RN to BSN to MSN programs have a different DNA structure to RN to MSN offerings. Here you’ll find a breakdown of how RN-BSN-MSN programs work, the scoop on online RN-BSN-MSN programs, and a summary of the pros & cons of earning a BSN.
RN to BSN to MSN Overview
What is an RN-BSN-MSN Program?
Many schools, both online and on-campus, now offer registered nurses (RNs) the ability to earn a BSN and MSN together. This arrangement may be more time- and cost-effective than pursuing degrees one at a time.
That’s because they allow students to take MSN courses in place of certain BSN nursing courses as electives, counting them toward both degrees. Moreover, the MSN courses offer a higher level of content and more focused instruction than their BSN equivalents.
Note: As we discuss elsewhere, RN to MSN accelerated programs do not award an actual BSN during coursework, even if BSN classes were required on the way to earning an MSN.
There are three basic types of RN to BSN to MSN programs:
- Programs that award a BSN when those requirements are met during the program.
- Programs that award a BSN, but only alongside the MSN at the very end of the program.
- Programs that offer an RN-BSN-MSN program for nurses that hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing.
Such nuances may matter little to some students, but for others it might make a big difference. For example:
- Earning a BSN while pursuing an MSN could allow the working student nurse to earn more money or receive a promotion while still attending school. Additionally, if something were to happen to derail that student’s education plans near the end of the program, at least they would still have a BSN.
- Earning a BSN and MSN from a school that only awards both at the completion of both programs could pay off by pumping up the education section of a résumé and standing out to potential employers.
How Long Will a RN-BSN-MSN Take?
Typically, a full-time student will take three years to complete this type of accelerated program. (That’s two years for the last half of the baccalaureate plus another year for the master’s.) However, some programs advertise that they can be finished in as few as 24 months. For part-time programs, count on four to five years of coursework.
What are the Academic Credit Requirements?
Somewhere in the range of 120 to 150 semester credits are required. However, RNs receive credit for classes they have completed at the associate level (typically at least 30 credits), which reduces that total. Individuals may also be able to transfer certain courses from postsecondary classes in other programs, if applicable.
What is the Average Cost of Tuition?
There is a wide range in the cost of these accelerated programs — anywhere from $13,000 to $70,000. However, most tend to be in the $20,000 to $35,000 range. Of course, transferring as many credits as possible from other institutions helps save you money. Some schools let you transfer in as much as 75% of required credits.
How RN to BSN to MSN Programs Work
RN-BSN-MSN Admissions & Prerequisites
Not surprisingly, requirements vary from institution to institution. Typically, at the bare minimum, students must have a current nursing license and either an associate degree or diploma from an accredited program. For the most part, work experience isn’t a requirement. However, some programs give credit for it, usually toward required clinical hours.
A few programs require GRE exam results but many do not. Most require a 3.0 minimum GPA from nursing program work and official transcripts from any postsecondary institution attended. Other common requirements are a resume, statement of intent and letters of recommendation.
RN-BSN-MSN Program Structure
What makes an RN-BSN-MSN program accelerated? Program structure varies by school. The most common way to make the program accelerated is by allowing several master’s level classes to be applied to the bachelor’s degree requirements, shortening the amount of time needed to complete both the BSN and MSN.
Another popular way that schools accelerate the program is to award BSN course credit for not only previous academic coursework but also demonstrated college-level knowledge and professional development. Many schools, however, require that specific prerequisite undergraduate courses be completed before the start of the program, either at their school or elsewhere.
RN-BSN-MSN Program Specializations
Many schools offer the opportunity to choose a key area of nursing during the master’s program. Other institutions offer the ability to complete additional credit hours within a specialty at the conclusion of the RN to BSN to MSN program. Whether a student is picking up a BSN along the way or not, the typical MSN degree requires specialization. Some common specializations include:
• Family Nurse Practitioner
• Healthcare Informatics
• Leadership and Management
• Nursing Education
• Nursing Health Care Administration
• Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
• Public Health
RN-BSN-MSN Clinical Work
Clinical hours will always be a required part of any nursing program. On-campus programs typically require the student to complete these on or near campus. However, online programs sometimes use a student’s previous nursing experience to count toward required clinical and lab work, which is a great way to reduce the time spent earning a degree. If that option isn’t possible, students work with the school to arrange a clinical site near where the student resides to do rotations. Some schools, such as Sacred Heart University, even offer the opportunity to complete clinical requirements internationally.
The clinical work tends to be counted toward the MSN rather than BSN part of the program, but since these programs allow for degrees to be earned concurrently, that doesn’t necessarily mean students wait until the end to complete practicums.
Here is an example, given by the University of Southern California, of its clinical requirements:
- Placement rotations: 4
- Length of rotation: 14 weeks each
- Hours per week: 14
- Total: 784 clinical hours
Online RN to BSN to MSN programs
Online RN-BSN-MSN Options
There is no shortage of available online nursing degrees. However, to find an RN to BSN to MSN program that awards a BSN is a little trickier. Many that do are 100% online, but others require a small amount of on-campus lab work. Here are seven online RN-BSN-MSN programs that make sure students receive that BSN along the way.
- Capella University runs a 100% online program with different “paths” to choose from. Essentially, these paths allow more structured formats with deadlines for those who need it, and more flexible schedules that are self-paced.
- Jacksonville University offers a fully online program as well. Both the BSN and MSN degree are awarded at the same time, at the end of the program. Students choose between three specialization tracks. Jacksonville also offers a 10% discount on tuition for US military nurses stationed around the world.
- Sacred Heart University advertises three specializations in its 100% online program. Up to 90 transfer credits are allowed. It’s a Catholic university, so expect some required undergraduate-level classes built into the foundation.
- South University in Tampa, Florida, mixes fully online classes with on-campus clinical training. The BSN and MSN are awarded at the same time, with five areas of specialization available. Students who live in certain states are unable to attend, so check the fine print.
- University of South Alabama offers a completely online program with clinical requirements to be completed in the student’s community. The program is broken into two phases, with the BSN earned first. Four specializations are offered in the second, graduate-level, phase.
- University of Southern California’s blended online and campus program provides small online classes limited to 12 students alongside live classes. Two in-person campus assessments are required in Los Angeles. This is one of the costliest programs on the list, totaling around $91,000.
- Walden University’s 100% online program allows up to 75% of credits to be transferred in toward degree requirements. With maximum credit transfer, this can bring the cost down to a mere $15,970. Choose from six specializations.
How Do Online RN-BSN-MSN Programs Work?
Many online RN to BSN to MSN programs are 100% online, with no on-site requirements. Other than clinical requirements, as discussed previously, all of the coursework can be done remotely and generally on your own time. Many of these programs help students find clinical sites within their communities.
Some programs, however, require in-person assessments. For example, the University of Southern California mandates students attend two “on-campus intensives” at its Los Angeles campus for three days each. This gives the faculty an opportunity to assess a student’s learning progression and skills in person.
Online RN-BSN-MSN Programs & Accreditation
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are two acronyms to look for while perusing online degree programs. These are the two most respected accreditors of nursing programs in the United States.
Accreditation is crucial for all degree programs, but especially online ones. It provides students and potential employers with a sense of confidence regarding the program’s standards. CCNE and ACEN are external organizations, recognized by the Department of Education, that ensure a high-quality nursing program is being offered. It’s also possible to go directly to their respective websites to check the school they accredit.
RN to MSN vs. RN to BSN to MSN
Is Earning a BSN Worth It?
It depends. As you can probably glean from the above, there’s no standard RN to BSN to MSN. Moreover, employers rarely care about the details of your undergraduate education if you’ve got a graduate degree — that’s the one that counts.
- For RNs who have a large number of college credits (outside of their nursing degree), it might be more beneficial to just pursue the straight RN to MSN accelerated pathway, especially if there is an upper limit on how many credits can be transferred to an institution in order to earn the BSN.
- For schools that don’t provide a BSN mid-program, it’s hard to argue that embarking on this route would somehow give you protection in case you didn’t finish the whole program. Practically speaking, such programs are really no different than straight RN to MSN degrees.
- RN to BSN to MSN programs may be unnecessary for RNs who are not looking to specialize. It’s better for such nurses to simply enroll in a BSN, which saves more time and money still.
Schools that do provide a BSN mid-program, however, are a different story. These can allow you to immediately compete for higher salaries and promotions as soon as that credential is in your hands. And should you need to slow down on the way to a master’s, no one can take your BSN away.