BSN (Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing): The Ultimate Guide

BSN (Bachelor's of Science in Nursing) Degree Guide
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is an undergraduate nursing degree. Learn everything you need to know about the BSN here.

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If you want to become a nurse or take your nursing career to the next level, earning your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) should be a top priority. Nursing education is key to increasing your job opportunities and salary, as well as improving patient outcomes.

While the minimum requirement for RNs is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), many hospitals now exclusively hire BSN-educated nurses. The trend is continuing, and there’s quite a few other reasons to choose a BSN over an ADN.

But what is a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree? How is it different from other nursing degrees? What can you expect from a BSN degree program?

In this post, we’ll answer all the questions and more to help you understand if earning your BSN may be a good choice for you!

What Is A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree?

A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is an undergraduate degree designed to prepare nurses for clinical nursing practice.

For non-nurses, the degree typically takes about four years to complete, while nurses with their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can typically finish an RN-to-BSN completion program in as little as a year.

Either way, the BSN will prepare you to take on more advanced nursing roles and specialities than an ADN. Additionally, a BSN lays the educational foundation for getting an advanced degree, like a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Whether you want to pursue an advanced degree or not, earning your Bachelor’s degree as opposed to your ADN is quickly becoming the standard for Registered Nurses. If you hope to work for a MAgnet hospital or top-tier healthcare facility, a BSN is a prerequisite.

Why Should You Get Your BSN?

While you can become a Registered Nurse by earning a lower-level degree, like an Associate Degree in Nursing, there are a few reasons to consider getting your BSN instead.

More Employment Opportunities

One of the key reasons to get your BSN as opposed to your ADN is that you’ll be eligible for more employment opportunities.

Statistics from a 2020 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing indicate that:

  • 94% of BSN graduates were hired within four to six months of earning their degree
  • 82.4% of employers strongly prefer candidates with their Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing
  • 41% of healthcare facilities now require candidates to possess a BSN

If you hope to work at a distinguished facility, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing will be mandatory. Magnet hospitals now require new nurses to have their BSN, and this is a trend across all healthcare facilities.

Additionally, you’ll be able to take on leadership roles and specialize in areas like critical care or women’s health. Often, a BSN is a prerequisite to earn nursing certifications for specializations.

Finally, if you hope to become an APRN or nurse educator, you’ll need to obtain your Master’s of Science in Nursing. While some MSN programs allow you to go from RN to MSN, most programs will require you to have a Bachelor’s degree. 

You’ll also be more prepared to succeed in an advanced degree program if you get your BSN.

Higher Earning Potential

Going hand in hand with more job opportunities is the potential to earn a higher nursing salary.

While the salary for entry-level nurses is likely pretty similar regardless of education-level, the increased leadership and specialty roles BSN-educated nurses take on means they have a higher earning potential.

For one, Magnet hospitals that can afford to pay nurses higher salaries are typically only hiring nurses with a BSN. Additionally, Magnet hospitals have:

  • Better reputations
  • Better work environments
  • Higher rates of job satisfaction
  • Less burnout
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Better benefits

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t distinguish between ADN- and BSN-educated nurses when they state the average RN salary is $77,600 per year. 

However, according to Payscale, nurses with an ADN make an average of $73,000 a year, while nurses with a Bachelor’s degree make an average of $89,000 per year.

Improved Patient Outcomes

One more key reason to get your BSN, and probably the most important, is that a BSN will prepare you to become a better nurse. With more knowledge and tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to have a bigger impact on improving patient outcomes.

Research has shown that increasing the number of BSN-educated nurses by 10% can lower patient mortality by 10.9%. 

With a BSN, you’ll also have more freedom to make key decisions affecting patient outcomes. For example, you may take on the responsibility of:

  • Coordinating care plans
  • Contributing to home healthcare decision making
  • Working with new technologies

A BSN allows you to have more autonomy in the workplace, freeing up other healthcare staff to deliver optimal patient care.

How To Get Your BSN

There are four different pathways you can take to earn your BSN.

The one that’s right for you will depend on your current level of education.

Pre-licensure BSN

The Pre-licensure BSN is a track designed for aspiring nurses with no degree. This is the best option for those entering college for the first time.

