8 Things Nurses Should Know About Online RN to BSN Programs
By Brianna Flavin on 09/14/2023
When you are looking into your BSN program (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), you probably have a few primary considerations.
The cost of an online RN to BSN program’s tuition, the time it takes to complete (12-18 months1) and verifying that each option is with an accredited institution are three major boxes to check.
But once you get those answers, what’s your next step? How can you evaluate between different RN to BSN programs? How do you decide if online collegiate nursing education will work for you? How can you know you are making a good decision?
Registered nurses (RNs) who decide to enroll in an online BSN program are often taking the step to bring new life into their careers, according to Candy Bradbury, Assistant Professor in Rasmussen University’s RN to BSN program. She says the most common reasons nurses enroll in the program are because they want to advance their careers and pursue opportunities in their employment (in some cases because their employers are asking nurses to gain a BSN degree).
“The big overall factor for nurses is when they’ve decided they want more,” Bradbury says. “They want to further their growth for their community.” Even so, actually taking that step can be nerve-wracking.
“It’s true with any adventure,” Bradbury says. “You’re going to be a little nervous.”
One thing that can help at this stage is to get a clearer picture of what you want in an RN to BSN program. You’ve narrowed down some options based on the biggest elements of your decision. Now, let’s zoom a little closer.
Read on for 8 things you should really know about online RN to BSN programs, and get some clarity on if this type of nursing education will work for you.
1. The program you choose should emphasize your existing experience
You are a registered nurse. You earned that RN license. Plus, you might've even worked during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most intense periods the healthcare industry has undergone in the last few decades. You have been through some powerful experiences, and a good RN to BSN program should anticipate that.
“Our program is unique because it allows students to use personal and professional experience to enhance what they are learning,” Bradbury. Your BSN online program shouldn’t just be about gaining knowledge, reading nursing journals or attending lectures, it should be about reflecting on your experiences as a nurse so far—and applying new knowledge to situations you’ve already encountered.
“Our students apply their experiences in nursing practice as part of the primary deliverables for these courses,” Bradbury says.
For example, in one of the first courses nurses take in this program, Integration of Genetics and Genomics into Ethical Nursing Practice, students reflect on an ethical dilemma from their nursing experience, comparing that dilemma to new concepts they learn about resource allocation, patient advocacy and their own emotional connection to the scenario.
Then, they strategize solutions to similar future dilemmas, as well as how to work with healthcare employers to try and prevent such situations from occurring in the first place.
These course assignments are a good example of what a BSN program should do for nurses—build on your existing skills to deepen and enhance your nursing practice going forward.
2. Some RN to BSN programs rely on lectures and tests, others rely on scenario-based assignments
What learning format will your program use? In that example above, you can see how assignments in our RN to BSN program are different from the typical model of… watch a recorded lecture, take notes, study, then take an exam at the end.
“Our empowered learning™ model is one thing that really makes us different,” says Allyson Hopperstad, DNP, RN and clinical coordinator for the RN to BSN program. “When you learn this way (competency-based education) learning is the constant and time is the variable—instead of the other way around.”
Instead of structuring each course like…week 1 lectures and tests, week 2 lectures and tests, and so on, we designed our program to allow nurses to complete modules in the order that makes sense to them.
“Jump in and complete the deliverables for concepts you already know pretty well when you are pressed for time,” Hopperstad says. “Then, tackle the newer material when you have more time. There’s so much more student choice in this, to give students their autonomy.”
Besides, nursing is a hands-on, practical profession. The work you spend time on in your education should also be practical. If you are someone who loves taking exams, this won’t be the program for you.
3. You can keep working as you complete the BSN program
Did you work during your last nursing program? How did it go? Nurses definitely keep a constant balancing act, both on the job and in their personal lives. And your education is similar.
That said, a good online RN to BSN program should be designed to fit into a full-time working schedule, since the students are all registered nurses.
“Oh yes, our students are working,” Bradbury says. “Some are able to adjust their working schedule to create more time for their education, but many students have to balance a full work schedule.”
To make things a little easier on working nurses, Bradbury says the Rasmussen RN to BSN online program doesn’t have weekly deadlines for coursework. Instead, students need to just check in to their course every 10 days and complete all the deliverables by the end of the course.
“We know time management looks different for everyone,” Bradbury explains. “You might have variation in what you can commit to each week.”
4. You’ll need organization strategies (keep a calendar)
“The students who really succeed in this program are those who have a strong calendar and work to stay organized,” says Dianne Johnson, Assistant Professor in Rasmussen’s RN to BSN degree program.
In an online program with modules that give you more control over your own pace, students who don’t make a plan can procrastinate their assignments and wind up stressed.
If you are a naturally organized or scheduled person, that will definitely help! But if you struggle with time management, Johnson and Bradbury both recommend student resources at Rasmussen, where you can take advantage of specific time management tools or tutorials, as well as get some advice from peer educators or tutors on how to balance your nursing education with all your other responsibilities.
5. A streamlined, online learning platform can make or break your experience
Sometimes you take university courses and have to scramble for the first few weeks just figuring out how the professor has laid out the BSN curriculum, where you should even look to find your assignments and how the schedule will work.
The time you spend navigating a confusing learning platform or adjusting to every single new course is time you aren’t spending learning what you need to know.
“Our RN to BSN program courses are all laid out the same way,” Johnson says, adding that the consistency in that is one thing students really appreciate about the program. “They’ll all have seven deliverables with authentic, real-world work.”
The format is consistent, so once you adjust to your first online course, you’ll have the lay of the land for the rest of your program until clinicals. “It’s a huge plus,” Johnson says. “You know what the workload will be each time.”
6. You’ll do your clinicals in-person
You might be wondering, how do online nursing programs handle clinicals? No matter how far technology has come, there’s no substitute for that in-person, practical experience.
A good online RN to BSN program will have a system for their clinical placements.
“We have dedicated clinical coordinators who meet with students one on one to help them find a suitable site,” Hopperstad says. Hopperstad, who is one of these clinical coordinators, says she will start working with students months before their clinicals need to begin.
“Students are often overwhelmed at first,” she says. “But then I ask them, ‘Who do you work with? Who is in your network?’ and they’ll light up with ideas we can pursue.” Hopperstad also works with local organizations all over the place to create lasting connections with clinical opportunities. “We have a whole repository network we can use to help you find a clinical opportunity.”
“Since students are the ones with boots on the ground—we work with you to find a site that will really enhance your experience,” Hopperstad says. She often reaches out to Johnson for great public health clinical opportunities.
“Yep!” Johnson laughs, “we don’t just want you to have another typical bedside nursing experience.” She explains that they work hard to find interactive, community-facing clinicals for RN to BSN students interested in public health, since that clinical involves direct care.
“Students say that they learn so much and had no idea how many community resources were available,” Johnson says. “Even if they don’t move into public health, they understand where those resources in their community are—that broader perspective.”
For the registered nurse who chooses a leadership path in the program, the clinicals are easier to find (since they are indirect care opportunities).
7. It’s normal to ask for help
Nurses are so much stronger in community, working together and supporting each other. And that’s true in your nursing education as well. You already have your job, and you might feel like you need to just power through an online RN to BSN program on your own—but that approach can be detrimental.
“The students who really thrive reach out for help and follow up on recommendations,” Johnson says. She explains that might mean having a longer conversation with your instructor or reaching out to a faculty member for guidance. It might also mean putting one of your papers in the writing lab or connecting with a tutor.
“If I see a student derail, it’s a student who doesn’t understand how valuable and supportive our faculty and resources are,” Hopperstad says. She explains that if a student falls behind or hits a roadblock of some kind and disappears, that’s when they really suffer in the RN to BSN program.
“As soon as a student picks up the phone or responds to an email, we can get them back on track,” Hopperstad says. The RN to BSN faculty know what it's like to be working as a registered nurse and also need to keep up with nursing courses and life in general.
“Just say, hey, can you meet with me?—to anyone here. The best ingredient in our recipe is our faculty,” she says. “Our team is here for the right reasons. That’s what makes me stay.”
8. Student support resources make all the difference
Your online RN to BSN program should be so much more than material you can access virtually. It should come with guidance, professionals dedicated to helping students thrive. One thing that can make an online BSN program different from an in-person nursing program is quick access to the type of help you need for each situation.
“The online modality is such an important resource,” Bradbury says. “In this program you have instructors and peers to reach out to, of course, but you also have quick access to an amazing IT department, tutors from the library who will work with you one-on-one and resources made specifically for online students.”
Need technical help? Need clarification on one of your deliverables? Someone to show you how to get writing advice on a paper? ESL support? Help navigating school during a sudden life event? Financial aid advice?
Students encounter so many different hurdles during their education. Your program should anticipate that. (For a look at what these resources are like at Rasmussen, check out 12 Surprising Student Resources You Didn't Know Rasmussen University Offered.)
The student support is one of the things Johnson finds especially unique and strong in Rasmussen’s program. “Our faculty really give 120% to the students.” This is so key when you're actually working through an RN to BSN online. If your professors aren't intentionally engaging you, the whole experience can feel isolating and unmotivating.
“You are not alone,” Bradbury says. “We will help you each step of the way, and we will be there until you are ready to walk across that line with your head held high.”
Nurses, you really can do this
“Nurses are already excellent at working through stressful situations and finding balance,” Bradbury says. She explains that you probably already know more than you think about time management, utilizing support systems and staying dedicated.
Not to mention, you've already gotten your associate degree. A BSN degree isn't all that different—just a continuation of what you've already begun. If you already hold an active RN license (unencumbered) in the U.S., you've already met the basic requirements to apply.2
The RN to BSN online program you choose should be challenging—but it should also be fascinating. It shouldn’t just give you another credential after your name, but also empower your practice and nursing career.
If this is sounding like the type of online nursing degree you are looking for, check out the Rasmussen University School of Nursing RN to BSN online Bachelor’s degree page to get details on tuition cost, frequently asked questions and the advantages you can expect from advancing your career with a BSN.
1Completion time is dependent on transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
2Applicants must hold a current unencumbered Registered Nurse (RN) license issued by a board of nursing in the U.S. Rasmussen University defines a current, unencumbered license as a license that is unexpired and has not been reprimanded, stipulated, suspended, revoked, or has any current or prior disciplinary action regardless of current ability to practice. This online program is not available to residents of all states. Please speak with an Admissions Advisor to determine your eligibility for enrollment.
This program is not available to residents of all states. Speak with an admissions advisor regarding additional entrance requirements and to determine your eligibility for enrollment.
Empowered Learning™ is a registered trademark of Rasmussen University