2024 Best Online RN to BSN Programs (2024)

What Is an RN to BSN Program?

An RN to BSN degree is a way for a registered nurse (RN) with an associate degree to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in less time than the traditional four years. The bachelor's curriculum consists of coursework in biology, chemistry, nursing informatics (data about patients), ethics, and practice methodologies. Some programs have optional concentrations allowing students to specialize in a particular area of nursing, such as family nursing, public and community health, or hospice care.

As with other online nursing programs, an online RN to BSN typically has asynchronous virtual courses but still requires in-person clinical experiences. These rotations take place under the supervision of experienced nurses at approved healthcare facilities in the student's community.

Our rankings of the most affordable online nursing programs, most affordable online MSN programs, and most affordable online nurse practitioner programs are designed to help students choose a cost-effective degree.

Degree Requirements

RN to BSN students typically need to complete about 60 credit hours of coursework. This is about half the credits needed for a traditional bachelor's degree because students transfer their completed credits from an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).

Nursing students also complete at least one practical experience that might be called a practicum or clinical rotation. Each state's licensing board has a different number of required work hours for these field placements.

Online learners might need to complete laboratory work at home with special kits that their college mails to them. They may also need to purchase some items, arrange to visit an academic science lab in their community, or possibly travel to campus for an intensive session once or twice a year.

Nursing Courses

RN to BSN curricula may vary slightly between schools, but they tend to share many classes in common. You're likely to take the courses below, with small differences in titles, in any nursing bachelor's program you attend:

Evidence-Based Nursing Practice

Evidence-based practice has become a cornerstone of the nursing profession, given the amount of patient data that can be collected and analyzed. Students learn how to form testable questions, assess their validity, and adjust their care based on the results.

Nursing Leadership

This course may help prepare bachelor's-level nurses for management positions. Faculty usually discuss decision-making, quality metrics, patient outcomes data, and safety regulations alongside communication and interpersonal skills.

Patient Assessment

Professors in this class discuss methods to help figure out the root causes of patients' problems. They may lecture on holistic assessment, normal and abnormal readings for different patient groups, and proper documentation. As assignments, students typically assess fictional patients or actors.

Public Health

Nurses benefit from understanding the common health problems in their communities, so this course covers assessing and researching population health.

Admissions

Most online nursing degree programs start during the autumn term, but college application timelines typically begin several months before. To start in the fall, you'll probably apply to college sometime between November and February.

RN to BSN administrators generally require candidates to complete an online application and submit the following items:

  • Official high school or GED transcripts
  • Official college transcripts for your ADN, usually showing a minimum GPA of 2.5-3.0 for all science and nursing courses
  • Two letters of recommendation from professors
  • A personal statement on education and career goals

Each college application might cost $30-90 in nonrefundable application fees.

Similar Pathways

An RN to BSN program isn't your only option if you don't have a bachelor's degree but want to become or stay a nurse. Check out the pathways below to see if one of them aligns more closely with your experience and goals.

RN to MSN

Like the RN to BSN pathway, RN to MSN programs also require applicants to hold an ADN and an RN designation. But they don't stop with granting a BSN; instead, students continue on to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) after earning a BSN. This takes more commitment but can save the time and stress of applying to multiple programs in the future if you know you eventually want an MSN.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Traditional bachelor's in nursing programs are intended for students without any nursing background or education. They start from scratch with introductory courses, just as ADN programs do.

What Can You Do With an RN to BSN Degree?

The simple answer is that you can continue to be a nurse. But of course, it's more complicated than that. You'll qualify for a wider range of nursing positions with a BSN, you'll have the opportunity to specialize, and you might also choose to pursue a higher degree after your bachelor's.

Nursing Specializations

There's more room for specialization in a 120-credit bachelor's degree than there is in an ADN. Many bachelor's programs let you pursue a concentration that could help in interviews for specialized nursing roles.

We've listed a few popular nursing career specializations below:

Neonatal Nurse

Neonatal nurses work in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) helping newly born babies experiencing complications. Neonatal coursework emphasizes the physiology of infants and the communication skills required to educate anxious parents.

Pediatric Nurse

Pediatric nurses care for children and adolescents. They can work in any healthcare setting, from primary care physicians' offices to intensive care units in hospitals. As with NICU nurses, pediatric coursework focuses on children's health needs and the ability to gently and accurately explain conditions to them and their families.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetist is the highest paying nursing occupation in the country. This specialty currently requires at least a master's degree to practice, but new certified registered nurse anesthetists will soon need a doctorate. Because anesthesia is highly regulated, there are no undergraduate concentrations in this field. You'll need to specialize once you enter graduate school.

Travel Nurse

Travel nurses help fill workforce gaps wherever they're needed. For example, a rural hospital might post a temporary opening for a pediatric nurse during flu season. You can choose any undergraduate concentration if this lifestyle appeals to you because there's a general nursing shortage affecting most specialties.

Further Education

Nursing has grown more professionalized over the decades, meaning that a great number of jobs require advanced education — a phenomenon also known as "credential creep." Like it or not, an advanced degree is often needed at higher levels of nursing practice. You can review some post-bachelor's options below.

