LPN-to-RN Bridge Programs
Your Complete Guide to LPN-to-RN Programs: From Online Bridge Programs to Career Options and the Salary You Could Earn
As a licensed practical nurse, you have had plenty of exposure to nursing already. And apparently you’re pretty good at it, because here you are looking for ways to level up your game by becoming a registered nurse.
If you’ve landed here, you’re definitely ready to take your skillset to the next level, and naturally, you’re looking to turn those skills into better job opportunities and a bigger paycheck.
All you have to do is flip on the nightly news to get a sense of how bad the country needs more skilled nurses right now. But there’s a lot more at play than just the pandemic. From a growing population of senior citizens living with the ailments of aging, to the massive wave of retirements that is thinning out the ranks of the nursing workforce, a confluence of factors has been coming together for a long time now, pushing up demand for more RNs in just about every city and rural enclave from coast to coast.
So the American Association of Colleges of Nursing tells us what we already see with our own eyes, citing a wide variety of sources showing that the country is running into a severe registered nursing shortage. But along with those shortages comes the kind of growth and job security you won’t find in virtually any other field, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting 175,900 openings per year for RNs nationwide in the ten-year period leading up to 2030, with the greatest demand in the South and the Western parts of the country.
And since you’ve been on the clinic floor for a few years now, you already have a sense of how that demand is increasing year-over-year. If it feels like you’re expected to do more on every shift, and if you can’t help but notice that you and your colleagues are being asked to pull more overtime, it’s because you are witnessing the trend firsthand: More demand for nursing services, and not enough nurses in the workforce to handle the workload.
That all combines to offer a powerful incentive for you to get the education you need to upgrade your LPN license to become an RN. And with this guide, you’ll be able to find exactly the right bridge program to make that happen.
- What Is An LPN to RN Program? – And Other FAQs
- Costs and Financing Considerations for LPN to RN Bridge Programs
- How to Find a Top Quality RN-to-LPN Program
- Steps to Become an RN Through an LPN-to-RN Program
- Job Prospects and Salary Benefits of Going Through an LPN-to-RN Program
What Is An LPN-to-RN Program?
Americans don’t just need warm bodies with nursing credentials, though. They need passionate, well-qualified nurses with the motivation and the skills to solve big problems in today’s demanding healthcare environment. And that means nurses who are taking charge of their careers by proactively stepping up their credentials with a higher level of training.
And LPN-to-RN programs are designed for exactly that type of nurse. These programs are all about taking your existing nursing knowledge and building on it to give you those skills. They’re frequently referred to as “bridge” programs for good reason. The idea behind the accelerated curriculum is to essentially bridge the gap between the nursing knowledge and experience you already have and the skills required to earn that coveted RN license. And as you would expect from any bridge, it will always take the shortest path between two points, a straight line from what you know to what you need to know without any curricular detours with courses you’ve already taken or simply don’t need.
What Nursing Degree Can I Earn Through an LPN to RN?
The certificate program you took to qualify as an LPN had a lot of valuable information and training, and the experience you gained in the years since is certainly at least as valuable. With an LPN to RN program you’ll be able to bridge the divide between that certificate and a full-fledged college degree, while qualifying to take the NCLEX-RN examination along the way.
Depending on whether your destination is an Associate Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, that bridge program can be structured with one of two different exit points:
- LPN-to-RN (ADN)
- LPN-to-RN (BSN)
In either case, it shaves a year off your training, making your path faster and cheaper than the traditional route to RN licensure.
How Much Money Can I Save with an LPN-to-RN Bridge Program?
Trimming a full year off your degree plan also really keeps your costs down. Although the per-credit costs of a degree through an LPN to RN bridge program are the same as with the degree you’re ultimately going to earn – whether that’s an ADN or BSN – it’s still a full year of tuition that you won’t have to cover.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for a bachelor’s degree in 2018 the average cost of that one year of college at a four-year institution was more than $27,000 on average. For an associate, saving that one year of school means pocketing an extra $11,000. Either way, it’s a significant savings.
How Long Is an LPN-to-RN Program?
You’ll be able to get through an LPN to RN (ADN) program in 18 months or less. The BSN version of that same program will take about 24 months.
