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With the significant national shortage of registered nurses (RNs), many prospective students are interested in becoming a nurse. They often ask about the advantages of an associate degree versus a baccalaureate degree, part-time versus full-time enrollment, costs and financial aid, admission requirements, employment outlook, and other factors to consider when contemplating a nursing career.
Considering a Degree in Nursing?
Nursing is a career unlike any other. It is challenging, yet rewarding. Nurses are at people’s sides during both some of the happiest and the most vulnerable points of their lives and their families’. Nurses work in a variety of hospital settings (intensive care, labor and delivery, oncology, surgical floor, etc.) as well as in extended-care facilities, community health clinics, schools, prisons, the military, corporations, developing countries, homes, and other environments. Work hours include all shifts and every day of the year.

How do you know if nursing is for you? The Internet provides a wealth of information about nursing in general. A good place to begin your career research is the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network. Talk with nurses and administrators in a variety of settings. Get permission to follow one (or several) around for a day. Visit and volunteer to work at the information desk or deliver flowers in your local hospital or other health care site to see if you are comfortable in that environment.

Think about your own experience with nurses. What made one nurse better than another? Generally speaking, successful nurses:

  • Demonstrate a keen interest in helping others. Nursing is about caring for others. Nurses help with activities of daily living, change bandages, transfer patients from beds to wheelchairs, dispense medications, explain procedures, and answer many questions.
  • Are academically strong, especially in biology. The nursing curriculum is rigorous, with courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pathophysiology, and chemistry.
  • Are physically able. Nursing requires a great deal of standing, walking, and lifting. Hearing and vision are also important.
  • Think critically and analyze information. A successful nurse must be able to understand doctors’ orders, interpret readings from laboratory tests and medical instruments, understand a patient’s explanation of symptoms, and combine that data with other information to provide safe and high-quality care.
  • Remain calm in an emergency. Crisis situations can arise at any time.
  • Listen effectively and with compassion. Patients and family members are often frightened and confused. Nurses need to be able to draw out the information needed for effective treatment.
  • Can deal with family dynamics in stressful situations. Family members are often upset and may act differently than they would in a normal situation.
  • Are flexible and adaptable. Priorities may change at a moment’s notice.
  • Are detail oriented and good at keeping records. Accurate and legible records must be maintained.
How is a registered nurse (RN) different from a licensed practical nurse (LPN)?
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) typically have one year of education and are prepared to perform simple to complex medical procedures and tasks. They operate under the supervision of a registered professional nurse or a physician. Registered nurses (RNs) have two to four years of education and are prepared to practice in a variety of health care settings to meet the health needs of individuals across the life span.
Does Penn State offer an LPN-to-RN program?
Not specifically. However, LPNs do receive 4 college credits toward completion of the B.S.N. program.
What is required for an RN license?
To obtain an RN license, the individual must have graduated from a nursing program approved by a state board of nursing, meet all the requirements to sit for the licensure examination (including no felony convictions within the past ten years), and successfully pass the examination. There are several educational pathways that lead to the RN licensing exam, but all require completion of an approved nursing program.
What are the different types of RN programs?
Many diploma programs, which offer a diploma in nursing, are connected to hospitals. Often, though, diploma programs are affiliated with colleges, where the sciences and other required general education courses are taught. Some affiliations allow the diploma student to earn an associate degree in a general area, such as liberal arts, as a complement to the nursing diploma.

Associate degrees (two-year programs) are offered at technical schools, community colleges, or universities. They focus on a core of nursing information, the sciences, and general education to support nursing. These programs provide the foundation to enter the nursing discipline at a beginning level. Penn State’s College of Nursing supports the national movement toward baccalaureate degrees for entry-level nurses and encourages associate degree graduates to pursue baccalaureate or higher-level degrees.

Baccalaureate degrees (four-year programs offered at colleges and universities) prepare nurses to provide comprehensive service to individuals, families, groups, and communities. These programs are designed to develop critical thinking and nursing skills at a higher level.

