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BSN 101: What is a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?

BSN 101: What is a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?

There are plenty of reasons why you should consider a BSN degree to advance your career as a registered nurse. 

This degree has already become the preferred level of education for many nursing job opportunities. It qualifies you for more secure and better-paying job opportunities and also helps you pursue your passion through various leadership roles, for example in administration or management.

But making the leap to a BSN-prepared nurse requires a lot of research before choosing the right educational route. 

This is why we created a hands-on, comprehensive guide for those who want to advance their education to the BSN level, whether that’s through a pre-licensure BSN program or an RN-to-BSN program for already licensed nurses. 

If you’re genuinely interested in getting a BSN to become a full-fledged nurse in this ever-changing ecosystem, here are a few important things to consider first, alongside plenty of extra resources to get you started: 

What is a BSN Degree?

Before diving into specifics, let’s start with the actual BSN meaning. 

The BSN abbreviation stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which is the academic definition. Having a BSN degree means that you have completed a pre-licensure BSN program (which usually takes four years) or an RN-to-BSN program (which usually takes one or two years) and. 

Registered nursing is one of the most in-demand professions. And because a BSN is expected to become a mandatory qualification in this field, it’s understandable why so many people want to pursue such a career by getting a BSN degree.

People with no prior nursing experience can apply for the pre-licensure BSN program, while RNs who have their ADN can apply for the RN-to-BSN program. 

Discover the complete BSN Guide here! 

What Type of BSN Programs Can You Choose?

If you are wondering whether or not you are a good fit for a BSN program, it will help to know you have quite a few programs to choose from, depending on aspects like the duration, your career goals, educational level, available study time and so on. 

The two main BSN degree programs are:

    • The full-time BSN program is a basic entry-level program dedicated to learners who don’t have any previous nursing experience. This is a good fit if:
      • You are ready to commit to extensive study of nursing core courses and gaining valuable experience. 
      • You are 100% sure about this career path since the beginning.
      • Your aim is to make a real change in the health care of your community.
      • You plan to pursue a higher degree like a master’s program in the future.
      • You are ready to dedicate three to four years to get your BSN degree.
    • The RN-to-BSN program is a shorter program designed for working RNs with medical experience. It is a good fit if:
      • You are currently an RN and want to obtain a BSN degree. 
      • You aim to apply for more diverse, higher-paying job opportunities (in nurse education, supervising or leadership). However, BSN-prepared nurses do continue as bedside patient care nurses, so a BSN degree is not exclusive to just administrative-like roles.
      • You are a working individual with a busy schedule or family commitments who needs a flexible, career-friendly BSN program.
      • You are self-motivated and ready to complete this high-intensity program in as few as 12 months.  

How Long Does It Take to Get a BSN?

The traditional, full-time BSN degree program usually takes three to four years to complete. While most of such pre-licensure programs are on campus, you can opt for a hybrid option, like the blended-distance pre-licensure BSN Program at Nightingale. This offers you online didactic instruction combined with local experiential learning activities.

If you are already a working professional looking for a BSN program compatible with your schedule, the RN-to-BSN Program would be the best choice. It is 100% online and career friendly,  given the limited free time or personal commitments you might have as a busy parent or working RN. 

This RN-to-BSN program can be completed:

  • in 12 months or 3 semesters, if the required general education (GE) courses have not been completed; 
  • in 8 months or 2 semesters, if you’ve completed all GE requirements. 

It is worth knowing that you can benefit from advanced placement at Nightingale for both Programs and graduate in an accelerated time frame, depending on your GE requirements. 

Who Should Get a BSN Degree? 

A BSN degree can be acquired by different types of learners with different goals:

  • People ready to commit to a career of serving others and want to become a nurse.
  • People who have no license or nursing experience. 
  • LPNs or METC graduates.
  • RNs who have completed an ADN program and want to advance their career.
  • People with a bachelor’s degree in another field, who choose to change careers and pursue a second degree in nursing.
  • Busy parents and working RNs who can choose a hybrid or online BSN program.
  • Learners who don’t have access to on-campus facilities in their area and can opt for a hybrid or online BSN program.

Wondering why get a BSN as an experienced nurse? Find out more here!

Why Choose a Pre-Licensure BSN Program?

This three-to-four-year program is designed for any aspiring nurse without medical experience, who wants to change the landscape of healthcare and follow their passion for helping people. 

This pre-licensure program is also dedicated to licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and METC graduates who want to pursue better career opportunities while helping patients with more complex needs. They can apply for advanced placement and finish the program in an accelerated time frame

Many pre-licensure programs require on-campus presence. Fortunately, the BSN Program at Nightingale College offers a blended-distance format (online didactic instruction and local experiential learning) for future learners. Nightingale’s BSN Program improves class scheduling flexibility and learning efficacy through the utilization of a variety of innovative methods and learning modalities in an online environment.

