How an RN-to-BSN Degree Can Help Boost Your Career

smiling nurse in medical facility hallway holding electronic notepad
smiling nurse in medical facility hallway holding electronic notepad

Whether you’re finishing up your nursing schooling and preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) or you’ve been an RN for some time, you may want to consider earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) if you’re looking to advance your career. An RN-to-BSN program can help you earn that degree faster.

As the United States prepares to meet increased demand for healthcare due to a large and aging population, the responsibilities of nurses are rapidly increasing. The National Academy of Medicine (NAM), one of the leading independent, evidence-based scientific advisors in the medical industry, is pushing for 80% of RNs worldwide to have BSNs. As of February 2019, 56% of RNs in the U.S. had a BSN or higher degree, according to the Campaign for Nursing’s Future, an initiative of the Center to Champion Nursing in America.

Since a BSN requires four years of education rather than the shorter period of training and education required to earn an RN, this degree shows your capacity for exceptional care in the eyes of many employers. Take a look at what an advanced RN-to-BSN degree can mean for you

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The Benefits of Earning Your BSN Degree

step 1

Deeper training: Pursuing a Bachelor of Science in nursing means more training in the physical and social sciences, communication, leadership, and critical thinking. As nursing becomes more complex, it will be increasingly important for nurses to have more education and expertise in these areas.

step 2

Better job opportunities: Studying for your BSN will give you more clinical experience in non-hospital settings. If you’d like to apply for administrative positions, do research, consult, or teach, you’ll need a BSN or other advanced degree.

step 3

Tuition reimbursement: Many registered nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma find an entry-level position and then earn their BSN with the help of employee tuition reimbursement benefits. Many employers make this option available because it benefits their employees and the healthcare they provide.

step 4

Greater earnings potential: While entry-level nursing positions offer the same benefits at first, no matter what your degree, nurses who’ve earned their BSN will be able to move up through the ranks more quickly. As your duties increase with your job title—such as assistant head nurse or head nurse—your salary will also increase.

Why an RN-to-BSN Degree?

male nurse looking intently at computer screen

The RN-to-BSN degree is a response to higher employer demand for nurses with more education. While ADNs were the norm for many years, the BSN is becoming more common—and sometimes required.

Referred to as a “bridge” program, the RN-to-BSN curriculum is built with your previous education in mind. By the end of the program, students should have a deeper understanding of patient care and sharper analytical and clinical reasoning skills.

While there are plenty of nurses who succeed in their careers with an ADN or nursing diploma, returning to school to earn a BSN can boost your professional development and give you more career choices. There are also similar bridge programs for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who want to earn a BSN.

A BSN can sharpen your professional skills, increase your career opportunities and boost your salary.

This degree can help you become more comfortable with the latest medical technology, including platforms used for telemedicine and online doctor visits. A bridge program will also teach you how to work in different settings, such as public health or home care, and in roles—traveling nurse, school nurse or legal nurse consultant—you might not have considered.

RN-to-BSN Program Overview

As of 2019, there were 777 RN-to-BSN programs across the country, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Each school has different requirements, but programs generally last between one and two years. Depending on the program, you may also choose between a part-time and full-time schedule.

Since students who are enrolled in a bridge program have on-the-job experience, you’ll find that the courses will build upon existing knowledge. Instead of repeating a handful of courses, you’ll examine more sophisticated and complex topics. Here’s a brief outline of courses you may take:

  • Health information technology
  • Nursing management
  • Community and public health nursing
  • Cultural diversity
  • Economics
  • Liberal arts: history, humanities, and literature
  • Transition to baccalaureate/professional nursing
nurse talking to educator and showing her paper

The Transition to a Professional Nursing Course

One of the first courses you’ll take will introduce you to the role of a professional nurse and the many paths you can take, such as educator, advocate and coordinator of care.

This course will delve into evidence-based practice, nursing responsibilities, and ethics. Nursing theories and concepts will help you understand the profession and prepare you for more advanced nursing. Once you understand these fundamental tenets, you’ll be ready to move on to courses in research and other specialized topics.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience is also an important part of an RN-to-BSN program. In fact, the AACN’s RN-BSN Education Task Force recommends that all programs provide practice experience so ADN or diploma nursing students can become proficient at the baccalaureate level.

Defined as “practice experience” by the task force, the lessons are broken into two categories: direct and indirect care. The intent is to build a student’s proficiency in areas such as leadership development, inter-professional collaboration and communication, clinical prevention and population health, and integration of technologies into practice.

Your RN-to-BSN program should include both direct and indirect care clinical experiences. Here are some examples:

Direct Care

Indirect Care

Provide care directly to the patient and communicate with patient and their family.

Craft new policies and collaborate with others for approval.

Evaluate practice guidelines and determine changes.

Create a policy for better cohesion among units.

Create a coordinated, patient-focused plan of care.

Teach other nurses and staff how to use new technology.

Collaborate with other healthcare providers to improve care.

Implement a new software program with the help of IT staff.

Work with other nurses to implement a new procedure.

Partner with community leaders to create a disaster/emergency preparedness plan.

Make sure your BSN program includes clinical training. This additional hands-on learning will provide you with necessary in-depth knowledge.

Picking the Right School

With hundreds of RN-to-BSN schools to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you?

As you narrow your list of potential programs, start by ensuring they’re accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The specific nursing organizations to look for are:

Accreditation offers several benefits. First, it ensures you’re receiving a quality education that meets strict industry standards. It also opens the door to other opportunities, such as eligibility for federal financial aid. And, if you decide to attend graduate school in the future, you’ll need a BSN from an accredited program.

