R.N. to B.S.N. Program Decision Tool
There are many things to consider when choosing the right Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program to meet your needs.
Many associate degree (AD) prepared registered nurses (RN) return to school to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, due to personal goals, or employer mandates. With 777 different RN to BSN programs offered in the United States, and a variety of delivery formats and schedules, selecting the best program to meet an individual’s needs is challenging.
Below you will find a decision tree outlining all of the different aspects to consider when choosing an RN to BSN program. Each section will dig deeper into those considerations with questions you should ask yourself prior to applying.
First, you should reflect on your personal plans and goals as you consider returning for your BSN.
It is important to first ensure that your program of interest is an accredited program. Accreditation includes meeting national and professional requirements through organizations such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Council for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Both CCNE and ACEN ensure certain program and educational standards are met including faculty qualifications, required content, and organizational standards. Attending an accredited program means that students are eligible for national financial aid programs, and credits earned are more easily transferred to other universities.
For some ADN-prepared nurses, obtaining a BSN degree was their intent when starting their ADN program. These individuals may be considering furthering their education beyond a BSN and pursuing a graduate degree.
If continuing your education beyond the BSN is even a slight possibility, consider what graduate degree you desire and select a BSN program that best prepares you for your graduate studies. This includes programs with clinical courses if you plan to become an NP. You may also consider schools of nursing that offer the advanced degree you desire.
If your decision to earn your BSN is based on legislative or employer requirements, or if you are undecided about your future professional plans, consider choosing a program that provides the greatest long-term option, including those that are accredited with a strong reputation. The least expensive and quickest option may not be the best choice in the long run.
The decision to return for your BSN may be based on organizational or legislative requirements to obtain your BSN in a certain timeframe. Make sure you consider the program length including completing prerequisite or general education requirements to complete the degree in the required timeline.
There are multiple considerations when you are thinking about the best program format for you:
- Format: Programs may be exclusively online, hybrid (combination of online and face-to-face), or entirely face-to-face.
- Technology: the level of experience with technology that is required for each program will vary based on the delivery format and the need to navigate online learning. Completing a learning self-assessment tool offered by prospective universities provides important information to students including what the university deems essential skills and the level of technology required for successful program completion. Taking multiple self-assessment tools can provide a well-rounded view of necessary skills and abilities and inform the decision-making process.
- Individual Format: Some students prefer to progress at their own rate or work alone. These students may search for programs that offer individualized formats rather than the cohort model.
- Cohort Format: A cohort model allows students to learn with and from peers over a period of time. This is especially helpful if the courses require group projects or if the student likes to study with peers.
The following questions should be considered when deciding what program format is the best fit for your unique learning style and needs:
- What kind of learner am I—audio, visual, both?
- Am I comfortable and adept at using technology and do I have the necessary tools to learn online including an up-to-date computer, software, and internet connections?
- Do I do better with self-scheduling or set schedules?
- Do I prefer working alone and completing my work at my own rate?
- Are there group projects? If so, how will I collaborate with other students to complete these requirements?
As you explore RN to BSN programs, be sure to ask whether completed credits from your ADN program will transfer to the prospective BSN program, as well as how many courses remain to meet all graduation requirements.
Questions to consider include:
The number and type of transfer credits each RN to BSN program accepts varies and can impact the time to graduation. If a student previously earned credits at a university that offers an RN to BSN program, they may have met many graduation requirements.
Some RN to BSN programs require students to complete general education (also known as liberal arts) graduation requirements in addition to nursing courses. The content in these additional general education courses improves decision-making and critical thinking skills, as well as provides content that can inform nursing practice in nuanced ways.
Several RN to BSN programs have affiliation or concurrent enrollment agreements in place with ADN programs. Concurrent enrollment programs are designed for students still in their ADN program to also enroll in an RN to BSN program, ultimately decreasing the time it takes to earn a BSN degree. Concurrent enrollment agreements also have financial aid and advising implications. Affiliation agreements typically lack the coordination of financial aid that concurrent enrollment programs provide, but help students move more seamlessly between ADN and RN to BSN programs. Therefore, students are encouraged to find out whether their ADN program has one of these types of agreements as it can impact the number and type of transfer credits, and credits remaining for graduation.
Your time is precious and is a key consideration when choosing an RN to BSN program.
- Consider the length of courses, as well as the amount of time you must dedicate to schoolwork or travel time to the program of choice.
- Application deadlines are another important item to consider.
