From medical regulation and insurance to disease trends, the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Registered nurses are taking on expanded roles in order to address the complexities and changes within the system. If you’re embarking on a career in nursing, it is important to keep in mind that you may be expected to do the same. The degree you choose to earn will not only prepare you to provide optimal care to patients, but it can also determine your pay, path of specialization and the overall impact you want to make in the field.
What is a BSN?
There are a range of degrees to choose from. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing or BSN is one option. This undergraduate degree is for students who are seeking to become a registered nurse (RN) or those who have an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and want to continue their education.
While you can certainly work as an RN with an ADN, a 2015 study in the Global Qualitative Nursing Research Journal notes that those with a BSN may have more opportunities open to them because of the diverse set of skills that they have acquired through their program. BSN nurses may be given more responsibilities in the workplace and can pursue direct-care and managerial roles in specialty fields.
In fact, in 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that 80% of RNs earn bachelor’s degrees or higher by 2020 [PDF, 1.1 MB]. This was one of eight IOM recommendations for meeting healthcare needs in this era of health reform.
While BSN curricula varies from school to school, all BSN programs involve both coursework and clinical practice. Overall, nursing programs could be hard work. Being detail-oriented and having strong time management and communication skills may help you get through the program and help you to thrive in your profession. Empathy is also essential for the job.
Depending on career goals and personal preferences, prospective students can pick from three paths to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Here is an overview of each one:
Traditional BSN program: This route is often pursued by people who have not previously completed a post-graduate program. It is the most common way to get a BSN. A full-time BSN program requires four years of schooling.
RN-to-BSN program: If you already have an associate degree in nursing, an RN-to-BSN program will use your ADN training as a foundation for your new coursework. An RN-to-BSN program is typically two years long.
Accelerated BSN: This program is for people who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another area of study. It involves additional coursework and clinical practice and can be completed in 11 to 18 months.
Can I get my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Online?
Many BSN programs are offered online. If you’re pursuing a nursing degree for the first time, the online program will likely include virtual classes and clinical practice experience hours. Some online BSN programs will help connect you to local hospitals, clinics, labs or private practices where you will be able to complete your clinical experience.
If you are enrolled in an RN-to-BSN program, it’s possible you will be able to complete the program entirely online. Since RNs have already gained hands-on experience through their associate degree programs and daily work duties, the school may not require the same level of clinical practice as first-time BSN students.
Should I Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?
If you’re already an RN and are looking to advance your career, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing could be a good fit for you, especially if you are planning to work in the healthcare field for the long haul. BSN programs can be completed online while you still work as a nurse, so you can move forward in your career without having to take time off. Some hospitals even offer tuition reimbursement programs for nurses who choose to continue their education.
While employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it is important to note that for decades, the U.S. has been dealing with a nursing shortage of varying degrees. Earning a BSN not only prepares students to enter the field and fill the demand for nurses, but it may also help them to stand out to employers among an increasingly competitive group of candidates.
Having a BSN may also put you closer to a master’s degree or a doctorate, should you decide to pursue an advanced degree like Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
BSN Admissions Requirements
Admissions requirements for a BSN program will vary from school to school. However, in general, the following are typically required to get into an accredited BSN program:
- A cumulative GPA of 2.75 or higher in high school, or a nursing diploma or associate degree in nursing
- Prior classes in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology
- SAT scores
- A CV or resume
- A personal essay
- Current, unrestricted RN license (if you’re an RN)
- Significant volunteer experience
- An application fee
Invest time into your nursing school application. Weave in your unique traits, strengths and long-term career goals into your personal essay to help distinguish yourself from other applicants. Your resume and references are another way to show the admissions team what you bring to the table.
BSN Nursing Curriculum
BSN programs consist of general education classes, often taken in the first year, nursing classes, and clinical experience. Generally, credit hours required for graduation range from 120 to 130.
Some common courses for BSN students may include:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Emergency Care
- Health Assessment
- Family, Community, and Population-Based Care
- Public and Global Health
- Nursing Theory
- Nursing Research
- Nursing Ethics
The clinical portion of a BSN degree program is key to students’ nursing education as it allows them to participate in supervised training sessions with licensed nursing professionals. Clinical experiences can take place in a local hospital, long-term care facility, public health department, psych facility, and many other medical settings. A student’s school and state licensing board determine the number of clinical hours needed for graduation.
Careers with a BSN Degree
As an RN with a BSN, you can work in leadership positions where you supervise other nurses with less advanced degrees.
The possibilities are truly numerous. Here are a few job titles to consider:
- Public Health Nurse
- Pediatric Nurse
- Surgical Nurse
- ICU Nurse
- Nurse Manager
- Health Educator
Obtaining a BSN and then RN licensure, also makes you eligible for clinical roles where your day-to-day duties may include:
- Treating patients for illness, injury and health conditions
- Developing nursing treatment plans for patients
- Supporting and educating patients on coping with illnesses and improving health habits
- Administering medications and injections
- Doing routine lab work
- Assisting doctors with surgeries
BSN Level Nurse Salaries
How much you earn as a BSN nurse is dependent on factors such as where you live, your employer, number of years of experience, your specialty track, and more. The median annual wage for RNs in May of 2020 was $75,330, according to the BLS. The median annual salary for those working in government was $84,490, while the highest 10% of RNs earned more than $116,230.
As of 2020, BLS statistics show that registered nurses employed in the business support service industry earn more than nurses in any other industry, with a mean annual wage of $106,670.
BSN Program Accreditation
Nursing students should look for BSN programs that are accredited. Accreditation ensures all schools are held to the same high-quality standards by making sure they meet certain criteria regarding faculty qualifications, course content, and overall program quality.
The accreditation process is completed by an outside organization. The two primary nationally recognized bodies for BSN accreditation are the Accreditation Commission for Education In Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission On Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
ACEN, formerly known as the National League for Nursing, accredits all levels of nursing programs. The CCNE is a branch of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and accredits nursing programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and postgraduate levels.
Accreditation standards are the same for both traditional and online programs. Accreditation is voluntary and nursing schools and programs must apply for it.
An accredited program is important because it can affect many aspects of a student’s education and career, including access to financial aid and grants, ability to transfer credits to other schools, ability to take licensing exams, and desirability to prospective employers. Those who attend nursing schools that are not accredited may not receive the same level of education and may not have all the same career opportunities open to them.
Wondering if a BSN is a good fit for you? Use the following questions and answers to guide you through the decision-making process:
Earning a BSN requires four years of schooling. If you already have an associate degree in nursing, it can take you two years to complete an RN-to-BSN program.
A BSN nurse is someone who has earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). BSN nurses may be afforded more responsibilities, managerial roles, and higher salaries than those with an associate degree.
People who have earned a bachelor’s degree in another area of study are eligible to apply to accelerated BSN programs. This type of program can be completed in 11 to 18 months. Accelerated BSN students will often skip the general education classes for their program to be brought up to speed by focusing on nursing-specific courses.
Last updated January 2022.