RN to BSN Career Paths

Do you want to advance your skills in healthcare while preparing for a challenging and rewarding career? If you are a registered nurse (RN) with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma, you can enroll in an online bridge program and earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) without having to quit your current job.

In an online RN to BSN program, you will develop your skills and graduate with a degree that gives you a competitive edge in the job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job growth rate for nurses holding a bachelor’s degree is projected to increase by 16% between 2014-2024. These buoyant career prospects are driven in part by a national push for nurses to be highly educated and to meet the healthcare demands of an aging population.

The job growth rate for nurses holding a bachelor’s degree is projected to increase by 16% between 2014-2024

A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine found that a growing number of people in recent decades have been afflicted with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is problematic because the healthcare system was not built to adequately serve their needs.

The IOM committee also recommends that organizations strive to have 80% of their nursing staff hold a BSN by 2020. BLS notes that an increasing number of hospitals now require nurses to hold a bachelor’s degree, data which has recently been supported by experts in the field.

Enrolling in an online RN to BSN program or a fast track RN to BSN program will prepare you to meet the demands of a constantly evolving healthcare system. If you are interested in taking your nursing career to the next level, read on to learn more about how you can earn your BSN online. We’ve created this guide to give you more information about the advantages of a BSN program, and to help you find the cheapest RN to BSN online programs available.

Did You Know?

A report from the Institute of Medicine called on the number of nurses holding bachelor’s degrees to increase to 80% by 2020. Click here to learn more about advancing your skills and taking your nursing career to the next level through an RN to BSN program.

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What Is the Difference Between an RN With an ADN and BSN?

BSN-holders have several advantages over nurses holding associate degrees. A BSN is crucial for highly skilled nurses to secure upward mobility and earn higher pay. One of the biggest benefits of the BSN is the career development opportunity the degree affords, in terms of job availability and the scope of positions (administrative, teaching, and research positions all require a bachelor’s) you can pursue. RN to BSN online programs give RNs the ability to seamlessly upgrade their credentials and enhance their career prospects.

How Much Does a BSN Holder Make?

The BLS reports that registered nurses with bachelor’s degrees earned a median wage of $67,490 in May 2015. The salaries of nurses holding BSN degrees vary greatly depending on a number of factors, such as location and specialization. However, a BSN degree is key for nurses seeking long-term advancement.

Nursing Careers by the Numbers

There are a variety high-paying managerial and leadership opportunities for nurses holding a BSN. Some common positions include:

RN to BSN Online: An Overview

Who should pursue an RN to BSN program?

Anyone who wants to increase their marketability, earnings potential, and their qualifications as a highly skilled nurse equipped to deal with a quickly evolving healthcare field should earn a BSN.

How long does it take to get a teaching degree at this level?

RN to BSN programs typically require 120 credit hours and take approximately two years to complete.

Is there an in-person (residency) requirement?

A practicum is required. Many online RN to BSN programs allow students to take the practicum in a hospital, clinic, or similar facility in their hometown, as long as stated requirements are met.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

Registered nurses with a BSN are prepared for careers as staff in hospitals, physician offices, nursing care facilities, the Veterans Administration, etc. They may also pursue specializations such as critical care, cardiovascular, and midwifery, to administrative positions such as clinical nurse manager and nurse leader.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The BLS notes that registered nurses with a bachelor’s degree earned a median wage of $67,490 in May 2015.

Core Concepts

There are hundreds of online RN to BSN programs in the country, and some degree of variability in programming is to be expected. However, each program will cover a few common core concepts:

  • Patient Care Best Practices: Nurses learn to apply evidence-based research that delivers the best patient outcomes in treating and managing illness, in addition to preventative care.
  • Ethics: The healthcare landscape has changed dramatically over the years with a growing number of legal, regulatory, and ethical decision-making mandates and considerations, all of which nurses must be fully up-to-date on.
  • Information Management: Nurses must be equipped to use technology and information systems integral in today’s high-tech nursing practice. This covers modern communication devices, patient records, terminologies, data mining, and attendant legal issues.

Course Highlights


Description Pathophysiology is the study of how disease and illness affects the physical properties of the body, including cell structure, organ function, and homeostasis.
Job Skill Pathophysiology helps nurses understand why they provide certain treatments at both a macro and micro level. This understanding results in better patient outcomes due to the more nuanced care nurses are able to provide.


Description Course synthesizes the theories and practice integral to successful leadership and management in nursing.
Job Skill Whether in their decision-making, collaborations, conflict management or resource management, nurses are groomed to assume their roles not only as practitioners of patient-centered care, but as leaders and managers of other nurses.

