Fast Track Your Degree with an LPN- to-BSN Program

nursing students listen to lecture
nursing students seated in lecture

If you’re a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) ready to move up in your career, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can prepare you for the next level of nursing opportunities.

An LPN-to-BSN bridge program, in particular, might be a good choice for you because it allows you to use your existing education and skills to minimize the time it takes to earn a BSN and qualify for registered Nurse (RN) licensing exams.

If you’re wondering how to navigate the transition to this advanced degree, we’re here to help. This bridge program can help you succeed in a wide range of healthcare settings, roles and careers.

What Is an LPN-to-BSN Bridge Program?

smiling medical staff stand in circle

An LPN-to-BSN bridge program is an option for LPNs and LVNs (the terms are used interchangeably, depending on the state) who want to earn a BSN.

An LPN/LVN education—often the next step after becoming a certified nurse assistant—prepares you to perform basic patient care under the direction of an RN or physician. With a BSN and an RN license, you’ll be ready to take on an even wider range of responsibilities, including more in-depth patient care and some types of medical decisions, with much more autonomy.

An LPN-to-BSN bridge program allows you to earn a BSN and earn credentials to qualify for an RN license on a faster track by applying your previous education and training toward a bachelor’s degree.

“A BSN is going to broaden your skillset in your patient-centered care, your physical assessments, your clinical judgment, your leadership, your community, and your public health,” says Kathleen Poindexter, PhD, RN, CNE, ANEF, president-elect of the National League for Nursing (NLN), and assistant dean of undergraduate programs and faculty development and associate professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State University.

How Bridge Programs Differ from Traditional BSN Programs

An LPN-to-BSN bridge program helps you earn a BSN at a faster pace than a traditional two-step route to a BSN, which involves following a path from LPN to earning your RN  license, and then from RN to BSN. A bridge program gives you credit for the knowledge and skills you have as an LPN and typically reduces the amount of time you’ll spend to earn your RN license and BSN degree.

Benefits of Bridge Programs

In a bridge program, you’ll simultaneously earn the credentials you need to qualify for an RN license and a wide range of BSN-level nursing positions. 

This program typically offers flexible learning options and time for working LPN/LVNs versus a traditional full-time, four-year BSN. By allowing you to bypass the need to earn an RN license before your BSN degree, an LPN-to-BSN program also saves you time and money.

Many bridge programs offer “credit by exam” to determine your knowledge in specific areas. Students typically receive a specific number of credits for each exam, reducing the number of credits you need to take in the bridge program and the time required to earn a bachelor’s degree.

An LPN-to-BSN program also allows you to meet recommended education standards for entry-level nurses. The call for nurses to achieve higher levels of education and training gained momentum in 2010, when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) (now the National Academy of Medicine), one of the leading independent, evidence-based scientific advisors in the medical industry, recommended that 80% of all RNs worldwide should have a BSN by 2020.

This report is being updated for the next decade, and as more employers adopt this standard, an LPN-to-BSN program can give you more confidence in a changing job market for nurses.


Who Are These Programs For?

An LPN-to-BSN program is appealing to LPNs who are ready to take the next step in their nursing career by earning the credentials to qualify for an RN license and get the comprehensive education that comes with a BS.

As a working LPN, it’s important to consider your career direction before enrolling in a specific bridge program. Poindexter encourages prospective students to think about what they want out of their careers before they commit time and money to a program. “Success results from being self-directed and committed,” she says. “That’s why identifying and understanding your goal is important.”

An LPN-to-BSN is geared to LPNs or LVNs who are ready to take the next step in their nursing career and get their RN license.

young nursing student looks at laptop

In signing on for a bridge program, Poindexter advises prospective students to make sure they have the support they need to earn a BSN. From a practical perspective, this includes support from your partner, family, and employer to accommodate the time and financial resources required to complete this program over a period of a few years.

Without a solid plan and goal, Poindexter warns of the risk of having to withdraw from a program. Depending on when you withdraw, you could be left without enough training for an RN license or a degree.


How Long Does It Take?

A typical LPN-to-BSN program takes two to three years of full-time study to complete, but this can vary depending on the program and number of credits you transfer from your LPN.

