College Resources for Nursing Students: The Ultimate Guide

The demand for passionate, qualified nurses is expected to grow another 16 percent in the next ten years. It is one of the fastest growing fields in our country! And, unlike most in other professional fields, nurses—in all areas and specialties and at all levels—are practically guaranteed stable work and diverse opportunities for the length of their careers. Not only is nursing a steady and reliable industry, it pays exceedingly well. For example, Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) do not have college degrees, but make on average $43,170 annually. And those with undergraduate degrees, working as Registered Nurses, can anticipate an average annual salary of $67,490.

Of course, these are just some of the perks, and they don't even touch on the biggest advantage of becoming a nurse: you create actual change and betterment in the community. You provide care for those hurting or ill, one of the most respected vocations imaginable.

If you're interested in becoming a nurse, or you already are nursing in some capacity but hope to advance your career, this resource is for you. We have everything you need, from an outline of different degree options, including bridge programs, to nursing scholarships, the advantages of distance learning, how to choose a specialty, how to choose a nursing school, and much more.

Types of Nursing Degrees

Whatever your current situation, there are a number of available options for obtaining a degree and licensure in nursing. From a nursing diploma to doctoral work, the nursing industry requires nurses of all varieties and from all degree backgrounds. Below we have outlined each nursing degree in order of advancement. In addition to providing an overview of the degree, we have also included what you can expect from the curriculum, areas of focus, and the average salary a professional with the degree earns after graduation and licensure.

CNA: Certified Nursing Assistant

Education level: Certification
Average annual salary: $29,960

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs), also recognized as unlicensed assistive personnel, are paraprofessionals who assist patients in daily living, providing both bedside and nursing care. They are supervised by registered and practical nurses. To become a CNA, you must have either a high school diploma or a GED, then enroll in nursing assistant training, which usually takes four to sixteen weeks to complete. Upon completion, you will have to pass the state-specific exam for full certification. CNAs may not have a license, but they still play an important role in healthcare, providing care for patients, working with their families, and collaborating with nurses and physicians.

LPN: Licensed Practical Nurse

Education level: Certification
Average annual salary: $43,170

A licensed practical nurse works under the direction of Registered Nurses and physicians to care for the sick and injured. Most LPNs are generalists and work in an array of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, patients’ homes, clinics, nursing homes, and more. For those who cannot commit to a longer program, the LPN program can usually be completed in twelve months. Once completed, passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) is required to become certified.

LPN curriculum: LPN training combines classroom learning and supervised patient practice. You will develop hands-on experience, including patient care, once you have taken the following classes requirements:

RN: Registered Nurse, ADN

Education level: Associate Degree
Average annual salary: $66,640

Registered Nurses (RN) assists physicians in providing care for patients. They administer medication, monitor the patient’s vital signs and recovery, and educate patients and families on preventative care. An RN is a nurse who has attended a nursing program, having graduated with at least an associate’s degree, which takes approximately two to complete. After graduation, the student then has to pass the NCLEX exam for initial licensure, but then can go on to obtain specialty certification through an organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

ADN curriculum: Classes cover both general education (liberal arts) and an introduction to nursing. Once you complete your core requirements (English, communications, chemistry, math, psychology, etc.), you will take a combination of the following:

RN: Registered Nurse, BSN

Education level: Bachelor’s Degree
Average annual salary: $68,468

The difference between an RN with an associate’s degree and one holding a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is that the latter will have more opportunities to work in a greater variety of jobs. More and more often, hospitals and other healthcare facilities are looking for an RN with a BSN, a degree that typically takes four years to obtain (though there are a few accelerated BSN programs). Another advantage in having a BSN is that it prepares RNs to advance to higher positions as well as enter advanced degree programs.

BSN curriculum: Similar to earning an associate degree, BSN classes cover both general education (liberal arts) and an introduction to nursing, though with the BSN degree there is a greater emphasis on specialty, management, and community health. Additionally, the BSN curriculum explores patient relationships, reproductive health, and mental health. Once you complete your general education requirements, you will take a combination of the following:

APRN: Advanced Practice Registered Nurse or Nurse Practitioner

Education level: Master’s Degree (MSN)
Average annual salary: $74,639–$114,170 (depending on experience and specialization)

An advanced practice Registered Nurse (APRN) is a nurse with a Masters of Science in Nursing who works in either a specialist or generalist capacity. APRNs are trained in clinical education and are able to integrate theory and practice as well as manage a team of healthcare workers. They make medical diagnoses, evaluate and treat patients, order diagnostic studies, prescribe medicine, perform or assist in minor surgeries and procedures, and counsel patients on health behavior, treatment options, and therapy. Most forms of specialized fall into four recognized areas: nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists (CNSs), and nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners can choose further specializations, including family, pediatric, adult, geriatric, women’s health, neonatal, acute care, and occupational health.

