Most Affordable RN-to-BSN Programs of 2021

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by Kasia Kovacs
Published on October 13, 2021
Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC, and Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

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RN-to-BSN programs are specially designed for registered nurses (RNs) who have already earned an associate degree in nursing (ADN), but not a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). These programs allow RNs to earn their bachelor's degrees in 12-24 months. Earning a BSN can lead to more job opportunities and higher pay.

Many of these programs are designed for working nurses, so they take students' schedules and budgets into account. Pursuing an RN-to-BSN online can afford nurses the additional convenience of studying from home. Several schools offer affordable tuition rates, with some programs costing roughly $100 per credit.

A bachelor's degree in nursing can open up several career opportunities for graduates, including specialized and leadership nursing roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports RNs earned a median annual salary of $75,330 in May 2020. The highest 10% of RNs earned $116,230. A BSN can help nurses find higher-earning jobs.

Read through this guide to learn more about the most affordable online RN-to-BSN programs and what to expect from this degree.

What Is an Online RN-to-BSN Program?

An RN-to-BSN program allows registered nurses who already possess an associate degree to earn their BSN. Some schools may call these pathways ADN-to-BSN programs.

Unlike a traditional four-year BSN program, an RN-to-BSN takes into account students' previous education. Therefore, students can graduate in two years or less, depending on their academic experience. Online programs also give distance learners more flexibility in their education.

How Much Does an Online RN-to-BSN Program Cost?

Tuition costs for online RN-to-BSN programs vary considerably. Private colleges tend to cost more than public schools, while out-of-state tuition is often higher than in-state tuition. Online and on-campus programs sometimes differ in terms of tuition costs, and distance learners may save on other expenses like transportation.

You can find some programs with tuition around $100 per credit, while other schools charge $600 per credit or more.

However, when searching for programs, keep in mind that the true program cost can differ from the sticker price.

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

RN-to-BSN programs build upon what students have already learned during their previous nursing education. These programs cover advanced and specialized topics in addition to foundational courses.

For full-time students, an RN-to-BSN usually takes about two academic years to earn. You may find accelerated RN-to-BSN programs that allow students to graduate more quickly. On the other hand, part-time programs give students more time to earn their degrees and provide them with more flexibility.

Working nurses often consider an online RN-to-BSN program. Earning a degree online allows students to complete their coursework from their homes on their own time. They don't need to fit commutes to campus into their already demanding schedules.

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

Ethics in Healthcare

This course covers a nurse's role in ethical clinical practice, paying particular attention to standards set by the American Nurses Association (ANA). In this class, students examine common problems in healthcare and discuss how to face these dilemmas through ethical decision-making.

Health Promotion

A large part of a nurse's job involves health promotion, or encouraging their patients to receive clinical preventative care. Students learn about screening, communication, and counseling, in addition to health promotion education.

Health Assessment

Nurses use evidence-based practice to carry out health assessments as part of their day-to-day duties. This course prepares students to master effective interview, inspection, and observation skills. Students also learn about palpitation, percussion, and auscultation when assessing patients.

Health Policy

Health policy is a complex topic, involving federal and state law, healthcare providers, insurance providers, and patients. This course teaches learners about these different stakeholders and how policy decisions affect professional nursing practice.

Leadership and Management in Nursing

This can prove a useful course for students pursuing a BSN who want to advance in their careers. This course goes over management methods, including interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, performance evaluation, and delegation of responsibilities.

Related Programs That Might Interest You

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 RN-to-BSN Program?

Unlike traditional bachelor's pathways, RN-to-BSN programs accept applicants who already have some college education. Schools typically require prospective students to submit transcripts from their associate degree program. They may also look for candidates with at least a year or two of work experience as a nurse. Read about these requirements in more detail below.

Application

The first step of the application process is a simple one: Fill out the application form. Online RN-to-BSN programs typically require candidates to fill out these forms through a website or online portal. The form allows you to list basic biographical information about yourself, like your name and birthdate.

Test Scores

Some schools require applicants to submit entrance exam scores along with their applications. You might need to submit scores from traditional entrance exams like the ACT or SAT. Alternatively, schools may ask for scores from the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) or the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam (NLN-PAX).

Letters of Recommendation

Colleges usually require applicants to submit letters of recommendation from people who can speak about their character and abilities. Schools often ask for 2-3 recommendation letters from past instructors or employers. Remember to give your letter writers plenty of notice so they don't feel rushed.

