Graduate Nursing Bridge Programs You Should Consider (Plus 10 Schools That Offer Them)

What is a Nurse Bridge Program?

Nurse bridge programs aim to help LPNs, registered nurses and bachelor’s prepared nurses earn an advanced nursing degree in less time than in traditional nursing programs. The many common programs terminate in either a bachelor’s degree (BSN) or a master’s degree (MSN).

Bridge programs exist at all levels. Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD. At each level, they may make it easier and faster to shift into a new phase or type of nursing career path. That may mean going for an extra or initial nursing license in a chosen niche.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Nurse Bridge Program

There are pros and cons to a nursing bridge program. Pros may include the ability to save time and money. Perhaps more if you study online, as that avoids a daily commute. Cons might include a compressed curriculum and likely no breaks in between.

Fewer Courses

The typical bridge student already has a nursing degree of some kind. This prior nursing education may allow you to test out of some courses. Since many nursing schools charge a per credit rate, you’d also likely have fewer credits to do and pay for. 

Online Programs

Online programs with bridge options have extra flexibility. You may be able to study part time while holding a job. Some classes run using pre taped lectures which you log into on your own time frame. And others use live lectures but try to schedule them at convenient hours for busy adults.

More Intense Curriculum

In contrast, traditional programs tend to be full time and may not leave room for you to work on the side. So, if not in a rush, or you don’t have any formal nurse training, an accelerated program may be less appealing. Any program that speeds coursework up will likely compress it and make your study routine more intense.

Potential to Earn More

Either way you approach professional nursing, salaries vary by degree level. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the median annual salary for nurses in 2019 was:

Types of Nurse Bridge Programs

These programs help bridge the gap to move to the next academic level. When looking into each program, check accreditation. Accredited programs use standards and guides. The two agencies who accredit nursing schools and programs are the:

  • CCNE – Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • ACEN – Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing

LPN to ADN

An LPN to ADN is a Licensed Practical Nurse to Associate in Nursing program. It may also goes by the name LPN to RN bridge. Either could enable grads to pursue RN licensure via an ADN degree.

Many ADN programs entail about 65 credit hours. These hours include both lectures (theory) and clinical rotations. While a regular program is typically two years, a bridge may take as few as 15 to 18 months.

The first part of the courses devotes to general education and nursing support. Things like lifespan growth, biology and basic nutrition. Other sample topics are:

  • LPN to RN transition
  • Microbiology
  • Basics of Pharmacology

From there, the courses may turn to core nursing areas. Medical, surgical, pediatrics, geriatrics and mental health. Last is a capstone that aims to prep for the NCLEX-RN exam.

When ready to apply, you may need to show initial eligibility be completing some prerequisite courses. You also need a valid unencumbered LPN license.

Schools are likely to ask for a copy of your Practical Nursing Transcript and set GPA, ACT / SAT benchmarks.

LPN to BSN

An LPN to BSN is a Licensed Practical Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. It is a kind of RN program that aims to prep grads for RN licensure via a BSN degree. These programs often appeal to LPNs who seek an entry level job in a hospital. If all your science and Gen Ed credits transfer, a usual 120 credit, 4 year program may take as few as 28 – 32 months.

The exact classes you have to take depend on your prior education. But the material is apt to focus on providing quality and evidence based direct and  indirect care. This through lectures, labs and a licensure prep class.

There are also clinical experiences which if an online student you may complete nearby. Some sample topics you might study are:

  • Human Anatomy
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Nursing Leadership

When ready to apply, the first thing you need is a high school diploma or GED. These programs are for practicing LPN / LVNs, so you also need a valid license. Other docs include transcripts, minimum GPA and test scores. Some schools also want to read a solid personal essay and see letters of recommendation.

RN to BSN

An RN to BSN is a Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. RN bridge programs are designed to help ADN and diploma holding RNs to earn a BSN degree. To earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing entails about 120 credits and four years. In a bridge, students may transfer in credits to help bring the total down.

Nursing schools may accept support, clinical and general credits, but each does so in their own way. So, let’s say you enter with an associate degree in nursing, it may take 12, 18 or 24 months. Bachelor’s degree classes aim to build nurse manager skills. They also help you understand research and how to apply it into data informed patient care. Some other sample topics are:

  • High Acuity Nursing
  • Clinical Pathology
  • Forensic Nursing

Each program has different admission requirements. Expect to submit transcripts and proof of a valid, clear RN license in the state of residency.

