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What Is a BSN Degree?

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Reviewed by Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., RN, CRNA

A bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, prepares graduates to work as registered nurses. While some of these healthcare providers hold a nursing diploma or associate degree, the field is increasingly looking for bachelor-prepared candidates. A 2019 study in The Joint Commission Journal of Quality and Patient Safety found that RNs with BSN degrees demonstrated deeper knowledge in 12 of the 16 quality and safety areas as compared to colleagues with an associate degree.

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Four-year BSN degrees also make it easier for learners to seek graduate education and better prepare them to pass the NCLEX-RN exam required for licensure. Finding an accredited BSN program is an important step in the journey to become a nurse, as students who fail to do so can struggle to transfer credits, receive licensure, and qualify for jobs. This guide provides answers to common questions and highlights the variety of options available.

Table of Contents

Frequently Asked Questions About BSN Programs

  • Do RNs need a BSN?

    While some employers still hire RNs who possess a nursing diploma or associate degree, more and more hiring managers look for registered nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree.

  • How does a BSN help an RN?

    A bachelor’s degree in nursing helps RNs stand out from candidates who hold a diploma or associate degree, help them earn higher salaries, make it easier to take on leadership roles, and set them up to pursue graduate degrees.

  • Are nurses with BSN degrees in demand?

    Yes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that roles for registered nurses will grow by 12% between 2018 and 2028, creating an additional 371,500 new jobs during that time.

  • When will a BSN be mandatory for nurses?

    While no specific deadline has been set, in 2010 the Institute of Medicine stated that 80% of RNs across the globe should hold BSN-level qualifications by 2020. For example, New York state currently requires RNs to complete a BSN within 10 years of initial licensure.

  • Where can BSN-holding nurses work?

    Registered nurses who hold a BSN can work in hospitals and clinics, physicians’ offices, community health facilities, and in government agencies.

  • How long does it take to complete a BSN?

    First-time students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing usually need four years of full-time study to graduate. Accelerated programs can be finished in approximately three years. Students who already hold a diploma or associate degree can graduate in two years.

Types of BSN Programs

There are several types of BSN programs that cater to the individual needs of students. They are divided into traditional, bridge, and online programs, though there are important subtypes within each of these. Keep reading to find the option that works best.

LPN/LVN-to-BSN Programs

Licensed practical/vocational nurses who want to become registered nurses often pursue this path as it builds on the knowledge they previously gained in an LPN/LVN program. Most LPN-to-BSN degrees take 2-3 years to complete, though length varies, especially for students who choose to study part time or at an accelerated pace.

Aside from coursework, learners must also complete several clinical rotations to gain real-world skills. After completing all degree requirements, graduates can sit for the NCLEX-RN examination to receive licensure in their state.

ADN-to-BSN Programs

Registered nurses currently working with an associate degree often choose to update their qualifications to bachelor’s level qualifications. ADN-to-BSN programs help them do so in 18-24 months and can be completed in person or online. Though most ADN graduates already work as RNs, they must still complete clinical hours as part of graduation requirements. If already licensed, however, they are not required to repeat the NCLEX-RN examination. As more and more employers seek RNs who hold a bachelor’s degree, these programs will become more in demand.

RN-to-BSN Program

RN-to-BSN programs support graduates of associate degree and diploma programs in nursing who currently work as a registered nurse but want to build on existing education. These programs take between 1-2 years of full-time study, though alternative paths also exist to extend or shorten this timeline.

If already working as an RN, students can bypass licensure requirements as they did this step previously. They will still need to complete a set number of clinical rotations to qualify for graduation.

Accelerated Second Degree BSN Program

For students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a different field but want to transfer into nursing, accelerated second degree BSNs are a great option. Most degree-seekers finish the program in a year of full-time study, but part-time and accelerated options are also available.

Learners must complete prerequisites before enrolling and take part in substantial clinical hours during the program. After meeting all education requirements and graduating, alumni sit for the NCLEX-RN exam to become a licensed registered nurse in their state of residence.

Traditional BSN Programs

Traditional BSN programs support first-time learners with little or no college experience. These are great for students who know they want to work as an RN and decide to pursue a bachelor’s-level degree. Most BSN degrees require four years of full-time study.

Students should plan to complete approximately 120 credits, including both coursework and clinical hours. Upon meeting all graduation requirements, students take the NCLEX-RN exam to receive licensure in the state where they plan to practice. Traditional BSNs can be found online and in-person.

Advantages of a BSN Degree Program

In years past, diplomas and associate degrees in nursing were a fine option for aspiring registered nurses. But as the field has evolved, more and more employers now look for candidates with a four-year degree — especially hospitals. In early 2019, the Campaign for Nursing’s Future collected data showing that 56% of RNs now hold a bachelor’s degree, up from 49% in 2010. Nurses should expect this number — along with employer expectations — to continue rising in the coming years.

There are many reasons to pursue a BSN. Completing an online BSN degree helps graduates earn higher salaries and compete for leadership roles, while the distance learning format provides the flexibility needed for working RNs. As jobs for RNs continue to grow in the coming years, holding a BSN can also help workers stand out from the competition.

Curriculum in BSN Programs

Most BSN curricula consist of 120-126 credits and incorporate theoretical and practical coursework. Classes taken in the first half of the degree build a foundation for advanced learning and touch on topics such as nursing anatomy and physiology, introduction to professional nursing, statistics for evidence-based practice, and nursing informatics.

The final two years include subjects such as foundations of nursing practice, nursing management, nutrition for clinical practice, and nursing care of children and mothers. To graduate, students must complete a set number of clinical hours and demonstrate competencies in several different practice areas.

Salary and Job Outlook for BSN Degree Holders

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that roles for registered nurses will grow by an impressive 12% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than average for all occupations. Students can expect to see an additional 371,500 jobs added to the more than three million existing positions.

The BLS found that RNs earning a median pay rate brought home $73,300 in 2019, with those in the top 10% of earners receiving more than $111,220 during the same year. Pay depends a lot on where you work, with government employers offering the highest wages and educational services offering the least. Geographic location also plays a role: California both employs the highest number of RNs and pays them the highest salaries. In 2019, California-based RNs earned annual mean wages of $113,240.

Reviewed By:

Medically Reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA

Dr. Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., RN, CRNA, is an advanced practice nurse. She graduated with a Ph.D. 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.

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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