What is an RN to BSN Program?

When nursing careers first really started gaining traction an associates degree in nursing (ADN) was the way to go. As time has gone on though, the new baseline education for nursing has begun to shift to a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). This means that you may be thinking about advancing your degree. This may be a good career move for you given that many hospitals and healthcare institutions are shifting to requiring nurses they hire to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

RN to BSN Bridge Program Guide

Additionally, nurses with a BSN tend to make more than those with an ADN. So what is an RN to BSN bridge program? These programs recognize the experience  and education that ADN RNs already have and prepare them to practice as RNs with a BSN. They are programs that are usually around 1-2 years in length that enhance your education patient care skills through additional coursework and clinical experiences compared to what you have previously had. T

hese programs may require that you have completed certain courses in your ADN programs and some require a certain amount of RN employment experience, so it is essential that you check with the schools that you are applying to as to what their requirements are.

Why Should I Earn a Bachelor’s in Nursing?

Getting your bachelor’s will offer many advantages to you and your nursing career. Not only will you likely earn more money and have more career options and flexibility, but you will also be able to enhance the level of care you provide to patients. BSN prepared nurses are trained in providing evidence based care and using research to inform their practice.

They can advance their career by not only changing the specialty that they work in but after accumulating experience they can also transition into more leadership and management roles.

With your BSN you will be able to enhance your career and the nursing field as a whole. Additionally, should you choose to continue your education further and receive your master’s in the future your will be able to do so. Chances are you already have experience as an RN. By getting your BSN colleagues and employers will be more likely to recognize you for the expert nurse that you are.

Entrance Requirements for RN to BSN Programs

  • RN certification and Licensure: You will need to have taken and passed the NCLEX and be registered as an RN in a state in order to apply for these programs.
  • Complete pre-requisites: Be sure to see if the schools you are applying to require any extra classes. You should have completed most pre-requisites through your ADN program but it never hurts to check!
  • Letters of recommendation: You will most likely need a few letters of recommendation from former professors and/or employers. It helps to have a list ready and notify them ahead of time.
  • GPA: You may have to meet a certain GPA requirement from your ADN program. Usually this is around a 3.0 but check with your program to verify.
  • Submit applications: Submitting your applications will involve answering questions, writing essays, and gathering your transcripts, letters of recommendations, and other documents that may be required. Most applications also involve a processing fee.

How Long Does it Take to Complete an RN to BSN Program?

You can expect to commit about 2 years to your RN to BSN program. You have already done 2 years of education with your ADN and most BSN programs are 4 years in length. So it makes sense that you will need the 2 years to complete it. This can vary depending on if you are enrolled full or part-time.

Online RN to BSN Programs

Nurses are busy professionals. This is hardly shocking information. Nurses are some of the hardest working professionals and many of you juggle numerous life commitments on top of your careers. So you may be relieved to hear that while you might have to pursue your BSN, you can probably complete most of it online. This means that your classes, assignments, quizzes, and even class discussions can be done from the comfort of your home or chosen work place.

An important thing to keep in mind as you research your online RN to BSN programs is the importance of your school being ACEN or CCNE accredited. This will make applying to an MSN program later on much easier if you decide to go that route. You may also still need to complete a clinical experience as a part of your program. Obviously this cannot be done online, but your school can help you organize clinical experiences in a location that is convenient for you.

Learn more in our Guide the Online RN programs.

Hybrid RN to BSN

Hybrid RN to BSN programs are a combination of online course work and face to face classroom. Typically, you will find 50% of the time will be online and the other 50% of the time you will spend in a classroom. How an instructor divides this time up can often be up to the instructor.

These types of programs have become more of the norm across many university and college settings. Hybrid format allows for students to engage with each other and the professor face-to-face while still allowing for some of the convinces of online programs.

Campus or Face-to-Face RN to BSN

Campus or face-to-face RN to BSN programs will have the majority of courses/classes held at a traditional classroom. This could be in a college, university or in some cases there are partnerships with healthcare institutions and the classroom is heal within the hospital.

Although the majority of the courses/classes are face to face there is typically an online instruction component, requiring some engagement with online learning. Check to see if the college is offering an open-house or if you can schedule a conference call to go over some of your questions.

