Earning your bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) will open the door to a new career in a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts nursing will grow 15% by 2024 -- a rate double the average. Nurses provide important services to communities, and the demand for these professionals won't likely subside in the coming years.
Choosing the right BSN program is important; there are factors you should consider when you begin the process of earning your degree in nursing. In this guide, you'll find information on traditional BSN programs, as well as accelerated BSN programs for students hoping to finish their degree and enter the field sooner.
Should I Get a BSN?
BSN programs require a great deal of work and a strong commitment to academics. Many nursing programs, both on-campus and online, emphasize subjects that require focus and time. In addition to coursework, nursing students complete clinicals to practice skills and gain valuable work experience. Online programs are a great, flexible option for working professionals.
Nursing programs provide training in patient care, including monitoring vital signs, administering medications, and CPR, as well as concentrations, such as trauma or pediatrics. While earning your degree, take advantage of networking and valuable services like job placement assistance and access to internships. Once you've graduated, a BSN can give you a potentially higher salary.
What Can I Do With a BSN?
The training provided in BSN programs prepares you to work in a number of nursing and healthcare roles, from traditional hospitals and emergency rooms to family physician offices and specialist departments. Nurses often possess a great deal of patience, strong time management, and interpersonal skills, as their jobs require them to balance several simultaneous, ongoing tasks.
- Registered Nurses
RN's work in a variety of nursing fields, including trauma centers, emergency rooms, pediatrics, and obstetrics. A BSN degree provides higher earning potential and more potential job opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $70,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
These professionals work in a range of medical and healthcare settings, collecting and testing different types of fluid samples for abnormalities. A bachelor's degree in nursing provides the training needed to succeed in this field, and prepares students for required technical licensure.
Median Annual Salary: $51,770
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
These nurses earn postsecondary vocational degrees that allow them to practice in certain healthcare roles. Many LPNs and LVNs go on to earn their BSN or become a RN, allowing them to take on more supervisory roles and earn a higher salary.
Median Annual Salary: $45,030
Projected Growth Rate: 12%
With some postsecondary vocational training, phlebotomists serve as the technicians responsible for collecting blood samples and drawing blood for medical tests, blood donations, and transfusions. Generally, employers require at least a professional certification in phlebotomy.
Median Annual Salary: $33,670
Projected Growth Rate: 25%
How to Choose a BSN Program
In this guide, you'll learn a bit more about what differentiates BSN programs. First, consider whether an on-campus or an online program suits you best. On-campus programs emphasize hands-on teaching and may ultimately cost more, but students looking for a more traditional college experience may find these programs more appealing. Online programs provide a flexible option for students who already have a full-time career, or don't wish to commute to campus.
Accelerated BSN programs provide an opportunity for students to complete their degree quicker. Whether you enroll part-time or full-time will have an impact on your time-to-completion. Research the specific curriculum required and offered by each program, and consider whether you have the option to concentrate in specific nursing areas.
In addition, consider each program's practicum experience requirements, and think about how these requirements fit into your lifestyle and suit your specific career goals. Of course, you'll want to consider tuition costs and fees associated with each program, and think critically about your budget and how much you would ideally like to spend on your degree.
Programmatic Accreditation for BSN Programs
When a school is accredited, it means that school has been vetted by a specific accrediting agency, and meets set academic standards. It is important to attend an accredited college or university because it shows future employers that your degree was earned at a reputable institution.
Sometimes specific programs have accreditation through programmatic accrediting bodies. Nursing programs may have accreditation from agencies including the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Attending a BSN program accredited by one of these agencies ensures future employers that your training and education meet certain standards. Some states may require a BSN with programmatic accreditation in order to earn nursing licensure.
BSN Program Admissions
Admission to on-campus nursing programs vary. Generally, you will apply to the college, complete general education requirements, and then apply to the specific nursing program. If you transfer in from another college and wish to apply directly to the nursing program, you'll need to show proof of completing those requirements.
You should plan to apply to at least 3-5 schools. Choose these schools based on whether you meet or exceed admissions requirements, like GPA and test scores. Take into consideration that online programs may have additional admission requirements. The sections below outline the admissions process for a nursing program in more detail.
- Minimum GPA: Nursing programs often require at least a 2.5 or 3.0 GPA. However, having strengths in other areas, like work experience, volunteer experience, and even recommendations from professors and mentors may outweigh this minimum.
- General Education Requirements: Some colleges require that general education classes are completed prior to entering a BSN program, such as English, chemistry, anatomy, and biology. Check with college admissions to see if prerequisites are necessary.
- Application: You may have to apply separately to the university and the specific nursing program at that school. Traditional undergraduate admissions often accept the Common App.
- Transcripts: You'll need to send official transcripts from all the schools you've attended, both high school and college. These official transcripts must come directly from the registrar at your school and generally cost 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 to six weeks notice prior to the deadline.
- Test Scores: Most undergraduate programs require 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: It is likely you'll have to pay a fee for each application you submit. These fees often run between $30-$60. Some schools offer waivers for students who demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a BSN Program?
What you encounter in a BSN program will vary by college, such as course and graduation requirements. The details below serve as a general example of what concentrations you can expect from a traditional BSN program.
