Four-Year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Programs


Updated November 22, 2022 · 5 Min Read

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The traditional route to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) spans four years and admits high school graduates. Read on for details about four-year BSN programs.
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A smiling mid-adult African American nursing student is sitting in class with her colleagues. She has short, curly black hair, and is wearing teal green scrubs. Her laptop and notepad are open so she is ready to take notes during class. She is looking directly at the camera. Credit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

Opportunities With a BSN

partial online offering
clinical hours required
Good career mobility
Most administrative and supervisory positions require a BSN.
Path to advancement
Grants entry to master’s or doctoral nursing programs, leading to career advancement and higher salaries.
Job potential
With a BSN, a range of specialized nursing jobs outside of the traditional floor nursing is available.
Skills Learned
Clinical and leadership skills, case management, community participation, nursing care of children and adults
A smiling mid-adult African American nursing student is sitting in class with her colleagues. She has short, curly black hair, and is wearing teal green scrubs. Her laptop and notepad are open so she is ready to take notes during class. She is looking directly at the camera.

Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

What To Expect From a Traditional BSN Program

While curriculum content and timelines vary by program, the University of Washington's (UW) BSN program offers a general idea of the traditional, four-year nursing school progression during each year of study. BSN students typically spend the first two years completing prerequisite coursework and their final two years immersed in their nursing studies.

Year One

Applicants begin with prerequisite coursework. UW's School of Nursing, for example, requires 90 quarter credit hours, with a 2.0 cumulative GPA and at least a 2.0 in each course. Students might also consider volunteer work at a hospital or healthcare facility during their first two years to gain experience and augment their applications.

Sample Year One Courses:

  • English composition
  • Mathematics: algebra with applications, precalculus, calculus with analytic geometry
  • Nutrition
  • Philosophy: practical reasoning or introduction to logic
  • Principles of chemistry
  • Statistical reasoning or elements of statistical methods
  • Survey of physiology and elementary physiology lab
  • Visual, literary, and performing arts classes

Year Two

During their second year, students complete their remaining prerequisite coursework and apply to nursing schools. Candidates must have enough time to order transcripts, arrange for recommendation letters, and write personal statements. Some four-year nursing programs require an entrance exam (HESI or the Test of Essential Academic Skills), which requires preparation, as well. Students should also plan to prepare for nursing program interviews, if required.

Sample Year Two Courses:

  • Accelerated (honors) calculus
  • Chemistry covering general, organic, and biochemistry
  • Intermediate logic
  • Introduction to probability and statistics
  • General microbiology with lab
  • Growth and development through the lifespan
  • Literature and medicine
  • Preparing for college writing

Year Three

Once students begin nursing school, their workloads increase and intensify. Four-year nursing schools usually discourage employment during the final two years of BSN programs, due to the full slate of nursing coursework, labs, seminars, and practicum hours focusing on clinical practice and specific patient populations. We've compiled the following course lists from the UW School of Nursing.

Sample Year Three Courses:

  • Health assessments
  • Healthcare systems and policy
  • Health equity
  • Foundational skills for professional nurses
  • Foundations in pharmacotherapeutics and pathophysiology
  • Fundamentals of nursing practice for illness care
  • Introduction to research
  • Populations health through community health nursing partnerships

Year Four

The fourth year typically includes classes at least three days a week, one 6-8-hour day of clinical work, and a significant amount of homework. In general, for every credit hour of coursework, learners should expect a minimum of two hours spent reading, writing, and studying. In addition, students must look ahead to their NCLEX-RN licensure exam and begin preparing at least six months before their test date.

Sample Year Four Courses:

  • Ambulatory care
  • Care coordination and case management
  • Child health
  • Informatics, patient safety, and quality improvement
  • Foundations of interprofessional practice
  • Nursing care of childbearing families
  • Psychosocial nursing in health and illness
  • Transition to professional practice

Featured Online BSN Programs

Admission Requirements for a Traditional BSN Program

Four-year nursing programs maintain distinct application requirements and timelines, but a program beginning in the fall typically sets a January or February deadline to apply. Students should begin assembling their application materials early, particularly if the program requires test scores. Common admission requirements for four-year BSN programs include the following:

  • Prerequisite coursework
  • Online application
  • Minimum 2.5 GPA (potentially higher for individual courses)
  • High school transcripts (and college transcripts, if applicable)
  • Test scores
  • 2-3 letters of recommendation (professional or academic)
  • A personal essay or letter outlining academic and career goals and reasons for pursuing a nursing degree
  • Volunteer/work experience (50-100 hours)
  • Interview with admissions department (in-person, pre-recorded, or virtual)
  • Resume or CV
  • Writing sample or short-essay question responses

Traditional BSN vs. Bridge Programs

As opposed to traditional BSN programs, bridge programs serve nurses who already possess RN or licensed practical nurse licenses. Bridge programs commonly offer online and full-time or part-time options that provide flexibility for working nurses.

They can also streamline the process of earning separate degrees. For example, an RN with an ADN can pursue a master of science in nursing (MSN) via an RN-to-MSN bridge program to bypass the four-year traditional BSN. RN-to-BSN bridge programs onlineallow RNs with ADNs or nursing diplomas to earn their BSNs in 18-24 months of full-time study.

Traditional BSN vs. Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs enable applicants with bachelor's degrees in non-nursing fields to transfer undergraduate credits and fulfill general education and prerequisite coursework requirements. ABSNs allow some students to finish in 1-2 years.

Many programs only accept applications from candidates with GPAs of 3.0 or higher. The full-time, compressed nature of the ABSN curriculum makes it quite rigorous. Other admission requirements mirror those of four-year BSN programs. At some nursing schools, ABSN students can take classes online and complete their clinical hours at hospitals and medical facilities near their homes.

Featured BSN Specialties

Beyond working in hospitals as RNs, individuals with a BSN degree find careers as geriatric nurses, OBGYN nurses, and neonatal nurses. Check out the descriptions below to learn more about these specialty occupations.

adn or bsn Required
High Demand

Registered Nurse

RNs work in hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices, and other medical facilities, caring for and educating patients and their families about treatments and health maintenance.
Salary $73,300*
Job Outlook 7% growth from 2019-29
Learn More About Registered Nurses
rn license Required

Geriatric Nurse

These professionals work with elderly patients and specialize in dementia, osteoporosis, and other diseases that affect older adults. They also assist with basic living activities.
Salary $64,870*
Job Outlook positive growth in coming years
Learn More About Geriatric Nurses
adn or bsn Required


As specialists working with obstetricians and gynecologists, these nurses care for women throughout pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
Salary $60,000*
Job Outlook 7% growth from 2019-29
Learn More About OBGYN Nurses
asn or bsn Required

Travel Nurse

Travel nurses work on a contract basis and temporarily help in physicians' offices, hospitals, and clinics. They may be self-employed or receive assignments through agencies.
Salary $79,000*
Job Outlook 7% growth from 2019-29
Learn More About Travel Nurses
adn or bsn Required

Neonatal Nurse

These professionals care for newborns in neonatal intensive care units, treating premature babies and infants with illnesses until they gain enough strength to go home.
Salary $60,797*
Job Outlook 7% growth from 2019-29
Learn More About Neonatal Nurses
*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

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Reviewed by:

Portrait of Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.

Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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