This pathway usually takes about four years and includes both coursework and clinical elements. 

Often, schools will require you to complete a two-year Pre-nursing program before entering the official Pre-licensure nursing program. This allows you to complete the program’s prerequisites and general education. 

At the completion of the Pre-licensure BSN program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the NCLEX. Once you pass the exam, you’re officially a licensed RN and can start seeking employment!

While every Pre-licensure program will require some in-person clinical work, some universities allow you to earn your degree online while completing clinical requirements at healthcare facilities local to you.

Online programs that offer a Pre-licensure BSN include GCU, Herzing University, and Chamberlain University.

RN-to-BSN

The RN-to-BSN pathway is designed for students with a valid RN license. This is best for ADN-educated nurses looking to advance their education.

RN-to-BSN programs can be completed in about one to two years depending on whether or not you’re eligible to transfer credits to the completion of your degree.

If you’re an ADN-educated RN looking to expand your job opportunities and salary potential, enrolling in one of these programs can be a choice.

Every school on our list of best online BSN programs offers an RN-to-BSN option.

Accelerated BSN

The Accelerated BSN is designed for students holding a non-nursing Bachelor’s degree. If you’re a college graduate looking to transition into the field of nursing, this is likely the best option.

Accelerated BSN programs typically take about two years to complete, though they can be completed in less time, even as little as 15 months.

At the completion of the program, you’ll be able to take the NCLEX. Once you pass the test, you’ll officially be a licensed RN.

Schools that offer an online Accelerated BSN program include GCU and Herzing University.

Concurrent Enrollment BSN

The Concurrent Enrollment BSN is designed for students currently enrolled in an Associate Degree in Nursing program at a community college. Concurrent Enrollment programs allow you to work towards a BSN while you complete your ADN.

Universities that offer this type of pathway typically have partner community colleges that are eligible for this kind of program. So, if you want to enroll in one, be sure to check which ADN programs are eligible for Concurrent Enrollment.

Once you complete your ADN, you’ll be able to sit for the NCLEX. From there, you can choose to begin working as an RN, transfer to the BSN program at the university offering Concurrent Enrollment, or both!

Schools that offer an online Concurrent Enrollment BSN include Arizona State University and Ohio University (Early Start Program).

How Long Does It Take To Get Your BSN?

How long it takes to earn your BSN depends on your current level of nursing education and the degree pathway you take.

For example, non-nurses entering a Pre-licensure program can expect to spend four years earning their degree.

On the other hand, ADN-educated nurses entering an RN-to-BSN program can earn their Bachelor’s degree in as little as a year if they have applicable transfer credits. This type of program typically lasts anywhere from one to two years.

Those with a non-nursing undergraduate degree entering an Accelerated BSN program can expect to spend anywhere from 15 months to two years getting their degree, while Concurrent Enrollment students can shorten the total time it takes to get your Bachelor’s degree by completing additional coursework as they earn their ADN.

BSN Admission Requirements

While the admission requirements for BSN programs will vary from school to school, there are some general requirements that most universities will set.

Some of these include:

  • Minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA (in high school or ADN program)
  • Minimum 2.5 GPA for all science courses
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Resume
  • References
  • Essay
  • Volunteer experience

Again, these are just general guidelines. For example, competitive schools may require a higher cumulative GPA. Additionally, while some schools may require a standard SAT or ACT score, others don’t require them at all.

Finally, admission requirements for Bachelor’s programs will vary by what degree pathway you take. For instance, if you want to enroll in an RN-to-BSN program, you’ll need to provide the university with a valid RN license, as well as your nursing diploma or ADN.

BSN Curriculum

Earning your BSN requires that you complete both coursework and clinical requirements. 

This way, you get to both learn and apply what you learn in a clinical setting.

BSN Coursework

Before completing your nursing coursework, you’ll need to finish your general education requirements. In most Pre-licensure programs, the general education courses are considered the Pre-nursing phase.

While you’ll take courses related to your major, like basic chemistry and anatomy, you’ll also take courses like algebra, history, and English.

After demonstrating academic competency in the Pre-nursing stage, you’ll be eligible to enter the official Nursing Major or Pre-licensure Program.

