Best Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Programs of 2021

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By Doug Wintemute

Edited by Rebecca Long

Reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, MSN, FNP, RN, MSSW

Published on September 14, 2021

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RN-to-BSN programs allow licensed registered nurses (RNs) to earn their bachelor's degrees in approximately two years. Accelerated RN-to-BSN programs offer even shorter timelines, which may prove especially cost-effective.

For admission to RN-to-BSN programs, prospective students need an associate degree or diploma in nursing and valid RN licensure.

An accelerated bachelor's degree in nursing can help professionals attain sought-after positions in the nursing field — a sector the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects will add nearly 276,800 jobs between 2020 and 2030. Degree-holders may also qualify for some of the highest nursing salaries, which exceed $116,230 for the top 10% of earners.

Accelerated online RN-to-BSN programs offer numerous advantages for aspiring nurses, but not every program looks the same. In this guide, we break down program and career options and highlight some of the considerations prospective learners should keep in mind during their school search.

What Is an Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Program?

An online accelerated RN-to-BSN program can reduce the time it takes to earn a bachelor of science in nursing by more than one year in some cases. These programs may offer condensed schedules, transfer credit options, and/or flexible online scheduling.

While different programs meet the needs of different learners, the ideal candidate for an accelerated program has a flexible schedule that can accommodate rigorous online study. Degree-seekers should also possess strong determination and commitment, which are needed to thrive in a predominantly independent learning environment.

How Long Are Accelerated RN-to-BSN Programs?

Accelerated online RN-to-BSN programs usually last 1-2 years, although students with a large number of transfer credits can shorten that timeline. Compared to traditional RN-to-BSN programs, accelerated programs can shave off 2-12 months of study.

What Can I Expect From an Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Program?

Accelerated online RN-to-BSN programs may appeal to nurses looking to advance or change their careers quickly. Coursework hones leadership and communication skills, as well as practical skills in healthcare administration and management. Earning any online bachelor's degree takes dedication, but accelerated programs often require more time and energy.

Typically, accelerated online RN-to-BSN programs require 60 credits. Although online learners may take courses entirely online, most accelerated online bachelor's degree programs in nursing still have hands-on components, such as practica or field experiences.

Learn More About Similar Nursing Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Program?

Health Informatics

Health informatics courses teach students what they can do with patient data in healthcare settings. They learn how data is collected and stored and how to analyze and use it for improved decision-making.

Healthcare Policy

These courses examine processes and issues regarding healthcare policy. Students learn about policy analysis and the factors that influence the creation and implementation of these programs.

Nursing Ethics

In this course, students learn about ethical standards and frameworks available to nurses. They also explore issues and challenges related to confidentiality.

Leadership and Planning

Leadership and planning courses prepare students to oversee teams and improve communication and patient care. Learners may receive training in various administrative duties, as well.

Case Management

This course trains students to handle a variety of cases and duties in the field, including initial assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. Participants learn how to develop and implement a patient care plan and how to collaborate with other healthcare professionals.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Program?

Accelerated online RN-to-BSN programs usually maintain the same admission requirements as on-campus programs. While traditional BSN programs typically require a high school diploma, these fast-tracked degree completion programs require an associate degree or diploma in nursing and valid licensure. Some programs may also require a certain amount of professional experience.

Accelerated RN-to-BSN programs may also require students to meet a minimum GPA and provide test scores, along with some of the other requirements listed below.

Application

Most applications for accelerated bachelor's programs in nursing include the same requirements as a typical undergraduate application. Prospective students can often apply through the individual school or by filling out the Common Application, usually for a fee. Depending on the school, prospective students may need to hold nursing licensure from a specific state to be eligible.

Test Scores

Some programs may ask applicants to submit scores from their college entrance exams, such as the ACT or SAT. Since accelerated RN-to-BSN program applicants must already hold an associate degree or diploma, these scores may not be as important, but applicants should still expect them to be required.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation from former employers and teachers can give schools a great deal of insight into prospective students. These letters address how equipped an applicant is to handle the rigors of the program. Prospective students are generally asked to submit 1-3 letters.

