The ultimate RN to BSN guide

6 min read


Once you become a registered nurse (RN), the idea of going back to school for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can seem daunting. After all, you're already working. Why do you need another degree?

In short, for two reasons: 

  1. Your employer may require you to have a BSN
  2. In the long term, your nursing career will benefit from having a BSN degree

In this RN to BSN guide, you’ll learn about the push behind the RN to BSN movement, the benefits of going back to school for your BSN, and how to embark on this new journey. Let’s dive in. 

What's the difference between an RN and a BSN degree?

RN vs. BSN, ADN vs. BSN... it's easy to get confused by all the different credentials. To simplify, an RN (registered nurse) refers to a nurse who is licensed by their board of nursing to provide care. A person can learn to become a registered nurse through three educational paths:

  • A hospital diploma program — usually takes 2 to 3 years
  • Associates degree program (ADN) — usually takes 2 to 3 years
  • Bachelor's degree program (BSN) — usually takes 4 years

Regardless of the educational path, all nurses must pass the nursing licensing exam, known as the NCLEX, to provide care to patients. 

When we speak of "RN to BSN," we're referring to when a diploma or ADN-prepared nurse goes back to school to receive additional education to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

Why are many hospitals requiring nurses to have a BSN?

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), studies have found: 

  • BSN-prepared RNs felt better prepared than associate degree nurses on issues related to quality and safety. 
  • An increased proportion of BSN-prepared hospital nurses was linked to decreased patient mortality. 
  • Hospitals with a higher percentage of either RNs with BSN or higher degrees experienced better patient outcomes, including lower congestive heart failure mortality and shorter length of stay.

For these reasons, since 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has been advocating for the nursing profession to increase the percentage of nurses with a BSN to 80% by the year 2020. In response, hospitals have implemented various ways to have a more BSN-prepared nursing workforce. These ways include:

  • Hiring only BSN-prepared nurses
  • Enforcing that ADN or diploma-prepared nurses earn their BSN by a specific deadline
  • Providing access to more career opportunities and salary increases to nurses who have a BSN

In 2019, 56% of nurses were reported to have a BSN or higher degree — an all-time high but still below IOM’s recommendation. As a result, the healthcare industry continues to push for more nurses to obtain a BSN. 

Although it may seem like a burden, in reality, a BSN will open the door to several opportunities to expand your nursing career and salary.  

What kind of jobs can you get with a BSN degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average RN in the US makes $73,000 annually. By obtaining a BSN, you can widen your career possibilities, and in turn, your income potential. 

Without a BSN, you may find it difficult to transition from traditional bedside nursing into other roles, in which the employer may prefer or require a BSN. These roles include:

  • Clinical Nurse Educator or Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Nurse Manager 
  • Quality and Risk Management Nurse
  • Case Manager or Utilization Review Nurse 
  • Nurse Informaticist 
  • Nurse Researcher 
  • Nurse Practitioner or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Note that some of these roles, such as nurse educator or nurse practitioner/CRNA, may require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). However, in order to obtain an MSN, you must have a BSN. Therefore, generally, if you want to move up the nursing career ladder, having at least a BSN is a must. 

What will you learn in an RN to BSN program?

As an RN, you've already taken basic general education and nursing classes. In an RN to BSN program, you'll focus on expanding your skills in critical thinking and professionalism. For example, you may take courses in the following:

  • Analyzing evidence-based research 
  • Health policy
  • Information technology
  • Health promotion among communities
  • Ethics
  • Leadership 

With a BSN, you’ll develop more holistic skills that will benefit not only your patients but the nursing profession as a whole. 

What are the steps to go from RN to BSN?

Going back to school for a BSN is a commitment, but there are several online RN to BSN programs available to make the process convenient and flexible.  

Next are three steps you can take to simplify your RN to BSN journey.

1. Do Your Research on RN to BSN Programs

Many online RN to BSN programs can be completed in as little as 12 months and at most, two and a half years. The actual time it will take to complete an RN to BSN program depends on a few factors, such as: 

  • How many academic credits you already have
  • The program's structure
  • Your commitment to the program

When creating a list of potential programs, make sure you meet the requirements listed for each school. These requirements may include:

  • An active RN license in good standing, or a scheduled date to take the NCLEX in the near future 
  • Lower-level general education courses already completed, such as psychology and English
  • A 2.5 out of 4.0 GPA in previous academic work
  • Passing a criminal background check 

Once you’ve gathered basic details about each program — such as course details, program length, and potential costs — it’s time to narrow your options.

2.  Talk to an RN to BSN Program Advisor

Speaking with an online RN to BSN program advisor can help you understand more about the program as well as the level of commitment required. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions, such as:

  • Is this program accredited? If so, by whom?
  • How involved are the faculty and other students in the program?
  • Do I have to complete any projects to graduate (e.g., research or community)? 
  • What financial resources are available (e.g., payment plans, scholarships, grants)?
  • What if I have personal issues that might impact my studies (e.g., family emergencies)?
  • How many courses do you recommend I take every semester?

Completing an RN to BSN can be a lengthy commitment, so it’s important to choose a program with supportive faculty and well-structured courses. 

Once you’ve made your decision, congrats! Now, you’re ready for the final, but longest step —  successfully getting your BSN.  

3. Set yourself up for BSN success 

As you embark on your new journey, prepare yourself physically, emotionally, and financially. Here are a few considerations:

  • Many employers help pay for their employees’ tuition. So if your employer has a tuition reimbursement program, they might be able to offset some of your BSN program costs. 
  • Determine the amount of courses you can successfully manage, given your work and family situation. 
  • Let your family and friends know about your new career journey and accept their support —  no matter how small. 
  • If you face any personal challenges that may impact your studies, don’t hesitate to reach out to your program’s instructor or advisor.
  • Have a nutritious diet, get adequate rest, and practice stress-reduction techniques (e.g., mindfulness). Balance is key to avoiding burnout


Going back to school for your BSN can seem overwhelming, especially as you juggle personal responsibilities like family, work, and finances. An online RN to BSN program that offers flexible solutions, supportive faculty, and high-quality education may be just what you need. OpusVi has partnered with Mercy College PLUS to provide an online RN to BSN program for nurses looking to earn a BSN. With online classes and a wide range of teaching strategies, our RN to BSN program is designed with your growth, convenience, and flexibility in mind. Further, the program may be completed in as little as 12 months. To learn more, reach out to us today

Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN


Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN


Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN

Kara-Marie Hall RN, BSN,CCRN, is a healthcare freelance writer who converts her expertise as a registered nurse into polished prose that engages healthcare professionals and patients. She is a proud member of the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and the American Medical Writers Association. Kara-Marie’s interests include nursing leadership, health equity, and patient education. Her commitment to health and wellness stems from a deep desire to improve healthcare — one reader at a time. Currently, Kara-Marie resides in sunny Los Angeles, but calls her native Atlanta “home sweet home.” When she’s not working at the bedside or writing, she’s catching up on her favorite Spanish soap operas or volunteering with non-profits.