- Competing time demands involving family or social responsibilities, work schedules, and other obligations should impact your decision-making process.
A few key questions to ask yourself regarding time include:
Traditional semester or term length courses allow more time to explore concepts and master content, with assignments spread out over a longer period of time. This course length allows students to take more credits per semester; however, requires the student to divide their time between multiple courses. If a student chooses courses that includes meeting face-to-face, then they need to consider frequency of face-to-face meetings, the time and distance traveled for classes, including clinical experiences. For students, a general rule of thumb is to allow three hours of homework time for every credit hour they are taking. This helps students determine which length of courses may work best for them.
Working RN to BSN students must make sure that their work schedule aligns with the format of courses chosen. If their work schedule is flexible, they may choose from several course options. If their work schedule is fixed, they need to consider availability for face-to-face or hybrid meeting dates. Even if the courses are offered on-line, students need to know if there are scheduled synchronous meeting dates to consider with their work schedule.
Is my work schedule flexible or fixed? Will I be able to commute to campus regularly for face-to-face courses, and how much time does the commute require?
RN to BSN students often have other time demands to consider, such as family or social responsibilities. Caring for children, or participating in their after-school events, the availability of childcare (and cost), or caring for aging family members are major considerations in returning to school. RN to BSN students may also be involved in their communities, serving on committees or in other roles. A thoughtful self-assessment regarding these important time demands includes resources to help meet these demands such as family assistance with childcare or caring for family members like aging parents or grandparents. Cultural considerations are also important, as the expectations of participating in family events and traditions vary by culture.
It is important for RNs to be active in the community, especially in leadership roles as this advances the profession. The time commitment for these volunteer roles is another consideration. RN to BSN students need to consider the flexibility of these time demands, if they can take a hiatus from community involvement, or if the requirements can be modified or incorporated into academic work while earning their BSN.
What support systems do I have that can assist in my success in the program? Can any of my responsibilities be modified or incorporated into my coursework?
What do I need to submit for a complete application? How does this fit with my personal timeline?
Programs often have application deadlines to both the university and the RN to BSN program. Students must keep these deadlines in mind and allow enough time to prepare application materials by the deadline. This may include sending official transcripts showing previous course work, applications or essays to complete, and paying any application fees. It is also important to note the start dates of a program and how that aligns with other decision-making factors.
Paying for a BSN degree is a major factor to consider when returning to school.
To get a sense of the scholarship opportunities available for RN to BSN Program students, visit the GVSU RN to BSN Program Scholarship Website.
As you navigate different programs, consider:
What scholarships or loans are available to help finance your education and what are their requirements/timelines?
Many universities require students to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for both loans and scholarships. As the name implies, it is free. Never pay a fee for completing this form. The FAFSA determines the estimated level of family contribution, and any federal aid available for the student. You should note any deadlines for filing the FAFSA for each semester of school, how the financial aid package is dispersed (over just fall and winter semester, or fall, winter, and summer semester), and any separate application requirements for the summer semester.
Additionally, there are unique questions related to adult learners such as home assets and expenses, which only a financial aid representative can answer. You should connect with a school financial aid representative to explore payment options for your education including possible scholarships or grants available to nontraditional students. Loans typically need to be repaid whereas scholarships do not require repayment if the student is in good academic standing.
- What are the requirements, documents, or timelines to consider?
- For employer-paid benefits, is there a repayment term if you do not complete your degree?
- Is there a work requirement for every semester you receive tuition reimbursement? If so, do you need to stay in the same role or can you change roles with your new degree?
If you are currently employed as an RN, you should investigate whether your employer participates in tuition reimbursement and which schools are eligible for this benefit. Employers may require the employee to commit to a specific time of employment after graduation or once monies are dispersed.
Every program offers different kinds and levels of organizational support. A few examples include:
- Tutoring: academic support in the form of writing centers and tutoring services for course requirements.
- Accessibility: if you require accommodations for a disability, many schools offer learning and accessibility resources.
- Academic advising: is made available to students as they start and progress through their RN to BSN programs. Academic advisors are typically available to help with signing up for courses each semester.
- Veteran services: in addition to special programming and resources, there may also be other benefits offered through scholarships or grants specific to this population.
- Support groups: joining support groups, such as those for gender identity, ethnic, or family role identity may be available to connect with other students.
