Deciding where to go to school is possibly one of the biggest decisions you will ever make. It has far reaching effects on your life, and navigating that decision can be overwhelming, to say the least. In order to help make your life a bit easier, we are going to break down the differences between the nursing degree offered at a community college and the one you would earn here at Illinois State University’s Mennonite College of Nursing.

In a nutshell, what is the difference between a nursing degree offered at a community college and the one offered here at ISU?

When you get a degree from a community college, you are earning your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) while preparing for the NCLEX (the national licensing examination for nurses). Your education will fulfill state-mandated general education requirements, nursing education requirements, and clinical practice requirements.

When you get a degree from a four-year college or university, you are earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). You will still need to complete all of the things referenced above, but you will also take course work traditionally associated with a liberal arts education, such as English, communication, and physical science courses. Additionally, four-year nursing programs typically have a much larger focus on leadership development than their community college counterparts. And, some topics covered in-depth at a four-year university, like public health, are not covered at all in many community colleges.

What are the pros and cons?

Community college


  • You get done fast, allowing you to go out and get a job.
  • You only take courses related to your program and necessary to comply with state requirements.
  • Generally, this route is more economical.


  • You will not have earned a bachelor’s degree, and might be forced to go back to school by your employer.
  • You have less opportunity for upward career growth.
  • There is less focus on leadership.
  • Some topics, like public health, are not covered.

Four-year college or university


  • You finish with your bachelor’s degree.
  • You have access to Ph.D.-prepared faculty and research, with opportunities to contribute to research initiatives.
  • You have access to leadership and professional development opportunities, study abroad, and honors programs.
  • It sets you on the same playing field as your professional peers, such as hospital administrators, who are all bachelor’s degree prepared


  • It is a longer time commitment
  • It can be more expensive

From a licensing perspective, is there a difference between the RN earned at a community college and the one earned at a four-year college or university?

The short answer is no. Both paths prepare you to take the NCLEX and allow you to earn your registered nurse’s license. In the end, if you pass the NCLEX, you are legally able to practice as a nurse.

Is having a bachelor’s degree in nursing important?

The Associate Degree in Nursing prepares you with the absolute necessities needed to pass state requirements and go out and get a job. However, more and more often, hospitals, health care organizations, and other employers in the industry are mandating that employees earn their bachelor’s degree. For example, Mayo Clinic, ranked No. 1 on U.S. News & World Report’s2017–2018 Best Hospitals Honor Roll,” requires that RNs earn their bachelor’s degree within a certain number of years of hire.

A bachelor’s degree also opens up door for career advancement, promotion, and leadership positions. If you want to go on to get a master’s degree, like family nurse practitioner or nursing systems administration, you are required to have first earned your bachelor’s.

Finally, and not least importantly, anyone connected with the field of health care will agree that the industry is changing. Earning your bachelor’s degree in nursing sets you on an equal playing field with your peers: hospital administrators, physicians, HR professionals, and other leaders.

But, I need to work now.

That’s OK—and many people are in the same situation. Because of that, many four-year colleges or universities, including Illinois State, offer RN to BSN completion programs. These programs allow you to earn your Associate Degree in Nursing at a community college, take the NCLEX, go get a job, and THEN finish your bachelor’s degree.

RN to BSN completion programs are designed to be flexible, so that working adults can complete their bachelor’s degree while balancing other responsibilities like their careers and families. Programs are offered online and on campus depending on where you go. Because you will have already completed your RN, there is generally no clinical component to the programs.

Pros and cons of an RN to BSN program


  • You earn your RN license early, allowing you to work while completing your bachelor’s degree.
  • Programs are offered online, increasing flexibility.
  • You get to take advantage of the cost savings typically associated with a community college AND the perks that come with a four-year college or university (faculty, honors programs, leadership development, etc.).


  • Thinking about how to navigate two programs can be intimidating.

RN to BSN at Illinois State’s Mennonite College of Nursing

Our RN to BSN program is offered fully online with both spring and fall starts and rolling admissions. Currently, the program is in process of being internationally quality-certified by the nonprofit organization Quality Matters.

Because we know that navigating two programs can be intimidating, we offer Pathways Programs with four area community colleges:

  • Heartland Community College
  • Parkland Community College
  • Illinois Valley Community College
  • Illinois Central College

Our Pathways Program lays out the plan of study for your time at the community college AND while at Mennonite College of Nursing, allowing you a simple road map to the completion of your bachelor’s degree.

Which path to the RN is right for me?

The route you choose for your education is highly personal, and should be the one that best fits your lifestyle or needs. But, some good things to think about while making the decision are the following:

  • Explore all options; being well-informed is never a bad thing.
  • Don’t just think about your first job. Think about where you might want your career to go in five or 10 years and then make sure you don’t put yourself in the position to be limited by your education.
  • If you still have questions or worries, reach out to and speak with an admissions advisor.
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