How to Become an RN Fast: Explore Four Potential Paths
By Brianna Flavin on 07/06/2023
The best things in life might be worth waiting for—but that doesn't mean you have to wait for them. Putting your career plans on the back-burner doesn’t make them any more likely to happen. And the longer you delay, the longer you'll spend putting in hours at the job you have now instead of putting them toward your future.
This “opportunity cost” might be weighing on you as you consider the time it takes to become a nurse. You have bills to pay, responsibilities to maintain and professional goals to reach.
The good news is that nursing has a variety of entrance options to choose from. And some of the education options are faster than others. So if you want to become a registered nurse (RN) fast, you can weigh the pros and cons of different programs.
And remember, once you're working as a nurse, you can always go on to advance your education further in the future.
If you're motivated to earn a nursing degree to launch your registered nursing education, read on. Find the path that suits you best!
Get Your Nursing School Questions Answered at a Nursing Information Session
1. ADN: Starting from square one, in as few as 21 months
If you have your sights set on the role of RN with no pit stops on the way, acquiring an Associate degree in Nursing (ADN)—which can be completed in as few as 21 months—will be a direct route to your career as a registered nurse.1
If you’re unfamiliar with the field, you might not know you can earn the RN title with either an Associate’s degree or a Bachelor’s degree. The education background is different, but an RN license is the same RN license, no matter which background you have.
What does an RN do?
It's one of the most prevalent professions in healthcare, but what exactly do registered nurses do? RNs care for patients in many different ways that span physical, emotional and educational areas.
This includes creating care plans, performing diagnostic tests, administering medicine and treatment, and teaching patients how to manage their diagnoses. Most nurses are employed in hospitals, according to the BLS.2
But registered nurses work in tons of different settings, including nursing homes, private practices, nursing schools, prisons and more.
Educational advancement for RNs with an ADN
Many RNs with an Associate's degree choose to build upon their education and experience by enrolling in an RN to BSN program, which can be completed in as few as 12 months.1
Often, these BSN programs and nursing classes are offered online to make it easier for working nurses to advance their education.
RN job growth
Continued demand drives growth in the field, with a six percent increase in employment for RNs projected through 2031, which is about the national average rate of job growth.
2. A-BSN: If you already have a Bachelor’s degree, in as few as 18 months
An accelerated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program is another fast-track option for becoming a nurse. These programs are for students who already have a Bachelor’s degree in a different field.
Since you already took general education courses and built a solid base in higher education, these programs allow you to streamline your nursing curriculum. An Bachelor of Science in Nursing (A-BSN) degree could allow you to become an RN in as few as 18 months.1
What do RN-BSNs do?
BSN nurses typically perform the same duties as the ADN duties mentioned above. However, this degree qualifies them to take on greater responsibilities and could help open doors for many interesting nursing specialties.
RNs with a BSN also have the advantage of qualifying for more job postings, especially within large, urban or magnet hospitals, some of which may require RN candidates to hold a BSN.
Some specialties, such as school nursing and public health, typically require a BSN as well, as do many nurse management roles. If you are aiming for one of these positions, go for the BSN.
3. BSN: Starting from scratch, aiming for a Bachelor's, in as few as 33 months
If you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but like the sound of being an RN with a BSN, you can pursue a standard Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree. These programs can be completed in as few as 33 months.1
While three years may or may not seem fast to you—many nurses take this option to embark on their nursing careers with a BSN on their resume.
Educational advancement for RNs with a BSN
Obtaining your BSN isn't the end of the line in the nursing field. In fact, a BSN opens many more doors should you seek advancement in your career. Some BSN-RNs choose to go on to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.
RN job growth
RNs have a promising job outlook with a six percent increase in employment projected through 2031, according to the BLS2
RNs with a BSN tend to earn slightly more than RNs with an ADN, though the true opportunity for increased earning potential comes from the array of nursing specialties and managerial roles open to nurses with BSN degrees.
4. LPN: A chance to start working as a nurse before you become an RN.
If you’re itching to enter the nursing industry and don’t need to become an RN right away, consider taking the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) route. While you wouldn't actually be an RN, you could complete a Practical Nursing program and be well on your way to launching a nursing career in as few as 12 months.1
Working as an LPN could allow you to start earning an income as a nurse, gain experience in different areas of nursing (which is helpful to make career and education decisions later on) and return to education to pursue RN status when you are ready.
What do LPNs do?
LPNs are valuable players on the nursing team. But what exactly do they do?
These healthcare professionals take patient vitals, distribute medications and administer basic patient care, such as changing bandages and IV drips, among other duties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
They typically work under the supervision of an RN or doctor and are sometimes responsible for overseeing nursing aides. The most common place of employment for LPNs is nursing and residential care facilities like nursing homes, according to the BLS.
Other settings for LPNs include hospitals, physicians' offices, home healthcare services and government facilities.
Career advancement for LPNs
This, plus passing the NCLEX-RN licensure exam and meeting all other state requirements, would earn them the title of registered nurse (RN).
LPN job growth
Employment of LPNs is projected to grow six percent through 2031, which is on pace with the average growth for all occupations.
Consider this before you choose a nursing program
Each of the paths mentioned above has its unique advantages, and your choice will depend on your current educational background and career goals. To make an informed decision, consider the following factors:
The time commitment
Assess the amount of time you are willing to dedicate to your nursing education. The LPN route is the quickest but has limitations on scope and responsibilities. The ADN and A-BSN options take longer but offer more opportunities for growth and advancement.
Financial pros and cons
Understand the costs associated with each program and weigh them against the potential salary and job prospects. While LPN programs are generally more affordable, they also have lower earning potential than RN programs.
Your career goals
Think about your long-term career aspirations. If you envision yourself in a specialized or leadership role, pursuing an ADN or A-BSN may be more beneficial, as these degrees provide more opportunities for growth and advancement in the nursing field.
Do you need a program that accommodates your current work or personal schedule? Do you have transit or mobility constraints to consider? Many nursing programs offer flexible options, such as online or evening classes, which can be especially helpful for working professionals or those with family responsibilities.
Accreditation and reputation
Ensure the nursing program you choose is accredited and has a strong reputation for producing quality nursing graduates. Research each school’s pass rates for the NCLEX® (the standardized nursing exam required for RN licensure) and seek out testimonials from alumni to get a sense of the program’s success.
Look for nursing programs that offer comprehensive student support, including career services, academic advising, and tutoring. These resources can be invaluable in helping you succeed in your nursing education and transition smoothly into your new career.
Regardless of the path you choose, the key to success in becoming an RN quickly is a combination of determination, hard work, and a strong support system. Take the time to research your options and make the best decision for your unique situation. Soon, you'll be well on your way to an exciting and rewarding career in nursing.
Jump-start your nursing education
Now that you know some of your nursing options, what are you waiting for? Get the process started—and your questions answered—by signing up for a nursing information session.
If you are curious about what these nursing programs might actually look like once you enroll, check out our article “Nursing Training: A Closer Look at the Road to Becoming an RN.”
1Completion time 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 April, 2023]. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2023.