LPN vs. ADN: What Are the Differences, From Salary to Scope of Practice
If you are considering a career in nursing, there are multiple educational paths you may follow. While many aspiring nurses opt to enroll in a four-year BSN program, there are other shorter and less expensive options you could go for - namely, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) certification or an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), both of which, also allow you to enter the working field quicker than you'd do with a BSN degree.
However, choosing between an ADN program or an LPN certification depends on your professional goals, as the programs will prepare you for different roles in the nursing work environment and significantly influence your career path.
In this article, we will look at all the key differences between pursuing a PN diploma certification vs an ADN degree to help you determine what program is the right one for you.
What Is the LPN Certification?
A PN diploma program is a 12-to-18-month educational route that prepares learners for the role of a licensed practical nurse (LPN) (also known as a licensed vocational nurse or LVN). The program will include preparations for medical tasks, from checking vital signs to primary caretaking for patients, such as feeding or providing comfort.
Since LPNs are also tasked with keeping a clear line of communication between the patient, their family, and their caregivers, the PN diploma certification will include care coordination and communication elements.
What Does ADN Stand For?
An associate degree in nursing (ADN) stands for the 2-to-3-year degree that prepares candidates for becoming registered nurses (RNs) and working in a healthcare environment. A registered nurse (RN) is a licensed medical professional who performs hands-on care tasks in medical and community environments. Their responsibilities include providing primary care and comfort to patients, managing care practices, controlling their safety and risks of infection, and maintaining their health.
The fastest, most accessible, and most affordable path to becoming a registered nurse is by getting an ADN. If a graduate has completed an associate's degree and passed the necessary exams, they become an RN with an ADN.
Are the LPN and ADN Certifications Mutually Exclusive?
While the two nursing roles differ in educational formation, employment prospects, and future duties, they are not mutually exclusive from a career path point of view.
Even if you opt for a PN diploma program, you can later move on to becoming a registered nurse via the LPN-to-ASN track. The associate of science in nursing (ASN) is a degree similar in scope to an ADN, but generally focuses more on clinical practice, and that can be accessed via fast-track paths by licensed practical nurses.
Thus, the main differences between these options concern the time you want to spend with your educational program before starting to work in the field and the initial role you wish to adopt.
Advantages of Earning an LPN Certificate vs Associate's Degree in Nursing
If you are considering boarding on a career path in nursing, taking a look at the benefits brought by each role can help you decide on which career path to follow to achieve your professional goals and expectations.
Your decision should also be informed by the expected salary, job outlook, and work environment for each of the roles you will occupy once you complete your degree or program. However, here is an overview of the main points that may motivate you to pursue each certification type:
LPN certification advantages
- Shorter study period – You can complete a PN diploma program in one year, allowing you to join the workforce sooner and gain experience faster.
- More schedule flexibility and a better work-life balance – The working hours of a licensed practical nurse may accommodate your lifestyle better. You can opt for the regular schedule, night shifts, part-time, or per diem work.
- Many entry-level jobs available – Employment opportunities for LPNs are often open for candidates with little to no experience.
- You will have a fast-track to become an RN later on – If you want to become an RN later, there are fast-track LPN-to-RN paths that you may follow. Such programs are shorter than an ADN program.
Become a learner in our PN Program to get your LPN certificate! Send in your application today!
Associate's Degree in Nursing advantages
- The quickest way to become an RN – If you aim to fulfill the requirements for working as a registered nurse, a 2-to-3-year ADN program is the fastest route compared to a 4-year BSN degree.
- Better payment and expectations – A registered nurse will generally receive better compensation compared to an LPN.
- More job advancement opportunities – Receiving an associate's degree in nursing gives you more options for job advancement and specialization.
- Easy advancement to a BSN program – Many institutions, including Nightingale College, offer RN-to-BSN fast tracks that you can complete within 12 months.
Discover how to get your ADN certification from our complete guide to the degree.
LPN vs ADN: Education Process Differences
While the professional outcome is crucial in any ADN vs LPN comparison, the educational process, costs, and learning period should affect your final decision. Before deciding on your academic route, you should consider all the essential details involving your study and accreditation period.
Institutions and Education Level
Learners looking to become LPNs will pursue a vocational diploma program, which is available in community colleges, hospitals, high schools, and online colleges. On the other hand, to become an ADN nurse, you need an associate's degree in science or in applied sciences. These are only awarded in colleges and universities (on-ground or as part of a hybrid program).