Evidence-based Practice (EBP)

Description Using an evaluative and qualitative approach, this class addresses common healthcare questions, with EBP serving as a guiding principle to improve patient outcomes.
Job Skill Provides the knowledge and training for nurses to identify, appraise, and apply EBP to the practice of nursing in order to ensure the best patient outcomes.

Population Health in Nursing Care

Description Explores the factors that influence population health and illness, including psychology, sociocultural contexts, patient environment, and economics.
Job Skill Nurses learn to identify socio-economic and other factors that impact the health of individuals and communities, and how to apply the appropriate interventions in patient care and disease prevention in these contexts.

Affordable Schools With Online RN to BSN Programs

50 Affordable RN to BSN Degrees
Rank School Score Toggle Content

Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health

Value Score 7.68
Average Tuition $13,248
Students Receiving Financial Aid 81%
Net Price $14,470
Graduation Rate 75%
Student to Faculty Ratio 12:1
Admissions Rate 34%
Enrollment Rate 54%
Retention Rate 54%
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 54%
Number of Online Programs 8

Specializing in the health professions, NMC Omaha offers a curriculum that integrates academic and leadership concepts with professional skill development. Nurses in the school's 126-credit RN to BSN online program prepare for careers as practitioners, leaders, and teachers. Areas of study include psychology, statistics, and community health nursing.

Students who want to declare a minor can choose from two options: Spanish for healthcare professionals or healthcare sign language. Most courses last for five weeks, and learners can earn their degree in seven semesters. With start dates in August, January, and May, the program accepts degree candidates on a rolling basis. Admission requirements include a registered nurse license, associate degree or approved diploma, and a 2.5 GPA or better. NMC Omaha evaluates transfer credits on a case-by-case basis.

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University of Central Florida

Value Score 7.38
Average Tuition $4,478
Students Receiving Financial Aid 89%
Net Price $11,028
Graduation Rate 70%
Student to Faculty Ratio 30:1
Admissions Rate 49%
Enrollment Rate 38%
Retention Rate 38%
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 52%
Number of Online Programs 15

One of the largest schools in the nation, UCF delivers more than 200 degrees through 13 schools. The school's RN to BSN online functions as a degree completion program catering to registered nurses who hold an associate degree. Coursework consists of 30 credits that students can complete in as few as three semesters, or as many as 10. The curriculum covers a variety of topics, including health assessments, nursing research, pathophysiology, and leadership and management. Degree candidates can earn up to 27 credits for prior learning. Admission requirements include a minimum 2.8 GPA and an RN license. Additionally, applicants should have completed foreign language study — either two years in high school or two semesters in college.

Degree candidates can begin their studies in the fall, spring, or summer. Prospective students should submit their applications by May 15, September 15, or January 31, respectively. UCF provides financial aid opportunities, including scholarships specifically for nursing students.

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University of South Florida

Value Score 7.04
Average Tuition $4,559
Students Receiving Financial Aid 88%
Net Price $7,544
Graduation Rate 68%
Student to Faculty Ratio 24:1
Admissions Rate 45%
Enrollment Rate 31%
Retention Rate 31%
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 50%
Number of Online Programs 2

Serving approximately 50,000 students from 130 countries, USF features world-class academics and interdisciplinary research opportunities. The school’s 30-credit RN to BSN gives practicing nurses an opportunity to earn an online degree that targets their professional interests, with courses in areas such as leadership and management, clinical emphasis, and patient and staff education. Part-time students can complete the program in five semesters, while full-time learners can do it in three (with the approval of the program director).

Core classes in USF's RN to BSN online include the nurse as an educator, population health, and information technology. Additionally, various practica allow students to apply their newly acquired knowledge in clinical settings. Admission requirements include a registered nurse license and an undergraduate GPA of 2.5 or above. Currently, only distance learners residing in Florida or Pennsylvania can earn their RN to BSN online through USF.

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University of Massachusetts-Lowell

Value Score 6.95
Average Tuition $1,454
Students Receiving Financial Aid 86%
Net Price $10,440
Graduation Rate 56%
Student to Faculty Ratio 17:1
Admissions Rate 57%
Enrollment Rate 27%
Retention Rate 27%
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 29%
Number of Online Programs 12

A national research university, UMass-Lowell serves more than 17,000 students with more than 100 majors available through six schools. The school's hybrid 120-credit RN to BS degree completion option helps registered nurses build on their credentials. UMass-Lowell awards those with a current RN license 30 credits toward their bachelor's degree. Additionally, the school permits students to transfer up to 60 credits of foundational courses, but requires that degree candidates complete certain required nursing classes through UMass Lowell. Required courses in the curriculum include research in nursing and health care, health assessments, concepts for baccalaureate nursing, and health promotion. Admission into the school's RN to BSN online program requires a Massachusetts RN license and a minimum 2.7 GPA in undergraduate work. All of UMass-Lowell's distance education programs feature rolling admissions.

