Top Advantages of a BSN Degree

Meg Lambrych, RN-BC
Updated May 22, 2024
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The advantages of a BSN include a shorter path to graduate-level education, more earning potential, and higher NCLEX-RN pass rates.
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Graduates with a nursing diploma or associate degree in nursing (ADN) can apply for registered nurse (RN) licenses, but spending the extra time to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) can lead to advantages.

BSN-holders can qualify to work at Magnet hospitals and earn a graduate degree in nursing faster. They may also qualify for more job opportunities in niche nursing fields because of their expanded coursework. Many acute care hospitals and public health agencies only hire BSN nurses.

What does a BSN do? A four-year BSN program provides a liberal arts education, teaches fundamental nursing skills through clinicals and labs, and introduces students to advanced nursing topics like leadership and informatics. However, some qualified applicants, such as licensed RNs and individuals with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, may enter accelerated tracks and finish sooner.

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The BSN Push: A Historical Perspective

You can pursue two different degree paths to become a registered nurse: a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN.

Both programs provide equivalent education and clinical skills, prepare you for the national licensure exam (NCLEX-RN), and result in the same title of registered nurse (RN). Historically, diploma and ADN programs are more common in rural and low-income areas and are the primary entry point into the nursing profession for many nurses from under-represented and marginalized communities.

The push for BSN preparation led by the American Nurses Association (ANA) began in the 1960s, when black nurses were formally allowed to join the organization after the last state was forced to integrate them in 1964. Coincidentally, in 1965, the ANA published a position paper recommending that a BSN should be a minimum requirement for nurses entering the profession.

At the time, there was no evidence comparing patient care quality or outcomes of BSN-prepared nurses to those of other educational tracts.

Since then, it has become standard practice in nursing education to encourage all registered nurses to pursue a BSN degree. “It is the culture of nursing education — the higher the degree, the more skilled one is expected or believed to be — even if this is not true,” said Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW.

While proponents of BSNs being the minimum requirement for registered nurses point to a few studies claiming that BSN nurses provide better patient care, some nursing education experts disagree.

UNC nurse specialist Patrick McMurray, MSN, RN believes significant political forces have pushed the narrative that BSN nurses are better prepared. He specifically points to the small number of studies on the subject and the inherent flaws in their study design.

For example, the existing research does not distinguish between ADN nurses, BSN nurses who started as ADN nurses, and those who pursued a BSN directly. This flaw in the research design has enormous implications because it’s impossible to calculate the impact of a nurse’s bedside experience versus their formal education’s role in their patient outcomes.

“It’s incredibly difficult to compare patient outcomes — or even pay — directly between BSN-prepared nurses and non-BSN-prepared nurses. Recent research conducted at the UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services showed that most BSN nurses tend to cluster in higher-paying and higher-resourced hospitals in more populated areas, which would certainly affect both,” McMurray shares.

Yvette Conyers, DNP, RN, associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, agrees. “There’s little evidence comparing BSN-prepared nurses to other degree programs. However, we do know that the BSN requirement has significant implications for the diversity of the nursing population in America. ADN, licensed practical nurse (LPN), and diploma programs are over-represented by nurses of color and nurses from other historically marginalized groups.”

One study published in Nursing Outlook in 2021 showed that ADN degrees are the primary entry point for historically excluded and disadvantaged groups into the nursing profession. The aggressive push to eliminate these types of programs without adequate resources and energy applied to make nursing education more accessible disproportionately affects nurses of color. A move that the American Nurses Association admitted directly contributed to racism in nursing.

While the leading nursing education organizations have decided that it’s in the best interest of all nurses to pursue a BSN degree, according to the nursing education experts we spoke to, this assertion is based on little data. While a BSN degree has significant advantages, all nurses who graduate from accredited degree programs provide invaluable patient care and play an essential role in American healthcare.

The Top Advantages of a BSN Degree

The advantages of a BSN degree include a shorter path to graduate-level education, more earning potential, higher NCLEX-RN passing rates, and additional classes.

1. Possibly More Earning Potential

While Payscale reports that BSN-prepared nurses earn more on average than ADN-prepared nurses, that isn’t always the case. Calculating nursing salaries in the U.S. is notoriously tricky due to the vast differences in cost of living and pay from region to region.

Patrick McMurray, MSN, RN, shares his experience with BSN pay differentials. “Some hospitals do have a small pay differential for BSN-prepared nurses. But often those are hospitals in cities and highly populated areas with significantly higher cost of living, so you really have to look at the whole picture.”

There is no hard and fast rule regarding salary and earning potential for nurses because each hospital system has its own pay scale. So, while some jobs may pay more for a BSN, ask about pay differentials while negotiating your salary.

2. Expanded Career Advancement Opportunities

In the past, management positions required a BSN degree. Still, the goalpost continues to move as most healthcare professions require higher degrees for the same jobs. For example, according to McMurray, many jobs that used to require a BSN, such as a nurse manager, now require a master’s degree. Other positions, such as tenured professorship or hospital nursing executive, now require a doctorate of nursing practice. For this reason, starting with a BSN may become the new expectation.

