What is a BSN and how can it help prospective nurses? Nurses with a BSN degree can pursue leadership roles in healthcare organizations. An online RN-to-BSN program gives students the flexibility to continue working while earning their degree. In addition to online coursework, BSN students must complete practicum and clinical requirements. Online BSN nursing programs typically allow students to complete these requirements at an approved site in their community.
Graduates with an online BSN degree can pursue leadership roles like nursing director, nurse manager, and nurse case manager. A BSN degree also helps graduates pursue a variety of specialties, including pediatric nurse, ICU nurse, emergency nurse, and surgical nurse.
This page ranks the best online RN-to-BSN programs to help prospective students find the right program for their schedule and career goals. It also covers the steps required to earn an online BSN degree, common admission requirements, and what to expect during an online BSN program.
Online RN-to-BSN programs help registered nurses (RNs) advance their careers. Nurses with a BSN typically make more than RNs with only an associate degree or diploma. For example, PayScale reports that nurses with a BSN earn an average of $83,000 per year while nurses with an associate degree earn $69,000 per year.
While many nursing jobs only require an associate degree or diploma in nursing, roles with added responsibilities often require a BSN degree. For example, administrative positions, like lead nurse or nursing director, typically require a BSN. The BSN curriculum incorporates leadership coursework to train students in managing nursing teams, collaborating effectively with other healthcare providers, and supervising nursing departments.
Nursing positions in research, consulting, and teaching also often require a bachelor’s degree. In these roles, nurses help develop and implement new policies, research practices designed to improve patient outcomes, and educate other nurses in healthcare settings. They may also advise organizations on ways to improve community health outcomes or educate groups about wellness.
A BSN degree also prepares nurses for graduate programs in nursing. After earning an online RN-to-BSN degree, nurses can enroll in MSN programs to become nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, advanced practice RNs earned a median annual salary of $115,800 in 2019. MSN programs also train students for nurse educator roles.
Common Online RN-to-BSN Courses
Evidence-Based Practice: This class examines research-backed healthcare policies and how to implement evidence-based improvements. Nurses also explore the relationship between research and healthcare quality. Additionally, they may examine safety measures and their relationship to evidence-based practice. Students gain strong analytical and research skills in this class.
Community Nursing: This course explores the nurse’s role in healthcare delivery within a community setting. Students learn about the relationship between clients and client systems within a community while studying community wellness. Many community nursing classes take an interdisciplinary approach, combining public health, social science, and behavioral science methods. Nurses learn how to assess communities, implement community health policies, and evaluate health services.
Population-Based Health: Classes on population-based health explore methods that promote public health. Learners may study disease prevention on a global scale, local health promotion, and family health nursing. Nursing students also learn about the roles that factors like lifestyle, genetics, environment, and culture play in determining health.
Leadership in Nursing: This course introduces students to nursing leadership theories and practices. Students may learn about management of care, ethical practice, and resource management in nursing. Learners also study the delegation process and schedule management. The course may include practicum hours where students research a problem in the field and apply an evidence-based solution.
RN-to-BSN Practicum: Online nursing students complete practicum requirements to strengthen their professional skills. During the practicum, students may complete onsite training in areas like nursing leadership, community health nursing, and public health nursing. Depending on the program, the practicum may also incorporate an evidence-based project. Because RNs already bring clinical training to their BSN degree, many online RN-to-BSN programs require fewer than 100 practicum hours.
Featured Online Schools
Online RN-to-BSN Program Concentrations
Many online RN-to-BSN programs include concentrations that allow students to specialize their skills. Offerings vary by program, but we cover several common concentrations below.
Nursing Leadership: During a nursing leadership concentration, students complete courses on healthcare management, preparing for leadership roles in the field. They may also manage a leadership project to build hands-on skills.
Pediatrics: A pediatrics concentration prepares nurses for roles in pediatric nursing in primary and acute-care settings. The program may include clinical rotations in pediatric care settings.
