Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients, including newborn babies and adults. Nurses think on their feet and apply their skills in new ways each day, drawing on medical knowledge, communication skills, and patient management abilities. And nursing is a high-demand, lucrative field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting nursing jobs to increase 15% by 2026.
With so many opportunities for nurses, RNs can increase their competitiveness in the job market and advance their careers by earning a BSN. With most RN-to-BSN programs taking two years or less, the degree boasts one of the fastest routes to career advancement. This page outlines how to choose an RN-to-BSN program, the career opportunities for nurses with a bachelor's degree, and the best career advancement resources for nurses.
Should I Get a BSN Degree?
Because of their educational and professional experience, RNs know their strengths in the classroom and the healthcare setting. In addition, RNs have specialized training that applies to a bachelor's degree, making the RN-to-BSN path one of the fastest ways to earn a bachelor's degree.
During a BSN program, RNs strengthen their medical skills and take advanced courses in areas such as evidence-based practice and patient care. They may also choose to take elective or specialized courses in areas like acute care, pediatric nursing, or nursing leadership. Furthermore, BSN students complete practicum hours as part of their training. BSN programs provide opportunities for networking during the clinical experience, and they often provide job placement assistance for graduates.
After graduation, nurses with a bachelor's degree qualify for advanced positions and are more competitive than nurses with an associate degree. With a BSN, nurses can also pursue a specialized graduate degree to become a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse anesthetist.
For RNs that work while completing their BSN, the flexibility and accessibility of an online degree may be appealing. Online programs often let students complete coursework at their own pace so students can arrange their schooling around the unpredictable schedule of a nurse. Furthermore, online programs allow students to complete practicum requirements at their current place of employment or another local approved site. Other students may prefer an on-campus BSN or a hybrid option.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?
Nurses with a BSN can pursue a variety of career paths after graduation. They can care for patients from birth through adolescence, aging patients, or work in emergency settings. A BSN also qualifies graduates for supervisory positions, overseeing teams of nurses and designing new patient care protocols. While many nursing jobs set an RN license as a minimum requirement, nurses with a BSN earn higher salaries and qualify for advanced positions. They can also pursue a master's degree and become a nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist.
- Registered Nurse
RNs provide patient care in many settings, including hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing care, and outpatient clinics. They may also work in schools, the military, or in home healthcare. They specialize in any field of medicine, including surgical care and oncology. Registered nurses with a bachelor's degree benefit from higher salaries and increased career opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $70,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Pediatric Nurse
Pediatric nurses care for children from birth through young adulthood, working in doctors' offices, hospitals, and pediatric clinics. Some specialize in fields like cardiology or trauma, while others provide primary care. While some pediatric nurses work typical hours, their hours can vary. Pediatric nurses must have an RN, and a BSN may qualify nurses for advanced positions and a higher salary.
Median Annual Salary: $57,991
- Neonatal Nurse
Neonatal nurses work in labor and delivery, caring for newborns after birth. They test newborns' cognitive skills, perform neonatal tests, and monitor care. Neonatal nurses may also work in neonatal intensive care units, caring for premature babies. Most work 12-hour shifts in a hospital setting.
Median Annual Salary: $60,457
- Emergency Nurse
Nurses who specialize in emergency care often work in an ER, providing emergency medical care for patients suffering from a trauma or injury. Emergency nurses perform triage on patients, assist ER physicians, and perform tests, as well as interview patients and insert IVs.
Median Annual Salary: $63,320
- Nurse Supervisor
Nurse supervisors manage a team of nurses, ensuring high-quality care for patients. Supervisors play a role in hiring and training nurses, ensure compliance with health and safety regulations, and schedule shifts. Nurse supervisors must have several years of professional experience.
Median Annual Salary: $71,368
How to Choose an RN-to-BSN Program
Considering several key factors, such as the length of the program, the total cost, and the location, helps nurses narrow down their program options. For example, while BSN programs typically take two years for incoming RNs, some programs offer accelerated options where nurses can earn their bachelor's degree in just over a year. Nurses balancing work or family obligations may prefer a program without an accelerated pace.
When considering cost, prospective BSN students should research not only tuition but also fees, technology costs, practicum expenses, and related expenses, such as housing, commuting, and childcare. Some nurses may prefer the flexibility of an online RN-to-BSN program, which lets students arrange their coursework around their work schedule and can save on commuting, parking, and childcare expenses.
Location is another important consideration. While some nurses benefit from a local program, nurses who choose an online option can pick from the top programs around the country. Online programs let nurses complete their practicum requirements at local facilities, including the nurse's current place of employment.
Prospective BSN students should also consider the curriculum and concentrations offered at programs. Nurses pursuing a supervisory position may benefit from courses in nursing leadership, for example. Finally, nursing students should only consider accredited RN-to-BSN programs.
