Here’s an obvious statement: College is expensive. But in most cases, the expense is worth it. Take, for example, RN to BSN programs.
When you launched your career as a registered nurse, you may have earned an associate degree in nursing, or maybe even a nursing diploma. And lots of working RNs have done just that. But in today’s competitive professional nursing world, having your Bachelor of Science in Nursing — or BSN degree — is practically a necessity to landing a top RN job with the best pay and greatest advancement potential. According to stats from an October 2023 search on Payscale.com, for example, the average annual base salary for registered nurses with a BSN degree is $92,000, as compared to $74,000 for RNs with an ADN.
So how much does an online RN to BSN cost? We’ve put together this guide to offer you a detailed breakdown of the actual expenses you’ll encounter. The reason for doing so is simple: By gaining a clear understanding of RN to BSN online program costs, you’ll be fully prepared — maybe even encouraged — to take them on. So if you’re a registered nurse and you’re ready to take that next big step in your career by earning your bachelor’s, keep reading to discover the typical costs of your future online RN to BSN program.
Fixed Costs of an Online RN to BSN Online Program
When it comes to pricing a college education, every program will share some fixed costs — those you can anticipate and therefore plan to either pay for or finance. The specific amount you’ll pay for each of these RN to BSN online program costs will, of course, vary depending on your specific program. Below, we begin with a breakdown of direct costs; the indirect and less obvious costs you’ll face as an RN to BSN student will be addressed in the next section. To gain a high-level perspective of the expenses involved in pursuing your online education, check out this guide to The Cost of an Online Degree.
Most colleges require that you pay an initial fee simply for submitting your program application. These fees tend to be relatively nominal, typically anywhere from around $25 to $50. You’ll also find that some programs — like the RN to BSN online program at Indiana Wesleyan University — have done away with application fees to encourage more applicants.
Books and Materials
While every program will require you to pay for these classroom essentials, the total cost of textbooks and other materials for online RN to BSN programs can vary from very little to shockingly substantial. Because of the wide range, you may consider contacting your program directly to inquire about this fixed cost. Books and materials total costs can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000.
Background Checks and Drug Screenings
Regardless of whether your RN to BSN program is on campus or online, you’ll be required pass both a criminal background check and a drug screening. You may also need to pass a physical exam and provide proof of immunizations. The cost for these items is relatively nominal. For example, the Ohio State University lists an estimated one-time cost of $62 for a criminal background check for students in its online RN to BSN program. You may be able to forego some or all of these online RN to BSN program costs if you’re currently employed as an RN.
Enrollment and Registration Fees
Enrollment fees are typically charged at the beginning of each semester or quarter term as a deposit for your classes. Common amounts are $25 to $40 per course. Other charges — also typically nominal — may fall under the larger heading of registration fees, including health and materials fees. Once again, it’s a good idea to contact your school to gain a clear understanding of these fees before you sign up for your program.
Here’s one fee you can feel good about paying. Most RN to BSN online costs include a graduation fee that covers your diploma, commencement ceremony (even if you don’t attend), and other incidentals to your program completion. Once again, these fees are relatively nominal. The graduation fee for Western Carolina University’s online RN to BSN program, for example, is currently $60.
Lab fees are additional online RN to BSN program costs incurred by nursing students for the use of high-tech equipment and materials during required lab sessions. These fees are often substantial, ranging anywhere from $100 to as much as $1,000 or more each semester. As an online or hybrid student, however, you’ll likely have fewer in-person lab sessions, meaning you can save some money here.
Uniforms and Equipment
Most RN to BSN online program costs include some in-person clinical requirements which, in turn, will require nursing uniforms (including shoes, lab coat, etc.) and equipment (stethoscope, watch with second hand, penlight, etc.). As a working RN, you probably already have all of these. In fact, you’ll most likely complete any clinical requirements at your current job. If not, you may have to add the expense for uniforms and equipment, the total of which will vary according to what you need.
Another line item you’ll often find on RN to BSN online cost lists is your technology fee. The services that are covered by this fee are not always clearly stated but may include content management software, distance learning hardware and software, electronic library databases and media resources, etc. Tech fees can vary substantially — from $50 to $110 or more per course.
