How Long is Nursing School? Your Timeline to Becoming a Nurse
You may know that college isn’t always a cut-and-dry four-year journey. There are different options for different aspirations—from a two-year Associate’s degree to six or more years of medical or professional school. Somewhere in this realm lies the mystifying Nursing school. Does it take two years? Three? Four? How should you know?
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 and shown 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 degrees
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.
One of the many great things about being a nurse is that there is always room to advance. 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.
So if you’d like to get your feet wet quickly, you don’t have to worry about being in an entry-level nursing position forever, as more advanced degrees will offer more opportunities. Let’s scope out some of the most popular nursing options:
Practical Nursing Diploma
A Practical Nursing program leads to a Diploma, which can be earned in as few as 12 months for full-time students.1 Students who earn their Diploma and pass the NCLEX-PN exam become a licensed practical nurse, or 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.
Working as an LPN helps you earn valuable nursing experience and knowledge, which can later be used to boost you forward in your career through an LPN-to-RN bridge program. These programs allow you to earn credit for the education you’ve acquired. Then, if you decide to advance your education, you can become an RN more quickly.
Associate’s Degree in Nursing
If you would like more responsibilities in your nursing role, an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) could be the way to go. You can obtain an Associate’s degree in Nursing in as few as 18–24 months.1 Next, you would need to pass the NCLEX-RN. After that, you are a registered nurse and able to specialize and work in a variety of settings.
RNs typically have more duties than an LPN, and roles will vary based on the job location, whether it’s in a clinic, a hospital or ambulatory care. Because of the longer length of schooling and more advanced studies, RNs are able to specialize. Popular specialties include pediatrics, geriatrics or oncology nursing.
Bachelor's Degree in Nursing
Those interested in becoming a registered nurse also have the option of earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). There are several BSN options. One is for nurses who are already RNs and have an ADN. They may want to advance their career or deepen their education. These nurses can earn a BSN in as few as 12 months with an RN to BSN program.1
For those who aren’t already nurses, a standard BSN program can have you doing your rounds in as few as 33 months with an accelerated program.1 Or, if you already have a Bachelor’s degree in something else, you can leverage that experience to obtain a BSN in as few as 18 months.1
Graduate-Level Nursing Degrees
Last but not least, you can climb the nursing ladder with an advanced degree in Nursing, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). With an MSN, you can 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 need a BSN. Once you have that, graduate school isn’t so daunting—you can build upon your years of nursing experience and knowledge in as few as 18 months of schooling.1
And although an advanced degree requires several years of schooling, the perks are worth it to many people. The BLS reports that nurse managers, along with other health services managers, earn an average of $96,540, and nurse educators on average earn $75,030.2 While many go into nursing for personal fulfillment, it’s good to know that your dreams can be sustainable.
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.”
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? While there’s not a clear-cut answer, as much of it depends on what your goals are and where you are with education level, but you now have an idea about how long nursing school takes based on your career aspirations.
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 complete is dependent on accepted transfer credits and courses completed each quarter.
2Salary 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 2018.