Resume

Accelerated RN-to-BSN programs usually ask applicants to submit a resume and cover letter. Some programs even require a specific amount of experience in nursing. These documents showcase the candidate's relevant work history and can give an indication of their commitment to the field.

Essays

Many schools request college application essays. Prospective students may be asked to submit personal essays addressing their reasons for seeking an accelerated bachelor's degree in nursing. Others may be asked to provide answers to specific questions about the profession.

Official Transcripts

All schools and programs require official transcripts from applicants to gauge their academic level and chances of success in the program. Accelerated RN-to-BSN programs also look at transcripts to determine how many transfer credits they should award to incoming students.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Can I Do With an Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Degree?

Career Outlook

The aging population and growing number of people in residential and outpatient care facilities has created demand for nursing professionals. The BLS projects 9% job growth for registered nurses between 2020 and 2030. While jobs in some areas are competitive, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports a shortage in the nursing field and projects more than 175,000 annual job openings.

Nursing graduates who earn an accelerated bachelor's degree enjoy positive employment opportunities. According to a 2020 AACN survey, 94% of BSN-holders were employed 4-6 months after graduation versus 64% of all new college graduates across disciplines.

BSN graduates can also qualify for the high-paying administrative and leadership positions. According to the BLS, nurses earned a median annual wage of $75,330 as of May 2020.

Acquiring a nursing specialty may improve employment chances and salary potential even more. Fields like pediatric, emergency care, and pain management nursing are in high demand.

See where a BSN degree can take you. Learn more about nursing careers.

Career Paths

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse

ICU nurses work in intensive care units handling life-threatening illnesses and injuries. They monitor patients, help with medications, work with healthcare technology, communicate with families, and provide medical interventions more often than traditional nurses. ICU nurses may pursue a non-mandatory critical care registered nurse (CCRN) certification.

Average Annual Salary (September 2021): $70,150

Pediatric Nurse

Specializing in care for children, pediatric nurses perform assessments and take vitals and samples from young patients. They also provide support and information to families and help physicians. Prospective nurses may pursue a certified pediatric nurse or neonatal CCRN credential to improve their employment chances.

Average Annual Salary (September 2021): $61,360

Surgical Nurse

Surgical nurses work in surgery rooms and support patients undergoing various procedures. They may prep the patient and the room, provide the patient and family with information, and support the acting surgeon. While not mandatory for employment, surgical nurses can earn perioperative certifications to improve their resumes.

Average Annual Salary (September 2021): $59,660

Hospice Nurse

Hospice nurses work with terminally ill or palliative care patients and their families. They provide patients with various treatments and comforts, along with physical and emotional support. Several relevant certifications are available but not mandatory for employment, including the certified hospice and palliative nurse credential. These nurses may work in inpatient or outpatient settings.

Average Annual Salary (September 2021): $70,250

Obstetrics (OB) Nurse

Obstetrics nurses — often referred to as labor and delivery nurses — provide care and support to women during and after childbirth. They may help prepare patients and birthing rooms, as well as assist the doctor with necessary procedures. A credential in inpatient obstetric nursing can offer various professional benefits for this competitive position.

Average Annual Salary (September 2021): $63,020

Nursing Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Certifications

While all nurses need licensure to practice, certifications are not usually mandatory. However, some employers and healthcare facilities may require them. Certifications allow nurses to demonstrate their expertise in a specific healthcare field or setting. These credentials often signal experience and specialized expertise.

Though mostly optional, certifications can provide nurses with a competitive advantage in their field. Certifications can lead to employment at more desirable organizations, higher salaries, and management positions. Specialty certifications also give patients confidence that their caregivers have expertise and high-quality training.

Nursing certification requirements vary, but candidates typically need valid nursing licensure and substantial experience. Some organizations only award credentials to BSN graduates with a specific number of years in the field — often between 2-5 years.

