Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

    Earning a bachelor’s in nursing provides a solid educational background and foundational skills for those looking to become registered nurses (RNs). The bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) typically takes four years to complete. Accelerated bachelor’s in nursing programs can take even less time. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degrees in nursing either as standalone programs or as RN to BSN transfer programs designed for those who already hold an associate’s degree in nursing. This page provides a guide to the bachelor’s degree in nursing, with information on typical admissions requirements, the types of courses involved, and the job outlook for nurses who earn this degree.

    Why Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?

    A BSN prepares graduates for a solid career in nursing, with a more in-depth plan of study than typical associate’s degrees. Nurses care for patients at hospitals and clinics, in doctor’s offices, and in patients’ homes. A nurse’s job duties vary from dressing wounds to checking blood pressure to administering medicine. A BSN qualifies a person to become licensed to perform a range of nursing duties and provide excellent care to patients. While a bachelor’s degree is typically more time-consuming than an associate’s degree, it is widely regarded as providing better preparation to pursue a nursing career, with more in-depth studies of physical and social sciences, communication, leadership, and critical thinking. Because of this, an RN with a bachelor’s of science in nursing may have more job opportunities, especially in leadership, than one with an associate’s in nursing (ASN) alone. After obtaining a degree in nursing, graduates will be able to pursue licensure in their state so that they can secure a job as a nurse.

    While a bachelor’s degree combined with licensure will prepare graduates to enter the workforce immediately as nurses, it can also be a springboard for further education. Someone with a BSN may later decide to pursue a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) for example, which may provide even further advancement opportunities for leadership positions. Many schools offer RN to MSN programs to ease the transition to graduate study.

    Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Requirements and Prerequisites

    While the requirements to enter a bachelor’s program in nursing vary by school, a high school diploma or GED is typically the minimum requirement. Each school will also have minimum requirements based on ACT or SAT scores, high school grade point average, and the overall strength of the college application (including the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation). Admission to bachelor’s-level nursing programs can be extremely competitive. Because there are often more applicants than there are available spaces in nursing programs, many schools require prerequisites for entry, such as the completion of general education courses as well as some science and nursing courses. Prerequisites may include anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, nutrition, and chemistry courses.

    Prospective nursing students should have a genuine desire to help others, be detail-oriented, and have physical and emotional stability. Since nurses will talk to patients and their families about treatment plans, they should have strong communication skills. Prospective nurses should also be strong students, especially in the fields of biology and other sciences. A career in nursing can be physically and emotionally draining, often with long hours and variable schedules, but it can also be extremely rewarding. People with compassion, organizational skills, stamina, and excellent people skills will be the most successful in the field.

    Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Coursework

    The coursework required for a bachelor’s in nursing will vary depending on the school and program, but a BSN student will typically cover general education requirements first. Then, students can expect courses in subjects like anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, and psychology. Specific classes may include:

    • Nursing Basics
    • Foundations of Professional Nursing
    • Nutrition
    • Microbiology
    • Clinical Nursing
    • Psychiatric Nursing
    • Maternity and Newborn Nursing
    • Community Health Nursing
    • Applied Principles of Health and Disease
    • Applied Ethics in Clinical Practice
    • Leadership and Management in Healthcare
    • Medical-Surgical Practicum
    • Advanced Clinical Assessment

    In addition to the coursework listed above, students in BSN programs also learn hands-on skills that will help them in their future practice. As a part of their clinical rotations, they typically learn and practice the skills they will use in the real world, such as taking vital signs, drawing blood, and administering intravenous therapy (IV). Prospective nurses frequently practice technical skills in a school-based laboratory with simulation equipment, including human patient simulators (HPS). This allows students to practice skills in a controlled environment without the risk of harming real-life patients. Student nurses will interact with real patients later on in their clinical studies, under close supervision at hospitals or clinics. Students will need to complete a certain number of hours of clinical work to meet graduation requirements.

    The courses taken to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree will provide students with an introduction to various nursing fields, which many students find helpful in choosing a specialty area for their careers. Students in bachelor’s programs are also expected to maintain a minimum grade point average in order to graduate.

    Career Opportunities for Graduates of a Bachelor’s Degree Program in Nursing

    BSN program graduates will need to be licensed to practice nursing in their state before being hired, which begins by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). To become a registered nurse (RN), graduates will take the NCLEX-RN. The NCLEX-RN tests future nurses’ knowledge, skills, and abilities in nursing while also assessing critical thinking ability. The NCLEX-RN is individualized, as the computer-based exam selects each progressive question based on how previous questions were answered. The majority of questions are multiple-choice, though open response and other question formats are commonly included.

    Nurses are in high demand in the US. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earned a median wage of $68,450 in 2016.1 The outlook for RNs is promising, with registered nursing jobs expected to increase by 16% through 2024, significantly faster than other occupations.1 This increased demand is due to the aging of the baby-boomer generation, a growing emphasis on preventative health, and the expected retirement of many nurses in the coming years. Nurses who are willing to work in medically underserved and/or rural areas may have an advantage in the job market. Long-term care facilities are expected to show the greatest demand for nurses. Home healthcare is also expected to see an increase in demand for well-qualified nurses.

    Additional Resources

    • American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) – The AACN advocates adoption of the bachelor’s degree in nursing as the minimum education requirement for nurses. The organization is dedicated to nursing as a profession, and to improving health and delivery of care services.
    • Nursing World – The American Nurses Association is a professional organization for all registered nurses. Membership provides opportunities in networking, advancement, and education.
    • The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) – Visit the NCSBN’s website to find out about the exams offered, practice analyses, and testing locations.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Can I get a bachelor’s in nursing degree online?

    Yes. Bachelor’s degrees in nursing are offered at many colleges and universities, and some colleges offer a bachelor of science in nursing online. Check with individual schools to see if they offer online options before applying.

    As an RN, will a bachelor’s in nursing improve my pay over those with an associate’s in nursing?

    Yes, it is likely that earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing will give you an edge over colleagues with an associate’s in nursing. Nurses with their BSNs are often paid more than nurses with ASNs, and BSN-prepared nurses also tend to be considered first for promotions and positions in leadership.

    How is a BSN different from an RN to BSN?

    A BSN is designed for people who are not yet registered nurses. An RN to BSN program is designed for nurses who have an associate’s degree and are already licensed as RNs but desire to further their education and advancement opportunities by going back to college to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

    What can you do with a bachelors in nursing?

    A bachelor of science in nursing is becoming a common educational route for people who want to become nurses. After obtaining licensure, those with their BSN can be staff nurses at private or public hospitals or physicians’ offices, home health care nurses, or even take on leadership roles. Some may also go on to pursue an advanced nursing degree in order to become advanced practice registered nurses.

    1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm