Which type of nursing degree is right for me?

Making the decision to attend nursing school is a giant first step in launching a fulfilling career, but there are still plenty of decisions left to be made about which kind of nursing program is right for you.

5 min read

choose a nursing degree

In order to find the program that is the best fit for you, it’s important to take some time to consider your long-term career goals, as well as what functions you see yourself carrying out in your day-to-day life as a nurse. You’ll also want to consider your personal learning style, daily schedule, financial capacity and timeline for getting through a program.

Once you have an idea of your own needs and priorities, you can begin to look at the different nursing degrees and programs available to you. Here is an overview of the some options that exist:

Certified Nursing Assistant/Aide (CNA)

Education: Accredited CNA training course or program

Careers: CNAs most often assist RNs and LPNs in providing long-term care to patients. Many CNAs find work in nursing homes or providing in-home care, focusing on the quality-of-life needs of the patient. In hospital settings, CNAs may often serve as a liaison between the RN and patients, tracking the patient’s vitals and alerting the RN of any changes or concerns. Due to regulations, CNAs are not permitted to perform some procedures and must be supervised by an RN or LPN.

Program Types: Training programs are typically 6-10 weeks in length. Students must then sit for certification exam for a specific state. Many community colleges and online programs offer CNA courses. The Red Cross also offers a CNA training course.

This might be for you if…

  • You enjoy interacting and caring for people.
  • You desire to help those in need.
  • You have strong communication skills.
  • You don’t want to spend a lot of time in school.
  • You aren’t looking advance into leadership positions.

Licensed Practical/Vocational Nursing (LPN/LVN)

Education: LPN technical certificate or diploma or an associate’s degree

Careers: Like CNAs, LPNs work alongside RNs, focusing on the bedside care of patients. However, LPNs may perform more procedures than CNAs, such as administer medications, start IVs and work with technical devices such as ventilators. LPNs can be found in hospitals, nursing homes and in-home care agencies.

Program Types: Many community colleges and online programs offer LPN certificate programs, usually about one year in length. LPN certificates may concentrate on a specific discipline, for example: Basic Life Support (BLS), Case Management (CCM), Gerontology (GC), Long-Term Care (LTC) and Wound Care (WCC).

This might be for you if…

  • You work well in fast-paced environments.
  • You desire a technical skill set.
  • You want the opportunity to perform more procedures on patients.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Education: Associate degree or bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in nursing

Careers: Qualified registered nurses are in high demand across all areas of the healthcare system. Because RNs have achieved a higher level of education and understanding of medical conditions and procedures than CNAs and LPNs, they have more responsibility when it comes to patient care. RNs are directly involved in creating and carrying out patient care plans, administering medicine and treatments, consulting with other health care professionals, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests, instructing patients and their families about at-home care and overseeing CNAs and LPNs.

Program Types: In order to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse, a nurse must have completed at least an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) program. ASN programs are typically two years in length, while Bachelor of Science (BSN) programs are traditionally 4-year programs. However, there are an increasing number of Accelerated BSN programs ranging from 12-16 months in length. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs are usually 2 two additional years of study and can concentrate in specific areas such as Nurse Practitioner (NP) and Nursing Education. Various programs also offer career advancement programs for students who already have a degree in nursing, such as an RN-BSN program.

This might be for you if…

  • You enjoy both the theory and technical aspects of the health care profession.
  • You are comfortable managing people and high-stress situations.
  • You are open to a longer program of study.
  • You have a desire to advance your nursing career.

Advanced Practice Nursing (Doctorate)

Education: 3-5 additional years of schooling with dissertation required

Careers: The Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) prepare nurses for clinical and administrative leadership roles in a hospital setting. The Doctor of Nursing Education (DNE) prepares nurses for faculty or high-level administrative roles.

Program Types: While there are an increasing number of online options, most doctoral programs are offered in a traditional classroom setting with a required dissertation to culminate the program. Students may enter doctoral programs as post-BSN or post-MSN students.

This might be for you if…

  • You are interested in the “big picture” of the healthcare system, including the financial side.
  • You enjoy managing people.
  • You desire to have a leadership role in the health care field.
  • You enjoy school and learning.

Although it may seem overwhelming, the information above only scratches the surface of opportunities available to you as you consider attending nursing school. Within the categories listed above, there are numerous concentrations and certificate programs for specializing in specific areas. There are also a host of formats in which to complete nursing school – on campus, online or a hybrid of the two. Many schools now also offer accelerated programs that get you in and out of nursing school more quickly than traditional programs.

After you have a clear idea of your own needs and goals as a nursing student, spend some time perusing the resources on this site to learn more about the options available to you. The opportunities are endless!