Discover all the steps to become a BSN-prepared nurse 

Why Choose an Online RN-to-BSN Program?

This program is designed for RNs holding an ADN who want to complete their BSN degree the fastest way. It is a great opportunity for working RNs as you can attend the courses without taking any time off from work

The career-friendly, online RN-to-BSN Program can save you time and money in the long run. This is why it can be considered the more flexible and easy path.

This doesn’t mean this program is suitable for everybody. While it can really help you greatly in juggling your priorities and personal time, an RN-to-BSN is a high-intensity program that requires a lot of discipline, dedication, attention to deadlines and plenty of studying in a limited amount of time. 

Read about how to pick an RN-to-BSN degree

Accredited BSN and RN-to-BSN Programs

Whether or not you choose to apply for a BSN or RN-to-BSN degree program, you have to make sure it is worth it. After all, you will invest your valuable time, energy, money, and hopes in such a program. This means it’s important to look for accredited programs from a renowned and trusted college or institution that will help you find great job opportunities afterward.

Fortunately, more and more educational institutions respond to the growing demand for nursing jobs by developing online programs which give you the same level of competence as a traditional learning facility.

The Nightingale BSN Program and RN-to-BSN Program curriculum plans meet all the requirements of the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

BSN and RN-to-BSN degree guide is important to community healthcare

Why a BSN is Important to You – and Your Community

One thing is certain: with a BSN degree, you can make a difference in different settings in modern health care. From private or public medical and surgical hospitals to a physician’s office, home health care environment and nursing facilities, you can work almost anywhere and in a variety of nursing specialties. Plus, a BSN degree will offer you better opportunities and a better salary than an associate degree. 

But why is a BSN  so important today? There are plenty of strong benefits for you as an individual and the community. 

For example, we already know that hospitals hoping to earn their Magnet status are strongly advised to increase their BSN workforce to 80%. It is extremely possible for a BSN degree to become a requirement by 2020 in most states. 

So it’s easy to understand why many aspiring nurses are advised to get their BSN degree through a pre-licensure program, instead of choosing an ADN degree. 

As for the working LPNs and RNs, the advantages are also much clearer in the long term. 

Going from an ADN to a BSN degree or just choosing a BSN program instead of an ADN can easily help you leverage your nursing experience and enhance your career outlook. The dire need of highly trained nursing professionals will grow exponentially in the next few years. People live longer, so they need the right caretakers. Also, this profession is always in need of great leaders and supervisors who can make a real change in their communities.

Another advantage of a BSN degree is the level of expertise. You can be a great RN just with your ADN skills, but having a BSN will offer you more valuable responsibilities and greater chances to get management roles. Besides this difference in expertise, your patients’ health would benefit more from a nurse’s academic progression and knowledge. So getting an online BSN degree would help you do a better job, too. 

Plus, the medical field is always changing. If you choose a career in nursing and health care, you need to become comfortable with constantly continuing your education.

Find out how a BSN will make you earn more and be a better nurse at the same time 

The Differences Between an RN and a BSN-prepared Nurse

If you’re an RN, congratulations! It’s not an easy path to follow and certainly, there is the pressure of fulfilling your duties for best patient care, while building emotional resilience. Being a nurse has always been a challenging, but admired profession that requires a lot of compassion and ongoing professional development. 

Given the ever-changing health care system that triggered a growing demand of RNs globally and the complex needs of patients, it’s easy to understand why this profession has become so competitive and why employers are becoming more interested in hiring highly trained professionals with a BSN degree. 

Discover how being a BSN-prepared nurse can accelerate your career 

But many are wondering about the RN versus BSN differences. So we should clarify the concepts. An RN is a job title and refers to a registered nurse with an associate or a bachelor’s degree (ADN or BSN) who successfully passed the state licensure exam. A BSN is the academic term for a nursing degree or program at the baccalaureate level.

When you’ll encounter the popular comparison between RN and BSN nurses, it’s usually about ADN-prepared versus BSN-prepared RNs. 

Simply put, a higher education level means accomplishing more advanced skills and gaining in-depth knowledge that leads to better job opportunities, higher income, and safer practice and decision-making, which can improve patient outcomes and quality of life – aspects already proved by numerous studies. 

Discover the real differences between ADN and BSN-prepared nurses

Differences in Nursing Programs: ADN vs. BSN vs. MSN

Since there are plenty of specific advantages for each type of program, let’s have a look at the most important differences between the different types of nursing education degrees.


The main difference between the two is well covered. But to be more specific, an associate degree (ADN)

  • Is a two-to-three-year pre-licensure program, 
  • Is the minimum education required to get licensed as a registered nurse.

While a BSN degree refers to

  • A three-to-four-year pre-licensure program and a shorter twelve-month post-licensure program,  
  • The recommended educational path for all modern health care nurses, and
  • Advanced critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership, policy and ethics courses and in-depth knowledge ready to implement at your job.

