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WRITTEN BY: Kyra Sutherland
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 11/22/2023

Editorial Values and Practices

Deciding whether to enroll in an online RN to BSN program is all about weighing the pros and cons of staying where you are against those of taking a step further. If you were to put your hands up on either side of you, like they were a scale, would your status as a registered nurse weigh more or less than your potential as a BSN? Do you know? To find out, you have to ask the right questions. How long is an RN to BSN online program? Is it worth the time and money it? Will it cut into your current work hours and obligations? Are there financial aid options for students like you?

Though we’d love to answer all your questions about RN to BSN programs, in this article we want to focus on that first one: How long is an RN to BSN online program? Each of us has a finite amount of time at our disposal, so pursuing something tome-intensive has to be worth it, right? Below we’ll peek at sample program timelines, discuss factors that can affect how long an RN to BSN online program can take, take a deeper dive into several top-tier RN to BSN programs across the country, and teach you how to avoid and recover from mistakes that can extend the length of your RN to BSN online program.

Take a Sneak Peek at a Sample Program Timeline

Though every student’s timeline will be different, we’ve outlined a standard program timeline below to attempt to answer the question, “How long is an RN to BSN online?”. It goes without saying that many variables can and will affect the length of your program, but there are some constants you can rely on. Below we’ll discuss common what you can expect to do before your program begins, the classes you’ll take on a semester-by-semester basis, and the opportunities and decisions you’ll come up against at the end of your program.

Pre-Program

The first step toward completing an online RN to BSN bridge program is researching your options. You’ll need to know what program format and timeline works best for you according to your specific needs, goals, and interests. Once you’ve decided on a program, you’ll need to ensure you’ve completed all the prerequisites, before finally submitting your application. If you’ve completed the necessary prerequisites, you can breeze through this stage in the process. Otherwise, you’ll have to allot at least a semester to completing these courses.

Semester 1

Depending on the program you are accepted into, you may be able to transfer in previously earned nursing credits in your first semester. Alternatively, you may have the option to test out of certain courses. The first semester in many RN to BSN programs typically includes a nursing transition course or health assessment course. In addition to one to two advanced nursing courses, you can also expect to spend the first semester of your program taking the general education courses you need to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Semester 2

In your second semester, you’ll continue chipping away at the general education courses alongside your advanced nursing courses. Some of the nursing courses you encounter may cover topics in Collaborative Healthcare, RN Evidence-Based Practice, Community Health Nursing, Information Technology in Nursing Practice, and Comprehensive Health Assessment, among others.

Semester 3

Some programs require students to participate in traditional clinicals as part of their RN to BSN curriculum, while others allow you complete clinical hours at your workplace. However you complete them, the clinical component of your program will most likely take place in the last or next-to-last semester of your program. Similarly, if your program has a capstone course requirement, you will likely complete it at the tail end of your degree. The final semester is when you can (and should) start applying for jobs if you don’t already have one, or thinking about negotiating a raise at your current job.

Post-Program

Graduates of RN to BSN programs are usually eligible for promotions or pay increases. Take the weeks and months after graduation to consider and accept job offers and leverage your new connections and qualifications. This is also the time to consider whether you’d like to continue your education and attend graduate school.

Factors that Affect How Long Your Online RN-BSN Takes

The general timeline we created above sounds great, right? In all likelihood, your timeline will look very similar, but as we mentioned, there are many factors that can affect the length of your program. Determining how long your RN to BSN online program will take depends on many factors, particularly the ones we’ll discuss below. Read on to learn more.

Academic Performance

Students who do well in their nursing studies don’t have to worry about taking classes more than once, or the extra time it will take to do so. Most RN to BSN online bridge programs require students to pass core nursing courses with a grade of “C” or better, retake the course, or risk not graduating. If for whatever reason your academic performance dips, such as letting their GPA drop below 3.0, you also run the risk of being dropped from your program, which would quickly bring your timeline to a screeching halt. On the flip side, doing well academically can help you stick to your expected course timeline and have a clearer idea of how long it takes to finish an RN to BSN online.

Clinical Requirements

Few RN to BSN programs require their students to complete traditional clinicals the way entry-level nursing diplomas and ADN programs do. Though practical and clinical experiences are necessary to earn your BSN, many RN to BSN programs allow students to complete these requirements at their workplace. However, just because you are currently working in the nursing field doesn’t mean you’ll have your bases covered for the practical portion of the degree. In fact, assuming you do can set you back. While it will be convenient to complete your clinicals at a site you are already familiar with, you will have to speak with your supervisor regarding the number of work hours, if any, you can double up on for class credit. If you aren’t working as a nurse while you work toward your BSN, you’ll need to arrange a more traditional clinical experience. Regardless, it is important that you prioritize making these arrangements to stay on track to graduate when you hope to.

