How Long is Nursing School? Your Timeline to Becoming a Nurse
You may know that college isn’t always a cut-and-dried four-year journey. There are different options for different aspirations. And even those can depend on your specific college and program. You’re excited about nursing, but you want to know what to expect—so how long is nursing school?
Whether you are hoping for a quicker route to hit the floor running, or are interested in obtaining advanced credentials, the amount of time you’ll spend in nursing school can vary greatly. Once you have your ideal timeline in mind, see if it matches up with your career objectives.
Nursing has several degree options, and each one is unique in its offerings. We’ve outlined your options to show you how long you can expect nursing school to take. We’ve also talked to experts who have been in your shoes so as to highlight the different experiences of nursing school. Ready to dive in?
Types of nursing roles
Nursing is a diversified profession. There’s no right or wrong answer to what type of nurse to be, but knowing what responsibilities and duties that come with each can help you determine which would be best for you. If your dream is to become a registered nurse (RN), both an Associate’s degree and Bachelor’s degree can help you get there. If you have hopes of becoming a nurse educator one day, you’ll likely need a little more education, including a master’s or a doctorate degree.
One of the many great things about being a nurse is that there are a lot of ways to advance in your career and education. Many of these degrees build upon or transition into one another. This means the credential or degree you begin earning now doesn’t have to be the one you’re stuck with forever. Common nursing credentials include—
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
- Registered Nurse (RN)
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
There are many nursing credentials that can go deep into various medical specialties and some that stand for certain education levels, but we’ll walk through those as well. Let’s start with the basics.
How long does it take to become an LPN?
Becoming an LPN is a great option for those who would like to become nurses as quickly as possible. LPNs do many of the same tasks as RNs, such as taking vital signs, obtaining patient histories and providing basic personal care. However, LPNs are not responsible for the more advanced duties such as creating care plans, and they usually report to a supervising RN or physician.
A Practical Nursing Diploma program can be earned in as few as 12 months for full-time students.1 While state requirements may vary, typically students will need to complete their education and then pass the NCLEX-PN exam to obtain licensure.
Working as an LPN helps you earn valuable nursing experience and knowledge, and the academic credit earned can provide a solid foundation for those who decide to become a registered nurse.
How long does it take to become an RN?
There’s more than one path to become a registered nurse. You can become an RN by earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN).
Both ADN and BSN registered nurses have broader scopes of practice than LPNs, and roles will vary based on the job location, whether it’s in a clinic, a hospital or ambulatory care. Registered nurses often choose to focus their careers on specialized patient care. Popular specialties include pediatrics, geriatrics, intensive care or oncology nursing.
Associate’s Degree in Nursing
An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the quickest option for getting started in a registered nursing career. A Professional Nursing ADN program can be completed in as few as 18 to 24 months.1 Next, you would need to pass the NCLEX-RN. After passing this test and meeting all other state licensure requirements, you are a registered nurse and able to specialize and work in a variety of settings.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree
Those interested in becoming a registered nurse also have the option of earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). There are a few options for earning a BSN—the best fit for you will depend on your academic background.
An RN to BSN program is a great option for registered nurses who’ve already completed an ADN program and would like to advance their education. Registered nurses in this program can earn a BSN in as few as 12 to 18 months.1
For those who aren’t already nurses, a standard BSN program can be completed in as few as 33 months with an accelerated program.1 Or, if you already have a Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, you can leverage that experience to obtain a BSN in as few as 18 months in an accelerated BSN program.1
If you’re having trouble deciding whether to pursue your ADN or BSN, dig deeper with our article: ADN vs. BSN: Your Guide to Help You Decide on a Nursing Degree
How long does it take to become an APRN?
Last but certainly not least, you can climb the nursing ladder with a graduate-level Nursing education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). It should be noted that graduate-level programs are often specialized and do not universally prepare students for all graduate-level roles—for example, would-be nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists will need to seek out specialized programs. With a more general MSN degree , you’ll be prepared to work as a nurse educator, nurse manager, nurse administrator or in other nursing leadership positions.
To qualify for entrance into an MSN program, you will first need to earn a BSN. Once you have that in hand and satisfy any other entrance requirements, you’ll have the ability to complete the Master of Science in Nursing program at Rasmussen University in as few as 18 months.1
And although an advanced degree requires several years of schooling, the perks are worth it to many people. The BLS reports that medical and health services managers earned a 2019 median annual salary of $100,980, and nurse educators earned a median annual salary of $74,600.2
There are also advanced practice options that include more patient care including nurse practitioners, nurse midwives or nurse anesthetists (CRNA). Both options can include earning a master’s or doctorate degree depending on your goals, which can lengthen your time in school. But like a more general MSN, earning a NP graduate degree can also pay off with the potential for higher earnings after graduation. In 2020, the median annual wage for nurse practitioners was $111,560.2
To become a nurse practitioner, you’ll first need to hold your BSN and then earn a graduate degree in the nurse practitioner specialty to you hope to practice in. This can include an MSN or DNP in the family medicine, women’s health, acute care or psychiatric mental health. The Rasmussen University Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) MSN program can be completed in as few as 27 months.1 That said, program lengths will depend heavily on the specific institution and the program. For instance, BSN to DNP programs will generally be longer than the MSN programs.
Working while earning a nursing degree
We know that school is expensive, and you may balk at the thought of quitting your job in order to pursue your dreams. While it may not be ideal, working through nursing school is doable. It may extend your time in school altogether, but earning money to pay for school and other necessities may be worth it.
Brittney Wilson, BSN, RN and blogger at The Nerdy Nurse, suggests finding a job that allows you time to study.
“If you can’t find something where you can study, find something where you’ll get good clinical experience, like working as a CNA,” she says.
While you may want to finish school as quickly as possible, don’t worry if you don’t follow a traditional path. Wilson explains how it took her four years to earn an ADN. “I did not get in the first time I applied, so I used the additional year to complete all the classes that would be required for my eventual bridge to BSN.”
Find a schedule and combination of work and school that’s right for you. Remember—you are not alone, and many have been in your shoes before. With a little perseverance and determination, your nursing career goals can be achieved.
What will your nursing school journey look like?
So how long is nursing school? As you can see, the answer can get a little complicated—much of it will depend on what your goals are and your current level of education.
Having an idea of how much time you can commit to a nursing program is an ideal way to start narrowing down which path to choose. For more information to help you choose between two of the most common entryways into the nursing field, check out our article, “Practical Nursing vs. Professional Nursing: Understanding the Differences.”
1Time to completion is dependent on number of transfer credits accepted and the number of courses completed each term.
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed November 2021] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/ Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in May 2015. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2021.