The field of nursing is one of the few career paths that can change roles by adding relatively little education. Not just education from a school but even adding certifications or agreeing to do an RN training program within the workplace can drastically change the nurse’s day-to-day job duties. Because of this job flexibility, many nurses work in the field until retirement but may have worn many hats. This flexibility is one of many reasons students choose nursing as a major.

An Associate's degree is the minimum required to become a registered nurse, but many nurses find they want to add to this degree through an RN to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) bridge program. Others choose to earn the BSN through an accelerated direct entry BSN or a traditional 4-year program without becoming an RN first.

Role of the BSN Educated Registered Nurse

The BSN-educated RN may work in the same roles as the Associate's degree-educated RN, plus a few more. Many large teaching hospitals only hire BSN-educated RNs or require associate-educated RNs to earn the BSN within a specific time after hire.

Roles for BSN educated RNs include:

  • Bedside RN
    • Emergency Department
    • Intensive Care Unit or Critical Care
    • Operating Room
    • Labor and Delivery
    • Medical-Surgical Floor
    • Orthopaedic Floor
    • Oncology Floor
    • Mental and Behavioral Health
    • Skilled Nursing Facility
    • Long-Term Care Facility
  • Education
    • Clinical Instructor
    • Professor to Associate's degree or Licensed Practical Nurse students
    • Nurse Educator
  • Director
  • Research
  • Informatics
  • Administration
    • Nursing Supervisor
    • Director of Nursing

Learn more about RN Careers & Specialties.

Direct Entry or Accelerated BSN

The Direct Entry or Accelerated BSN program is intended for students with a Bachelor's degree in another major. Instead of taking all the prerequisites required for every Bachelor's degree, such as English and Math, the Accelerated BSN focuses only on nursing classes and prerequisites. These include Anatomy, physiology, and the sciences.

Some schools offer Accelerated BSN programs that are as short as 15 months. Tuition for these programs may be higher than traditional routes, but the student can begin working as an RN faster and earn more money over his or her lifetime.

Traditional BSN

The traditional BSN program is intended for students without a bachelor's degree and those not already RNs. For RNs with an Associate's degree or diploma, the RN to BSN Bridge program would be a better fit due to its shorter programs and easily accessible online formats.

Universities across the country offer BSN programs. With so many options, it can be hard to know which one to choose.

The top 4 things to look for in nursing schools are:

  • Convenience
  • Affordability
  • Accreditation
  • NCLEX-RN eligibility and "pass rates"


Being able to get to school and get clinical locations on time is very important. Many schools are extremely strict about attendance. They want to instill a sense of professionalism and responsibility in their students so that they become professional and responsible nurses. A minute or two late for class or clinical will penalize a student. Having a reliable car or transportation and living within a reasonable distance of the school and clinical sites is something look for in a school.


Nursing schools offer financial aid, scholarships, and grants. Most students can not afford to pay cash for school, so schools are usually very helpful in helping students get money to attend.


Reasons to choose an accredited nursing school include:

  • Transferrable credits
  • NCLEX-RN eligibility
Transferrable credits

Graduate schools may not accept a student into their program who holds a Bachelor's degree from a school that the appropriate agencies do not accredit. Nursing schools can be accredited by agencies regionally, nationally, or both.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes agencies for regional accreditation for 2015-2016:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC)
  •  Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE)) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

CHEA recognizes 56 national agencies for 2015-2016 accreditation, but the major national agencies are:

  • ACEN (formerly NLNAC) Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is a national accreditation body and can provide accreditation to schools offering diploma, Associate's, Bachelor's, and Post-Bachelor's degrees
  • CCNE Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is a national accreditation body providing accreditation for Bachelor's, graduate, and residency nursing programs
NCLEX-RN Eligibility and "Pass Rates"

The NCLEX-RN is a national exam that nursing school graduates must successfully pass to be licensed by the state in which they live. Licensure is mandatory to begin practicing as an RN.

The state's board of nursing determines eligibility for the NCLEX-RN. Before deciding on a nursing school, check with the state board of nursing to determine eligibility requirements. Some states will not accept a degree from schools that are not accredited by the right agencies.

The state nursing board and nursing schools carefully track successful "pass rates" of the NCLEX-RN exam. This number measures how well students are prepared to pass the exam, which is mandatory to start working, and how well-educated students are upon graduation. The information is public knowledge and can be found on the state's nursing board website.


Most schools require 120-180 credit hours, and credit hours can be anywhere from $300-1600.

The range is vast. Check with local schools first because in-state tuition is drastically less expensive than out-of-state tuition.

Additional costs include:

  • Program fees
  • Uniform costs, including shoes
  • Equipment costs, such as a stethoscope
  • CPR certification fees
  • Lab fees
  • Transportation costs
  • Student health insurance is to be purchased through the school if the student does not have it
  • Meals during class and clinicals
  • Parking for school and clinical sites

To help pay for school financial aid, scholarships, and grants are available.

Financial Aid

Most schools, accredited by the appropriate agencies, offer federal financial aid. To learn more about eligibility and to apply, visit the school’s financial aid office and complete a FAFSA.

