What Is a Bachelor’s in Nursing? 2024 Degree Guide

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Earn a bachelor's in nursing degree to pursue a career as a nurse. Discover bachelor in nursing career paths, specific jobs, and top employers for BSN degree graduates

[Featured Image] A bachelor's degree graduate holds a diploma.

Nursing is a rewarding, in-demand profession ideal for anyone who wants to make a difference in health care. Nurses have many career options working, including in clinical or non-clinical settings. One way to achieve a career in nursing is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). 

While there are other educational pathways to pursue a career in nursing, a BSN degree is the preferred educational qualification by most employers. It is also the base prerequisite for the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and many advanced certifications you may want to pursue as you advance through your career. 

What exactly is a Bachelor of Nursing degree (BSN)?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, also known as a BSN, is a four-year undergraduate degree intended for students who want to pursue a career as a registered nurse (RN) or beyond. It’s the foundational undergraduate degree for most careers in clinical nursing. With a BSN degree, you'll prepare for a career in nursing with foundational skills in pharmacology, anatomy, ethics in health care, and microbiology. BSN degrees have a clinical component where students complete a set number of clinical hours before graduation. BSN students may also choose to concentrate in a specific field of nursing.

BSN degree programs can be completed online or in person, depending on the school. Some schools also offer bridge programs and accelerated BSN programs that may not take the entire four years to complete. Admittance requirements for a BSN include a high school or associate degree. GPA requirements, coursework, and previous experience in health care vary by program. BSN programs should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

How long does it take to earn a bachelor's in nursing?

It takes four years to earn a traditional BSN degree. Other types of BSN degrees will not take a full four years. Accelerated BSN degrees allow students who hold a bachelor's degree in another discipline to earn a BSN in 11 to 18 months, depending on the program. Bridge programs may also be available to RNs who hold an associate degree and want to earn a BSN degree. These programs are called RN to BSN and typically take about the same as other accelerated programs to complete, between 11 and 18 months. 

Typical requirements for a BSN degree program

Expect requirements vary by BSN program. Typical requirements include GPA, SAT scores, degree program application, personal references, and relevant experiences related to nursing. Some specific admittance requirements that are typical of a BSN degree program include:

  • High school diploma or GED 

  • GPA of 3.00-3.25 or higher (depends on school and program type)

  • Successful completion of prerequisite high school and college coursework (chemistry, biology, and other science and math courses)

  • Passing the SAT or TEAS (score requirements vary by school) 

  • Submission of nursing school application which may include varying components such as an essay, letters of recommendation, and volunteer experience

Research requirements for entry prior to applying. Prepare to explain to the admissions department why you want to become a nurse and how this program can help you with your personal and professional goals. Most programs include an essay component that is your chance to show your personality.

How much does a BS in nursing cost?

The average total cost of tuition to attend a bachelor in nursing program ranges from $40,000 to over $100,000, according to Nurse Journal [1]. Prepare to pay registration, application, and technology fees. Most BSN students pay for their books and supplies, scrubs/uniform, immunizations and physical examinations, insurance, and room and board if living on campus.

Factors that impact the total tuition cost for a BSN degree include whether the school is in or out of state and whether the school is a public or private university. Public schools typically have lower overall tuition costs and more financial aid opportunities. Financial aid opportunities may be available to students through scholarships, government-funded aid, school-funded aid, and military discounts. 

Common BSN concentrations

Nursing students may be able to choose a specialization or concentration while pursuing a BSN degree. Concentration options vary by school. Choosing to specialize in a certain area of nursing can positively impact your earning potential after graduation. With your BSN degree concentration, you may pursue specific nursing careers that may require additional certification, education, or experience. Here are a few common concentrations to consider:

  • Adult health nursing: This concentration focuses on providing nursing care to adults, including assessing and managing chronic illnesses, acute medical conditions, and other health problems.

  • Pediatric nursing: This concentration focuses on providing nursing care to children and adolescents, including the assessment and management of common pediatric health conditions.

  • Mental health nursing: This concentration focuses on providing nursing care for patients with mental health conditions, including assessment, intervention, and prevention of mental health problems.

  • Obstetrics and gynecology nursing: This concentration focuses on the care of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum periods, as well as addressing women's health concerns throughout their lifespans.

  • Community health nursing: This concentration focuses on health promotion and disease prevention in the community. Students in this concentration learn to work with populations to address public health concerns, such as health education, community outreach, and disease prevention.

  • Geriatric nursing: This concentration focuses on providing nursing care to older adults, including assessing and managing the unique health challenges faced by the elderly population.

  • Nursing leadership: This concentration focuses on developing the skills and knowledge needed to effectively manage nursing teams, including leadership strategies, budgeting, staffing, and organizational behavior.

  • Critical care nursing: This concentration prepares students to provide specialized nursing care to patients who are critically ill or injured, often in settings such as intensive care units (ICUs). Students in this concentration learn to manage complex medical devices, interpret lab results, and make quick and informed decisions.

  • Oncology nursing: This concentration focuses on the care of patients with cancer. Students in this concentration learn about cancer biology, treatments, symptom management, and patient education. They also learn to provide compassionate care and support to patients and their families.

  • Emergency nursing: This concentration focuses on providing nursing care in emergency situations, such as trauma, cardiac arrest, or other life-threatening conditions. Students learn to work in fast-paced and high-stress environments, and to quickly assess and stabilize patients.