It may be fast, but it’s not easy. You’ll be taking college-level classes and clinicals, and as an existing nurse, you’ll be held to high expectations. Your training will be everything that the American public and the medical community expects of qualified registered nurses, plus the practical clinical experience necessary to put that new knowledge into practice.
Can You Go From an LPN to an RN Online?
As programs that are aimed at current LPNs, you’ll find they are usually built to fit your work schedule with every expectation that you’ll continue holding down your job. In fact, as a practical matter, your current place of employment is where you could complete your clinical hours.
Online and part-time is standard, as are on-site programs with courses scheduled in the evenings and weekends. In all cases, you can you’ll still be completing clinical rotations, though
Cost/Benefit Analysis of LPN-to-RN ADN vs BSN Programs
College degrees have gotten expensive in the United States. CNBC found in 2018 that prices for identical programs had jumped by 25 percent in just ten years. You will need to find a program you can afford, or figure out ways to pay for it that won’t leave you with decades of debt to pay off.
In the short-term, ADN bridge programs have a clear advantage in costs. They are less expensive and it could be argued that they offer a better bang-for-the-buck in the near term since you earn the same RN license with an associate degree as you do with a bachelor’s. A Georgetown University study found that associate level graduates get the most money back for the educational dollars they spend in the first ten years after earning the degree, putting it ahead of bachelor’s degrees out of the gate.
But BSN programs pay off big time in the long term. Over 40 years, there is clear evidence coming out of that Georgetown study to show that a bachelor’s wins the return on investment race by a wide margin. But nobody expects you to make a decision today for a payout that comes in four decades. We all know that the bachelor’s is worth a premium immediately in terms of respect and the kind of roles you will be tracked for. And even in the first handful of years after earning your bachelor’s, it will give you access to positions with premium pay rates that would be hard to reach with an associate degree.
According to NCES, close to 46 percent of undergrad students at state schools get some form of financial aid for college, with that number going up to 65 percent at the more expensive private schools. For nursing programs, you will find that there are many tuition assistance and scholarship offers on the table. As an in-demand, critical profession, many schools and organizations want to help cover tuition costs. You’ll need to qualify for and apply to different scholarships, but your chances are good that you’ll be able to get your hands on some free money.
Still, most students end up having to take out at least some loans to complete their degree. Here, too, however, you can make your career work for you. Through programs like the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, if you take a job in government or with a qualified non-profit (many healthcare organizations fall into this category) you can have a large part of your outstanding loan payments waived after a few years. There’s also the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program, which offers loan forgiveness in return for your agreement to serve in a critical needs area.
From Accreditation to Delivery Format: How to Find a Quality RN-to-LPN Program That Works for You
Whether it’s an ADN or BSN you are after, it’s key to pick an LPN to RN program that has met the requirements for full specialty accreditation. That means it needs to be approved by one of these two agencies:
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) – Accredits Bachelor’s and Graduate Programs Only, so if you’re looking at an LPN to RN (BSN), you will want to check the database of schools recognized by this agency.
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) – Accredits Certificate/Diploma, Associate, Bachelor’s and Graduate Programs, so it’s worth checking this agency’s database no matter what type of LPN to RN you are looking for.
The Department of Education recognizes both the ACEN and CCNE as having the right expertise to evaluate and approve registered nursing education. They work in partnership with industry groups to develop strong standards to measure nursing curriculum and field training. That includes everything from how instructors are selected, how students are graded, what the curriculum includes, and where clinical training is conducted. Through extensive reviews and on-site evaluations, they ensure schools have the right qualities to give you a full education in modern nursing practice.
While that’s something that’s great for your own peace of mind, it’s even more important when it comes to licensure. That’s because state nursing boards almost always require specialty accreditation for programs they will accept when it comes time for you to earn your RN license. So it’s definitely worth checking the accreditation status of any program you are considering.
Finding a Program That Fits Your Lifestyle and Career Goals
Since bridge programs are aimed at currently qualified LPNs, most of them have some built-in flexibility. Whether that’s the ability to attend part-time, on evenings or weekends, or through online courses that you can take any time of day, or at night at the kitchen table after putting the kids to bed. Only you can decide what’s going to be the best fit for your situation.
