Nursing Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Nursing?

Nurses are typically required to be compassionate, responsible, and detail-oriented. They must be willing to take control of stressful situations and to ask for assistance when necessary. Nurses also need emotional stability to handle emergency situations and to engage with emotional and physical suffering, illness, and injury. Additionally, nursing is a high demand profession. The American Nursing Association (ANA) reports that, by 2022, 1.1 million new registered nurses (RNs) will be needed to replace retiring nurse positions and to meet expanding healthcare needs.

Types of Nursing Degrees

Nursing school programs vary in length and intensity depending on the desired degree or certification. You can find a nursing degree program to meet your needs, based on prior education and workforce skills. From undergraduate to advanced graduate-level programs, nursing major colleges offer various opportunities to gain real-world skills. Take a look at some of the nursing degree types below.

Certificate and Diploma Programs in Nursing

Certificate programs in nursing are, generally speaking, focused on teaching students the basics in nursing and helping them to enter the workforce as quickly as possible.

Factors prospective students should consider

Skills necessary for certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs usually take just a few months to complete, while licensed practical or licensed vocational nursing (LPN/LVN) programs regularly require a full year of education. Both programs are likely to include some type of hands-on training component.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Undergraduate certificate or diploma courses in a nursing program may include:

  • Medical terminology
  • Basics of healthcare systems
  • Fundamentals of nursing arts
  • Introduction to geriatric nursing
  • Pediatric nursing

Skills students can learn

Mobility, nutrition, hydration and therapeutic procedures can be learned in certificate and diploma nursing programs.

Jobs related to this degree

You may be able to seek employment in entry-level vocational nursing jobs, such as those for a CNA or LPN/LVN. Depending on skills gained, you also might be right for a medical assisting of doctor’s office job.

Associate Degrees in Nursing

Earning an associate degree in nursing is an important component to becoming either an LPN, LVN or Registered Nurse (RN). Preparing for the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) in nursing also is often a focus of an associate-level program.

Factors prospective students should consider

Association degree programs in nursing typically take two years to finish and can be completed through traditional campus-based colleges as well as online, though practical clinical requirements must usually be completed in person.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Courses in an associate-level degree program may include:

  • Introduction to pharmacology
  • Complex patient management
  • Mental health nursing
  • Surgical nursing
  • Advanced maternal/infant nursing

Skills students can learn

In an associate degree in nursing program, students can gain skills in health assessment, basic pharmacology, pathophysiology and medical surgical concepts.

Jobs related to this degree level

After passing an NCLEX exam, you may be able to seek employment as an LPN, LVN or even registered nurse in settings as varied as long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices and healthcare clinics.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Nursing

RN-to-BSN programs and other bachelor’s in nursing degree programs can be a convenient way for registered nurses to increase their potential in the field. Students also can complete a BSN-to-MSN in nursing program, allowing a bachelor’s and master’s degree to be completed in an accelerated nursing degree format, but often with more courses than required for a BSN program.

Factors prospective students should consider

A nursing major at the baccalaureate level must complete general education studies in basic science and liberal arts courses, in addition to lower- and upper-division classes in nursing. Internships and other hands-on clinical experiences may also be required prior to graduation.

Type of courses and clinical experience offered

A bachelor’s degree in nursing program often offers courses, such as:

  • Foundations of nursing
  • Concepts of professional nursing
  • Adult health nursing
  • Nursing ethics and healthcare law
  • Critical thinking for healthcare professionals

Skills students can learn

You may be able to enhance your knowledge about anatomy and physiology, and gain evidence-based practices, and excellence in learning.

Jobs related to this degree level

With a BSN in nursing and licensure, you could obtain employment as an RN in many occupations, including home health nurse, outpatient nurse or infusion nurse.

Master’s Degrees in Information Technology

Earning a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) can allow students to narrow their focus to a specific specialization within the field. These graduate-level programs generally require students to select and concentrate on specific areas of interest and the curriculum varies according to the specialization.

Factors prospective students should consider

A master’s degree in nursing is the next step for nurses who already have a BSN. However, nurses who do not have a BSN could seek admission into a BSN-to-MSN program, which combines coursework allowing two degrees to be completed in an accelerated timeframe.

Types of courses and clinical experiences offered

Master’s-level nursing degree programs may include courses such as:

  • Advanced nursing concepts and theory
  • Epidemiology
  • Finance in healthcare
  • Public healthcare policy
  • Advanced concepts in public health

Skills students can learn

In an MSN program, you can choose to specialize in a nursing field. Depending on your specialization, you can build in-depth skills in nurse administration, nurse education, family nursing or many other arenas.

Jobs related to this degree

Based on their specialization, those who have earned a master’s degree may be able to earn positions as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist or clinical nurse specialist, to name just a few.

Ph.D. and Doctorate Programs in Nursing

Doctoral programs for nursing are the furthest degree level that can be sought. Nursing degree requirements for this advanced degree typically include an MSN degree and a 3.0 GPA. There may be exceptions to such requirements, however. For example, students might find an accelerated nursing degree option in the form of a BSN-to-DNP program that allows them to circumvent an MSN requirement.

Factors prospective students should consider

Doctoral programs in nursing fall under two categories: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D. in Nursing. DNP programs tend to focus on practical nursing applications and are usually better suited for students planning to work in high-level administrative positions at a healthcare facility. Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, are more oriented towards scientific nursing research. Both types of programs can open the door to earning faculty positions at institutes of higher learning.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Some core courses in a doctoral nursing degree program could include:

  • Applied finance and budget planning
  • Quantitative methods for healthcare evaluation
  • Transforming healthcare systems
  • Evidenced based nursing practice
  • Leadership in healthcare

Skills students can learn

A nursing major at the doctoral level should help you to learn how to improve patient outcomes, strengthen your advanced nursing practice and contribute to the better delivery of healthcare.

