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

16 Min Read Published November 7, 2023
Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is a 4-year degree you can earn to become a registered nurse. This guide will explain everything you need to know about BSN degrees, including what they are, how to get one, top programs, and whether a BSN is worth it.

Nurse grabbing stethoscope hanging off shoulders

What is a BSN? 

BSN stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It is a four-year degree in nursing that is one of two degrees available to nurses. A traditional BSN degree provides two years of prerequisite courses and general education courses followed by another two years of nursing classes and clinical rotations. 

A BSN program is longer than an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and more expensive. However, BSN-trained RNs often get better career opportunities, and the BSN salary is typically higher. So, deciding which RN licensure path you want to take depends on your tuition budget, career goals, and priorities.

Continue reading to learn more about BSN degrees and programs. We’ll explore BSN and ADN differences, explain how to get a BSN, examine top programs, and share a BSN nurse’s real experiences.

BSN Program Length

1-4 years

BSN Tuition

$20,000-$100,000

(Forbes)

Expected Salary for BSN Nurses

$81,220 /year | $39.05/ hour (BLS)

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

5 Things to Know About BSN Degrees

Sarah Jividen, BSN, RN, shares her top things to know about BSN degrees. 

As someone who pursued an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and became a second career nurse, there are five important things I'd like to share with others considering the nursing profession.

  1. Many facilities only consider BSN graduates for employment, so your employment options are typically wider than with an ADN.
  2. BSN programs typically require four years of study, while ADN programs generally take two to three years. 
  3. If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you may be eligible for an accelerated BSN program that only takes 12-20 months!
  4. It is really important to make sure your BSN program is accredited. Nursing school accreditation ensures that you are receiving quality nursing education with an up-to-date curriculum.
  5. BSN graduates also have a less expensive and smoother pathway to pursue advanced degrees in nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) later on if they desire to.

ADN vs BSN: What’s the Difference?

As a BSN nurse, you’ll be eligible to take the same NCLEX exam as those with an ADN. So you may wonder, why spend the extra money and time to earn a BSN when you can get the same RN licensure with an ADN?

When considering an RN vs BSN, it’s important to know that while ADN-prepared registered nurses can find work, many report it's much more difficult. Most employers looking for RNs prefer nurses with a BSN. Also, BSN nurses tend to earn higher salaries than their ADN counterparts. 

Many nurses start out by earning their ADN, then go back later and get their BSN through an RN-to-BSN program, which can often be completed online, and many times, employers will pay for it. 

Aside from the career prospects, there are some distinct differences between BSN and ADN training:

BSN

  • Program length: 1-4 years
  • Tuition: $20,000 to $100,0001
  • NCLEX pass rate: 83% 2
  • Curriculum: Includes patient care but emphasizes nursing theory

ADN

  • Program length: 18 months - 2 years
  • Tuition: $6,000-$20,000 1
  • NCLEX pass rate: 79% 2
  • Curriculum: Focuses on hands-on patient care

>> Related: BSN vs MSN: What's the Difference?

How to Get a BSN Degree

1. Meet Admission Requirements

Each university will have its own BSN admission conditions. However, BSN programs have become highly competitive across the board, making it difficult to get in on bare minimum qualifications alone. Prospective students should do everything they can to meet baseline BSN admission requirements and strive to exceed them. 

Some of the most common BSN admission requirements are:

  • High school diploma or GED equivalency
  • Earn a minimum high school GPA
  • Meet GPA requirements for prerequisite courses
  • Achieve minimum ACT/SAT scores
  • High school and/or transfer transcripts
  • Earn minimum score on HESI and/or TEAS
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Admissions interviews

You should also consider going above and beyond expectations through the following activities:

  • Volunteer work at local hospitals/clinics
  • Pursuing classwork in nursing-related courses (e.g., biology or anatomy)
  • Work experience in medical or clinical settings
  • Participation in honors societies and future healthcare organizations (e.g., Hosa)

2. Apply to an Accredited BSN Program

After meeting the BSN program requirements, you may begin the application process. We recommend choosing programs that accommodate your needs. For example, if you already have an ADN degree, you can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program. If you’re looking to complete your BSN quickly and for as little money as possible, you may want to consider a cheap and fast online RN-to-BSN program

Attending an accredited program ensures you’ll be eligible for the NCLEX exam. It also removes roadblocks to finding gainful employment or transferring credits for graduate degrees. The two main nursing school accreditation bodies are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

3. Create a Financial Plan

BSN education costs between $20,000 and $100,000, depending on which university you attend. This major financial investment requires careful planning that you should complete before starting class. You can start determining how to pay for nursing school by defining your financial needs and exploring your options, which include:

4. Attend Your BSN Program

Once accepted, you can begin your BSN curriculum. Expect the first two years of your degree program to focus on education fundamentals and prerequisites.

