April 17, 2020

Everything You Need to Know About the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

When you choose a career in nursing, you are committing yourself to play a critical role in the medical system. Depending upon where and how you choose to practice, your responsibilities can range from hands-on care to research, to helping create public healthcare policy. Your career path begins with the type of degree that you pursue.  A BSN, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is the degree that offers you the widest range of possibilities.

Nurses who have earned their BSN degree will find themselves eligible to apply for many more positions and earning much higher compensation. They will be able to pursue graduate degrees in nursing and will receive training in more advanced skills, including those involving leadership and critical thinking.  

In this comprehensive guide, we have collected the information you need to know what pursuing your BSN entails, from why a BSN degree is a smart choice to helping you find the best programs and learn how to pay for your education.

>>Related: Top 10 Online RN to BSN Programs

What is a BSN Degree?

A BSN, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, is a four-year degree in nursing that is one of two degrees available to nurses. Unlike the ADN, the BSN degree provides two years of prerequisite courses and general education courses followed by another two years of nursing classes and clinical rotations. Becoming a Registered Nurse with a BSN degree promises higher compensation and opens many more doors. Many healthcare facilities have begun to require that their RNs have a BSN degree, even for entry-level nursing positions.

Though the shortest route to becoming a Registered Nurse is to pursue the minimum requirement — a two-year Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) which provides just enough education and clinical training for graduates to sit for the required exams and obtain their license — those who want to become RNs are strongly encouraged to pursue a BSN.

Having a BSN gives you more opportunities to practice in specialty areas and puts you on a career path that can lead to supervisory and management positions. This is because those positions require a more in-depth level of knowledge and critical thinking skills that the four-year degree provides.  Having a BSN is also a required step for pursuing an advanced nursing degree such as an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing), a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), NP (Nurse Practitioners), or CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist). 

Though every BSN curriculum is different, accredited nursing programs follow the framework provided by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which outlines the essential curriculum contents and core competencies needed to prepare a BSN for their role and responsibilities. In addition to offering basic prerequisite coursework and general education classes, including Math, Composition, and History, followed by coursework that is specific to their nursing practice, including

  • Assessment of Health and Illness
  • Anatomy, or Structure of the Human Body
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health Maintenance and Restoration
  • Research in Nursing
  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction
  • Mental Health
  • Reproductive Health
  • Statistics
  • Psychology
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Leadership and Management
  • Nursing Care I and II

BSN studies also include a significant number of clinical training hours.

Show Me RN-to-BSN Programs

What is the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

RN simply stands for registered nurse, meaning a nurse has earned the credential of RN by completing a formal training program and passing the NCLEX-RN. Often, when you see discussions around RN vs BSN, they're referring to ADN-RNs vs BSN-RNs -- nurses who've earned their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) versus those who have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

Though officially, both those who successfully complete a two-year ADN degree and those who pursue the more rigorous BSN degree end up as Registered Nurses, choosing the four-year BSN degree makes a significant and immediate difference in both compensation and job opportunities, including the following:

  • A substantial difference in salary, with first-year BSNs earning an average of $13,000 more per year than Registered Nurses who have their ADN, and little opportunity to make up the difference.
  • BSNs have a greater opportunity for specialization in their particular area of interest
  • BSNs are more likely to be eligible for promotion to supervisory and management positions
  • BSNs are more sought after by hospitals, which are required to meet specific goals for percentage of BSN Nurse Managers in order to earn Magnet status
  • BSNs receive more in-depth training and education which translates into a greater understanding of their practice and better delivery of care
  • The healthcare community is dedicated to meeting the Institute of Medicine’s goal of having 80% of Registered Nurses with BSN degrees by 2020

>> Related: The Top Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program in Every State

How Much Does a BSN Degree Cost?

There are many factors that contribute to the cost of a BSN degree. These include where the school is located, whether you choose to enroll at a private college or a state school, and if the latter, whether you are attending as an in-state student or an out-of-state student. Four-year BSN programs cost an average of between $72,000 and $104,000 for tuition, plus there are additional costs for housing, meals, books, fees and more. 

Though cost is always an important consideration, it is also important that you remember the significant benefits and increased earnings that follow earning your BSN degree, as well as that you can lower your costs significantly by attending public institutions, seeking financial aid, and applying for governmental grants. 

How to Pay for Your BSN Degree

The cost of education is high, and a BSN degree represents a substantial investment.  Fortunately, there are many options available to help, including grants, scholarships, and loans. Below, we've included some of the ways you can pay for your BSN degree.