Resume or Work Experience

Your resume is your opportunity to show off your past educational and work experience. Schools often require candidates to possess some work experience before they can apply to RN-to-BSN programs. Check your prospective colleges' work-related requirements.

Essays

College application essays allow you to tell your story and add a bit of personality to your application. Some programs require applicants to answer specific questions, but many essay prompts are open-ended. You can use your essay to demonstrate your passion for nursing and your ability to overcome challenges. Catch the reader's attention with an eye-grabbing lead sentence, and ask someone to proofread the essay before you submit it.

Official Transcripts

Transcripts from your previous institution(s) show the admission committee how you've performed academically in the past. When you submit the transcript from your associate program, make sure that it's an official version and not one that you've copied. Also check with your potential program to see whether you're eligible for transfer credit.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs.

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

Career Outlook

RNs who earn bachelor's degrees typically continue to work as nurses. That said, their higher education level can help them find specialized jobs or leadership and management roles. These positions, along with a BSN, can result in a higher salary.

According to the BLS, RNs earned a median salary of $75,330 in May 2020. However, some specialized nursing roles that require a BSN pay more. For example, PayScale reports that the average annual salary for nurse administrators was $89,570 in September 2021. And nurse managers made an average of $87,540 per year. Experience and location can make a difference in pay, too.

The BLS also projects an optimistic outlook for the profession as a whole. The number of RN positions is expected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, with an estimated 276,800 jobs added to the workforce.

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

Career Paths

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse

ICU nurses work in hospitals with patients in critical condition. Their responsibilities can include caring for wounds, monitoring vital signs, and assessing patients. ICU nurses work in shifts, either during the day or at night. Although this may seem like a high-pressure job, many nurses find it rewarding because they save lives every day.

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

Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric care nurses help provide care for children from infancy to adolescence. These nurses assess patients, check their medical histories, and carry out diagnostic tests. Pediatric nurses work with doctors and take on roles as educators for their patients. Because these nurses work with young patients, compassion and bedside manner are particularly important.

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

Surgical Nurse

These nurses work with surgeons, providing pre- and post-operative care. Duties include setting up the operating room; meeting with patients before the procedure and answering any questions; and assisting patients come out of anesthesia. They help surgeons during procedures as well, such as by providing suction or checking on patients' vital signs.

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

Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses, sometimes called community health nurses, work in a different capacity than most traditional RNs. They promote public wellness by educating community members about health risks in order to prevent disease. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these nurses have taken on an important role in educating patients about the virus and countering misinformation.

Average Annual Salary (August 2021): $59,880

Obstetrics (OB) Nurse

Sometimes referred to as OB/GYN nurses, these professionals care for pregnant patients. They monitor patients throughout their pregnancies and help them through labor and childbirth. They also perform routine screenings, pelvic exams, and ultrasounds.

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

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Certifications

For RNs who wish to work in a specialized area, earning certification in addition to a bachelor's degree can lead to more opportunities. Although not all nurses need certification, additional credentials demonstrate your expertise in certain areas, like pediatrics or acute care. Employers seeking out specialized nurses often look for certifications.

ANA offers several certifications, but you can also find credentials from other professional associations. Certification requirements differ, but often include meeting a certain experience threshold and/or taking an exam.

Some common certifications include:

Continuing Education

An RN-to-BSN can serve as a stepping stone to advanced degrees. A master of science in nursing (MSN) prepares individuals for even higher-level jobs, with greater pay and more responsibility. Nurse practitioners, for instance, perform many of the same duties as doctors. Other nursing professionals, like nurse leaders, can also benefit from advanced degrees.

Nurses who want to advance their education but not necessarily pursue an additional degree can consider graduate certificates, as well.

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

Cost

Like any degree program, RN-to-BSN programs are an investment in yourself and your career. Tuition rates for online RN-to-BSN programs vary considerably, but they tend to cost less than pursuing traditional BSN degrees. Private colleges usually charge higher tuition fees than public colleges. However, tuition for online and on-campus programs is often similar. Remember to also consider other fees on top of tuition.

Program Format

Earn an online RN-to-BSN degree by enrolling in a program format that fits your lifestyle. Synchronous learning follows a more traditional approach with set meeting times, while asynchronous programs allow for more flexibility in your schedule. Working individuals might prefer a part-time program, while those who want to complete their degrees more quickly can take advantage of accelerated programs.

Location

Even online students should consider location when choosing a school. In-state colleges often offer lower tuition rates than out-of-state schools. Additionally, if you need to participate in on-campus requirements, a school close by may be a practical option. Many students like to enroll in colleges close to home so they can continue to take advantage of their support systems.