Concentrations Offered for a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing
|Emergency Nursing||Students concentrating in emergency services will learn a wide range of fundamental nursing skills in order to work in different medical situations, such as trauma care.||Emergency room nurse and registered nurse.|
|Cardiac Care||Specializing in cardiac care entails learning how to use imaging to identify and treat cardiac abnormalities. Nurses who work in cardiology departments treat patients in immediate distress, or patients receiving ongoing cardiac treatment.||Cardiac care nurse, cardiovascular operating room nurse, and travel registered nurse.|
|Home Health Care||This concentration prepares nursing students to care for patients inside their homes. It helps students learn how to provide all types of necessary care in a one-on-one setting.||Home health nurse, hospice registered nurse, and referral intake registered nurse.|
|Obstetrics||An obstetrics concentration emphasizes skills and training in labor and delivery, and caring for both a mother and child before and after birth. Some of these nurses may work in hospitals, or even as midwives.||Labor and delivery nurse, and pediatric nurse.|
|Triage||Triage determines the level of need each patient has when they enter an emergency department. Nurses specializing in this area will learn how to assess and assign triage levels to incoming patients.||Emergency room nurse and triage nurse.|
Courses in a BSN Program
While the courses listed below represent a sample of classes you may encounter during your BSN program, keep in mind that course requirements and availability will differ by school. Check your program's curriculum for detailed information about available courses.
- Human Anatomy
In this course, students learn about the various systems in the human body, including the skeletal, muscular, nervous, and sensory systems. This course may also cover physiology and how these systems interact and work together.
Microbiology examines cellular function, generally emphasizing bacteria and viruses. Students learn about how bacteria and viruses impact bodily systems, form and mutate in the body, and how to prevent the spreading of infectious diseases.
- Foundations of Nursing Practice
Every nursing program will likely require a course on the foundations of the nursing practice, which covers a range of topics including patient care, communication, and decision-making, as well as hygiene, safety, and comfort in the therapeutic nursing environment.
Nurses often administer medications prescribed by doctors. This course provides the foundations of pharmacology, including how various types of pharmaceuticals work in the body, how to determine dosages, and proper methods for administering medications.
- Ethics in Nursing
This course looks critically at issues facing contemporary nursing students and professionals, and how to navigate these issues in an ethical manner. Students in this course may also look at current policies in place that affect the nursing profession and patient care.
How Long Does It Take to Get a BSN?
When researching BSN programs, the length of the program is an important factor. The time it takes you to complete your degree can impact several other factors, like the amount of tuition and fees paid and how soon you enter the job field. Generally speaking, traditional bachelor's degrees require around 120 credits and take three to four years to complete.
If you enroll asa full-time student, you'll likely finish your degree faster than if you enroll as part-time. You may also find certain accelerated BSN programs that allow you to finish coursework faster or double up on credits. Remember that you may have in-person field requirements to complete outside of your on-campus or online coursework.
How Much Is a BSN?
According to an annual survey conducted by CollegeBoard, the average cost of tuition and fees at a four-year public college for the 2017-2018 academic year was $9,970 for an in-state student. Fees could add up to almost $40,000 over the course of four years, without considering the costs of textbooks, room and board, and transportation. Clearly, choosing to earn your bachelor's degree can be expensive, so plan out your finances and personal budget before enrolling.
BSN programs incur costs outside of tuition and fees. Should you decide to earn your degree through an on-campus program, you may have to pay for campus housing and the cost of commuting from home. Online programs may require alternative fees like distance learning costs and the technology needed for online courses. Keep in mind; however, that costs will vary based on the school you choose, where you live, and other influencing factors.
Certifications and Licenses a BSN Prepares For
- Registered Nurse
Generally those who earn a BSN work as a RN. These nurses work in a range of medical settings, from private physician practices to hospitals and urgent care facilities.
- Oncology Certified Nurse
Earning your oncology certification as a nurse allows you to work specifically with cancer patients in oncology practices and departments. While not all nurses in these departments have this certification, earning it can lead to a higher salary or a more substantial job title.
Phlebotomists draw blood for things like donations, transfusions, and blood tests. RNs will have these foundational skills by the time they complete their BSN, but this certification can be useful for a nursing resume.
- Trauma Certified Registered Nurse
Some schools may give you the option to specialize in trauma nursing, which would prepare you for this special certification as a RN. This certification is ideal for those who wish to work in trauma centers and emergency rooms.
Resources for Nursing Students
This website provides free resources including online learning modules, helpful applications, quizzes, and even an online library intended to help students in nursing school, as well as practicing nurses.
All nursing students will 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 will 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 website offers pointers on how to craft the perfect nursing resume, apply to jobs, succeed in classes, and study for required examinations.
Professional Organizations in Nursing
Joining professional organizations during your BSN program can provide you with valuable resources and opportunities. These organizations offer networking opportunities, continuing education programs, annual conferences, career services, and access to members-only job boards. Nursing students may benefit from joining the organizations listed below, and should take advantage of the special resources they offer.
This association for students in nursing offers meetings and conferences, as well as a special career center and access to special academic publications and articles.
The ANA offers a special student membership that allows students access to the association's journal and publications, as well as daily news briefs via email.
This speciality nursing association offers a low-cost student membership. Members have access to all of the association's newsletters and publications, as well as unique networking opportunities.
Students interested in emergency nursing can join the ENA for access to special practice resources, continuing education, and an annual conference.
Male and female nurses, and nursing students, can join this organization and enjoy college chapters of the organization, a yearly conference, and a members-only job board.