Tuition is, of course, the big-ticket item on you expense list. It’s also the item you want to most thoroughly scrutinize when choosing an online RN to BSN program, considering tuition rates can vary substantially from program to program. To give you an idea just how much, here are the current (as of October 2023) total RN to BSN online program costs for tuition at three Michigan universities:
- Eastern Michigan University (30 credits at $328 per credit): $9,840
- University of Michigan-Flint (30 credits at $542.20 per credit): $16,266
- Davenport University (31 credits at $975 per credit): $30,225
Bear in mind that these figures do not include any tuition discounts or other financial aid resources, which may themselves be substantial.
Hidden and Variable Costs of an Online RN to BSN Program
In addition to the fixed costs described above, students in online RN to BSN programs should be aware of several not-so-obvious costs that they may incur. We emphasize the word “may” because it’s possible you won’t run into some of them, especially if you can avoid such things as missing a tuition or loan payment. Here’s what we’re talking about:
Interest on Student Loans
If you’re like most college students, you’ll be counting on one or more financial aid resources to pay for the costs of your online RN to BSN program. And, like most students, all or part of those resources will be in the form of student loans. In most cases, you won’t have to start paying your loans back until you complete your program. It’s critical to remember, however, that once you start your loan payments, they’ll include interest payments — and over time, that interest can add substantially to your total program cost.
Internet and Technology
In addition to tech fees we addressed above, you may need to upgrade your internet service to accommodate online learning management platforms and/or live streaming requirements. Given modern technology offerings, you probably already have all the bandwidth you’ll need. But if upgrades are necessary, be sure to factor their costs into your online RN to BSN program budget as well.
Late Registration or Payment Penalties
Registering for courses after the enrollment deadline usually means a steep late fee — sometimes $50 to $100 per occurrence, though some schools charge substantially more (up to $300 or higher). Late tuition payments can be just as bad or worse. The takeaway: Registering for classes late and being tardy on just a few tuition payments are entirely preventable but can potentially add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to your total program cost.
Online RN to BSN programs are designed with working nurses in mind. Nevertheless, some students may find it necessary to cut back on hours of employment to accommodate their degree studies. If that’s you, you’ll need to take those cutbacks into account, financially speaking. But do keep in mind how easily you’ll offset those lost wages with the major boost in income you’ll experience once you’ve earned your degree.
Software or Hardware Upgrades
Another online RN to BSN cost to consider: You may need to upgrade or replace some of your current computer hardware or software to meet online program requirements. If so, this expense could run from less than $100 to $1,000 or more. Be sure to contact your program if you think you’ll need upgrades, as they may be able to help with the cost or provide upgrades at no charge.
Travel and Accommodation
If your online RN to BSN program includes some on-campus activities like hands-on labs or short-term residences, then you should include any travel or accommodation expenses associated with attending those activities. You may also incur some travel costs for attending your required clinical practice experiences. Of course, if you’re completing your clinicals through your current employment, then you probably will not incur any additional costs.
Cost Comparison: Online vs Traditional RN to BSN Programs
While convenience and affordability are often the major selling points to choosing an online degree, they come with trade-offs. Because of your remote educational access, you’ll save in some areas and add expenses to others. Here are some of the biggest factors to consider:
- Travel costs: The costs associated with communing to and from a traditional campus (gas, vehicle maintenance, parking fees, etc.) can, over time, really start to add up. Chalk this one up to big savings for online programs.
- Living expenses: If you’ll need to relocate from your current residence to one nearer your school to attend on-campus classes, then you’ll likely see some major savings with an online program.
- Technology costs: This can include both the technology fees charged by your program, additional computer harder or software, and/or internet connectivity costs you may incur in an online program. You’ll typically save more in this category in traditional classrooms.
Financing Features: A Look at the Cost of Real Online RN to BSN Programs
We’ve spotlighted below three current online RN to BSN program costs to help you gain a clearer understanding of the range of expenses you can expect as you weigh your options. These programs are all fully accredited and considered best in class. But keep in mind that your total program price tag will include many of the additional expenses we’ve addressed in previous sections. For further information on finding a cost-effective RN to BSN program, review this guide to the Most Affordable RN to BSN Online Programs for 2024.
Azusa Pacific University
Azusa Pacific University is a private, evangelical Christian-affiliated university located in Azusa, California. Its online RN to BSN program features fully online coursework presented asynchronously in an accelerated format, but students are expected to participate in some live online discussions throughout the course of study. Students typically complete their clinical experiences at their current places of employment. Earning the BSN degree requires 120 credits consisting of previously earned college credits (including those completed in your ADN program) and the 40 credits that make up the RN to BSN curriculum.