Accreditation

Set your sights on an accredited RN-to-BSN program. The accreditation process ensures that colleges offer students quality education and meet certain standards. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing are the two most common accrediting bodies for nursing programs. Graduating with an unaccredited degree may make it difficult to land a job and prevent you from earning necessary credentials.

Clinical Experience

All nursing students must complete hands-on clinical hours at a hospital or other health facility so they can practice their skills. Consider your program's clinical requirements, and think about whether they work for you logistically. In addition, if you enroll in a program outside of your state, make sure you can complete your clinical hours in your home state.

School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate

Even though you already possess an RN license, you should still look at your potential school's pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN). A high NCLEX-RN pass rate suggests that the college's nursing department adequately prepares students for their jobs, while a low pass rate might suggest otherwise.

Student Support

Student support services help distance learners succeed during their program and after graduation. Check whether your school offers services like college mentorships, advising, and tutoring to help you in your studies. Internships, alumni connections, and career services can help you after graduation, as well.

How Do I Pay for an Online RN-to-BSN Program?

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

All students should fill out the FAFSA each year, which helps the government determine if they qualify for federal aid. The FAFSA calculates your eligibility for aid based on factors like financial need and family contribution. You can receive help through federal loans, grants, and work-study programs.

Loans

Student loans offer you a way to pay for your education through borrowing money, and then paying it back later. You can apply for several federal loans, including subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans, PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans. You can apply for private loans too, but these often have much higher interest rates.

Grants

Grants provide students with free money for college. Qualifications differ for each grant. Some grants come from the government, but you can also receive grants from colleges or other sources.

Work-Study Programs

Students can qualify for the Federal Work-Study Program if they earn less than a certain income threshold. Work-study programs allow students to work on campus or in their communities, sometimes in roles related to their field of study. Participants can use the money they earn from these jobs however they see fit.

Scholarships

Many students apply for scholarships, which don't need to be repaid. You can find several nursing scholarships from nonprofits, companies, and community organizations. Your college or university may offer scholarships specifically for nurses, too. Many scholarships are merit-based and depend on your past academic achievements.

2021 Best Accredited Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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Florida Gateway College true View School Profile Lake City, FL

Nurses with an associate degree and a valid RN license can earn their bachelor of science in nursing through FGC's RN-to-BSN online program. Students balancing a nursing career with their studies can choose from a three-semester full-time program or a six-semester part-time program.

Virtual simulations allow students to complete courses in health assessment without visiting the main campus in Lake City, Florida. The school works with students to develop a community health project near their residence.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $120 per credit (in-state); $264 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 3-6 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 67.72%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Eastern Florida State College true View School Profile Cocoa, FL

ESFC, in Cocoa, Florida, developed its online RN-to-BSN program to help registered nurses build leadership skills and advance their careers. The program welcomes RNs with a Florida license and an associate degree in nursing.

The 100% online coursework includes electives in healthcare automation and management of long-term care facilities, with classes offered in an eight-week accelerated format. During their capstone course, students create and implement a project addressing a community health need.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $104-$129 per credit (in state); $406-$509 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 1-3 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 77.85%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Florida State College at Jacksonville true View School Profile Jacksonville, FL

The online RN-to-BSN program at FSCJ targets registered nurses who already hold an associate degree in nursing. Students complete classes like nursing theory philosophy, community health, and professional ethics and diversity.

Applicants should have a minimum GPA of 2.0 and submit academic transcripts, evidence of CPR certification, and proof of a Florida nursing license (or nursing license in the state where they plan to carry out their practicum).

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $105-$117 per credit (in state); $219-$227 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 3-6 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 87.42%
  • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Florida International University true View School Profile Miami, FL

The RN-to-BSN program at FIU combines online learning with 150 practicum hours. Students must have a valid RN license and an associate degree in nursing.

This bridge program requires 33 credits of upper-division coursework and 27 credits earned by clinical proficiency evaluation. Students can complete the program in one year, with a clinical health practicum serving as the capstone experience. New students can start at the beginning of any semester.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $229 per credit (in state); $346 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 3 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92.74%
  • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
California State University-Stanislaus true View School Profile Turlock, CA

Stanislaus State offers a fully online, one-year RN-to-BSN program designed for working nurses. The program combines online coursework with a 90-hour community health clinical.