Primary Care: Primary care concentrations may include courses on nursing practice across the lifespan and a family systems approach to nursing. The concentration prepares nurses for roles in primary care settings.
Gerontology: A concentration in gerontology provides training in caring for elderly patients, including end-of-life and hospice care. Learners study topics like acute care, chronic illnesses, and palliative care. Graduates may work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and rehabilitative care centers.
Public Health: This concentration trains nurses to incorporate evidence-based practice in caring for population health. Nurses learn to promote immunizations, prevent infection, and evaluate environmental health.
Online RN-to-BSN Program Requirements
Online RN-to-BSN programs often set several requirements for admission. Most of these programs require an associate degree or diploma in nursing from an accredited nursing program. RN-to-BSN programs may also require a minimum GPA for admission, which typically ranges from 2.5-3.0. Applicants who do not meet this requirement may apply for provisional admission, depending on the program.
Before entering an online RN-to-BSN program, nurses typically need a state-issued RN license, which requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Nursing students must hold a valid RN license in the state in which they plan to complete the BSN program’s clinical requirements.
Online RN-to-BSN programs may also require at least one year of professional experience in nursing for admission. However, other programs admit students directly from an RN program. Because admission requirements vary by program, nurses should carefully research the requirements for each prospective program.
Steps to Earn a BSN
Enroll in an RN-to-BSN Program. Before enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program, RNs must meet several requirements, including holding a current RN license in the state in which they plan to complete the program’s clinical requirements.
Nursing students may also need to submit a portfolio demonstrating their educational and professional experience. Many RN-to-BSN programs grant credit for this portfolio, which saves students time and money on a BSN degree.
Complete Academic Courses. RNs earning a BSN degree typically complete around 30 credits of nursing coursework, divided between classroom-based instruction and clinical requirements. The curriculum often includes courses on topics like evidence-based practice, nursing leadership, and community nursing. Depending on the program, online nursing students may watch pre-recorded lectures, attend virtual classes, and participate in online discussions with fellow students. Many nursing programs use an asynchronous format, which does not require set meeting times.
Complete Clinicals or Work Experience Requirements. Most RN-to-BSN programs include clinical requirements. Clinical hours may emphasize areas like public health nursing, community nursing, and nursing leadership. Students pursuing a specific concentration may complete additional clinical hours in that field. Online nursing students can typically complete clinical requirements at an approved local site. Working nurses may be able to meet this requirement at their current workplace.
Complete a Capstone Project. Many online BSN programs incorporate a capstone project at the conclusion of the degree. Students may design a project to improve patient health outcomes or implement a new policy in a healthcare setting. A faculty member or praeceptor may supervise the capstone project. Like the clinical requirement, the capstone project applies classroom training in a real-world setting. Nurses expand their professional practice while building leadership skills. After completing the capstone project and meeting all other graduation requirements, online nursing students earn their BSN degree.
2021’s Five Best Online RN-to-BSN Programs
With several universities offering online RN-to-BSN programs, finding the right program seems complicated. Here, we have researched, organized, and assembled a list of the best online RN-to-BSN programs of 2021.
Each program holds regional or industry-specific accreditation or both, holding it to the highest standards. Accreditations for these top five RN-to-BSN programs include:
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN)
In creating the following list of the top online BSN programs for RNs, reviewers considered multiple factors. Student-reported satisfaction rates played a major role in the rankings, with reviewers using resources such as PayScale and Rate My Professors to glean meaningful insights into institution-specific trends.
Earning potential is also a critical evaluation factor, accounting for 30% of each school’s overall score. Reviewers supplemented these essential criteria by looking at student retention data, admission rates, and program affordability. Together, these factors combine to create a reliable way to conduct at-a-glance comparisons to help you discern the best school for your needs and goals.
For an in-depth breakdown of how we calculate each ranking, check out our Methodology page.