BSN Degrees

Curious about getting your Bachelor's in Nursing? Explore the different types of degrees and what getting a BSN could mean for your career.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

There are three educational paths that prospective registered nurses (RNs) can choose from: diploma, associate's degree and bachelor's degree in nursing. However, professional nursing organizations and many employers generally consider the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) the standard for starting out in the nursing field. In addition to traditional 4-year BSN programs, there are some shorter options for those with previous education and/or nursing experience.

RN-to-BSN Degree

Designed for current RNs, RN-to-BSN degree programs often are offered in an online format to allow nurses to continue to work while pursuing a degree. These programs typically feature just 2-3 courses per semester and usually can be completed in four semesters or less. An associate's degree or diploma in nursing, as well as state licensure as a registered nurse, is generally is required for admission to these programs.

LPN-to-BSN Degree

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), known in some states as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) usually hold a diploma or certificate in nursing, though some have an associate's degree. LPNs and LVNs provide patient care in various healthcare settings, often nursing care facilities, under the direction of RNs.

Admission to an LPN-to-BSN degree program requires previous postsecondary nursing education, along with current state licensure. LPN-to-BSN programs typically take three years to complete and, like RN-to-BSN programs, often are designed with online courses and/or flexible schedules so that LPNs and LVNs can continue working as they work towards their degree.

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN programs, also known as second degree BSN programs, are intended for those who want to transfer a non-nursing degree to a bachelor of nursing program. These programs are generally campus-based and only take between one and two years to complete since they concentrate solely on nursing courses and practicums, without the need to meet general education requirements. In addition to holding a bachelor's degree or higher, applicants to these programs usually need to have completed several prerequisite science courses.

What Is a BSN Degree?

Students pursuing a traditional bachelor's in nursing learn the fundamentals of caring for patients of all ages while gaining hands-on experience in nursing labs, simulation centers and healthcare facilities. Graduates of accredited BSN programs should be eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is the standard exam for nurse licensure in the U.S.

How Long Does It Take to Get a BSN?

With the exception of RN-to-BSN, LPN-to-BSN and accelerated BSN programs, it typically takes four years of full-time study to earn a BSN. This assumes that students are taking 12-18 hours of coursework each semester over four fall semesters and four spring semesters.

BSN Prerequisites

Admission to a BSN program tends to be competitive, with most colleges and universities setting minimum GPA requirements (often 3.5 or higher) for high school graduates. Before beginning nursing classes, BSN students usually must complete prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology, chemistry, human growth and development, and microbiology. Classes in nutrition, psychology, sociology and statistics might be required as well. Though some students earn credit for these courses in high school, many complete them during their freshman year of college.

BSN Degree Requirements

Most BSN programs require the completion of at least 120 credit hours of classes, labs and practicums, along with an internship in the final semester. The internship is typically focused in a specialty area, like critical care, obstetric, pediatric or surgical nursing. Some schools require that students maintain a certain GPA (often 3.0 or higher) in their core nursing classes to remain in the BSN program.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Courses

While most colleges and universities offer some flexibility in their BSN curriculum, allowing students to choose electives that align with their career goals, there are certain courses that all BSN students are required to complete. These generally include the following:

  • Adult/gerontological nursing (includes a clinical lab)
  • Community and public health nursing (includes a clinical lab)
  • Health assessment (includes a clinical lab)
  • Legal and ethical issues in nursing
  • Maternal/family nursing (includes a clinical lab)
  • Pathophysiology and clinical management
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatric/mental health nursing (includes a clinical lab)


Although it takes longer to complete a BSN program, there are several advantages to earning a bachelor's degree in nursing over an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that some employers, particularly hospitals, require that RN applicants have a bachelor's degree. The BLS further states that a BSN might be needed for administrative nursing work, as well as for jobs as nursing consultants, instructors or researchers. Additionally, nurses who want to advance even further in the field - to positions like nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife - will need a BSN to qualify for the master's or doctoral programs required for these specialties.

There's also the issue of money. BSN graduates tend to earn higher salaries than nurses with an associate's degree. In July 2018, reported an average annual salary of $78,000 for nurses with a BSN, while their ADN counterparts earned an average of $66,000 per year.

What Can You Do With a BSN?

With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and proper licensure, registered nurses can work in a number of specialties in a variety of settings, including physicians' offices, hospitals and public/community health facilities. In general, jobs for registered nurses play a part on teams of health care specialists, coordinating and providing patient care, as well as educating and supporting patients and their families. Specific job titles for nurses with a BSN might include the following:

  • Case manager
  • Critical care nurse
  • Health educator
  • Nurse advocate
  • Oncology nurse
  • Pediatric nurse
  • Public health nurse
  • Surgical nurse
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