April 17, 2020

RN to BSN Guide

With a big industry push for all nurses to have a BSN by 2020 and the growing number of online nursing programs, many RN’s are considering getting their BSN degree. With all the program options, from bridge to online courses, it can be difficult to know what is right for you. This educational guide will highlight what you need to know in order to take the next big step in your nursing career.


  • What is an RN to BSN Degree?

    • 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.
  • How Long Are RN to BSN Programs?

    • RN to BSN programs can be completed in as little as 12 months.
  • What Classes Are Needed to Go From an RN to a BSN?

    • 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.

  • How Much Does an RN to BSN Program Cost?

    • 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. 
  • Does an RN to BSN Require Clinicals?

    • Programs that are taught 100% online often do not require clinicals, but may require you to be working full time as an RN.
  • Will Hospitals Pay for an RN to BSN?

    • Most hospitals do offer tuition reimbursement for BSN bridge programs for full-time and part-time employees. 

>>Related: Top 5 Affordable and Fast Online RN to BSN Programs

What is an RN to BSN degree?

An RN to BSN degree is a specific type of nursing program for RNs who already hold an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN). 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 that attend a BSN program after high school will complete the program in roughly four years. A nurse that 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.

Benefits of a BSN degree

  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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 are required to become a nurse practitioner, certified nurse anesthetist, or a nurse educator.
  • 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. 
  • 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 degree can move into teaching, case management, informatics, policy review, and management.

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

Career and Salary Opportunities for Nurses With BSNs

Most major healthcare systems use clinical ladders to reward nurses for participation in hospital base committees and education. Nurses must be BSN prepared in order to apply for the clinical ladder. Clinical ladder advancement is met with salary increases.

Many hospitals, specifically magnet hospitals and academic healthcare organizations, are only seeking BSN prepared nurses. In fact, on job postings and applications it will state, “do not apply if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree.” Most nurses will not see a bump in their salary after they obtain their BSN. However, they will be at a disadvantage when applying for positions if they do not have a BSN degree. 

Obtaining a BSN is a gateway to numerous career opportunities. Nurses seeking to further their care will ultimately need to obtain a BSN whether it is through a traditional program or an RN-BSN bridge program. In order to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), nurses must first complete a BSN program. 

So, while there is no direct salary bump, there are more opportunities to advance a career which in turn will lead to a salary increase.

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 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. 

Most programs have a progression they like their students to take. This is because each course builds upon the previous course. Programs are generally expected to be completed within two to three years. It is suggested to take two courses per semester. Some programs will allow students to take up to three courses in one semester but special consideration may need to be given.

Find Nursing Programs

Online RN-to-BSN Programs

RN-BSN bridge programs are a great choice for working professionals or those with other commitments. The most important piece of information to consider when applying for an online program is if you can stay motivated and on task when not forced to attend class on a daily or weekly basis.

Advances in technology have allowed online nursing programs to become very popular recently. Professors are able to interact with students via forums such as Blackboard Collaborate. Online courses allow students who have different learning styles to explore different avenues for learning without compromising the integrity of a nursing program. 

What Type of Student Thrives in an Online RN to BSN Program? 

Online RN-BSN programs are a fairly new option for nurses and can fit most lifestyles, especially nurses who, 

  • Have young children and/or are caring for loved ones.
  • Who needs to be employed and do not have the option to take time off work for school
  • Nurses with busy schedules and not a lot of flexibility to attend classes in person

Online BSN Program Pros & Cons

Infographic weighing pros and cons of online bsn programs

Why Is it Important to Choose an Accredited and Credentialed Program? 

One major consideration that must be taken into account when applying to an online nursing program is accreditation. Non-accredited universities should be a HUGE red-flag for all nurses and students. Not only will they have difficulty obtaining gainful employment but, they will not be able to sit for the NCLEX. 

Students that graduate from programs that are not accredited, whether an ADN or BSN program, will NOT be able to sit for the NCLEX. This means you will NOT become a Registered Nurse.

There are two main accrediting bodies for nursing programs. They are,

The purpose of accreditation is to focus on the same standards and criteria across all nursing programs. This ensures that there is some level of sameness within the programs. The accreditation process ultimately improves the quality of nursing education and keeps the curriculum up to date on current trends in advances in nursing and healthcare.

