The Nurse’s Guide to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree Programs

Credit: Elmhurst University

What is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?  

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is an undergraduate level nursing degree offered by 4 year-universities and online colleges. The BSN is the only Bachelor of Nursing degree offered of its kind.

There are also Master’s of Science in Nursing degrees and terminal degrees in nursing. However, a BSN is the only bachelor level nursing degree offered in the United States.

BSN degrees can be obtained through direct schooling such as a traditional 4-year University. After graduation, a BSN student is prepared to take the RN licensure exam.

Some students choose to obtain an RN license and then go back for a BSN degree. This is called a RN to BSN bridge degree.

Bridge tracks are becoming more common among colleges and universities. RN to BSN programs are readily available and affordable.

A lower-level nursing degree, called an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), is sometimes achieved prior to obtaining a BSN degree. An ADN degree prepares students to take the national exam to earn an RN license.

After acquiring an RN license, students may pursue a BSN degree. They are becoming more popular and even necessary among hospitals and other healthcare facilities hiring new graduates.

This is why it is so important to earn a BSN degree if you pursue a nursing career.

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

BSN degrees and other nursing degrees both have one thing in common: a Registered Nurse (RN) license. The RN license is granted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

The NCSBN is a US nonprofit organization. Its purpose is to provide an organization through which nursing regulatory bodies act and counsel together on matters of common interest and concern affecting:

  • Public health
  • Safety
  • Welfare

This includes the development of nursing licensure examinations.

The NCSBN creates, tests, and approves RN licensure through an exam called the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The purpose of the NCLEX is to determine if it is safe for you to begin practice as an entry-level nurse.

BSN Degree vs ADN Degree

A nurse who obtains an ADN or BSN will both take the same NCLEX exam. The difference lies in the curriculum each student takes on their educational path.

A BSN-prepared nurse will take more leadership and management classes in preparation for advancement within an organization.

Meanwhile, ADNs will prepare for bedside nursing. They won’t have many opportunities for promotion within an organization with at least a BSN degree.

Although the licensure is the exact same, an ADN and BSN degree are not considered the same credentials.

Why Should You Consider A BSN Degree?

You should consider the BSN track because most hospitals are only hiring BSN nurses now and in the future.

Part of the reason for this is that hospitals try to achieve an accolade called “Magnet status.” A “Magnet” hospital is one where:

  • Nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes
  • Nurses have a high level of job satisfaction
  • There is low staff nurse turnover rate and appropriate grievance resolution

This means that nurses’ place of employment promotes:

  • Education
  • Development
  • Recognition for good work

For patients, this means higher levels of care and quality care.

For hospital administration, this means a good return on investment, because it increases hospital revenue down the line.

How BSNs Help Hospitals Achieve Magnet Status

Hospitals must have a certain percentage of four-year degree nurses (BSN nurses) in order to achieve Magnet status. This is where the initial push for BSN nurses is coming from.

Also, some research suggests that hospitals with a higher ratio of BSN nurses have fewer adverse patient outcomes and higher patient satisfaction scores.

Even if you take the ADN route, you will still need to complete a BSN bridge program which takes another 2 years. You may choose this route, or you can skip the ADN and go straight through a BSN program.

Nursing culture is changing, and that change is geared toward the BSN nurse.


Is It Possible To Get A BSN Degree Without An RN?

The key component to any nursing degree is the nurse licensure. This is the Registered Nurse (RN) license.

After completing all of the courses for your BSN degree, the school sends your information to the NCSBN to request registration for the NCLEX exam.

Before you can take the NCLEX, you will need an Authorization to Test (ATT) form. Then you have to apply through the nursing regulatory body (NRB) and register for the test. Once you are determined eligible to take the NCLEX exam, you may register to take the exam at a Pearson Vue Professional Center.

What If I Fail The NCLEX Exam?

It is possible to fail the NCLEX exam and still graduate from nursing school. In that case, you would have a BSN degree without a license.

Unfortunately, this renders the degree essentially useless. Without an RN license, you are unable to get a BSN degree via the RN to BSN route.

The BSN degree is designed to prepare graduates to sit for the NCLEX and earn licensure.  That is why it is important to ask what a university “pass rate” is for the NCLEX exam. This gives you a good idea of how well the university prepares students to take the exam.

For example, a university with a passing rate of 95% is better than a 92% passing rate. According to the NCSBN, the national first-time NCLEX-RN pass rate for US educated nurses is 88% and the pass rate for repeat exam takers is 43%.

How Do You Get A BSN Degree?

Obtaining a BSN requires the same preparation as any 4-year degree.

First, you should decide on your career path. If you are set to become a nurse, a BSN track is the way to go.

Once you are accepted into a university, meet with a guidance counselor to determine which core classes are required for your nursing degree.

These courses are typically heavy on science and mathematics. If you attend a private institution, some other core classes may be required such as humanities or religious courses.

When reviewing nursing schools, take into consideration the school’s:

  • Reputation
  • NCLEX pass rate
  • Tuition
  • Acceptance rate
  • Accreditation (by ACEN or CCNE)

Table of Contents

Top 5 Online BSN Degree Programs

The clinical portion of any BSN program must be completed in-person along with any orientation days or occasional class meetings. However, these programs are mostly online. At the very least, all didactical class time is online.

Online programs are a great way to get your BSN degree outside of traditional classrooms.

Most online schools require students to already have an RN in order to complete the BSN program. The online BSN programs do not prepare students for licensure, because they expect students already have their licensure.

