How Long is an RN to BSN Program?

Written By: Julie Monroe BSN, RN

You’re a registered nurse, and you feel ready to take that leap and complete your bachelor’s degree in nursing. But maybe you’re concerned about the time commitment that completing a BSN program will require and are wondering if going back to school will cause too much of a disruption to your life. You likely have numerous questions about the process. How long are BSN to RN programs? Is achieving your BSN a realistic goal when you have other responsibilities demanding your time? Are all of the RN to BSN programs similar in format and requirements? In this article, we’ll look the length of typical RN to BSN programs as well as factors that can influence the amount of time you could expect to commit when pursuing your degree.

How Long are RN to BSN Programs?

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there are currently 777 RN to BSN nursing programs in the United States alone. More than 600 of these are offered completely or partially online. Most RN to BSN programs can be completed in approximately two years. However, this can vary quite a bit depending on the school you attend and the type of program you decide to enroll in – on-campus, online, or hybrid. The length of each program can also depend on how many credits a particular school requires for the RN to BSN degree. This is usually about 30 credits (or 10 courses) but can sometimes be as many as 45 or more.

On-Campus RN to BSN Program Length:

Traditional RN to BSN programs hold classes on campus and meet regularly throughout each academic semester. These can be completed within nine months to two years, depending on the program and how many undergraduate credits you enter with. Online and hybrid programs have gained considerable popularity, so on-campus RN to BSN programs are not as common as they once were. However, for students who have time for in-person lectures and classwork, or who prefer group and face to face learning, on-campus programs can still be a great option. On-campus settings also provide the benefit of structured learning for students who thrive on routine and need the additional accountability that may be lacking in non-traditional programs.

San Jose State University offers an RN to BSN program on its campus that can be completed in three semesters of full-time study. This amounts to less than a year of coursework. Though attending an on-campus program like this can make it more difficult for nurses who work full time, it often makes it possible to obtain a BSN quickly.

Online RN to BSN Program Length:

Online RN to BSN programs have become an increasingly popular way for associate-trained nurses to further their education while still being able to work full-time. These programs usually range anywhere from 12 months to 24 months to complete. Online RN to BSN programs typically offer the most flexibility to nursing students who have full schedules and aren’t able to attend in-person classes. Some completely online programs are now offering self-paced or independent learning schedules and shorter classes which can decrease the overall commitment to as little as 9 months.

The University of Southern Indiana offers an online RN to BSN program that can be completed in 14 months of full-time study, with the benefit of short, 8-week courses, rather than traditional 16-week long courses more common in traditional on-campus programs.

Hybrid RN to BSN Program Length:

Hybrid programs are a combination of online coursework and face to face time, such as classes on campus, clinical rotations, or other educational requirements that are not part of independent learning. The total time commitment for these programs can range from two to five semesters. A benefit of hybrid programs is that they are flexible but still provide practical hands-on learning that is so relevant to daily nursing practice. These also provide a way for students to feel connected with others in their cohorts, instead of feeling like they are going through the program alone.

The University of Oklahoma’s hybrid RN to BSN nursing program is tailored to working registered nurses by offering online coursework in addition to optional Saturday classes. It offers three different schedule tracks for students to choose from, the shortest of which can be completed in 9 months with full-time study. This RN to BSN program also requires weekly practicums but strives to accommodate students’ work schedules.

Factors to Consider that Affect RN to BSN Program Length

There tends to be wide variability in nursing education and BSN programs. Admissions requirements and curricula are not always consistent from school to school, which can influence the amount of time it takes to complete a degree. While many of these differences are minor, you should still take them into consideration when estimating the amount of time it will take you to achieve your goal of a BSN.

Program Prerequisites:

Many nursing schools differ in their entrance requirements for nursing students. Though you may have an associate degree in nursing and are currently licensed, certain schools may insist on additional coursework before you can officially start their RN to BSN program. The number of prerequisites you need to complete may also be influenced by the credits you earned obtaining your associate's degree. However, some schools will allow you to complete a few of these credits after being accepted to the program.

Rolling Admissions and Multiple Start Dates:

Some nursing programs still hold to traditional application and admission schedules, with only two to three start dates each year. However, some programs may have rolling admissions and more frequent start dates. These academic calendars can affect how quickly you can start an RN to BSN program, and will especially be influenced if you have prerequisites that need to be completed.

Pace of Learning:

RN to BSN programs differ in their requirements for the amount of time students may take to complete their degrees. Some of these programs offer full-time and part-time study, while others only offer one or the other. Still others, like Purdue University’s Excel™ Track Bachelor’s in Nursing allows students to tailor their learning experiences by completing courses at their own pace within 10-week periods. In this case, students take as many courses as possible within the 10-week timeframe while paying one flat fee.

Recognition of Previous Coursework and Proficiency Credits:

Many nurses that are returning to school to complete their RN to BSN degrees have worked in healthcare for years and have significant nursing experience. Some schools are starting to offer credit to nurses for their proficiency and knowledge gained while on the job. The University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, will automatically give 33 credits of proficiency credit to entering students who graduated from a state-approved ADN program and are currently licensed. The earned credits can significantly reduce the amount of time needed to complete a nursing program, and it also acknowledges the value of on the job training.

Required Clinicals and Practicums:

RN to BSN programs differ on the clinicals, practicums, and simulation labs that they may require students to attend. Depending on the school, some of these programs may offer online simulations and clinical-style learning, while others only use the online platform for didactic coursework. Those that require in-person educational activities often have a longer total time commitment to complete a BSN degree.

Accreditation and Quality of Education:

While you probably want to get into school and complete your BSN as quickly as possible, it is important to consider the quality of education you will receive from the programs you are considering. Are they accredited by reputable and regional accrediting bodies? Do they offer only the bare minimum education and learning activities, or do they go above and beyond to prepare their graduates to be the best BSN-trained nurses possible? Don’t let the allure of a short program sidetrack you from getting the education and experience that will best serve you in the long run.

The Bottomline

So, ultimately, how long does it take to complete an RN to BSN program? As you can see, there are multiple factors that influence the overall time commitment, but it will roughly take 12 to 18 months on average for full-time students. For busy, working registered nurses, this may seem like a long process, but in reality, the time passes very quickly. Considering the opportunities for career advances and enhanced personal development that a BSN degree brings, the short time commitment may well be worth it for you.

Julie Monroe BSN, RN
Julie Monroe is a registered nurse, freelance science writer, and graduate student who is completing an MSN in Forensic Nursing. She is passionate about nursing research, medical writing, and the pursuit of social justice for all of those who are marginalized within the healthcare system.