Accelerated RN to BSN Nursing Programs

Most colleges and universities follow 12-13 week semesters; accelerated BSN programs may not follow a typical semester and have class over a six week period. Accelerated nursing programs are specifically geared toward students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in something else. These students have already proven their ability to manage time, study effectively and retain knowledge.

In addition, they have already taken most foundational courses in a bachelor’s degree program.  While there may be some science pre-requisites to complete, almost all courses in an accelerated nursing program are focused specifically on the skills needed to be an RN.

Second Degree BSN

In a standard BSN program, students spend at least the first year, and sometimes the first two years, taking only foundational bachelor’s degree courses; nursing courses do not typically begin until the sophomore or junior year, and even then, they are often mixed in with other college courses. The student in an accelerated nursing program takes only the nursing courses, significantly shortening the time it takes to complete the degree.

Most programs take between 11 and 18 months.  A key component of any BSN degree is the clinical. Students in accelerated programs receive the same number of clinical hours as do their standard BSN counterparts. The benefits of these programs can be great, in that students can earn their degree in half the time it takes when compared to programs with traditional classes.

The downfall is that the course work is not reduced, and students will be required to produce the same amount of homework, studying, and/or presentations in a shorter period of time. These programs are great for the individual that has the time, but for nurses juggling jobs, family and schooling, this can be very stressful.

Learn more in our Guide to Second Degree BSN programs.

Accelerated Online Nursing Programs

For all types of accelerated nursing programs, one of the biggest challenges is fitting education into an already established work and family life. Juggling schedules to allow for commute time, classes, and studying can make the prospect seem overwhelming.  Online education has come a long way in the past decade, and many students are finding this be the solution.  Credible colleges and universities across the country, in including some Ivy League schools, are offering these accelerated online courses, ensuring students that they get the highest quality education, even online.

Because the course material is presented in a variety of formats, and most of those formats can be accessed at any time for the duration of the course, students can create their own schedule of class and study time.  Plus, they do not have to allow extra time and money to cover commuting and parking.

Nursing students in online programs do not miss out on the multiple learning opportunities that are available to students in brick and mortar institutions; class forums, online office hours, discussion boards, and even video conferencing and chat programs allow students to learn in a variety of ways from a variety of source.

Students also complete their clinicals locally, and are still required to complete the same number of clinical hours as their campus-based counterparts. Overall, choosing the right school may be easy or a challenge for some students to choose, however, researching schools will allow you to make an informed choice in selecting a program that will best suit your needs.

What RN Specializations Are Available

You will not specialize in particular field during your BSN program. However, if you want to work in a particular clinical area, having your BSN will enable you to be a competitive candidate for the most sought after clinical settings. Some examples of where you can work as a nurse after earning your BSN are:

  • Labor and Delivery: As a labor and delivery nurse you will work as a part of a team to provide care for the laboring mother and infant before, during, and immediately after birth.
  • Emergency Room: You will be a vital team member working in a fast paced environment providing care to people who are acutely injured or ill.
  • Travel Nurse: You will have the opportunity to travel the country and/or world while providing nursing care to patients in your area of expertise.
  • Trauma Nurse: You will work hard to help stabilize patients in life threatening situations due to injuries they may have received from accidents.
  • Medical/Surgical Nurse: You will work on a hospital floor caring for patients who are recovering from a diverse range of surgeries or acute or chronic illnesses.
  • Operating Room Nurse: As an OR nurse you will actively participate in patient care while they undergo surgery.

Learn more about nursing specialties.

What Will I Study in My RN to BSN Program?

Your previous experience and education will be recognized, so you can rest assured that you not need to repeat all of your previous coursework. Each program you apply for may differ a bit in the curriculum. So research your prospective programs and make sure that you are applying to the ones that best suite your needs. The courses you will take are designed to give you the piece of nursing education that you are missing with your ADN. These courses and experiences will prepare you to use research and evidence to enhance your patient care and will also augment your critical thinking skills. You will come out prepared to impact not just your patients but the nursing profession as whole.

