BSN vs. RN: Learn the Differences and Choose What Is Best For You

May 3, 2024
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Can't decide between an RN or a BSN? Confused about the difference? Look no further! Read on for an in-depth guide to the difference between an RN and a BSN.

The field of nursing offers a wide range of opportunities for those who wish to provide care to patients in need. Nursing students have many paths to choose from when entering the profession, with two common options being the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Registered Nurse (RN) programs. 

While both options provide students with the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to become a nurse, there are key differences between the two paths that prospective nursing students should be aware of.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the differences between an RN and a BSN program, their respective roles in the nursing field, and salary expectations, and address some commonly asked questions.

image of dots background

What Is the Difference Between RN and BSN? 

To begin, an RN is a person who is licensed to practice as a nurse. An RN will have completed all necessary schooling for the position, often an associate degree, and passed the NCLEX-RN exam. Once you meet all testing and education requirements, you must apply for a license in the state where you intend to work.

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is not a different license type; it is simply a degree. Similar to an RN with an associate's degree, a BSN graduate must also pass an exam and apply for a license. So, when considering a BSN vs RN, remember that an RN is a license, while a BSN is a degree earned.

Educational Requirements

The most significant difference between RN and BSN programs is the amount of time it takes to complete each degree. An RN program typically takes two years to complete, while a BSN program takes four years. 

The additional coursework required in a BSN program covers more topics related to nursing, such as leadership, research, and community health.

Career Opportunities and Earning Potential

A BSN degree can provide additional career opportunities and earning potential beyond what is available with an RN degree. Many healthcare organizations prefer or require nurses with a BSN degree for certain positions, such as nurse manager, clinical nurse leader, or nurse educator. More on this below! 

Clinical Training and Leadership Development

BSN programs typically provide more extensive clinical training in areas such as public health, mental health, and community health, which can broaden students' experience and make them more marketable to potential employers. 

BSN programs also place a greater emphasis on leadership, management, and research skills that are essential for more senior nursing roles. RN programs, on the other hand, may focus more on the technical skills needed to provide direct patient care in a hospital or clinical setting.

RN Vs. BSN Career Options 

The Institute of Medicine recommends that 80% of nurses hold a BSN, as research shows that higher education levels in nursing can lead to better patient care. 

More healthcare employers today are actively seeking RNs with B.S.N. degrees. According to a report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in 2022, 72% of employers have a strong preference for hiring B.S.N. graduates, and 28% of them actually require a B.S.N. degree.

While a BSN is not currently required to practice as a nurse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment opportunities for RNs will grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, and “registered nurses who have a BSN will have better job prospects than those without one.” 

New York has already enacted a law requiring all RNs to obtain a baccalaureate in nursing within ten years of obtaining their license. As a result of this preference for a BSN, RNs with an associate's degree may find it more challenging to secure a position or advance in their career. 

However, a BSN can expect to start with a higher salary than an RN with an associate's degree due to the difference in education between the two degrees.

RN Vs. BSN Salary 

One of the clearest examples of the difference between RN vs BSNs is the salary expectations. Students who pursue a BSN before obtaining their licensure will be in school longer. Although BSNs cannot practice until later than an RN with an associate's degree, they can expect to start with a higher salary. 

The more experience a nurse has, the higher their salary will be. However, a BSN nurse will generally continue to make more throughout their career than their counterparts with an associate's degree. The following table demonstrates the RN vs. BSN salary differences based on experience.  

Qualification Years of Experience Annual Salary


Starting (Entry-Level)


1-4 Years of Experience


5-9 Years
10-19 Years $86,810
20+ Years $106,380


Starting (Entry-Level)
1-4 Years $62,300
5-9 Years
10-19 Years
20+ Years $115,280

Source: NursingProcess 

As we can see from the table, Registered Nurses tend to earn less than those who attained a BSN. Couple this with the industry’s growing preference for BSNs, many students may find the BSN to be the better investment in this industry. 

Let’s take a look at the RN vs. BSN salary by industry.  

Industry RN Salary BSN Salary
Hospitals $76,000+ $82,000+
Physician’s Offices
Home Healthcare
Nursing Care Facilities
Outpatient Care Centers

Source: WGU 

BSN-educated nurses generally earn higher salaries than those with associate degrees. These differences in salary are industry-wide averages and provide an incentive for many nurses to upgrade their education from an associate's degree to a BSN.

As the healthcare industry continues to shift towards a preference for BSNs, pursuing a BSN can be a wise investment for nurses who

Completing a BSN Program Without Prior RN Qualifications

Becoming a nurse without prior RN qualifications can be achieved through an accelerated BSN program and a series of steps to qualify for nursing practice. Here are the key steps to pursue a nursing career without majoring in nursing during your undergraduate studies:

1. Enroll in an Accelerated BSN Program

To become a nurse, you can start by enrolling in an accelerated BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program. These programs are designed for individuals who already hold a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field.

The accelerated BSN program allows you to complete the necessary nursing coursework, labs, and clinical hours within a shorter timeframe, typically ranging from 12 to 18 months.

