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How to Get a BSN Degree and Start Your Nursing Career Sooner

There are many paths you can take to earn a BSN degree beyond the traditional, four-year route. To help you decide which is best for you, we’ll be discussing how to get a BSN degree sooner using your non-nursing college experience as a starting point.

How to earn your BSN degree and become a nurse quicker

If you’re thinking of becoming a registered nurse (RN), now is as good a time as any. Not only are RNs in the spotlight right now; they’re also in high demand coast to coast. Additionally, there are also more options than ever to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, many of them in less time than you might expect. If you already have some college experience or hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, Concordia University has an Accelerated BSN program to help you graduate ready to sit for the NCLEX-RN in as few as 16 months.

Of course, how long it’ll take you to earn your BSN — and how soon you can start working toward your nursing degree — depends in large part on your previous education and academic zeal.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you make sense of it all so you make an informed decision, one that is sure to result in a lifetime of fulfilling work as a nurse. In the sections below, we’ll be discussing:

  • The steps to becoming an RN
  • Why you need a BSN degree
  • What an Accelerated BSN program is
  • How our ABSN program works
  • The importance of nursing school prerequisites

The Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse

Becoming a nurse takes hard work and dedication; however, the process isn’t all that complicated. We’ve broken it into six steps.

1. Decide What Kind of Nursing Degree You Plan to Earn.

Before you even think about starting your nursing school search, you need to figure out what kind of degree you intend to pursue, that way you cast a narrower net when it comes time to pick a school. Currently, you can practice as an RN with an Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN), BSN degree, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or higher. Keep in mind, though, that an ADN degree may not afford you the same opportunities or job responsibilities. In a moment, we’ll talk about why it’s wise to begin your nursing career with a BSN.

2. Research Accredited Nursing Schools.

Once you’ve decided on a degree path, it’s time to find a nursing school that is right for you, because where you study nursing matters. Not only do you want to be sure the school you pick shares your values; you also want to look at how soon you can graduate (especially if you have non-nursing college experience), whether it is properly accredited (a must!) and what percentage of recent nursing graduates passed the NCLEX.

3. Talk to an Admissions Counselor.

While you may have done thorough research, you need to talk to an admissions counselor before you begin the application process. He or she will discuss your reasons for wanting to be a nurse and review your past education to determine whether you’re a good fit for a specific program. Your admissions counselor will also help you identify any outstanding requirements you’ll need to meet to be eligible to apply.

An admissions interview between a student and admissions

At Concordia University, you’ll be assigned a dedicated counselor who will remain in regular contact with you throughout the admissions and application process, ensuring you always receive the support you need.

4. Fulfill the Admissions Requirements.

This depends on the program you choose. If, for example, you will be doing a four-year BSN program, chances are the only requirement to get started is that you have a high school diploma and satisfy the required grade point average (GPA). However, if you already have college experience, an accelerated program could allow you to enter the field much sooner.

5. Earn Your Nursing Degree.

Nursing school isn’t like a lot of degree paths. In addition to attending lectures or completing online coursework, you’ll also participate in a wealth of hands-on learning experiences, both in a controlled lab environment and in actual clinical settings. Because of labs and clinicals (and the sheer amount of studying you’ll be doing), you should put some serious thought into whether you wish to work during the program. Remember … nursing school is a major time commitment.

6. Register for and Take the NCLEX-RN.

While obtaining a nursing degree is no doubt the biggest hurdle to jump over, that diploma doesn’t mean you can practice as a nurse.For that, you must sit for (and pass) the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN®). Used in all 50 states, this pass-fail exam determines a prospective RN’s readiness to practice safely.For this reason, we cannot stress enough the importance of adequate preparation.

Why Are NCLEX Pass Rates Important?

Regardless of whether you earn your nursing degree in Oregon, California, Minnesota or any other state, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses to practice as a registered nurse — making it essential that you research a school’s NCLEX-RN pass rate prior to applying. That’s because the best nursing schools build thorough test prep into their nursing curriculums.

In 2018 and 2019, Concordia University was among the top nursing schools in Oregon, with 96.3%  and 95.3% of all BSN students, respectively, passing the NCLEX on their first try. For reference, 91.57% of BSN students nationwide passed the NCLEX on their first try that same year. Concordia University, St. Paul (CSP) BSN students fared even better, with 100% passing the NCLEX on their first try in 2018 and 2019. Similarly, 100% of Concordia University ABSN students in Portland passed the NCLEX on the first try in 2018, and 92.3

Infographic visually showing the 6 steps to becoming an RN as explained in this article.

Now that you have a better understanding of the basic steps to becoming an RN, we need to talk degree paths and why it’s becoming increasingly important that you hold a BSN degree.

Do I Really Need a BSN to Become a Nurse?

