Online RN to BSN Programs

As those in the field already know, it’s an exciting time to be a nurse. As aging RNs retire and the American population lives longer, healthier lives, the need for qualified and specialized nurses will only increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that RN positions will grow by 16% between 2014 and 2024, while roles for nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives will grow by 31% during the same time period.

Because nurses often work long, unpredictable shifts, universities and colleges throughout the country offer hundreds of fully accredited, online programs that make it possible to balance higher education and work commitments. While the information that follows is aimed specifically at those who already hold active RN licensure, students interested in pursuing a traditional, four-year BSN program can find all the information they need in the Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing guide .

In the sections that follow, prospective online learners can find helpful information about what it takes to enroll in an accredited online RN to BSN program and propel their careers forward.

Questions to Ask Before Applying to an Online RN to BSN Program

Accredited online RN to BSN programs make it possible for graduates to be more competitive than those with ADNs or nursing diplomas, but there are still questions that prospective students need to ask themselves before applying and committing to an online nursing degree.

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.

What is an RN to BSN Program?

A BSN gives registered nurses additional training in nursing management, community health, and new health technologies. When prospective students first begin researching options for progressing their careers, RN to BSN programs online may be confusing. Since individuals are able to become registered nurses after completing an associate degree, it might seem unnecessary to spend two more years in school. But those who elect to complete this bridge program will be able to take on supervisory roles and more responsibility at work. BSN programs also open the door to higher salaries. Those who have already completed an ADN will likely need to spend about two years in school to receive their online BSN.

Is an Online RN to BSN the Right Choice For Me?

Before committing to any RN to BSN programs online, degree seekers should weigh the costs and benefits of spending two more years in school.

On first glance, it may not seem like there is much of a difference in salaries for registered nurses who complete an ADN versus an online RN to BSN program. According to recent Payscale data, those with associate degrees in nursing make an average annual salary of $58,937 , while their online BSN counterparts earn $62,231 yearly . An increase of just over $4,000 may not seem a good enough reason to endure more schooling while also working, but the important thing to recognize is that this data doesn’t necessarily provide the full picture for those who complete an online RN to BSN program. While work as a registered nurse may present a somewhat stagnant salary, the truth of the matter is that further education allows graduates of RN to BSN programs online the opportunity to specialize within the field and thereby make higher salaries. A recent study by Rasmussen College found that, of the 1.3 million nursing jobs posted in the previous year, RNs with associate degrees qualified for only 53% of those roles, while individuals with BSNs qualified for 82%.

Furthermore, nurses who complete an RN to BSN program online also have the opportunity to continue their learning and move toward becoming an advanced practice nurse, nurse manager, or nurse practitioner. If you’re a self-disciplined and independent learner, and online RN to BSN program could be your ticket to greater job satisfaction, more nuanced work opportunities, and higher annual pay.

What is the average salary for an Online RN to BSN Graduate?


Source: Data taken from Payscale . Accessed: 01/12/18

Are There Prerequisites for Online RN to BSN Programs?

Before enrolling in any RN to BSN program online, prospective students must demonstrate their preparedness for the advanced coursework they’ll encounter once the program starts. A few questions to ask include:

  • What if I am a not a registered nurse? As the name of the online RN to BSN programs implies, any student applying to this program must be a registered nurse at the time of registration. Those who have completed prior nursing education but whose RN license has lapsed should contact their state’s Board of Nursing to find out if and how their license can be reinstated. Depending on the type of qualification they hold, a number of qualifying prerequisites may be required before being admitted to an online RN to BSN program.
  • What if I have an associate degree in nursing? Individuals with an ADN and up-to-date license typically won’t need to take many prerequisites, as the ADN program mirrors the foundational courses taken in the first two years of a full, four-year BSN program. Typical requirements for admittance include holding a current, unencumbered RN license, a minimum “C” grade in all nursing prerequisite courses, and a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
  • What if I have a degree in separate field? Individuals with an associate or bachelor’s degree unrelated to nursing are not eligible to apply for online RN to BSN programs, as all enrollees must first be qualified as an RN and hold an active license. Students with no prior nursing background should consider a four-year online BSN program rather than the online RN to BSN program.