Common BSN coursework

Coursework as part of a BSN program prepares students with the skills necessary to provide medical care in various settings and understand the health care system. This coursework focuses on the foundational skills every nurse will need, whether working as an RN or specialized nurse. Common core BSN coursework may include: 

  • Biology 

  • Chemistry

  • Clinical reasoning 

  • Ethics

  • Foundations of nursing practice 

  • Human development 

  • Mental health 

  • Microbiology

  • Nursing management 

  • Nutrition and diet

  • Psychology 

  • Science and technology of nursing 

  • Statistics

BSN nursing students also complete a set number of clinical hours. The amount of hours required depends on the program and ranges from 300 and 700 hours. Where you complete your clinical experience depends on your concentration, among other factors like location and availability.  

Benefits of a bachelor's in nursing degree 

Nurses are a necessity in health care. BSN degrees are the foundational degree for several jobs in health care, even those outside of nursing, and the first step to pursuing a career in nursing. Nurses are generally well respected in health care and get the opportunity to help others daily. Confidently create a long-term career in health care and reap the benefits as a BSN degree graduate, which might include: 

Higher earnings

BSN degree holders earn more than associate degree holders in the same position. Eligibility requirements for higher-paying nursing jobs likely include a BSN degree. As you gain experience in nursing, you can pursue higher-paying positions in specialized fields of nursing and even leadership positions. Many of these positions pay more and include additional benefits like bonuses, profit sharing, paid time off, and insurance options. 

Career opportunities

BSN graduates who pass the NCLEX-RN are open to various bachelor in nursing career paths. RNs are needed in many different settings, which provide BSN degree holders the opportunity to work with diverse populations. RNs can work in physicians’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes, or patients'  homes. Employers of nurses include nonprofit organizations, government agencies, educational organizations, and more.  

Advanced career opportunities in nursing will likely require a BSN degree to enroll in a master’s degree program in nursing or earn advanced certifications. For example, all APRN positions require an MSN degree and certification. Leadership positions also require further education. A BSN degree is a core requirement before attaining either of these qualifications. While a BSN degree is a core requirement before achieving these qualifications, some schools offer direct-MSN programs that allow students to earn a master's in nursing with a non-nursing bachelor's degree. 

Job security

Most employers prefer hiring candidates with a BSN degree over an associate in nursing or other qualifications. Hospitals and other health care providers seek highly trained professionals to meet the demands of health care needs in the US. When you earn a BSN degree, you’re improving your chances of being hired and increasing job security. 

Advanced skills

BSN degree programs prepare students for the reality of a nursing career, which likely involves a skill set balanced in technical and personal skills key to professional success. It’s critical to know technical skills like the dynamics of human anatomy, but it’s also important to learn effective patient communication, critical thinking, and leadership skills. The coursework and clinical experience part of an accredited BSN degree program specifically focus on in-demand skills nurses need, meaning BSN graduates leave with a more advanced skill set than other non-nursing or lesser degrees. 

Better patient outcomes

Multiple reports have shown BSN-educated nurses provide better quality care to patients.  Higher quality care equates to better patient outcomes ranging from lower mortality rates to fewer errors when caring for patients. Employers seek BSN graduates for the advanced education tailored to nursing profession. With a BSN degree diploma comes the knowledge that this candidate has real-world experience in clinical nursing and the training necessary to offer a higher level of care to patients of varying needs.  

BSN job outlook

A BSN degree sets you up for a career in the nursing field. When choosing a BSN job, prepare to have many directions to take after graduation. Non-clinical nursing jobs in administration or operations, specialized nursing positions that focus on a certain disorder, condition, or disease, and nursing jobs providing care to a specific population are all possible with a BSN degree. 

Most BSN graduates take the NCLEX-RN exam, which means you're officially a registered nurse (RN). This licensure is the prerequisite if you plan to enroll in a master’s program in nursing or gain certain specialized certifications.  Most specialized nursing positions beyond an RN require an MSN degree and certification. 

The outlook for BSN jobs is optimistic as there is a continual need for medical care. Between 2021 and 2031, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects a 6 percent growth rate for RNs [2].

Nursing shortages due to the COVID-19 pandemic have created an even higher demand for nurses. Employers are trying to retain nurses while filling openings by offering a variety of incentives ranging from higher pay to tuition assistance for nursing students. The 2022 Nurse.com Salary Report found that 25 percent of nurses surveyed reported a 25 percent salary increase since the start of the pandemic [3].  

Is a bachelor's in nursing right for you?

If you see yourself working in nursing or health care long-term, a BSN degree can provide you with the qualifications and credentials you’ll need to advance your career in health care. Nurses who gain professional experience can become specialized nurses who deliver babies, administer anesthesia, and even create and implement hospital policies. With so many directions to take your nursing career, a BSN is an assurance that you meet the educational requirements to pursue more advanced degrees and credentials.

Ready to start the journey?  

Enrolling in a BSN degree program is a big step. Discover more about BSN degree programs and the entire nursing field, along with the jobs available to you before making the commitment. On Coursera, you can find helpful career-guided courses like Career 911: Your Future Job in Medicine and Healthcare

If you know that you want to pursue nursing, find out more about specializations through courses such as Nursing Informatics Leadership or Infection Prevention in Nursing Homes. These courses can help give your career path some direction and can be listed as educational credentials on resumes.

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Article sources


Nurse Journal. "How Much Does Nursing School Cost?, https://nursejournal.org/resources/how-much-does-nursing-school-cost/." Accessed February 22, 2023.

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