2. Complete Clinical Hours

During your accelerated BSN program, you will have the opportunity to gain valuable clinical experience by working with real patients in various healthcare settings, such as clinics, hospitals, and physician offices. 

Clinical rotations provide exposure to different specialties and departments within the healthcare field, helping you develop essential skills and build professional connections.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

To practice as a registered nurse (RN), passing the NCLEX-RN exam is essential. The knowledge and training provided in your accelerated BSN program should prepare you for this exam, which assesses your ability to apply critical thinking in nursing situations. You can apply to take the NCLEX-RN exam through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

4. Prepare Application Materials

Once you've successfully passed the NCLEX-RN exam, you'll need to apply for a state nursing license, as licensure requirements vary by state. 

Additionally, it's a good time to create your job application materials, including a professional resume and cover letter. Your resume should highlight your contact information, a summary of your qualifications, relevant work experience, skills, academic history, and certifications.

5. Build an Employment Network 

Building a strong network of healthcare professionals is crucial for finding job opportunities and gaining support in your nursing career. 

Stay in touch with professors, classmates, colleagues, personal physicians, and anyone who can provide valuable information or job leads. Utilize social media, email, phone, and job networking sites to maintain these connections throughout your nursing journey.

6. Apply for Nursing Jobs

The final step is to actively apply for nursing positions in your desired field. You can search for job openings on platforms like Indeed and leverage your professional network to discover potential job opportunities. 

Consider seeking feedback from a nursing professional within your network to improve your resume and cover letter. Additionally, prepare for interviews by researching common nursing interview questions and practicing your responses.

Embarking on a nursing career without a nursing major can be achieved through dedication, education, and networking within the healthcare industry. With the right steps and qualifications, you can successfully transition into the nursing profession and contribute to the growing field of healthcare.

Completing a BSN program with RN qualifications

Completing a BSN program with RN qualifications, like through an RN-to-B.S.N. bridge program, is a valuable option for RNs with A.D.N. credentials aiming to advance their education and nursing skills. Here's a summary of key details about the program:


Eligibility for the RN-to-B.S.N. program requires a valid RN license, which serves as the foundation for building advanced nursing knowledge and skills. In addition to holding an RN license, you may need to complete specific prerequisite coursework and meet minimum GPA requirements.

The application process often involves submitting official college transcripts and a professional résumé. Many accredited nursing programs also mandate passing a criminal background check for admission.


The curriculum of an RN-to-B.S.N. program is thoughtfully designed to provide nurses with the expertise required to excel in their roles. 

Coursework typically includes subjects like clinical reasoning, pathophysiology and pharmacology, professional nursing transformation, and genetics and genomics in nursing practice. These courses are geared towards offering specialized training and enhancing the ability to manage patients effectively.

Program Duration

RN-to-B.S.N. bridge programs are known for their efficiency and shorter duration compared to traditional B.S.N. programs. 

While program lengths can vary among institutions, most RN-to-B.S.N. programs can be completed in approximately 18 months to two years. This accelerated pace enables RNs to attain their B.S.N. degrees more quickly, facilitating professional advancement.

In conclusion, enrolling in a BSN program with RN qualifications, particularly through an RN-to-B.S.N. bridge program, empowers registered nurses to pursue higher education, acquire specialized skills, and unlock opportunities for further career development and specialization within the nursing field. 

These programs are custom-tailored to cater to the unique needs and prior experiences of RNs, making them a valuable pathway for professional growth.

Everyday Responsibilities for BSN-qualified Nurses

In healthcare, BSN nurses are essential for patient care, demonstrating expertise in patient assessment, care planning, and leadership.

  • Patient Assessment and Care: BSN nurses are responsible for assessing the condition of patients, monitoring vital signs, and administering medications as prescribed by physicians. They ensure that patients receive proper care and treatment.
  • Care Planning: BSN-prepared nurses often take a lead role in developing and implementing comprehensive care plans for patients. They collaborate with healthcare teams to coordinate patient care and make decisions about treatment options.
  • Education and Support: BSN nurses educate patients and their families about healthcare, medications, and treatments. They provide emotional support, answer questions, and assist in coping with illnesses.
  • Critical Thinking: BSN nurses utilize critical thinking skills to make clinical judgments and prioritize patient needs. They assess and reassess patients to identify any changes in condition and adjust care plans accordingly.
  • Documentation: BSN nurses maintain accurate medical records, documenting patient assessments, interventions, and outcomes. Accurate documentation is crucial for continuity of care and legal purposes.
  • Leadership Roles: In some cases, BSN nurses may take on leadership roles within healthcare teams. They may serve as charge nurses, unit managers, or clinical coordinators, overseeing the work of other nurses and support staff.

BSN nurses are the go-to experts in healthcare, making sure patients get top-notch care and leading the charge in care planning.

Everyday Responsibilities for RN-qualified Nurses

RN nurses are vital healthcare professionals responsible for direct patient care, medication management, advocacy, emergency response, and accurate record-keeping.