MSN curriculum: The coursework for a nurse professional wishing to advance his or her career varies, depending on the student’s chosen area of concentration. However, most graduate level nursing courses train practicing nurses to improve patient care, equip them for leadership and management positions, and to develop a specialty. Generally, the curriculum will offer the following:

Nursing at the Doctorate Level

Education level: PhD
Average annual salary: $96,807+

There are three avenues a nursing PhD candidate can choose: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), the Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS), or the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD), though often the latter two are considered synonymous. Those who obtain a DNP plan to focus on patient care and nursing practice, pursuing leadership and management roles, while DNS and PhD graduates seek research, nurse scientists, or scholastic positions.

PhD curriculum: As a nursing PhD candidate you will primarily focus on research, taking a combination of interdisciplinary coursework and then consolidating your work on research in an area of specialty and interest. Core classes depend on your focus, but may include education, healthcare administration, public health policy, philosophy of science, methods and statistics, and more.

DNP curriculum: The DNP interdisciplinary course load covers research, systems analysis, and advanced care. As a DNP student you may take a confluence of the following:

Bridge Programs

Most bachelor degrees take at least four years to complete, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing being no different, but many colleges and universities offer bridge programs to consolidate the coursework load. So, while both a traditional program, whether undergraduate or graduate, and a bridge program terminate in degrees, the latter takes less time and is specifically designed for working RNs. For more on bridge programs, visit Nurse Journal.

Who Benefits and What are the Benefits of Bridge Programs?

Easily the biggest benefit to enrolling in a nursing bridge program is that you will earn your degree faster. So whether you already have a bachelor degree in another area and wish to transition to nursing, or whether you already have a BSN and want to specialize, a bridge program could be a great option for you. In addition to the allocation of time, nursing bridge programs boast a number of other advantages: they bring together a diverse population of students with various working experience, backgrounds, specialization, and interest. Graduates from these programs are also highly desired by nursing employers, for this exact diversity of experience, for the web of skill, education, and experience of the graduates. And many bridge programs can be completed online. For more on online education, see our section below.

The Different Kinds of Bridge Programs

CNA to LPN

Many nurses begin their careers as certified nursing assistants (CNA). If you’re a CNA and wish to become a licensed practical nurse, taking advantage of a bridge program is a smart choice, as your CNA credits will transfer over and you will be able to move out of the paraprofessional realm with relative facility.

LPN to RN

Transitioning from a LPN (or LVN) to a Registered Nurse can substantially enrich your career, raising your annual salary and providing a number of new nursing opportunities. Registered Nurses have stable, flexible, and lucrative careers, and as an RN you will have the opportunity to work more closely with patients and you will be responsible for many more duties and charges. Plus, once you are an RN, the potential to specialize or advance greatly increases.

LPN to BSN

Similar to the LPN to RN track, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing will help you transition into the RN profession, though it is the most comprehensive option. During the bridge program you will learn advanced clinical nursing applications, patient education, leadership development, team collaboration, and much more.

RN to BSN

Similarly, RN to BSN programs are for professional working nurses who are seeking to further their education. The bridge program, which builds on the students’ experience and background, is typically multi-tiered: it cultivates professional development—that is the critical thinking, leadership, communication, and research skills—while stimulating diversity and population awareness. RN to BSN programs provide core understanding of the racial, socio-economic, religious, sexual, and ethnic aspects of healthcare.

RN to MSN

Obtaining a Master of Science in Nursing as a Registered Nurse not only advances your career, it will set you apart as an expert in your field. RN to MSN bridge programs are made for working professionals looking to expand their knowledge and experience while maintaining current employment. The program itself will consist of core a nursing curriculum, hands-on experience, and specialization.

Choosing a Specialty

Choosing a specialty is not like choosing a major because you’re choosing so much more than a trajectory of study; you’re choosing a kind of working environment, a population of people to work with, your threshold of demand and pressure, your relationship with technology, and much more. Below are some of the most popular nursing specialties currently in demand in the healthcare industry, with an overview of the specialty, the daily job responsibilities, its average annual salary, degree requirements, and how to become nurse in that field.

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Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

Degree Required:: MSN

Average Annual Salary:: $96,785

An acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) serves patients who are suffering brief (as opposed to chronic) but severe conditions, including both injury and illness. ACNPs assess, diagnose and treat patients, working together with a healthcare team and the physician, and they work in an array of settings: emergency rooms, operating rooms, community clinics, primary care offices, critical care units, or urgent care facilities.