A number of organizations offer scholarships that are specifically dedicated to encouraging students to pursue degrees in nursing. Searching online reveals numerous options. A few notable examples include: 

  • The Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship was named for the principal organizer of the Red Cross Nursing Service. The scholarship makes $3,000 available to a limited number of students who have volunteered with the Red Cross. To be considered, applicants are asked to write an essay about both the lessons they learned while volunteering with the organization and what contributions they envision themselves making to the nursing field and patient care.
  • The Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship is given to three students each year by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). To qualify, students must be enrolled in an accredited nursing school, must have demonstrated financial need and provide letters of recommendation as well as a statement of their goals. Each student chosen for the award will receive $2,500. The DAR makes other nursing scholarships available to residents of specific localities, including the District of Columbia and Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as to nursing students who are members, a descendant of members or eligible for membership in NSDAR.
  • The National Student Nurses Association Foundation gives out scholarships ranging from $1,000 up to $7,500 to students taking at least six credits per semester at an undergraduate BSN-degree nursing program. Students must have demonstrated both financial need and academic achievement, as well as involvement in community health activities or a student nursing program.
  • The Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship was created by American Addiction Centers to support students enrolled in degree programs targeting behavioral health and/or substance abuse. Nursing students are eligible to receive one of three scholarships given out each year, which range in value from $5,000 to $2,500. Selection is based on academic achievement and submission of a personal essay.
  • The National CPR foundation provides scholarships for students pursuing careers in healthcare. Scholarships are distributed monthly to students who submit a 500-to-750-word essay on why they want to pursue a healthcare degree. Each scholarship is valued at $500.
  • The Oncology Nursing Foundation created the Bachelor’s in Nursing Degree Scholarship to provide financial assistance to nursing students interested in pursuing a career in oncology nursing. Scholarships are awarded annually and range from $3,000 to $5,000. Candidates must be enrolled in an accredited nursing school.


 A variety of grants are given out to students who demonstrate financial need. These are offered by the federal government, as well as by states and individual colleges. Like scholarships, grants do not require that you repay them. The selection of students who qualify is based on information submitted on the FAFSA form (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Once you’ve filled out the form, you will receive notification of a financial aid award, either with your acceptance letter or at some point thereafter. The amount of these awards varies based on the availability of funds and on the perceived ability of the student’s family to pay, but the average amount distributed is $5,000 per student. Pell Grants are also available but generally are limited to students with needs that are considered most urgent based on annual family income.

Student Loans

Though student loans will eventually need to be repaid, students who enroll in BSN programs do so with the knowledge that once they’ve earned their degree, they are likely to earn a significant salary. The best source of a student loan is the federal government, which provides both more protection and lower interest rates. Applying for these loans requires filling out the same form that you use to apply for a grant — the FAFSA. Students who have significant need may qualify for loans that do not accrue interest until after they have earned their degree. Private loans are also available through banks, credit unions, and other sources. Make sure that you read all terms carefully, as there are unethical organizations that can include misleading terms, hidden fees, and high-interest rates.

Payment Plans

If you are going to pay cash for your tuition, the BSN program that you enroll in may allow you to set up a payment plan. Many schools also offer financial aid, so contact the school directly to ask what options are available.

Advantages of a BSN Degree

Nursing is one of the most rewarding career choices available. In fact, according to the Medscape Nurse Career Satisfaction Report 2016, practicing nurses have a hard time choosing just one single-biggest reward of their career. Gratitude expressed by patients, job enjoyment, and pride in being a nurse were the top sources of gratification for RNs in general, but among those who earned the more advanced Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, there are additional significant advantages, including:

  • Higher earnings potential. Having a BSN degree has a direct impact on salary level, with those who have invested the additional time being rewarded with higher salaries. According to, nurses who have their BSN degree earn significantly more per year than other RNs, with the average RN earning a median salary of $39,100, while a BSN holder will earn more than $69,000.
  • More choices in both position and specialization. Nurses who have their BSNs have far more opportunities available to them: in fact, some hospitals are now requiring that all new nursing hires have a BSN degree. Not only can it be more difficult for ADN-degreed nurses to find jobs, but nurses with a BSN can also choose from diverse areas of practice, including pediatrics, oncology, and geriatrics. They also have more leadership opportunities available to them.
  • More opportunity for advancement. By pursuing a BSN degree, you will give yourself a far greater opportunity to further your career
    • You will be more likely to be considered for supervisory and management positions
    • Meet the requirement to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Educator, and more.
  • Pride in delivery of care. Surveys by a number of esteemed institutions have all arrived at the same conclusion: nurses who have earned their Bachelor’s degree or beyond makes a big difference in patient outcomes and the facilities in which they practice have lower mortality rates and lower failure-to-rescue rates.

