A Step-by-Step Guide to Go From RN to BSN

8 Min Read Published June 13, 2023
Nurse in blue scrubs smiling and standing in hospital hallway

For a lot of RNs, earning a BSN is a major goal.  With a BSN, you get increased career opportunities, and you often earn higher pay. With all the program options, from bridge to online courses, it can be difficult to know what is right for you. This guide will explain everything you need to know about how to go from an RN to a BSN. 

What is an RN to BSN Program?

An RN to BSN program is a specific type of nursing program for RNs who already hold an ADN degree. Often referred to as a bridge program, it's a great way for ADNs to level up in their career while they continue working.

On average, students who attend a BSN program after high school will complete the program in roughly four years. A nurse who starts a bridge program after working as an ADN can complete a BSN program in as little as 12 months or as long as 5 years. This varies based on the program, individual, and home/life commitments.

Are There RN to MSN Programs?

Yes. Like RN to BSN bridge programs, you can earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) as an ADN-RN. RN to MSN programs encompass BSN and graduate curriculums. However, they're often more expensive and longer than an RN to BSN bridge. Also, BSN vs. MSN degrees have advantages and drawbacks that you should weigh before choosing a program.

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

Why Earn a BSN? Top Benefits of Going From RN to BSN

  1. You'll be more prepared for the hospital setting. BSN-prepared nurses are thought to be more prepared for the hospital setting because of the time and commitment spent during the previous four years. BSN programs place a great emphasis on nursing research, ethics, and informatics. While the majority of ADN programs do not require students to take these classes. 
  2. BSN Nurses will be eligible to apply to Magnet hospitals. Magnet designation, obtained through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, is a highly coveted designation that signifies a hospital is one of the best in the country. One of the requirements is the educational level of the nursing staff. The more nurses that have advanced nursing degrees, such as BSN and MSN, the higher the likelihood of keeping a Magnet status. 
  3. Increased clinical skills. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, BSN nurses have better clinical skills than ADN nurses. Reports indicate that BSN nurses have lower patient mortality rates, lower failure-to-rescue rates, higher proficiency at diagnosis and evaluating nursing interventions, and improved professional integration and research/evaluation skills.
  4. A step towards an MSN degree. In order to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), nurses must first complete a BSN program. MSNs can become nurse practitioners, certified nurse anesthetists, or nurse educators, or another type of APRN.
  5. Management and leadership opportunities. BSN-prepared nurses can move into management and leadership roles within the healthcare setting. ADN nurses are unable to do so. 
  6. Access to non-hospital opportunities. Obtaining a BSN degree opens the door to non-hospital opportunities. Most nurses do not foresee themselves as bedside nurses when they are 50-60 years old. Nurses who hold BSN degrees can move into teaching, case management, informatics, policy review, and management.

>>Related: Top 10 Online RN to BSN Programs

Types of RN to BSN Programs

There are three main types of BSN programs. They are bridge, traditional, and online. It’s important to determine which programs you qualify for before applying. Furthermore, it is important to determine if you are a distance education learner or need hands-on classroom instruction.  

  • RN-BSN Bridge Programs

    • These are ideal for nurses who have completed an ADN program or are diploma RNs and now need to further their education. This program is ideal for working individuals with families and life commitments because it provides more flexibility with a heavy emphasis on online learning. Prospective BSN bridge program students should first reach out to their Human Resources department to inquire about tuition reimbursement through the healthcare system. Some hospitals have strong associations with certain online universities. This will allow employees to have a direct point of contact for the program, a streamlined application process, and may receive a higher level of tuition reimbursement.
    • Basic requirements: The applicant must possess an RN license in good standing with no disciplinary action. An ADN degree is required. Pass a criminal background check.
  • Online RN-BSN programs

    • These are great for busy, working professionals. These programs allow the student to work when their schedule permits and can be completed at their own pace. 
    • Basic requirements: The applicant must possess an RN license in good standing with no disciplinary action. An ADN degree is required. Pass a criminal background check.

