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Finding Your Path: Choosing the Right Nursing Program for You

Are you looking for information on nursing schools in Massachusetts? Are you scratching your head over the difference between an RN and an LPN, or an ASN and a BSN?

If you’re confused about which nursing school or program is right for you, you are not alone. Nursing is a unique career. The path to becoming a nurse is not a straight and narrow one.

The educational pathways to a nursing career can diverge and merge, depending on how much education you already have, how much time you can commit, and what you ultimately want to do with your education.

Direct patient care, clinic management, research, teaching, and case management are just a few of the job opportunities available to nurses.

Whether you just graduated from high school or are seeking a career change, there is a program available to help you get started in nursing. Let’s explore how to choose a nursing program that will help you reach your career goals no matter where you are in life.

First, Choose an Accredited Program

Make sure the nursing programs you are considering are approved or accredited. Accreditation or program approval means that the nursing program has been evaluated by a nationally recognized accrediting organization to ensure the program meets minimum nursing education standards.

Enrolling in an accredited nursing program can affect your eligibility for financial aid, employment options, ability to transfer education credits, and even your eligibility to take the licensing exam in certain states.

Visit the website for your state nursing licensure board and search for approved nursing programs. For example, if you live in Massachusetts, visit the Massachusetts Board of Nursing website and search the site for a list of approved nursing programs.

There's a Program for You 

Once you have a list of accredited nursing programs, it is time to decide on the type of program you need. You’ll want to consider your unique situation and what kind of credential or license you want.

If you’re a high school graduate and plan to attend a four-year college, consider a bachelor’s degree in nursing. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can lead to a better income and advanced educational opportunities.

Need a registered nurse (RN) program so that you can start earning an income faster? Consider a two-year nursing degree program, sometimes called an ASN or ADN program. At Labouré College of Healthcare, you can earn an associate of science in nursing (ASN) in two years and an RN license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The ASN program includes online general education courses with on-campus professional nursing courses while clinical experiences take place at partner facilities in and around the Greater Boston area. With 100 spots open for Fall 2024, you can get started right away. Learn more about prerequisites and admission requirements on the Labouré website.

Not ready for college? No problem. A licensed practical nurse (LPN) program takes about one year and you can continue your education when you’re ready.

Alternative Pathways

While career goals are important, they aren’t always obvious when you’re first starting out. Not everyone who becomes a nurse practitioner knew that was their goal when they started nursing school.

Know that no matter where you start, you can always continue your education if you decide to do so.

For example, if you’ve never worked in healthcare before and aren’t sure nursing is the right job for you, consider becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Working as a CNA is a great way to explore the healthcare field without spending time and money on a degree program. You’ll also benefit from employment opportunities that are expected to continue to grow at an average rate. 

If, as a CNA, you find that you really enjoy helping people and want to pursue a career in nursing, you can enroll in a two or four-year degree program and earn an associate degree or even a BSN.

If your situation does not allow you to commit to going to school full-time, consider a part-time LPN or RN program. If you become a licensed practical nurse, you could enroll in an LPN to RN bridge program.

Labouré’s LPN to RN program allows LPNs to earn credit by examination for some nursing courses, reducing the time spent in nursing school. After successfully completing the program, you’ll earn an Associate in Science Degree and be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam to earn your RN license.

As an associate-prepared RN, you can choose to enroll in a fast-track BSN program while working. Labouré offers an online RN to BSN program that accepts post-secondary course credits and you can complete the program in about 16 months.

As you can see, alternate pathways can lead to the same BSN. A BSN opens the door to master’s and doctorate degrees and the opportunity to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs include nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.  

Remember, you don’t have to have your career goals figured out before you start nursing school.

Digging into Details

Now, evaluate your short-list of programs for the following criteria:

  • Location
    • Do you need a program located close to your home or work location?
    • Can you relocate to attend school? 
  • Program length
    • How much time can you commit to your education? 1 year? 2 years? 4 years?
    • Do you need a flexible program that allows you to set your own pace? 
  • Scheduling options
    • Can you attend school full-time?
    • Do you need a part-time schedule so you can continue working your current job?
    • Do you need a hybrid program that allows you to complete coursework online? 
  • Clinical options
    • Will you need to find your own clinical locations and preceptors or does the program offer clinical education at healthcare facilities near where you live?
  • Tuition and fees
    • What are the costs?
    • Is financial aid available? 
  • Career counseling and job placement assistance
    • Does the school offer counseling for interviewing skills, job placement, and future career planning? 

By now, you’ve narrowed your list of nursing programs to those that will most likely fit your schedule, your location, and your desired credentials. You may have spoken with admissions counselors about financial aid and career counseling.

The last hurdle to entering the program of your choice comes down to meeting the prerequisites.

Don't Forget the Prerequisites

Prerequisites are courses, degrees, licenses, testing, or experience that your desired program requires you to have before you can enroll in the program.

The entrance requirements to nursing programs vary. Below is a general overview of what is required to enroll in each type of nursing program, along with information on licensure, credentials, and employment prospects. Be sure to contact the admissions counselor at your chosen educational institution to ask about their prerequisites.

LPN Programs

Entry into an LPN program requires a high school diploma. An LPN program typically takes one year to complete. After graduating, the practical nurse can take the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed in their state. LPNs can expect the rate of job openings to continue at an average pace compared to all professions.

Two-Year Degree Programs

The prerequisites for two-year nursing degree programs can vary, but all will require the student to have a high school diploma. Successfully completing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), an Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ASN), or an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN) will qualify you to take the NCLEX-RN and earn your RN license. Registered nurses can expect jobs in this field to experience an average growth rate through 2031.

Two-year nursing programs typically require that you’ve already completed some college classes in math, science, and liberal arts. Prospective students may also need to submit pre-admission exam results, such as: 

  • HESI exam
    • General knowledge test that includes math, biology, anatomy, and physiology sections
    • Specialty HESI exam scores may be used to allow some students to test out of certain courses

  • TEAS exam
    • General knowledge test that assesses readiness for nursing school

  • PAX-RN exam
    • Standardized general knowledge test of math, science, and verbal ability

  • SAT or ACT
    • College admissions exams

Other prerequisites may include:

  • Recommendations
  • A program application
  • An interview
  • A minimum high school or college GPA
  • Required high school or college courses

At Labouré, you can earn an associate of science in nursing (ASN) in two years and you’ll qualify for an RN license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The ASN program includes both online general education courses and on-campus professional nursing courses. Labouré partners with various healthcare facilities in the Greater Boston area for clinical experiences. Learn more about their prerequisites and admission requirements on the Labouré website.

BSN Programs

BSN programs are usually four-year programs that include courses in science, math, general education, nursing theory, leadership, and clinical education. A BSN program prepares the NCLEX-RN applicant for clinical roles as well as leadership positions.

To enroll in a BSN program, you’ll need a high school diploma and to complete the educational institution’s prerequisites, which may include testing, such as the TEAS exam, and certain high school courses in math and science. If you are a transfer student or hold a degree in a different field, your prerequisites may be different than those required of a high school graduate with no post-secondary education.

If you already hold an RN license and are looking into an RN-to-BSN program, the prerequisites will also differ from a traditional four-year BSN program. 

With the many education options available today, almost anyone can pursue a career in nursing.

Learn more about how Labouré can help you become a nurse, whether you are just out of high school, in college, or mid-career. There’s an educational pathway to a career in nursing waiting for you.

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