Though these first two years may not feel as relevant to your prospective career, do not neglect them. Many BSN programs have minimum GPA requirements for this portion of the curriculum. If you don’t pass the pre-nursing standards, you may not get to continue with the program.

>> Related: What are Pre-Nursing Programs?

The second half of BSN programs focuses on nursing-specific education and clinical rotations. Clinical hours give you experience and skills in real-world settings, preparing you to provide competent patient care. Some common classes BSN students take include the following:

  • Nursing Care I and II
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Assessment of Health and Illness
  • Leadership and Management
  • Pharmacology
  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction

Once you complete all the credit and clinical requirements per your school’s standards, you will graduate with your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. After that, you can sit the NCLEX-RN exam, which qualifies you to apply for RN licensure in your state.

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

BSN Programs

Types of BSN Programs

The type of BSN program you select may change depending on your educational and professional background. In general, prospective students have four options for earning a BSN - traditional BSN programs, LPN-to-BSN programs, RN-to-BSN programs, and accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs:

Traditional BSN Programs

  • Traditional 4-year degree
  • Available in a hybrid format with in-person clinical requirements
  • For non-nurses without a prior bachelor’s degree
  • The right program for new high school graduates or those with little or no prior college experience

LPN-to-BSN Programs

  • Takes 1 to 3 years to complete
  • Available in a hybrid format with in-person clinical requirements
  • For nurses with a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) credential
  • The right program for LPNs and LVNs wishing to advance their careers

RN-to-BSN Programs

  • Takes 3 semesters to 2 years to complete
  • Available in-person, fully online, and in hybrid formats
  • For nurses with an ADN degree and RN licensure
  • The right program for ADN-trained nurses wishing to advance their careers

ABSN Programs

  • Takes 12 months to 2 years to complete
  • Available in a hybrid format with in-person clinical requirements
  • For non-nurses with any prior bachelor’s degree (The type of prior degree may impact which nursing school prereqs you need)
  • The right program for non-nurses wishing to switch careers

>> Show Me Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Top BSN Programs

Personal, practical, and logistical factors will impact which BSN program you attend. These include your budget, location, schedule, and the school’s accreditation. Remember that your BSN program should be CCNE or ACEN-accredited. 

Some of the top BSN programs we’ve found include the following. See the full list in our best BSN programs article. 

Stanislaus State is part of the 23-campus California State University system. It has two brick-and-mortar campuses that students can attend either in Turlock or Stockton, CA. In addition to having an astounding 98% NCLEX pass rate, the university offers every BSN track available - a traditional BSN, ABSN, LPN-to-RN, and fully-online RN-to-BSN program.
UTA has one of the state's most diverse BSN program offerings. This nursing school has something for everyone, from a traditional BSN to accelerated online RN-to-BSN options and specializations. Also, with an NCLEX pass rate of 94%, UTA graduates have high hopes and good prospects for their nursing careers.
The UF College of Nursing offers three CCNE-accredited BSN programs - traditional, ABSN, and RN-to-BSN. The school boasts quality nursing programs, ranking among the top 25 BSN programs nationwide. UF College of Nursing also has a reputation for education advancement, as 80% of BSN graduates begin graduate study within three years.

 

BSN Jobs: What Can You Do With a BSN Degree?

Although 60% of RNs work in hospitals, you’ll also have opportunities available in other roles. Here are just a few of the positions you can get as a BSN nurse, and be sure to check out our list of the highest-paying jobs for nurses with a BSN to see where they can earn the most money.  

1. Nurse Informaticist

Nursing informatics is a constantly evolving field that combines various disciplines - from nursing and communications to computer science and information technology. In addition to clinical experience, you’ll need to foster tech skills to land a job as a nurse informaticist.

Informatics nurses develop, implement, and analyze communication and information technology systems for clinical settings. These advances help optimize patient care while reducing healthcare costs. Therefore, they drive the ever-increasing demand for informatics nurses in healthcare organizations.