What Will I Learn in an Online RN to BSN Program?

While each accredited RN to BSN online program is different, some version of the same core classes are taught in most schools. Below is a list of some courses students are expected to take, with special emphasis on the skills gained in each. While ADN degrees and the first two years of a traditional BSN program focus on foundational topics and core competencies, online RN to BSN programs cover advanced coursework, ensuring all students become well-rounded in their knowledge of research, leadership, public health, administration, and the physical and social sciences.

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

Class emphasis 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.

Nursing Management

This upper-level course introduces students to the many responsibilities given to nurse managers and addresses concepts such as organizational structure, budget management, resource allocation, staffing and scheduling, and the management of quality care.

Skills Gained:

  • Managerial capabilities
  • Conflict resolution
  • Delegation

Innovations in Healthcare

Students review emerging technologies and trends within the healthcare industry throughout this course, including how to integrate new breakthroughs in their approaches to patient care.

Skills Gained:

  • Awareness of emerging trends
  • Ability to incorporate new technologies

Community Health

Rather than looking at individualized patient care, this course introduces students to topics related to the community health nursing model, disease prevention strategies, and community assessment.

Skills Gained:

  • Health promotion
  • Evaluation metrics
  • Strategies for serving diverse groups

Are There Clinicals in an Online RN to BSN Program?

Any student who has completed an online nursing degree previously probably hasn’t forgotten their hours spent learning hands-on skills during clinical requirements. Unsurprisingly, clinical hours also feature prominently in online RN to BSN programs and help round out textbook learning. Although the vast majority of online RN to BSN programs make it possible for students to complete all of their coursework via distance learning, you must still complete clinical hours on-site at an approved hospital, nursing facility, or other approved healthcare location.

The number of clinical hours required vary dramatically by both online BSN programs and state requirements, so students should contact prospective schools to learn about individual mandates. This is especially true for degree seekers considering an online RN to BSN program outside their state; in some cases, the home state of the institution requires fewer hours than your home state.

Most nurses who are still working while completing a degree will prefer to do their hours at their place of work. If this is not an option, the majority of online RN to BSN programs have student coordinators and advisors on hand to help online learners find suitable and approved locations near their place of residence.

What Are "Fast Track" RN To BSN Online Programs?

While all programs differ based on the institution offering them, most fast track RN to BSN online programs can be completed in two or three semesters of full-time study (part-time programs typically take four or five semesters). The fast track program is a great option for distance learners who can take time off from work, or for those who aren’t working full-time. Individuals working 40 or more hours per week with other personal and professional obligations outside of school may struggle to accommodate the necessary 20-25 hour time investment.

Should I Enroll in an Online RN to BSN 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 Do I Choose an Online RN to BSN Program?

Selecting the right RN to BSN program online requires lots of research, asking questions, and thinking about how the unique qualities of each degree match up to individual needs. Because the process can often feel overwhelming, some of the biggest questions prospective online learners should ask before enrolling are covered below.

  • What is my budget for obtaining an online RN to BSN degree? Cost is often one of the biggest concerns for anyone considering an online program, regardless of degree path. Fortunately, countless scholarships are available to help students who want to complete an online RN to BSN program. Check out our scholarship database to learn about funding options.
  • How long is it going to take me to complete this program? Online learners who have already completed all the requirements of an ADN online nursing degree will finish the degree in two years of study.
  • Should I care whether classes are delivered asynchronously or synchronously? What does that even mean? Put simply, yes, you should care. Asynchronous courses allow students to log-in, watch lectures, interact with peers, and submit assignments at times best suited to their unique schedules. Synchronous classes require them to sign-in to the online learning platform at specific times each week and participate in live lectures and class discussions. Because nursing schedules rotate, students who can’t meet at set times should make sure their chosen online nursing degree makes asynchronous learning available. The good news is that how classes are delivered has no implications for how long it should take to graduate.
  • Should the location of the school where I complete an online RN to BSN matter to me? It depends on the individual. Some students don’t need their school to be near by, while others may find that they benefit from having access to the range of support resources and options for clinical placements.
  • How do my options vary based on whether I am or am not currently a registered nurse? Individuals who aren’t actively licensed registered nurses are unable to enroll in an RN to BSN program without first either having their license reinstated or completing coursework and licensure requirements that qualify them to be an RN.