Currently, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is not a technical requirement to work as a registered nurse just yet. However, the fact that a growing number of hospitals and clinics are moving to require all new nursing hires to hold a BSN should come as an obvious sign of where the industry is headed. Nor should this come as any surprise. For decades, health care administrators and policy makers have been pushing for a BSN-educated nursing workforce. This push gained greater momentum in 2010, though, when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its landmark report, The Future of Nursing.

The culmination of years of research showing that patients under the care of BSN-prepared nurses often yield better results than those under the care of associate’s degree-educated nurses, The Future of Nursing laid out a number of proposals designed to transform the already-critical role nurses play in the increasingly complex U.S. health care system. Most notable among these recommendations was the lofty 80% by 2020 initiative, which set a goal for 80% of RNs to hold a BSN within 10 years.

Two concordia students working together in simulation lab

While this ambitious goal is unlikely to be met by the year’s end — a challenge presented by America’s growing nursing shortage — great strides have been made. Given the renewed attention on nursing resulting from the current COVID-19 pandemic, progress will continue to be made as more and more new nurses begin their careers with a BSN degree and existing RNs enroll in RN-to-BSN programs, often dictated by their employers. Some state governments have even weighed in, too, adding heft to the movement. Take for example New York, which signed its own BSN in 10 legislature into effect in 2017.

Not to mention, Magnet®-credentialed hospitals — among the most prestigious in the country — require all nurse managers to hold at least a BSN degree. That’s because they understand that nurse leaders need more than hands-on skills; they must possess a thorough understanding of evidence-based practices, health policy and the implications for their organizations, as well as of the importance of collaboration in a multi-disciplinary care setting, among other things.

And while pay should never be the number-one reason for entering a high-stakes profession such as nursing, it’s reassuring to know nurses can earn a healthy living. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2019, RNs earned an average median salary of $77,460 — with nurses in Minnesota, CSP’s home state, and Oregon earning well above the average median wage. That same year, Minnesota nurses earned $80,130 a year, and Oregon nurses earned $92,960.

While the BLS does not separate wage data for ADN and BSN nurses, it is also worth noting a BSN degree provides more and greater career opportunities, meaning that while the two may start at around the same pay, BSN-educated nurses will earn more over time.

All of this makes it a very smart move to start your nursing career with a bachelor’s in nursing, which is good news if you already have a non-nursing degree, because it means you may be able to earn a BSN in as few as 16 months through an Accelerated BSN program.

What Is An Accelerated Nursing Program?

If you’re a first-time college student wondering how to get a BSN, the answer almost always involves spending four years on campus — and possibly sitting on a waitlist to begin nursing school. Typically, the first two years of a traditional program are focused on pre-nursing classes, which include general education and prerequisite requirements — knowledge you’ll need later on in your studies — with your nursing coursework beginning in earnest the third year.

A group of ABSN students during simulation lab

However, if you have non-nursing college experience, an Accelerated BSN program can help you become a nurse in much less time. Accelerated nursing programs make this possible by doing three things:

1. Leveraging Your Previous Education

An ABSN program allows you to graduate prepared to sit for the NCLEX-RN in as few as 16 months by leveraging your previous college experience in lieu of the aforementioned pre-nursing coursework. It’s for this reason that Concordia University requires applicants to hold at least 60 college credits and fulfill the prerequisite course requirements to apply for the ABSN program (more on that in a bit). Keep in mind, though, that every ABSN program has different admissions requirements. Some Accelerated BSN programs, for example, require a non-nursing bachelor’s degree just to apply.

2. Allowing You to Begin Nursing School Sooner

Accelerated nursing programs don’t just make it possible to graduate in less time, though. Whereas traditional BSN programs usually offer just one start each year, ABSN programs typically offer multiple starts a year, meaning that if you missed one enrollment date, you likely won’t have to wait another year to get in. Concordia University offers ABSN students three yearly starts — in January, May and September. Additionally, we offer two ABSN learning site locations in Portland, meaning two cohorts of PDX students are able to conduct their studies simultaneously.

Could ABSN Programs Be the Solution to America’s Nursing Shortage?

For years, nursing schools have been unable to deliver enough skilled graduates to meet the rapidly growing need presented by a changing workforce and population that requires ever-greater levels of care.

In fact, more than 75,000 qualified BSN and graduate-level nursing applicants were turned away in 2018 alone, and the problem is more complicated than simply accepting more applicants. More students means larger facilities at a time when universities’ budgets are tight … and more instructors at a time when nurses with the education and experience required to teach have a financial incentive to remain bedside.

Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs can help address these issues. By offering online coursework, fewer instructors and classrooms are required, while more starts and an accelerated curriculum allow more students to graduate, and in less time.

3. Keeping the Momentum Going

You might still be wondering how an accelerated nursing program manages to condense what would amount to the last two years of a traditional BSN program into just 16 months. With an ABSN program, there are no lengthy breaks between semesters — something most nursing students agree is a very good thing.