Stanislaus State accepts students each fall and spring semester, with students moving through their courses together as a cohort. Each course lasts eight weeks. To apply, students must have completed at least 60 college credits or hold an associate degree. They must also have a current RN license.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Program: $19,220 (total program cost)
  • Program Length: 1-2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.21%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission
Minot State University View School Profile Minot, ND

Minot State offers one of North Dakota's most affordable online RN-to-BSN programs. The curriculum builds on a nurse's prior education and work experience. Applicants must have graduated from a board-approved nursing education program, have a minimum GPA of 2.75, and hold a valid RN license.

Students enjoy one-on-one instruction and advising from faculty members. The flexible class requirements include one clinical course, which students complete in their hometown. Participants also take classes like public health for the professional nurse and nursing research.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $340 per credit
  • Program Length: 2-4 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 87.1%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Florida SouthWestern State College View School Profile Fort Myers, FL

Students who enroll in FSW's online RN-to-BSN program can choose from part-time and full-time enrollment tracks. Clinical training in advanced health assessment and clinical decision-making complement leadership coursework.

Students who don't live nearby the school's campus in Fort Myers, Florida, work with program faculty to identify partner agencies for clinical requirements. Applicants must hold a valid RN license, have completed at least 36 credits of general education coursework, and have a minimum GPA of 2.5 in order to qualify for admission.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $126 per credit (in state); $795 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 3-4 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 79.89%
  • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Farmingdale State College View School Profile Farmingdale, NY

Farmingdale State College, part of the State University of New York system, designed its online RN-to-BSN program to help registered nurses provide evidence-based, patient-centered nursing services and take on leadership positions.

Over two academic years, students complete courses in the art of nursing, community health, patient education, and nurse advocacy. A senior leadership practicum serves as a capstone course. New students can join each fall. Applicants must have an associate in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA and a valid nursing license.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $295 per credit (in state); $708 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.3%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Great Basin College View School Profile Elko, NV

Great Basin College — based in Elko, Nevada — offers its RN-to-BSN online program through an accelerated three-semester track, a traditional track, and a part-time track, ensuring students enjoy flexibility in their education.

The program welcomes RNs with a valid license from their home state and an associate degree in nursing earned with a 3.0 GPA or higher. The curriculum offers a focus on the needs of rural communities and residents. A senior synthesis seminar allows students to explore a specific practice area or health issue.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $117-$188 per credit (in state); $172-$278 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 3-6 semesters
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.75%
  • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • School Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
California State University-Dominguez Hills View School Profile Carson, CA

CSUDH offers students the opportunity to enroll in an online RN-to-BSN. All courses take place asynchronously, and students can complete health assessment evaluations via Zoom. The nursing curriculum includes courses in community-based nursing, diversity in healthcare, and management and leadership. Clinical requirements take place in a student's community.

Applicants must have graduated from an associate nursing program with a 2.0 GPA or higher and hold a valid RN license. Students with ample transfer credit can graduate in as little as one year.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $239 per credit (in state); $396 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 1-2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Instruction style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges College and University Commission

Frequently Asked Questions About Online RN-to-BSN Programs

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

The most affordable RN-to-BSN online programs cost around $100 per credit for in-state students. The University of Florida, for instance, charges $129 per credit for state residents who enroll in its online programs (as of fall 2021). Distance learners at the University of Central Florida only pay $105 per credit.

What is the cost of online RN-to-BSN programs? true

Costs for online RN-to-BSN programs vary from college to college. In addition to tuition rates, which commonly range from $100 to over $600 per credit, students should consider other fees when calculating the true program cost. Learners can find scholarships or pursue other financial aid options to lower out-of-pocket costs.

Is there a pay increase from RN to BSN? true

A BSN does not guarantee a pay increase; many other factors also affect salary, including location, industry, and employer. However, a BSN may lead to specialized and leadership positions that often pay more. You can also use your BSN to negotiate for higher salaries in job interviews.

What type of RN makes the most money?

Pay for RN positions can vary based on factors like industry and location. Generally speaking, though, RNs in leadership positions tend to make the highest average salaries. According to PayScale, nurse administrators made an average annual salary of about $89,570 as of August 2021. Nurse managers earned approximately $87,540 per year.

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

Although many RN-to-BSN programs last two years for full-time students, some colleges and universities offer accelerated programs. These pathways may allow distance learners to graduate in just 12 months.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the necessity of nurses. If you're interested in healthcare and helping others, you may want to consider becoming a nurse. Nurses play a critical role in healthcare. Going back to school to become an RN can lead to better pay, long-term job security, and high job satisfaction. Coronavirus has highlighted the heroic efforts of front-line healthcare workers. Prospective healthcare students can expect jobs in this field to grow over the next decade.

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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