Master's in Nursing

Master's of Science in Nursing curricula usually include courses on leadership and advanced topics in a specialty area such as gerontology, neonatal nursing, or psychiatric nursing. They're intended for nurses who want to take on more responsibility in their focus area. An MSN is also the minimum credential needed to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is increasingly required at higher levels of nursing, and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been trying to make it the minimum credential to become a nurse practitioner for years. As a professional doctorate, DNPs emphasize advanced practice skills over research, though students can expect to do plenty of original research and writing during their program.

Nursing Careers

As an RN to BSN student, you will have already done the hard work of becoming a nurse. But there are many different types of nurses, and graduating from a bachelor's program might help broaden the scope of jobs that you're eligible for. Some possibilities include an ER nurse treating traumatic injuries, an oncology nurse caring for patients with cancer, or a travel nurse who fills employment gaps around the country.

It's possible that you're drawn to nursing but worried about the state of the industry after the stresses of COVID-19. The good news is that it's possible to make a successful career transition if you feel burnt out on nursing after a few years. During their degree programs and careers, nurses learn a variety of skills that translate well to other roles in and outside of healthcare.

If you don't already have an RN credential, you might be interested in how to become a nurse and the type of nurse you might become.

Financing Your RN to BSN Program

College comes with considerable costs, which often leads to significant student loan debt. You might complete a bachelor's degree in as little as four years, but most students actually take longer to finish. Thankfully, you might qualify for financial aid to help reduce the total price tag and pay for what's left.

We detail college costs and review financial aid options in this section.

Costs

You need to pay your school's tuition and mandatory fees in order to attend. It's also necessary to buy supplies, such as software and books. Online students tend to pay less in fees than in-person learners, but this varies by college.

Below, we've listed the average tuition and fee costs for the 2020-2021 school year.

  • Public: $9,400 (for in-state students; some schools also charge online students the in-state rate no matter where they live)
  • Private nonprofit: $37,600
  • Private for-profit: $18,200

Financial Aid

The best types of financial aid are called "gift aid" because you don't need to repay them. Gift aid includes grants based on financial need, scholarships based on need or academic merit, and work-study programs based on need. Most students take out at least some loans, which they need to repay with interest.

You should try to get all available financial aid because you can't receive what you don't apply for. Completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will determine your eligibility for different sources of funding, starting with federal aid. Some states offer similar forms to students with undocumented immigration status because they're not eligible for financial aid from the federal government.

Scholarships and grants might come from federal or state departments of education, colleges, individual donors, or foundations. One notable opportunity is the Nurse Corps Scholarship Program, which pays all tuition and fees for nursing students who agree to work in underserved areas of the country for 2-4 years.

What Else Should You Consider?

Cost is a major factor in your education decisions, but it's not the only one. You might also ask yourself the following questions about each college you're researching to see how well it meets your needs:

Is the School Institutionally Accredited?

Institutional accreditation — which used to be called either regional or national accreditation — is a designation an independent agency grants to colleges that pass its quality test. Accredited schools receive regular reviews of their faculty, curricula, administrations, and student services.

Is This Degree Program Accredited?

Individual programs can also receive accreditation from specialty agencies in particular fields. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) both accredit bachelor's programs, though the CCNE is larger and more established.

Nursing accreditation can have a profound effect on your career because many states will only give licenses to candidates who graduated from accredited nursing programs. Therefore, it's important to understand a program's accreditation status before committing.

What's the College's Pass Rate for the NCLEX?

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) tests a nursing graduate's competency in delivering care to patients. Even if you've already passed the NCLEX to earn your RN, it's helpful to see how well a school prepares its students for this important step in their careers.

Should I Study Online?

Some people perform better within the structure of on-campus study, but others are drawn to the flexibility of distance learning. Thankfully, online degrees are respected more than ever in the workforce.

What Features Does My Dream College Have?

Make a list of your must-have and nice-to-have features and services, then compare them across colleges. These can be anything that matters to you, from disability and accessibility services for online students to a concentration that can help build the knowledge you need to earn a special nursing certification.

To learn about online nursing programs and requirements in other states, explore our list of accredited nursing degrees by state below:

Nursing Degrees by State

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

FAQs About RN to BSN Programs

What Does an RN to BSN Mean?

RN to BSN means "registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing." Applicants must already have an RN credential, and the goal is to earn a BSN.

Do You Have to be an RN Before Pursuing a BSN?

Yes, an RN is required for admission to an RN to BSN program. However, you can sign up for a traditional bachelor's in nursing program if you have no nursing education, nursing experience, or RN credential.

How Long Are RN to BSN Programs?

Faculty design these degrees to last 18-24 months for full-time students. Many programs provide part-time options for working nurses, who may be able to complete at least some of their clinical requirements at their place of employment. Part-time learners may take up to three years to finish the degree.

Is an RN to BSN Hard?

Most students find some aspect of their RN to BSN degree to be hard because nursing is a complex discipline. For example, a student might excel at science and statistics but struggle with bedside manner and accurately recording patient data.

Bottom Line

RN to BSN degrees let RNs build on their existing nursing education so they can earn a bachelor's degree in less time. Professors teach more advanced science, math, and nursing practice material than an ADN curriculum — sometimes including a specialization, such as pediatric nursing or public health. Each program requires students to complete clinical hours in order to gain professional experience in a live medical setting, even if their coursework is fully online.

2024 Best Online RN to BSN Programs (2024)
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