Earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) qualifies you to become a registered nurse, one of the nation's fastest-growing professions. A BSN is also a step toward more specialized and supervisory positions, such as nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner.
Most bachelor's programs in nursing consist of 120 credits and require about four years of full-time study. In addition to taking general education classes, students also explore topics like clinical pharmacology, pathophysiology, and end-of-life and palliative care. Most programs also require students to participate in a supervised clinical experience, commonly known as a practicum.
This page provides an overview of online BSN programs, including additional information on accreditation, admission requirements, common coursework, and possible career paths.
What Is Nursing?
Nursing is a profession dedicated to the care of individual patients, families, and communities. In general, nurses work under the supervision of a licensed physician, though nurse practitioners and other senior-level professionals may diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and perform other services normally associated with primary care providers. Nurses often specialize in a particular discipline. For example, an addiction nurse may support patients struggling with substance abuse, while a public health nurse may oversee an immunization clinic.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for registered nurses will increase by 12% from 2018 to 2028, more than double the projected rate of growth for the rest of the economy. Demand for nurse practitioners should increase even faster, with a projected growth rate of 26% during that same time period. According to the BLS, much of this growth will be driven by an increasingly aging population, a greater emphasis on preventive care, and the need to reduce overall healthcare costs.
Our program guide provides all the information you need to decide where to earn your online BSN, including detailed breakdowns of accreditation, curricula, concentrations, and accelerated options.
What You Can Do With a Bachelor's in Nursing
BSN programs prepare you to work in a number of healthcare settings, including traditional hospitals, emergency rooms, family physician offices, and specialist departments. Nurses need to cultivate a great deal of patience and strong time management and interpersonal skills, as their jobs require them to balance several simultaneous tasks.
- Registered Nurses
RNs work in a variety of nursing settings, including trauma centers, emergency rooms, pediatrics, and obstetrics. A BSN degree provides higher earning potential and more job opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $71,730
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 12%
- Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
These professionals work in a range of medical and healthcare settings, collecting different types of fluid samples and testing for abnormalities. A bachelor's degree in nursing provides the training needed for this field and prepares students for required technical licensure.
Median Annual Salary: $52,330
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
LPNs and VPNs earn postsecondary vocational degrees that allow them to practice in specific but limited roles. Many of these nurses go on to earn their BSN, which allows them to become RNs or take on supervisory roles and earn higher salaries.
Median Annual Salary: $46,240
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 11%
With some postsecondary vocational training, phlebotomists serve as the technicians responsible for drawing blood and collecting samples for medical tests, blood donations, and transfusions. Generally, employers require at least a professional certification in phlebotomy.
Median Annual Salary: $34,480
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 23%
Nurses enjoy some of the best job prospects in the nation. Check out our career guide to learn more about education and licensure requirements, projected employment growth, and earning potential across various roles in the field.
What to Expect in a Bachelor's in Nursing Program
Online BSN programs provide foundational instruction in subjects like health promotion and wellness, research- and evidence-based nursing practice, and interprofessional practice and quality improvement. Nursing students can also use electives or a formal concentration to prepare for more specialized roles. If you plan to become a nurse supervisor, for example, you
may benefit from courses in personnel management and regulatory compliance. If you are interested in nursing research, you may want to take classes in quantitative and qualitative analysis to prepare for continued study at the graduate level. You can find additional examples of common courses below.
Most programs require students to complete a period of supervised experience in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or health center. In addition to providing the opportunity to apply classroom learning to real-world issues in nursing, field experience is a requirement for licensure in most states.
Most online BSN programs take four years of full-time study to complete. Learners who already hold an associate degree in nursing or currently work as a registered nurse can potentially graduate in as little as two years.
- Community Health Nursing
- This course focuses on population-based health concepts such as community health assessment, risk appraisal, and public health education. Students learn how to lead community health efforts like blood drives and tobacco cessation efforts.
- Health Informatics
- In this class, students develop both theoretical and hands-on knowledge of health information management systems. The course also emphasizes the importance of maintaining the privacy of patient data.
- Health Assessment
- One of a nurse's primary responsibilities is assessing a patient's health status. Students in this class learn to interview patients, read health histories, and consider cultural and psychosocial factors in their assessments.
- Pharmacology is the study and use of drugs and other medications. To effectively dispense and monitor pharmacological treatments, nursing students learn about associated biological processes, physiological effects, and chemical interactions.
- Management of Care
- Students who aspire to supervisory roles often complete coursework in care and personnel management. Through the use of case studies and field experiences, these classes help students hone leadership skills.
Dr. Gloria Huerta
Dr. Gloria Huerta has worked as a nurse in many settings, but her passion is emergency and disaster management. After completing her BSN at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas, she moved to California to work as a medical-surgical RN.
Dr. Huerta continued her education by earning her master's in nursing at Loma Linda University, a postgraduate family nurse practitioner (FNP) certificate at Azusa Pacific University, a doctor of nursing practice at Western University of Health Sciences, and a postgraduate adult gerontology nurse practitioner (AGNP) certificate at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
Dr. Huerta has taught at community colleges and universities throughout Southern California and is the coordinator for the AGNP and FNP programs at Loma Linda University. She continues to work as a nurse practitioner and for 20 years has operated a private practice in Riverside, CA.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in nursing? Was it something that always interested you?