ADN degrees prepare you to go directly into the workforce. At the same time, they give you the opportunity to advance your nursing education through online schooling.

An online BSN program prepares you to advance your nursing career and are usually geared toward working nurses.

The following are the top 5 Online BSN programs.

Top 5 In-Person BSN Degree Programs

In-person or on-campus programs are typically students who do not have an RN licensure and are attempting to obtain licensure.

An in-person or on-campus BSN program prepares you for entry-level roles in:

  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Other healthcare facilities.

It prepares you for the NCLEX exam. This allows you to acquire licensure to practice as a Registered Nurse (RN).

Here are the top 5 in-person BSN programs.


How Much Does A BSN Degree Program Cost?

On-campus, private institution BSN programs cost the most.

This is followed by public institution BSN programs, then online RN to BSN programs.

RN to BSN programs cost less, because they require less class time and have cheaper tuition rates than the ADN degree.

Many school websites will list the tuition cost for a semester, not the total. This is done because seeing the total amount may deter students. As you can see, some programs can be awfully expensive.

When calculating tuition costs, first figure out the cost for 1 credit hour. Then determine the number of hours needed to finish the program.

When beginning coursework for an RN to BSN program, students have completed over half of the coursework before starting the program.

RN to BSN bridge programs can be completed in as little as 9 months. This also accounts for the cheap cost.

If you plan to go to a traditional college and obtain a BSN, then the cost will be increased due to:

  • Tuition
  • Cost of living
  • Other fees

In general, an online college will cost less than an in-person college.

University BSN Degree Programs By Cost


Total Program Tuition Cost

Online or On-Campus

University of California-Los Angeles


On-Campus BSN

University of Michigan- Ann Arbor


On-Campus BSN

Georgetown University


On-Campus BSN

The University of Texas Medical Branch


On-Campus BSN

Binghamton University


On-Campus BSN

Western Carolina University


Online RN-BSN

University of North Georgia


Online RN-BSN

Fort Hays State University


Online RN-BSN

University of Texas of Permian Basin


Online RN-BSN

University of South Florida


Online RN-BSN

University of Texas Arlington


Online RN-BSN

University of Central Florida


Online RN-BSN

University of Wyoming


Online RN-BSN

University of South Florida


Online RN-BSN

Appalachian State University


Online RN-BSN

As you can see, on-campus BSN education costs more than an online RN to BSN education.

If you get an ADN before obtaining an online BSN, the average cost of an ADN program is $6,000- $40,000. However, this depends on whether the school is public or private.

How Much Does A BSN Nurse Make?

The following average salaries were determined via the U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics.


Salary (annual pay)

Employment settings

Registered nurse


Hospital, clinic, assisted living, long-term care facility

Home health nurse


Homes of patients

Community health nurse


Public health clinics

Industrial health nurse


Government-local state, federal

Case management


Hospital, insurance companies

Licensed practical nurse instructor


Community college, vocational college

School nurse


Schools (P-12th grade), universities

Pharmaceutical Representative/Sales

$90,862 with bonus potential

Pharmaceutical company (Pfizer, Roche, Merck)

Medical Device Representative/Sales

$92,698 with bonus potential

Medical device companies (Medtronic, Johnson& Johnson, Cardinal Health)

Clearly, your specialization and education path can have a big impact on earnings.

Which Degree Is Right For Me?

Earning a BSN degree is a good route to take if you are interested in becoming a nurse or you have already been granted an RN license.

More and more facilities are requiring BSN degrees for new hires. One of the reasons for this is that hospitals receive accolades if a certain percentage of nurses hired have a BSN degree. Demand for BSN nurses will only increase as the administration continues to get higher hospital revenue down the line.

RN License

It is not possible to get a BSN degree without an RN license. You can also choose to earn your RN license and then pursue a BSN degree. You can also earn your BSN degree and then take your RN licensure. Either way is acceptable and depends on:

  • Personal preference
  • Budget
  • Goals
  • Expected timeframe


RN to BSN programs may cost slightly less than traditional BSN programs.

Students may think about not returning to school after obtaining an RN license. This should be considered if you are taking the RN to BSN path.

Have a plan before graduation so you don’t waste time going straight into your BSN program.


Traditional BSN Route

Some students prefer to take the traditional BSN route. They may take pride in attending a traditional university and all the activities that come with that experience.

This may end up costing more in the long run, but some students prefer to gain the whole “college experience”. Either route is acceptable to begin as an entry-level nurse.

BSN Degree Career Paths

Nurses that earn a BSN degree have different specializations and career paths to take. BSN nurses can have entry-level roles in:

  • Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Other healthcare facilities

BSN graduates can work in essentially any:

  • Hospitals (state, local, and private)
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Ambulatory health services
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Residential care facilities
  • Home health agencies

BSN nurses can also work for:

BSN nurses can also leave bedside practice and become sales representatives for pharmaceutical and medical device companies.


The possibilities for a BSN-trained nurse are endless.

Arguably, nurses have the most flexible jobs when it comes to career path options. You can work at the bedside, in a school, or even as a sales representative.

The common suggestion is to complete a BSN, work with patients for 1 to 2 years, and then see where you would like to settle into.

Most jobs, outside of bedside nursing, prefer that you have at least 1 year of direct patient care.

Overall, earning a BSN degree is the best way to start your nursing career.

We ❤ Nurses

Thank you.