At this stage, you’ll only take courses related to your area of study, nursing. Some courses you may take include:

  • Physical Assessment in Nursing Practice
  • Nursing Pharmacology
  • Nursing Fundamentals
  • Nursing Care For The Aging Population
  • Public, Community, and Global Health Nursing
  • Biomedical Statistics, Research, and Evidence Based Practice
  • Transformational Leadership in Nursing Practice
  • Clinical Decision Making For Safe Practice

These are just examples of courses, and the actual classes you enroll in will depend on the institution you study at. However, it’s clear that a BSN will expose you to a wide range of topics and ideas related to nursing practice.

BSN Clinical Hours Requirements

Of course, earning your BSN requires more than just acing tests and writing great papers. Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing programs for non-nurses also have a clinical requirement, allowing you to put your knowledge into practice.

It’s important to note that some RN-to-BSN programs have a clinical requirement, while others do not. Since these tracks are designed for students who are already RNs, students in these programs have already demonstrated clinical experience.

Some RN-to-BSN programs may require around 30 hours of clinical experience, while working RNs can typically satisfy this requirement by working at their job.

For Pre-licensure programs, clinical hours can take up a lot more time. Depending on the school, you may spend anywhere from 300 to 700 hours completing clinical requirements.

How Much Does A BSN Degree Program Cost?

The cost of a BSN degree program depends on the school you enroll in and the pathway you take.

For example, completing a traditional, on-campus Pre-licensure BSN program will typically cost at least $40,000. However, it could cost upwards of $80,000 or even surpass $100,000 depending on the university.

On the other hand, online Bachelor’s degrees tend to be cheaper. Additionally, you should try to take advantage of scholarships and other forms of financial aid to lower the cost of getting your degree.

It’s also important to note that pathways like RN-to-BSN, Accelerated, and Concurrent Enrollment can significantly reduce the total price of your degree. By opting for one of these tracks, it will take less time to get your degree. When you can get your degree in less time, you also spend less money.

You may even be able to finish an online RN-to-BSN completion program for as little as around $10,000.

Is A BSN Worth The Money?

Since your level of nursing education affects the salary you’re able to make, a BSN is likely worth the money.

Since a Bachelor’s degree expands your career opportunities and allows you to work toward specializations, you’ll also be able to reap the increased salary that goes along with those additional responsibilities.

So, while you’ll need to invest quite a bit of money up front, the boost it can provide your nursing career is usually worth the money.

How Much Does A BSN Nurse Make?

As we mentioned earlier, Registered Nurses with a BSN make $16,000 more than ADN-educated nurses on average.

Additionally, BSN nurses have opportunities to become specialized in specific areas of nursing. The ability to take on specialized nursing roles allows those with a BSN to earn an even higher nursing salary.

A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing can also provide the foundation to earn an advanced degree, like a Master’s of Science in Nursing. An MSN allows you to become an APRN and take on even more advanced nursing roles, meaning you can make even more money.

For example, the salary for Nurse Practitioners is typically higher than it is for RNs.

Finally, because BSN-educated nurses are more in demand than ADN-educated nurses, it improves your chances of being hired at Magnet hospitals and opens up more opportunities for high-paying travel nursing jobs.

Best Online BSN Programs

We rated the best online BSN programs and found that GCU is the top choice when considering factors like number of degree tracks, alumni outcomes, and other distinguishing features.

However, just because GCU earned our top spot doesn’t necessarily make it the perfect fit for you. The school you choose to enroll at should be determined by your own personal goals and priorities.

The next four universities in our rankings of top online Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing programs were:

To learn more about all of these schools and more, check out our rankings of the 17 best online BSN programs.

Alternatively, click here to get matched up with an online undergraduate program tailored to your needs and interests.

Best BSN Programs by State

If you’re looking for an on-campus Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program, we’ve also ranked the top schools by state by NCLEX pass rate to determine which programs will best prepare you to become a licensed RN.

We haven’t ranked the programs in every state yet, so check back soon if you don’t see your state listed.

Alabama

The best Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program in Alabama is Auburn University with a three-year average NCLEX pass rate of 98.56%.

The next four top BSN programs are:

  • University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing
  • University of North Alabama Anderson College of Nursing
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville

To learn more about each program, check out our ranking of the best BSN programs in Alabama.

