Registered nurses (RNs) aren’t required to hold a bachelor’s degree, but it is becoming more common that employers prefer RNs with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Salary structures reflect this preference, given that BSN graduates earn 16% more than RNs with just an associate degree, according to PayScale. Colleges have responded to the growing BSN demand with RN to BSN online programs, which allow nurses to complete their BSN in two years or less while continuing to work.
This resource page provides an overview of course content in typical RN to BSN online degrees, and guides you through considerations for picking the school that best meets your needs, plus information on financial aid resources. Keep in mind that the salary information we provide regards nurses with their BSN.
Deciding which college to go to is no easy task, so ACO evaluated more than 3,500 colleges to give you the information you need to make the search more manageable. Our 2018 college rankings are based on statistical data from trusted sources, eligibility criteria and various ranking factors
Each college must be located in a state (US territories and Washington DC were excluded)
Each college must have at least one online program 1
Each college must have a maximum four-year tuition of $25,000 or a maximum two-year tuition of $5,000
Several individual data points were objectively evaluated to calculate a score for each ranking factor listed above. For affordability, the most impactful data points were tuition2 and grants; for quality, graduation and acceptance rates; for flexibility, part-time enrollment options; and for program, degrees granted in that specific program area. Each score was then weighted, with affordability being the most highly weighted factor for all ACO rankings.
1 Best Vocational Programs included data for both online and campus programs.
2 Both in-state and out-of-state tuition rates were used in our methodology; however, our rankings tool currently only displays in-state rates.
A dash in our Rankings Tool indicates IPEDS data was not available.
Tuition displayed in in-state and per year unless stated otherwise.
As you look through the following list of RN to BSN online programs you should consider which school would best serve your personal career goals. Take into account each prospective school’s graduation rates, online course offerings, tuition expenses, and financial aid opportunities.
How Much Can You Make in a BSN Career?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupations for registered nurses are projected to increase 15% through 2026, well above the national job growth average. Commensurate with this demand, RNs with a BSN usually earn significantly higher salaries than those without a BSN. Within certain specialities, such as critical care or intensive care nursing, RNs may need additional certification, for which a BSN provides a solid foundation.
Registered nurses provide direct patient care and education. They coordinate patient care services and offer emotional support to patients and families. They work in a wide variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, schools, and the military.
As accomplished RNs, clinical educators work with others to build expertise and proficiency in clinical knowledge and skills, often in a specialized field. They may work with clinicians in training, public health workers, and even insurance personnel. Most clinical educators served as nurses for more than 10 years.
Working primarily in hospitals and clinics, nursing managers supervise staff to ensure high quality patient care. They interview and hire other nurses, and schedule nurses to ensure sufficient coverage during all shifts. Nursing managers often collaborate with physicians.
Public health nurses work to educate individuals, families, and groups on healthy practices. They work with a variety of public institutions, including state and local government health agencies and schools. These nurses provide little to no day-to-day patient care, but they may work directly with patients to administer immunizations at public immunization clinics.
Also called intensive care nurses, critical care nurses provide direct care to patients with life threatening conditions resulting from trauma, organ failure, or invasive surgery. They may specialize in different fields, such as trauma care, oncology, or cardiology. Critical care nurses must stay calm in stressful situations.
Sources: BLS 2018, PayScale
RN salaries vary by occupation, state, and region, since their salaries often reflect local demand and cost of living. Competence, experience, and additional credentials, such as critical care certification, may also affect earning potential. Likewise, certain institutions pay more than others. Still, location affects salary levels more than any other factor. States and cities with the highest populations generally pay the highest salaries for BSN nurses. The following list shows the salaries and job growth data for RNs in all states.
What Courses Can be Taken for an Online RN to BSN Degree?
Each college designs its RN to BSN online program according to what the institution thinks professional nurses need to know by graduation. Though every program is unique, most offer a few common courses. The following list includes course content that is common in most RN to BSN programs.
Integrating nursing, computer, and information science, this course analyzes a nurses role in gathering, managing, analyzing, and communicating patient information to improve patient care.
Nursing Health Assessment
This course builds on RNs’ knowledge and skills in gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing patient health history and physical assessment. Students also learn to adapt assessment practices to account for patient ages and cultural distinctives.
Incorporating key concepts of leadership and management, this course equips nurses with knowledge on the principles and practices relating to group dynamics, conflict resolution, leadership, and organizational effectiveness. Students also examine the legal, ethical, and political implications of leadership.