Finding Accredited Online Nursing Programs

After deciding to pursue an online RN to BSN, your final and most important task is to ensure that the online BSN is properly accredited. In addition to institution-wide regional/national accreditation, degree seekers should also be certain that their chosen online RN to BSN degree has been properly vetted by programmatic accreditation bodies. Currently, the two main nursing accreditation organizations are the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Both organizations maintain up-to-date, searchable databases to help students figure out whether or not the programs they are considering are properly accredited.

Students who do complete an accredited program will encounter problems later. The majority of state Boards of Nursing require students to attend an online BSN program accredited by one of the two organizations mentioned above in order to qualify for licensure.

How To Enroll in an Online RN to BSN Program

Requirements for enrollment vary with individual schools, but typically speaking, prospective degree seekers must submit a completed application, official transcripts demonstrating a GPA of 2.0 or higher (actual GPA depends on the school), documented completion of an ADN program or other nursing diploma, proof of an active and unencumbered RN license, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and any required application fees. Before accepting any offer of enrollment, students should ensure that the school has options to complete clinical hours near them, or will approve a site before beginning their studies.

What Can I Do With a BSN Degree?

Although graduates are allowed to work as registered nurses after completing an associate degree in nursing or a nursing diploma, other, more specialized roles require students to complete a bachelor’s of nursing online to be qualified. The sampling below is only a small handful of the advanced, nuanced roles available to BSN graduates.

Flight Nurse

These highly specialized nursing professionals provide care to patients while in the air and before they can reach a hospital. Their job is typically to stabilize the patient and treat any pressing traumas before they can be brought to an emergency room.

Average Salary: $68,304

Labor and Delivery Nurse

As the name suggests, L&D nurses work with pregnant women throughout delivery and in the immediate postpartum period. They may coach mothers, advice on pain management, and administer medications during a standard workday.

Average Salary: $60,478

NICU Nurse

NICU nurses are charged with caring for vulnerable newborns who either have an illness or a developmental defect. Common responsibilities include monitoring vitals, administering medicine and food, and educating parents on proper care.

Average Salary: $60,551

Nurse Anesthetist

Unlike other nurses who are not approved to administer anesthesia, NAs operate as advanced practice nurses who can work independently without being overseen by a physician. Common tasks include providing pain management to surgical patients and working with patients experiencing chronic pain.

Average Salary: $129,968

Travel Nurse

As the name suggests, travel nurses take on short-term assignments in various parts of the country and world, usually in places where there are a shortage of nurses. Their responsibilities are similar to registered nurses, but their transient lifestyles add a layer of excitement and adventure.

Average Salary: $67,696

School Nurse

School nurses can be found in preschools, along with elementary, middle, and high schools. In their roles, these nurses promote wellness and hygienic practices, treat common illnesses, and may be responsible for referring children with more serious needs to appropriate care providers.

Average Salary: $44,494

Further Education After a BSN

After completing an RN to BSN online, some students may want to continue advanced study in the field. For individuals considering this path, the good news is that there are several online MSN programs, and oftentimes the degree makes it possible for graduates to move into senior roles offering more responsibility, opportunities for leadership, and higher salaries. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the difference in pay is substantial. While registered nurses earn an average median salary of $68,450 annually, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, and others who hold MSN degrees stand to make $107,460 each year.

Degree seekers who are interested in learning more about the process of obtaining an online MSN and the benefits it offers can review the MSN guide .

Database of Online BSN Programs

With so many RN to BSN online programs available, ADN and nursing diploma-holders considering the jump to a BSN may feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, we’ve taken the headache out of finding the perfect program with a full database and a customizable search tool. Use this tool to narrow your options by honing in on the factors that are important to you, such as location, cost, program length, and school type.

If you notice any errors in the database below or are a college or university that is not represented here, please contact us . We will get on it immediately!

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