Online programs are without question the most flexible and convenient option for working professionals, allowing you to skip the campus commute most days and shift coursework around from week to week depending on your schedule. That’s great when you have the kind of crazy schedule that many LPNs keep. But some people just don’t learn as well online and would rather have that traditional college experience, meeting on-campus and being shoulder-to-shoulder with classmates taking notes in a lecture hall. So if that’s the case, you might find that a regular, on-campus degree works better for you… as long as you can find the time.
Whether on-campus or online, you can count on any accredited program to give you the skills you need for the more advanced level of nursing that comes with being an RN. Even online programs require in-person clinical experiences and labs. It is worth looking for a program that lets you access hands-on experience in settings that prepare you for your long-term career goals, whether that’s working in an ER or post-operative setting.
Most programs strive to provide diverse experiences in diverse settings, and many will allow you to complete some of your clinical hours at your current place of employment, but these are the kinds of things that are definitely worth asking about when you start narrowing down your choices.
Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse Through an LPN-to-RN Program
You’re starting ahead of the pack in becoming an RN since you already have an LPN. But actually, that’s going to make it even more important for you make the right decisions when you start down the road to an RN.
Picking the right program in your journey to becoming an RN involves several important steps.
Step 1: Choosing the Right Path: LPN to … ADN … or BSN?
Your first decision is going to be the most important: what kind of degree will you pick to qualify as an RN?
An associate degree in nursing (ADN), is a strong entry-level degree for registered nurses, putting you a notch ahead of any RN that got their start with a diploma program. You are more likely to find these programs at local community colleges, which means they are likely to be close to home, wherever home is. At one to two years, these are the fastest option for RN licensure through the LPN to RN pathway.
ADNs are not accepted everywhere, however. There is a big push in nursing to make a bachelor degree the entry-level requirement. Some states, like New York, have already passed laws requiring all RNs earn a bachelor’s in nursing within a certain number of yearsof getting their license. And you don’t need to look any further than the RN job ads to see that employers tend to overwhelmingly prefer the BSN for new hires. This is less of an issue if you plan to stick with your existing employer, but a consideration, nonetheless.
That leads you to a BSN. A full bachelor’s program not only offers more intensive nursing and medical training, but liberal arts coursework and some opportunities to practice your critical-thinking skills too. You’ll find that the best-paying, most attractive jobs in the industry usually go to BSN-prepared nurses. It will take at least two years to complete and as many as four on a part-time basis, however. And the costs will be higher both because it takes longer and because bachelor’s tuition is more expensive.
At the end of the day, both an ADN and BSN will qualify you to become an RN. As you’ll see, however, the kinds of nursing jobs and salaries you can expect may differ between the two.
Step 2: Qualify for Enrollment in Your Bridge Program
Whichever type of bridge program you choose, you’ll need to make sure you meet the entrance qualifications to get in.
Naturally, you need to have your LPN (or LVN, depending on your state) license. Bridge programs will require proof of current licensure and documentation before admitting you. Some schools will also consider graduates of military nursing programs, like the Army Practical Nursing Program. You may also need to have proof of having worked a certain number of hours or even years as an LPN.
You must be a high-school graduate or have earned a high school equivalent like the GED.
For BSN level programs, the bar is even higher. In many cases, you’ll have to meet minimum standardized test scores on tests like the ACT or TEAS.
Fulfill Pre-requisite Program Requirements
On top of checking the boxes for passing entrance exam scores and LPN licensure, you will need to clear the prerequisite requirements before you can begin. Although you might be able to test out of these requirements, most LPN to RN programs, whether ADN or BSN, want to know you have some of the foundational courses in place before they start stacking on college-level curriculum. Those pre-reqs usually include:
- English composition and communication
- Anatomy and physiology
- General chemistry
In addition to your basic LPN training, these courses make sure you are prepared for college-level instruction in nursing. You may be able to take them as a part of the program after you are enrolled, or you might have to take those courses separately before you will be admitted. In both cases, schools usually make it easy for you to fulfill those requirements once you apply.
Step 3: Take The General Education Courses Required for an ADN or BSN
Your college coursework is going to extend beyond just the basics of registered nursing to include the kind of general education courses you would expect when earning a degree in any field. These courses are generally part of the first year of a bachelor’s or first semester of an associate and typically wrapped up before you begin the nursing core coursework and training.
