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