RN to BSN Bridge Programs Online

For registered nurses (RNs) looking to advance, a bachelor’s degree may be just the ticket. Learn about RN to BSN programs, and see if online and blended solutions make sense for you.

According to Nightingale College, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will become the required degree for entering nursing occupations by 2020. This makes it critical for registered nurses without a bachelor’s (and who want to advance) to find a program that allows them to go to school while balancing their RN workload. To help, schools have integrated RN to BSN bridges into their offerings, many of which either have an online component or are fully online in nature. Want to learn more? Read about hybrid and online RN to BSN programs and review top programs, learn about accreditation, and see how cost and quality make a difference.

Top Online RN to BSN Programs in 2019

Our goal is to help current RNs to find the best bridge program to suit their needs. Each RN-BSN program varies depending its the availability of online courses, advanced curriculum, college and departmental accreditations, program length, and tuition costs. Note that aside from online learning, many BSN students must take on-site clinical placements, as well. We’ve identified the schools that are top all-around candidates for a great education. See if one is right for you.

The School of Nursing, University of Wisconsin, Madison

University-of-Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin’s BSN@Home program is designed expressly for working nurses and can be completed in as little as a year and a half. This program prepares nurses for advanced roles or professional specialized leadership. Wisconsin’s 33-credit bridge program accepts nursing transfer credits from a two-year college. Prerequisites include completion of an RN or a Diploma in Nursing from an accredited institution. Applicants must have also completed 24-transferable non-nursing credits from their community college program and high school coursework in algebra, plane geometry, and college-preparatory math. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in any field can complete the online accelerated BSN in 12 months. The first class requires a day of on-campus orientation. Online tuition is $10,555/year. Accreditations are from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing NCLEX-RN. Applications are made through the UW System Application for Admission.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Washington State University College of Nursing

Online RN to BSN Programs in Detail

There are critical factors to weigh when researching and applying to RN to BSN degree programs — especially to the online bridge format. First consider the breakdown of each program’s curriculum, including nursing core requirements, general education classes, labs, and clinical placements, and then consider the program length. Bridge programs run from one to two years, depending on completed prerequisites, the number of two-year courses that the student can transfer, and whether the student attends on a full- or part-time basis. Then, there is the cost of the program, typically based on the number of semesters each student needs to complete. Here’s a breakdown of key attributes to consider when searching for the best program to suit your professional goals:

Inside the RN to BSN Curriculum

The curriculum within RN to BSN bridge programs is designed for RNs who want to advance their careers or prepare for graduate nursing programs. Bridge programs address key competencies needed for success in the profession. The curriculum consists of general education courses, nursing core classes, studies in nursing theory, leadership, labs, and clinical experiences.

General education

The general education requirements at online RN to BSN bridge programs are slanted toward improving and integrating fundamental nursing skills in professional practice. Depending on the program, students typically can complete these studies concurrently with their BSN coursework. Courses selected from a wide range of programs commonly include communication, mathematics, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. General education course credits range from 6 – 15 credit hours, depending on the number of required classes in each area of study. Here is a sample of some courses:

  • English Composition:
    This foundation course in college-level composition focuses on researching, writing, and revising persuasive papers.
  • Introduction to Psychology: 
    This general education course introduces students to the fundamental principles of psychology, psychology history, and applied research.
  • Applied Healthcare Statistics: 
    The course introduces students to mathematics, including introductory algebra, used to compile statistics and assessments of probability.

Nursing core

Each online RN to BSN program is built around courses that form the backbone of nursing practice. They address indispensable skills-development in patient care, community health, clinical theory, healthcare ethics, informatics, research and statistics, pathophysiology, evidence-based nursing, health assessment, and promotion. These three examples are among the common core requirements for bridge programs:

  • Professional Roles and Values:
    Nurses study the responsibilities, ethics, and accountability in professional nursing, including cultural competency, patient advocacy rights, conduct, and legal considerations.
  • Applied Healthcare Statistics:
    Examine the epidemiological concepts of research and analytic systems used to create a testable hypothesis, build a model, and interpret results.
  • Complex Patient Centered Nursing Care:
    This course provides an overview of the principles and best practices for using psychopharmacology to treat mental disorders across the lifespan.

Nursing theory

Courseworkcovers the history of theory, current theoretical and professional applications, and advanced research practice that addresses specific populations. Nursing theory courses build a framework for identifying and assessing the right kind of care strategies relevant to each patient. The following courses are common among online RN to BSN programs:

  • Introduction to Nursing Theory and Research:
    The course explores the development of nursing theory and research methods with an eye toward the practical use of evidence-based findings.
  • Models of Nursing Practice:
    The study of theory-based professional nursing practice as modeled by Jean Watson’s Theory of Human Caring.
  • Middle Range Theory for Nursing:
    Examine the nine middle range concepts that govern the ongoing use of theory generation, practice research, and disciplinary models.

Lab sciences

In an online program, students undertake clinicals on campus or at hospitals near their place of residence. Labs may also be arranged at facilities where the RN currently works. Unlike online didactic courses that may be self-paced, clinicals meet at specific times and locations. Some clinicals are offered on campus in the evenings. Here are some clinicals common to many bridge programs:

  • Microbiology:
    This course focuses on the importance of microbes in relation to the disinfection and equipment sterilization techniques that minimize infection and prevent the spread of disease.
  • Clinical Pharmacology:
    Learn the principles and intervention practices in pharmacology to treat mental disorders across the patient’s lifespan.
  • Nutrition Science:
    Study the factors of metabolism and dietary behaviors that affect patient health, along with key therapeutic applications in dietary change and psychology.