When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to have a profession in healthcare. My plan was to be a physician so that I could use those skills to help others. I discovered that I was not repulsed by bleeding wounds or vomiting patients or even minor to moderate trauma. I finished high school during the Vietnam era. We were seeing serious injuries that we had not been exposed to before on television news. I began to feel like I could help others.
My father was career military and he wanted me to be a nurse. He had hoped that I would join the Army like him and serve in that way. However, I was accepted to a small Southern Baptist university near where I grew up and received scholarships and grants that would pay for most of my education if I selected nursing as my major. I also completed a minor in sociology as I wanted to have a greater focus than healthcare. The nursing program at this university was well-respected and the clinical rotations were at premier clinical sites. I knew that I had made the correct decision.
- What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
Immediately after college graduation and after passing my two-day state board nursing exam, I applied and was accepted to Texas A&M University as a graduate teaching assistant in sociology and anthropology. I found that I missed nursing, so I worked part time in the local hospital as a medical surgical nurse and also spent my “free time” doing mission work. Part of that was in the Imperial and Coachella Valley. I found that I really enjoyed the area, so I moved to Southern California one year after graduation from college and was hired as a medical-surgical nurse at a small community hospital. That work seemed rather tame, so I transitioned to being an acute and chronic dialysis nurse, then to surgical intensive care unit (SICU) nursing, and finally to emergency medicine (EM), where I have been for about 35 years.
During my early time in emergency medicine, I attended Loma Linda University and earned my clinical nurse specialist (CNS) certification in adults and aging with a focus on education. That opened the door for me to become the first emergency medical services (EMS) director for Riverside County and to work with others to establish a premier EMS system. From there, I was hired as one of the first registered nurses for a fire department and used my CNS skills to develop an emergency medical technician (EMT) upgrade program for the fire department. It became the foundation for the existing EMT program. I also worked with volunteers and the board of supervisors to establish the largest automated external defibrillation (AED) program west of the Mississippi, using primarily grant and donated funds to purchase the devices.
That role led me back to school to complete the family nurse practitioner program and work with patients in primary and urgent care settings. I continued to teach part time for universities and colleges, completed my doctorate in nursing practice (DNP), and was eventually wooed back to the School of Nursing at Loma Linda University to enhance and improve the nurse practitioner programs. I continue to serve on a federal disaster medical assistance team (DMAT) and could be deployed to disasters or emergency situations nationally and internationally as a nurse practitioner by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- What do you love about working as a nurse?
I love the flexibility that nursing gives me. I have had the opportunity to work in many nontraditional nursing settings. Nurses also have a very unique perspective in healthcare that stresses the importance of wholeness and holiness. Our education and our professional experiences permit us to epitomize the Loma Linda motto of “Making Man Whole.” We have the ability to listen to patients and their families in order to understand the physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and psychological issues that are impacting them. This makes nurses the best healthcare providers.
My nursing education and certifications continue to provide me opportunities for mission work, volunteer work in my community, and even opportunities to travel as part of my disaster role on the DMAT. I can share my knowledge and skills with patients, with students, and with peers through publications and presentations.
- What are some of the most challenging aspects of working in nursing?
There are several challenges. One is working with other healthcare professionals to educate them about the skills and capabilities of nurses and earning the respect of those professionals. Nurses need to obtain educational credentials to be able to “sit at the table” with decision-makers for healthcare -- the medical community and decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels. Many nurses are not comfortable in those roles, so educators must develop innovative teaching and simulation strategies to permit nursing students to practice those skills in safe environments.
Another challenge is meeting the needs of the patients. As bedside or acute care nurses, we have to be the advocate for patients and their families to other providers and healthcare institutions. As an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), we must look for ways to provide high-quality, cost-effective care -- even to those without insurance or whose insurance may not cover needed tests, medications, and even hospitalizations.
Finally, all nurses must be able to address their own personal self-care -- leaving work issues at work and taking care of their own families and loved ones as well as themselves. This must be deliberate and planned or the nurse will not be effective in any role.
- How much time do you spend on continuing education, either as a requirement for your profession or for your own personal growth in the field?
I don’t know if I can quantify this. Nurses are lifelong learners, and some of the continuing education is planned and deliberate as we are required to meet state licensure requirements and national certification requirements. For California, we must complete 30 hours of approved continuing education (CE) every two years. For national nurse practitioner certification and my national disaster healthcare worker certification, I need to acquire 100 hours of approved CE every five years and meet a minimum number of hours working in my profession. The School of Nursing [at Linda Loma University] also requires education in certain categories annually for continuing our teaching roles.
I find that I learn something new every week. In order to stay ahead of my doctoral nurse practitioner students, I must review the latest information on evidence-based practice for topics that we will be covering for their courses. I also need to make sure I am providing the highest quality care to my patients in primary care and urgent care. That means that I am always reading and learning.