Credit Load & Course of Study

The number of nursing courses you are required to complete (and the number you’re allowed or able to take each semester) dictate how long it takes to earn your RN to BSN. Nursing students who study full-time and take four to six classes per semester will finish faster than those who study part-time and take one to three classes per semester. You may be thinking, then, that the key to graduating quickly is to take the maximum number of classes possible. If your schedule allows it, that’s fine, but keep in mind that overloading your class schedule only to burn out will set you further back than taking your time to begin with.

Program Structure

How long it takes you to finish your RN to BSN online can also be affected by the structure of your nursing program—on-campus programs require additional travel time that will eat away at and potentially limit the time you can allocate to your other priorities. On the other hand, online RN to BSN programs allow you to work your studies around your nursing schedule and other commitments. A self-paced class structure can work for or against you, depending on your work ethic. Nursing students who can keep themselves accountable can get through their course material quickly and efficiently, whereas those who struggle to stay on task may find themselves extending their BSN timeline by doing the bare minimum. Choosing to attend an accelerated program will get you to your BSN faster than a traditional RN to BSN program, but it comes with a heavier course load.

Transfer Credits

How long does it take, your RN to BSN online? A lot of it comes down to the number of credits you can transfer from previous college classes and relevant experience. Many RN to BSN programs will automatically award students who have graduated from an accredited nursing program a set number of credits that they can put toward their BSN degree. Since every BSN student must earn a minimum of 120 semester credits to graduate, so more credits you start with (transfer), the faster you can finish. Students who come into the program with an ADN, for example, will have a minimum of 60 completed credits that they can put toward their BSN. This means that, at most, they’ll need to complete another 60 to get their BSN.

Work and Life Commitments

When determining how long are RN to BSN online programs, the most obvious factor is how much time you can dedicate to studying. If you can study full-time, then you’ll be able to take more classes at once and graduate more quickly. If, however, you work full-time or have other life commitments that limit the time you can spend studying, it will inevitably take you more time to complete your degree. That shouldn’t deter you, though. Online RN to BSN programs are designed precisely for students juggling personal and professional obligations, and work with you to determine the timeline that suits your needs.

A Look at How Long Real RN to BSN Programs Take

We can throw general information at you until we’re blue in the face, but sometimes it’s nice to see real program details from real universities. Below we pull back the curtain on three real RN to BSN programs that will help pull everything together that we’ve discussed so far.

Chamberlain University

So how long is the RN to BSN online program at Chamberlain University? According to their website, students can complete the program in as little as one year. Because coursework is available 100% online, students can easily fit classes around their normal everyday schedules. Semesters at Chamberlain are broken up into two 8-week sessions, so full-time students can take two classes per 8-week session or four classes per traditional semester. Chamberlain also lets students increase or decrease the number of classes they take depending on their needs. For example, if you aren’t sure about how much schooling you can take on while you work full-time, you can start with a single class during your first 8-week session and take two classes the next session when you feel confident you can take on more. If life changes, you can drop back down to one class during the next session. The RN to BSN online program doesn’t have traditional clinical experiences, encouraging students to fulfill their practical requirements while working their nursing jobs instead.

University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin offers students an amazing opportunity to earn their RN to BSN degree in as few as nine months. So, if someone asks, “How long is the RN to BSN online at UTA?”, you can tell them that it’s one of the shortest RN to BSN programs available. This is due primarily to the shortened timeline of the required nursing courses. Where most college courses happen over an eight or 16-week period, most of UTA’s required nursing courses are only five weeks long.

Another unique feature of the RN to BSN program at the University of Texas at Austin is that they combine general education and nursing courses in their suggested plan of study. This helps students know exactly what classes they need to complete and when to reach their goal. At the end of the program, students have the opportunity to complete a capstone course where they pick one of three areas of interest (management, clinical, or education) for additional concentrated study.

Western Governors University

Western Governors University offers a newly redeveloped online RN to BSN degree program that reflects the most recent recommendations put forth by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). The program’s unique take on timing has students studying online at their own pace and demonstrating mastery of the material through a paper, presentation, or test when they feel they are ready to do so. This way, students can speed through material they know, and take their time on new subjects. The curriculum focuses on research, theory, leadership, community concepts, healthcare policy, therapeutic interventions, and current trends in healthcare. Despite the wide array of material covered, the majority of students are able to graduate in fewer than 24 months.