BSN education is built to improve analytical and critical thinking skills, as well as training for extra procedures. This doesn’t mean that ADN nurses are less safe than BSN ones. The statistics only show that a higher educated team is more equipped to handle a systemic change and counteract any issues that might come. 

Moreover, it was found out that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of BSN nurses on hospital units was associated with a 10.9% possible decrease in patient mortality – a correlation confirmed by a decade of nursing research.

This is another reason why more and more hospitals are moving toward establishing a BSN degree for entry-level RN job positions, as the skills and qualifications provided by higher education has been linked to better patient outcomes. 

A few studies (for example the one by The National Center for Biotechnology Information) shown that hospitals with a higher percentage of nurses with a BSN or higher-level degree have lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates, especially when it comes to surgical patients. 

Discover the impact of nurses’ education on patient outcomes and the quality of care


If you want to take your career and knowledge to the next level after getting your BSN, a Master of Science in Nursing is the next step for you. MSN is an advanced, post-graduate degree that will offer the skills and in-depth expertise needed for a specialized role as a nurse practitioner or nursing administrator.

While both BSN and MSN degrees are a major leap in anyone’s nursing career and both can land you higher-paying jobs, a master’s degree focuses more on a certain nursing specialty and improving skills such as administration and leadership, or even teaching. 

Read a complete comparison between BSN and MSN programs

BSN Nurse Salary and Pay

When it comes to career decisions and next steps, income is a heavy influence factor to consider. Getting to know how much you can make as a nurse is important in planning your education or which state to practice in.

But you might find yourself lost in the search about nurse salaries by state or the salary difference between ADN and BSN graduates. What’s good to know is that the latter ones are the top 25% earners in the field: the highest-paid state for nurses in 2018 is California, with an average BSN salary of $106,950, followed by Hawaii ($117,370) and Massachusetts ($109,560).

Check the complete list of all the nurse salaries by state! 

BSN-prepared Nurse with Patients

BSN Jobs & Nursing Career Outlook

What is so exciting in a nursing career is that you can choose from a rich variety of roles and options. Whether you’re wondering what you can do with a BSN or different alternative jobs for nurses, there are plenty of opportunities to talk about. 

What Can You Really Do With a BSN Degree?

You’ve earned your BSN and now you’re officially ready for so many amazing opportunities! Since it’s a diverse profession, there are many career paths with or without patient contact.

Learn more about the pre-licensure BSN Program!

Among the many roles one can have with a BSN degree with patient contact, you have:

  • Public health careers: You can become a public health nurse, an important role in preventative care, but not only.
  • Pediatrics or school nursing: A BSN is preferred for nurses who want to take care of children 
  • Management careers: You can become a nurse director or manager if you have enough experience in the field and leadership skills.

Roles with no patient contact are mostly dedicated to experienced BSN and MSN nurses: roles in government institutions, legal and insurance firms, and education. Of course, there require having some years of experience before accepting an office job.

For example, you can choose to pursue a career in:

  • Law careers: You can be a legal or forensic nurse consultant or a correctional nurse.
  • Education careers: You can become a clinical nurse educator, for example.
  • IT careers: Of course, IT nursing roles are among the highest paid in the field,

Unusual Non-Nursing Careers for Nurses

What’s interesting is that there are some pretty unusual non-nursing jobs for nurses which involve a lot of travel, advocacy, and leadership. Just to mention a few, you can become a flight nurse or a cruise ship nurse, as well as a procurement or a parish nurse – unusual jobs that are highly paid as well. 

Discover more alternative BSN career paths as a nurse!

States That Require BSN to Practice Nursing

BSN Requirements by 2020

As previously mentioned, things are changing in the nursing landscape, and so the new legislature, which is pushing for BSN-educated nurses in the near future. 

The intent of making BSN qualifications mandatory for nurses dates from 1964, so it’s clear that at some point this will happen. For hospitals hoping to earn Magnet status, 100 percent of nurse managers must have a BSN or advanced degree, according to the Magnet Recognition Program. Moreover, they must provide proof of plans to increase their BSN workforce to 80% by 2020. 

Why Is BSN in 10 Law Important?

There is the newly adopted legislature in New York that requires nurses who finish an associate degree program to get a BSN degree in 10 years’ time after their initial RN license. 

The BSN in 10 bill states: “The legislature finds that expanding the educational requirements for the profession of nursing, while maintaining the multiple entry points into the profession, is needed. (…)  This proposal is the result of a growing body of research evidence that additional education results in better patient outcomes. Therefore by requiring the baccalaureate degree for continued registration as a registered professional nurse, this legislation seeks to be responsive to meet the increasingly complex health care needs of the residents of New York state.”

