ABSN vs BSN: The Difference Between Accelerated and Traditional Nursing Programs

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What is an ABSN and what’s the difference between an ABSN vs. BSN program? An ABSN is an accelerated nursing program that confers a BSN, a nursing degree. While traditional BSN programs typically take four years to complete, many ABSN programs can be completed in 16 months.

nursing students on stairs

Are you dissatisfied with your job and think a career change might be a smart move? It’s never too late to make the switch. Plenty of people decide to transition to a second or even third type of career. Nursing is an excellent option, particularly for those wanting to make a meaningful, positive difference in the lives of others.

It all starts with earning a nursing degree. There are different types of nursing programs, so it’s essential to determine exactly which one is right for you. As you begin looking into your options, you’ll likely come across unfamiliar terms and acronyms and wonder, “What is an ABSN?” “What is a BSN?” and “Is an ABSN vs. BSN program right for me?”

Let’s take a closer look at your nursing school options and answer these questions.

What Is a BSN?

So, what is a BSN? This acronym refers to a Bachelor of Science in nursing, one of the degree options that can lead to nursing licensure and a career as a registered nurse.

While it’s also possible to earn a nursing license after completing an associate degree in nursing, the curriculum is far less comprehensive than a BSN curriculum. Employers often prefer to hire RNs with a BSN as better academic preparation leads to more favorable patient outcomes.

Another benefit of earning a BSN is that it is a stepping stone toward graduate-level nursing education. With either a Master of Science in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice , you can sharpen your clinical skills and nursing knowledge and advance your career.

What Is an ABSN?

Now that you know what a BSN is, let’s take a look at an ABSN. This acronym refers to an accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing program. An ABSN isn’t a type of degree but a type of program. An ABSN program confers a BSN degree and provides the same quality, depth and breadth of nursing education as a traditional BSN program.

However, an ABSN program takes less time to complete and requires students to have either a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or pre-existing college credits. This makes it an ideal option for people interested in transitioning to a second career after being in the workforce. It’s also a good option for transfer students who start earning a non-nursing degree but decide to switch to nursing.

At Harding University, applicants with a minimum of 64 non-nursing college credits from an accredited institution are eligible for the ABSN program provided they meet the other requirements.

nurse study group

Explore other nursing degree programs: BSN vs. MSN: What’s the difference? Find out here!

Key Differences Between an Accelerated BSN vs. Traditional BSN

So far, we’ve touched lightly on the differences between an ABSN vs. BSN program. Let’s take a more in-depth look at these and other differences so you can make an informed decision for your future.

Start Dates

One of the differences between these two nursing programs is the start dates they typically offer. Every university and college is different, of course, but traditional BSN programs generally offer two start dates per year. You’ll likely have the option of beginning your nursing education in the fall or spring semesters. In contrast, many ABSN programs, including the one at Harding, offer three start dates per year.

Admissions Requirements

When considering which of these programs is best for you, it’s important to consider the different admissions requirements. Of course, each school establishes its own unique admissions requirements.

harding nursing students on laptop

In general, a traditional BSN program requires a high school diploma or GED. You may also need to take an entrance exam such as the SAT test. BSN programs generally consider factors such as cumulative high school GPA, extracurricular activities, leadership roles and volunteer positions when making admissions decisions.

Since ABSN programs are designed for transfer students or people making a career change to nursing, you’ll need to meet the school’s credit requirements.

At Harding, our admissions requirements include at least 64 credit hours. You’ll also need to take the HESI Admission Assessment Exam and complete a criminal background check. Your dedicated admissions counselor can review your unofficial transcripts to assess your eligibility for the ABSN program at Harding.

ABSN vs. BSN: Completion Time

Arguably, the most significant difference between an accelerated BSN and a traditional BSN program is the typical time to completion. Because a traditional BSN program is designed for high school graduates with no prior college education (or very few credits completed), it generally takes four years of full-time study.

In contrast, at Harding, it’s possible to graduate from our ABSN program in as few as 16 months. This accelerated completion time is thanks to the prior college education nursing students have completed.

Our ABSN program eliminates non-nursing classes (except for courses in Christian theology) so that you can graduate fast. Note that the time to completion does not include the completion of any prerequisites you may need.

Are you curious about a nursing career? Read more to learn what nurses do on a daily basis.

nurse setting up IV bag


As previously noted, ABSN programs require nursing students to complete prerequisites prior to their start date. Traditional BSN programs do not have prerequisites because students complete them during the program.

The prerequisites for ABSN programs are necessary so that you can graduate from your nursing program in as few as 16 months. They also ensure you are academically prepared to tackle the rigorous nursing curriculum.

Nursing school prerequisites vary from one program to the next. At Harding, you’ll need to complete prerequisites such as chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology and lifespan human development, among others.

nursing student holding IV bag

You may have already fulfilled some of these prerequisites in your prior college program. Your admissions counselor will review your unofficial transcript to determine which prerequisites you still need.

Instructional Methods

Another difference between ABSN vs. BSN programs that take four years to complete is the instructional methods. At a traditional four-year BSN program, you can expect to take courses and nursing simulation and skills labs on campus along with clinical rotations at local health care facilities. There may not be an option to take classes online.

In contrast, ABSN programs often embrace hybrid learning. For example, Harding offers online classes paired with in-person nursing skills and simulation labs. You’ll also visit top local health care facilities to complete clinical rotations.

nurse holding patient chart

Clinicals are a critical part of a nursing education. Prepare for nursing school by learning what nursing clinicals are like.


Another key difference is the curriculum. In an ABSN program, general education courses are completed through your previous college experience and prerequisites so that when you enter the program, all courses are nursing-focused. At Harding, you’ll also take courses in Christian theology.

In contrast, traditional four-year BSN programs pair the nursing curriculum with core classes, like English and mathematics, and electives.

ABSN vs. BSN Salary Expectations

Is there a difference between salary expectations if you take an ABSN program versus a traditional BSN program? Actually, the ABSN and BSN salary expectations are the same. This is because an ABSN program, while accelerated, offers the same quality, breadth and depth of nursing education as a four-year BSN program.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses in the U.S. made an annual median salary of $81,220 as of May 2022. Individual salary expectations can vary based on nursing specialty, geographic location, years of experience and other factors.

nursing student in front of sign

Why Choose Harding University’s ABSN Program?

Now that you know the differences between an accelerated BSN and a traditional BSN, you may already be leaning toward an accelerated program. Harding University makes the choice easier by offering a compelling hybrid option for future nurses.

Plus, you can complete your nursing degree in as few as 16 months. We offer three start dates yearly, so you can enroll as soon as you’re ready.

Contact one of our friendly admissions counselors today, and you’ll receive step-by-step guidance on navigating the admissions process. We can’t wait for you to join our dynamic learning community in Arkansas.