Online RN-to-BSN Degree Programs (ADN to BSN)

Online RN-to-BSN programs provide a pathway for Registered Nurses (RNs) who have graduated from an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN or ASN) program or a nursing diploma program to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Completing a BSN degree is generally thought to increase the earning potential for RNs and broaden their opportunities for career advancement. Some employers may seek out BSN graduates for positions that entail more responsibility and require a higher level of scholarship than an ADN program. An online RN-to-BSN program is often the next step for ADN trained nurses looking to enhance their professional status and deepen their knowledge of nursing practices.

What is a BSN Degree?

A traditional BSN is a four-year undergraduate science degree with a curriculum that includes general education in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, as well as targeted training and instruction in the professional practice of nursing. At the bachelor’s level, nursing students complete introductory healthcare courses, as well as intermediate and advanced courses in research methodologies, evidence-based practice, healthcare technologies, professional communication, and organizational leadership. RN-to-BSN programs are designed to offer upper-level nursing coursework to RNs who have already completed all or most of their introductory classes and clinical training through an ADN or nursing diploma program.

RN-to-BSN programs also offer RNs the opportunity to complete additional general education courses required for the conferral of a bachelor’s degree. Because these programs are designed for RNs who have already met state requirements for supervised clinical training as an RN, they often do not include a significant number of additional clinical hours. As a result, students in RN-to-BSN programs are typically able to earn a bachelor’s degree in one to two years rather than four, depending on the number of credits they can transfer over from prior coursework.

Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Online RN-to-BSN programs utilize distance-learning technologies to provide licensed RNs with the same training in nursing offered by traditional campus-based programs. Students in an online program receive all or most of the required coursework through a learning management system (LMS). The LMS allows students to access and view lectures, assignments, and other instructional materials from anywhere with an Internet connection. The LMS may also be used to facilitate discussion groups and other interactions with classmates, as well as communication with instructors and academic advisors. Many RN-to-BSN programs offer 100% of their coursework online. However, some programs may require students to attend a limited number of training sessions or orientations on campus. Online RN-to-BSN programs may also include a practicum or supervised clinical experience, which can typically be completed at an approved location that is convenient for students.

Note: While all of the programs described here allow students to complete the nursing curriculum online, some programs may not offer any or all of the general education coursework that is required to graduate online. Therefore, for these types of programs, students are typically expected to complete the general education requirements at a local college or online from a school whose credits will transfer towards the BSN degree.

How OnlineEducation.com Identifies and Classifies Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Most accredited online RN-to-BSN programs are designed for licensed RNs who have completed an ADN curriculum or a hospital-based nursing diploma program. Through independent research, OnlineEducation.com identifies regionally accredited schools that have programmatic accreditation from one of two nationally recognized bodies: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation by the ACEN and/or the CCNE indicates that the program offers a curriculum consistent with the framework outlined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in The Essentials of Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice and/or the guidelines laid out in ACEN’s standards and criteria for baccalaureate nursing programs. In addition, OnlineEducation.com classifies programs based on whether or not they require students to attend campus-based sessions. RN-to-BSN programs that require more than three campus visits per year are not currently included on the site.

What Students Learn in Online BSN Programs

The core BSN curriculum is designed to develop a broad understanding of the role of nurses in the context of the larger healthcare system and to provide students with critical-thinking skills and professional knowledge that lead to better nursing practices. Students learn about patient-care technologies, the use of research in evidence-based practice, and the impact of healthcare policy and finance on the delivery of quality patient services. BSN programs often provide additional clinical instruction in the areas of pharmacology, physiology, and patient assessment, and introduce theories and concepts of population and community health. They also include coursework aimed at helping students cultivate leadership, management, and communication skills that are useful in direct-care settings and in the clinical microsystems that are integral to nursing. It is also not uncommon for the BSN curriculum to include a capstone or practicum that gives students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in a clinical setting or as part of a self-directed project.

Another curricular component of a RN-to-BSN program involves general education coursework. These are the science and humanities courses that all undergraduates at regionally accredited colleges and universities are required to complete as part of a bachelor’s degree. Specific general education requirements vary by program, but they typically includes classes in English composition, natural and social sciences, history, and literature. RN-to-BSN programs typically allow students to transfer credits in these subjects and in introductory nursing courses like anatomy, nutrition, and statistics over from prior academic programs. As noted above, some programs offer these courses in addition to the nursing curriculum, while others expect students to complete these requirements at a local college or online university.