>> Related: Top Online Nursing Programs for Non-Nurses

BSN Salary 

There are significant economic advantages for Registered Nurses who have earned their BSN degrees.  According to statistics published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), recent graduates of BSN programs earn a median salary of $70,532 compared to $57,088 for those with an Associate degree. As work experience grows, so does the disparity in pay: among Registered Nurses with 20 years of experience, ADN median salary is $72,575 while for those with a BSN the median salary is $86,948.

It is also important to note that the Bureau of Labor and Statistics say that there are many Registered Nurse positions that are simply not accessible without a baccalaureate degree. These include highly compensated positions with the government that boast an average salary of $79,790 as of May 2019, though conditions vary based on area.

Registered nurses who have their BSN are in high demand, and as a result, employers offer a wide range of benefits and perks to entice them to work for their organizations. These include vacation pay, pay differential for working specific shifts, tuition reimbursement, onsite childcare, sick leave, and more.

BSN Career Outlook

The demand for Registered Nurses with BSN degrees is already high and is expected to continue to grow, with more than half a million new RN positions anticipated through the year 2026 and another half million RNs that will be needed to replace those who leave the field. 

In its publication “The Future of Nursing: Focus on Education,” the Institute of Medicine set a goal of having 80% of the nation’s Registered Nurses holding a BSN by the year 2020. 

Currently the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that number is only 55%, At the same time, the AACN says that 43.7% of hospitals and other healthcare facilities require that all new hires have their BSN degrees, while 78.6% indicate a strong preference that new hires have earned the more advanced degree.

Much of the new opportunities for Registered Nurses with BSNs comes from our aging population, which will require more care as longevity increases despite illness and the need for care, particularly for those with chronic diseases.  There will also be an increasing need for BSNs as healthcare becomes more focused on wellness and preventive care. As a result, the need for BSNs is expected to jump by 19% as compared to an 11% average growth rate for all other occupations.

BSNs have a wide range of environments in which they can work, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Home healthcare services
  • Government agencies
  • Educational services
  • Support services
  • Schools
  • Community centers
  • Urgent care centers
  • Offices
  • Patients’ homes
  • Pharmacies

Registered Nurses who have earned their BSN have the opportunity to work in every healthcare specialty, including:

  • Family medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Oncology
  • Home Health
  • Substance abuse
  • Geriatric care
  • Emergency
  • Hospice
  • Rehabilitation 
  • Surgery
  • Labor and Delivery
  • Anesthesia
  • Psychiatry
  • Public health
  • Radiology

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Types of BSN Programs

Once you’ve decided that a BSN degree is the best way for you to pursue a career in nursing, you have a few different options on how to achieve your goal. Much of your decision on which is best for you will depend upon your current situation, and whether or not you have already started working towards a nursing degree.

The most direct (and common) route to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is to graduate from a four-year baccalaureate program that offers two years of prerequisite and general education classes followed by two years of advanced nursing and clinical training. But options also exist for those who have already earned their Associate of Nursing Degree or who have earned a Bachelor’s degree in another field. The three paths to a BSN are as follows:

BSN Program

This is the most common route to a BSN and is the one pursued by students who have not graduated from a previous post-graduate program. If you attend a BSN program full time, you will complete it in four years. 

RN-to-BSN Program

This program is the next step for Registered Nurses who have earned their Associate’s degree and who want to advance their careers and knowledge. With the advantage of already having learned a great deal of the pertinent information and having extensive clinical exposure, an ADN can often take exams to test out of some of the required coursework. Many of these programs are offered online to allow students to continue working while taking classes. Most students can complete the RN-to-BSN program in less than two years. 

>> Related: RN to BSN Guide

Accelerated BSN

This is a unique program that offers those who have already earned a Bachelor’s degree in another area of study to take the additional coursework and clinical work to become a BSN-degree nurse. These programs generally take between 11 and 18 months to complete and have a strong focus on all of the coursework and practice that specifically focuses on nursing and nursing theory. These programs have also been made available online, which is particularly attractive for those who are currently working and have “overwhelmingly positive outcomes” in terms of high NCLEX scores and low attrition rates.