Important questions you should ask when considering organizational resources include the following:
Academic support is key even for students with a strong academic history. Formal academic writing is an area where many RN to BSN students require assistance. This includes academic writing style, which means following a certain style such as American Psychological Association (APA) for references and paper format. Writing support may be available in the form of a formal writing center, or in peer proofing and writing support. Tutoring can be especially helpful in mastering time-saving and effective study techniques, or mastering content that is new, complex, or challenging such as statistics, advanced pathophysiology, or general education courses.
A strong, consistent relationship with an academic advisor is important for RN to BSN students. They can help develop you develop a progression plan to meet graduation requirements based on your unique student needs and timelines. An academic advisor can also help you navigate organizational resources, scholarships, or other support available to you. They can also assist with enrollment or registration concerns, and how to navigate the academic system should unexpected life events occur that may change your academic progression plan.
Many schools have specific departments supporting the needs of students who served in the military. There are unique benefits to Veterans such as tuition assistance, or peer support that are often overlooked. Connecting with a Veteran’s Office can ensure that RN to BSN students receive all of the benefits entitled to those who served our country. This may also be an area where Veterans can find support from fellow Veterans who are enrolled in the academic institution.
Support for students who have different learning styles, or need accommodations is often best vetted through a disability support office. This office or department can help you receive needed or entitled benefits, or assess for learning needs. This support can make the difference between success and not completing a program. If you definitely or possibly require these services, don't hesitate to reach out and explore the options available.
Identity support groups include those with a specific ethnic or gender identity, such as African American, Hispanic, Asian, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer or questioning (LGBTQ). The social support from others in these groups can provide peer support to help you succeed in your program. There may also be identity-based scholarships available that are more known to members of these groups.
Technical support is important regardless of the delivery format, as many programs incorporate some aspect of technology into their coursework. It is important to know the type and hours of support offered for technology, especially if the majority of your coursework will occur outside of normal business hours. Ask if your prospective program has computer labs that can serve as a dedicated learning space, especially if high-speed internet is not available at your home. Support for the Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard or Desire to Learn is also important as you become familiar with the delivery method for online learning.
When selecting an RN to BSN program, you should inquire about the type, length, and format of clinical or experiential learning. It is important to know your role in securing clinical placement or a preceptor and the types of learning experiences required. You may struggle to find a preceptor or learning experience on your own if there are multiple schools of nursing in the area, which can delay your progression and time to graduation.
Make a Decision
Returning to school to earn a BSN has multiple implications for everyone. You should thoroughly consider each aspect to make the best decision based on your unique situation. Making the decision to return to school is not a quick process, requiring time and thought. Review prospective program websites and don't hesitate to reach out to admissions counselors directly to have your questions answered.
For each student, different areas on this chart will hold different weights. While one program may be better for a friend or work colleague, it may not be the best for you. There is no one right or wrong answer, which is why you should take the time to think through your unique learning needs and future goals.
Explore the GVSU RN to BSN Program
If an online program is a good fit for you, check out the Grand Valley State University RN to BSN Program.
Our fully online RN to BSN program features synchronous and asynchronous coursework and small class sizes, which provide individualized, meaningful engagement with professors and fellow students. Unlike correspondence courses, our faculty guide students through every step of the program, meeting the needs of students working full-time. Local precepted clinical experiences are coordinated for you by our dedicated placement coordinator.
Who is the RN to BSN program made for?
- Students enrolled in an Associate Degree in Nursing, Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Nursing, or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree program
- Students just graduating with their associate's degree in nursing
- Registered Nurses who have been working for any length of time, or who are not currently working but still have an active, unencumbered RN license.
Do you have questions about the GVSU RN to BSN Program? Contact the Office of Student Services at [email protected].
Meet the Authors
This RN to BSN Decision Tool was designed by Grand Valley State University Kirkhof College of Nursing associate professor, Dr. Susan Strouse, and Doctor of Nursing Practice student, April Butler.
Do you have questions about the RN to BSN Decision Tool? Contact Dr. Strouse at [email protected].
Dr. Susan Strouse followed the RN to BSN education trajectory herself, later continuing her education to earn her MSN and Ph.D. in nursing. She has taught at both community colleges and universities with extensive experience teaching RN to BSN students. Dr. Strouse noted that students often did not have a systematic, informed method of selecting an RN to BSN program, and decided to remedy that gap by creating a decision-making tool to help with this process, informed by her personal, and professional experience.
April Butler also followed the RN to BSN pathway of advancing her education, graduating with her DNP in April 2022. April partnered her personal and professional knowledge with Dr. Strouse, to create this tool to help future RN to BSN students.