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Clarkson College

Value Score 6.91
Average Tuition $12,480
Students Receiving Financial Aid 71%
Net Price $17,579
Graduation Rate 67%
Student to Faculty Ratio 13:1
Admissions Rate 52%
Enrollment Rate 74%
Retention Rate 74%
Percentage of Students in Online Programs 91%
Number of Online Programs 4

Established in 1888 as a nursing school, Clarkson has since expanded its offerings to various disciplines while staying true to its roots. The school's 130-semester hour RN to BSN enrolls registered nurses with an associate degree or nursing diploma who seek to enhance their industry knowledge and advance their careers. Known among online RN to BSN programs for academic excellence, Clarkson's degree features customizable, accelerated options and small class sizes.

Required courses in the school's RN to BSN online include evidence-based inquiry, nursing leadership and management, population health, and a capstone. Working professionals may meet clinical requirements through workplace experience if they can demonstrate certain competencies. Clarkson permits degree candidates to transfer a maximum of 43 semester hours of nursing courses into the program. Full-time students can earn their degree in three semesters, while part-time learners usually do in six.

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Accelerated Programs

RN to BSN online programming is designed for working nurses to complete coursework at their own pace. Accelerated online BSN programs, on the other hand, provide an entryway into the nursing profession for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another discipline. To be eligible, program candidates must have completed the required science courses for the nursing curriculum.

For those with a degree, accelerated programs can be completed in 11 to 18 months and are the fastest route for RN certification for baccalaureate holders from other disciplines. Accelerated programs maintain the high standards of their traditional counterparts, require continuous study with no session breaks, and comprise the same number of core nursing courses and clinical hours.

In addition, many accelerated programs give students the opportunity to complete a master’s degree in nursing within three years. Graduates from fast track programs have a bright future. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that “graduates of accelerated programs are prized by nurse employers” because of their demonstrated maturity, clinical skills, and ability to learn quickly.

Next Steps: Getting Your MSN

An MSN is required for many nursing specialties, including clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and nurse educators. Common areas of focus in an MSN program include advanced care of children and families, pharmacology, and resource management.

MSN programs generally require a BSN, although there are a few RN to MSN bridge programs available. Nurses interested in pursuing an MSN must be prepared for a two- to three-year commitment. Many nurses are able to complete their MSNs while still employed, and they have the opportunity to pursue specialization, such as anesthesiology, gerontology, and non-clinical roles, such as management and nursing education.

A registered nurse who goes on to earn an MSN degree can expect a considerable increase in salary. For instance, the BLS notes that registered nurses earned a median wage of $67,490 in May 2015, but nurse practitioners—who need an MSN—earned $98,190.

Sites You May Also be Interested In

The following are some job sites for nurses as they pursue employment opportunities.

Nursing Job Boards

  • Nurse.com Perhaps the biggest job board for nurses, Nurse.com connects nurses in all areas with employers seeking highly qualified nursing professionals. In addition to the job board, you’ll find education resources, news, and listings of awards and events.
  • Nurse Recruiter After nurses have created a profile and uploaded a mini resume, they may begin their job search for RN and travel nurse jobs. The site also has information and resources that can be useful in the search.
  • Healthecareers This site is not specific to nurses but has more than 7,500 employers in its network and includes many job opportunities for RNs, nurse practitioners, and travel nurses. The site features job alerts, newsletters, a salary calculator, and healthcare news.

Nursing Blogs

  • Off the Charts This is a well-respected blog of the American Journal of Nursing that includes weekly posts on a variety of subjects, including research findings, clinical practices, and nursing career issues.
  • All Nurses A boon of information that transcends just a blog. It includes trending articles, including for students and nurse specialists, degree programs, jobs, etc.
  • Nursing from Within RN Elizabeth Scala is an author, keynote speaker, facilitator, and trainer with an MSN and MBA. She delves into many of the challenges nurses face, from choosing a career in nursing, to work/life balance, to how to deal with on-the-job challenges.

Professional Organizations

  • ANA The American Nurses Association represents the interests of the nation’s 3.6 million registered nurses.
  • AANP AANP says it represents the interests of more than 222,000 nurse practitioners, advocating high-quality, cost-effective and patient-centered health care.
  • Sigma Theta Tau International–Honor Society of Nursing A fraternity of nurses promoting excellence, camaraderie, resources, and links to career opportunities.