing college credits or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and you’re interested in an accelerated pathway toward earning a BSN, CSP Global’s ABSN program may be right for you.

Through a combination of online coursework, nursing skills labs and clinical learning opportunities, we prepare our students to take the NCLEX with confidence and become skilled nurses.

Contact our admissions advisors to discuss the ABSN program requirements and admissions process. Your dedicated admissions advisor will be available to answer your questions and offer guidance every step of the way. Get started working toward a meaningful healthcare career today!