Scholarships and Grants

Nursing school scholarships are available to those who qualify. The Sigma Theta Tau website, the Honor Society of Nursing, offers many opportunities.

Read more about the cost of RN programs.

Length of Time

Traditional BSN programs take about four years to complete. This includes all non-nursing prerequisite classes as well as nursing prerequisites and nursing classes. The nursing program itself is about 2 years.

Clinical hours are included in this time as well. Some schools require as many as 800 clinical hours to graduate from the program. This number is determined by the board of nursing for each state but many schools exceed this requirement.

Requirements for BSN Degree

Requirements for a BSN degree vary by university and include both general education requirements to complete prerequisites prior to nursing school admission and nursing school admission requirements.

General education requirements include:

  • College Academic Distribution Requirements (CADR) completion which is the completion of 6 subject areas
    • English
    • Mathematics
    • Social Sciences
    • World Languages
    • Lab Science
    • Senior Year Math-Based Quantitative Course
  • Fine, Visual, or Performing Arts
  • Academic Elective
  • Good GPA
    • Not always a specific number for Freshman
  • Personal achievements
  • Volunteering
  • Community service
  • Leadership activities
  • After-school activities

Requirements for the nursing school program include:

  • Cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher
  • Completion of required prerequisite courses, usually some sciences, math, and English courses
  • Resume
  • Three reference letters
  • About 100 hours of healthcare experience as volunteer hours or employment

BSN Curriculum

Prerequisite coursework is completed during the first 2 years of the traditional BSN program then the student can apply to nursing school for the last 2 years.

BSN curriculum includes:

  • General education
  • Nursing prerequisites
  • Nursing school coursework

General education courses include:

  • English
  • Math
  • Foreign language
  • Computer literacy
  • Communications
  • Humanities
  • Natural Sciences
  • Social sciences

Nursing prerequisites include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Microbiology

Nursing school curriculum varies by the school as well as course titles, but generally includes:

  • Nursing care for the geriatric adult
  • Nursing care of infants, children, and adolescents
  • Nursing care of adults
  • Maternal and Newborn Health
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Wellness Promotion
  • Research and Evidence-Based Practice

NCLEX-RN Exam and Licensing

For any nursing school graduate to become a registered nurse he or she must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This is true for Associate's degrees as well as BSN graduates. The NCLEX-RN is a national exam for which schools teach students the information they need to pass.

NCLEX-RN Exam Eligibility

The State will verify the student meets all the requirements and is eligible to take the NCLEX-RN examination through the application process. Prior to admission, most schools will verify the student is eligible to be licensed.

Eligibility is determined by each state but generally includes:

  • Receipt of Certificate of Completion from nursing school upon graduation
  • Criminal background without felonies or any violent or sexual crime
  • No current usage of chemical substances which impair the ability to practice nursing
  • No medical or psychological condition impairs the ability to practice nursing
  • US Citizen or legal alien
  • Receipt of official transcripts
  • AIDS Awareness class completion

RN Licensure

Immediately after graduation, the student must follow these steps to become licensed and eligible to begin seeking employment as an RN to take the NCLEX-RN exam:

  1. Learn about eligibility to take the NCLEX from your state board of nursing
  2. Register with Pearson Vue and pay the application fee
  3. Receive the Authorization to Test from Pearson Vue
  4. Schedule the NCLEX-RN exam through Pearson Vue at a testing center near you before the Authorization to Test expires to avoid additional fees

Once the NCLEX-RN exam is passed successfully the RN will officially be a licensed Registered Nurse. Most states participate in Nursys which verifies licensure for nurses but a paper license will be mailed out as well. Nursys verification is faster and students can immediately begin looking for work as an RN!

Check out our NCLEX-RN practice test with over 200 questions with rationales.

RN Salary

BSN-educated RNs typically make $67,000 to $77,000 per year. RNs usually work for an hourly wage. Over time, working the night shift which offers a shift differential, and taking educational classes are great ways to earn extra money. Salary also rises quickly with experience and certifications.


Location tends to affect nursing salaries. The more desirable a location the fewer money RNs typically make. However, if the city has a high cost of living employers must pay higher wages to attract and keep RNs. Generally, New York and California RNs are some of the highest-paid in the country. Check out our RN Salary Tool to see salary information for your area.


Many certifications are available to RNs. Often a year or so of experience is required to take certification exams.

RN Jobs to Expect

New graduate RNs should seek positions entitled:

  • New Grad RN
  • Nurse Intern
  • Nurse Internships
  • New Graduate RN Program

New graduate RNs need to be trained within a chosen specialty. Nursing school is designed to teach a very broad set of skills that are used in every area of nursing. When the graduate chooses a specialty the employer will teach new skills specific to the specialty and be sure the RN is safe before working without the direct supervision of a preceptor.

Search RN jobs.

RN Employment

Bachelor's educated nurses are able to work in a variety of healthcare environments. These include:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Physician's offices
  • Education for Associate's level nursing students or below
  • Management
  • Nursing Leadership
  • Research
  • Large teaching hospitals which require a BSN for entry-level RN position

Read more about RN resumes, RN interview tips, and working as an RN.