Nursing Research and Evidence-based Practice
In this course, students learn key elements of the research process, and how to soundly interpret, evaluate, and apply published research findings. The course enables nurses to take a more active role in their own professional development.
Healthcare Quality and Safety
Addressing the risks to healthcare quality and safety, this course analyzes models and concepts that promote excellence and safety in patient care. Discussion extends beyond the role of the nurse, to that of the patient care team.
How to Choose the Best Online RN to BSN Program
Prospective RN to BSN students must consider both objective and subjective factors when selecting a program, since each student has unique needs and goals. Objective factors may include school reputation, accreditation, course offerings, internship requirements, and faculty quality. While subjective preferences might include time and financial constraints and preferences regarding school culture and philosophy. Consider the following questions in your decision process.
Is it important that a nursing program is accredited?
Professionally respected nursing schools hold proper accreditation and regularly place graduates in desirable hospitals, clinics, and related institutions. Your nursing program should hold accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Research which institutions hire graduates from each of your prospective nursing colleges to ensure graduates compete well for the kinds of jobs that interest you.
What professional expertise can faculty bring to a program?
When seeking a quality RN to BSN degree online, research the faculty members’ educational and professional background, such as how much experience they have in the field and how many years they have been teaching. You want to learn from those who have distinguished themselves in the nursing profession and can effectively train others to do the same.
To what degree will coursework prepare me for my professional interests?
If you have a specific career direction in mind, look for schools with course offerings that specifically prepare you for those professional pursuits. Larger schools tend to offer a wider variety of elective courses. Some small schools, however, may build their course offerings around a specific specialty. Smaller schools may afford students more opportunities to interact with faculty, even in online settings.
Should I research internship requirements ahead of time?
Yes, carefully review each institution’s internship or practicum requirements. Internships can provide an excellent transition for students to integrate their classroom learning into a professional practice. Students should check for internships that offers flexibility, challenge, and professional support. You also want to select a school that provides its students with career placement services.
Will an online program accommodate my time and financial constraints?
Given that an RN to BSN online degree serves the needs of practicing RNs, you want to select a program that fits well with your schedule and lifestyle. Research the program to see if it allows you to accelerate your education, or study-part time to accommodate your professional and family responsibilities. Also, check if the school offers financial aid options to fit your financial constraints.
Scholarships & Financial Aid for RN to BSN Programs
Given the high and growing demand for nursing professionals, many organizations offer financial assistance in the form of scholarships and grants. Check with your selected college and local community foundations, churches, and businesses for nursing scholarships. Some national scholarships, such as those listed below, provide support with more latitude for geographical areas of service. For more information on how to fund your online RN to BSN degree, review information from your prospective school’s financial aid office.
Sponsored by B4 Brands in honor of Barbara Rhomberg, this scholarship supports nontraditional, full-time students pursuing an undergraduate degree in nursing. The one-time $1,000 award goes to someone with at least a three-year gap between high school graduation and enrollment in a BSN program. Applicants must submit a 500-word essay describing their passion for the nursing career. They must describe their nontraditional path. Applicants must also submit two letters of recommendation, including one from their current supervisor.
Sponsored by the Emergency Nurses Association in honor of Elizabeth B. Moore, this renewable $5,000 scholarship supports the education of an undergraduate student who demonstrates interest and merit in emergency nursing. Applicants must also demonstrate financial need. Applicants do not need to be members of the Emergency Nurses Association, but they must include a letter of recommendation from a current member. Applications are due by April 30 of each year, and recipients are notified by August 1.
Also sponsored by the Emergency Nurses Association, this scholarship supports the education of practicing emergency nurses pursuing higher education, such as a RN to BSN. The ENA awards five of these $3,000 scholarships each year. As with all ENA scholarships, applications are due by April 30 of each year, and recipients are notified by August 1.
Sponsored by Arthur J. Gallagher and Company, the Student Health Careers Scholarship assists students in the third or fourth year of their first four-year degree, which is ideal for RN to BSN students. The program awards six scholarships, at $7,500 each, to applicants who demonstrate a strong dedication to a healthcare career, academic excellence, and community services, and who demonstrate financial need. Applicants must submit a 500-word essay along with two recommendation letters.
The United States Health Resources and Services Administration awards this generous financial support package to successful applicants who commit to work in a critical shortage facility for two to four years after graduation. Successful applicants receive financial support for all tuition, eligible fees, and other reasonable costs including books, clinical supplies, and uniforms. HRSA also pays a monthly stipend of $1,363 for the current year. This extensive document explains the scholarship program in greater detail.