You can get your PN diploma program within 12 months or 3 academic semesters. However, depending on your chosen program’s prerequisites, you may receive your diploma within 10 months or may need to complete as many as 18 months.
Comparatively, it will take you between 2 to 3 years to complete an associate’s degree in nursing. This career path requires more commitment from learners.
The curricula of the LPN programs and ADN programs are different since the responsibilities they prepare you for are different. During PN diploma programs, you’ll learn entry-level nursing concepts that prepare you to work under the supervision of another RN. By comparison, the ADN degree will equip you with the knowledge, and skills you need to work independently and unsupervised in a healthcare setting.
Here is what you’ll learn under each program:
Coursework subjects for LPN programs
- Nursing fundamentals
- Adult medical-surgical nursing
- Obstetrics and maternity
- Nursing process
LPN programs also have General Education (GE) co-requisites, such as English, humanities, Microbiology, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, chemistry, microbiology, psychology, sociology, or statistics.
Coursework subjects for ADN programs
- Nursing fundamentals
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Basic microbiology
- Obstetrics and maternity
- Mental health
- Medical surgery
- Nursing process
You can see that there is some overlap in the coursework subjects, but they are approached differently in the sense that ADN programs will generally focus more on practical skills and hands-on learning.
Costs and Tuition Fees
An LPN certificate program's tuition fees and costs will range from $10,000 to $15,000, depending on your institution. Comparatively, to complete an ADN program, you will be required to pay tuition fees starting from $20,000 to $40,000 or more, on average.
However, you can generally receive tuition aid for your program, from scholarships to personal savings plans, no matter the educational route you choose.
Type of certification
Associate’s degree in science
Institutions providing the program
Community colleges, high schools, and hospitals
Community colleges and universities
12 to 18 months
2 to 3 years
Entry-level nursing concepts related to patient care
Comprehensive nursing knowledge and practical skills
Costs and Tuition Fees
Online programs available
LPN vs ADN: Licensure Differences
Beyond completing the appropriate program in an accredited nursing educational institution, both LPN and ADN aspiring nurses need to pass an NCLEX exam provided by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
ADN graduates must take the NCLEX-RN exam to become an RN, while PN diploma learners will take the NCLEX-PN exam as a prerequisite to become an LPN.
Both types of NCLEX exams require participants to have an understanding of biological and social sciences and will contain questions related to health promotion, psychosocial factors, and physiological integrity.
However, the NCLEX-RN will also cover concepts related to physics and chemistry while also testing candidates on care management and assessment. The NCLEX-PN will evaluate the candidates' ability to coordinate care.
ADN vs LPN Nurse Duties
The formative process for LPNs and RNs with an ADN will result in different roles and scopes of practice in a future work environment.
Elements such as responsibilities, permissions for completing various medical practices, independence and oversight, and types of available jobs once you complete either program should inform LPN vs ADN educational choice.
A licensed practical nurse's central role is assisting registered nurses with patient care, in duties such as patient monitoring, changing bandages, and hygienic procedures. Additionally, LPNs are responsible for communicating the status of patients to registered nurses. In some states, unlicensed medical staff may report to LPNs, who must then report to RNs.
RNs perform and oversee tasks and duties under the direction of a physician or as part of a team while also managing the actions of LPNs and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). They also have additional responsibilities. For instance, LPNs are only permitted to insert an IV, and in some states, only if they hold specific certification for it. In contrast, RNs can administer intravenous push medications and oversee blood transfusions.
A registered nurse will also administer other types of medicine and treatments, assess patient conditions and coordinate care practices, manage medical histories, and collaborate with doctors and patients’ healthcare teams.
Read our complete LPN vs RN comparison for more differences in duties, responsibilities, and more.
ADN vs LPN Job Options
Licensed practical nurses can find placement in facilities requiring long-term assistance and patient care, with possible job positions including hospice or psychiatric care assistants. LPNs can also seek employment as physician assistants, where they will prepare patients for examinations, help physicians in minor surgeries, administer medications (if certified to do so), or administer injections. All their tasks will be performed under the supervision and direction of the doctor.
