In a position paper published more than 50 years ago, the American Nurses Association (ANA) issued guidance on educational requirements for nurses. In it, the organization recommended that the “minimum preparation for beginning professional nursing practice at the present time should be baccalaureate degree education in nursing.”
Research has subsequently borne out this recommendation. Studies show that when you increase the number of nurses with Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees at an institution, patient outcomes and mortality rates improve dramatically.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Today’s registered nurses handle increasingly complex levels of patient care as part of medical teams that include doctors, pharmacists, and specialists who all hold master’s degrees or higher. Nurses are often the primary caregivers on these teams, called upon to perform sophisticated interventions. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing cautions that “these clinicians should not be the least educated member of the healthcare team.”
Many professional associations and regulatory groups (including the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice, the Pew Health Professions Commission, the National Black Nurses Association, and the National Association of Hispanic Nurses) concur: registered nurses should hold bachelor’s degrees. RNs who launched nursing careers with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) need to anticipate a time when most job listings include “BSN preferred.” At some point, some states may even require the BSN to practice nursing. The BSN is, after all, already the preferred level of nursing education in most specialties.
There are some significant benefits that come along with a BSN, including higher pay, access to jobs in specialty areas, and the possibility of advancing into leadership. In this guide to whether RN to BSN programs are worth it, we’ll cover:
RN to BSN degree programs are bridge programs designed for RNs who already have an associate’s degree from an accredited ADN program and an RN license. Nurses in these programs can transfer some of their ADN credits to meet BSN course requirements and earn a bachelor’s degree (which would typically take four years) in less time. Tuition may be lower than that of four-year programs, too. Because these programs are designed for professional nurses already working in the field, a lot of schools offer flexible or online RN-BSN options where coursework can be completed after hours or on days off. Often, fieldwork requirements can be completed at a healthcare facility in your home city.
It may be worth looking into RN to MSN programs, as well. Nurses who aspire to management positions like nurse manager or chief nursing officer will eventually need a master of science in nursing. Some RN to MSN programs will let you earn a BSN and MSN together in less time than it would take to earn these degrees back to back while others confer a master of science in nursing but not a bachelor’s degree.
The most important prerequisites you’ll need when applying to RN to BSN programs are an associate’s degree or diploma in nursing from an accredited program and an unrestricted license to practice nursing. Some schools require applicants to have a specific number of transferable college credits—and will specify a maximum number of credits that can be transferred—along with a GPA that’s above a certain minimum.
Every university requires applicants to submit different materials, so always read the admission requirements, application guidelines, and information about financial aid carefully. You may have to submit a one-page personal statement, a résumé, up-to-date college transcripts, and proof that you’ve taken certain prerequisite classes (often chemistry, biology, English composition, human anatomy, and science labs). If you haven’t taken one or more of the required prerequisite courses, you may still be accepted conditionally, but you will have to complete those courses before the program starts.
Most RN to BSN degrees can be completed in 18 to 24 months by full-time students, though some programs (like the ones at Ohio University (Main Campus) and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) can be completed in just 12 months. If you’ll be a part-time student, you will probably finish in about six semesters, or three years. How quickly you graduate with your Bachelor of Science in Nursing will depend on how many credits you can transfer over from your previous schooling and whether you are granted any additional credits for career experience.
If you’re already a working nurse, you’ll probably be glad to learn that RN to BSN bridge programs are typically designed for working professionals. Many BSN students need to or want to work while studying, so many schools offer online programs, self-paced programs, or hybrid format programs that include both online and on-campus classes. Some, like Illinois College, also allow students to skip one semester and then resume their studies without the need to reapply.
Most RN to BSN programs include a combination of academic classwork and clinical training (nursing students in online programs may be able to complete their fieldwork hours at work). Coursework typically touches on:
At some schools, nurses can earn a BSN with a concentration in a particular specialty. As you work toward earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, you may be able to take electives that enable you to enter a specialty like geriatric nursing, pediatrics, or psychiatric nursing much more quickly.
RNs have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to get licensed regardless of which degree they hold. The exam covers basic technical competency for nurses. Pass rates are about the same for ADN, BSN, and MSN holders.
All kinds of schools have RN to BSN programs. As you consider the question ‘Is an RN to BSN program worth it?’, you may wonder whether you need to go to a high-priced, high-prestige school, or whether a good state school would be sufficient.
In most cases, it will only matter if the school you choose is at either end of the spectrum. A degree from Johns Hopkins University or Duke University will no doubt open doors that might be closed to a nurse with a degree from a less renowned university. Similarly, enrolling in an RN to BSN degree program at a poorly regarded school might hurt your chances of landing jobs you really want. If you attend an RN to BSN program at a good middle-of-the-road university, you’ll be fine.
While there are some hospitals that may give preferential treatment to job applicants who graduated from specific universities, what generally matters more is whether your program is accredited. Nursing schools can be accredited regionally, nationally, or both. Accreditors include the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or the National League for Nursing (NLN).
Where you choose to study should ultimately be driven by your needs. A large national college may have an amazing on-campus RN to BSN program, but if getting too and from class is a hassle and you’re missing classes because of work, it may be better to enroll in a program at a smaller regional college that’s close by or in an online RN to BSN program. When in doubt, check a school’s NCLEX-RN pass rate and its post-graduation employment rates. Both should be provided on the school’s website.
Check out the RN to BSN programs at:
Nurses who have earned a BSN degree have more opportunities open to them than RNs with an ADN—and not just because some specialties like nurse manager and nurse educator require job candidates to have a bachelor’s degree. Some hospitals and health systems no longer hire nurses without a BSN or require all ADN hires to earn a bachelor’s degree within a set time frame.
That you may not be able to become a surgical nurse, a hospice nurse, or a gynecology nurse without a BSN may be less important than the fact that nurses with BSNs may outpace you. “The BSN will also figure into decisions about promotions and professional growth,” Wendie A. Howland, nurse, and owner of Howland Health Consulting, said in an interview with the Rasmussen College Nursing Blog. If you aspire to become something more than a shift nurse, a BSN might be the necessary first step.
That said, having a BSN in hand won’t guarantee you’ll make more money. That will depend on the policies of your workplace. At many hospitals and medical facilities, RNs are paid the same wage whether they have an ADN or a BSN; at others, the difference in salary is a mere dollar an hour. According to PayScale, an RN can expect to make $29.30 per hour while nurse with a BSN might make $31.77 given the same level of experience.
For now, finding employment in nursing with just an ADN is still possible. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment opportunities for nurses will continue to grow through 2028 at a rate higher than the average for all occupations, and ADNs will fill some of those jobs as long as there is a nursing shortage.
However, when thinking about whether to enroll in an RN to BSN program, it’s important to consider that more people are applying to nursing programs. That means employers can be choosier when hiring. Many medical facilities now only hire BSNs. The reasons for this vary, but there are signs that the BSN will become the new standard for RNs.
For instance, the Institute of Medicine released a report in 2010 calling for 80 percent of all registered nurses to have a bachelor’s degree by 2020. The bachelor’s degree is also the standard for professional licensure for nurses in all of Europe. The US Army, Navy, and Air Force require all nurses to have a BSN to practice as active duty RNs. And many healthcare organizations with and without the Magnet designation have already made the BSN a requirement for entry-level employment.
It’s pretty clear that the BSN is the future of nursing, which means that there really is no long-term alternative. If your employer decides to make the BSN a requirement, you might be grandfathered in, but you’ll still be competing against nurses with bachelor’s degrees for placements and promotions. Given that, an RN to BSN program is almost certainly worth it in the long run.
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