Common Courses in an Online RN-to-BSN Program

The table below offers an overview of core BSN coursework, which typically encompasses between ten and 15 classes, depending on the structure of an individual program. These course titles and descriptions are derived from actual online RN-to-BSN program curricula.

Course Title
Course Description
Professional NursingAn historical and societal overview of nursing practice and the role of the nurse in the healthcare system, and an examination of contemporary issues in professional nursing.
Health AssessmentSystematic health assessment of individuals using the tools of biological science.
Ethical & Legal Considerations in HealthcareHealthcare policy, ethical decision-making, and legal concerns in professional nursing.
Patient Care Technologies & Information ManagementIT and telecommunications technologies in the nursing profession, including electronic healthcare records, patient portals, and the protection of patient data.
Nursing Research & Evidence-Based PracticeThe use of healthcare research to improve outcomes in nursing.
Healthcare Delivery SystemsTheories and systems of healthcare and their impact on the practice of nursing and the delivery of patient services.
Community Focused NursingCommunity- and population-centered nursing and the use of epidemiology and other scientific methods to improve community health.
PathophysiologySymptom diagnosis using scientific concepts, including genetics, stress, nutrition, cognition, and other aspects of human physiology.
Healthcare Management & FinanceProblem solving and decision making in healthcare settings and strategies for improving productivity and patient outcomes in nursing.
BSN CapstoneA 90-hour practicum experience.

Admissions to Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Admission criteria and requirements vary by school and by program. Applicants to online RN-to-BSN programs generally must have a valid and unencumbered state RN license, although some programs may admit students provisionally if they are in the process of licensure. While RN licensure is the main admissions requirement, some programs are designed specifically for RNs with an ADN degree rather than a nursing diploma. Students with a nursing diploma from a hospital-based training program should contact programs directly to determine whether they qualify for admission. Programs may additionally require that applicants have a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or better from prior college-level coursework and/or a C- or better grade in one or more college-level courses (statistics, biology, sociology, psychology, chemistry, nutrition, anatomy). Finally, schools may require students to submit scores from one of three standardized tests: SAT, ACT, or TEAS.

Online RN-to-BSN Program Format Options

Students entering an online program are typically already licensed to practice nursing, have accrued enough clinical experience for licensure, and may already be working full- or part-time. As a result, online RN-to-BSN programs are structured to be flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of students who may have significant commitments outside of school. However, not all online programs are the same. There are several key differences in formatting that can be important consideration for potential applicants. These include the method of online instruction; full-time and part-time enrollment options; and whether or not the program includes required campus visits.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: The two primary modes for delivering online courses are synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Synchronous instruction takes place in real-time and requires that students be logged on to an LMS for designated class meetings and lectures. It is similar to campus-based instruction in this regard. Asynchronous instruction allows students to access lectures and other course materials at their own convenience by logging on to an LMS and following a set syllabus with clear due dates for assignments. While asynchronous instruction offers more flexibility, it also requires more self-discipline than synchronous instruction. Potential applicants should consider which mode of instruction might be preferable and look for programs that offer the type of online instruction that is best suited to their learning style.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: Online RN-to-BSN programs may offer different enrollment options that allow students to complete courses at a pace that best suits their schedule. Programs that are offered full-time can typically be completed in one to two years, depending on the number of general education requirements students need to complete, and on the number of courses a student enrolls in per semester. A student who enrolls full-time in an online program should be prepared to take three-to-five core BSN courses per semester for three or four semesters. Students who opt for part-time enrollment in an equivalent program might only take two or three core BSN courses per semester, which would then extend the time to completion by another two or three semesters. It is important to note that general education coursework and any introductory nursing coursework that students must complete will add to the total number of credits that must be earned prior to graduation, either extending the time to completion or increasing the number of courses a student needs to take per semester.

Campus Visits: There are RN-to-BSN programs that are offered 100% online and do not require students to attend any campus-based instructional activities. There are also programs that require a limited number of on-campus sessions, typically for the purposes of orientation and/or in-person instruction and networking activities. These sessions generally last a weekend, but can last longer (e.g., a week long campus session). While they provide an opportunity for students to meet with instructors and receive hands-on training, they may not be ideal for students who cannot or would prefer not to travel to a campus or other designated location during the program. Prospective applicant should carefully examine programs to determine whether or not they require campus visits. OnlineEducation.com does not include any RN-to-BSN programs that require more than three campus visits per year.