What Is an RN-to-BSN Degree?

| Doug Wintemute


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RN-to-BSN degrees offer an easy and fast route to degree completion for working registered nurses.

Registered nurses (RNs) pursuing bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees can fast-track their studies through RN-to-BSN programs. With a bachelor's-level education, nurses can advance their careers, opening up new nursing specializations and healthcare career avenues.

This page takes a closer look at BSN degrees, related career pathways, and additional considerations for nursing students and professionals. Readers can also find more information on the RN degree resource page.

What Kinds of BSN Degrees Are There?

Students seeking BSNs have several ways to reduce the amount of time and money they spend on their studies, depending on their training and credentials. For example, learners who hold associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) can pursue ADN-to-BSN programs, while working nurses can enroll in RN-to-BSN programs.

The sections below offer more information about these degrees, including common coursework and career opportunities for graduates.

RN-to-BSN

Licensed nurses pursuing bachelor's degrees often opt for RN-to-BSN programs. These programs offer credit for previous training and experience, and students typically graduate in under two years. Some schools also offer accelerated or part-time options.

RN-to-BSN courses delve into advanced nursing concepts, such as healthcare informatics, medical finance and policies, and leadership and management. Some of the best online RN-to-BSN programs also offer specializations, allowing enrollees to focus on specific healthcare fields or patient groups.

For admission, applicants usually need an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma, along with a valid nursing license.

ADN-to-BSN

After completing an ADN and acquiring nursing licensure, aspiring nurses can enroll in ADN-to-BSN programs. Like an RN-to-BSN, this pathway allows students to earn credit for previous training and earn a bachelor's degree more quickly than a traditional nursing program. In most cases, students can complete ADN-to-BSN programs in under two years.

ADN-to-BSN coursework typically includes issues in healthcare, healthcare data analytics, and community health nursing. Enrollees can pursue specializations in areas like pediatrics, emergency care, and palliative care. Applicants typically need an ADN and a valid nursing licensure for admission, and some programs require candidates to meet GPA minimums.

What's the Difference Between an RN-to-BSN Degree and an ADN-to-BSN Degree?

Both ADN-to-BSN and RN-to-BSN programs tend to feature similar training and ultimately lead to the same degree and career opportunities. Many schools even use these degree names interchangeably. The main difference is in admission requirements.

ADN-to-BSN programs require applicants to have associate degrees, whereas RN-to-BSN programs usually accept both ADNs and diplomas in nursing. Most schools only offer one of these program types, but they commonly allow all RN-licensed candidates to apply.

BSN Degree

The four-year BSN degree covers training in healthcare fundamentals, clinical experience, and advanced nursing. Like the nursing diploma and ADN, this degree prepares students for the nursing profession, including for administrative and leadership positions.

BSN graduates can continue their training by enrolling in master's of science in nursing (MSN) degrees, which are required to enter the nurse practitioner (NP) field.

Typical BSN curricula include general training for a nursing license, along with courses in research, public health, and management. Some of the best online bachelor's in nursing programs also offer specialization options, such as cardiac care, neurology, and pediatric care. Candidates typically need a high school diploma and must submit SAT or ACT scores for admission.

Accelerated BSN Degree

An accelerated BSN program includes most of the same courses and practical components as a traditional BSN, like nursing foundations, supervised clinical experience, and more advanced training in their senior years. Graduates can pursue nursing licensure, administrative healthcare positions, or MSNs.

However, accelerated BSN programs offer these courses on a reduced timeline, usually by offering heavier course loads or more condensed course schedules. This allows learners to complete their training in 2-3 years. Many accelerated programs run asynchronously online, providing learners with more flexibility when accessing their courses.

What's the Difference Between a BSN Degree and an Accelerated BSN Degree?

In most cases, a traditional BSN and an accelerated BSN only differ in completion time and course schedule. Students receive the same training and prepare for the same careers, with accelerated enrollees progressing more quickly.

As a result, accelerated BSN degrees can present challenges for students. The fast-paced study requires a significant commitment and may not be feasible for working professionals. Some schools offer both program types.

What Can You Do With an RN-to-BSN Degree?

Most RN-to-BSN graduates work toward specialty certification, which can require additional experience or training. RN-to-BSN graduates can also pursue further training in higher education, like earning an MSN degree or an online doctorate in nursing. Graduate degrees prepare nurses to pursue NP licensure and advanced nursing careers.

Continue reading for more information on careers for BSN graduates.

Neonatal Nurses

Neonatal nurses care for newborn babies experiencing health issues and conditions. They monitor the child, consult with physicians and surgeons, offer support for families, and provide information and resources.