Once you’re ready to compare programs, consider these factors:

  • Schedule: Many schools recognize that nurses often work while going to school. RN-to-BSN programs have been created to give you the comprehensive education you need in the shortest amount of time possible. Many online programs also are available. You’ll still be required to complete clinical work in person (usually at a local clinic), but you can attend classes and do homework online. This gives students the flexibility they need if they’re working.
  • Your goals: What are you looking to achieve in your career? Does a school’s BSN curriculum suit those needs? For instance, if you’re interested in community-based healthcare, find a program that offers clinical experience in that setting.

Pros and Cons of Going Online

serious looking female nurse

Considering going back to school to earn your BSN after many years on the job? You’re not alone. Many people take a break in education because of factors such as a heavy workload, tending to family obligations, traveling for work, or living in a rural area far from a traditional school.

And because RNs have some of the busiest schedules, time management can be a challenge when returning to school. This is where it could benefit to enroll in an online BSN program. The drawbacks are missing out on classroom interactions with your peers and face time with your instructors, though you’ll have that interaction in your on-the-job training.

The main benefit of online learning is flexibility. You’ll take non-clinical courses online, completing assignments on your schedule and by a specified due date. Clinical training is typically done at the nearest hospital or other medical facility.

Online programs provide personalized technical and academic support from advisors, staff, and tutors by using state-of-the-art technology

If you’re comfortable with online learning, an online RN-to-BSN offers several advantages in addition to flexibility. Meeting classmates virtually means that you may have the opportunity to explore new perspectives by collaborating with nurses from around the country in a highly interactive environment.

While most of your learning will occur independently, online programs provide personalized technical and academic support from advisors, staff, and tutors by using state-of-the-art interactive web-based platforms. Online programs may also allow you to finish your degree faster since they typically offer classes year-round, rather than following a traditional academic calendar.

What You’ll Study

Topics that you’ll study in a typical RN-to-BSN program prepare you to work as a nurse generalist in many types of healthcare settings. These studies may include:

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

Do I Need a BSN?

Better pay, more knowledge to keep up with 21st century technological changes and advancements, increased fluency in your craft: Overall, there are many reasons why going for your BSN is a super smart move—one that will pay off for your patients, your employers, and your personal well-being.

Nursing is a competitive field, and nurses with a BSN will be sought after as healthcare continues to evolve. This degree also opens the door to graduate-level training. If you decide to pursue a career as an advanced practice nurse, a bachelor’s degree is the foundation you’ll need for an MSN program.

What Employers Say

Employers, from hospitals to physicians’ offices, want the most qualified nurses on their staff. This is especially true as nurses spend more time treating patients who are suffering from chronic illnesses.

The numbers also show that employers are more apt to consider nurses with a BSN, according to a 2019 survey conducted by the AACN. Not convinced? Consider these statistics:


of hospitals and healthcare settings require new hires to have a bachelor’s degree.


of employers “expressed a strong preference” for hiring graduates of BSN programs.

It makes sense. After all, research has shown that better patient outcomes have been linked to nurses with a bachelor’s-level education.

What Industry Experts Say

In addition to the NAM’s push for more nurses to have BSNs, some states have considered the “BSN in 10” initiative, but so far only New York State has signed it into law. This initiative requires nurses to earn the degree within 10 years of getting their RN license.

According to the AACN, BSN programs are “growing in importance” as this degree is the minimum requirement for nurse managers and nurse leaders who work in Magnet hospitals, which are recognized for excellence in nursing and patient outcomes. Other organizations that require nurses to have BSNs include the military and the federal government.

Bottom line: While a BSN may not be required everywhere just yet, there’s a move in that direction.

What Former Nursing Students Say

A BSN can also make you feel more accomplished. According to the National Student Nurses’ Association:


felt personal satisfaction after earning a BSN


saw professional growth


expanded their knowledge base

Nurses who earn their BSN often take on more expanded roles and have more opportunities in their field.

The Path to a BSN

two female nurses talking animatedly

If you’ve earned your ADN, you’re already one step on the path toward getting your BSN. While each school has its own list of admission requirements, you’ll most likely need the following qualifications:

  • Nursing diploma or ADN from an accredited program
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Current, unrestricted RN license
  • Criminal background check
  • Passing score on HESI Admission Assessment (A2) Exam

The HESI (Health Education Systems Inc.) exam helps some schools identify whether students will pass other required nursing exams, such as the NCLEX-RN. The HESI exam isn’t required by all schools, so it’s a good idea to research prospective programs. If you do need to take the exam, you’ll be tested in seven areas:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Biology
  • Vocabulary and general knowledge
  • Chemistry
  • Grammar
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Basic math skills

The HESI exam also includes a personality profile and assessments of your learning style and critical thinking skills.

Once enrolled in school, you’ll spend up to two years immersed in nursing courses and clinical experience.

Other Accelerated BSN Pathways

If you have a bachelor’s degree in another area of study, “accelerated” BSN programs are available. In this case, you’ll focus primarily on nursing studies instead of liberal arts courses.

These programs are rigorous and take about 18 months to complete. Because of their fast-paced nature, accelerated BSN programs require most of your time. Some schools even require that you forgo working while enrolled because students are expected to maintain very high academic standards.

While heading back to school may seem daunting, a BSN can have a big financial payoff.

However, if becoming a full-time student isn’t an option, some accelerated BSN programs offer evening and weekend classes that allow students to continue working while they study.

While heading back to school may feel daunting, earning a BSN can have significant payoffs.

According to the most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earn an average salary of $77,460. PayScale breaks it down further and says a nurse with a BSN can earn on average about 30% more than one with an RN.