"there's really no benefit in taking one route over another. the licensure is what really matters in obtaining employment. there is no pay difference."
the above information is not entirely accurate. it's true that after taking any of the three routes (adn, diploma or bsn), all rn wanabees have to pass the same test (nclex-rn) and, if they pass, they will all be registered nurses with the same type of license. it is not true that there is no benefit in taking one route over another. what is true is that the benefits don't directly relate to obtaining your rn licensure. i'll get back to that in a minute.
licensure is what matters in obtaining employment in the sense that without your rn license, you obviously can't be hired as an rn. however, some employers specifiy "bsn preferred" or "bsn required" in their ads. it depends on the type of job you want and the hiring conditions in the geographical area you are looking. some hospitals "prefer" a bsn but know that realistically, they are going to see a sizable number of diploma and adn grads among their applicants.
as for pay, many years ago, there was a pay difference. sometimes a large one. that changed as the percentages of adn grads grew. now, it is rare for there to be a pay difference. occasionally, i hear of a hospital that gives a small premium for having a bsn. one place gives bsns $100 a month extra. for a nurse who works full time, that works out to just under $0.60 an hour. most facilities pay nurses according to their specialty and level of experience.
back to the issue of one route being more beneficial than another. the benefit depends on the type of nursing you are interested in, your long-term goals, the available time and finances, and the other demands on your energy. a bsn is great if you're young, have a good program near you, can afford the tuition (or the loans) and are not juggling too many other things. it's also great if you've gone one of the other routes and have decided to do a completion program.
if you're a little older, have a family and/or a job, and have to work on your education as time and money permit, i'd recommend the adn. i don't know that much about diploma programs as the last one in our state closed about 15 years ago. the people i know who have graduated from them were very satisfied.
you need a bsn, not necessarily at the beginning of your career, but by the time you want to get into federal public health nursing or any type of advanced practice like midwifery, crna, or any other type of nurse practioner position. you might need a bsn for some types of higher level management positions although an adn and a ba or mba in business or other related field can be quite attractive. you definitely need a bsn as a stepping stone for the masters degree required for teaching.
for just about everything else, including lower and middle level management, the diploma or adn degree is usually sufficient.
the deciding factor is you. what do you want to do? how much time and money do you have to do it? where do you want to be 10-15-20 years from now. what educational background do you have so far? how much patience do you have? what schools are in your area and what kind of waiting list, if any, do they have? all right, that last one isn't technically about you, but it is a factor. once you know the answers to these questions, you should have some idea of where you're headed.
hope this helps.