Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Guide

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A Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, is an undergraduate degree that prepares students for becoming a registered nurse. Accredited BSN programs involve both classroom education and clinical training, preparing the student for the expertise and skills necessary to be an RN. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that demand for registered nurses will grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026, and many employers prefer or require RNs to hold a BSN. This article will examine the criteria for a BSN and provide information for potential students interested in understanding the process and benefits of the BSN degree.

View our full ranking list of top BSN programs here.

What Is a BSN Degree?

A BSN is a four-year degree based on the core nursing curriculum, with additional education in the physical and social sciences, humanities pertinent to nursing, leadership, and advocacy. Students learn to engage in critical thinking and problem-solving that leads to better results for patients. It is a valuable and often necessary degree for finding work in the competitive nursing field. Employers prefer to hire nurses with BSNs, with 39% of hospitals requiring new RNs to have a BSN and 77% strongly preferring nurses with this degree.

A BSN typically affords nurses the opportunity to explore fields within nursing other than patient care, such as clinical, research, public outreach, and wellness promotion. BSN candidates are also introduced to common specialties during clinical training, such as acute care, psychiatric and mental health, labor and delivery, and outpatient care. Although many think of nurses as hospital employees, there are many possible avenues of nursing with a BSN, including:

  • Home health care
  • Community advocacy and education
  • Clinical leadership and supervisory roles
  • Patient education and advocacy
  • Treatment research and clinical trials

How to Choose a BSN Program

BSN programs are accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). It is advised that students confirm their chosen BSN program is accredited by one of these institutions, as they are considered reliable authorities for nursing education accreditation.

Another consideration for BSN candidates is the cost of attendance. Many consider government and private student loans, as well as grants and scholarships. Prices vary among schools, and some provide discounts based on residency, such as in-state versus out-of-state tuition.

Location is also important, as students may be required to travel for classes or clinical work. Although many modern programs are conducted online, clinical training must be done in person.

Other factors include class size and campus quality. Every student learns differently has different values. For some, it may be important to have small class sizes. Other students may want to find a school with a 24-hour library. Understanding facilities and accommodations is another facet of BSN program inquiry.

For BSN students, it is important to consider the National Council Licensure Examination's RN exam, also known as the NCLEX-RN. A BSN prepares prospective RNs to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which is a fundamental licensing requirement to become a registered nurse. Understanding the pass rate, process of taking the exam, and required knowledge is critical to BSN candidates who hope to become RNs.

Online BSN Programs

Online BSN programs allow for study under more flexible conditions than at a traditional university. They are suited for those whose schedules may not allow for a typical coursework format, such as working parents and students who live too far from a university campus.

Some RNs with associate deegrees utilize online BSN programs to advance their degree, as more opportunities exist for nurses who hold a BSN. These programs are known as RN to BSN, and they are often designed to accomodate nurses’ busy schedules.

Nursing Curriculum

From general education to ethics and specialized health sciences, BSN degrees cover a range of coursework. Students should expect to fulfill clinical hours as well, working alongside registered nurses as part of their education and training. The exception to this is students pursuing an RN to BSN degree, who have already completed clinical hours during their associate degree and are maintaining contact hours while working.

Students working toward a BSN degree take courses in anatomy and physiology to understand the body and its processes. Microbiology, chemistry, and nutrition courses are required to understand the complexities of health science and patient management. Psychology and other social sciences provide education to enhance patient interactions. The degree is well rounded, covering both the physical sciences and humanities relevant to nursing. Students will learn critical thinking and communication in the clinical setting, as well as foundations for leadership and advocacy.

Clinical experience is required for the completion of a BSN and licensure as a nurse. Requirements for direct care clinical experience vary by state and individual institution, but BSN graduates must have enough clinical experience to support the minimal competencies of a registered nurse. Clinical hours can be completed in hospitals and other clinical facilities where patients are seen. Faculty are responsible for determining that a student is having an appropriate clinical training experience and demonstrating competency.

How Long Does It Take to Get a BSN?

BSN candidates who are receiving their first degree complete a four-year program, during which students study sciences, humanities, and nursing-specific disciplines. RN to BSN students take less time to complete their degree, the timing of which is variable depending on how many courses their schedule allows. Some BSN candidates have an existing undergraduate degree and complete an accelerated BSN in one to two years.

Admission Requirements and BSN Prerequisites

A BSN is a bachelor’s degree and is open to those who have completed a high-school equivalent education. GPA requirements vary, but in general a GPA of 3.0 or above is considered competitive for most universities. Other factors that contribute to BSN admission include previous work experience, especially those within the medical field, and extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership or social skills.

All programs require supervised clinical experience, but existing RNs completing their BSN need not complete additional clinical hours as long as they are actively working clinically. Furthermore, non RNs need not have clinical experience prior to entering nursing school. Accelerated BSN programs for second degree students require prerequisite coursework of anatomy and physiology, chemistry, biology, microbiology, humanities, and statistics, with minor variations by school. First time degree candidates complete these courses within their four-year schooling.

To prepare for a BSN program, students should start early. Begin researching schools and study courses related to biology, chemistry, and anatomy at the high school level.

What Can Nurses Do With a BSN?

A BSN prepares students for a career as a registered nurse. RNs with a BSN are considered more competitive for nursing jobs than RNs with an ADN, and many institutions no longer hire nurses with only an ADN.

A BSN is a strong foundation for specialized nursing, which is when a nurse gains expertise in a specific area of healthcare such as neurosurgery or cardiac medicine. Graduates who hold a BSN may go on to teaching positions, leadership, or advocacy at local clinics.

Health care is a field of complex and ever-evolving science, and employers prioritize experienced and educated workers. Nursing jobs that require a bachelor’s degree include administration, research, consulting, and today many entry-level nursing positions.

BSN Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for an RN is $71,730 per year. This is for all RNs, regardless of degree or state. RN salary varies greatly by state, from the highest average salary of $106,950 in California to the lowest average salary of $58,340 in South Dakota. According to PayScale, a salaried employee with a BSN earns a median salary of $81,000, while an hourly employee with a BSN earns $31 per hour.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does BSN Mean?

BSN stands for “Bachelor of Science in Nursing.” BSNs require four years of study, during which time students take health sciences and humanities coursework.

What Is the Difference Between an RN and a BSN?

RN stands for “Registered Nurse,” which is a nursing license, distinct from other types of nursing licenses. BSN stands for “Bachelor of Science in Nursing,” which is an entry-level degree. Not all RNs have a BSN degree, but this is changing as nursinge evolves.

Can Nurses Go to Medical School With a BSN?

The BSN can be a first step toward medical school and allows most candidates to complete undergrad coursework required for the post-graduate level. Most nurses interested in widening their scope of practice go on to master’s and doctoral-level nursing degrees and licenses, which allow them to share many responsibilities with physicians.