Accelerated BSN

Accelerated BSN programs are also known as “fast track”. They are designed for adults who have already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a non nursing area. And, who want to shift into pursuing a nursing career after passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Accelerated BSBs may take from 11 to 18 months to complete, including prerequisites. Instruction is intense as there are usually no breaks between sessions.

There are also clinical hours to complete as in a regular program. And a full load of nursing core classes to help bring you up to speed on topics such as:

  • Nursing Informatics
  • Public Health
  • Clinical Assessment

If interested to apply, it is likely you must first take a TEAS test. Or, Test of Essential Academic Skills. It is a standardized exam that gauges how ready you are to enroll in a health care program.

RN to MSN

An RN to MSN aims to help a registered nurse pursue a Master of Science in Nursing. You may be able to enroll with an ADN, diploma or bachelor’s degree in a non nursing major. The degree you begin with likely impacts what you study and how long it takes.

That said, these accelerated options typically roll the BSN and MSN programs together. It works differently at each school. But, after taking the undergrad classes, the school may waive a few of the master’s classes giving fewer to complete.

As a result, many RN to MSN online programs typically take 30 to 36 months to finish. At the same time, if you are still likely to have many clinical hours. Some of the common classes in MSN programs are:

  • Community and Population Health
  • Health Care Management
  • Research & Evidence Based Practice

To apply, you need a copy of current RN license and transcripts. Some schools admit students but on a conditional basis. That means, you must complete undergraduate classes first. Then, if you meet the GPA standards it allows you to apply into their MSN program.

Direct Entry MSN

A direct entry MSN program is a full time accelerated program designed for non nurse college graduates. Also called entry level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN) or, entry level master’s. These programs aim to speed up the time it takes to earn a master’s in nursing.

An MSN is an advanced grad degree and current entry point to Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN) roles. APRNs are nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists. Each of these roles requires separate skills, knowledge and state license.

Direct entry MSN programs could allow students to apply many of the general education and science credits from their bachelor’s degree program. Thereby allowing them to quickly begin working on the clinical aspects of their MSN.

Many programs consist of about 3 years of full time study. You tend to complete bachelor’s nursing courses in your first year, followed by two years of graduate study. First year classes usually cover nursing science and basics of nursing practice.

While studying these areas, you may begin clinical study. You must pass the NCLEX-RN and earn your license prior to studying for your master’s. Once you do, there are skills related to the MSN and clinical placements that match your area of emphasis. Some of these classes might include:

  • Clinical Prevention
  • Inter Professional Collaboration
  • Systems Leadership

To qualify for admission, you need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, competitive GPA and recommendation letters. Many schools also ask for an application essay, current resume / CV and GRE scores

List of Graduate Nursing Bridge Programs

These ten graduate schools offer unique educational paths for nurses, such as RN to MSN bridge programs, NP bridge programs, and more. Click to learn more about each of the sponsored listings below!

1. Grand Canyon University

Programs:

Grand Canyon University is a private, Christian university based in Phoenix, Arizona. They focus on fostering service and leadership, as well as offering an accessible education to students of diverse backgrounds. GCU offers offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in career-focused fields, such as nursing and healthcare, business, education, and more.

The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at GCU has been helping students prepare for healthcare career goals for 35 years. They are home to several graduate nursing programs designed to help current RNs pursue an enhanced education in nursing. The college offers both in-class and online learning, potentially perfect for working healthcare professionals.

2. Nova Southeastern University

Programs:

Nova Southeastern University is a private research university based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Home to undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in areas like healthcare, business, law, education, and beyond, the university’s mission is to offer high-quality academic paths, both in a traditional, on-campus format and via innovative online programming designed for students who seek life-long learning.

The Ron and Kathy Assaf College of Nursing at NSU serves over 1,300 students across multiple programs. Their R.N. to M.S.N. program is designed for RNs who wish to potentially save time and money by earning a Master of Science in Nursing with an included B.S.N. This bridge program offers several paths and concentrations, potentially perfect for RNs with diverse interests and goals.

3. Grantham University

Programs:

Grantham University is a 100%-online university based out of Lenexa, Kansas. Established by WWII Veteran Donald Grantham in 1951, the university was designed to serve nontraditional students, including veterans. Grantham is institutionally accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and the university offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Grantham University’s College of Nursing and Allied Health is home to several nursing programs, including an RN to MSN bridge program. This completely online program is intended for RNs with an associate degree in Nursing (ADN/ASN/AAS). Candidates earn 25 credits in undergraduate coursework, before going on to pursue one of Grantham’s Master of Science in Nursing specialization tracks.