California

The top-rated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program in California is CSU Long Beach with a 5-year average NCLEX pass rate of 99.02%.

The four next best schools are:

  • Sonoma State University
  • CSU Stanislaus
  • Stanbridge University
  • CSU Sacramento

You can learn more about each of these schools and more in our rankings of the best BSN programs in California.

Florida

Two schools hold the top spot when it comes to the best Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing programs in Florida: Keiser University at Ft. Meyers and Lincoln Memorial University Caylor School of Nursing. Both universities had an NCLEX pass rate of 100% in 2021.

Rounding out the top five schools in the state are:

  • Florida Gulf Coast University
  • ECPI College of Nursing
  • Rasmussen University at Central Pasco

You can discover more about these schools in our rankings of the top BSN programs in Florida.

New Jersey

The top-rated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program in New Jersey is The College of New Jersey with a 2021 NCLEX pass rate of 94.55%.

The four next best schools are:

  • Ramapo College
  • Seton Hall University
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University
  • Monmouth University School of Nursing and Health Studies

Learn more about each university in our rankings of the best BSN programs in New Jersey.

Pennsylvania

The best Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program in Pennsylvania is PA College of Health Sciences with a 2021 NCLEX pass rate of 97.67%.

Rounding out the top five schools are:

  • Messiah University 
  • Bloomsburg University
  • PA College of Technology 
  • St. Francis University of PA

You can learn more about each university by checking out our ranking of the top BSN programs in Pennsylvania.

Virginia

The top Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program in Virginia is Longwood University with a five-year average NCLEX pass rate of 98.33%.

The four next best universities are:

  • Radford University
  • James Madison University
  • Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing
  • Liberty University

Discover more about each school by reading our rankings of the best BSN programs in Virginia.

Texas

There are three schools tied for top spot in our rankings of top Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing programs in Texas: 

  • LeTourneau University
  • Texas A&M University (Texarkana)
  • Texas State University

Each of these universities had a 2021 NCLEX pass rate of 100%. Finishing out the top five schools are University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Texas A&M HSC College of Nursing.

To learn more about each one, check out our rankings of the best BSN programs in Texas.

BSN Degree vs Other Nursing Degrees: What’s The Difference?

Of course, a BSN isn’t the only type of nursing degree you can earn. In fact, there are seven different types of degrees, certifications, and diplomas you can go for.

Below, we discuss the difference between a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and the two degree levels surrounding it.

BSN vs ADN

One level below a BSN is the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). 

The main difference between the two degrees is that the Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing will better prepare you for the challenges of being a nurse.

It’s true that getting your ADN will cost less money and take less time, but getting your BSN is likely worth the extra money, time, and effort.

While you can become a Registered Nurse by getting either degree, Magnet hospitals require you to have a Bachelor’s degree. So, BSN will open you up to more career opportunities and the potential salary benefits that go along with increased responsibilities and autonomy.

Remember that ADN-educated nurses complete an RN-to-BSN completion program 100% online. So, if you do opt for the ADN, you can always earn your Bachelor’s degree later. However, since it’s likely you’ll end up needing your Bachelor’s degree anyway, it’s still probably smart for current non-nurses to go straight for their BSN.

BSN vs MSN

The degree level above the BSN is the Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN). 

The key difference between the BSN and MSN is that the BSN prepares nurses for licensure and certain nursing specialities, while the MSN prepares nurses to become APRNs or even pursue a terminal degree.

Whatever your career path, clinical or non-clinical, an MSN provides you the knowledge and skills to take on advanced leadership roles in nursing.

However, in most cases you’ll need to earn your Bachelor’s degree before you can enroll in an MSN program. While some programs offer RN-to-MSN tracks, most universities will require you to have a BSN. Additionally, a BSN will provide the foundational knowledge for your MSN studies.

Should You Get Your BSN?

Clearly, there’s lots of advantages to earning your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. While it takes more time, money, and effort than earning your ADN, in most cases earning your BSN degree is the best way to go.

A BSN will provide you with more job opportunities, higher salary potential, and a better ability to care for patients. Additionally, the Bachelor’s degree will provide a foundation for advanced study if you decide you’d like to go for your MSN, or even your DNP or PhD.

If you’re in search of a BSN program tailored to your needs and interests, click here to find a program!

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