ABSN vs. BSN Programs: Understanding the Differences

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What is a BSN, and what is an ABSN? A BSN is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, and an ABSN is an accelerated BSN program. There are many differences between ABSN vs. BSN programs, such as the length of time required to graduate, admissions requirements and prerequisite requirements.

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Are you seeking a new career that brings meaning to your life and offers attractive job perks? Consider switching to nursing and making a positive difference in the lives of others. The nursing field offers excellent job stability and salary potential, with plenty of opportunities to climb the ladder.

Many people switch careers, and the transition can be more accessible than you’d think. However, the terminology can be overwhelming when first exploring nursing as a career. What is an ABSN, for example, and what is a BSN? What are the differences between an ABSN vs. a BSN program? We’ll review all the answers here and help you take the first step toward choosing the right nursing program.

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Learn how to choose a nursing school and take the first step toward a nursing career.

What Is a BSN?

So, what is a BSN? This acronym refers to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. A BSN is one of the possible pathways toward becoming a registered nurse (RN). Traditionally, earning a BSN takes four years of full-time study.

This degree requires a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on learning activities. In classroom lectures, students explore nursing concepts and theories — from how to recognize the signs of ketoacidosis to understanding what to do if presented with a case of fetal distress. In hands-on lab activities and in-hospital clinical rotations, students develop and refine nursing skills, such as placing an IV, administering various therapies and performing wound care.

However, earning a BSN isn’t the only step to becoming an RN. After graduating, all aspiring nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This exam assesses whether a nurse candidate can safely and competently make clinical judgments and perform patient care. After passing the NCLEX, a new nurse can obtain state licensure and pursue their first nursing job.

What Is an ABSN?

The ABSN acronym refers to an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, such as the University of St. Thomas Houston’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. When comparing an ABSN vs. BSN, the most important thing to note is that an ABSN is not a degree but rather a program that confers the BSN degree. In other words, it’s a different method of earning a BSN from the traditional route.

two UST nursing students working in sim lab

Although an ABSN program doesn’t follow the traditional educational route for nurses, the quality and comprehensiveness of the education are the same. A study highlighted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) demonstrated that all baccalaureate-prepared nurses (compared to nurses with an associate degree) are better prepared to contribute to more favorable patient outcomes, regardless of their educational pathway.

Whether you earn a BSN through an ABSN program or a traditional BSN program, employers will recognize that you have the necessary nursing skills and knowledge to practice competently.

ABSN vs. BSN Program Differences

If an ABSN program prepares nursing graduates to succeed in clinical situations just as well as traditional BSN programs, then what are the differences between an ABSN vs. a BSN, exactly? There are several differences, and the most significant is the completion timeline.

Completion Timeline

Traditional BSN programs take four years to complete and are designed for high school graduates with no college education. In addition to the nursing classes and experiential learning components, BSN programs include general education courses, such as mathematics, humanities and electives.

In contrast, ABSN programs are designed for adult learners with a prior college education—either a completed baccalaureate degree or a certain amount of completed college credits from an accredited institution. ABSN programs eliminate general education courses, instead focusing on nursing competencies.

This, plus the schedule, allows ABSN students to graduate much sooner. Unlike a traditional college schedule, ABSN students proceed through consecutive semesters with no summer break.

The majority of ABSN programs have a 16-month timeline to completion. However, the ABSN program at UST has narrowed that down even further. While preserving high standards of quality education and breadth of curriculum, the ABSN program at UST will allow you to graduate in as few as 12 months.

Aside from the accelerated pace and much more rapid graduation, there are many other differences between an ABSN vs. a BSN program. Here’s a look:

Program Start Dates

A traditional BSN program usually offers one or two start dates each year: fall and spring. An ABSN program often offers three start dates annually, allowing students to begin the program as soon as they’re ready. The ABSN program at UST offers start dates in January, May and August.

UST ABSN student standing outside

Instructional Delivery

A four-year BSN program is typically delivered in person. UST’s ABSN program offers blended learning opportunities with both online and in-person components.

Admissions Requirements

Admissions requirements vary from school to school. In a four-year BSN program, the bare minimum admissions requirement is typically a high school diploma or GED. For an ABSN program, students must have a completed baccalaureate degree or a minimum threshold of completed college credits.


BSN programs include general education credits, so they don’t require prerequisites. ABSN programs require prerequisites so that students can graduate quickly.

Admissions Support

A four-year BSN program typically doesn’t offer much admissions support for prospective students. At UST’s ABSN program, we proudly provide dedicated admissions counselors. You’ll work with one point of contact from the initial conversation to enrollment.

ABSN vs. BSN Program Similarities

Although there are many differences between an ABSN vs. BSN program, there are also similarities.

Admissions Exam Requirements

For example, an ABSN and traditional BSN program might require applicants to take an admissions exam, such as the Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) exam or the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). However, different schools establish different requirements regarding the minimum scores they’ll accept.

Clinical Rotations

two UST nursing students working in lab

Another similarity is that both programs require students to complete a series of clinical rotations. These are temporary placements in nearby healthcare facilities. Clinicals allow nursing students to practice their skills by providing patient care.

Blended Learning vs. Traditional Learning

One of the main differences between an ABSN vs. BSN program is the instructional delivery method. It’s common for ABSN programs to take a blended learning approach, whereas four-year BSN programs typically embrace traditional learning.

In other words, students in four-year programs take in-person classes on campus. They also attend their nursing skills and simulation labs on campus and complete clinical rotations at nearby healthcare facilities.

In contrast, the ABSN program at UST takes a blended learning approach, allowing students to complete their nursing coursework online. You can complete your coursework where and when it’s convenient for you — provided you still meet your instructors’ deadlines. You’ll only need to commute to campus for hands-on learning activities in labs and proctored exams. You’ll also visit healthcare facilities in person to complete clinicals.

Find out what a day in the life of a nurse really looks like to learn more about your prospective career.

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Deciding Which Nursing Program Is Right for You

Every student has unique needs and preferences, and only you can determine which type of nursing program best fits your needs. However, if you’ve already earned a college degree or have at least 60 credits from an accredited school, then UST’s ABSN program could be an excellent fit for you. After completing the prerequisites, you can graduate quickly and enter the nursing workforce sooner.

It’s important to note that your prior college credits or degrees do not need to be in nursing or even science fields. You may qualify for the program regardless of the field you previously studied.

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On the other hand, if you’ve never been to college before or only completed a few credits, then a four-year BSN program can be a better fit. It will take longer to graduate, but the advantage is that you’ll likely have time to work while attending school.

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A Look at UST’s Accelerated BSN Program

When you’re ready to pursue a meaningful career in healthcare, the University of St. Thomas is here to help you succeed. Our ABSN program allows you to graduate in as few as 12 months. With three start dates per year (January, May and August), you can begin much sooner than you’d think. Plus, you’ll have access to our Academic Success Coaches, who provide one-on-one guidance so you can confidently tackle nursing school challenges and the NCLEX.

Contact us today, and you’ll be assigned your dedicated admissions counselor to walk you through the admissions process step by step. We can’t wait to welcome you to our close-knit ABSN learning community.