Programmatic Accreditation for RN-to-BSN Programs
Accreditation ensures that nursing programs follow the best practices for educating nurses. It also acts as a marker to licensing boards, certification agencies, and future employers that the nurse's education meets professional standards. RN-to-BSN programs hold programmatic accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These two nonprofit, independent agencies set standards for nursing programs and evaluate programs on their student learning outcomes, graduation requirements, faculty qualifications, and educational practices.
When researching BSN programs, nurses should check the program's status to ensure its accredited. While most programs display their ACEN or CCNE accreditation on their website, nurses can also contact an admissions adviser to determine the program's accreditation status or look up the program on the ACEN or CCNE website.
RN-to-BSN Program Admissions
RNs considering a BSN program should research the admissions process for their prospective programs. While most programs require transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an RN license, the process may vary. For example, while the majority of programs require a current, unencumbered RN license, some programs admit students completing the requirements for their RN license as long as they hold the license within a short time after enrolling.
Researching the admission process helps nurses narrow down potential programs. Nurses with college credits beyond their associate of nursing or nursing diploma may prefer a program with a generous transfer policy. When choosing BSN programs, nurses should aim for a mix of reach, mid-level, and backup programs. Keep in mind that online admissions may require a more involved process, with applicants working with an admission adviser to complete their application.
- Minimum GPA: Programs may set a minimum GPA for overall college coursework or for the candidate's nursing coursework. The minimum often ranges from 2.5 to 3.0, with some programs offering provisional admission for students who do not meet the minimum GPA.
- RN License: RN-to-BSN programs require a current, unencumbered RN license to gain admission. Applicants must hold the RN license in the state where they plan to complete their clinical practicum requirements.
- Application: Prospective BSN students must submit an application, which lists their educational history, professional background, and personal information. Some programs accept the Common App, which lets students apply to multiple programs with one application.
- Transcripts: Applicants must submit transcripts showing their educational experience and the degree that led to their RN. This may be an associate of nursing degree or a nursing diploma, depending on the program.
- Letters of Recommendation: BSN programs may require two or three letters of recommendation that speak to the applicant's academic abilities or their professional experience. BSN applicants may wish to ask a supervisor from a professional nursing setting.
- Test Scores: Many programs require either SAT or ACT scores for admission. Prospective students can review a program's average scores to determine whether they earned competitive test scores.
- Application Fee: Most programs charge a fee to process applications. However, applicants can apply for a fee waiver or seek out programs that do not charge a fee.
What Else Can I Expect From an RN-to-BSN Program?
Within a BSN program, nursing students may choose a concentration, such as primary care or acute care, that prepares graduates for a particular career path. These concentrations may be defined by the care setting, type of care, or the patient population. The concentrations vary by school and program.
|Primary Care||Nursing students specializing in primary care train to assist patients with routine medical care, working with patients from childhood through old age. They often work in physician offices, and they may also help patients suffering from chronic ailments. Primary care nurses may also work in specialized medical settings.||Primary care nurse|
|Acute Care||Students specializing in acute care train to work with patients for a short time, often after surgery or while treating an acute illness. Acute care nurses typically work in hospitals and specialized healthcare centers. They may also monitor patients coming out of anesthesia or treat patients with an urgent medical problem.||Acute care nurse|
|Pediatrics||Pediatric nurses work with children under the age of 18, either at a primary care office, at a pediatric center, or at a pediatric hospital. They may also work in emergency or acute pediatric care. Pediatric nurses draw on their communication skills to work with young patients.||Pediatric nurse|
|Gerontology||Nursing students specializing in gerontology focus on caring for seniors in clinical settings. They may gain skills in palliative care, end of life care, hospice care, or a specific medical condition affecting aging populations, such as dementia.||Gerontology nurse, assisted living nurse|
|Neonatal||Neonatal nurses care for newborn infants, typically when they are in the hospital. They often provide care for premature newborns, newborns requiring surgery, or those suffering from birth defects. They work with babies immediately after birth and those in the NICU.||Neonatal nurse, NICU nurse|
Courses in an RN-to-BSN Program
BSN programs build on RN skills to expand student knowledge of nursing practice and help nurses specialize in fields such as acute care or mental health nursing. While each program designs its own curriculum, which may include specialized courses depending on the student's concentration, the sample curriculum below covers some of the most common RN-to-BSN courses.
- Evidence-Based Practice
Most BSN programs incorporate a course on evidence-based practice, which covers the best practices in nursing and the research demonstrating how to develop nursing practices. Students learn how to evaluate nursing research and apply it to clinical practice with patients. The course may also cover changing practices over the history of nursing.
- Acute Care Nursing
Nurses work in many settings, including acute care. This course strengthens an RN's skills in acute care, with an emphasis on complex judgment and the best practices for medical interventions. The course may also incorporate a clinical experience component, which introduces students to different acute care settings.