Jobs related to this degree

A nursing degree at this advanced level can open up new employment opportunities for you, such as director of nursing, nursing school professor, DNP program director or online faculty member.

Online or Campus-Based Nursing Programs?

Opportunities for increasing your nursing major salary could be improved by enrolling in one of many different nursing programs. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the number of accelerated programs available nationwide continues to expand. As of 2018, there were more than 280 accelerated BSN programs and more than 60 accelerated programs available at the master’s level in the country. Some of these may feature coursework that is not only available online, but also have admission dates that are ongoing.

Financial Aid for Nursing Students

To help pay for the costs of a nursing degree, you could apply for financial aid or look for scholarship opportunities. Financial aid loans, which may be available through the federal government or a specific school, typically need to be repaid, but scholarships do not. Scholarships do require an application process and not everyone can be chosen as a recipient. The following associations offer nursing scholarships, but you can find other scholarship opportunities available, too:

To learn about financing your nursing degree either online or on-campus, visit our financial page.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Nursing?

As you consider different types of nursing degrees, you may wonder about potential nursing major salary, job growth, employment and more. The table below uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide details on mean annual wages, projected job grown and total employment for popular nursing fields. Just keep in mind that once a nursing degree program is completed, nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in order to become certified as either a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.

Total Employment
Annual Mean Wage
Nurse Midwives6,930$108,810
Nurse Anesthetists43,570$181,040
Nurse Practitioners200,600$111,840
Registered Nurses2,982,280$77,460
Nursing Assistants1,419,920$30,720
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses697,510$48,500

Registered Nurses

RNs typically work in hospitals, nursing homes, private physician’s offices, and home healthcare companies. Their duties vary by state and position but usually include administering medical treatments and medication, observing patients, educating patients and families about illness, assisting with diagnosing injuries and illness, recording patient histories, and offering emotional support.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Most RNs need at least an associate degree, although a bachelor’s degree may be preferred.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: RNs must be licensed by the state in which they practice. In addition to any state exam requirements, RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to receive their RN certification.

Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses

Like registered nurses, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) work in a variety of healthcare facilities. They must also complete some postsecondary training. Their roles differ from RNs in the duties they may undertake and the amount of education they have undergone. Typical tasks include monitoring patients, assisting patients with bathing and dressing, changing bandages, recording patient information, and extending emotional support to patients. LPNs and LVNs are supervised by doctors and RNs.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: LPNs and LVNs usually participate in approved career training programs that last approximately one year.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: To become a licensed practical or vocational nurse, students must first pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN). They must also meet any other licensing requirements of the state in which they practice.

Certified Nursing Assistants

Certified nursing assistants support doctors and other nurses by administering basic care for patients in a variety of healthcare facilities. Sometimes referred to as nursing aides, these healthcare professionals can be found working in nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and home healthcare services. Duties may include transporting patients between rooms, helping patients with basic tasks (like bathing and dressing), transferring patients from wheelchairs, measuring and recording vital signs, cleaning equipment, or serving meals.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: CNAs are usually required to complete a state-approved career training program. These programs last a few months but are completed in under a year.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certified nursing assistants must be registered to work in the state in which they practice. Requirements vary by state but usually include passing a competency exam.

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

Nurses wanting to specialize in particular areas of healthcare may be able to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). After receiving the proper education and meeting all licensing requirements, APRNs may be allowed to perform certain advanced primary and specialty healthcare services for patients. Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are all examples of APRNs. Duties and responsibilities vary by specialization.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: All APRNs must earn a master’s degree in their area of specialization.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Regardless of specialization, all APRNs must first earn their RN certification. They must also pass the proper licensing exams, which vary according to their specific area of specialty. APRNs must be licensed in the state in which they work and meet continuing education requirements.

Nursing Associations and Organizations

Nurses have a wide variety of organizations and associations they can turn to for support and resources. These organizations may be fraternal in nature or offer professional support and advocacy. Some include:

  • American Nurses Association — This association represents nurses of all types and advocates for policies that advance the profession. They also publish several professional trade journals.
  • National Council of State Boards of Nursing — This non-profit organization seeks to promote regulatory standards for the nursing profession. The NCSBN creates, administers, and oversees the National Council Licensure Examinations.
  • National League for Nursing — The NLN promotes excellence in nursing through high-quality nursing education. The league features professional development and networking opportunities for nursing educators and faculty.

Article Sources


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  2. Accelerated BSN to DNP Program. Maryville University, Accessed Jan. 12, 2020,
  3. Associate Degree in Nursing, Denver College of Nursing, Accessed Jan. 11, 2020,
  4. Courses, Ohio State University, Accessed Jan. 11, 2020,
  5. Doctor of Nursing Practice, Walden University, Accessed Jan. 12, 2020,
  6. Earn Your Master’s Degree in Nursing, University of Phoenix, Accessed Jan. 11, 2020,
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  8. Nurse Aide Certificate, Frontier Community College, Accessed Jan. 11, 2020,
  9. Purdue University Global, Take the First Step with Our Associate’s Degree in Nursing, Accessed Jan. 11, 2020,
  10. The Nursing Shortage, Nursing World, Accessed Jan. 12, 2020
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