4. Capella University

Programs:
  • RN-to-MSN Nursing Leadership and Administration
  • RN-to-MSN Diabetes Nursing

Capella University is an online institution of higher education offering bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and certificate programs. They serve over 38,000 learners from around the world in flexible, competency-based programs. About 20% of Capella students pursue degree programs from the university’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Capella offers several paths to earning an MSN, including RN-to-MSN and RN-to-BSN/MSN Combined Option programs. The RN-MSN program is available in several specializations, such as Care Coordination, Diabetes Nursing, Nursing Leadership & Administration, and more. Students may also be able to choose the self-paced FlexPath option, which offers the chance to pursue your MSN in an accelerated format.

5. Purdue University Global

Programs:

Purdue University Global is an accredited online university, part of the Purdue University system. They are home to over 180 online programs designed to meet the educational needs of working adults. Purdue Global is committed to making online learning user-friendly, interactive, and personal.

The nursing school at Purdue Global features flexible, online programs taught by experienced practitioners. They offer a variety of paths to enhancing your preparation for a nursing career, including various MSN and DNP programs for nurses at various stages of their educations.

6. Sacred Heart University

Programs:

Sacred Heart University is a private, Catholic university based in Fairfield, Connecticut. SHU serves well over 8,000 students in more than 70 academic programs. The university’s mission is to offer a modern Catholic education, while fostering students’ inquiry, reflection, and pursuit of knowledge both in and out of the classroom.

The College of Nursing at SHU offers traditional and online nursing programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as certificate programs. They also offer nursing bridge programs, such as the RN-BSN-MSN program. This unique learning path allows candidates to earn both the BSN and MSN in the same program, while pursuing a career-focused specialization.

7. Indiana Wesleyan University

Programs:

Indiana Wesleyan University is an evangelical Christian university affiliated with the Wesleyan Church. The university is based in Marion, Indiana, but programs may also take place at education centers in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, as well as online. One of IWU’s most recent additions is the Ott Hall of Sciences and Nursing, a 111,250 square foot health sciences building offering innovative teaching and research labs.

IWU is home to multiple nursing programs, including an online ASN-MSN bridge program designed to help nursing students build on their prior educational achievements while preparing for new goals. ASN-MSN students may choose between the Nursing Administration major and the Nursing Education major.

8. Spring Arbor University

Programs:

Established in 1873, Spring Arbor University is a Christian institution of higher education based in Spring Arbor, Michigan. The university is home to over 97 majors and programs, including undergraduate, graduate, and adult accelerated degree completion programs. They emphasize both academic and spiritual preparation, as students prepare for new goals.

Spring Arbor offers an RN-MSN bridge program with three potential areas of concentration: RN-MSN/MBA, RN-MSN/Ed, and Nurse Practitioner. The MBA track helps students prepare for nursing administration and management, while the Ed program focuses on nurse education. The Nurse Practitioner path offers two additional tracks: RN-MSN/FNP (Family Nurse Practitioners) and RN-MSN/AGPCNP (Adult-gerontology Nurse Practitioner).

9. Walden University

Programs:

Walden University is an accredited institution of higher education designed to serve the unique needs of adult learners. The university offers online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, as well as certificate programs, in career-focused disciplines like nursing, health sciences, counseling, education, and beyond. They serve students from more than 150 countries around the world.

Of potential interest to those seeking a bridge program is Walden’s RN to MSN Track: Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) – Family Nurse Practitioner program. This program is designed for RNs who hold a hospital diploma, associate degree in nursing, or bachelor’s degree other than a BSN. The course of study features foundational, core, and specialization courses intended to help nurses bridge gaps in their knowledge and prepare for new goals.

10. Bradley University

Programs:

Bradley University is a private university founded in 1897. As a mid-sized university, Bradley serves over 5,000 students in over 185 academic programs. The university is located in Peoria, Illinois, but they also offer online programs in nursing and counseling.

Bradley is home to several nursing programs, including DNP programs that may help students boost their preparation for new career goals. The DNP-FNP program is designed for those who have earned a BSN, but not an MSN. In addition to coursework, candidates complete 1,000 hours of practicum experience.