Nurse Practitioner

What is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

What is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year undergraduate degree designed to prepare students for careers as registered nurses. Image from https://unsplash.com
Courtney Eiland profile
Courtney Eiland January 9, 2023

Education requirements for nurses in the U.S. are becoming more stringent. Many care facilities now require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to practice patient care. So what is a BSN degree, and what does it take to acquire the credential?

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As healthcare grows more complex, the qualifications to become a nurse continue to change; in many states, requirements are becoming more stringent. New York, for example, may soon require registered nurses (RNs) to obtain their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees within ten years of receiving their nursing licenses.

Since 1965, the American Nurses Association (ANA) has advocated for all RNs to hold a BSN, arguing that “the increasing complexity of nursing care warrants a higher educational standard.” Research supports their claim that higher levels of RN education result in better patient outcomes. For example, hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with baccalaureate degrees reported better outcomes for patients after cardiac arrest, including a more timely response and greater odds of survival.

Nurses play a critical hands-on role in healthcare, performing many functions impacting patient care. Several educational pathways lead to entry-level careers in nursing, including a BSN degree, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), or a three-year hospital-based diploma program granting eligibility to pursue an RN license. A BSN, however, is the most highly respected credential because it confers more advanced nursing education and preparation.

Someday, some nursing jobs may require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These degrees are already required or strongly preferred for roles like nurse manager, nurse practitioner (NP), and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). A BSN facilitates advancement to those degrees and roles. It also qualifies graduates for many entry-level nursing roles. For those considering management, leadership, and advanced practice roles in nursing, a BSN represents a critical first step.

A BSN degree confers many advantages across the nursing field. So what could it mean for you? This article answers the question ” what is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?” It addresses:

  • What is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?
  • Why get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing career path
  • Will I eventually need a Master of Science in Nursing?
  • Can I get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing online?

What is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year undergraduate degree designed to prepare students for careers as registered nurses. The degree typically takes four years to complete. It is strongly recommended that you earn the degree from an accredited college or university; national accrediting bodies include Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). BSN programs combine classroom education with hands-on clinical experiences that enable BSN students to apply their education to real-world scenarios.

Typical BSN coursework

BSN programs include general education courses like English, math, and humanities courses alongside core nursing classes, including:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Health assessment
  • Mental health
  • Microbiology
  • Nursing fundamentals
  • Nursing informatics
  • Nutrition
  • Pathophysiology
  • Psychology
  • Pharmacology
  • Statistics

To prepare nurses to work in varied healthcare settings, schools typically allow nursing students to select from various electives or specializations. Most roles open to BSN graduates involve direct patient care with focus areas including hospice care, neonatal care, pediatric nursing, labor and delivery, geriatric nursing, psychiatric nursing, oncology, and rehabilitation. Many BSN students focus on one of more of these areas through elective coursework.

BSN licensure

All BSN degree holders from an accredited program are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). This exam evaluates foundational knowledge and ensures graduates have the proper education and preparation to work as registered nurses in hospitals and other care facilities.

Nursing students must apply for their RN licenses with the state nursing board where they intend to practice.

BSN education requirements

Requirements vary by nursing program and enrollment type. Requirements vary for high school graduates and transfer students. All incoming nursing students can utilize the Nursing Centralized Application Service (NursingCAS) to upload some of the standard application requirements, including:

  • Application and fee (or fee waiver)
  • Official transcripts
  • Letter of recommendation or teacher evaluation
  • Personal statement of interest
  • Standardized test scores

Some BSN programs, like the one offered by the University of Michigan School of Nursing, strongly recommend that prospective students complete prerequisite courses such as science and statistics. Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses are also encouraged.

Transfer students should submit a resume highlighting any relevant healthcare experience (i.e., job shadowing, volunteering, etc.), official transcripts, and a supplemental form outlining a plan to complete all prerequisite coursework before delving into BSN core curriculum.

Obtaining an accelerated BSN

Accelerated BSN degree programs provide an expedited option to earn a BSN in as little as 15 months. The University of Pennsylvania offers a full-time accelerated BSN program, including a BSN second-degree option open to students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. This pre-licensure program provides nursing education and preparation resulting in a BSN in just 15 months.

Additionally, some schools offer RN-to-BSN programs designed for RNs with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a diploma in nursing from an accredited program. This bridge program can take 18 to 24 months for full-time students. However, some programs can take as little as 12 months, depending on how many credits transfer to the BSN.

Why get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) opens doors to many entry-level roles in a high-demand career. In addition, as more governing bodies, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the ANA, continue to advocate that all practicing RNs should have a BSN degree, some employers are beginning to add this as a minimum requirement to job postings.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing career path

According to the AACN, nursing is the largest healthcare profession, comprised of nearly 4.2 million RNs nationwide. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects six percent job growth from 2021 to 2031, resulting in roughly 203,200 new RN openings yearly. RNs earn an average annual salary of $77,600.

The nursing profession includes various career paths, from entry-level roles, such as licensed practical nurses (LPNs), to nurse leadership roles, like chief nursing officers (CNOs). Level of education impacts eligibility, job title, and average salary range. Some positions may only require an ADN and proper licensure; others deman an MSN.

A BSN can result in higher salaries in some of the following roles:

Will I eventually need a Master of Science in Nursing?

While a BSN can unlock access to many entry-level and specialized RN roles, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can help you land more advanced roles in the upper tiers of professional nursing. For instance, a master’s degree is the minimum education requirement for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), who frequently earn six-figure salaries. The BLS projects 40 percent job growth in this discipline from 2021 to 2031.

Positions within this tier include:

In addition, MSNs can prepare nurses for non-direct care roles in leadership, such as nurse manager, nurse executive, nurse administrator, and nurse director.

Can I get my Bachelor of Science in Nursing online?

Many colleges and universities offer flexible, convenient options to complete your educational courses online—especially for working RNs seeking the BSN credential. However, some programs prefer traditional on-campus learning for full-time students, as they require in-person clinical experiences under supervision by a qualified preceptor to prepare BSN nurses for day-to-day duties in the real world.

Schools offering flexible online RN-to-BSN degrees include:

Healthcare organizations are pushing for the BSN as a standard requirement for employers to keep up with the complex and constantly evolving nursing challenges. Equipping yourself with a BSN degree is not just a preferred nursing credential but can be a stepping stone to more lucrative employment, should you choose to pursue it.

Obtaining an MSN at top schools, such as Yale University and the University of Michigan, can open the door to even more possibilities within the multi-tiered nursing profession.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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