Rightsfree.icon  e1467829710181The Average Day: Provide care for pre- and post-operative patients, develop treatment plans, stabilize incidents of acute illness or injury, advocate for patients, and more.

 

HOW to BECOME an ACNP:

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Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Degree Required: MSN

Average Annual Salary: $157,140

A certified Registered Nurse anesthetist (CRNA) administers anesthesia and provides anesthesia-related care to patients before, during, and after surgery. Though CRNAs are advanced RNs, further advancement is an option for those wishing to move into administrative or managerial positions.

Rightsfree.icon  e1467829710181The Average Day: Administer epidurals, handle pain management, provide anesthesia, facilitate emergency room care, oversee operation room care, create recovery procedures.

HOW to BECOME a CRNA:

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Clinical Nurse Specialist

Degree Required: MSN

Average Annual Salary: $62,520–$79,990

A Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) concentrates in an area of health and becomes an expert at diagnosing and treating that area. Clinical Nurse Specialists usually focus on patient care, nurse management, or administration, though sometimes their roles are a confluence of all three. Minimum degree requirements include a Masters of Science in Nursing, if not doctoral work. Clinical Nurse Specialists go on to work in hospitals, universities, outpatient facilities, home care systems, and more.

Rightsfree.iconThe Average Day: Diagnose and propose specialized treatments, provide education on health management, conduct specialized research, analyze patient data and documents, educate patients and families on treatment plans, make managerial decisions.

 

HOW to BECOME a CNS:

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Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Degree Required: MSN

Average Annual Salary: $97,990

Family nurse practitioners work with patients throughout the family life cycle in a range of settings: clinics, private practices, hospice centers, health centers, schools, and even homes. FNPs work alongside a physician to diagnose and treat families throughout their lives; they can also seek further specialization in anesthesiology, midwifery, gerontology, neonatal, and more.

Rightsfree.iconThe Average Day: Diagnose illness, prescribe medical and therapeutic treatment, perform check-ups, order and interpret lab tests, promote preventive care.

 

BECOME a FNP:

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Geriatric or Gerontology Nursing

Degree Required: BSN

Average Annual Salary: $67,490

Geriatric nurses work closely with elderly patients, emphasizing preventative care and working alongside the patient’s family. Geriatric nurses are specially trained in the illnesses and injuries common to older populations, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, and other acute and chronic conditions.

Rightsfree.iconThe Average Day: Perform routine check-ups, create thorough patient care plans, assist with rehabilitative care after injuries, oversee pain management, and help with daily hygiene.

BECOME a GERIATRIC Nurse:

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Home Health Nursing

Degree Required: LPN or BSN

Average Annual Salary: $38,575–$75,631

Though typically many home health nurses work with either the elderly or patients with disabilities, some also work with those recovering from an accident or with younger children who have development or mobility problems. Whichever population home health nurses choose to specialize in, they will mostly assist patients with basic needs (e.g., bathing, dressing, etc.) and administering medicine and treatment.

Rightsfree.iconThe Average Day: Manage patients’ hygiene needs, administer medication, clean and dress injuries, document symptoms and vital signs, educate patients and families on proper home care, manage IV treatment.

 

BECOME a HOME HEALTH NURSE:

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Infectious Disease Nursing

Degree Required: BSN or MSN

Average Annual Salary: $65,950

Infectious Disease (ID) nurses have at least a BSN degree, though many go on to specialize and obtain post-graduate degrees. ID nurses work in hospitals, clinics, community health facilities, non-profit services, and universities to both treat patients and educate populations on disease control. Those nurses with advanced degrees may also have roles in policy, research, administration, and consulting.

Rightsfree.iconThe Average Day: Order and assess tests, connect patients with support groups and services, administer treatment and medication, promote and teach preventive care, design and implement sanitation policies, educate other healthcare professionals about effective prevention against disease and infection.

BECOME an INFECTIOUS DISEASE Nurse:

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Neonatal Nurse

Degree Required: BSN or MSN

Average Annual Salary: $60,407–$92,272

Neonatal nurses work primarily with seriously ill or premature newborn infants, usually in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of a hospital, to provide concentrated care and vigilance.

Rightsfree.iconThe Average Day: Administer treatment and medication to the baby, change diapers and perform other hygienic tasks, work with parents, create and implement treatment plans, monitor the baby’s condition, including weight and breathing.

BECOME a NEONATAL Nurse: