Are you a Registered Nurse (RN) with an associate degree in nursing? Do you dream of taking your career to the next level? If so, your next step should be earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). With a BSN, an array of career options up, yielding a significant increase in salary and, better yet, allowing you to provide more help to others through the increased responsibility of administrative roles.

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 2016, there were 747 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 10.4% leap between 2013 and 2014.

Source: AACN

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:
    • Mathematics
    • Reading comprehension
    • Grammar
    • Vocabulary/general language skills
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Anatomy/physiology
  • 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?

RNs are busy professionals who can rarely take the time off that traditional on-campus programs require. In turn, pursuing distance learning only makes sense: by earning a BSN online, nurses can invest the time they need to take their career further while also continuing to work. Featuring due dates, projects, and a curriculum tailored to the needs of modern life, today’s RN-to-BSN online programs are geared toward needs of the working professional.

While all online programs have this element in common, precise program details vary by school. Some RN-to-BSN programs are conducted entirely online and never require a visit to campus, whereas hybrid programs may require students to visit campus. As a result, it’s always wise to examine program details closely before making a decision.

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:

  • Biology/microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Physics
  • Sociology
  • English
  • 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)
  • Statistics
  • 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:

Direct Care Indirect Care
  • Direct communication with patients and their families
  • Consultations with healthcare providers serving the local community
  • Collaborative projects with fellow students and resident nursing staff
  • Teaching nurses and other medical staff how to incorporate new technology into their treatments
  • Creating policy and meeting with stakeholders and state board members to ensure the policy is considered
  • Working with community leaders to implement disaster-preparedness programs.
  • Health diagnostics
  • Hospitality training
  • Medical reporting
  • Healthcare informatics
  • Leading staff seminars
  • Writing grant proposals for hospital or clinic funding
  • Leading an earthquake safety workshop at a community center

How rigorous are RN-to-BSN programs?

Partially due to incredible advances in technology over the last decade, RN-to-BSN programs are convenient, approachable, and highly flexible. However, applicants shouldn’t expect these courses to be any easier than their on-campus counterparts. Online BSN programs are just as rigorous and challenging as their on-campus counterparts.

While the time it takes to receive a BSN is notably reduced for online students in comparison to those that attend courses on campus, this reduction is primarily because online learners save time by way of the convenience of, for example, not commuting to and from school. Online students tackle the same coursework, study for the same tests, and are expected to gain the same level of understanding of course materials as their on-campus peers. RNs know that their everyday work is highly demanding and crucial to the safety and health of others, and the rigor of their education reflects this. Online students should be prepared to invest significant time and effort to receive their BSN.

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:

Nursing program scams are a real thing. Confirm your program’s accreditation status by searching for it by state and name in these on-site directories from the CCNE and the ACEN before enrolling.

III. The Benefits of RN to BSN Programs

Are RN to BSN programs worth it?

Yes. 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 $6,386 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.

Source: Payscale

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 2014, Medical Care published a report by Olga Yakusheva from the University of Michigan stating that there was a “10% increase in the proportion of baccalaureate-prepared nurses on hospital units was associated with lowering the odds of patient mortality by 10.9%.”

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. This Drexel University report states that RNs with a bachelor’s degree will often be able to secure the following positions:

  • Nurse manager
  • Clinical staff nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Neonatal nurse
  • Unit manager

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
  • Navy
  • 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.