Educators have long known that students lose knowledge over summer breaks. And while most discussions of this summer slide (as it’s often called), center around elementary- and high school-age learners, it’s also known that as the content becomes more complex, students stand to lose more when they don’t use their newfound knowledge for extended periods of time. Compounding this phenomenon is the fact that unlike with high school or middle school, college-level courses seldom begin with reviews of the previous semester. Rather, it’s assumed you’ll start your new classes each semester ready to hit the ground running.

Continuing your coursework from semester to semester without lengthy interruptions ensures just that. It’s one reason Todd, a former research biologist, chose Concordia University’s accelerated nursing program.

“The 16-month timeframe was definitely attractive to me,” said the December 2019 ABSN program graduate, referencing his prior studies. “When I was going to school, I never took summer term off. I think it’s not helpful to get out of that school mindset. Just keep the schedule going! So I like that aspect of it, and that it was a faster pace.”

From Research Biologist to Nurse - Todd

Find out why Todd made the switch from research biologist to registered nurse — as well as how he used his previous degree to get there quicker.

How Concordia University’s Accelerated BSN Program Works

Our 16-month ABSN program consists of three key learning components, each of which plays an integral role in your nursing education.

Online Nursing Coursework

In the online coursework portion of Concordia ABSN, you’ll learn important nursing topics such as pharmacology, health care policy, nursing informatics, research practices and evidence-based care. Featuring interactive activities and exercises, audio and video components, forum discussions, and online quizzes, we’ve designed our online-based nursing track to accommodate a variety of learning styles. However, don’t interpret this to mean that you want be assigned traditional textbook readings; you’ll find that with any accredited nursing program. You’ll just discuss these readings via online forums rather than in classroom review sessions.

Hands-On Labs

Of course, there are some things that can’t be learned in online coursework. As part of our accredited nursing curriculum, you’ll attend hands-on skills and simulation labs several times a week at one of our ABSN learning sites in Portland, Oregon.

Skills lab is where you’ll master the fundamental skills every nurse needs — including wound care, catheterization, conducting head-to-toe nursing assessments and intubation. Don’t worry, though; you won’t have to practice injections or the like on real people just yet. Instead, you’ll practice on task trainers and anatomically correct medical manikins.

Simulation lab provides a safe, simulated environment in which to hone your clinical judgment and learn to make decisions under pressure in life-like medical scenarios. Featuring high-fidelity human patient simulators, these sessions also allow you to get experience with scenarios you might not encounter during your clinical rotations, as well as provide ample learning opportunities thanks to the debrief sessions that follow.

Clinical Rotations

As you probably guessed, the final piece of the nursing school puzzle is clinical experience. Students of our ABSN program will complete rotations in a variety of practice areas, including adult health, mental health, pediatrics, acute care and intensive care, just to name a few. Don’t let the fact that clinicals begin your first semester scare you, though. Initially, you’ll be mostly observing the other nurses and your clinical instructor; however, your responsibilities will increase along with your skills and knowledge. In fact, by the end, you’ll be the one providing care while your instructor looks on.

Two concordia nursing students with an adult patient in clinical

Want to learn more about our accelerated path to a career in nursing? Give us a call to talk to an admissions counselor today, or fill out the form to have someone contact you.

Why Are Nursing School Prerequisites Important?

With prerequisites required by pretty much every ABSN program in America, regardless of school, you might be wondering why they’re not just a part of the accelerated nursing curriculum. The reason they’re not included, though, makes a lot of sense.

Before you can take a nursing course like pharmacology, you need to have a basic understanding of chemistry, just like you need to know the basics of anatomy, physiology and biology to understand how disease processes work. Similarly, a course like Human Growth and Development is going to be useful to you in understanding and relating to patients of different age groups and experiences.

Student studying online

However, because Accelerated BSN tracks require previous college experience, it’s very possible that you may already have some or all of the prerequisite courses. Take Todd, who we introduced above, for example. As a microbiologist, he had already taken most of the science-based prereqs, making his admissions experience different from, say, a student with a Bachelor of Arts background. For this reason, nursing schools separate out prerequisites from nursing-specific courses.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t need to retake a course, though. This depends on your grades and when you took these courses. When you call Concordia University, your ABSN admissions counselor will review your transcripts to help you come up with a plan for tackling any outstanding requirements.

Concordia ABSN Prerequisite Requirements

In addition to meeting the admissions requirements, to begin Concordia University’s Accelerated BSN program, you must have earned a “C” or higher in each of the required prerequisite courses.

Change Lives as a Concordia Nurse

Whether you’re ready to change paths or just have questions about how to get a BSN degree as soon as possible, give us a call today or fill out the form to have us contact you. When you do, you’ll be assigned a dedicated admissions counselor who can help you determine your best path to a life-changing career in nursing. We’re ready to help you live out your purpose of making a difference.

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