Last updated on February 16th, 2024 at 07:05 pm

Nursing education encompasses several available degrees and levels of nursing, which create a dizzying array of acronyms. Many people struggle to keep these straight, especially as there are multiple paths to earning top degrees or obtaining licensure as a nurse.

In this guide, we answer a common question among aspiring and current registered nurses: What is a BSN? Read on to discover why this degree is so desirable and what it takes to complete the transition from RN to BSN. 

What Is a BSN Degree in Nursing?

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a highly respected, career-driven degree program that centers around evidence-based practice and high-level nursing skills. This program is designed to expand upon the foundation of clinical skills and practices previously developed through the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) while introducing nurses to cutting-edge research, leadership skills, and more. 

Significance of a BSN Degree in the Healthcare Profession

The BSN represents the culmination of years of in-depth study. This degree is highly respected across the healthcare profession, with an increasing share of employers citing a strong preference for BSN-trained nurses.

These hiring practices have been prompted, in part, by a wealth of research indicating better outcomes for facilities that hire a greater share of BSN nurses. Advocates for bachelor-level training believe that as more nurses pursue this path, the benefits will be significant across the full spectrum of healthcare. 

The Pathway to Earning a BSN Degree

There is no one ideal path to earning a BSN. Much depends on your current degree, level of nursing, and professional demands as well as your aspirations for the future. In general, however, the journey to becoming a BSN involves a few crucial steps: earning an associate degree, taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), becoming an RN, and satisfying the requirements for a BSN. The order in which these steps are completed may vary somewhat between nurses, as can the timeline. 

The Duration of a BSN Program

BSN programs can differ considerably in duration, but the standard trajectory for a full-time nursing student involves four years of college coursework. Accelerated programs make it possible to expedite this process and earn a degree in just three years. Other students may prefer to study on a part-time basis, often while they work full-time as RNs.

Duration also depends on the type of BSN program, as explained in more detail below. RN to BSN programs can generally be completed in two years, though this depends somewhat on transfer credits and scheduling concerns. 

Requirements for a BSN Degree

BSN programs are rigorous, and for good reason. Given the challenges of modern nursing, it takes years of concentrated study to master complex concepts and apply them in a clinical environment. Requirements vary somewhat between programs, but in most cases, these essentials are expected:

  • General education courses
  • Upper-level nursing coursework
  • Nursing capstone 

ADN to BSN Degree

If you already have your ADN or anticipate earning it in the near future, it may be worth your while to promptly proceed with BSN coursework. Although it’s possible to take the NCLEX and achieve RN status shortly after you graduate with your ADN, this path is not preferred for all nurses. In some cases, it makes more sense to complete pre-licensure programs, which blend clinical experiences with bachelor’s level coursework and also provide preparation for the NCLEX. 

RN to BSN Degree Programs

The RN to BSN pathway is common among registered nurses, who may begin their careers by obtaining their associate degree and RN status but then continue on with BSN coursework while in the healthcare field. There are many advantages to this approach, including the enhanced opportunity to apply newly gained, high-level skills on the job. Flexible classes and distance learning opportunities make this an excellent option for those with years of experience and busy schedules.

Considerations When Pursuing a BSN Degree

There are numerous factors worth taking into account as you determine whether you want to proceed with a BSN program. Begin by thinking carefully about your career goals and personal priorities. From there, you can delve into specifics, such as tuition, scheduling, and other considerations. 


Cost can vary dramatically from one BSN program to the next, and for many, scholarships, grants, and tuition assistance provide significant financial support. Some employers are even willing to help pay for BSN coursework, as they recognize the benefits that added training can provide. Even when nurses cover the cost of tuition themselves, many find BSN programs well worth the price; after all, this could lead to substantial wage increases. 

Time Commitment

It takes a multi-year commitment to earn a BSN. Thankfully, current RNs will have already made considerable progress toward graduation. Upon transferring credits, some can earn their bachelor’s degree with just one or two years of full-time study. A longer commitment may be necessary if studying on a part-time basis. 


BSN coursework can be rigorous. It draws heavily on nursing theory but may also incorporate experiential activities designed to help nurses apply theoretical concepts in a medical environment. This program’s core courses touch on everything from public health nursing to chronic health problems and may even delve into nursing leadership.

In addition, this program encompasses liberal arts courses, including potential electives in communication, economics, statistics, or world geography. To earn this degree, students must complete a total of 120 credits that involve a blend of general education and core nursing courses. Finally, nursing capstones draw on previous coursework to help nurses synthesize research and demonstrate their mastery of critical concepts. 


