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What is an RN-to-BSN Degree?

July 20, 2020 | Staff Writers

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RN-to-BSN bridge programs help practicing registered nurses who hold a diploma or associate degree take their education to the next level. In doing so, they can also expect to earn higher salaries and open doors to more professional opportunities.

While traditional BSN programs admit students with no required previous higher education degree, RN-to-BSN programs support learners who have completed their diploma or associate degree and achieved licensure as a RN and want to build upon their previous coursework to complete a BSN. Students can usually graduate from RN-to-BSN bridge programs in under two years.

When looking for bridge programs, finding an accredited program is essential, as a degree from an unaccredited program might not be accepted as valid for licensure or employment. Bridge program graduates continue working as RNs but their further education primes them for additional, more advanced career opportunities; some students may want to pursue an RN-to-MSN program to expand their job options even wider.

Frequently Asked Questions About RN-to-BSN Programs


  • What classes are needed for RN-to-BSN programs?

    RN-to-BSN programs build on subject matter taught in diploma and associate degree programs. Common topics include health assessment for nurses, aging and health, and leadership in nursing practice.


  • Do RN-to-BSN programs require clinicals?

    Yes, students in these programs must complete clinicals. These can often be done at the learner’s current place of employment.


  • How long are RN-to-BSN programs?

    Most RN-to-BSN programs require two years of full-time study, though part-time and accelerated pathways also exist.


  • Is an RN-to-BSN program easy?

    Like any other nursing program, RN-to-BSN degrees require rigorous study. Students should prepare themselves for long hours reading, studying, and completing assignments.


  • How much are RN-to-BSN programs?

    The price of RN-to-BSN programs can vary substantially based on whether students attend a public or private school and if they receive any type of funding.


Types of RN-to-BSN Programs

There are three types of BSN programs: traditional, bridge, and online. Traditional programs serve first-time learners looking to complete a bachelor’s degree as their first step. These usually take four years to graduate. Bridge programs serve students who already hold a diploma or associate degree in nursing and take approximately two years to complete. Online BSN programs can exist as traditional or bridge degrees but allow students to meet all requirements through digital learning rather than visiting campus multiple times per week.

Admission requirements for RN-to-BSN bridge programs include an unencumbered RN license, minimum GPA, and completion of prerequisite courses.

RN-to-BSN Bridge Programs

Also known as a traditional RN-to-BSN bridge program, this degree is taught through campus-based learning. Students visit campus multiple times per week to attend lectures, submit assignments, take exams, and work on group projects. It prepares graduates to work as RNs with BSN credentials. These programs comprise approximately 60 credits and take two years to complete.

Because students already hold an RN license, there is no required licensing examination following completion of the RN-BSN. After graduating and working in the field for a time, some learners may decide to pursue an MSN or DNP to further their education.

Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Online RN-to-BSN programs

support degree-seekers who want to earn a BSN but want the ease and flexibility of distance learning. It offers the same outcomes as a traditional RN-to-BSN program but does not require learners to visit campus. These programs also take two years and require the completion of approximately 60 credits.

Students who already hold an active and unencumbered RN license are not required to take an additional examination. This qualification also allows them to pursue an MSN or DNP degree if they want to to become a nurse practitioner.

Curriculum in BSN Programs

BSN courses introduce students to the core tenets of the nursing field and give them the skills needed to work as a qualified and confident registered nurse. The first two years of the degree serve as a foundation for advanced work and cover topics such as human anatomy and physiology, bacteriology, concepts of professional nursing, and issues in cultural health. The second half of the degree focuses on nursing-specific concepts such as evidence-based practice, leadership competencies in nursing and healthcare, and health assessment.

Benefits of a BSN Degree

In years past, many RNs held only a diploma or associate degree. In recent years, however, the industry has encouraged these professionals to work towards a bachelor’s degree as these programs offer a deeper and wider scope of knowledge and skills. A study from the Campaign for Nursing’s Future found that the number of RNs with a BSN or higher is now at 56%, up from 49% in 2010. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has introduced several initiatives to help increase this number over the coming decade.

BSNs help registered nurses build a better understanding of how to adequately care for patients while also positioning them well for higher salaries, opportunities for growth, and leadership positions. Many individuals who already possess a diploma or associate degree complete an RN-to-BSN while still working.

Career and Salary Outlook for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses enjoy salaries that sit above the national average for all occupations. In 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported median pay at $73,300 per year. Earners in the top 10% brought home in excess of $111,220 during the same time frame. The BLS also projected that roles for RNs should grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028 — far faster than the national average.

Reviewed By:

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA
Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA is an advanced practice nurse. She graduated with a PhD from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She is currently a university nursing educator and has authored multiple publications. She has also presented at national and international levels about medical and leadership issues. She enjoys walking, reading, traveling to new places, and spending time with her family.

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