Entering a program with fewer credits and/or attending part time can extend the time it takes to complete your BSN, though some programs have limits on the time you’re allowed to complete your coursework and clinical requirements.


Are Online Programs Available?

Since it might be difficult to stop working to attend school full time, many LPN-to-BSN programs offer online or evening classes. This may be a good choice if you have family or work responsibilities and need a flexible schedule. Online programs may also help you finish your degree faster since they typically offer classes year-round rather than following a traditional academic calendar.

Most LPN-to-BSN programs offer a hybrid program that allows you to attend most classes on your own time online while attending a specified number of required classes or meetings on campus. Some online programs may also require attendance at fixed times online. While you’ll learn independently and communicate with professors and fellow students virtually, you’ll also be held to set dates for assignments and exams.

In an online bridge program, you’ll also have to satisfy clinical hours in a school-approved medical setting, so make sure there’s an approved location in your area before enrolling in a specific online program.  


What You’ll Study

two women nurses talking

An LPN-to-BSN program will award credit for professional knowledge you already have. Many programs allow you to take up to five Acceleration Challenge Exams offered by the National League for Nursing (NLN) to earn credits without taking classes. The exams don’t provide a score but verify nursing knowledge and can account for up to 30 credits, based on your institution’s guidelines.

Your coursework starts with general knowledge classes designed to position you for success when you move on to nursing courses and clinical training. The specific courses vary by program but typically involve a mix of liberal arts and general science classes in areas such:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Statistics
  • English composition
  • Ethics

Core nursing classes include coursework that prepares you to work as a professional nurse generalist, capable of providing care in a wide range of healthcare settings. These studies include:

  • Professional nursing
  • Leadership
  • Health assessment
  • Nursing management
  • Psychosocial nursing
  • Family nursing
  • Public health

Some programs allow you to take concentrations in areas of specialization, but that’s not typical, Poindexter says. “A BSN program is designed to prepare entry-level generalists,” she says.

Are There Clinical Hour Requirements?

All LPN-to-BSN degrees have required clinical hours. Since a BSN is meant to provide a generalist education, you can expect to have clinical experiences across a wide range of practice settings and patients.

There is no set minimum number of clinical hours; some schools offer the minimum to meet board of nursing licensure requirements in a state, and some programs require many more than that. Check the requirements in the state you want to work in and see what the program you’re looking at offers.


What to Look for in a School and Program

Some of the most important considerations in selecting an LPN-to-BSN are whether both the program and the institution meet your needs for scheduling, cost, and time to completion. Public and private colleges and universities, both for-profit and non-profit, typically offer LPN-to-BSN programs.

In many states, you may also find bridge programs at community colleges. While most community colleges don’t offer degrees above the associate level, several states have authorized them to provide BSN programs to help alleviate the shortage of BSN-educated nurses. Accreditation also is crucial.

Accreditation

To earn accreditation, an LPN-to-BSN program must meet criteria that ensure a quality education and professional curriculum standards. You must attend an accredited program to qualify for federal financial aid, scholarships, and certification for most state licenses and professional specialties.

Two key professional nursing organizations award accreditation to LPN-to-BSN programs. You can check for your school’s program accreditation in databases maintained by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Employers recognize a degree from an accredited program as one that provides a quality education. Another benefit:  You can transfer credits or a degree from an accredited program to other institutions to meet program prerequisites for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or another degree program or certificate.

Accreditation is awarded for institutions and programs. Institutional accreditation is awarded by six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. You can verify an institution’s accreditation in a database maintained by the department.

Employers recognize a degree from an accredited program as one that provides a quality education. 

Prerequisite and Admission Requirements

Prerequisites vary by specific LPN-to-BSN institution and program. In general, you can expect the following requirements for this type of bridge program:

  • Proof of an active LPN license
  • Post-secondary transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
  • One year of work experience as an LPN (varies)
  • 1,000 hours of LPN work experience (varies)
  • Professional and/or academic recommendations
  • Personal statement of purpose
  • In-person interview

Career Counseling/Job Placement Help

LPN-to-BSN programs vary in their career counseling/job placement resources. Find out what to expect before you enroll. Career counseling can help you plan your education and achieve your professional goals.

