RN-to-BSN Degree: Everything You Need to Know

Learn about the benefits of earning your advanced nursing degree.

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 a practicing nurse for some time, your next step may be to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It’s a great choice.

As the United States prepares to meet increased demand for healthcare, due to a large and active aging population and to healthcare reforms, the responsibilities of nurses are rapidly increasing. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) estimates that by 2020, 80 percent of nurses will be expected to have their BSN.

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

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The benefits of earning your RN-to-BSN degree

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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.

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More opportunities: Studying for your BSN, you’ll also get more clinical experience in non-hospital settings. If you’d like to apply for administrative positions, do research, consulting or teaching, you’ll need a BSN or other advanced degree.

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Tuition reimbursement: Many registered nurses with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or diploma first find an entry-level position and then take advantage of tuition reimbursement benefits. This helps them to work toward their BSN while working as a nurse. Employers make this option available because they know the benefit to both the business and the nurse will be great.

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Greater earnings potential: While entry-level nursing positions will reap 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—moving into positions like assistant head nurse or head nurse—your salary will also increase.

What is an RN-to-BSN Degree?


The RN-to-BSN degree is designed with a specific type of student in mind: Nurses who already have an associate’s degree in the field (ADN). Referred to as a “bridge” program, the curriculum is built with your previous education in mind. The introductory courses you’ll take are the bridge to BSN-level classes. By the end of the program, students should have gained a deeper understanding of the issues that affect patient care. The program is also intended to hone analytical and clinical reasoning skills.

The RN-to-BSN degree is a response to the call for more educated nurses. While ADNs were the norm for many years, the BSN is becoming more common—and sometimes required—as efficiency and improvements in healthcare are needed.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), from 2015 to 2016, enrollments in RN-to-BSN programs increased by more than one percent. It was the 13th consecutive year of increases.

While there are plenty of nurses who succeed with an ADN, returning to school to earn a BSN can help jumpstart your career development. Consider this: An RN-to-BSN degree can help you become more comfortable with the latest technology affecting the nursing field (electronic health records, for example). A bridge program will also teach you how to work in different settings, such as public health or home care. It can also prepare you to work in roles–traveling nurse, school nurse or legal nurse consultant—you hadn’t thought of.

RN-to-BSN Programs

As of 2016, there were 747 RN-to-BSN programs across the country. 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:

  • Transition to Baccalaureate Nursing
  • Health Information Technology
  • Nursing Management
  • Community and Public Health Nursing
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Economics
  • Liberal Arts: History, Humanities and Literature

What is a “Transition to Professional Nursing” Course Like?

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

This introductory course will delve into evidence-based practice, nursing responsibilities and ethics. Nursing theories and concepts are integral to helping you understand the profession. The issues you tackle in this class will prepare you for a more advanced level of nursing. Once you understand these fundamental tenets, you’ll be ready to move on to courses in research and special topics in nursing.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience is also an important part of an RN-to-BSN program. In fact, the AACN’s RN-BSN Task Force made recommendations so an ADN student can transition to a baccalaureate level with the help of hands-on training.

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 level 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.

Direct Care

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

Evaluate practice guidelines and determine changes

Create a coordinated, patient-centered plan of care

Collaborate with other healthcare providers to improve care

Work with other nurses to implement a new procedure

Indirect Care

Craft new policies and collaborate with others for approval

Create a policy for better cohesion between units

Teach other nurses and staff how to properly use new technology

Implement an electronic health record with the assistance of IT staff

Partner with community leaders to create disaster/emergency preparedness plan

Ensure your BSN program has a clinical experience included in the curriculum. This additional hands-on training will provide you with in-depth knowledge needed to work as a BSN, RN.

RN-to-BSN Schools

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

As you winnow down your list of potential programs, start by ensuring they are accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the 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 is designed to prepare you for a career in nursing. Accreditation essentially says a curriculum meets strict standards accepted in the industry.

Attending an accredited RN-to-BSN school opens the door to other opportunities, such as federal financial aid eligibility. 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:

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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. And, many online programs are now available. You’ll still be required to complete clinical experiences in person (usually at a local clinic), but classes and homework can be done online. This allows students the schedule flexibility they need if they’re working.

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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 may offer clinical experiences in that setting.

Pros and Cons of Earning Your RN-to-BSN Online

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 a combination of factors, such as a heavy workload, tending to family obligations, traveling for a spouse’s job, or being located in a rural area far from a traditional school.

And because RNs have some of the busiest schedules, time management is a major obstacle to conquer when going back to school for your BSN. This is where it could benefit you 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 be receiving that in your on-the-job learning experiences. The main benefit of online learning is flexibility.

You’ll take non-clinical portions of classroom courses online, completing assignments on your time and by the specified due date. Clinical portions may be taken at the nearest hospital or other facility.

As an example of a typical online RN to BSN program, the accredited program at Walden University offers registered nurses the opportunity to:

  • Explore new perspectives by collaborating with nurses from around the country in a highly interactive online environment
  • Receive personalized technical and academic support from advisors, staff, and tutors
  • Apply real-world solutions immediately on the job
  • Establish a foundation for pursuing graduate studies
  • Achieve educational goals without compromising personal and professional obligations

What You’ll Study in your Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program


Topics that you’ll study in your RN to BSN program at Walden University are typical of the coursework for this degree. They include:

  • Issues and Trends in Nursing
  • The Context of Healthcare Delivery
  • Information Management in Nursing and Healthcare
  • Pathopharmacology
  • Health Assessment
  • Research and Scholarship for Evidence-Based Practice
  • Family, Community, and Population-Based Care
  • Public and Global Health
  • Leadership Competencies in Nursing and Healthcare

Better pay, more knowledge to cope 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.

Do I Need a BSN?

Nursing is a competitive field and nurses with a BSN will be sought after as the healthcare field continues to evolve. In addition to the benefits listed above, a BSN also opens the door for 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 to enroll in 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 of their time treating patients who are suffering from chronic illnesses. Historically, ADN programs have taught nurses how to handle acute illnesses and injuries. By earning your BSN, you’ll be better equipped to handle the latest evolution in healthcare.

The numbers also show that employers are more apt to consider nurses with a BSN, according to a 2014 survey conducted by AACN. Not convinced? Consider these statistics:


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 IOM’s 2020 recommendation, some states have considered the “BSN in 10” initiative. This would require nurses to earn their BSN within 10 years of initial licensure.

According to AACN, BSN programs are “growing in importance” as more magnet hospitals and academic health centers require nurses to have BSN degrees.

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:


Nurses who earn their BSN often take on more expanded roles. The additional education you pursue can open doors to other opportunities within the field.

The Path to a BSN


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

  • Nursing diploma or ADN from an accredited program
  • GPA of 2.0 or higher
  • Current, unrestricted RN license
  • Criminal background check
  • Passing score on HESI Admission Assessment (A2) Exam

The HESI exam isn’t required by all schools, so it’s a good idea to research prospective programs ahead of time. If you do need to take the exam, you’ll be tested in seven areas:

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

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

If you have a bachelor’s degree in other area of study, accelerated BSN programs are available. In this case, you’ll focus primarily on nursing studies instead of the liberal arts courses. These programs are rigorous and take about 18 months to complete. Because of their fast-paced nature, accelerated BSN programs require the majority of your time. Some schools even require that you forgo working while enrolled. Students are expected to maintain very high academic standards.

While it may feel daunting to head back to school, earning a BSN can have enormous payoffs. Just ask the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“Generally, registered nurses with at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) will have better job prospects than those without one.”

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses“Changing Requirements Send Nurses Back to School,” NY Times, June 23, 2012.

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