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 have needed 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

Find Nursing Programs

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. It is important to discuss this with your Human Resources department. 

Bridge programs are for nurses that already have 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.

How to Pay for an RN to BSN Program

Money can be a huge determining factor in regards to obtaining a nursing degree. There are different types of grants, scholarships, and loans to help offset costs. These will vary based on your specific need but, we encourage you to explore all options. 


The first option you should explore is if your employing hospital will pay for it. This article will show you how you can get your RN to BSN paid for by your hospital in more depth, but you'll start by talking to your HR department.


A scholarship is an award of financial aid to a student to further their education. This money does not have to be repaid. There are a variety of different types of scholarships. These include,

  • Merit-based
  • Need-based
  • Student-specific (gender, race, religion, family, and/or medical history)
  • Career-specific
  • College-specific
  • Athletic

Check out our full list of over 80 scholarships available to aspiring and current nurses. 


Grants are determined by financial need. They can be used to cover the cost of tuition, books, clinical uniforms and supplies, housing, and educational supplies. When applying for grants they will inform how they are to be applied towards your education. The amount of money you are eligible to receive depends strictly on your financial situation.

Typically grants do not have to be repaid as long as you graduate nursing school. If you were to drop out there can be incurred costs.

Student Loan

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans must be repaid. Loans also incur interest, so you will ultimately repay more than the initial amount of the loan. The exact terms of the loan will depend on the lender and other factors. There are several types of student loans.

The most common loans are called Federal Student Loans.

Federal student loans are a great option for most students for the following reasons:

  • They don’t have to be paid back while you’re in school.
  • They charge lower interest than loans from private lenders.
  • If you’re having trouble paying back your loan, there are programs you can qualify for to assist you.
  • You don’t need any credit history to get a federal student loan.

Two other fairly common loans are direct subsidized loans and direct unsubsidized loans. These loans are also referred to as Stafford loans. Let’s breakdown the difference:

Direct Subsidized Loans

  • U.S. Department of Education loan
  • Must meet certain income requirements
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • The government pays the interest rate on loan while in school
  • Payback once graduated

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

  • U.S. Department of Education loan
  • Don’t have to meet income requirements
  • The student is responsible for accrued interest
  • Payback once graduated

Federal Perkins Loans

  • Very low-income students
  • The lender is the education institution
  • Meet income requirements
  • The school must have funds available, limited monetary amounts

Private Student Loans

  • From banks and credit unions
  • Very high-interest rates
  • Payments required while in school

Loan Repayment

Repayment will vary and is determined by the type of loans. Federal loans do not have to be paid back until after graduation. Additionally, repayment can be deferred if you decide to continue your education by taking master’s level classes. 

For all private loans, repayment can occur while still in school. 

A standard rule, whether the loans are for undergraduate or graduate school, the loans must be repaid within ten years of completion of the program. 

There are two types of repayment plans.

  1. Standard Repayment Plan - the borrower repays a set amount each month. 
  2. Graduated Repayment Plan - payments start out low and increase every two years, but will not be more than three times greater than any other monthly payment.

If you can not repay your loans, it is extremely important to immediately discuss this with the lender. Most will have repayment plans can be deferred in times of financial hardship such as a job loss. 

Loan Forgiveness

Some nurses may qualify for nursing loan forgiveness. This will only apply to federal loans. These programs apply to nurses with varying degrees but there are certain requirements that must be met. 

The most common Loan Forgiveness program is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This program forgives the remaining balance of all federal loans after the borrower has made a minimum of  120 qualifying monthly payments. You must not default on your loans, and you must be using a qualifying repayment plan while working for a qualifying employer.

  • A qualifying employer means that you work for:
    • Government organization at any level (federal, state, local, or tribal)
    • Not-for-profit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
    • Other types of not-for-profit organizations that are not tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
    • AmeriCorps or Peace Corps serving as a full-time volunteer

It is very important to note for this loan forgiveness that the owner of the healthcare system must be a not-for-profit organization. At times, a hospital will be not-for-profit or serve an underprivileged population but will be owned by a larger for-profit corporation. 

Individual hospitals will also participate in loan forgiveness up to a certain amount for years of service. These hospitals are generally smaller community hospitals in rural areas of the country. 

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.


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