3. Additional Coursework

One significant benefit of a BSN degree is the additional coursework that a longer degree program affords. These programs include evidence-based practice, a course that teaches you how to read and interpret primary research, nursing leadership, and community health. These courses are not offered in ADN or LPN programs. They can open doors to lesser-known nursing careers, such as informatics, quality assurance, public health, and more non-bedside opportunities.

4. Many Employers Prefer BSN-prepared Nurses

Because of the significant push within the field to make the BSN a requirement, many job postings include “BSN-preferred but not required.”

Yvette Conyers, DNP, RN states that there is no functional difference in skill or ability between BSN and ADN-prepared registered nurses. According to Conyers, more research is needed to accurately quantify meaningful differences in the quality of care provided between LPN, ADN, diploma, and BSN-prepared nurses. One study published in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing echoes that sentiment and pointed out a surprising lack of research on ADN programs in general.

Clarke says the BSN RNs having more authority and being able to do more or different tasks than an ADN RN is a misconception. “The job roles are the same for BSN and ADN RNs,” she says.

Thus, the exact job requirements for each role vary for each hospital.

5. Qualifies Graduates to Work in Magnet Hospitals

However, hospitals pursuing Magnet status are incentivized to hire BSN-prepared nurses. To remain accredited, they must maintain an 80% BSN nurse threshold. Most hospitals hope to achieve that accreditation. So, while there are no significant differences in skill or job titles, most healthcare systems prefer BSN nurses.

“Many RNs (myself included before I became an NP), prefer to work at Magnet institutions because they have stricter patient/RN staffing ratios, more opportunities, and a clear nursing hierarchy,” said Clarke.

6. It May Soon Be Required

Nearly all nursing education organizations are committed to establishing BSN nursing education as the only option for nurses in America. For example, in December 2017, New York State enacted a law that requires all registered nurses to get their BSN within ten years of initial licensure. So, a BSN degree may soon be required universally despite a lack of solid evidence that BSN-prepared nurses provide better quality care and the mandate’s negative effects on diversity in nursing.

7. Shorter Bridge to Higher Education

A shorter path toward higher education is another massive benefit of the BSN degree. “If one is planning to obtain an MSN, there are more BSN-to-MSN programs than RN-to-MSN programs, plus the BSN-to-MSN programs tend to be shorter than the RN-to-MSN programs,” Clarke said.

If you wish to become a nurse practitioner, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, a nurse educator, or a researcher, you must receive a bachelor’s degree or complete BSN coursework before starting a graduate program.

8. Higher NCLEX-RN Pass Rates

BSN-prepared nurses have higher first-time NCLEX-RN pass rates than other degree programs, which makes sense because these programs allow more time and require more classes than shorter degree programs, such as those for LPNs and ADNs.

However, it should be noted that this is only by a few percentage points in many cases. Regardless of degree type, most accredited nursing programs in the U.S. do an excellent job of preparing their students for licensure.

Why the BSN Conversation Isn’t as Simple as It Seems

While a BSN is a wonderful pursuit, the overly simplified narrative that it produces better nurses and should be required as a baseline has significantly worsened diversity in the nursing population, harming marginalized communities and nurses from disadvantaged backgrounds. And unlike the differences between BSN and ADN patient outcomes, we know definitively that marginalized communities are directly harmed by a lack of diversity in their healthcare teams.

The average age of an RN in the U.S. was 52 in 2020, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 193,100 average annual openings for registered nurses between 2022 and 2032. An aging nursing workforce combined with a substantial aging general population has resulted in a greater need for nurses than ever before.

Few Unique Advantages to a BSN Degree

BSN advantages include additional coursework, a shorter path to advanced nursing careers, more salary negotiating power, and a greater chance of being hired at a Magnet hospital. However, pay, job qualifications, and advancement opportunities vary more by the employer than by degree level.

“There are not really any differences or advantages other than perhaps a slightly higher salary range for BSN RNs due to having a higher degree and not having the pressure of having to obtain a BSN within a certain time frame,” Clarke said.

Furthermore, little research has studied the connection between nursing degree level and quality of care. Many nurses begin their career as an LPN or with a diploma or ADN and go on to receive their BSN through a hospital-sponsored program.

Should Nurses Start Their Nursing Career with a BSN?

Start your nursing career with a degree that meets your career goals, fits your schedule, and fits your budget. “I would not say that the benefits of a BSN are so much more than an ADN. If getting an ADN first is less stressful, more affordable, and leads to employment faster than wading through a BSN program, I would definitely suggest going to an ADN RN program first and obtaining a BSN later,” said Clarke.

Prospective nursing students should not feel pressured to get a degree that provides the same nursing skills as other accredited nursing programs.

No matter which educational entry point into nursing you choose, the job outlook for nurses is higher than average, and your contributions to patient care will be significant.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Advantages of Earning a BSN

A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree is traditionally a four-year degree program, but there are also accelerated BSN programs for people with a bachelor’s degree in another field. A BSN nursing degree qualifies you to take the NCLEX-RN and become a registered nurse.

Page last reviewed on April 16, 2024

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