Answer: Registered Nurses (RNs) who want to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree can complete an RN-to-BSN program in one to two years of full-time, year-round enrollment, or three to four years of part-time enrollment. The time to completion for these programs varies depending on several factors: how many courses a student takes per semester; the number of general education credits a student needs in addition to core nursing courses; and the structure of the program. Students who enroll full-time in an RN-to-BSN program generally take an average of five courses per semester for three or four consecutive semesters. Students who enroll part-time in these programs may take a reduced course load of two or three course per semester, thereby extending the time to completion by two or more semesters.
RN-to-BSN programs are designed for students who have already received training for RN licensure in ADN (associate degree in nursing) or hospital-based nursing diploma programs. In order to earn a BSN degree, these students must complete general education requirements in areas like English composition, history, social science, and physical sciences, as well as undergraduate nursing coursework in pharmacology, pathophysiology, nursing research, healthcare ethics, and other topics relevant to the professional practice of nursing. Upon acceptance into an RN-to-BSN program, students are typically given credit for previously completed undergraduate-level general education coursework.
There are two primary factors that determine the time it takes to complete an RN-to-BSN program. The first concerns general education requirements. In a typical, 120-credit bachelor’s program, roughly half of the required credits are earned outside of the major, in history, literature, science, and mathematics courses. Prior to enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program, RNs may be able to complete all or most of these general education requirements online or at a community college or university. This can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to earn a BSN. RNs who enter a BSN program without general education credits have to earn those credits while completing the program’s nursing curriculum, which can extend the time to completion significantly.
The other major factor that impacts completion time for an RN-to-BSN program is the number of courses students are able to take per semester. A typical program might include 11 or 12 required nursing courses, which can be completed in three consecutive semesters or 12 months of year-round enrollment by students who can handle a full-time load of up to four or five courses per 15-week semester. For students who prefer a part-time schedule of just two or three courses per semester, a program can be completed in five consecutive semesters, or less than two years, provided the program offers classes during a summer session. The table below provides an overview of full-time and part-time enrollment plans in a program that offers courses year-round:
Courses per Semester
Time to Completion
|Full-time without general education courses||4 or 5||3||12 months|
|Full-time with general education courses||4 or 5||4 to 6||16 to 24 months|
|Part-time without general education courses||2 or 3||5||20 months|
|Part-time with general education courses||2 or 3||6 to 10||24 to 40 months|
An additional consideration for potential applicants to RN-to-BSN involves alternatives to the traditional 15-week semester system. Some programs have abbreviated five- or eight-week terms, during which full-time students may take just one or two courses and still graduate in one to two years. Ultimately, the structure of a program’s academic calendar may not affect the time to completion, but it does impact the number of courses students take per term.