  • Direct Patient Care: RN nurses provide hands-on care to patients, including administering medications, dressing wounds, and assisting with activities of daily living such as bathing and feeding. They monitor patients' conditions and report any changes to the healthcare team.
  • Medication Management: RNs are responsible for safely administering medications, ensuring the right dosage and route. They educate patients about their medications and potential side effects.
  • Patient Advocacy: RN nurses act as advocates for their patients, ensuring that their rights and preferences are respected. They communicate patient concerns and preferences to the healthcare team.
  • Collaboration: RNs work closely with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement patient care plans. They communicate patient updates and participate in care conferences.
  • Emergency Response: RNs are trained to respond to emergencies, such as cardiac arrests or injuries. They initiate life-saving measures, perform CPR, and provide immediate care until specialized help arrives.
  • Documentation: Like BSN nurses, RNs also maintain accurate records of patient care. They document vital signs, treatments administered, and any changes in the patient's condition.
  • Patient Education: RNs educate patients and families about their conditions, treatments, and post-discharge care instructions. They play a key role in ensuring patients understand their healthcare needs.

To sum it up, RN nurses are the frontline heroes in healthcare, offering hands-on care, being advocates, and playing a crucial role in patient well-being.

RN-to-BSN Programs 

Upgrading your education credentials can help a Registered Nurse find a better job or increase job security at a current job. Fortunately, RN-to-BSN programs have become more widely available at colleges and universities, providing a pathway for RNs to advance their education and career prospects.

Getting into nursing school can be challenging but definitely worth the hard work and the investment. For RNs who wish to pursue a BSN, keep reading for more information on the country’s top RN-to-BSN programs! 

Capella University 

Capella University's RN-to-BSN program is designed for working nurses who want to build on their RN credential and take the next step in their professional journey. 

The program is tailored to the needs of working nurses, and emphasizes key areas such as patient care technology, information management, and generalist nursing practices to improve the quality of patient care and community health.

The program is aligned with industry standards and has partnerships with organizations like the American Nurses Association and Sigma Theta Tau International. If they choose, students can choose the Capella Accelerated Master’s Pathway (AMP), a flexible option that allows them to study at their own pace.

Purdue University 

Purdue University’s RN-to-BSN program provides students with flexibility and personalization to complete their degree in a way that fits their schedule and career aspirations.

If you’d prefer to opt out of the traditional path, you can complete your degree in as little as 18 months through ExcelTrack. The university accepts up to 75% of your nursing credits for your RN-to-BSN program.

Students have the option to complete coursework online without any mandatory log-in times, seminars, or need to commute. Moreover, they can fulfill their required clinical practice experience at a time and location that works best for them.

Walden University 

Walden University's RN to BSN program offers current registered nurses with a diploma or associate's degree in nursing the chance to earn their BSN degree. 

With a focus on evidence-based practices that can be immediately applied in the workplace, students also have the opportunity to develop important skills such as reflection, independent learning, and enhanced critical thinking that will serve them throughout their careers. 

The program is designed with flexibility in mind, allowing students to balance their studies with their work and personal responsibilities. With multiple start dates throughout the year and no set class times, students can complete coursework at their own pace and on their own schedule.

University of Texas Arlington 

Those who wish to complete their BSN sooner rather than later can earn it in as little as nine months with the University of Texas Arlington. This program provides students with an opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills by focusing on research-based nursing science, nursing leadership, and a liberal arts foundation. 

With a strong emphasis on promoting health and preventing diseases throughout the lifespan, students will also develop decision-making and leadership skills that are vital to the nursing profession.

How to Choose the Right BSN Program

With such a plethora of great programs, you might be finding it difficult to choose the BSN program that’s right for you! But don’t worry -- our BSN program selection quiz can help. If you don’t know which direction to take, our quiz can help you consider important factors to make an informed decision. 


Still have questions about the difference between an RN and a BSN? Go over these frequently asked questions for your answers.

1. What Comes First, BSN or RN? 

An RN is required to complete all education and exam requirements before applying for their license. This means you will need to complete your BSN before an RN.

2. What Can a BSN Do That an RN Can't? 

A BSN is a higher level of education than an associate's degree. This allows nurses with a BSN more opportunities for specialization, like working as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse or in supervisor/managerial roles within a hospital or medical center.  

3. Are RN and BSN the Same? 

An RN is not the same as a BSN. An RN is licensed to practice as a nurse. A BSN is a bachelor's degree earned; a BSN holder cannot practice without licensure.  

4. Can you Become a Nurse without a Bachelor’s Degree?

Yes, you can become a nurse without a bachelor's degree by completing either an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. Both options allow you to qualify for licensure as a registered nurse (RN). However, some employers may prefer or require a BSN.

BSN vs. RN: Choosing What Is Best for You 

Pursuing a nursing license through an associate's degree or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing may be challenging for students. 

The associate's degree allows you to complete your schooling earlier to work sooner. But that may not necessarily mean it is the best path for you. The healthcare industry is shifting towards a preference for a BSN vs RN degree.  

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Schedule A Free Consultation

Plan Smart. Execute Strong. Get Into Your Dream School.
Get Free Consultation
image of dots background

You May Also Like