What Is a BSN?


Illustration showing two students pursuing a BSN degree. What is a BSN? A four-year nursing degree.

With medical professions, it’s easy to get mired in alphabet soup. But learning about a BSN is important, so let’s straighten out some common misconceptions first:

  • An RN and a BSN are not the same thing.
  • Someone with a BSN is almost certainly an RN.
  • But an RN does not necessarily have a BSN.

That clears things up, right?

To make it a little bit simpler: There are several entry points to becoming a registered nurse. An RN has finished a training program and passed a licensure exam (the NCLEX-RN). The RN may have completed an associate degree in nursing or a diploma nursing program, which is typically hospital-based or through a technical or vocational school. Those programs take two to three years to complete.

Another route to becoming an RN is to earn a bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN, which takes four years and includes elective classes. Some nurses choose to start their careers with an associate degree or diploma program and then complete a BSN later—which generally takes just two additional years of study.

RN vs. BSN: What’s the Difference?

Registered nurses of all educational backgrounds provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about health conditions, and offer advice and support to patients and families.

Because it involves a broader and more in-depth approach, a BSN usually leads to better career opportunities and higher salaries. A bachelor of science in nursing requires 120–128 credit hours, though nurses transitioning from an associate degree or diploma program typically only need an additional 30 credit hours. Practical or clinical hours (usually another 30) can often be covered through the registered nurse’s current job.

A BSN opens doors in nursing specializations not usually available to registered nurses who have entered the field through a two-year program. These include pediatric and critical care, surgical and oncology nursing, and careers in management, research, nursing education and public health. RNs with a BSN often take on more responsibilities, including supervisory positions.

Nurses with a higher education level report improved job satisfaction and have better patient outcomes and fewer medication errors. RNs with a BSN also take another step toward earning a master’s or doctorate in nursing, which can further expand their job possibilities and earning potential.

Many employers give preference to RNs who hold a BSN; it’s expected that by 2020 the majority of employers will require a bachelor’s degree. Several states have legislation before them that calls for current RNs with an associate degree to eventually earn their BSN in order to keep their licenses. New York has already passed such a law.

What Kind of BSN Salary Can I Expect?

An aging U.S. population and an increased emphasis on preventive care have caused the demand for registered nurses to skyrocket. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 15 percent increase in nursing jobs—much higher than in most other professions—by 2026.

Because of that demand, employers are offering perks such as recruitment bonuses, relocation and housing assistance, child care, and tuition reimbursement.

Many factors influence nursing salaries, including location and specialty. The median salary for an RN with a BSN was almost $72,000 in 2018, while nurses with two-year degrees earned closer to the lower end of the pay range: $48,000 a year.

If you are an RN looking to further your education, you have a number of options. Many institutions tailor their programs specifically to working nurses.

Some programs, such as the one offered at Elmhurst University, provide flexibility along with highly qualified and supportive faculty members who can guide students toward their goals in the nursing profession.

Learn How to Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Ready to learn more about Elmhurst’s RN to BSN degree completion program? Request information using the form below.

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