Career counseling services can also provide valuable assistance in making career choices, guiding you in preparing for the types of positions you want and finding networking opportunities. Ask programs you’re interested in about the percentage of graduates who have jobs within six months of graduation.


How Much Will It Cost?

The cost of an LPN-to-BSN program depends on the type of school and how many credits you must complete to earn your degree. A public institution typically provides courses at a lower price than a private school. You may find the most economical bridge programs at community colleges if they’re available in your state.

For full-time students at a public institution, the average annual cost of tuition, fees, and room and board for a bachelor’s degree is about $20,000. At non-profit private institutions the cost is about $41,000.

Part-time students may have other options, such as paying for tuition by the credit. There’s no standard way of charging for education online, so check with your school for specifics and use that information to calculate total program cost if you want to compare programs.

While an LPN-to-BSN degree can save you money versus earning an RN and then a BSN, costs vary widely depending on factors like location and whether you’re a resident or non-resident attending a state school, so it pays to compare. Most nursing programs also require fees for background checks, fingerprinting, equipment, uniforms, and other supplies needed to fulfill clinical hours.

Attending a bridge program while you work may allow you to take advantage of company tuition reimbursement programs. With the emphasis on increasing the number of BSN-educated nurses, many employers are willing to help committed employees.

Attending an LPN-to-BSN program while you work may allow you to take advantage of a company tuition reimbursement program.

Find out the criteria for tuition assistance and how it fits into your education plan. “Many of the employing institutions are providing funding for associate degree nurses to obtain their bachelor’s degrees, so if your employer is going to pay for the BSN completion, that’s something to consider,” Poindexter says. “That’s going to be in your time considerations.”


Financial Aid and Scholarships

Once you decide to pursue an LPN-to-BSN program, it can be frustrating to realize that you don’t have adequate financial resources to follow through on your plan. Before you postpone your dreams, don’t overlook the many options available for financial aid. 

To qualify for financial aid and income-based scholarships, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools and financial institutions use this standard form to determine your eligibility for assistance and student loans. Other potential sources of financial awards can include school or program awards, scholarships, and military service credits.

Check whether your school has program-specific scholarships for BSN nurses or nontraditional learners. Many organizations are committed to helping offset the nursing shortage and increasing the educational level of RNs. Look for grants and scholarships from local, state, and national nursing associations, as well as private foundations.

You may also qualify for scholarships or educational awards based on factors like your location or personal characteristics like gender or ethnicity.

Search nursing scholarships


Licensing and Tests

A top goal of an LPN-to-BSN program is earning an RN license. After you finish your program, you should have the necessary clinical hours to apply for a license.

Find out your state’s requirements for an RN license to make sure you’ll have what you need for this credential. When you meet the criteria, the state board of nursing will approve your application to take the NCLEX-RN, the national licensing exam for RNs.

To avoid wasting time and money on a program that your state doesn’t recognize, make sure your state’s board of nursing approves your LPN-to-BSN program. This information is available on your state board of nursing’s website, so check a program before you enroll.

A top goal of an LPN-to-BSN program is earning an RN license.


Jobs You’ll Qualify For

nurse confers with staff on ward

Having a BSN qualifies you for nursing positions that allow you to participate in more complex levels of decision making about patient care and services. Eventually, you can pursue roles in which you supervise other nurses and educate patients.

You may also qualify for nursing positions in non-clinical roles in physician offices, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and government institutions. Having a BSN positions you in a job market for RNs that will grow by 16% through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

As you gain experience, a BSN can also prepare you for advanced roles. “There are a number of specialty certifications that you can achieve once you have a bachelor’s degree or you’re working as a nurse, including specialization in areas such as ICU, peds, or others,” Poindexter says.


Get Ready for a Significant Pay Raise

Completing an LPN-to-BSN program may qualify you for higher-paying positions, though factors such as your location, type of employer, and years of experience also affect salaries.

A comparison of average annual salaries from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that RNs can potentially make about 60% more than LPNs.

Occupation


Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse

Registered Nurse (includes RN, BSN, and MSN)

Average Salary


$48,500

$77,460

More ways to boost your salary

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