All three types of programs prepare students to sit for the same National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which tests for entry-level competency and safety, and which is required to become a registered nurse. The difference is in the academic credential conferred by the hospital, college, or university. Many facilities will hire RNs from any level of program; others hire only those with associate or baccalaureate degrees, while a few accept the baccalaureate degree only. Most management opportunities go to those with the higher degrees. A baccalaureate degree in nursing is needed to pursue graduate nursing education.

What undergraduate programs in Nursing does Penn State offer and where are they available?
Penn State offers three undergraduate degree nursing programs: the B.S.N. with a General Nursing option, the B.S.N. with a Second or Additional Degree option, and the RN-to-B.S.N. completion program.

** Please note that the final admission for our associate degree program will be for fall 2014. This program is being transitioned to the bachelor of science degree with a General Nursing option at its five current locations: Altoona, Erie (Behrend), Fayette, Mont Alto, and Worthington Scranton.

The General Nursing option for the bachelor of science degree is a four-year program. The full program is offered at Altoona, Erie (Behrend), Fayette, Mont Alto, University Park, and Worthington Scranton. Students begin and end their program of study at their respective campuses. Those attending the University Park campus spend their junior or senior year of study at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (students live in Hershey while studying there). Those enrolled at one of the other campuses will complete their clinical rotation at a facility within a 50-mile radius of that campus.

The Second or Additional Degree option for the bachelor of science degree in nursing is an intensive sixteen-month program open to individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. This program is currently offered at the Altoona and Harrisburg campuses. All non-nursing courses listed on the BSN Recommended Academic Plan must be completed prior to admission.

The RN to B.S.N. program is for individuals who have already completed an associate degree or diploma program, have an RN license, and want to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. This program is available at the Abington, Altoona, Erie (Behrend), Fayette (Eberly), Harrisburg, Mont Alto, New Kensington, Schuylkill, Shenango, and Worthington Scranton campuses, as well as online through Penn State World Campus. Accelerated (seven-week) courses are offered at all RN to B.S. program locations.

What is the difference between an accelerated program and the Second Degree program?
The accelerated program is an RN to B.S.N. program designed to help current RNs earn their B.S.N. degrees as quickly as possible. Courses are offered over seven-week sessions. This format is available at the Abington, Altoona, Erie (Behrend) Fayette (Eberly), Harrisburg, Mont Alto, New Kensington, Schuylkill, Shenango, and Worthington Scranton campuses, as well as online through Penn State World Campus.

The Second or Additional Degree program is for individuals who already have a baccalaureate degree in another (non-nursing) field to obtain a B.S.N. in Nursing in sixteen months (fall, spring, summer, and fall semesters). Prerequisite courses must be completed prior to admission. The Second or Additional Degree program is available at the Altoona and Harrisburg campuses only.

Do I go to Hershey?
Only B.S. students in the General Nursing option at University Park campus participate in the clinical experience at the Hershey Medical Center. Except for Schreyer Scholars, ROTC, or athletes with scholarships, most General Nursing option students will spend a full year at Hershey. Students enrolled in the B.S.N. program at one of the other five locations will complete their clinical rotation at a facility within a 50-mile radius of that campus.
Can I study abroad?
Only B.S.N. students in the General Nursing option have the opportunity to study abroad. Some of these opportunities are offered by Nursing faculty and others can be arranged through the University Office of Global Programs.

Nursing students who wish to study abroad in the fall or spring should ask about our school’s embedded study abroad programs.

Due to the nature of the curriculum, Nursing students who study abroad with programs outside the College of Nursing can do so only during the summer or other breaks. Study abroad during the fall or spring semesters will place students a year behind in the curriculum.

