Traditional vs. Accelerated BSN

Student nurse studying inside library for her NCLEX-RN exam.

A bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) is typically favored and sometimes required for practice as an RN in the areas of case management, military, K-12 schools, certain clinical specialties and travel nursing or working abroad. The AACN (American Association of Colleges of Nursing) acknowledges the BSN as the minimal degree criteria for professional practice in nursing. This level of education is available to traditional degree-seeking students, as well as a second degree option for non-traditional students.

Why Get Your BSN?

Bachelor’s-level nursing programs offer the academic and clinical foundation not just for entry- to mid-level practice as an RN, but also serves as the base upon which to further your professional options by means of a master’s or higher level of study to become an APRN (advanced practice registered nurse). Nurses that hold a BSN are able to practice in specific areas of health such as pediatrics, community health, pain management and oncology.


As reported by, Registered Nurse employment will expand by approximately 19% from 2012 to 2022. This is attributed primarily to increasing need for RN services in environments like HMO’s, community health clinics and residential care. The intricate nature of many health complications and the growing care management dilemmas with medical facility administration results in the calling for competent nurses with a strong academic background. For the foreseeable future, it will continue to be a highly opportunistic time in the field of nursing with extraordinary job security and career advancement opportunities for those holding a BSN.


Pay for newly graduated/licensed nurses is once again becoming competitive with that of other industries. Registered nurses with a BSN that are just starting out can anticipate a salary of around $50,000 per annum; the exact figure being dependent largely on geographic area and employer. Five years into their careers, the U.S. mean salary for RNs with BSNs can go over $60,000/year. As of May 2013, $68,910 was the average salary for RNs in the United States. The ongoing nursing shortage has caused a number of health care workplaces to give pay bonuses for taking the job and other encouragements to bring in and keep nurses.

Traditional BSN

Traditional bachelor’s level nursing programs usually consist of a 4- to 5-year didactic/clinical curriculum that puts graduates in a position to care for patients in a wide spectrum of healthcare facilities. Many institutions of higher learning, from large public universities to small private liberal arts colleges, offer baccalaureate nursing degrees with over 670 BSN programs currently in existence.

The BSN route culminates in nursing students being able to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam (just like associate’s degree RN programs), however BSN degree education additionally instills a comprehensive scope of skills related to the sciences, critical thinking, humanities, communication and leadership, along with dedicated public health nursing classes not commonly part of a diploma or ASN/ADN degree curriculums. Taking the BSN track also exposes students to the realm of clinical research related to theoretical and evidence-based nursing care.

Accelerated BSN

The accelerated BSN is considered a second degree program for non-nursing degree holders. These programs add to the student’s preceding academic background in transitioning those with baccalaureate degrees in other majors into the field of nursing.

With people seeking more secure and/or financially rewarding lines of work, a growing number of educational institutions have developed nursing programs for those who already hold a 4-year or graduate degree in a non-nursing subject. Though second degree/accelerated nursing programs take considerably less time to complete compared to the traditional BSN path, they are by no means easier. In fact, they can be more intense due to the fast pace involved. Accelerated options first started becoming available in 1970 and have grown in number and popularity over the last 15 years – largely as an answer to the nursing deficit.

The AACN reports 255 accelerated/second degree BSN nursing programs exist today (compared to only 31 in 1990) with several new ones on the horizon. Taking as few as 11 months to complete, these programs are shorter than conventional BSN programs and are suitable for prospective nurses who (understandably so) cannot invest an additional 4 years time getting their second undergraduate degree.

Among the factors contributing to the increasing average age of new nurses is that more and more “older” students are enrolling into nursing schools. Nursing has emerged as a notably popular 2nd career choice, even for men and women who were very experienced in their former occupation, including people with other professional degrees. Typically, 2nd degree nursing students, sometimes referred to as non-traditional students, are older than traditional students. They are inclined to be particularly driven and goal-oriented, and often more vocal in providing feedback concerning their particular needs, the curriculum, and how classes are administered.

The Accelerated Advantage

Nurses who hold degrees from accelerated programs are highly valued by healthcare facilities that recognize and seek the level of proficiency and knowledge these grads contribute the medical professional team. Employers experience these nurses as being more adaptive, having sound clinical abilities and eager to pick up new skills. It’s not unusual for hospitals to develop affiliations with accelerated BSN programs at different colleges and provide tuition reimbursement to students as a means to recruit well-prepared nurses.