Associate degree in nursing program guide

HomeNursingAssociate degree in nursing

Introduction to nursing

If you want to become a registered nurse, then earning an associate degree in nursing (ADN) is an excellent place to start. ADN programs are designed to equip you with the medical knowledge and practical skills you need to deliver patient-centered care in healthcare settings like hospitals and nursing homes. The average salary of those with an associate degree in nursing is $70,400.  

Anyone who is compassionate, level-headed and quick thinking is well suited to being a registered nurse (RN). Few jobs are more fulfilling, as you ease the suffering and improve the lives of those around you. Aspiring RNs who would like to start working as quickly as possible should consider enrolling in an associate degree in nursing program. Not only does an ADN prepare aspiring nurses to fullfill licensing requirements and start as an RN, many credits will be transferrable towards a bachelor’s of science in nursing program should you decide to continue your nursing education in the future.


Associate degrees in nursing are usually offered by community colleges, but a few universities also have these programs. The admission requirements for an ADN vary from school to school. However, there are some common prerequisites that they all share. 

  • High school diploma or GED  

Candidates must have a high school diploma or GED certificate. Alongside this, they need to provide proof that they have completed high school coursework in biology, chemistry, English, languages, math and humanities. Without this background knowledge, you might struggle to understand the program material. 

  • GPA  

Your high school GPA must also be 2.0 or higher. Regarding ACT scores, you will need 19 in math and 18 in English. Meanwhile, your SAT scores must be around 460 in math and 450 in English. These prerequisites help ensure that you can successfully complete the ADN. 

  • Academic transcripts 

Most colleges will ask you to provide official transcripts. Alongside your application, you may be required to submit a resume, some letters of recommendation and a personal essay describing why you would like to earn an ADN. You might need to state your career aspirations and any other additional experience you have in the field, such as first aid and CPR training. 

If you meet all these prerequisites, you should be accepted into the college’s associate degree in nursing program. Make sure to take these prerequisite classes and any relevant extracurriculars to improve your chances. These programs are known for being highly competitive. 

Study options

Candidates have 3 options when it comes to earning an associate degree in nursing. They can complete the program online, attend offline lessons at the college campus or a hybrid blend of the 2. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. 

Online or hybrid

Online courses are perfect for those who want to become a registered nurse but don’t have the time or resources. These programs are much more flexible, helping students to work them around their commitments. As you don’t have to commute for an online program, you can also save yourself some time and money. However, online courses are not useful for people who struggle to self-motivate and need more guidance from lecturers to learn. 

Hybrid programs can be a good option for those who learn better in person but do not have the time and money to attend in-person classes. These courses are a blend of online and offline lectures, meaning some lessons will be pre-recorded while others require you to travel to campus. 

On campus

Associate degrees in nursing are traditionally taught in person. If you enjoy structure and routine, you would be well suited to an offline ADN program. Having a hands-on learning experience also means your questions can be answered immediately and you can build a better relationship with your lecturers. However, in-person programs are often more expensive and time consuming, making them inaccessible to people with busy lifestyles or many responsibilities. 

Carefully consider which of these options would best suit your lifestyle and learning preferences. Colleges and universities everywhere offer these 3 different program types, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the right ADN course for you. 


It is important that the college or university you choose to earn your associate degree in nursing is accredited. Accreditation is when an organization or individual is officially recognized as being qualified enough to perform a certain activity. 

Candidates must attend an accredited college to find a job after graduating. Most healthcare employers will not accept graduates from an uncertified university because they will not deem their qualifications to be sufficient or legitimate enough to practice nursing. Accredited universities, on the other hand, are fully capable of delivering the education that students need to become qualified and competent nurses. 

How do you know if your college or university is accredited? Most schools will clearly display all their certifications on their website. The main regulatory body to look for is the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). You can also check whether a school is accredited by using the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP) and searching for your college’s name. 


On average, associate degrees in nursing take 2 years to complete. Of course, this timeframe can fluctuate depending on the learner, program and school. Some colleges might also offer an ADN to students on a part-time basis, which means the course will take them longer to finish. 

The coursework included in an associate degree in nursing is designed to equip you with the practical skills and medical knowledge you need to perform as a registered nurse. Skills in critical thinking, organization and communication will be fostered, too. 

The degree will normally cover subjects like: 

  • nursing health assessments  
  • pediatric nursing 
  • community health nursing 
  • maternal-newborn nursing 
  • medical and surgical nursing 
  • psychiatric nursing 
  • microbiology and immunology 
  • anthropology 
  • nutrition  
  • basic pharmacology  

In addition to classes, ADN programs often provide on-the-job training. Usually, students complete around 700 hours of training. 

Undertaking an associate degree in nursing is the fastest and easiest way to become a registered nurse, making this a very appealing option to most people. This degree will prepare you for entry-level jobs in professional healthcare settings, allowing you to work with patients and provide them with the support they need. 