>> Related: Guide to Accelerated BSN Programs

Online BSN Programs

There are numerous high-quality programs available to pursue your studies online if you are a Registered Nurse who has already earned your ADN degree, or if you’ve already earned your Baccalaureate degree in a different area of study and are interested in becoming a nurse. 

Advantages of Online BSN Programs

Though a standard four-year BSN degree is best pursued full time, for working professionals, online programs offer the opportunity to continue earning a living while earning a BSN degree. They also offer the advantage of being able to achieve your goals in approximately half the time it would take in a traditional educational environment. As long as an online program is accredited, it offers the same qualifications, preparing you to take the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

One of the biggest advantages of enrolling in an online RN-to-BSN program or an Accelerated BSN program is the ability to test out of general education classes by taking examinations for class credit. Doing so can expedite the process, allowing you to cut down on the time that it takes to earn your degree by eliminating the need to spend hours on courses that do not directly contribute to the practical aspects of nursing care.

Online RN-to-BSN and Accelerated BSN programs offer distinctive advantages, including:

  • Flexibility. They offer the ability to learn while accommodating existing work schedules and busy lifestyles
  • They are eligible for federal financial aid
  • Efficiency. They offer you the ability to earn your BSN degree in less time
  • No waiting list for RN-to-BSN programs, as admissions are “rolling” throughout the year
  • No commute
  • Full and part-time programs are available
  • Accessible no matter where you live
  • Less expensive than degrees earned in traditional educational settings

Choosing the Right Online BSN Program

There are a number of factors for you to consider when choosing a program that is right for you. In addition to the program’s reputation and cost, you need to determine whether a program will work for your individual needs and convenience. 

An online RN-to-BSN program that requires you to attend a percentage of classes in person may not make sense: likewise, a program that is not in your immediate area and that requires you to participate in clinical hours at a specific facility may also pose a challenge. 

Online Program Accreditation

It is also very important when searching for either an online RN-to-BSN program or an online Accelerated BSN program that you make sure that the program you select has been accredited. 

Accreditation assures both you and future employers that the program from which you graduated meets current, evidence-based standards. 

There are two accrediting bodies for RN programs: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which accredits all levels of nursing degrees, and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which provides accreditation for programs offering Bachelors’ degrees and higher.

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BSN Classes and Clinicals

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program provides graduates with comprehensive general education, as well as all of the coursework and clinical hours that are required to prepare you for a career as a BSN-degree Registered Nurse. It entails four years of full-time study, and after you have graduated you will have the knowledge needed to sit for the NCLEX examination.

Every BSN program is different and is a reflection of both national standards and the individual program’s priorities and philosophies, but all have the goal of providing their graduates with both competency and a robust understanding of the special role that nurses play in our healthcare system and in the world at large. To that end, every program endeavors to imbue their students with the following qualifications:

  • Critical thinking and clinical judgment
  • Technical skills ranging from providing treatment to patient assessment
  • Observation skills
  • Communication skills to facilitate collaboration, counseling, and education between patients, their family members, and other members of the healthcare team

A standard BSN program will have the same graduation requirements as is true of the individual university or college’s other graduates, but will also provide nursing students with courses that are specifically chosen to enhance their ability to provide compassionate and knowledgeable nursing care. 

Some examples of the types of classes that may be offered include:

  • Anatomy, or Structure of the Human Body
  • Assessment of Health and Illness
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Health Maintenance and Restoration
  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction
  • Leadership and Management
  • Mental Health
  • Nursing Care I and II
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychology
  • Reproductive Health
  • Research in Nursing
  • Statistics

BSN programs may also offer training in specialized areas of practice, including geriatric nursing, women’s health care, pediatrics and more.

Clinical Hours

Beyond the classwork required for graduation, all nursing students are required to fulfill a specific number of clinical hours in order to provide them with the hands-on experience that they will need to provide competent patient care. 

Most BSN programs require students to complete three hours of clinical rotation for each hour spent in the classroom and will have arranged for those hours to be spent in specific facilities with which they partner. Students who are pursuing RN-to-BSN programs and Accelerated BSN programs will also have to either complete the same courses or prove their familiarity with the material, as well as complete clinical rotation requirements.