Additionally, part of what forms all bachelor’s programs is the requirement to take courses in the humanities and liberal arts. These are not required by ADN programs and thus will be a part of your RN to BSN curriculum. While it is more work and perhaps not directly related to nursing, many people find that these required electives (you can often choose the specific course you take within a subject) allow them to broaden their perspective and explore academic areas foreign to them. In general you can expect to take courses similar to what is offered at Chamberlain University:

  • Transitions in Professional Nursing
  • Advanced English Composition
  • RN Health Assessment
  • Elective 1
  • Elective 2
  • RN Collaborative Healthcare
  • Statistical Reasoning for the Health Sciences
  • RN Evidence Based Practice
  • Political Science
  • Humanities Elective
  • RN Community Health Nursing
  • History Elective
  • RN Capstone Course
  • RN Information Systems in Healthcare

RN to BSN Transition or Professional Nursing Role Class

One of the very first classes nurses will take in an RN to BSN program is a contemporary, transition or professional nursing role class. This type of class provides the foundation for a synthesis of prior educational learning and work experience with baccalaureate educational preparation for your BSN.

For some nurses who have been out of school for several years or even decades, this is a great introduction to the RN to BSN program.

The concepts discussed in the course often cover professional role, critical thinking and communication. Theories of nursing and healthcare are often explored in relationship to professional nursing practice. This course enhances previous learning experiences and your transition into the baccalaureate-nursing role.

Research Class for Nursing

A nursing research class introduces the importance of research concepts, which are fundamental to the discipline of nursing. BSN research classes often focus on the research process in the discovery of knowledge and the relevance of research outcomes to nursing practice.

Beginning research concepts such as formulating research questions and hypothesis are often explored. You will most likely have to research topics and prepare literature reviews, which are essential to research and evidence based practices.

Statistics Class for Nursing

Statistic class is perhaps one of the more challenging classes you will take in your RN to BSN program. A basic understanding of statistic is essential in the healthcare sector. This class is typically an introductory class and you will learn basic statistical concepts such as: hypothesis testing, data collection, normal distributions, bell curve, and probabilities. You will most likely have to learn how to calculate standard deviations and probabilities.

Pathophysiology BSN Class

One class essential for a BSN degree is a Pathophysiology class. Many diploma and associate degree programs integrated pathophysiology contents throughout the different nursing courses. Pathophysiology involves an understanding of how cells, tissues, organs and organ systems respond to varying disease processes.

Health Assessment BSN Class

Health assessment is a core educational component of all nursing educational programs. For many diploma and ADN nurses, health assessment was integrated throughout the nursing classes and clinicals. In a BSN program health assessment is a separate class and college credit is given. Most RNs utilize health assessment skills in their clinical practice and this course will be a refresher for most RNs.

Basic components of a health assessment class include:

  • Assessing the health of patients and families throughout the life span.
  • Basic techniques of a physical exam and health assessment.
  • Basic interviewing and history taking skills.
  • Recognizing and interpretation of normal findings.
  • Recognizing normal findings from the most common abnormal findings

Population or Community Health BSN Class

One core class missing in many diploma and associate degree program is a community health or population course. This is a critical course and instrumental in understanding about healthcare in a more global and comprehensive way. These courses typically focus on the nurses’ role in disease prevention and health promotion in a community and/or global perspective.

Concepts such as environmental health and epidemiology are explored and the impact to ones’ health. Most RN to BSN programs will require a clinical component and often the community nursing class is where you will complete this requirement. This may mean that you will shadow and spend time with a nurse who works in a community with underserved populations or complete a community project such as a community needs assessment.

Top Concepts taught in a Community Nursing course

  • Disease prevention
  • Health and wellness promotion programs
  • Health screening
  • High risk and at risk behaviors
  • Immunizations
  • Lifestyle choices
  • Cultural difference between the populations
  • Marginalized and underserved populations

Nursing Leadership and Management

Nursing leadership and management is a class which most RN to BSN schools require. In this class you can expect to learn about the principles of leadership and management and how they may be applied to healthcare settings. Students often learn about the skills needed to complete management and administrative tasks, as well as principals of human material resources, health care finances, professional organizations and ethical implications.

A BSN degree is a fundamental degree for nursing managers, supervisors, directors and any nurse in administrations. Some school implement a clinical requirement for this class and may you shadowing a nurse leader or nurse manager. This allows the RN student to observe firsthand who BSN prepared nurses apply their skills in leadership and management roles.