Many organizations award nursing certifications, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, and Hospice and Palliative Care Credentialing Center. The list below describes several standard certifications.

Continuing Education

Continuing education plays a large role in the development of nursing professionals. Most nurses must complete a certain number of continuing education units each renewal cycle to maintain their licenses. The exact number of units depends on the state in which they work. Some states also have specific coursework requirements in subjects such as pharmacology, HIV, or domestic violence.

BSN graduates can also further their education by pursuing a master of science in nursing (MSN), which can lead to nurse practitioner and nursing administration careers. Graduates can also pursue graduate certificates in different areas.

How Do I Choose an Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Program?

Cost

When comparing program prices, prospective students should consider the true program cost, which includes the cost of fees, travel, course materials, and room and board. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, attending a four-year school during the 2018-2019 academic year cost an average of $20,560.

An accelerated online RN-to-BSN program can reduce the overall costs by decreasing the time to graduation and helping students avoid out-of-state tuition rates — online learners at many schools all pay the same tuition.

Program Format

Accelerated RN-to-BSN programs come in various formats. While most feature full-time schedules, some part-time options may be available. Programs may also feature synchronous or asynchronous learning, which impacts the flexibility of a program.

Location

Location usually influences on-campus students the most, but distance learners also need to consider this important factor. Online programs may, for example, have residency requirements that students must fulfill on campus. Some schools also offer in-state tuition for certain out-of-state learners.

Accreditation

A college's accreditation status impacts a student's ability to pursue financial aid, licensure, and employment. In addition to regional accreditation, nursing students need to look for programmatic accreditation from one of two agencies: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Clinical Experience

Nursing students often need to complete clinical experience hours. In accelerated online RN-to-BSN programs, these requirements may look slightly different compared to on-campus programs. For instance, field experience hours can usually be completed at locations close to students, while lab hours may take place online.

School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate

Even though students in accelerated RN-to-BSN programs already hold RN licenses, they may gain valuable information from the school's NCLEX-RN success rates. This information can tell applicants how well the school prepares its nursing students and how useful the training was for former graduates.

Student Support

Prospective nursing students should look at a school's mentorship opportunities, career services, and academic support programs. They might also consider internship offerings and student organizations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Accelerated RN-to-BSN Programs

Is an accelerated BSN degree worth it? true

For students who can manage the fast-paced training, an accelerated bachelor's degree in nursing can lead to rapid career advancement. These programs can lead to improved salaries and help nurses better serve their patients.

What is the fastest RN-to-BSN program? true

Some accelerated RN-to-BSN programs can be completed in about one year. Schools may also feature generous transfer credit policies that allow experienced nurses to reduce their degree requirements significantly. Other programs allow for heavy course loads that cut down the time it takes to complete a degree.

Do RN-to-BSN programs require clinicals? true

Yes. Many accelerated RN-to-BSN programs require clinicals, including practica and field experience requirements.

How much money can I make with a BSN degree?

According to the BLS, nurses earned a median annual wage of $75,330 in May 2020, but the highest 10% of earners in the field made more than $116,230 per year. Government nurses made a median annual salary of $84,490, while hospital nurses made $76,840 per year and ambulatory healthcare nurses earned $72,340 annually.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a BSN degree?

The highest-paying nursing positions depend on the location of the job, the employer, and the candidate. According to the BLS, nurses in business support services were the highest paid specialty in May 2020, earning a mean yearly salary of $106,670. Nurses working in the federal executive branch made an average of $96,230 per year, while nurses in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry earned $92,110 annually.

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Reviewed by:

Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. A Boston native, Clarke tired of the cold and snowy winters and moved to Coral Gables, Florida, to complete her undergraduate degree in nursing at the University of Miami (UM). After working for several years in the cardiac and ER units at the UHealth and Jackson Memorial Medical Systems, Clarke returned to UM to complete her master of science in nursing. Since completing her MSN degree, Clarke has worked providing primary and urgent care to pediatric populations.

Elizabeth Clarke is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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