- Primary Care Nursing
In addition to acute care, many nurses work in primary care, and this class emphasizes evidence-based practices for caring for patients in a primary care setting. Nursing students learn how to care for adults and children, and the course may include a clinical component for hands-on experience.
- Nursing Leadership
Nurses with a BSN or higher may act in a leadership role, and this course introduces students to the skills and behaviors required for nursing leaders. This can include promoting nursing teamwork, designing organizational procedures to improve patient care, and leadership behaviors. The class often incorporates communication skills.
- Mental Health Nursing
Courses in mental health nursing introduce students to the care and treatment of patients who suffer from psychiatric and mental health disorders. The materials may emphasize promoting health, the stages of treatment, and coping resources. Many nurses draw on mental health training in their professional career.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an RN-to-BSN Program?
An RN-to-BSN program usually takes two years to complete. While most bachelor's degrees require 120 credits and four years, programs typically grant incoming RNs half of the credits required for the BSN. Nurses who transfer additional credits or receive credit for work experience may be able to finish the degree faster. And many BSN programs offer accelerated options, sometimes requiring as few as 15 months for nurses seeking to complete their degree quickly.
Several program components affect the time to degree. RN-to-BSN programs require an internship to gain practical experience, often with a set minimum of hours. Working nurses can often complete the requirement at their current place of employment, but these hours may add time to the degree. Nurses researching a BSN should check the requirements for potential programs.
How Much Is an RN-to-BSN Program?
The cost of an RN-to-BSN program varies depending on the institution and how many credits incoming students apply toward their degree. While some programs charge less than $10,000 a year in tuition and fees, others may cost much more. In general, public, in-state schools charge the lowest tuition rates, while out-of-state public schools charge higher rates, and private schools cost the most. However, many factors influence the cost of an RN-to-BSN degree. For example, some online RN-to-BSN programs offer tuition discounts for fully online students.
Nursing students should also maximize the credits they receive for their RN and work experience. Some programs offer more generous transfer credit policies, which saves money on tuition. Many nurses also benefit from scholarship opportunities, which lower the cost of a degree. Scholarships may provide assistance for nurses planning to work in certain fields or who are members of underrepresented groups.
In addition to tuition expenses, prospective BSN students should also consider technology costs and commuting, parking, and living expenses. Online students may save on commuting, parking, and childcare costs, and online programs provide the flexibility to continue working while completing a degree.
Certifications and Licenses a BSN Degree Prepares For
- Registered Nurse – Board Certified
Offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, board certification recognizes nurses who meet educational and work experience standards. Candidates must pass an examination on their clinical knowledge and complete continuing education requirements to maintain board certification. The RN-BC certification also offers multiple specialized examinations based on the nurse's field.
- Basic Life Support
While the certification does not require a nursing degree, most nurses must have a BLS certificate from the American Heart Association. To earn the certification, nurses must take a life support class and pass a test.
- Certified Critical Care Nurse
Offered by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, this certification recognizes nurses with a minimum of two years' experience working in critical care. Applicants take an examination based on their specialties, such as working with adults, pediatric care, or neonatal care.
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support
The American Heart Association offers an advanced certification to recognize trained professionals in cardiac life support. The ACLS certificate covers recognition and intervention of cardiac arrest, care after cardiac arrest, and heart disease care.
- Pediatric Nursing Certification
RNs with two years of experience and at least 2,000 hours in pediatric nursing meet the eligibility requirements for the pediatric nursing certification. Applicants must demonstrate 30 hours of continuing education in pediatric nursing taken within the past three years.
Resources for Nursing Students
Offered by the American Nurses Association, the career center lists job openings in every nursing specialty, provides guidance on the certification process, and lets job seekers upload resumes.
This site provides resources on how to apply for certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the requirements for each certification, and how to renew a certification with continuing education requirements.
A community resource for nursing students, Learning Nursing provides free educational resources for nurses. The site also includes continuing education and professional development resources, with material aimed at nurses working in all fields.
A resource for nurses, this site offers free and low-cost continuing education courses, webinars, and job postings for members. The site also includes a breakdown of state licensing requirements and information on the certification process.
With free training and reference guides for nurses, Practical Clinical Skills helps nurses identify murmurs, check lung sounds, evaluate blood pressure measurements, and interpret EKG results. The reference guides and simulation-based lessons build core skills for nurses.
Professional Organizations in Nursing
Nurses benefit from joining professional organizations while completing their degrees. Many of these organizations, such as the American Nurses Association, offer scholarships to support nursing students and provide career services, such as job postings, mentorship opportunities, and career counseling. Professional nurses also benefit from networking opportunities, continuing education resources to maintain their certifications, and awards that recognize excellence in the profession. In addition to national and local organizations, specialized organizations support nurses working in fields like emergency nursing or critical care.