2. Aesthetic/Cosmetic Nurse

An aesthetic nurse provides a range of elective and medical-cosmetic treatments for patients. They often work with plastic surgeons and dermatologists, assisting in surgery or other procedures. Aesthetic nurses can also provide individual services, including:

  • Filler or Botox injections
  • Tattoo removal
  • Laser hair removal
  • Non-surgical body contouring (e.g., cool sculpting)
  • Chemical peels

Becoming an aesthetic/cosmetic nurse requires about two years of experience working in the field. During that time, you’ll need supervision from a board-certified cosmetic/aesthetic, plastic, or facial plastic surgeon, a dermatologist, or an ophthalmologist.

3. Nurse Case Manager

Nurse case managers examine individual cases, collaborating with providers, case managers, and multiple specialties to advocate for patient care. They often work with patients who have chronic health conditions, those who need follow-up care, and those who are high-risk. Some tasks nurse case managers may perform include:

  • Screen clients and/or a population to determine healthcare needs
  • Connect clients to services/resources to meet their needs
  • Educate/guide clients and families to navigate complex medical decisions
  • Create client-focused case management plans

Becoming a nurse case manager requires at least five years of nursing experience in a role that specializes in case management. Earning a nurse case management certification can also increase your professional prospects.

My Experience Earning a BSN Degree

Sarah Jividen, BSN RN, shares what her experience was like earning a BSN.

I graduated from nursing school over a decade ago, but it was such an essential milestone in my life that I remember it like it was yesterday. Here are some of my top takeaways and things I wish I had known before starting my program.

Go Straight for a BSN

When I graduated from nursing school, it was nearly impossible to secure employment as an RN with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). While ADN programs offer a solid foundation in nursing knowledge and skills, many healthcare institutions have started to prioritize hiring nurses with a BSN  degree. In fact, I only saw one new-grad ADN get hired for employment, and it was with the understanding they would continue their education to earn a BSN. 

Already Have a Bachelor’s? Consider an ABSN Program

Nursing was a second career for me. Fortunately, though, because I already had a prior bachelor's degree in Journalism, I was eligible for a 20-month accelerated BSN program in my city. If getting your degree fast so you can start working as a nurse in less time is important, an accelerated program may be a great option.

To Say Earning a BSN Is Challenging Is an Understatement

Earning a BSN is undeniably challenging, but the rewards make the journey worthwhile. The rigorous coursework, extensive clinical rotations, and demanding study schedules push me and my classmates to our limits. But I can now say that the challenges encountered during a BSN program helped me foster resilience and develop better critical thinking and problem-solving skills essential for nursing practice. 

Is a BSN Worth It? 

Sarah Jividen, BSN RN, shares whether or not she thinks earning a BSN was worth it. 

Pursuing a BSN is definitely worth it! It will take longer to complete and cost more than an ADN, but the positives by far outweigh the negatives. The decision to earn a BSN opens up a world of opportunities and benefits in the nursing profession. Here's why:

First and foremost, a BSN degree equips you with comprehensive knowledge and skills that go beyond the basics of nursing. BSN programs focus on critical thinking, leadership, and evidence-based practice, empowering you to excel in complex healthcare environments. 

I really feel that earning a BSN enhanced my confidence and competence as a nurse. It also made it easier to find employment and practice in a wide range of fields over the years, such as neuro/trauma, emergency room, hospital resource, and aesthetics nursing, just to name a few!

Moreover, many healthcare organizations prefer hiring BSN-prepared nurses due to the growing emphasis on improved patient outcomes. Having a BSN demonstrates your commitment to delivering evidence-based, holistic care and positions you as a valuable asset to any healthcare organization. Best of luck to you!

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

BSN FAQs

  • How long does it take to earn a BSN?

    • A BSN is a 4-year degree but can take more or less time, depending on your situation. Part-time students may exceed the 4-year standard, while those in accelerated BSN programs may finish in 12 months to 2 years.
  • How much does it cost to earn a BSN?

    • BSN tuition ranges from $20,000 to $100,000, according to Forbes Advisor. The exact cost of your BSN tuition will depend on your school (and whether it’s public or private), your state residency, and the program you attend.
  • What is the difference between a BSN and an RN?

    • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a 4-year degree you can earn to become a registered nurse (RN). RN is a state licensure that permits you to practice as a nurse but is sometimes also used to refer to ADN nurses.

 

Other Nursing Degrees to Explore

Earning a BSN degree is just one way to become a nurse.  Here are a few other nursing degree options for you to explore:

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