A Primer on Degrees and Educational Terminology

A Primer on Degrees and Educational Terminology

Here’s some terms and definitions often used without explanation:

Primary: Grade school and middle school (K-8)

Secondary: High school

Undergraduate: Bachelors

Graduate: Masters

Post-graduate: Doctoral


Diploma, Certificates, and Degrees

Certificates, diplomas, and degrees differ in the time it takes to earn each as well as the credits required in order to earn and graduate. Each of these academic achievements are suitable for certain specific fields or career goals.

Diploma and certificate programs taken alone are similar to associate’s degree programs. However, they take less time because general education courses are not required for diploma and certificate programs, which are vocational in nature.

Degree programs differ from certificate and diploma programs in that they require the student to take general education courses to support a more rounded education.

General ed classes include English and Math. For instance, at many universities, those earning their bachelor’s degree are required to take English, Math, Science, Philosophy and History, among other courses

 Diploma in Nursing

Some registered nurses have a “Diploma in Nursing”. Diplomas are not college degrees.
Diplomas are awarded in in specialty settings such as hospitals where an intense vocational course of study was followed. They are not academic degrees (like associate, bachelor’s, and masters degrees) as they do not require general education classes in order to earn the diploma in nursing. Diploma nurses are required to take and pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to obtain their nursing license.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An associate degree is an academic college degree.
Associate  Degree in Nursing, or ADN degrees, are  offered by vocational schools and/or community colleges.
ADN programs cannot be completed online because the clinical portion must be done in a hospital setting. ADN programs take about 2 years once you’re in the program, plus one to two years of pre-requisites which include general education classes. ADN pre-requisites include Anatomy, Physiology, and Chemistry. These are difficult courses that include a lab component.

Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN)

A Bachelor’s degree is an academic college degree.

Bachelor’s  of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) are offered by four year colleges. If you already have your RN, you can enroll in a hybrid BSN program online. Your classes will be online, but you will also be required to complete a certain number of clinical hours in the hospital setting.

A BSN degree is preferred by most nursing leaders and provides the best opportunities in today’s job market.

You’ll find that many job postings require a BSN degree for entry level nursing positions. Employers are beginning to require that RNs have a Bachelor’s degree or have plans to obtain one within a specified time frame. Opportunity for advancement is limited by not having a BSN.

Master of Science Degree in Nursing (MSN)

A Masters degree is an academic college degree.

Masters Degree in Nursing (MSN) are offered by four year colleges.

There are many online MSN programs. You will have a prescribed number of clinical hours in the hospital setting supervised by a preceptor.

An MSN is considered an advanced degree and nurses holding MSNs are also called “advance practice nurses”. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) are nurses with a state-approved master’s degree in nursing, who, at minimum,  have successfully fulfilled the state’s requirements in terms of clinical hours and the completion of an advanced practice certification exam.

Nurse Practitioners, Certified Nurse Midwives, CRNAs, Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) are all examples of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). CRNAs are the top paid advanced practice nurses. Read How to Become a CRNA and How to Become a Nurse Practitioner by Dr. Rachel.

An MSN program takes between 18-24 months and requires completion of a terminal project such as a thesis, or capstone.

Job growth is expected to be 31% for APRNs from 2012 to 2022.

Doctorate of Nursing

A doctorate degree is the terminal degree in nursing. There are 2 types of doctorates. Both are scholarly degrees.

PhD:  A PhD in nursing prepares nurses to conduct research to advance the practice of nursing.

DNP: A Doctorate in Nursing Practice prepares nurses to practice nursing at the highest level. APRNs can go on to obtain their DNP. It is predicted that at some point in the future, APRNs will be required to hold a doctorate degree.

A doctoral degree takes 3-5 years and most often is done by working nurses.
I hope this helps with deciphering the college-speak for college students and nurses of all levels.
Nurse Beth

About Beth Hawkes

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Nurse Beth (Beth Hawkes, MSN, RN-BC), is a nursing career specialist and blogs at nursecode.com. She's also the author of Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job. If you have ever submitted a resume or interviewed and never heard back, this book is for you. You will learn why never to say “I’m a perfectionist” when asked “What’s your greatest weakness?” You will be given insider tips and discover what nurse managers are really looking for in a candidate. Filled with real life examples and testimonials, “Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job” truly is the ultimate guide to composing winning cover letters, essays, resumes-and landing a nursing job. Available at Amazon.