A recent report from the Institute of Medicine called for 80% of registered nurses (RNs) to receive a Bachelor of Science (BSN) degree by the year 2020. The Campaign for Action has also advocated for a greater number of educated nurses who can help manage the implementation of national health care and address the growing number of senior citizens who are members of the aging baby boomer demographic.
Don’t waste your time and energy debating whether or not you need more education. Just go after it.
I. How RN-to-BSN Programs Work
What are the goals of RN-to-BSN programs?
RN-to-BSN programs are dedicated to equipping today’s nurses with the skillsets needed to deliver a superior level of care in today’s complex healthcare system. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), RN-to-BSN programs focus on three fundamental areas:
- Professional development: Leadership, communication, critical thinking and other competencies that enable nurses to collaborate with their colleagues and thrive in their careers.
- Skill-building: Intermediate and advanced technical proficiencies that allow nurses to broaden their practice and treat a wider range of patients.
- Cultural awareness: Core understanding of the racial, religious, and socioeconomic factors that influence and impact the delivery of medical care for millions of Americans.
Who’s enrolling in RN-to-BSN Programs?
For various reasons – improved salary, education requirements, greater job opportunity – RNs across the country are choosing to “bridge” their education by entering a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, informally known as the RN-to-BSN program.
- How many are there?
- As of Fall 2013, there were 692 accredited RN-to-BSN programs offered throughout the United States, including more than 400 that are completely or partially available in an online format, as well as others conducted on-site at hospitals and clinics. See a partial list of RN to BSN online programs here.
- Are they popular?
- The RN-to-BSN programs offered through the ACCN have grown increasingly popular in recent years; enrollments have increased each consecutive year for more than a decade, including a 22.2% leap between 2011 and 2012.
RNs Enrolled in BSN Programs, 2004-2012
What do I need to get into an RN to BSN program?
The following list includes general criteria for most RN-to-BSN programs across the country; for specific requirements, please contact each institution you are considering.
- Nursing License: Associate’s Degree of Nursing or nursing diploma-holders must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and receive their nursing license in order to be admitted into an accredited RN to BSN program.
- Special Exams: Some programs also currently require prospective nursing students to complete the Elsevier’s HESI Admission Assessment (A2) prior to admission. This exam consists of seven components:
- Reading comprehension
- Vocabulary/general language skills
- Criminal Background Check: Some RN-to-BSN programs will require students to undergo a criminal background check, physical examination, and/or drug screening before they will be allowed to participate in the practical/clinical component of their education. If you have concerns about this procedure, please contact each academic institution before applying to an RN-to-BSN program.
- General Admission Criteria: This will vary by institution, but may include:
- Cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher
- Diploma in nursing or a transcript showing several nursing-related courses
- Personal essay attached to the formal application
How much do RN-to-BSN programs cost?
RN-to-BSN program costs vary depending on the institution you decide to attend. Once you’ve found a program that suits your schedule, check with their financial aid office for up-to-date and accurate tuition and aid information. If you’re already employed as a nurse, your employer will often cover some or all of the tuition cost. Be sure to check before enrolling. For more information about national student aid and other funding options, please visit our financial aid and scholarships page.
Do RN-to-BSN online options exist?
Yes! Check out our list of the best RN to BSN online programs. We’ll be adding an entire section dedicated to navigating online RN-to-BSN programs, so please stay tuned!
II. What to Expect From an RN-to-BSN Program
What kinds of classes will I take?
As stated above, there are nearly 700 RN-to-BSN programs offered throughout the U.S. ― and not surprisingly, the structure varies considerably from program to program. The full list reveals a balance of four-year public institutions, private colleges, and religiously-affiliated schools. Many of the programs are conducted partially or fully online, while others consist entirely of traditional, ‘brick and mortar’ courses. Whether you’re taking a class online RNtoBSN course or maybe through your hospital employer, the curriculum of an RN-to-BSN program will generally consist of courses dealing with:
- Other non-nursing-related courses that satisfy the demands of a four-year liberal arts degree
The program will also include a handful of upper-level nursing courses. At any institution, these courses will likely cover the following topics:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Nutrition and Diet
- Nursing Leadership
- Adult, Pediatric, and Geriatric Nursing
- Caring for Families and Specific Populations (such as minority groups or low-income individuals)
- Community Health Care and Development
- Global Health Care and Development
- Healthcare Informatics
- Evidence-based Nursing
- Nursing Electives (normally associated with specializations like OB-GYN or surgical nursing)
- Ethics in Nursing
What hands-on experience will I get?
In addition to coursework, BSN programs should also consist of hands-on learning components. In May 2012, the AACN Board of Directors installed the RN-BSN Task Force to oversee bachelor’s-level nursing programs throughout the country. The Task Force has called for all baccalaureate nursing programs to include ‘practice experience’ ― experiential training sessions held at a hospital, clinic, or other medical facility ― which are often facilitated by resident staff, and consist of simulations or mock laboratory procedures. Practice experiences should involve both direct and indirect care activities:
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How rigorous are RN-to-BSN programs?
The AACN notes that 27,845 students completed RN to BSN and other baccalaureate completion programs in 2011 (the latest year on record); these individuals represented 34.4% of all bachelor’s level nursing program graduates.
How long are RN to BSN programs?
Most RN to BSN programs total approximately 120 credit hours, or approximately 2 years:
- Approximately 60 lower-division undergraduate courses
- 30 upper-division nursing courses
- 30 credits derived from practical/clinical training and equivalency exams
A BSN from start-to-finish will generally take two years to complete. RNs who have earned an ADN or nursing diploma may be able to transfer credits from their previous program that allow them to earn their bachelor’s degree in less time.
Are there faster ways to earn a BSN?
There are accelerated programs (often partially or fully online) that have distinct advantages and disadvantages; most notably, they require less of a time commitment than standard RN-BSN programs.
- Shorter Time to Complete: 12 to 18 months to complete
- Heavier Workload: The same number of courses and clinical hours are required ― meaning an accelerated nursing student’s schedule will be more intensive and demanding.
- Tougher Admission Criteria: 3.0 GPA or higher, undergo a program-specific “thorough screening process”
How important is accreditation in RN-to-BSN programs?
Regardless of the type of program or learning format you prefer, program accreditation should be a high priority as you select schools. You can still work as a nurse if you don’t graduate from an accredited nursing program, but more and more employers prefer hiring those that do. You’ll also have a far easier time getting nursing scholarships and federal student aid if your program is accredited, as accreditation is a condition of eligibility for many of these programs. The nursing program should receive accreditation from:
- The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
III. The Benefits of RN to BSN Programs
Do RN to BSN programs make financial sense?
Yes. A recent report from Drexel University Online found that “higher learning directly correlates to increased earnings” in the field of nursing, and Payscale notes that the median salary for an RN with a BSN who has been employed for at least five years make as much as $11,795 more than the median salary for all registered nurses (as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The following data from Payscale reflects the average salaries for nurses who are at different stages of their careers:
Salary Projections for Nurses
How will a BSN help my patients?
The AACN notes that hospitals, clinics, and other establishments staffed with a higher percentage of RNs with baccalaureate degrees or higher tend to report more successful patient outcomes, including lower inpatient mortality rates, shorter average hospital stays and higher levels of patient satisfaction. In 2008, Health Services Research published an article stating that “moving to a nurse workforce in which a higher proportion of staff nurses have at least a baccalaureate-level education would result in substantially fewer adverse outcomes for patients.”
How will a BSN improve my job prospects?
Nursing students with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree will have professional benefits that are unavailable to RNs with lower credentials. Higher salaries are one distinct advantage, but so is professional advancement. With a BSN you can become a leader in the nursing industry. The Drexel University report states that RNs with a bachelor’s degree will often be able to secure the following managerial positions:
- Head nurse
- Department chief
- Administrative manager
- Nurse anesthetist
- Clinical nurse manager
- Nurse practitioner
Unlike graduates of diploma or associate-degree nursing programs, the nurse with a baccalaureate degree is prepared to practice in all healthcare settings…
Which organizations exclusively hire BSN grads?
Bachelor’s-level education is quickly becoming the minimum standard for many medical establishments across the country. Nurses must obtain a baccalaureate education in order to be considered for nursing positions with a number of organizations. Here are just a few:
- The U.S. Army
- Air Force
- Veterans Administration
- U.S. Public Health Service
To view a breakdown of minimum education requirements and an up-to-date salary outlook for specific nursing careers, please visit our careers section.
Is it possible to keep working while earning a BSN?
Definitely. RN to BSN programs are designed to allow nurses to continue working while they’re in school. This flexibility is a major advantage of the bridge program model. That said, you may find it too difficult to hold down a full-time job during your BSN program — most students work only part-time. There are several advantages to this approach. Maintaining status as a part-time nurse and a full-time nursing student allows you to:
- Retain access to employer-based tuition assistance programs
- Qualify for nursing scholarships and federal aid reserved for full-time students
- Focus on getting the most out of your program and succeeding in your courses
- Graduate on time, within 18 months of enrolling
- Spend less on tuition overall
For those who need to work full-time during school, RN to BSN online programs are an excellent alternative. Rather than pay a flat rate for full-time enrollment, online RN to BSN students can choose to pay-by-credit and complete coursework at their own pace. This way, you won’t end up paying for a course load you aren’t actually taking. For more information about tuition funding opportunities, please visit our scholarships and financial aid section. For specific trends, requirements, and career data in different parts of the country, please visit our national and state information section.