- What advice would you give to individuals considering a degree and a career in nursing?
Nursing is not for the faint of heart. Becoming a nurse to earn a fantastic salary is not the reason to go to nursing school or to become a nurse practitioner. Anyone interested in nursing needs to be sure that they want to care for people in all situations. It may seem trite, but nurses must be willing and able to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nursing is not always glamorous. Patients, families and even other healthcare workers are not always pleasant or nice. However, nursing can be the most rewarding profession for anyone with the right heart and the right attitude.
Anyone considering a degree in nursing needs to be focused and know that becoming a nurse is not easy -- but it is worthwhile. They must stay focused in school and also develop a balance of work, school, family, and “me” time. They need to develop computer skills and become technology experts. Not only will they gain knowledge and skills that will be valuable at home and within the profession, but they will also gain great friendships to last a lifetime.
- What are some of the skills someone considering pursuing a career in nursing must have to be successful?
Some of the skills needed are innate but can be honed in nursing school. Those include compassion and empathy. Individuals entering nursing should have a servant’s heart and have a desire to serve others. They need to always treat others as they would want to be treated and to treat others as they would treat their family members. Every patient has unique needs and is or was loved by someone. The nurse may need to be the one who shows them love now. Nurses need to hone leadership abilities; we must lead our teams and the patients by being good examples.
Anyone entering nursing must always be professional at school and in the clinical setting. Humor and having fun is important, but we need to take care of business first. There are many kinesthetic skills that a nurse must possess, and many of those will be learned in school. However, with the growth of distance education, today’s nursing students must be digital natives, computer literate, and willing to do the work to research topics using electronic databases. They must be open-minded yet focused. They must have outstanding time management skills. They must develop excellent communication skills -- verbal and written. They must have a desire to continue lifelong learning to be the best nurse possible.
- Any final thoughts for us?
Being a nurse and a nurse practitioner is so rewarding for me. I took a long journey to get to where I am today and stopped many times to work and raise a family. I would encourage today’s nurses to continue their formal education early and take advantage of programs like the BS-to-DNP and BS-to-Ph.D. programs that permit nurses to earn important terminal degrees and advanced practice certifications in less than four years. It took me 15 years to get to the same place.
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Nursing Program
Be sure to choose an accredited bachelor's in nursing program. Two main agencies accredit nursing programs: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
If your program does not hold either CCNE or ACEN accreditation, make sure that your school is regionally accredited to offer undergraduate degrees. To receive accreditation, schools must demonstrate they have met certain academic standards and prepare students for careers in their chosen fields. Attending an unaccredited program may limit your professional opportunities or disqualify you from some financial aid programs. You can check both programmatic and regional accreditation on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's online database.
In addition to accreditation, remember to also consider the following three factors.
- Available Concentrations: Find a program that offers concentrations aligned with your professional aspirations. For example, if you want to work with the elderly, make sure your program features a specialization or substantial coursework in gerontological nursing.
- Field Experience: Clinical experience is a requirement for licensure in all states. If you have not already worked as a registered nurse, find a program with practicum placement sites in your area.
- Cost and Financial Aid: The overall cost of your education should be one of your top considerations in choosing a program. Public schools generally cost less than private institutions, and many states provide financial aid to aspiring nurses.
Bachelor's in Nursing Program Admissions
Admission requirements can vary considerably by program. For example, RN-to-BSN programs allow students to graduate in just two years, but prospective students must currently hold a nursing license to apply. Four-year programs generally do not require professional experience, but you may need to take the ACT or SAT. Below are three of the most common requirements for online nursing programs.
- High School Diploma/GED
- Minimum GPA/Entrance Exam Score
- Nursing License (for accelerated RN-to-BSN programs)
- You may have to apply separately to the university and the specific nursing program at that school. Undergraduate admissions departments often accept the Common App.
- You need to send official transcripts from all schools you've attended, both high school and college. These official transcripts must come directly from the school's registrar and generally require you to pay a small fee.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Some programs require letters of recommendation. These should come from professors, teachers, and other mentors who can speak to your experience and strengths as a student. Try to give recommenders at least four weeks' notice prior to the deadline.
- Test Scores
- Most undergraduate programs require you to send ACT or SAT scores. You may also need to take the TEAS exam, although this depends on the specific program. Score requirements may also vary by school.
- Application Fee
- You will likely have to pay a fee for each application you submit. These fees are usually between $30 and $60. Some schools offer waivers for applicants who demonstrate financial hardship.
Resources for Bachelor's in Nursing Students
This website provides free resources including online learning modules, helpful applications, quizzes, and an online library for students in nursing school and practicing nurses.
All nursing students eventually have to take the NCLEX exam. This free online resource provides practice questions and learning modules for students preparing for the test.
Since most nursing programs require courses in pharmacology, nursing students may find this online pharmaceutical database especially helpful. Students can learn about prescription and nonprescription drugs through a simple user interface.
This website provides resources for students and practicing nurses alike, including an informative blog, clinical publications, articles, and helpful tips on succeeding in nursing school.
This online resource offers pointers on crafting a nursing resume, applying to jobs, and preparing for exams.