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. A BSN is the only Bachelor of Nursing degree offered of its kind. There are Masters of Science in nursing degrees as well as terminal degrees in nursing, but a BSN is the only bachelor level nursing degree offered in the United States.

BSN degrees can be obtained through direct schooling such as through 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. A bridge track is 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 a RN license. After acquiring a RN license, students may pursue a BSN degree. BSN degrees 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.

What are the differences between an BSN and other nursing degrees?  

BSN degrees and other nursing degrees have one thing in common that holds them all together, a Registered Nurse (RN) license. The RN license is a licensed granted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

The NCSBN is a US not-for-profit organization whose 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 and welfare, including the development of nursing licensure examinations. The NCSBN are the ones who create, test, and approve RN licensure through an exam called the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The NCLEX has one purpose; to determine if it is safe for you to begin practice as an entry-level nurse.

A nurse who obtains an ADN or a 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. An ADN nurse will prepare for bedside and will not have many opportunities to be promoted among 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 would you consider a BSN?

You should consider the BSN track as most hospitals are only hiring BSN nurses now and in the future. Part of this reason is that hospitals try to achieve “Magnet status” which is an accolade. A “Magnet” hospital is stated to be one where nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes, where nurses have a high level of job satisfaction, and where there is low staff nurse turnover rate and appropriate grievance resolution.

To nurses, this means that their place of employment promotes education and development, as well as recognition for a job well done. To patients, this means higher levels of care and quality care. To hospital administration, this means a good return on investment and increases hospital revenue down the line.

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. Not to mention, 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 that would take another 2 years. You may choose this route or can skip the ADN and go straight through a BSN program. Nursing culture is changing, and that change is geared and favored toward the BSN nurse.

Is it possible to get a BSN without a RN?

The key component to any nursing degree is the nurse licensure, which 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 and have to apply for the nursing regulatory body (NRB) and then 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.

It is possible to fail the NCLEX exam and still graduate from nursing school. In which case, you would have a BSN degree without a license. Rendering the degree essentially useless. However, without a 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, but sometimes students do not pass the exam. Giving them a BSN degree that is ultimately useless for nursing jobs. 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. To give some perspective, 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 to get a BSN

Obtaining a BSN is the same preparation as any 4-year degree. First you should decide on your career path, in this case, nursing. If nursing is the career choice for you, then you need to prepare yourself to obtain a BSN degree. 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 needed 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, and if the school is accredited (by ACEN or CCNE).

Table of Contents

Top 5 Online BSN programs

While the clinical portion of any BSN program must be completed in-person along with any orientation days or occasional class meetings, 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, they expect students to already have their licensure.

ADN degrees prepare you to go directly into the workforce while giving you the opportunity to advance your nursing education through online schooling. An online BSN program prepares you to advance your nursing career. Online programs are usually geared toward working nurses. The following are the top 5 Online BSN programs:

Top 5 In-Person BSN 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, and other healthcare facilities. It prepares you for the NCLEX exam in which you acquire licensure to practice as a Registered Nurse (RN).


How much will a BSN program cost?

On-campus private institution BSN programs cost the most, followed by BSN 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 for 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 course work for an RN to BSN program, students have completed over half of the course work before starting the program. RN to BSN bridge programs can be completed in as little as 9 months, which 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, and other fees. In general, an online college will cost less than an in-person college.


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 depending on public or private schools.

How much does a BSN nurse make?

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)


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. This is in part since hospitals receive accolades if a certain percentage of nurses hired have a BSN degree. Hiring BSN nurses will only increase, as the administration continues to get higher hospital revenue down the line.

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. Or you can earn your BSN degree and then take your RN licensure. Either way is acceptable and depends on personal preference, budget, goals, and expected timeframe. RN to BSN programs may cost slightly less than traditional BSN programs. Students have a temptation period after obtaining an RN license to not go back to school. This should be considered if you are taking the RN to BSN path. Have a plan before graduation so that you do not waste time going straight into your BSN program.

Some students prefer to take the traditional BSN route. Several students 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.

Nurses that earn a BSN degree have different specializations and career paths to take. BSN nurses can have entry-level roles in clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. BSN graduates can work in essentially any hospital (state, local, and private), outpatient clinics, ambulatory health services, nursing care facilities, residential care facilities, and home health agencies. BSN nurses can also work for government agencies (local, state, and federal), school agencies, LPN instructor programs, and case management. 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 offered. 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.

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