Bear in mind that this is applicable in New York to all future nurses who want to practice nursing but have not yet started their studies at the time the law was adopted.

See the entire list of nursing requirements by state!

BSN Prerequisites & Requirements

What are Nursing Prerequisites?

A nursing prerequisite or ‘prereq’ refers to a class that you have to take before you can attend higher-level classes in college. Because many college-level classes involve complex problem solving, learners should have anterior knowledge that is gained through general education courses or through prerequisite courses.

Nursing prerequisites for admission are different for each program depending on the institution and they can be an indicator of the course quality and level of difficulty. Usually, the courses you will take will also depend on your academic profile.

The Importance of Nursing Prerequisites

Usually, the best BSN programs will always require prerequisites for admission. This allows lecturers to explore topics in more depth and approach complex issues instead of teaching basic notions during classes. That is why the breadth of BSN prerequisites is a factor that should be considered alongside the course’s length and affordability.

Typical Nursing Degree Requirements

For a nursing career, you must meet the minimum entry criteria, besides completing the nursing program prerequisite courses.

The usual BSN requirements include core courses (for example, English and Maths) but also require a minimum entrance grade (GPA) needed for enrolling in a BSN program. The standard nursing program entry requirements in the USA usually include:

  • Minimum scores on SAT or ACT
  • A GPA (grade point average) between 2 and 3.25 (where 0 is the minimum and 4 is the maximum)
  • Three years of math (algebra II and geometry)
  • Three years of science subjects (chemistry and biology)
  • Four years of English
  • Two years in any other foreign language

Find out how a no prerequisites RN-to-BSN program can hurt your learning.

Male Nurse Studing in Class

The BSN Degree Curriculum

Each university requires different sets of courses for a BSN degree, but the most common classes in a pre-licensure BSN or an online RN-to-BSN program are: Assessment of Health and Illness, Anatomy, or Structure of the Human Body, Health Promotion and Risk Reduction, Mental Health, Reproductive Health, Statistics, Pharmacology, Pathophysiology, Research in Nursing, Psychology, Community Health Nursing, Leadership and Management, Nursing Care and other related courses.

Also, there are other valuable requirements, such as:

  • Technical skills: Nursing learners will be evaluated during their experiential learning, and their motor skills for proper patient care (being able to do CPR, handling medications, doing treatments) will be assessed.
  • Intellectual skills: Such as critical thinking or the ability to measure, reason and analyze information regarding patients.
  • Communication abilities: You have to be able to properly talk with patients and their families, doctors and have strong observation skills.
  • And a good emotional and mental health to be able to exercise the best clinical judgement.   

Find out more about the pre-licensure BSN degree curriculum and the RN-to-BSN curriculum.

What Will You Learn in a BSN Program?

Whether you choose the classic BSN program or an RN-to-BSN program means that you will invest time, money, energy and commitment into it. So it’s best to know from the start what you’ll learn during these years.

What you learn in a pre-licensure BSN program:

Throughout the BSN Program at Nightingale, you will explore all the core nursing courses, but also advanced classes that will help you apply what you learn during your experience at a Community Health Project and a Capstone Project

This way, learners can drive awareness into their community for a particular need – projects can range from teaching correct exercise routines and nutrition information to delivering information focused on strategies to prevent domestic abuse, and educating community members on the importance of regular cancer screenings. Moreover, you learn how to improve efficiency in policies and procedures.

To sum it up, during a pre-licensure BSN program you would learn what someone would learn in the ADN and RN-to-BSN programs. 

Discover the pre-licensure BSN Program here and enroll!

Nightingale College BSN and RN-to-BSN programs

What you learn in an RN-to-BSN program:

This high-intensity, faster program is designed for RNs to use the things they have already learned in an ADN program and give them a broader and better sense of nursing. 

Not only will you learn about core concepts like disease prevention and health promotion, but the RN-to-BSN Program at Nightingale will teach you about exciting areas you haven’t explored yet, like gerontology, critical care, psychiatry, disease management, and many other fields. 

This will give you the chance to experience different nursing fields to find out what specialty fits your interests and abilities. Plus it will better prepare you to manage complex patients with multiple needs. 

At the same time, you will learn about critical thinking and decision making, ethics and policy, research, technology, and community health – all are well-thought-out courses that help you pursue a specialized career.

See what you will learn during the RN-to BSN Program

BSN Scholarships

If you want to apply for a higher education program, it is never easy to pursue one without a financial aid or a proper budget. Fortunately, there are many scholarships available for nursing learners that help them cover the potential costs of a program. 

Find out how Nightingale College can help you with a financial aid plan for your studies.

Especially if you hold a registered nursing license, you can find and apply for different types of scholarships. They will help you advance your career by earning a BSN or MSN, but also for research or post-graduate degree education.   

Ready to take the leap? Enroll now in one of our accredited BSN Programs! 

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