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BS vs. BSN: Do You Know the Difference?

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You’ve decided to pursue a career in nursing. Perhaps you’ve earned your two-year associate degree and even your RN license. But now you’re ready to take your education to the next level. A bachelor’s degree is in your future, but you want to make sure it’s the right degree for your personal career goals. With that in mind, should you go for a Bachelor of Science (BS) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)? While both undergraduate degrees will provide a strong academic foundation, a BS is a more general science degree while a BSN prepares graduates specifically for furthering their careers in nursing.


As you weigh your options, it’s important to break down the differences between a BS and a BSN. As you learn about the typical coursework for each degree, possible career paths, and the similarities and differences between the degrees, you’ll gain a clearer idea of which path fits your needs.

BS Overview

The Bachelor of Science degree refers to a general category of undergraduate degrees that provide a focus on the sciences. This is distinct from a BA (Bachelor of Arts) degree program, which focuses on liberal arts disciplines. Students who pursue their BS have a variety of specific areas of study from which to choose, including engineering, psychology, and biology. Even students interested in less technical fields such as business can choose to earn a BS to strengthen their science or math skills.

What Do BS Graduates Do?

BS graduates typically have a wide variety of careers open to them, depending on their courses of study. For example, BS graduates who have focused in computer science may choose to be software developers, while those who focused on data analysis may become data scientists. Important skills for BS graduates include attention to detail, critical thinking, and data analysis.


Practicing nurses can take the skills they acquire through a general BS degree and use them to further their nursing careers. Because a BS degree is so broad, it has countless applications.


Some typical careers:


  • Data scientist
  • Engineer
  • Software developer
  • Architect

BSN Overview

A BSN program is structured as a four-year degree plan designed for students who wish to pursue their career in nursing. Throughout the program, students take coursework that is specific to nursing, such as introduction to nursing practices, pathophysiology, health assessment, health promotion, nursing research, and healthcare policy.


Some schools, including Maryville University, offer online RN to BSN programs for registered nurses who wish to advance their careers and deepen their knowledge through a bachelor’s degree.

What Do BSN Graduates Do?

Since the BSN is a specific degree, graduates typically enter the nursing field in some capacity, often starting as a registered nurse (RN). If they already work as RNs, they may use their BSN to advance their career into leadership or administrative roles. Most often, they work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other healthcare institutions, though they may also step into an educational role in their communities.


Some career choices:


Similarities Between the BS and BSN

Both BS and BSN degrees focus on providing the foundational technical learning that prepares students for their careers. Both are four-year degree programs that challenge students to develop core competencies such as communication and writing skills, teamwork, critical thinking, and time management.

Differences Between the BS and BSN

While the BS and BSN are four-year degrees, there are several key differences, mainly the specificity of a BSN vs. a BS, which is more general in nature.

The Degrees Themselves

BS degrees cover the full range of technical and scientific fields, while BSN degrees are designed for nurses or future nurses. While both degrees provide students with a foundational understanding of biology, mathematics, and statistics, the core coursework for a BS degree will vary depending on the chosen area of specialization. The BSN degree, on the other hand, focuses on the field of nursing and the needs of the healthcare industry.

Typical Career Paths

Career paths vary widely for BS graduates. Each major, from psychology to architecture to biology, opens dozens of doors to potential careers. A graduate with a BS degree could work in data science, computer programming, or business administration. They may also decide to pursue a career in counseling, education, or even astronomy.


BSN graduates, on the other hand, have a narrower area of focus. Once they graduate they must complete their nursing registration, if they haven’t already. From there, they have the opportunity to begin or advance their careers in the nursing profession. This may mean gaining additional autonomy or opportunities to specialize — or it may mean leading teams within their facility.

Continuing Education Opportunities

While both BS and BSN degrees offer opportunities for further education and career advancement, the paths can differ. BS graduates may go on to earn a master’s or doctorate degree in one of many different subjects, typically as an extension and further specialization of their undergraduate experience. BSN graduates tend to pursue further education in the field of nursing itself. This can be a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Both of these typically lead to deeper specialization and further opportunities in nursing administration and leadership, as well as careers as nurse practitioners.

BS vs. BSN: Which Is Right for You?

If you enjoy learning about science and aren’t sure you want to remain in the nursing field indefinitely, a BS degree may be best for you. But if you’re passionate about the powerful impact nurses have on their patients — and know you’re dedicated to a future in healthcare — a BSN degree like Maryville University’s RN to BSN online is an excellent choice. Discover how it can help you step into the next phase of your career.


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