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If you want to become a registered nurse (RN) or an advanced practice RN (APRN), you should consider earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Not only will this degree improve your chances of employment after graduation, but it qualifies you to pursue a graduate-level nursing education.
This article overviews what you can expect from a BSN degree program, including typical admission requirements, coursework and career opportunities.
What Is a BSN Degree?
A BSN is an undergraduate degree that combines classroom learning and on-site clinical training, preparing students for work in the healthcare sector. BSN programs typically take anywhere from two to four years to complete. Part-time learners usually need more time to earn this degree.
The BSN degree is for current and aspiring RNs who want to advance their education. APRNs are required to hold bachelor’s degrees in nursing.
Why Earn a BSN?
If you’re wondering how to become an RN, a BSN isn’t required—but it’s highly recommended.
In 2010, the National Academy of Medicine (NAM)—formerly called the Institute of Medicine—published a report on the future of nursing. The report evaluated the state of the healthcare system and concluded that hospitals should hire RNs with advanced training, as this would improve the quality of nursing care.
To that effect, NAM called for 80% of nurses to hold BSN degrees by 2020.
NAM’s recommendation has made a lasting impact, as more healthcare employers today seek RNs with BSN degrees. In a 2021 report, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing stated that 77.4% of employers prefer to hire BSN graduates, while 40.6% of healthcare facilities require a BSN degree.
BSN Admission Requirements
Specific BSN admission requirements may vary among institutions. Below are the typical criteria required for admission to a bachelor’s-level nursing program.
- Official transcripts
- Completed prerequisite courses (usually in biology, anatomy and chemistry)
- Acceptable SAT or ACT scores
- Recommendation letters
- Application fee (or proof of payment)
- Valid RN license (if you’re already a registered nurse)
Accreditation for BSN Degrees
Before enrolling in a BSN program, make sure to check its accreditation status.
Most nursing programs are accredited through the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Visit the accreditors’ official websites to verify your program’s accreditation status or find accredited options to consider.
Attending an unaccredited BSN program may not prevent you from enrolling in graduate school, but it may disqualify you from certain types of financial aid.
Moreover, students who graduate from unaccredited and unapproved bachelor’s programs cannot sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
Without passing the NCLEX, you cannot practice as an RN. This drastically narrows your employment opportunities and may reduce your earning potential. We recommend a strong NCLEX study plan and allowing plenty of prep time to improve your chances of passing the NCLEX.
Common Courses for BSN Degrees
Career Development for Professional Nursing
This course aims to equip students for success after they graduate from nursing school. It prepares nursing students for the NCLEX and teaches them non-nursing skills needed to excel in the job market.
Foundations of Medical-Surgical Nursing Practice
This course promises to equip BSN students with medical-surgical nursing expertise through a hands-on approach. It emphasizes the development of cue recognition, therapeutic communication and inter-professional collaboration, to help sharpen the students’ clinical judgment.
This course prepares learners to provide primary and acute healthcare to children and adolescents in clinical settings. Students learn about the various health problems children face and how to manage them. They then apply the lessons learned during clinical hours.
Global Health Nursing
The global health nursing course educates students on the global conditions affecting the health of different populations. Students also learn how geopolitical, environmental, socioeconomic and religious factors can disrupt healthcare delivery. They also explore how to adapt to unfavorable situations.
Legal and Ethical Issues in Clinical Practice
This course aims to help nurses recognize and take appropriate action regarding ethical dilemmas. It emphasizes the seven core ethical principles that nurses must adhere to: nonmaleficence, justice, accountability, beneficence, veracity, autonomy and fidelity.
BSN Bridge Programs
Since there are several pathways to entering the nursing field, bridge programs are quite common. These programs are built to take participants from one degree or credential level to another. Students in bridge programs often have prior nursing experience or education, and they aim to obtain a higher academic qualification in an accelerated time frame.
Nurses who already hold BSN degrees may also pursue a master’s in nursing through a BSN-to-MSN bridge program.
This program is for RNs holding an associate degree in nursing (ADN). It builds on the clinical knowledge gained during the ADN program to equip nurses with specialized training and superior patient management skills.
To enroll, you must hold a valid RN license, complete any prerequisite coursework and meet minimum GPA requirements (typically 2.5). You may also be asked to submit official college transcripts and a professional resume. Passing a criminal background check is another common requirement.
RN-to-BSN programs usually feature coursework in clinical reasoning, pathophysiology and pharmacology, professional nursing transformation, genetics and genomics in nursing practice.
Completing an RN-to-BSN bridge program typically takes about 18 months to two years. However, program length may vary among schools.
This bridge program is for licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) who want to leverage their current expertise to acquire a BSN degree. The curriculum includes courses that prepare LVNs to become registered nurses after passing the NCLEX.
The general prerequisites for applying to an LVN-to-BSN bridge program include:
- Valid LVN licensure
- Completion of pre-nursing coursework
- Transcripts from any previous institutions
Completing the bridge from LVN to BSN typically takes three years. However, some colleges offer accelerated BSN bridge options for LVNs who can commit to full-time study.
Careers for BSN Graduates
Most students enroll in BSN programs to become registered nurses. An RN is a licensed nursing professional who provides hands-on care to patients in clinical settings. RNs collaborate with other medical personnel to:
- Assess patients’ conditions
- Record their medical history
- Administer medication
- Observe patients
- Teach patients how to manage injuries and illnesses when discharged
RNs work in hospitals, physician’s offices, nursing homes, emergency care units and schools.
To obtain RN licensure, you must sit for and pass the nationwide licensure exam, the NCLEX-RN. Some states also require additional materials such as the following.
- An application fee
- Passing a criminal background check
- Proof of proficiency in the English language
- Recommendation letters
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual wage for registered nurses is $77,600. The BLS projects demand for these workers to grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031, which is on pace with the national average projected growth for all occupations nationwide. The numbers indicate a steady demand for RNs and significant ROI on all investments made in nursing school.
While RN licensure is the most popular career path for BSN graduates, it’s not the only option. BSN degree-holders can also work as nurse educators, medical researchers, nurse consultants and health coaches.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About BSN Degrees
Can you become an RN without a BSN?
The short answer is yes. A BSN is not the only pathway to a successful nursing career. With an ADN, you can sit for the NCLEX and obtain RN licensure.
However, many healthcare institutions require their nurses to hold bachelor’s degrees. A BSN is also the minimum academic prerequisite for graduate nursing programs.
What comes first, RN or BSN?
It depends on your specific career path. ADN-holders can become RNs without a BSN. However, many prospective RNs choose to complete BSN programs before pursuing licensure.
Is a BSN or an RN better?
A BSN is just one pathway to becoming an RN. You may also become an RN with an ADN. However, many employers prefer to hire RNs who hold bachelor’s degrees, so prospective nurses often opt to earn BSN degrees.