Is Earning a BSN Degree Worth Your Time and Effort?

There are many paths to becoming a registered nurse. With four generations working today in nursing, there are RNs with certifications from hospital diploma programs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and even master’s degrees.

For many hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, known more commonly as the BSN, is becoming the preferred entry into employment.

“More nurse executives are indicating their desire for the majority of their hospital staff nurses to be prepared at the baccalaureate level to meet the more complex demands of today’s patient care,” the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website states. “In fact, the words ‘BSN preferred’ are appearing more frequently in classified ads for registered nurses nationwide.”

But is a BSN worth it for you? In 1980, the federal Division of Nursing reported nearly 55% of nurses held a hospital diploma in nursing. Only 22% were BSN prepared. However, those statistics have changed drastically.

As of April 2019, AACN said 56% of nurses had obtained a BSN degree or higher.

AACN summarizes the benefits of completing BSN degree requirements by noting the broad array of roles these nurses can work in after achieving their degree.

“The BSN nurse is the only basic nursing graduate preferred to practice in all health care settings — critical care, ambulatory care, public health, and mental health — and thus has the greatest employment flexibility of any entry-level RN,” according to AACN’s website.

Short-term impact of a BSN degree

The two immediate gains after completing your BSN degree requirements are an increase in salary and job opportunities.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for all U.S registered nurses as of May 2019 was $73,300 per year.

However,’s 2020 Nurse Salary Research Report shed more light on the difference in nursing salary by degree level.

According to the research, which included a total of 7,431 respondents that represented all 50 states, the total average salary for BSN-prepared RNs was $73,000. Meanwhile, nurses with an associate degree had an average annual income of $65,ooo. RNs whose highest level of education was a diploma program had a total average salary of $55,000, the survey reported.

Among nine different geographic regions in the U.S., the western part of the country proved to be the highest-earning RNs, with an average income of $88,156. That region included nurses in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

When it comes to finding job opportunities, meeting BSN degree requirements can pay dividends.

BSN-prepared nurses often are preferred for manager or director roles, clinical nurse specialist jobs, nurse educator and researcher positions and case managers, among others.

The AACN notes a BSN allows nurses to take on a broader role in healthcare, including job opportunities in critical care, ambulatory care, public health and mental health. This gives nurses with a BSN degree the “greatest employment flexibility” in the nursing profession.

Long-term gains

As you consider pursuing BSN degree requirements, don’t just think a year down the road. Do yourself a favor and look even further into the future.

Will your BSN help you move into a future leadership or management role, such as a nursing director, nurse manager or CNO? Would you like to become a nursing educator? Perhaps you’d like to be a nurse consultant or business owner.

Or, will going back to school for a BSN eventually lead to a master’s degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice?

Do some math as well. Will the money spent on a BSN be a good financial return based on the number of years remaining in your career? Compare what your earnings would be with and without completing your BSN degree requirements.

Knowing where you’re headed in nursing can serve as an important guidepost to decide on a BSN.

By the numbers

Cost and time are major considerations when looking into how to complete BSN degree requirements.

For working nurses, there are a wide variety of options.

An accelerated RN to BSN program, which can last between 11 and 18 months on average, has a cost ranging from $17,000 to $90,000. The wide array of cost estimates depends on a school’s location, whether the program is online or in person. A traditional four-year BSN program for non-nurses can run from $40,000 to $200,000.

Working nurses can enroll in RN to BSN programs that run approximately 18 to 24 months. Online programs can be completed in as little as 12 months. The costs can range from $8,000 to $55,000.

For many schools, there are some costs you might not be thinking about. These can vary greatly based on attending school in a big city or studying online from a small town.

The additional costs can include books, parking, shoes, scrubs, clinical fees, transportation, childcare and technology requirements, such as smartphone apps, laptops or tablet computers. When looking into schools, be sure to ask about extra requirements that can add costs to the program as a whole.

Numerous health systems and hospitals around the country offer tuition reimbursements. To find out more, contact your employer’s human resources department. Nurses also can visit the Johnson & Johnson website for its Discover Nursing campaign. The site offers links to websites that detail how much reimbursement is allowed by employers.

What you can learn

Because of the additional schooling, a BSN can help students and working nurses dig deeper into the art and science of nursing.

Some of the courses that can meet BSN degree requirements include:

  • Community health
  • Clinical problem solving
  • Nursing ethics
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Caring for older patients
  • Maternal/newborn nursing
  • Management and leadership
  • Public health
  • Nursing research
  • Evidence-based practice

More subjects and how to work with different patient populations are among the key lessons in a bachelor’s program in nursing. This allows those who achieve a BSN to enter into more diverse roles in the profession upon degree completion.

Unexpected benefits

Along with three letters listed after your name, a BSN can have some other important benefits.

In a 2016 blog post, working nurses discussed several outcomes they didn’t expect from entering into a BSN program. They included:

  • Pride: Achieving your BSN degree requirements can boost your self-esteem and allow you to feel more confident as a healthcare clinician.
  • Light your educational fire: Going back to school and having success often leads some nurses to strive for additional degrees or certifications.
  • Boost computer literacy: Especially as part of an online program, nurses get very familiar with their computers, learning new tips and tricks along the way.
  • Build a community: RNs who return to school find plenty of like-minded people in their programs and tend to make personal and professional connections.

Do your homework

Regardless of which path you take into nursing, start by doing some homework to decide whether fulfilling the BSN degree requirements is the right fit for you.

According to Kerri Hines, department chair of nursing at San Jacinto College-North Campus in Texas, in an August 2019 interview, “The first course of action is for a person to research which pathway is best for him or her, as well as research requirements for each.”

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