If you get an ADN degree, you can seek work as a registered nurse in clinics, hospitals, and community health centers. Similarly, you can opt to work with children as a pediatric nurse or perform primary nursing duties, such as handling medical equipment, transporting patients, or collecting medical samples, as a clinical associate. If you wish to accrue experience in working with patients with acute problems, major health issues, and physical trauma, you can pursue an emergency room nursing position.
LPN vs ADN Work Settings
The usual workplaces of a licensed practical nurse are nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospitals, or physicians' offices. Another option for practical nurses is to become a home care health aide and assist home care patients with their hygiene and health evaluations, as well as support and educate them and their loved ones.
Registered nurses will work in hospitals, nursing facilities, and the government or for ambulatory healthcare services and emergency rooms. Similar to LPNs, there are also home care work openings, where you aid patients in need of acute care. Your responsibilities will include monitoring home care patients' health, administering medication, helping with mobility, and providing primary care.
ADN vs LPN Certification Career Advancement and Opportunities
Most registered nurses with an ADN will enter the workforce in staff positions in healthcare institutions. RNs can advance to management and administrative functions as they accumulate experience and continue their education. Options for advancement will include becoming chief of staff, advanced practice RN, and various technical nursing specializations.
To be able to access advanced job opportunities with higher salaries as an ADN graduate, you'll have to get a BSN degree. This advancement route will qualify you for some of the highest-paying jobs in the industry while also improving patient outcomes in your workplace.
Receiving an associate degree in nursing first qualifies you for enlisting into an RN-to-BSN track program. The 12-month curriculum will qualify graduating nurses for more positions and roles while increasing payment prospects for comparable jobs.
LPNs will generally join the workforce earlier, gaining precious experience in various practical settings. They will often pursue multiple types of specialty certifications in various fields, such as palliative or hospice care or IV therapy and administration. Additionally, licensed practical nurses can go on to earn credentials that are specific to their work environment or role, including organ transplant coordination, developmental disabilities certifications, or correctional health professional accreditations.
Another path for gaining better work positions and more independence in their activity for licensed practical nurses is by advancing to the role of a registered nurse. They can do so by starting an ADN program or by registering for a shorter, fast-tracked LPN-to-ASN program and then passing the NCLEX-RN exam. As LPNs advance to a registered nurse position, they gain more autonomy in the workplace and receive multiple new responsibilities, leading to accumulating experience going beyond practical nursing fundamentals.
LPN vs ADN Salary Comparison
As the duties and level of responsibility differ, the average salary for LPNs and RNs with ADN degrees will differ as well. LPNs receive, on average, $54,620 per year, or $26.26 per hour, across the US.
In contrast, registered nurses will receive, in general, a salary of $81,220 per year, or $39.05 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is a difference between the pay received by registered nurses who hold an ADN and those who completed a BSN degree. RNs with a BSN degree are reported to be the top 25% earners in their field, their estimated wage being $101,100 per year or $48.60 per hour, amounting to around $12,900 more per year than nurses with an ADN.
Salary prospects based on your future workplace make up another key difference in any ADN vs LPN comparison. Here is the yearly payment an RN can expect to make within various work environments:
- Government jobs – $92,310 per year
- Hospitals (state, local, or private) – $82,250 per year
- Ambulatory healthcare services – $78,670 per year
- Nursing and residential care facilities – $75,410 per year
- Educational services (state, local, or private) – $65,450 per year
On average, registered nurses make $34,910 more annually than all healthcare occupants but $12,490 less than diagnosing and treating practitioners.
Here is how salary expectations vary for LPNs and LVNs depending on the industry and workplace in which they are active:
- Nursing and residential care facilities – $58,140 per year
- Government – $57,200 per year
- Home healthcare services – $54,080 per year
- Hospitals (state, local, or private) – $49,760 per year
- Offices of physicians – $48,300 per year
On average, licensed practical nurses make $6,060 more annually than health technologists and technicians and $8,310 more than all healthcare occupants.
Discover the estimated salaries for nurses by state, as well as all details about payment differences between various positions.
ADN vs LPN: Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nursing job outlook shows significant growth, estimating an increase in the number of employment opportunities of 5% for LPNs and 6% for RNs through 2032, both higher than the 3% average for all jobs in the field.
The nursing field is expected to experience a shortage in personnel, resulting from factors such as the projected retirement of more than one million nurses, a nationwide aging population, low enrollment numbers, faculty shortages, and high levels of burnout among nurses.
