Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)
Is an ADN-to-BSN Program Right for You?
If you have an Associate Degree in Nursing but want to move up in your field, earning a bachelor’s degree can set you up for success—and take less time and money than you might think.
With an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), you have the skills to succeed as a registered nurse (RN) caring for patients at the bedside. If you want to build on your expertise, up your level of practice, and qualify for a broader range of nursing opportunities, completing an ADN-to-BSN bridge program can help you fulfill those goals.
Who Should Pursue an ADN-to-BSN Program?
Often targeted to meet the needs of working nurses, ADN-to-BSN bridge programs are for registered nurses who have an ADN and want to apply it toward a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
“The difference between an associate degree and a BSN program is the level of bigger-picture training that you get with a BSN and the level of evidence-based practice and theory,” says Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, an academic and professional development expert and founder of coaching company New Thing Nurse.
The BSN curriculum can not only deepen your knowledge of clinical nursing but also help you make a meaningful contribution to better patient care and outcomes.
“An important aspect of the BSN is the segment on leadership,” Wells says. “It addresses how nurses can lead, not necessarily from an administrative level as a director or manager, but the idea of leading from the bedside. How can I lead my patient’s care by giving better communication and better insight and education, with my team, and my patient, and my patient’s loved ones?”
How ADN-to-BSN Programs Work
An ADN-to-BSN bridge program allows you to apply past education and professional experience toward BSN requirements, based on program criteria. This can lower the time and cost of earning a bachelor’s degree.
A consultation with an admissions counselor can help you determine how to make the most of your prior education and experience. Credits from the following sources may fulfill prerequisites and minimize the number of credits you’ll need to earn a BSN:
There are also BSN programs geared toward licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and students who have a bachelor’s degree outside of nursing and want to apply credits to a BSN.
Benefits of Earning a BSN
Today, many employers consider the BSN to be the minimum requirement for professional nursing and for progressing in nursing leadership.
The emphasis on the BSN took hold in 2010, when the Institute of Medicine (now called the Academy of Medicine) recommended that RNs have a bachelor’s degree, citing research that indicated BSN nursing correlates with better patient outcomes. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) supports this position.
“The majority of Magnet status hospitals—which is the highest designation that a hospital can get, as a reflection of their nursing and shared governance—only hire BSN-educated nurses,” says Tiffany E. Gibson, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, CPN, a nurse educator and owner of New Nurse Academy, a resource for nursing education and professional development. “That is due to the evidence that says that the BSN-prepared nurse shows better patient outcomes due to the classes that they take in evidence-based research and leadership.”
Here’s a look at some of the benefits of earning a BSN.
Nurse with an ADN
Nurse with a BSN
Nurse with an ADN
Nurse with a BSN
Nurse with an ADN
Nurse with a BSN
Nurse with an ADN
Nurse with a BSN
If you’re a nurse with an ADN and an active RN license, you’ll likely qualify for ADN-to-BSN programs. If you’re lacking a specific prerequisite, you may be able to take it with your ADN-to-BSN classes.
Here’s a sample of potential ADN-to-BSN prerequisites:
If it’s been more than seven years since you completed your ADN, some programs may require you to retake specific science courses. However, many ADN-to-BSN programs accept ADN courses no matter how long ago you completed your degree, so it’s important to investigate all criteria when you choose your program.
Typically, ADN-to-BSN programs are not as competitive as traditional four-year BSN programs, so don’t count yourself out based on past academic performance.
Admissions officers recognize that your professional nursing experience has given you skills and abilities that may not be measured by traditional academic indicators, so a holistic review of your education, experience, and professionalism is often considered.
While admission requirements vary by program, they can include:
Time to Complete an ADN-to-BSN Program
Most nursing bridge programs cater to part-time students because many nurses continue working full time while they pursue their bachelor’s. In some cases, employers will pay a portion of tuition as an incentive for nurses to earn a BSN.
For a part-time student who fulfills all prerequisites, most ADN-to-BSN programs can be completed in about 18 months. This typically requires taking one to two courses every semester. Students who take time off from work to complete an ADN-to-BSN program may be able to complete the degree in about 12 months.
To ensure you’re receiving a quality education, check for school and program accreditation, awarded when a school meets quality standards that define professional nursing education.