Are courses available evenings, weekends, or online?
The entire RN to B.S.N. program is available online through Penn State World Campus. In addition, some General Education courses are available online. Nursing courses for the B.S.N. (General Nursing and Second Degree options) must be taken in residence during the academic year. Most of these courses are offered during the day, although a few are offered only in the evening.
Can I study part-time?
The RN to B.S.N. program is often completed on a part-time basis. Because of the limited number of spaces available and the sequential order of clinical progression, the baccalaureate degree program is primarily for full-time students. Part-time students are considered on an exceptional basis only. The Second or Additional Degree option is full-time study, including the summer sessions.
Where are clinical courses?
Clinical courses may be held anywhere within a 50-mile radius of the campus. Students are responsible for transportation to and from clinical sites. Clinical experiences usually begin at 6:30 a.m. and go until 12:30 p.m., although there are some afternoon-to-evening sections.
Is the College of Nursing accredited?

Yes. The college’s programs are approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

What if I already have another degree?
Penn State offers an intensive program designed specifically for second-degree students. If the proper prerequisites have been fulfilled, a student may obtain a B.S.N. in Nursing in sixteen months. Upon graduation, the individual is eligible to sit for the NCLEX licensure exam.

If the proper prerequisites have not been completed, a student must complete them with a C or better by the spring prior to admission. Penn State’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Certificate Program can help facilitate the process of completing these prerequisites at University Park campus.

How many students pass the NCLEX exam?
The specific number/percentage changes continually as additional students take the test for the first time. Penn State’s College of Nursing consistently has a higher pass rate on the national licensure examination than both the national and state averages.
What happens if a student doesn’t pass the NCLEX?
Students can retake the examination.
Are there any extra requirements?
Yes. Students must pass an annual physical examination, child abuse clearances, and Pennsylvania and federal (requires fingerprinting) criminal background checks (students must be free of felony convictions in the past ten years); provide proof of medical coverage (student insurance policies are available); purchase professional liability (malpractice) insurance; and complete a specific CPR course. Some clinical facilities require drug testing. All program requirements must be met in order to progress in the program.
How do you specialize?
Upon graduation, students are prepared to be generalists. Although they can work in any number of settings, true specialization requires advanced graduate education.
What graduate programs are available at Penn State?
You must have a B.S.N. in nursing to be admitted to a graduate program in Nursing at Penn State. Penn State offers an M.S.N. program with three options: Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, and Family Nurse Practitioner. A Ph.D. program (with tracks for B.S.N. to Ph.D. and M.S. to Ph.D.) and a doctor of nursing practice (D.N.P.) program are also available.
What are the admission requirements?
** Please note that the final admission for our associate degree program was fall 2014. This program is being transitioned to the bachelor of science degree with a General Nursing option at its five current locations: Altoona, Erie (Behrend), Fayette, Mont Alto, and Worthington Scranton.

For the baccalaureate General Nursing option, applicants must have four years of high school English, three years of science, three years of math (including algebra, geometry, or trigonometry), and five years of social studies/art/humanities/foreign language combined. Students lacking two years of the same foreign language who graduated from high school after 2001 will be required to take 4 credits of a foreign language within the first two years.

For the baccalaureate Second Degree option, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree in another field as well as successfully complete all General Education and non-nursing courses listed in the Recommended Academic Plan. Because the program is so intensive, it is recommended that students be able to forgo outside employment for the duration of the program.

Applicants with fewer than 18 credits should complete a Penn State Application for Admission and apply directly to the Nursing major (use the following codes: NURN for the RN to B.S.N., and NURSGNURS for the four-year B.S.N. General Nursing option).

Applicants with more than 18 credits completed after high school graduation are eligible to apply to the four-year B.S. program at Penn State Altoona, Behrend, Fayette, Mont Alto, or Worthington Scranton only through a review process. This option is not available for University Park. Applicants to the RN to B.S.N. or Second Degree (code: NURS—SCND) programs should submit a Penn State Application for Admission as an advanced-standing (transfer) student.

Admission for the RN to B.S.N. program begins in any semester. Admission to the four-year B.S.N., Second Degree, and graduate programs is for fall only. These programs are competitive and require a strong grade-point average (GPA).