Organization & leadership

Leadership curriculum includes studies inresearch, statistics, and informatics that assist leaders in the nursing field in creating policy. Learn how to develop programs that enhance patient care and staff performance. There is typically a concentration on skills for critical thinking, communication, dispute resolution, and the delegation of responsibilities. Here are three current courses from online bridge programs:

  • Healthcare Systems and Policy:
    This comprehensive course provides insight into systems thinking, process-planning, regulatory requirements, and practical models for advocacy.
  • Transitioning to Nurse Leadership:
    This wide-ranging BSN course centers on leadership theory, healthcare policy, conflict management, interdisciplinary communication, and team collaboration.
  • The Role of Nurse Manager:
    Learn the responsibilities of nurse managers in patient care planning, the creation of performance goals, undertaking staff evaluations, and the incorporation of new policies to remedy issues in performance and patient care.

How Long Does an Online RN to BSN Program Take?

In general, students can complete their 60-credit RN to BSN program in as little as 24 months on a full-time basis. For nurses pursing a part-time program, the degree can take up to three years. Wholly online didactic studies may be self-paced, affecting time of completion. Online nursing students can complete their degrees faster than they would at brick and mortar colleges since they may finish their didactic courses ahead of deadlines. Other variables impacting time to graduation are whether their 60 course credits transfer from an ADN program and if the applicant has satisfied all lower-division prerequisites. RNs may also receive credit for work experience, shortening the total number of credits required for graduation.

Here is a sample timeline for completing an online RN to BSN program:

Term Courses # Credits
Semester 1 Legal and Ethical Perspectives of Caring; Foundations Nursing Research; Writing in the Academic Community; Clinical Microbiology. 15
Semester 2 Pharmacotherapeutics; Health Assessment; Nursing Research; Quantitative Reasoning; Data Analysis. 15
Summer College Algebra and Probability; Health Care Informatics. 6
Semester 3 Health Assessment for Nurses; Information Technology; General Pathophysiology; Aging and Health; Cultural Competence in Health Care; Family Centered Health Promotion. 15
Semester 4 Concepts in Leadership and Management; Complex Client Systems for Registered Nurses; Advanced Standing for RN License; Community Health and Population-Focused Field Experience; Organizational Systems and Quality Leadership. 15

How Does Earning an RN to BSN Work Online?

Bridge program students combine their online didactic studies with onsite clinicals and labs. Designed for working nurses, online RN to BSN programs offer remote accessibility and the flexibility to tailor your studies around existing commitments. Students access class materials through a digital portal that provides streaming lectures, direct messaging, course assignments, and email communications. Other features include reviewing the class syllabus online, and a place to tally your credits toward the degree. Online university forums, research libraries, and message boards facilitate collaboration between students. Some programs incorporate online tutorials, simulations, and virtual labs as well. Nursing peers can live miles apart from one another, but can engage in research projects on a mutual online platform. Communication with professors and mentors can conducted by telephone or video conferencing. The online model is well-suited for the completion of general education courses required throughout the university. It is also a convenient, timely way to complete prerequisites in math, chemistry, human anatomy and physiology. Online technical support is offered on a 24/7 basis.  

Admissions for RN to BSN Programs

Admission requirements for bridge programs may vary by institution, however the most-common ones call for completion of an RN degree or nursing diploma from an accredited school and possession of a current RN license. Some programs require an applicant interview or essay. Those with nursing experience must provide a verification of work from their employers and a resume. Applicants must also provide transcripts from their two-year nursing programs to demonstrate completion of the bridge program’s prerequisite coursework.

Current RN license

Online bridge program admission requirements begin with the applicant’s holding of a current, active, and unrestricted RN license under the terms of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. It’s the most-important criterion because without a license, you can’t enroll in the program.

How to stand out

Augment your licensing reporting based on meeting the Board of Nursing requirements for your state and the specialized competencies measured by the National Council Licensure Examination.

Resume and experience

RN experience may be a governing factor in supporting your application. You can improve your RN to BSN admission chances by demonstrating your professional areas of practice, your expertise, and accomplishments in nursing, your employment record, and training in digital medical record-keeping. The admissions team wants to see that you already have skills in communication, collaboration, clinical judgment, and critical thinking.

How to stand out

Cite your key accomplishments, awards, or recognitions. Demonstrate your continuous professional growth in the nursing profession.

Undergraduate transcripts

Transcripts from your ADN or diploma program demonstrate your scholarly aptitude, your GPA (typically a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.75), and your transferable undergraduate credits. Because the number of acceptable transfer credits vary bridge program, transcripts provide assurance that you’ve met prerequisites or general education requirements.

How to stand out

Order your transcripts to arrive before the application deadline. Community college transcripts should be sent whether you received college credit or audited the course.

Cost of an RN to BSN Online Program

RN to BSN programs require tuition and fees, just like any other educational program. Online bridge programs may accelerate learning, decreasing the number of courses or credits required for graduation and along with it, the total cost. In effect, they can be less expensive than on-campus programs. Online tuition may be based on the university’s annual undergraduate fees or by the number of college credits per course. Since didactic courses may be self-paced, online students must keep up or extend their program length and tuition depending on progress. Tuition may also vary by the institution’s prestige or specializations. Here’s a range of tuition (low to high) charged for online RN to BSN degree completion programs:

1 1. Oklahoma Panhandle State University, online RN-to-BSN program: $4,380/yr. or $146/credit.
2 2. IUPUI – Indiana University School of Nursing, online RN-to-BSN program: $6,300/yr. or $210/credit.
3 3. California State University at Fullerton, online RN to BSN: $7,170/yr. or $239/credit.
4 4. Chamberlain University, online RN to BSN option: BSN completion program: $17,700/yr. or $590/credit.

For information on how to pay for your online RN to BSN program, check out the following pages: