nurse and patient

What Is a BSN in Nursing?

Nursing has a lot of acronyms. From common ones like RN and LPN to the less-familiar DNP or even PMHNP-BC, it can get a little confusing. 

So what exactly is a BSN? It stands for Bachelor of Science in Nursing. It is an undergraduate degree that prepares nurses with both a thorough understanding of clinical practice and a broader knowledge of the healthcare system. 

Maybe all you need is that brief answer. To get a little more depth, however, keep reading to find out how a BSN compares to other nursing degrees, why someone might want to earn one, and what getting the degree involves. 

The Main Nursing Degrees and Titles

One of the things that can be confusing about the acronyms you encounter when reading about nursing is that some of them represent degrees and others represent titles. Let’s start with a quick overview to help you keep it all straight.


PND = Practical Nursing Diploma

ADN = Associate Degree in Nursing

BSN = Bachelor of Science in Nursing

MSN = Master of Science in Nursing

DNP = Doctor of Nursing Practice

Note that this isn’t a complete list, but these are the most common degree acronyms you’ll see. They are listed from the most basic to the most advanced.


CNA = Certified Nursing Assistant

LPN = Licensed Practical Nurse

RN = Registered Nurse

APRN = Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

As with degrees, this is by no means exhaustive. As you move down the list, the positions require increasing amounts of education. 

Why Earn a BSN?

Nursing is a broad field with many different opportunities. At the entry-level, you can become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in just a few months by completing a certificate program. CNAs provide the most basic care and help patients perform daily tasks. The pay is not very high, however. The median salary is just $30,290 a year.

Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) opens up positions of more responsibility for patient care and greater pay – the median wage here is $77,600. For these positions, you’ll need to have at least an associate degree in nursing. 

A BSN is a more advanced degree that expands upon the clinical knowledge that would be the focus of an ADN by helping students learn more about research, community health, and aspects of healthcare administration. In short, it gives nurses a broader perspective and enhanced expertise. 

So why might you want to get a BSN? There are at least four potential reasons. 

  1. Better pay: Lifetime earnings are higher for nurses who add a BSN to their AD.
  1. More opportunity: Some healthcare institutions will only hire nurses who hold a BSN. Moreover, this degree opens up supervisory positions and other more advanced roles.
  1. More competence: The things you’ll learn during a BSN program will enhance your ability to provide patient care and make a positive contribution to the healthcare system where you serve.
  1. Preparation for further study: If you’re thinking about advanced nursing roles like a Nurse Anesthetist, you’ll need a graduate degree. A bachelor’s degree is a necessary first step before completing advanced degrees.  

What Does Earning a BSN Involve?

Traditionally, a BSN has been a four-year degree just like other bachelor’s degrees. There are still plenty of programs out there that are designed for an incoming college student to complete four years of study and graduate with a BSN.

It has become common, however, for nurses to begin their careers by earning the ADN, which is a two-year degree, and then later earning the BSN after some time practicing as a Registered Nurse. 

Many BSN programs will count credits from the previous degree as well as work experience toward the requirements of the BSN, allowing students who are already RNs to complete this additional degree much more quickly. It’s a little bit like earning a four-year degree in two phases. They are often called “RN to BSN” programs.

Since many of those who are pursuing the BSN by this route are already working adults, these programs are often also offered in flexible formats that allow you to complete the degree while maintaining your other work and life responsibilities. 

RN to BSN at Athens State

If you’re a practicing nurse who is ready to move forward into deeper knowledge, more responsibility, and greater pay in your profession, we’ve created a flexible, convenient pathway for you to earn your BSN. 

Our program is available completely online and can be completed in as little as 15 months. Cohorts begin in the fall, spring, and summer, so you can get started as soon as you’re ready. 
If you’d like to find out more, visit our program page or contact our admissions team.