General (four-year) and Second Degree B.S.N. applicants who are previous Penn State students should submit a request for reenrollment through the Registrar at their choice of campus (either Harrisburg or Altoona). Individuals who were never in a degree program at Penn State should submit an application to Penn State through Admissions. Deadline for all applications is November 30.

For the General Nursing program, application for the review is accomplished by submitting (by November 30) either an application to Penn State (if new to the University), request for reenrollment (if previously a student at Penn State but not currently enrolled), or change-of-major request (for students currently enrolled).

For the RN to B.S.N. program, applicants must provide evidence of completion of an accredited RN program and request reenrollment (if a previous Penn State student) or complete the Penn State admission application.

RN to B.S.N. Ongoing for each semester Ongoing
Baccalaureate Degree In Nursing
(General; first-year admission only)
November 30 February
Baccalaureate Degree In Nursing
(Second Degree)
November 30 February
Master’s Degree September 15, February 15 October and March
Ph.D. Ongoing Reviewed as received
D.N.P. February 15 March/April
Can I apply for the baccalaureate degree program at different campus locations?
Yes. As a first-time applicant to Penn State, you may select a second choice of campus on the application form.
What if I am not selected?
Selection is done annually in January/February for fall admission only. If you are not selected, you should discuss your options with an adviser.

High school applicants not admitted to the B.S.N. program in Nursing may consider another major at Penn State, followed by the sixteen-month Second Degree program. (See previous section, “What if I already have another degree?”)

You may also choose to pursue a different level of nursing (for example, a diploma or associate degree rather than baccalaureate) or apply to a different college/technical/hospital program.

What are the costs?
Costs vary based on student status and campus location. See the Bursar’s website for specific campus information.

Costs for upper-division (59.5 or more credits) students are higher for Nursing students than others because the student-to-faculty ratio for clinical courses is a maximum of 10:1. This higher ratio results in higher costs to operate the program.

Other costs besides books and University fees include the annual physical exam with titers or immunizations, child abuse and criminal background checks, fingerprinting, CPR, professional liability insurance, uniforms, student assessment testing fees, and transportation to clinical sites.

Is financial aid available?
If you are enrolled as a degree-seeking student, you may be eligible for various federal and state grants or loans. Please contact the Student Aid Office.

In addition, completion of the FAFSA form automatically enters students into consideration for scholarships offered by the College of Nursing and the College of Health and Human Development.

Agencies, nonprofit organizations, and professional associations may offer additional scholarships. Some employers are willing to help with tuition or loan repayment in exchange for a commitment to employment for a certain length of time. Private loans also may be considered.

What wages do nurses make and what is the employment outlook?
Information can be found at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site or Career One Stop.
What are some similar majors?
Students interested in Nursing are also often interested in Human Development and Family Studies, Biobehavioral Health, Kinesiology, Rehabilitation and Human Services, or Psychology.
Where can I go for more information?

See the Penn State College of Nursing website or contact one of the following:

Abington RN to B.S.N. Brenda Holtzer
Altoona RN to B.S.N., B.S.N. (General or Second Degree), NP Suzanne Kuhn
Erie (Behrend) General B.S.N., RN to B.S.N. Kimberly Streiff
Fayette (The Eberly Campus) General B.S.N., RN to B.S.N., NP Melissa Miner
Harrisburg RN to B.S.N., B.S.N. (Second Degree) Nancy Husson
Mont Alto Associate Degree, General B.S.N., RN to B.S.N. Carranda Barkdoll
New Kensington RN to B.S.N. Janet Knott
Shenango RN to B.S.N. Kathleen Mastrian
University Park
B.S.N. (General)
Master’s, Ph.D.
Advising Office
Marsha Freije
World Campus
RN to B.S.N.
M.S. (Nurse Administrator and Nurse Educator options), D.N.P.
Lori Campbell
Marsha Freije
Worthington Scranton General B.S.N., RN to B.S.N. Milton Evans