Becoming a Nurse: What is a BSN?

A group of nursing students
A group of nursing students

A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, more commonly called a BSN, is an undergraduate-level nursing degree. The BSN is one educational option for pursuing a nursing career, and it typically takes four years to complete. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can earn a BSN in less than two years through an accelerated bachelors of science in nursing degree (ABSN).

A BSN isn’t required to become licensed as a registered nurse (RN). (In other words, some RNs don’t hold a BSN degree!) However, more and more jobs are requiring that the nurses they hire do hold a BSN. As a result, nurses entering the field are opting to earn their BSN to keep their future options open, with 51.5% of nurses beginning their nursing careers with a BSN degree or higher. 

Nurses with a BSN have a clear professional advantage. They are poised to earn more money throughout their careers, qualify for more opportunities, have more independence at work, and many other benefits. Anyone interested in becoming a nurse should have a basic understanding of what a BSN is and how it differs from other nursing school programs.


How do you become a nurse?

There are several educational routes you can take to become a nurse. The best pathway for you will depend on your career goals, the education you may have already earned, and your work experiences. 



A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is a provider who is allowed to provide basic care under the supervision of a primary care provider or a registered nurse. They are able to assist in care that is delegated to them by others. LPNs complete a certificate program that trains them to work in health care settings. These programs last around 12 months and do not result in a professional level of nursing. 

The 2020 National Nursing Workforce survey showed the LPN option is becoming less popular, with an increase of only 24,070 new LPN license holders since 2017. LPN holders need additional training to sit for the RN exam, and the median annual wage for this position is $54,620 per year as of 2022. 



A nurse with an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) can work as a registered nurse (RN) after taking the NCLEX-RN exam, a board exam that allows nurses to apply for a license. ADN degrees typically include coursework in basic biology, physiology, and nursing assessment. 

An ADN program typically takes about two years to complete, and some clinical rotations in a health care setting are required for graduation. Registered nurses, including ADN-RNs, earn an annual median wage of $81,220 per year. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t differentiate between ADN-RNs and BSN-RN nurses in their salary calculations, but it is understood that entry-level positions for RNs with an ADN are lower paid. 


What is a BSN?

The BSN is the most comprehensive undergraduate degree program for training aspiring nurses. This degree program typically takes four years to complete. In addition to the nursing basics covered in the ADN coursework, the BSN gives students training in healthcare administration, leadership, evidence-based practice and chronic disease management. 

BSNs also provide personal enrichment and can increase a nurse’s ability to help more people. Nurses who have a BSN often say they saw an increase in their critical thinking skills, a higher appreciation for research and evidence-based practice, and see better patient outcomes as the result of their education. 


What does a BSN-trained nurse do?

Registered nurses can be found in various health care settings, holding over 3.2 million jobs in the US. Hospitals employ 59% of nurses, but they can also be found in nursing and residential care facilities, outpatient healthcare settings, schools and college clinics, and many more work environments. 

Roles and responsibilities for RNs, including BSN-trained nurses, can include: 

  • Administering direct care to patients
  • Educating individuals and family members on health conditions and treatment instructions
  • Patient assessment and monitoring
  • Coordinating care across a healthcare team

Having a BSN can also make you more in-demand to potential employers. Some workplaces won’t even hire a nurse who doesn’t have a bachelor’s in the field. Roles and responsibilities that typically prioritize or require BSN applicants include: 

  • Management roles (including director and chief of nursing positions) that supervise administrative employees and other RN
  • Teaching roles that involve educating nurses and other healthcare workers 
  • Nurse consultant roles 
  • Patient care jobs at Magnet designated hospitals 
  • Nursing roles that support the US military or other federal staff positions 

Having a BSN degree also serves as a stepping stone for nurses who want to make the most of their career. BSN-trained nurses are well-positioned to acquire a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which opens the doors to many opportunities for the higher levels of nursing practice. All MSN programs require candidates to have a BSN. 


How quickly can you earn a BSN?

Traditional BSN programs typically run on an eight-semester schedule that takes four years to complete. However, there are ways to earn a BSN more quickly. Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, more often called ABSNs, allow future nurses who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field to leverage their prior coursework and concentrate specifically on a nursing curriculum. 

ABSN programs don’t require electives or general education classes, because you will have already completed those while earning your prior bachelor’s degree. ABSN programs usually take between 12 and 24 months to complete.


Are there benefits to earning an ABSN?

There are tangible benefits to earning your BSN and becoming a nurse on an accelerated schedule. The most obvious benefit is completing the coursework faster. 


How do you get started with an ABSN?

If you’re looking to quickly build on your first bachelor’s degree to start your second career as a registered nurse, Marymount University’s online ABSN is one of the fastest ways to do it.

Marymount University online’s ABSN program can be completed in as little as 16 months. Like most ABSNs, Marymount’s program does have some prerequisites, including some coursework in anatomy, chemistry, and statistics.

Marymount University has been a national nursing education leader for over 50 years. Nestled among influential organizations and healthcare providers, you get the benefits of Washington D.C., with the flexibility of online coursework. Learn from the epicenter of healthcare policy and advocacy through Marymount University’s online accelerated BSN program. If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss which pathway is right for you.