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BSN Program Requirements 

BSN programs vary based on the individual school, but prospective students should be aware that acceptance into a BSN program has become extremely competitive. Those considering pursuing a degree should do everything they can to ensure that they meet the basic general requirements for admission of the schools to which they are applying, as well as take additional steps such as performing volunteer work at a local clinic or hospital and pursuing classwork in related subjects including biology and anatomy.  The requirements for BSN programs are likely to include many of the following:

  • Proof of either a high school diploma or GED. Many schools will require you to have earned a minimum GPA for entry into their program.
  • ACT or SAT scores. Most programs will require you to have earned a minimum score on whichever test they require.
  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Work experience
  • Interviews

Keep in mind that many BSN nursing programs require that you spend the first two years of the program completing general education classwork and specific prerequisite courses and that you earn a minimum GPA and meet other internal program requirements to be accepted to the BSN program for the final two years of the program. These additional requirements may include:

  • The TEAS test (Test of Essential Academic Skills)
  • Achievement of junior standing within their university or college
  • Favorable evaluation by faculty, including letters of recommendation
  • Minimum GPA overall, as well as in nursing prerequisite classes
  • Interviews with faculty of the nursing program

What to Consider Before Enrolling into a BSN Program

Choosing to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a big decision and one that should only be pursued after careful consideration. Here are some things for you to keep in mind:

  • A BSN program represents a significant time commitment. Though pursuing your BSN is a four-year commitment, it is also an investment in your future. The additional years of education will make a substantial difference in your knowledge and skill. It will not only show up in the level of care with which you treat your patients but also in your earnings potential and your upward mobility within the field.
  • BSN programs can be hard to get into. It is true that BSN programs are growing increasingly competitive. Doing the work that is needed to qualify for acceptance requires dedication. But the rewards for doing so are very real and will continue to expand as the need for nursing becomes greater. Nursing is a profession that is highly respected, and those who have worked to ensure that they have the highest level of training and education are viewed as extremely favorably.
  • BSN programs are more expensive. Though BSN programs do cost more to attend, there are many organizations and resources to help students with financial aid. Additionally, those who pursue a BSN program will find that upon graduation they will quickly be able to earn back the difference in tuition: the more advanced degree brings both more job offers from attractive positions and higher salary offers.

Next Steps to Enroll in a BSN Degree Program

Once you’ve made the decision to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, there are a number of important steps that are either required or recommended to help you achieve your goal. 

  • Investigate the programs that are available to you. Just as in choosing any college program, you want to determine the type of campus and program that you want to apply to. Considerations include location, program reputation, how competitive the program is, and cost. Once you’ve identified those that are of interest, make a checklist for each one’s application requirements and deadlines. 
  • Earning your high school diploma or GED. If you already have done so, collect all pertinent transcripts and proof of graduation. If you are still in school, remember that higher GPAs, involvement in school activities and in volunteer programs will make you more attractive to those making decisions about which students to accept. Participation in volunteer activities at local hospitals or with the American Red Cross is a good idea, and so is seeking mentorship through local nursing professional associations or attendance at nursing camp.
  • Apply to the accredited BSN programs that you have identified.
  • Apply for financial aid if needed.

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Is a BSN Degree Right for Me?

Choosing to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is a big decision that should be based on your own personal goals, dreams, and needs. If you’re not certain about whether to move forward, it’s a good idea to consider long-term goals, what kind of job responsibilities you hope to have, what kind of salary you hope to earn, and what kind of environment you want to work in. Perhaps most importantly of all, you should ask yourself whether you want to make the kind of real difference in other people’s lives that a BSN-degree Registered Nurse can make.

By pursuing a BSN degree, you will ensure that you have more extensive knowledge, greater earning power and personal and professional growth than those who have chosen a shorter path to becoming a Registered Nurse. You will also have a greater ability to specialize in areas that are of interest to you. The job market for RNs is experiencing tremendous growth, but by equipping yourself with a BSN degree you put yourself ahead of those who have not invested the additional time, giving yourself the promise of nearly limitless opportunities.


  • What Does a BSN Degree Stand For?

    • BSN stands for Bachelor's of Science in Nursing, a four-year degree.
  • What is the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

    • A nurse who has earned a BSN degree is also an RN, Registered Nurse. However, in RN to BSN programs, they are referring to RNs who hold an ADN degree, an Associate's Degree in Nursing.
  • How much does a BSN Nurse Make Per Year?

    • Graduates of BSN programs earn a median salary of $73,300, according to the Bureau of Labor Statstics, though conditions vary based on area. 
  • Do BSNs Get Paid More Than RNs?

    • ADNs earn a median average salary of $57,088, $13,444 less than BSNs.

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