Many students are drawn to the BSN because they are eager to pursue various healthcare specialties. These can be explored while taking a number of core courses and completing the required nursing capstone. Additionally, the degree itself empowers RNs to pursue in-demand specialty positions. These reflect not only the patient population but also opportunities in nursing leadership, research, and education. Examples of specialty roles include:

  • Oncology RN
  • Labor and delivery nurse
  • Informatics RN
  • Charge nurse
  • Assistant nurse manager 


One of the most essential steps on the path to becoming a registered nurse? Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX-RN determines the competency of recent nursing school graduates. Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), this standardized test comprises up to 175 questions, which fall under a range of critical categories. Examples of topics covered include:

  • Management of care
  • Safety and infection control
  • Physiological adaptation

Many students will have already passed this exam prior to enrolling in a bachelor’s program, though pre-licensure BSN opportunities are also available. 

Aligning Nursing Education With Career Options

There are numerous paths to success in nursing, and no single strategy will be ideal for every aspiring healthcare professional. The best degree is one that closely aligns with personal career goals. For many, then, the BSN is the right choice for aligning nursing education with desired career opportunities. 


The Associate Degree in Nursing represents the minimum barrier to entry for becoming a registered nurse. This vital degree provides the foundation for a successful nursing career. Typically spanning two years of full-time coursework, the ADN is an excellent route to quickly enter the healthcare field and make a difference.

The BSN goes beyond the ADN to immerse nursing students in higher-level coursework and introduce them to advanced, often specialized concepts. As discussed, this program usually takes four years to complete, although accelerated programs exist. Some nurses begin their careers by pursuing their ADN and becoming full-fledged RNs, later enrolling in RN to BSN programs in hopes of obtaining their bachelor’s degree. 

RN vs. BSN

Aspiring nurses may struggle to distinguish the RN from the BSN, in part because many RNs have their BSN. The main difference is that, while the term RN refers to the level of nursing and the licensure required to practice at that level, BSN designates educational attainment that an RN may or may not reach. It is possible to become an RN with or without a BSN—and it is also possible to earn a BSN degree prior to getting licensed as an RN. 

Outlook and Salaries Across Nursing Career Paths

Nursing provides a reliable path towards earning a comfortable income, with data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showing median wages of $81,220 for registered nurses. However, this can vary based on education level, and the BLS does not provide insight into pay for BSN vs ADN-trained RNs. PayScale compiles salary data from different types of RNs and reveals that BSN-trained nurses earn an average of $93,000 per year, compared to $76,000 annually for ADN nurses. 

Exploring the Benefits of a BSN Degree

The BSN provides a variety of benefits, both at the personal level and throughout the healthcare sector. Understanding these advantages can make navigating a BSN program even more rewarding. 

The Advantages of Having More BSN Nurses in Healthcare

Experts and even legislators increasingly recognize that a greater share of BSN nurses translates to a higher standard of care across the entire healthcare system. Hence, the development of programs such as the BSN in 10, mandates that recently licensed RNs either have their BSN or earn it within 10 years.

Increasingly, the far-reaching advantages of the BSN are verified by research. For example, data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) indicates that the increased presence of BSN-trained nurses improves many healthcare outcomes, such as patients’ odds of survival after suffering in-hospital cardiac arrest. Meanwhile, when hospitals are staffed with 80 percent BSN-trained nurses, the risk of patient mortality drops substantially. 

Why Consider a BSN Degree?

The BSN offers many advantages across the spectrum of healthcare, but there are also individual benefits worth considering. In general, this degree is important because it offers the chance to command greater respect, secure specialized job opportunities, and even achieve higher pay. Other benefits include:

  • Better capacity to care for patients – By delving into evidence-based practice and nursing research, the BSN allows nurses to enhance their understanding of evidence-based practice and successfully apply these findings in clinical settings. As such, many nurses seek their BSNs simply because they are passionate about their work and determined to provide the best possible care for their valued patients.
  • Increased confidence as a healthcare professional – Professional confidence can have a major impact on nurses’ job performance and relationships with other healthcare employees. Higher-level education is one of the best strategies for improving this sense of confidence. Through well-rounded learning and in-depth research, BSN nurses gain much-needed clinical reasoning skills, which translate to notable improvements in personal and professional confidence.
  • The joy of learning – There is intrinsic value in pursuing educational opportunities—and if you are sincerely passionate about nursing, any chance to expand your knowledge should be compelling. This is certainly true when seeking your BSN; you will find your courses fascinating and be amazed by how much extra insight they bring to your everyday life as an RN. 

Is a BSN Degree Right for You?

Now that you understand what the BSN involves and how it differs from other nursing degrees, it’s time to decide: Are you a solid candidate for enrolling in a BSN program? There is no easy answer to this question, and a lot depends on what you want to accomplish with your nursing career. However, if you want to improve your quality of care while also expanding job opportunities and boosting your salary potential, you could benefit considerably from enrolling in a BSN nursing program.The next step? Enrolling in the RN to BSN program at Salem University. This nursing degree program introduces you to cutting-edge research while equipping you with critical thinking skills and other competencies that could take your career to a whole new level. Reach out to learn more about earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing at Salem University.

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