This trend, together with new opportunities to receive accreditation easily and remotely, make nursing a good career choice now and in the future, regardless of the path you choose to take right now.
Read more about the job outlook for nurses to understand why the career presents a considerable opportunity.
LPN or ADN: Which One Is Better?
Choosing between pursuing an LPN certification program or an ADN degree is not a matter of which one of the two is better. Both will prepare you for a promising nursing career, but the decision will come down to your plans, expectations, and professional goals.
If you want to start practicing as soon as possible, without dedicating at least two years to your educational formation, enrolling in a PN diploma program and becoming an LPN is the way to go. Additionally, this route is far less expensive than enrolling in an associate degree or a bachelor of science degree program. LPNs can gain valuable practical experience that will enhance their future prospects, whether they decide to further their education and become a registered nurse.
Enroll in Nightingale College’s PN Diploma Program and start your LPN journey!
However, if your final aim is to become a registered nurse with considerable independence in the workplace, you should opt to pursue an ADN or ASN. Although it will cost you more and take longer to complete, receiving an associate degree in nursing is the most affordable and fastest route to working as an RN. This will also come with better job prospects and better pay, on average.
Lastly, becoming an RN is a natural next step you should consider, even if you opt to become an LPN.
Are you an LPN already? Further your career with our LPN-to-ASN Program!
You should consider one last aspect if you aim to become an RN by receiving an associate degree. Many states will still require you to earn a BSN within 10 years, with up to an additional 2-year extension. While it may be tempting to go directly for a 4-year BSN program, if you become an RN with an ADN, you can further access fast tracks entirely within 12 months.
Further your career with our RN-to-BSN Track Program! Send in your application today!
ADN vs LPN Differences FAQs
Is ADN the Same as LPN?
Programs for an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and a licensed practical nursing (LPN) differ in their period of education, curriculum, and outcome following graduation. ADN program graduates will become registered nurses (RNs) once they pass the required NCLEX-RN exam, while learners who pursue a PN diploma program will become licensed practical or vocational nurses following completion and passing the NCLEX-PN exam.
Is LPN an Associate's Degree?
Licensed practical nurses only hold a PN diploma, which is not a college-level degree and does not qualify them for the roles of registered nurses with an associate’s degree.
Can You Be an LPN With an Associate’s Degree?
An associate degree in nursing prepares you for most responsibilities that are to be completed by a licensed practical nurse, with additional training and knowledge for various tasks, such as IV therapy. While you can fulfill similar roles to an LPN, once you become an RN, you will generally occupy positions demanding more independence and responsibilities.
What Can RNs Do and LPNs Cannot?
Licensed practical nurses will only perform basic medical care tasks, such as patient monitoring, changing bandages, and hygienic procedures. They must also maintain a communication line between patients and their supervisors (RNs, physicians, or other staff). All the activities of an LPN must be coordinated by a registered nurse.
Comparatively, registered nurses have extended responsibilities, from administering medicine and treatments (through IVs or otherwise) to assessing patient conditions, managing medical histories, overseeing interventions like blood transfusions, and collaborating with doctors and patients' healthcare teams. They also handle and coordinate licensed practical nurses' activities while holding administrative roles.
Can You Become an RN with an ADN as an LPN?
If you have completed a PN diploma program and have passed the NCLEX-PN exam, you can take the steps to become a registered nurse by joining an LPN-to-ASN program. This educational advancement option is a fast-tracked process designed for certified practical nurses that can be completed within 16 months, as opposed to the 2-to-3 years required for an ADN program if started from zero.
What Is the Difference Between ADN and PN?
The main difference between the two educational paths is the future professional outcome each degree provides following graduation. The shorter practical nursing diploma program enables you to become a licensed practical nurse and work under the supervision of a registered nurse. On the other hand, an ADN diploma prepares you to become a registered nurse and work with a greater degree of independence.
Other differences will include salary and career outlooks, roles and responsibilities within the work environment, and the options for furthering education.
What are the Differences Between an LPN, an RN with an ADN, and a BSN RN?
The difference between LPNs and RNs is clear: the former are supervised and coordinated by the latter. However, there are differences in roles and the scope of practice between RNs depending on whether they have an ADN or a BSN.
While nurses with ADN accreditation focus on technical, clinical tasks and day-to-day care, BSN nurses have the added capabilities for leadership, administrative, and management roles. They can also qualify to steer their career toward public health, education, or even nursing research.