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What Are the Differences Between ADN, ASN and AAS Nursing Degrees?

5 Min Read Published July 12, 2023
Nurse student taking notes in library

There are many different paths you can take to becoming a nurse, including three Associate Degrees. But how do you know which is right for you -- the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), the Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN), or the Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS)? 

The most common and widely known of the three is the ADN; however, the other two are viable options for individuals interested in becoming nurses. In this article, we’ll explain what the three degrees are, and what the differences are between them. 

ADN vs ASN vs AAS Nursing Degrees: What Are the Differences?

For purposes of being eligible for the NCLEX examination to earn your RN, there isn’t much difference between these types of degrees. However, individuals that are interested in earning their BSN and advancing their nursing degree will fare better earning an ADN degree. BSN programs align better with ADN programs, and there will be less additional coursework required. 

If a student has an ASN or AAS, they will need to complete additional coursework for a BSN degree. Also, not all coursework in an ASN or AAS program is transferable to other programs.

    ASN and AAS programs generally are offered by vocational schools and hospital-based programs. This is NOT always the case, and there are also schools offering these degrees. With these programs, board approval is a major concern. Without BON approval, you will NOT be able to sit for the NCLEX examination which is required to practice as a Registered Nurse. 

    What is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

    An Associate Degree in Nursing, or ADN program, is focused solely on nursing core classes and clinicals. Classes focus on the clinical aspect of nursing instead of the leadership, research, and management focus seen in other nursing programs. Students are not required to take courses that are outside of their curriculum, and the program can typically be completed in two years.

    Associate’s degrees in nursing are offered by many community colleges and some four-year institutions. An ADN program will blend hands-on training with classwork. ADN programs are designed to train students in the technical skills needed to become a nurse in an entry-level position and about a patient’s basic health needs.

    >>Related: Pros & Cons Of Nursing Degrees: LPN, ADN, BSN, MSN

    Prerequisites Needed for an ADN Program 

    • Microbiology
    • Anatomy and Physiology
    • English
    • Statistics
    • Psychology
    • Chemistry

    Courses You’ll Take in an ADN Program

    Some of the courses you’ll take in an ADN program include:

    • Foundations in Nursing
    • Nursing Care of Adults
    • Behavioral Health
    • Maternal and Child Nursing

    Popular ADN Programs

    What is an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN)?

    An Associate of Science Degree in Nursing, or ASN, is also a two-year program that prepares individuals to take the NCLEX examination through a blend of hands-on training and didactic coursework. It is typically offered at vocational schools and hospital-based nursing programs.

    The focus of the program is more on clinical skills than academic work. For this reason, students will spend more time in a skills lab and clinicals than in the classroom. Coursework is roughly 72 credits with a minimum of 41 semester credit hours devoted to nursing courses.

    Courses You’ll Take in an ASN Program

    • Health Assessment
    • Medical-Surgical Nursing + Clinical
    • Pharmacology
    • Nutrition
    • Obstetrics/Pediatric Nursing + Clinical
    • Mental Health + Clinical
    • Advanced Medical-Surgical Nursing + Clinical
    • NCLEX Review
    • Capstone Clinical

    Popular ASN Programs 

    What is an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AAS)?

    An Associate of Applied Science in Nursing, or AAS, is a two-year program that instructs students in a variety of nursing specialization areas and provides training in related healthcare subjects, like pharmacology. This degree trains nursing students to learn the basics of nursing.

    AAS programs are generally offered in vocational schools and hospital-based programs.

    Courses You’ll Take in an AAS Program

    • Health and Illness Throughout the LifeSpan
    • Fundamentals in Nursing + Clinical
    • Adult Nursing + Clinical
    • Therapeutic Use of Self + Lab
    • Pharmacology
    • Nursing Process and Documentation
    • Nursing Management
    • Maternal/Newborn Self Care + Clinical
    • Psychosocial Self-Care + Clinical
    • Health Deviations in Childhood + Clinical
    • Health Deviations in Older Adulthood + Clinical

    Popular AAS Programs 

    Which is Right for You -- ADN, AAS, or ASN?

    While there are distinctions between the three types of degrees, you can become a registered nurse by completing any of the degrees mentioned in this article. As long as you are attending an accredited program, which ensures there's standardization in the learning outcomes of the programs, you should be able to achieve your nursing educational goals with an ADN, AAS or ASN degree. 

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    Kathleen Gaines
    MSN, RN, BA, CBC
    Kathleen Gaines
    News and Education Editor

    Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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