RN to BSN Programs

RN to BSN programs are consistently in demand among working nurses who want to progress their careers within the industry. Many nurses begin their careers after completing an associate degree in nursing (ADP), a two-year degree which allows students to test the waters before entering a four-year bachelor’s program. While an ADN allows graduates to work as an RN, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) opens the door to several more advanced positions.

Aside from being qualified to take on more challenging work, individuals with an RN to BSN enjoy several other key benefits, including:

  • Higher pay. Payscale reports the average salary for registered nurses with an ADN is currently $59,177, while salaries for those who completed RN to BSN programs rose to an average of $67,490. While earning potential for new graduates of both programs are more closely aligned, nurses with an RN to BSN are positioned to see greater increases in pay throughout their careers.
  • Fulfilling call for more educated nurses. Although ADN graduates are currently still eligible for entry-level RN positions, the tides are shifting. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for all nurses to have higher levels of education in order to meet the demands of 21st century nursing practice, and an RN to BSN fulfills that requirement.
  • More jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs for RNs with bachelor’s degrees are set to expand by 16% between 2014 and 2024, resulting in nearly 440,000 new positions across the U.S.
  • Meet hospital requirements. Based on the IOM’s call for 80% of all nurses to hold bachelor’s degrees by 2020, many hospitals have begun only considering candidates with a BSN. Thousands of new nurses are entering the rapidly expanding field, and the vast majority complete a BSN initially, making it important for those already in the field to undertake a bachelor-level degree.

Enter the RN to BSN “bridge” degree. RN to BSN programs were created to help bridge the educational gap from an ADN to a BSN. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that there are currently 679 such programs in America, with more than 400 offered partially or entirely online. Most can be completed in 12 to 36 months, although it depends on the individual program and whether or not a student is also working while in school.

Because individuals can also gain RN status through ADN programs, many prospective students question why they would want to earn a BSN when it entitles them to work in the same position they currently hold. Traditionally, there have been three educational pathways to becoming an RN. These include:

  • Diploma in Nursing: Provided by schools of nursing based in hospitals, this used to be the most common route to becoming an RN.
  • Associate Degree in Nursing: Provided by community colleges and schools of nursing in hospitals, this is a two-year program that historically satisfied all requirements for becoming an RN.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing: Provided by universities and colleges, this degree immerses students in the full-spectrum of nursing care and prepares them for the demands of a modern and evolving healthcare system.

While all three options are still offered, the first two will become less available and less effective for landing a job in the years to come.

What's the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

Registered Nurse

Classification: Person

A registered nurse is a qualified health professional who provides patient care in a variety of different healthcare settings. They work with other medical professionals to ensure patients receive the best treatment available. Tasks may include: taking medical histories, administering medicine, assisting with diagnostic testing, and teaching patients and families how to manage an illness/injury.

Bachelor of Science Nursing

Classification: Degree

A BSN degree allows graduates to become a registered nurses. RNs with BSN degrees take on more responsibilities or leadership roles and receives a higher salary than their ADN-holding counterparts. It requires four years of full-time learning to complete.

Who is Eligible to Enroll in an RN to BSN Degree?

Applicants who have completed either a diploma in nursing or an ADN, passed the NCLEX-RN examination, and currently hold an active license in their state are eligible to apply for RN to BSN programs. If an RN to BSN student plans to complete their degree online from a school outside their state of residence, they need to ensure the institution is able to confer degrees to their state.

What Can I Do With a BSN Degree?

Career Available with a BSN Career Unavailable with a BSN

Nursing CareerADN +Registered Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; but a BSN is recommended because of higher salary and better job outlook

Nursing CareerMSNNurse Practitioner

Minimum Degree Needed *


Nursing CareerADN +Travel Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; certifications in specialty area recommended

Nursing CareerBSNNurse Anesthetist

Minimum Degree Needed *

BSN, graduation from accredited graduate school of nurse anesthesia

Nursing CareerADN +School Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

ADN; BSN recommended as industry standard

Nursing CareerBSN +Psychiatric Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

BSN; MSN required for Advanced Practice Nursing certification

Nursing CareerMSNNurse Educator

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN or DNP to teach at BSN granting institutions

Nursing CareerBSN +Flight Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

BSN; MSN required for Advanced Practice Nursing certification

Nursing CareerMSNClinical Nurse Specialist

Minimum Degree Needed *

MSN required for Advanced Practice Nursing certification

Nursing CareerBSNNeonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Minimum Degree Needed *

BSN recommended along with advanced experience

*Key: ADN = Associate Degree in Nursing; BSN = Bachelor of Science in Nursing; MSN = Master of Science in Nursing; DNP = Doctorate of Nursing Practice

Should I Enroll in an RN to BSN Degree Program?

“Don’t waste time and energy debating whether or not you need more education. Just go after it.” – Donna Cardillo, American Nurse Today

The Pros and Cons of an RN to BSN Degree

Pros to an RN to BSN Degree

  • Allows nurses who weren’t initially ready to commit to a four-year degree to further their educations
  • Many RN to BSN programs allow students to complete all classwork online, from anywhere
  • RN to BSN programs are designed to meet the needs of busy professionals with responsibilities outside of school

Cons to an RN to BSN Degree

  • With so many people entering the field of nursing, it’s hard to stand out from the competition. RN to MSN programs are also gaining steam
  • Because the RN to BSN is considered a bridge program rather than a full degree, financial aid could be more difficult to secure

How Much Will I Make on Average After I Finish My RN to BSN Program?


Source: Data taken from Payscale. Accessed: 10/11/16

How Do I Enroll in an RN to BSN Degree Program?

Like any other degree, RN to BSN programs have certain requirements applicants must meet in order to be accepted. The most common requirements for this path include having an ADN or diploma in nursing, successful passage of the NCLEX-RN exam, and an active license to practice. Before enrolling in any RN to BSN program, prospective students should consider:

  • Online or traditional? Online RN to BSN programs are very popular because they allow students to meet requirements from the comfort of their own home and complete assignments at times that suit them best. Still, some RN to BSN students may feel they want a traditional college experience.
  • Do I have the time? Most RN to BSN programs suggest students set aside between 10-20 hours per week for the program, so prospective students in a particularly busy season of life may need to consider holding off or pursuing a part-time RN to BSN degree.
  • Have I met all prerequisite requirements? It’s worth looking at a few different RN to BSN programs to get a sense of common prerequisites. If a student is missing any of these, it may be worth completing them at a community college to save on tuition.

What Kind of Classes Will I Take?

RN to BSN degree curriculum draws upon the concepts and knowledge learned during an ADN program. Rather than focusing on liberal arts or general education, RN to BSN students move straight into nursing theory and concepts. Sample classes and descriptions are below.

Transition to BSN Practice

Focuses on preparing RN to BSN students for the supervisory and leadership roles available to them once completing their degree. Special emphasis is placed on communication skills with both colleagues and patients.

Information Technology in Nursing

For RN to BSN students who have been out of education for a time, this course brings them up to speed on how IT is influencing the nursing profession in the 21st century through computer laboratory experiences.

Cultural Competence and Nursing Care

This class helps RN to BSN students understand the sociocultural contexts of diversity and how differences in life experiences are respected and acknowledged within the healthcare arena. A special emphasis is placed on community health care.

Bridge Course Nursing Concepts

Emphasis in this class is placed on helping RN to BSN students link their previous nursing education and work experiences with modern concepts in nursing. Aside from clinical knowledge, students are asked to draw upon their understanding of social, political, and historical factors within the field.