Students can start the program at the beginning of any month which helps decrease how long it takes to finish this RN to BSN online program. Since students at WGU pay per semester and not per class credit, students can save money (and time) by covering more material each term.. The program automatically awards 80 semester credits to students who have graduated from an accredited nursing program. Students can transfer an additional 10 credits once their transcripts are reviewed.

Mistakes that Can Make Your RN-BSN Program Longer

Mistake: Enrolling in a Program Without a Plan

You start your new program and choose the classes that look the most interesting or the ones that you think will help you most right now. When you go to sign up, you realize that many of your preferred courses have prerequisites that you haven’t completed. Suddenly you’re scrambling to fill your schedule with those you are prepared to take. This lack of preparation could leave you with leftover classes that may or may not extend how long it takes to finish your RN to BSN online.


Solution:

Create a plan for each school year, if not for your whole program. Many programs have a recommended course order, while some actually have a mandatory one. Use the resources available to you—like your program’s course catalog or academic advisor—to prepare well before registration rolls around. We also suggest that you look at your personal calendar for any events that may impact your ability to participate fully in certain classes at certain times.

Mistake: Failing to Plan Financially

Even the least expensive RN to BSN program costs money and looking at tuition alone won’t give you an accurate picture of the total cost of the program. Failing to plan for school fees, student fees, course fees, lab fees, technology fees, books and required materials, and other miscellaneous costs can limit the number of courses you can afford to take each semester and put you in a financial bind.


Solution:

Make a budget of what you anticipate you will have to pay each semester and set that money aside. Assume there are additional fees and do your research to find them. Many schools have a fees section included on their website’s tuition page, like this one from the University of Utah. It may also be worthwhile to set aside a “miscellaneous” budget to cover unexpected expenses that come up over the course of your program. To really set yourself up for success, consider reaching out to your school’s finance department for help developing an accurate and adequate plan.

Mistake: Procrastinating

Putting things off until the last minute can leave you ill-prepared for important nursing program deadlines from program admissions, to class registration, and financial aid cut-off dates. Missing any of these could result in delayed academic progress or financial difficulty. Even putting off buying necessary class materials can jeopardize your academic performance.


Solution:

Make a calendar of due dates as well as important school and financial deadlines. Work on your application, and eventually your major assignments, weeks or even months in advance. Make a habit of opening assignments ahead of time to see how long they will take and whether you anticipate you’ll need extra help or resources. Find a study buddy or accountability partner if needed.

Mistake: Refusing to Seek Support

You are struggling with a class, but just keep telling yourself you will get it eventually and everything will work out. You keep trying but continue to watch as your grades slowly drop. Suddenly it’s too late to change your trajectory and failing the class becomes inevitable. Now you have to retake the class and push back your plans to take the classes it was a prerequisite to. Before you know it, one week of challenging material has set you back a semester or more, profoundly affecting how long it takes to earn your RN to BSN online.


Solution:

Ask for help early and often, whether it’s from academic advisors, fellow classmates, or your professors. Obtain the contact information for the student support center before you need it and consider paying a visit when you’re not stressed or overwhelmed. See if your class has a TA or designated tutor and don’t be afraid to use them. Join a study group. Leverage the resources of your chosen school and specific program to excel. Above all, find what works for you and stick with it.

Mistake: Underestimating the Impact of Technology Issues

Even with the nonexistent commute to class, you may find yourself running late one day and unable to get the Zoom link to work. You need to ask your professor a question that can’t adequately be communicated via email, but they only provide live support in a brief window before class starts, which has now closed. Your confusion on this one topic snowballs as class goes on, and carries over into next week’s lesson. Or maybe you’ve put off backing up your assignments and your five-year-old computer suddenly crashes, leaving you to restart your 15-page term paper only 12 hours before it is due. Though tech problems are inevitable, most can be mitigated or avoided altogether with the right planning.


Solution:

You cannot prepare for every technological failure, but saving your work often, backing up your assignments to the cloud, updating your hardware when it gets old, and having a backup plan in case your computer or the internet gives out (like using the computers at the library) will offer you the peace of mind you need to feel confident you can stay on top of your studies. Planning and preparing for technological issues will help you stay as calm as an RN is expected to be and finish your RN to BSN online, however long it takes.