There are three important reasons to attend an accredited program:
BSN program accreditation is awarded by three organizations. Check the databases of these groups to determine BSN program accreditation:
Upper-Level Nursing Classes
As an RN with an associate degree, you’ve mastered the knowledge and skills required to work in a clinical setting. A BSN curriculum goes deeper and explores the theories at the foundation of nursing.
“With the BSN, you’re getting more of the theory and didactic behind disease processes and treatment and the nurse’s response to these things,” Gibson says. “You’re getting more leadership classes, informatics classes, and evidence-based research. Recently, there’s also been a focus on community health, community collaboration, and more emphasis on primary care and prevention.”
Some examples of upper-level nursing topics and classes include:
Programs have different graduation requirements, and the number of credits can vary. Since you already have an RN license, you’ve already met state licensure qualifications for clinical hours, but some BSN programs may require more.
“In researching an ADN-to-BSN bridge program, you want to find out if there is a clinical or capstone requirement and when in the program this requirement falls so you can set yourself up for success and have an idea of what the workload is going to be,” Gibson says.
A capstone generally is a final project that brings together the knowledge and skills you’ve learned in your coursework. It’s designed to give students leadership experience and typically involves working one-on-one with a nurse in a healthcare or community-based care setting.
Depending on your employer’s relationship with your school, it may be possible to complete your capstone where you work, though usually you’ll have to do it after your normal work hours.
You can find a wide range of online ADN-to-BSN programs. An online bridge program can provide flexibility in learning, studying, and assignments. This can make a significant difference if you’re also juggling a job and/or family responsibilities.
While you may be able to earn the majority of your credits remotely, an online ADN-to-BSN program may require you to complete specific work in person. It’s important to clarify the amount and type of in-person hours required to ensure that you can meet those obligations.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
You may be able to reduce the cost of earning a BSN with employer tuition reimbursement or grants if you earn your degree while you’re employed. Your employer may also have a relationship with specific schools that allows for a student discount.
“There is a trend for a lot of hospitals to provide financial support to associate degree nurses to get their BSN,” Wells says. “An employer won’t pay for the whole thing, but often there’s a discount or scholarship that you can get. Your employer is also interested in getting you a BSN because, when they’re applying for Magnet status, that’s intrinsic to their application.”
Federal Financial Aid
Even if you qualify for employer tuition reimbursement, the cost of paying your portion of an ADN-to-BSN program may be more than you can afford. If this is the case, you may be eligible for need-based financial aid from your school or the federal government.
To find out if you’re eligible, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form that schools and student loan lenders use to determine your financial status.
You may also qualify for nursing scholarships or financial awards based on academic merit or other criteria unrelated to financial need from sources such as:
Earning a BSN doesn’t require you to specialize but earning a specialty certification is one way to broaden your nursing opportunities.
“With certifications, you can start expanding yourself as a ‘brand.’ You, as a nurse, are a brand,” Gibson says. “The more credentials and education you have, that validates that you are an expert and makes you, as a brand, more marketable. It allows you to demand more compensation, and it opens doors.”
Each specialty organization sets its own eligibility requirements, which typically include a minimum level of education and experience in the specialty. While all specialty certifications don’t necessarily require a BSN, some employers may require RNs to have a BSN to work in certain specialty units or positions.
Here are some common certifications that require a BSN and their credentialing organizations:
The salary you earn with a BSN will depend on how your employer values your education. Some employers provide nurses with a pay increase upon earning a BSN, or they might hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree at a higher rate than your ADN counterparts doing the same job.
Other factors that can affect pay include:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for RNs is $77,600, although this figure encompasses RNs with all levels of education—ADN, BSN, and above.
Salaries for nursing positions that typically require a BSN include:
Median Annual Salary
Nurse informatics specialist
As more hospitals focus on hiring nurses with BSNs, the degree may become necessary to remain competitive and current as a professional nurse.
The BSN is considered a steppingstone to positions that involve more responsibility and decision-making in a changing healthcare environment. It is also a sound foundation for more advanced nursing degrees in advanced practice, education, and administration.
“Nursing as a profession is very traditional in that it values education and credentials a lot,” Gibson says. “So, the more academic education you have, the more valuable you may be viewed because nursing has a traditional hierarchy and thought process.”