Program concentrations 

Associate degrees in nursing are more general than BSNs, meaning that they do not come with special concentrations like neurology or palliative care. The focus is always on applying science to nursing practice. Some of the main skills you learn in an ADN program include:  

  • assisting physicians during medical procedures 
  • dressing wounds  
  • running diagnostics tests  
  • reviewing treatment plans for patients 
  • educating patients on self-care 

The coursework of an ADN program will arm you with the skills and knowledge you need to practice nursing in most healthcare settings. Sometimes, you will play a supportive role, helping physicians and surgeons. Other times, you will be responsible for junior members of staff and maintaining the general wellbeing of your patients. 

Certificate opportunities 

Once you have become a registered nurse, you are able to complete additional certifications which can help you to specialize in a certain area of healthcare. These certificates will make you more qualified and experienced, increasing your potential to secure work in a specific medical sector. Your annual salary could also be improved by getting certifications. 

There are many possible areas of focus for nurses looking to get certified in a specialization. Here are some of the most popular options:  

  • pediatrics  
  • oncology 
  • AIDs  
  • Family practice  
  • Anesthesia  

These certifications typically require completing coursework and passing an exam. 


Cost of the degree

Most people choose an associate degree in nursing because it is the cheapest and fastest way to become a registered nurse. However, the cost of an ADN can vary depending on the school and course. 

If you undertake your ADN with a public college, then you can expect the tuition fees to range from $6,000 to $20,000 for the full 2 years. With private universities, on the other hand, your tuition fees can climb up to $40,000 to complete the full program. 

To alleviate these costs, you might want to consider an online program for your ADN. We also recommend taking an ADN in your current state because schools tend to charge more money for out-of-state students.  

Financial aid

Fortunately for aspiring nurses, there is financial aid available that can help you earn an associate degree in nursing. For starters, some organizations offer scholarships to students who are pursuing a nursing career. The National CPR Foundation, for instance, provides scholarships to candidates who submit a personal essay on why they want to become a healthcare professional. Grants are also available to students that need financial assistance. 

We recommend filling out the FAFSA form, which is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and will identify whether you are eligible for federal financial aid.  This government website is a good place to learn the basics about the various forms of financial aid for students.   

Licensing or certification 

Before you can become a registered nurse with an associate degree in nursing, you need to successfully pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This is a requirement for anyone who wishes to become an RN, including those with a bachelor of science in nursing.  The NCLEX-RN examination is a standardized test that will grant you a license that allows you to practice. It is designed to confirm that you have mastered the material from your program and can confidently and safely perform in a healthcare setting. 

Career options 

After earning an associate degree in nursing and passing the NCLEX-RN, you will be able to apply for jobs in the healthcare industry. What kind of jobs do graduates with an ADN typically get? Most registered nurses with this qualification work in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient care centers, home healthcare services and assisted living facilities. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses is rather promising. From 2019 to 2029, the employment of RNs is projected to grow by 7%. This is mainly because of the country’s ageing population, greater emphasis on preventative care and increasing rates of chronic health conditions. 

As we mentioned before, the average salary of people with an ADN is $70,400. However, most registered nurses earn about $63,000 per year. To begin earning more money with your ADN, you need to acquire more industry experience or undertake additional qualifications. For example, later in your career, you could become a nursing director who earns $88,300 per year. 

Continuing education 

If you want to further advance your career as a registered nurse, there are some additional qualifications. While associate degrees in nursing can provide you with the skills for entry-level jobs in healthcare settings, they do not qualify you for higher-ranking or specialist positions. 

For starters, you may want to complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). These degrees take longer to complete – around 4 years for full-time students. However, they prepare you for much more specialized and diverse roles. For instance, graduates with a BSN can become family nurse practitioners or healthcare administrators while those with an ADN are only qualified for general nursing practice. Fortunately, there are RN to BSN programs available to those with an ADN.  

After earning a BSN, you can also complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) and then a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). These degree programs are perfect for registered nurses who want to specialize in a certain area of healthcare or medicine. For example, if working as an RN has highlighted that you want a leadership role in your organization, then an MSN could be a good choice. 

American Nurses Association (ANA) 

The ANA is a professional organization that was founded in 1896 to protect and advance the vocation of nursing. The website contains a huge amount of helpful resources for registered nurses and aspiring RNs. The ANA has loads of information on accreditation, education, nursing practice and nursing advocacy. The organization also offers scholarships and nursing research grants.  

Organization for Associate Degree Nursing (OADN)  

The OADN is the national advocate for associate degree nursing programs in the U.S. This organization works to improve nursing education and create community college pathways into registered nurse careers. The OADN provides scholarships and research opportunities while advocating for nursing educators and helping with professional development. 

National Nurses United (NNU)  

This is the largest union and professional association in the U.S. for registered nurses. It was established in 2009 and provides direct care to RNs. If you manage to secure work as an RN, you should join the NNU. The association’s official website also contains a helpful directory of resources for undergraduates and graduates.