How to earn a BSN degree online
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Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) online can give you the education you need to succeed in professional nursing and the flexibility to learn on your schedule. You can typically complete most of your coursework in a virtual environment while you do clinical training in a local medical setting.
What also makes the BSN appealing is that it’s becoming somewhat of an industry standard: The call for nurses to achieve higher levels of education and training started gaining momentum in 2010, when the National Academy of Medicine (then called the Institute of Medicine) recommended that 80% of all registered nurses worldwide have a BSN by 2020. Some nurses seem to have heard the call. In 2021, 65.2% of employed nurses had a BSN or higher according to the Campaign for Action, a group working to strengthen the nursing profession.
With this degree, you’ll be prepared to take on a wide range of patient responsibilities and position yourself for more professional growth. “A BSN is a highly recognized nursing degree,” says Melissa Burdi, DNP, MS, RN, LSSGB, associate dean for the School of Nursing at Purdue University Global. “It paves the way for many opportunities for a nurse throughout his or her career to continue on with specialty certification or advanced education. So, the BSN is a wonderful foundation.”
As more employers move toward the preference for nurses with bachelor’s degrees, earning yours can help you remain competitive in the workforce. We’ll help you understand what’s involved in earning this degree online and how to choose a program.
What BSN programs are available?
These online degrees include programs for recent high school graduates and non-traditional adult students without healthcare experience. They’re also an option for licensed practical or vocational nurses (LPN/LVNs) and registered nurses (RNs) who want to take the next step in their education and increase their earning potential.
The type of program you choose will depend partly on whether you have your RN license. They can be divided into two categories: pre-license and post-license, says Carla D. Sanderson, PhD, RN, provost at Chamberlain University, who has studied best practices in online nursing education extensively.
Whichever program you choose, its structure will depend on your school’s requirements. Most online BSN degrees are offered in hybrid programs that allow you to take classes online and attend required labs or classes on campus or at a central location.
How do online and on-campus BSN programs differ?
While both programs help students achieve the same academic goals, the online experience is different because it gives you a lot of leeway to decide how and when you learn. Class schedules typically are flexible because many programs aren’t limited to traditional fall and spring semesters or quarters.
But online and campus programs are comparable when it comes to the education they deliver. “Online nursing programs preparing students to become RNs are developed to meet the same overall outcomes of on-campus programs—preparing nurses for entry-level practice, socializing nurses to the professional role and to pass NCLEX-RN,” says Sanderson.
Who are these programs best for?
Some nurses who opt for online programs are RNs who want to pursue a higher degree but don’t want to take time off work to earn a BSN.
Online BSN programs can also be ideal for first-time nursing students, who can complete liberal arts and theory-based nursing courses online, allowing them to study around existing schedules before moving on to clinical training.
Online learning can give you room to meet responsibilities that prevent you from attending a brick-and-mortar school.
If you’re a nursing student in a rural area with no classroom programs within reach, an online program can give you access to a wide range of educational opportunities across the country.
And if you’re already busy, online learning can give you room to meet responsibilities that prevent you from attending a brick-and-mortar school.
“You still have milestones, assignments, and activities that are required during the week,” Burdi says. “However, it’s targeted for the adult learner [and personalized] so you have a little more latitude to complete those deliverables in the time frame that works best for you.” For people who work full time, busy parents and other caregivers, wiggle room like this can make a huge difference. The key to online learning itself is being able to prioritize and manage coursework without the structure of a campus classroom. If you can do that, an online BSN program may be right for you.
How long does It take to complete?
A BSN typically takes four years to complete, and this holds true for campus and online programs. If you’re already an LPN, LVN or registered nurse, you can expect to earn your degree a bit faster.
You can also cut your time in school by picking a program that offers year-round education. Another option is a modularized curriculum.
“The modularized curriculum is competency-based,” says Burdi. “Students can complete these modules as fast or as slow as they need to in order to obtain their degree.”
How do online BSN programs work?
The curriculum of online BSN programs mirrors that of a traditional one, with the caveat being you can earn your degree from the comfort of your home.
However, with nursing being a hands-on profession, odds are your online BSN program won’t be exclusively online.
The curriculum for an online/hybrid program is the same as the curriculum for a traditional BSN. It’s a generalist degree intended to prepare nurses for a wide range of healthcare environments.
The curriculum is intended for high school graduates with no prior clinical experience. Coursework typically covers a wide range of general studies:
Science and math are emphasized with studies in algebra, statistics, chemistry, biology, and human anatomy being the norm.
Nursing courses typically consist of studies in:
In some programs, you may have to finish your general studies before you dive into your nursing courses and clinical training.
If you’re an RN in a bridge program, you may be able to reduce your nursing coursework and clinical hours. Depending on your prior educational experience, you may also be able to transfer credits toward your general studies requirements.
Some programs may require you to finish your general studies before you dive into your nursing courses and clinical training.
Many programs allow you to take up to five of the National League for Nursing (NLN) Nursing Acceleration Challenge Exams to determine if you have enough knowledge to skip some coursework. The exams don’t provide a score but verify nursing knowledge and can account for up to 30 credits, based on your school’s guidelines.
Hands-on clinical hour requirements
Requirements to appear in person for coursework vary by program. In a hybrid program, you may need to go to campus or another location for weekly or periodic labs or classroom instruction.
Clinical hours are an integral component of any BSN degree, and this training will be on a specific schedule. Requirements will vary by school, so make sure you know what they are before choosing a program.
Students in online RN-to-BSN programs typically have the least amount of required clinical hours because they’ve already fulfilled some with their nursing experience.
Most online programs allow you to fulfill clinical requirements at a hospital or clinical site that’s convenient to your home. However, the program will have to approve the site and the qualifications of the supervisors who will oversee your clinical work.
If you don’t have clinical experience or you’re a student in either a traditional BSN or LPN-to-BSN program, you’ll have to fulfill a minimum number of hours to qualify for a RN license in your state.
Will an Online Degree Make a Difference with Employers?
Attending an accredited school and program proves that your education meets professional standards.
Will an online degree make a difference with employers?
Attending an accredited school and program proves that your education meets professional standards—whether you received it online, in a classroom, or a combination of both. And that can prepare you to be competitive in the workforce.
“The value placed on online nursing education is no longer in question,” says Sanderson. “Online students participate in direct patient care as part of their learning, just as on-campus students do. Other measures of success among online-educated nurses are graduation rates, success of licensure and certification examinations, employment rates, and graduate school placement rates—all of which can be compared to on-campus graduates.”
Is getting a BSN online hard?
It depends on how you learn and what type of educational environment you thrive in. Those who value independence and a fast-paced, self-guided environment and those who need extra help for the more challenging courses might get more value out of a traditional BSN experience.
Are online programs available if you don’t have prior nursing experience?
Yes. Several institutions offer accelerated BSN programs, which are tailored to those with a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. These accelerated curriculums take about 11-to-18 months to complete, as your previous degree will check off many of the non-nursing coursework requirements. It’s a quick and efficient option for those looking to pivot to nursing as a career later in life.