RN-to-BSN Degree Overview
An RN-to-BSN (sometimes called a ADN-to-BSN) degree provides a pathway to a baccalaureate degree for nurses who have completed an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma and passed their NCLEX-RN exam.
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Opportunities With a BSN
Good career mobility
Path to advancement
- Clinical and leadership skills
- Case management
- Community participation
- Nursing care of children and adults
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Careers For RN-to-BSN Graduates
How Much Will I Make With a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing?
How to Complete an RN-to-BSN Program
Determine If You Qualify
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Types of Bridge Degree Programs in Nursing
Benefits of an RN-to-BSN Degree
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), hospitals, and other employers increasingly view the BSN degree as the minimal preparation for professional nursing practice. As nursing roles expand in the changing healthcare environment, registered nurses with BSN degrees will find rewarding employment opportunities in an array of medical settings.
The RN-to-BSN requires about half the time as a traditional bachelor of science in nursing and builds on already acquired nursing experience and training. This type of program can often be completed entirely online. An RN-to-BSN also provides a strong academic foundation for graduate studies in advanced practice nursing.
While hospitals continue to rank among the major employers of RNs, BSN-holders can expect to enter a variety of nursing roles beyond traditional inpatient treatment and acute care. The RN-to-BSN opens up careers in community health clinics, outpatient centers, HMOs, schools, and homecare, where professionals provide primary and preventive patient care.
Admission Requirements for an RN-to-BSN Program
Although eligibility requirements vary by school, all RN-to-BSN programs only admit applicants who hold a state-issued RN license in good standing. Most programs take 1-2 years to complete. Students with an RN license who have completed their associate degree in nursing may choose to enter accelerated bridge programs, therefore finishing their degree in 9-12 months depending on the number of prerequisites accepted in transfer.
Applications for most nursing programs must meet/exceed or submit the following requirements:
- Minimum 3.0 GPA in previously completed courses
- Official transcripts
- Prerequisites in statistics and science
- 2-3 letters of recommendation
- Personal statement and resume
- Criminal background check and vaccination records
Core Concepts in an RN-to-BSN Program
While an ADN or diploma program emphasizes entry-level nursing skills in preparation for the NCLEX-RN exam, the BSN provides a foundation in general education courses from across the liberal arts and sciences coupled with training in generalist nursing with applications in a variety of healthcare settings. The RN-to-BSN curriculum covers advanced nursing competencies not typically offered in associate or diploma programs.
In addition to foundational courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, microbiology, and pharmacology, BSN students can expect coursework in the following areas:
- Health Assessment and Communication
- Nursing Theory
- Management and Leadership
- Evidence-Based Practice and Applied Nursing Research
- Community Health
- Population-Focused Nursing
While most programs focus on generalist practice, some programs offer content in specialized areas such as nursing informatics, sociocultural issues in health and illness, and forensic nursing.
Clinical and Lab Components in an RN-to-BSN Program
Besides the didactic, lecture-based curriculum offered by RN-to-BSN programs, this program may include practical training in clinical and lab components:
Clinical experiences designed to teach various skills and procedures in low-free environments
Closely supervised hands-on field experiences that teach patient care skills, caring for communities, implementing evidence-based practice and health promotion interventions
Working nurses completing an RN-to-BSN program can often meet these clinical requirements in their current work setting.
What to Expect From an Online RN-to-BSN Program
An online RN-to-BSN degree offers a flexible option for RNs seeking a bachelor's degree while working full-time and/or keeping up with family responsibilities. Before choosing an online program, nursing students need to consider whether distance learning fits their personal needs and situation.
For example, some online programs include mandatory on-campus sessions or use blended formats incorporating some campus-based courses. While online nursing education offers convenient and accessible virtual delivery of the didactic, classroom-based segment of the degree, all students must complete clinical hours in person. Some programs allow RNs to fulfill clinical requirements where they work or find placements near their communities. However, some nursing schools require online learners to complete their clinical experiences at specific hospitals or sites requiring travel that may not be convenient.
Nursing Bridge Programs: How Do They Work?
Bridge programs refer to accelerated instructional plans that provide a quick route to a nursing degree. Bridge programs generally allow working or prospective nurses to build on prior coursework to earn a higher-level degree. RN-to-BSN bridge programs accept RNs with a valid license and an associate degree or nursing diploma. This degree path leads to a bachelor's in half the time of a traditional BSN. ADN-to-MSN bridge programs offer an accelerated path to an MSN degree and a career in advanced practice nursing.
Students without a BSN who want to pursue nursing can also take advantage of bridge programs. An accelerated BSN designed for non-nursing degree-holders requires less than two years of study. The direct-entry MSN takes approximately one year to complete BSN requirements followed by two years of graduate coursework.
ADN vs BSN: What's the Difference?
The AACN, the primary professional organization for nurses, has championed the BSN degree as the minimal educational qualification for nurses. Healthcare employers, while continuing to hire RNs with ADN or diploma degrees, increasingly prefer highly skilled nurses prepared for professional roles beyond the traditional hospital inpatient settings. Recent studies support the quality of patient care provided by BSN-trained nurses.
- Two years of study or less depending on the program; 60 credits; provides prerequisite courses needed to transfer into a BSN
- Focuses primarily on general education courses and basic clinical skills; prepares graduates for the NCLEX-RN exam
- Provides the fastest educational path to a nursing career in hospitals, outpatient facilities, doctor's offices, and home healthcare; less expensive than a bachelor's degree
- ADN and RN licensure serve as the minimal requirements to practice legally in most states.
- 4-year baccalaureate degree; two years or less for licensed RNs or prospective nurses with an associate degree; 120 credits; provides strong academic foundation to pursue MSN and doctoral degrees
- Curriculum includes general education courses, nursing prerequisites, and training in generalist nursing practice, leadership, and management
- Prepares graduates for the NCLEX-RN exam if they did not enter the program as licensed RNs
- Higher salaries and more employment opportunities than RNs in clinical and administrative roles
- An increasing number of states and employers recognize the BSN as the minimum required degree for RN nursing positions.
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Theresa Granger, Ph.D., MN, NP-C
With over two decades of teaching and clinical practice as a family nurse practitioner, Dr. Granger is an expert in nursing education and clinical practice at all levels of education (associate, baccalaureate, and graduate). She has published and lectured extensively on nursing education and clinical practice-related content. Her expertise ranges from student advising and mentoring to curricular and content design (both on ground and online) to teaching and formal course delivery. Dr. Granger is one of the founding faculty members of the University of Southern California’s first ever fully online graduate family nurse practitioner program.