Nutrition Class

A nutrition class is a core requirement for any BSN programs. In many ADN programs you may have taken a 2 or 3 credit nutrition course, which may be transferable into the RN to BSN program. However, for some ADN programs and diploma programs the nutrition content was often covered within the different nursing classes and not a separate class. For example, when you were learning about Diabetes Mellitus, the diabetic diet was covered. Although it met the requirements for the nutrition component, it was not a separate class and did not award college credits. For many nurses this will be a course that will need to be taken.

You can expect to find most of these topics in a BSN nutrition class

  • The types of nutrients needed for healthy body and diet
  • How nutrients are used within the body, cells and various organs
  • How nutrition affects your health
  • How the body responds to too much or too little nutrients
  • How your body uses nutrients
  • How nutrition affects the various disease process and importance of specific diets for specific diseases and illness
  • How your nutrient needs change at different stages of life; infancy, childhood, adulthood, older years

RN to BSN Clinical Requirements

The clinical requirements for your RN to BSN program will vary depending on the school. Since you already completed the requirements necessary for the NCLEX exam you will not need to repeat clinical rotations within certain populations like you did during your ADN program. Most RN to BSN programs will require some sort of clinical experience. Some schools like Chamberlain University will help you organize those experiences where you already work. This will allow you increased flexibility as you juggle school and working, while also providing you with an opportunity to put to practice your new skills and education so that you can begin to incorporate your BSN education into your regular practice. Take practice test at our NCLEX study guide.

How Much Are RN to BSN Programs?

Fortunately this will be cheaper than doing 4 years of a bachelors degree. While education in the US is pricey, there are many options to get it paid for. Especially in the field of nursing. Since some employers are encouraging and/or requiring ADN trained nurses to continue their education and earn their BSN this may give you some negotiating power. If you are currently employed, see if your employer will cover the cost of your education. They should see it as an investment in an already valuable employee. Be sure to do a thorough cost analysis of the schools you are applying to. Online programs may be less expensive than in person ones, and state schools typically offer lower tuition rates than private universities. Here are examples of tuition costs between two RN to BSN programs:

The programs below may also be able to help cover the costs of your education if you choose to work in medically underserved locations or if you have a certain type of loan. You can also use our guide How to Pay for Nursing School  and Scholarship guide to help you figure out tuition costs and payment.

Our state guides can help you research what resources you may have close to home as well!

BSN Scholarship from RNCareers.org

The RNCareers.org Registered Nursing Scholarship

The RNCareers Registered Nursing Scholarship

  • Amount: $500
  • Deadline: October 31, 2019
  • Age: 21 Years or Older
  • School: Enrolled in Accredited Nursing Program
  • Submit: 750+ Essay

Apply to the RNCareers.org BSN Scholarship

The RNCareers.org BSN Scholarship recognizes an outstanding nursing student enrolled in a BSN program. The recipient demonstrates dedication to nursing’s evolving role in the healthcare system, the drive to make nursing a lifelong career and a commitment to outstanding patient care.

How Much Do Nurses with a BSN Earn?

While it may cost some money to get your BSN, your salary will likely be higher and your options for career growth greater. With your BSN you can expect to earn a competitive salary, and coupled with your experience you will live comfortably. With an MSN you are about to earn a very competitive salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017 the median salary for RNs was $70,000. While this includes ADN trained RNs, with your BSN you can expect to earn the higher salaries that make up this statistic. Additionally, certain clinical areas such as intensive care units (ICUs) that often require a BSN trained nurse may pay higher. Find additional RN Salary information.


  • Denisco, S. M., Barker, A. M., (2016). Advanced practice nursing: Essential knowledge for the profession. Burlington, MA: Jones and Barlett Learning.
  • U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), 29-1141 Registered Nurses, Occupational Employment Statistics. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm
  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center (2015), Magnet Recognition Program® Overview, American Nurses Credentialing Center, Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.nursecredentialing.org/Magnet/ProgramOverview.
  • Ali, N. S., Hodson-Carlton, K., & Ryan, M. (2004). Students’ perceptions of online learning: Implications for teaching. Nurse Educator29(3), 111-115.
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