While a standard RN-to-BSN can provide sufficient training for this specialization, most neonatal nurses take additional pediatric care courses or specializations. These nurses can also pursue neonatal certification through an organization like the American Association of Critical Care Nursing.

School Nurses

School nurses work in school settings, treating illnesses, providing care and support, and advising students and their families on healthcare-related decisions while at school. School nurses may also speak to classrooms and faculty on health topics.

Most RN-to-BSN programs equip students to take on these nursing roles, though some employers prefer candidates with master's degrees. School nurses may also need certification through the National Board for Certification of School Nurses.

Critical Care Nurses

Critical care nurses work in hospital intensive care units, treating patients with serious injuries and illnesses. They provide patients with near-constant monitoring and offer their families support and information.

RN-to-BSN graduates can pursue these careers after they receive RN licensure, but many critical care nurses pursue additional credentials for critical care specialization. Nursing students can also pursue certification through organizations like the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

ER Nurses

ER nurses work in emergency rooms caring for patients with serious illnesses or injuries. They monitor and evaluate patients and consult with physicians in a fast-paced environment. These nurses also educate patients and provide support to their families.

In addition to completing RN-to-BSN programs, aspiring ER nurses can pursue emergency nursing specializations. They can also earn certification through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.

OR Nurses

OR nurses work in operating rooms in hospitals, helping to prepare patients for surgery and support the families waiting and visiting. These nurses may also assist surgeons during procedures and provide patients and families with updates and future care plans.

OR nurses need a BSN degree and nursing licensure for employment. They may also need an OR nursing certification through an organization like the Association for Perioperative Registered Nurses, which offers several options.

Pediatric Nurses

Pediatric nurses work with children in healthcare settings. They observe and record patient information during regular checkups and provide specialized care in pediatric intensive care units.

Once they obtain nursing licensure, aspiring pediatric nurses earn certification through the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board. Students may also want to take a pediatric specialization during their studies.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With an RN-to-BSN Degree?

As one of the most versatile nursing degrees, an RN-to-BSN can lead to many different specialties, each offering distinct duties and prospective salaries. The table below outlines the mean annual salaries for some common nursing specializations. As always, wages vary depending on employer, location, and experience.

RN-to-BSN Career Outlooks
Career Mean Annual Salary
Neonatal Nurse $73,390
School Nurse $48,510
Critical Care Nurse $66,660
ER Nurse $68,460
OR Nurse $72,230
Pediatric Nurse $62,610
Source: PayScale, February 2021

Professional Organizations

Founded in 1896, ANA works to elevate professional standards, safety, and benefits for nurses. The association advocates for its members and acts as their voice on public healthcare issues. Members have access to education, professional development, and certification opportunities.

NSNA supports students pursuing nursing degrees and careers. They help raise educational standards and offer mentorship opportunities for aspiring nurses. Members have access to professional development opportunities, leadership training, and industry publications.

ANCC provides accreditation for nursing programs that meet the industry's and organization's standards. The association also offers specialty certification for nurses. Members can find information about accredited programs and have access to industry events.

Founded in 1922 by a small group of nursing students, the Sigma organization supports the nursing industry and nursing students by investing in academic research, nursing publications, and networking events. Members can access continuing education, educational resources, and leadership programs.

ABNS oversees certifications for several major nursing specialties by recognizing nursing certification programs that meet or exceed educational standards. ABNS approval can help students choose the most suitable certifications for their area of interest. Members also have access to a large professional network, conferences and events, and funding opportunities.

Accreditation for RN-to-BSN Programs

Degree-seekers should always check the accreditation status of any prospective schools. Regional accreditation is the gold standard for medical educational institutions, and most employers and financial aid providers require it.

Prospective nursing students should also preference schools with programmatic accreditation. In some states, graduates of unaccredited programs don't qualify for licensure. Nursing accreditation organizations include the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, and Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Go From RN to BSN?

Most RN-to-BSN programs take 2-3 years to complete, though some programs may offer accelerated options. In general, earning a BSN takes four years, but enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program can halve that time.

How Many Years Is an RN-to-BSN Degree?

The typical RN-to-BSN runs for 2-3 years, but there are also accelerated and part-time options, which offer varying timelines.

Are RN-to-BSN Programs Hard?

RN-to-BSN programs provide advanced nurse training, which some students may find challenging. Many programs also build off of previous nursing training and experience, so students need a solid educational foundation before enrolling.

Is an RN-to-BSN Degree Better than a BSN Degree?

An RN-to-BSN and a BSN degree both result in the same bachelor's degree and career opportunities. The RN-to-BSN degree offers credit for a nurse's prior training and licensure, so it may be faster for nurses who are already working.

Header Image Credit: Fly View Productions | Getty Images

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