It’s college-level coursework, so you should expect a challenge. The major difference between what you would see in an ADN vs a BSN program can be significant.
ADN – General College Coursework
An ADN is a full-fledged associate degree, which means that your college will have some required courses that have nothing to do with nursing. Instead, you will study general topics such as communications, psychology, and math, just like other students.
You will probably also have a couple elective courses that you get to pick yourself. For example, to fill a communications requirement, you might pick a class on Business Writing. There will only be a handful of choices in the typical community college. Still, you can choose topics that interest you most.
Your nursing instruction will usually be exactly what is required for the state nursing board license requirements. But some programs fit in a few extras, like microbiology and immunology, specific topics in nursing like pediatric or med-surg nursing, and general topics like professional issues in nursing.
BSN – General College Coursework
As a much longer program that delivers a full-on bachelor’s degree, a BSN involves a lot more in the way of general college courses. The required courses for a bachelor of science degree will go well outside the field of nursing. Although not as heavy on liberal arts as a bachelor of arts program, you will still need to take general courses in:
- Communications and English
- Arts and Literature
- Cultural and Social Studies
All of these are designed to make you a more well-rounded person and improve your critical thinking skills. Those are talents that don’t come under the heading of nursing directly, but definitely make nurses better communicators and leaders. That’s part of the reason why BSN graduates are more likely to get managerial or high-skill positions in nursing.
On top of more general courses, you’ll also get more in-depth nursing studies than at the associate level. While the coursework to qualify you for licensure will be the same, a BSN course will go far beyond that. You’ll find classes that dive into nursing management topics, healthcare policy, and national and global healthcare systems. You’ll probably learn about nursing informatics, taking high-tech innovation and applying it to health management. And you’ll be exposed to research projects in nursing, where tomorrow’s innovations are discovered.
It all comes together to make you a better prepared and more highly trained RN.
Step 4: Complete LPN to RN Bridge Training
This is the meat and potatoes of the program you get to once your pre-reqs are out of the way; the part of your degree that actually trains you to become a registered nurse. Unlike standard ADN or BSN programs, this coursework is designed to build on existing nursing skills from your years working as an LPN. And since this curriculum is built to cover state nursing board requirements for RN licensure, the core courses will be similar between both ADN and BSN bridge programs. Of course, you’ll get more in-depth follow-on studies in a BSN degree, along with more clinical hours.
The core courses that prepare you for RN licensure include:
- Health assessment – RNs need advanced diagnostics and evaluative skills beyond what you developed as an LPN. Here, you’ll learn the art of patient assessment and basic diagnostics.
- Pharmacology – Your responsibility to administer medications as an RN means you need a more in-depth education in chemistry and drug interactions.
- Anatomy and physiology – Building on the basic anatomic and physiology education you covered in prerequisites, you’ll continue to learn more about how human beings operate.
- Pathophysiology – Following your courses on how humans are designed to work, you’ll learn how injuries and disease impact those systems and how it shows up in diagnostics and treatment decisions.
- Community-based nursing skills – Nursing is a holistic healthcare approach. You’ll receive training in multicultural and sociological sensitivity and learn about public health as it relates to nursing and social systems.
- Psychology – Dealing with patients in a variety of mental states is bread and butter stuff for nurses. You’ll get basic skills in psychological conditions and interpersonal relationships to help with your treatment and diagnostic approaches.
As with prerequisite courses, you may be able to test out of some of these classes. The National League for Nursing has Acceleration Challenge Exams that test your knowledge in some of these areas. Your college might award you credits on the basis of your exam scores. That can shorten your time in school and reduce your costs.
You’ll also go through the all-important clinical rotations as part of this phase. Required for licensure, that direct hands-on experience is where the rubber meets the road. You’ll work out any kinks under the watchful eye of experienced practicing RNs in a variety of clinical settings to get a feel for the different specialty areas you might want to work in as well as the real world training you need to qualify you for that RN license.
The Final Push to Become an RN After Graduating With Your Degree: NCLEX-RN and State Board Licensing
On both bridge program tracks, you have the same ultimate goal: get your license as a registered nurse.