Online RN to BSN Program Pros & Cons

Infographic weighing pros and cons of online bsn programs


RN to BSN Program Requirements

The requirements for each program will vary by school, but all share a few of the basics:

  • License in good standing which means that no disciplinary action without explanation and follow up. If this is a concern, reach out to the program and have a frank discussion with an admissions counselor to see if it will affect acceptance. 
  • Possess RN as well as an ADN for bridge programs, students are expected to have both. 
  • Minimum 2.0 GPA to be accepted into the program as well as the required undergraduate courses most students will have completed these courses as they are required to graduate with an Associate’s degree.
  • Criminal background checks are required for all individuals and must be current. This means that most will have to get another one even if they had one for their place of employment.
  • Working a minimum of 30 hours per week or completes the equivalency exam. As long as the student is working as a Registered Nurse during the program this will fulfill the requirements. If a student takes time off from the bedside during the program, there are other ways to satisfy the requirements. It is best to talk to your advisor regarding this if it is a concern.

Furthermore, students will need to complete the prerequisite courses in order to be considered for admission. These classes include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Nutrition
  • Chemistry
  • Intro to Sociology

Based on the program, other requirements may include:

  • Child abuse clearance
  • Drug test
  • Vaccinations
  • Physical examination
  • Letters of recommendations

The easiest RN to BSN programs to get into have high acceptance rates, which means they may have fewer or more lax admissions requirements. Remember to never sacrifice quality for ease, especially when it comes to accreditation. Always attend ACEN or CCNE-accredited nursing programs to ensure your education meets regulatory standards.

RN-BSN Classes and Clinical Hours

Courses in an RN-BSN bridge program will not include the basic core nursing courses. They are higher-level courses, and there are approximately 30 credit hours which is roughly 10 courses. Again, this will vary depending on the courses taken during the initial ADN program.

Courses include:

  • Informatics in Nursing
  • Innovations in Healthcare
  • Nursing Management and Leadership
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Community Health
  • Capstone Course

Cost of RN to BSN Programs

Since there are a variety of different types of RN-BSN programs, the prices of programs will vary. While the BSN program may seem expensive to some, it is important to remember that most hospitals offer tuition reimbursement for BSN bridge programs for full-time and part-time employees. You can learn more about employer-sponsored tuition aid from your Human Resources department. 

Bridge programs are for nurses who have already completed an ADN program and have been working as an RN for several years. These programs are mostly completed online. Students can take classes remotely from across the country if the program fits their needs. It is important to note that some programs will require the person to complete in-person skills assessments, and this would require travel to the university.

The cost of RN-BSN bridge online programs will vary depending on how many of the courses the student has already taken and that are transferable. Some ADN programs require students to take additional classes for their degree to help bridge the gap to earning a BSN at a later date. Costs for these programs are computed based on a flat rate per credit hour.

Check out our comprehensive guide to learn more about the cheapest RN to BSN online programs.

Is an RN to BSN Degree Right For Me?

Nurses should all consider taking the next step to obtain their BSN. Right now, it is highly encouraged by most state nursing boards as well as healthcare organizations. Eventually, it will become a requirement. Obtaining a BSN opens countless opportunities for nurses. These include chances to advance up the clinical ladder, take positions beyond the bedside, and learn more than just bedside nursing skills.

Whether completing a BSN for personal or professional fulfillment, the evidence proves that nurses who have a BSN are more engaged with their patients, have better patient outcomes, and give back to the nursing profession more than non-BSN-prepared nurses.


    • An RN-BSN degree is a specific program for practicing nurses who have already earned an ADN degree. The RN-BSN program is shorter than a standard BSN, which normally takes four years, and it allows ADNs to build on the nursing experience that they already have.
    • RN to BSN programs can be completed in as little as 12 months.
    • In an RN to BSN program, nurses have already taken many of the basic nursing courses, so they'll focus on higher-level courses and can include: Informatics in Nursing, Innovations in Healthcare, Nursing Management and Leadership, Nursing Ethics, Community Health and a Capstone Course.
    • RN to BSN programs can vary in cost quite a bit. On the cheaper end, they can range from $7,000 - $11,000 per year. On the higher end, they can cost $15,000 - $20,000 per year. 
    • Programs that are taught 100% online often do not require clinicals but may require you to be working full-time as an RN.
Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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