The current online RN to BSN program cost for tuition is $460 per credit, making for a total base tuition of $18,400. Additional costs include:
- Application fee: $45
- Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): $75/unit, plus one-time fee of $150
- Professional Nursing Health Assessment Lab Fee (for UNRS 220 course): $90
- Nursing Clinical Fee (including malpractice insurance): $200/course
- Intent to Commence and/or Graduate Fee: $100
APU offers qualifying RN to BSN students a variety of financial aid options, such as nursing scholarships and other grant and loan options, as well as nursing tuition discount opportunities.
Davis & Elkins College
Davis & Elkins College is a private, accredited institution affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and member of the Appalachian College Association. Designed with working students in mind, its RN to BSN Baccalaureate Completion online program is 100% online (not counting practicum hours) and delivered in an asynchronous format. The 40-credit program consists of 36 coursework credits and 4 practicum credit hours, with practicum hours completed in the student’s current work setting. These 40 credits are combined with previously earned college credits and up to 24 credits that are awarded for two years of professional RN work experience to meet the 124 credit requirement to earn the BSN degree.
The current online RN to BSN cost for tuition is $400 per credit for a total base tuition of $16,000. Other estimated costs include:
- Books: $500-$1,000
- Travel: $650
- Immunizations: $35 or more
- Criminal background check: $28 or more
- Drug screen: $39 or more
- MyClinicalExchange: $35-$45
The school offers financial aid opportunities to qualifying students that include, among others, an in-house $2,000 RN Excellence Scholarship and a payment plan with 0% interest rate.
West Coast University
West Coast University is a private university that offers an online RN to BSN program with three study pace options: Accelerated Plus (eight months); Accelerated (12 months); and Working Professional (20 months). All students complete 30 credits of 100% online coursework along with a minimum of 135 hours of hands-on community service.
West Coast University’s online RN to BSN program cost is $495 per credit for a total base tuition of $14,850. Additional costs include:
- Technology fee: $1,000 (Accelerated Plus); $1,500 (Accelerated); $2,500 (Working Professional)
- Student Tuition Recovery Fund (STRF): $40 (Accelerated Plus); $42.50 (Accelerated); $45 (Working Professional)
- Program supply fees (est.): $100 (Accelerated Plus); $150 (Accelerated); $250 (Working Professional)
Financial aid resources available to eligible WCU nursing students include the WCU Performance Scholarship (pays 15% of tuition), the Alumni Pathway Grant (covers up to 20% of tuition), and the WCU Health Services Partner Grant (pays up to 10% of tuition). Substantial tuition discounts are also available to military veterans and active-duty service members.
How to Mitigate the Cost of Your RN to BSN Online Education
As you research degree options, you’ll discover many strategies and resources, both big and small, that will help lower the total of your online RN to BSN program costs. We’ve listed three of the most valuable below. The combined savings from these and other resources can be quite substantial, so be sure to make the most of them.
Apply for Financial Aid
As we mentioned earlier, most prospective college students will need to secure financial aid. Fortunately, a wide range of those resources is available to qualifying online RN to BSN students. Included are scholarships, grants, loans, VA benefits, and more. The first two moves to make in your degree funding search include contacting the financial aid office at your school and submitting your FAFSA.
Ask About Employer Tuition Reimbursement
If you currently work as an RN for an employer you like, then be sure to inquire about the availability of employer tuition reimbursement to offset your online RN to BSN program costs. The specifics of these plans vary but typically include some form of commitment by you to continue to work for that employer for a given time once you’ve earned your degree. So it’s important that you fully research any obligations you’ll be taking on with your employer’s plan before you sign up.
Enroll in an Accelerated Program
Most online RN to BSN programs are part time and commonly require 18 to 24 months to complete. However, students who can afford to take time away from their full-time employment can earn their BSN degrees in 12 months or less through an accelerated RN to BSN program. You probably won’t save much on tuition costs because you’ll still be completing the same number of credits, but you may be able to save substantially on program fees, especially those that are assessed on a semester basis. Keep in mind, though, that taking time away from your full-time job will mean less income during your studies.