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Finding the nursing degree that’s right for you can seem overwhelming at first. There are just so many options and pathways to becoming a nurse you may not know where to turn. From certification programs and diplomas to degrees that put many letters after your name, you can choose any one of several ways to obtain your nursing credentials.

The good news is that you can begin working as a nurse in a medical facility after a two year certification program. If you decide to go further many of these programs can be built upon as you grow in your career. Of course your responsibilities and paycheck will grow as your nursing degree grows, so there’s always incentive to pursue a higher education.

Having an understanding of the type of nursing degree or nursing certification available to you can help you make a decision about which nursing degree is right for you. Here is a breakdown of the different types of nursing degrees, what they involve, and the pros and cons of each. Use this list to help you make an informed decision.

LPN Diploma/Associate Degree

LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse, or Vocational Nurse) perform patient care tasks but are a step below RN. LPN’s must complete a state-approved course of study, like RN’s, and then pass the licensing exam, the National Council Licensure Exam for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). The pathway to LPN typically takes a year of study at an approved school, usually a community college, or technical or vocational schools. Some schools will offer the program concurrent with senior year of high school. You will also have a clinical course that involves hands-on patient care.

The Pros: Earning your LPN ensures you will be in the field quickly and you can start to garner experience in patient care. Should you decide to advance your degree your time spent working in the medical field will give you an advantage. Of course the more experience you have the better your resume, no matter if you pursue a higher degree or not.

The Cons: Job opportunities for LPN’s are limited. More and more employers are turning to RN’s and medical assistants to fill these positions. View your LPN diploma as a “jumping off point” to decide the direction of your career.

Associate Degree in Nursing

This two year degree is the minimum required on the path to becoming an RN. The exam for licensure to become an RN is the NCLEX-RN. You must pass the NCLEX-RN before you can work as a nurse.

The Pros: An associate’s degree gives you the designation of RN. This well-respected, high paid position is one of the only ones of that kind you can get without a bachelor’s degree. The investment in your 2 year degree isn’t likely to end up with you paying back student loans for decades. You can easily go back and earn your BSN if you decide to do so.

The Cons: An RN with a BSN is preferred over an associate. You will be limited in job choices and may need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in order to advance.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (RN to BSN)

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is becoming the standard for all nurses these days. That’s why this type of degree is the most practical option for your nursing degree. You can choose to pursue your BSN after completing an associate nursing degree, working in the field as you earn your bachelor’s nursing degree. This allows you to bring even more experience to your next position as an RN/BSN.

The Pros: If it’s possible, a bachelor of science in nursing degree is the way to go. It may mean more school than you anticipated but the boost in pay could make up for the additional study hours.

The Cons: A BSN is a four to five year degree if you go full time. For someone already in the workforce this can be a major time investment, as well as a financial drain. However, in the end your BSN will make you much more marketable, and lead to better paying positions.

Master of Science in Nursing Degree(MSN)

A master of science in nursing degree can open up a wide variety of opportunities for you. You’ll be sought after for management positions as they become available, or you may decide to specialize and become a Nurse Anesthetist or Nurse Practitioner. You may even decide to teach nursing at some point. All require that master of science in nursing degree.

The Pros: With the designation of Advanced Practice registered Nurse comes huge salary leaps. You can increase your income by tens of thousands of dollars annually with a masters of science in nursing degree, essentially paying for your investment within a few years.

The Cons: If you thought your BSN was intense, get ready. The masters program can be a challenge for many requiring focus and many hours spent studying. If you’re working a MSN can be quite overwhelming.

A nursing degree is something that can grow with you as you grow in your profession. Knowing that gives you job security no matter how you begin your quest for a nursing degree. Use this breakdown as a guide to make your decision and understand the sky is really the limit when it comes to benefits of any nursing degree.

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