Your state board of nursing will have a specific set of other requirements to meet after earning your ADN or BSN, which are generally similar from state to state. There will be mandatory background checks, and sometimes ethics or other training, along with all the applications and fees involved in becoming officially licensed.
Each state board requires a certain number of clinical hours of practice. Your bridge program will make sure you get the hours you need, but you will need to provide documentation to the board.
The major final step to earning an RN license, however, is the NCLEX-RN.
NCLEX, the National Council Licensure Examination, is designed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). You’re already familiar with it, because you had to take the NCLEX-PN version to earn your LPN. The NCLEX-RN does the same job, only at the RN level. You will only be allowed to take it once your application has been accepted by your state licensing board.
Administered by Pearson VUE, it’s an online adaptive test that can have anywhere between 75 and 145 questions. If you perform well, you’ll get fewer questions, if you miss some you’ll get some additional questions to help give you a shot at passing. You will have up to five hours to complete it, with two breaks during that time.
The test covers four major categories of nursing knowledge and eight subcategories, which are:
- Safe and Effective Care Environment
- Management of Care (17-23 percent of questions)
- Safety and Infection Control (9-15 percent of questions)
- Health Promotion and Maintenance (6-12 percent of questions)
- Psychosocial Integrity (6-12 percent of questions)
- Physiological Integrity
- Basic Care and Comfort (6-12 percent of questions)
- Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies (12-18 percent of questions)
- Reduction of Risk Potential (9-15 percent of questions)
- Physiological Adaptation (11-17 percent of questions)
You should have all the information you need to pass it from your ADN or BSN coursework, but you might have taken those courses years before taking the test. It’s often wise to go through an independent test preparation course or to take the online test review offered by the NCSBN directly.
Career Prospects and Salary Benefits From Going Through an LPN to RN Program
You may have many different reasons for moving up into registered nursing from practical nursing. Maybe you just have a thirst for more medical knowledge. Maybe you feel you can do more good for patients with more expertise. Or maybe you’re just tired of RNs bossing you around and want to get into the driver’s seat!
Whatever your motives, one surefire benefit is going to come in the form of a much higher paycheck. In 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average LPN brought in $47,480, or about $22.83 per hour. That’s a solid middle-class income in the United States. But at the same time, an RN made $73,300, or $35.24 per hour. That’s well above the median income in the country, and well worth the price of a degree.
It’s a big country, however, and there are real regional differences in how much nurses can make. BLS averages in several different states around the country tell the story:
- California – $113,240
- Florida – $67,610
- Georgia – $69,590
- Illinois – $73,510
- Kansas – $62,450
- New York – $87,840
- Pennsylvania – $71,410
- Texas – $74,540
- Washington – $86,170
Even within states, of course, you’ll find major differences in pay rates. Big metro areas and places where there are a lot of specialty care clinics will always have hotter salaries. Wherever you go, though, you’ll find that registered nurses are in-demand and well-paid.
Those average salary levels are easily achieved with an ADN under your belt, so you can look at them as a baseline. But if you made the choice to go through an LPN to BSN RN bridge program, you have even more to look forward to. According to BLS, the top ten percent of nurses—the best qualified, and most educated—made $111,220 in 2019. Of course, it’s not just the education. Experience plays a role also. But as an accomplished LPN, you already have years of experience to factor in to your earnings.
A BSN also offers more flexible coursework and the opportunity to specialize in different fields. That can open up salaries in a wider variety of sectors and practice settings, which may have higher salaries. For example, BLS lists the median salaries for RNs in several different industries:
- Government – $79,790
- Hospitals – $75,030
- Ambulatory healthcare – $70,330
- Nursing and residential care – $66,250
A BSN puts you on a leadership track and in the driver’s seat when it comes to nailing down the best positions. An ADN definitely boosts your career, but if you want the money and opportunity at the top of the scale, a BSN is where it’s at.
Either way, you have a solid career ahead of you and more job satisfaction and selection than you would with your LPN. A bridge program is the fast track to that future.
(Salary data reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2019 for LPNs/LVNs, Registered Nurses and Advanced Practice Nurses (including NPs). Figures represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Information accessed Feb 2021.)