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How Long is Nursing School? – Timeline to Become a Nurse

How Long Does Nursing School Take to Complete?

The field of nursing makes up a substantial number of jobs in the medical field and healthcare industry. In fact, the United States federal government predicts that over the next several years, the nursing sector will add at least 200,000 jobs per year. When it comes to training to be a nurse, many students ask, “How long is nursing school?”

When you begin any academic program, it’s normal to want to learn more about career options and job availability based upon your year of completion. Because each training program is different based on the education provider and the specific program you choose, these options may change from year to year.

Regardless, with more than 3.8 million registered nurses in the United States, this is a popular field that many individuals wish to pursue. In this article, you’ll learn more about the levels of nursing degrees you can earn and what sets each of them apart. You’ll also learn about unique nursing school programs that are available as you advance in your education and professional career. 


Levels of Nursing Degrees

Trained nurses can pursue various levels of education depending on their short and long-term career goals. The field of nursing is broad and encompasses everything from assisting physicians with basic duties to serving on the executive boards at major hospital systems. Depending on your future professional goals, you may need to pursue different levels of nursing degrees at certain points in your career.

Whether you advance through each level progressively or choose a rigorous long-term program from the start, it’s important to research your choices and become familiar with different institutions. Below, we’ll take a closer look at each level of nursing degree and what it might mean for your educational future. 


Practical Nursing Diploma

A diploma in practical nursing (PN) is often considered the quickest way to get started in a nursing career. Earning your diploma is one of steps on the road to becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse, or LPN. At minimum, a practical nursing diploma takes about one to two years to complete, depending on the school and how many semesters are required. LPN programs must be approved by your state’s board of nursing, and may be offered through a college or a technical school.

Coursework for earning a diploma includes both classroom training in addition to hands-on skills needed in the medical field. While diploma programs are usually faster than other types of degrees, this process ensures that minimum competencies are in order to give future nurses the skills they need to be successful.

A state-approved practical nursing diploma qualifies students to apply for the NCLEX-PN exam, which is a required step on the road to becoming an LPN. 


Associate Degree in Nursing

An Associate of Science degree in nursing (ASN or ADN) is traditionally a full two-year college-level program that places students on the path to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). This type of program allows you to earn your RN credentials, but it is only the first step in a full-time professional nursing career. As with any nursing program, you’ll want to choose one approved by your state’s board of nursing.

With Labouré College, an ASN degree allows students to begin working in the field of nursing while pursuing degrees at higher levels. Not only is this helpful if you need to continue working, but it also provides practical, real-life experience in different healthcare settings while building confidence.

An associate degree in nursing allows you to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become a Registered Nurse and to reap the benefits of having such licensure.


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Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) often takes four years to complete. This degree is ideal for those who want to learn the full professional scope of nursing as a career choice. There may be additional job and salary opportunities at this level as well.

Registered Nurses (RNs) who have earned bachelor’s degrees are more likely to be employed in hospital settings, rather than medical offices or other types of care facilities. Becoming an RN with a bachelor’s degree can also mean higher entry-level salary requirements and further educational opportunities down the road.

LPNs or RNs who are seeking a bachelor’s degree may be eligible for LPN-BSN or RN-BSN programs, which typically take one to three years to complete. Because these candidates already have prior education and licensure in nursing, they can put those prior credits toward their bachelor’s degree and finish faster than a traditional 4-year program. 

Accelerated BSN programs are another option for career changers who may have a bachelor’s degree in another field and would like to become a nurse. State-approved accelerated BSN programs - like 4-year BSN programs - allow the graduate to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam at the end of their program. 


Graduate Level Degrees

Since most nursing professionals can easily secure good jobs with other degrees, not everyone will go on to earn a graduate level nursing degree. A well-rounded Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program allows nursing students to specialize in areas such as health research, hospital administration, and care for specific patient populations or health conditions. 

A graduate degree in nursing can undoubtedly increase a person’s earning potential, but it can also open the door for careers in public health and service. Since many master’s programs are research-based, MSN graduates can explore evidence-based solutions to patient problems.


How Long Does it Take to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)?

On average, an incoming nursing student can expect to become a licensed Registered Nurse (RN) in roughly three years. This is after a student fully completes the academic program at an accredited college or university. 

If you are interested in becoming an RN but already possess a bachelor’s degree in another field, you may be eligible for an accelerated program. These programs may accept general education credits earned from other degrees, thus eliminating several semesters’ worth of coursework. When you pursue an accelerated nursing degree, the estimated time until completion is reduced to only 18 months.

No matter which program you choose, becoming an RN requires successful completion and a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). In order to sit for the exam, students must apply with a state-level nursing board. Preparation is key, and the ability to pass this crucial test may play a factor in how long it takes to achieve RN certification.


How Long Does it Take to Become a Practical Nurse (PN)?

In most states, becoming a practical nurse takes roughly one to two years. This is a faster route to becoming a nurse, but students should know that career options may be more limited. LPNs might assist other nurses with routine medical responsibilities, or they may provide basic level care like dressing, feeding, and tending to patients.

LPNs are required to take and pass the NCLEX-PN exam. Even students that wish to take an accelerated path should be diligent in preparing for the exam, since there is a 45-day waiting period to retake the test. 

There are many choices available when it comes to LPN programs, including traditional and accelerated options. It may be best to speak with an admissions or career counselor before you decide which program is best, based on your timeline and career goals. 

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How to Research Nursing School Programs

With such a high demand for nursing professionals, potential students are likely to have several local options based on the type of degree they wish to pursue. Many schools cater to the needs of older adult learners or those who might be switching to nursing after serving in another career field.

One of the best ways to research nursing school programs is through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The AACN Member Program Directory has advanced search features that allow you to filter by state, affiliation, or program type. Once you have a large list of results, you can narrow down local options based on your budget, time commitment, and previous education. 

When exploring different nursing school programs, always look for:

  • Accreditation and licensure
  • Flexible transfer credit policies
  • Class scheduling (day/evening/weekend)
  • Classroom and practical requirements
  • Future opportunities and upper-level options 

Job Opportunities for Nurses

No matter which degree option you choose, rest assured that your professional opportunities are numerous. One of the advantages of a nursing education is that it allows you to continue  learning and advancing. Although you may begin at a basic level, there are many possibilities for adapting your education to meet a new career goal.

Below are just a few of the job opportunities available for nursing students upon successful completion of their academic programs.

  • Critical Care Nurse. Critical care nurses are often employed in emergency departments or other trauma centers. They provide high-level medical support to patients in need of acute and emergent care.
  • Nurse Practitioner. A Nurse Practitioner often works alongside a team of physicians in a family care or pediatric practice. Sometimes, NPs have their own offices and see their own patients. This level of nursing generally requires an advanced MSN degree or DNP degree.
  • Surgical Nurse. Surgical nurses are needed in both hospitals and outpatient surgery centers. These specialists provide support in operating rooms and in post-op for attending physicians and surgeons.
  • Nurse Midwife. Nurse midwives provide obstetric and maternity care for new mothers through pregnancy, labor, and delivery. While an MSN is beneficial, many midwifery programs have other license requirements or special certifications. 
  • Nurse Educator.  A nurse educator is someone who has the educational and practical experience required for nursing, combined with an ability to teach others. Nurse educators may be employed at colleges or universities to develop and evaluate medical curriculum.
  • Phone Triage Nurse. In modern times, telehealth is becoming a more popular option. Phone triage nurses are employed by many doctors or insurance companies to offer phone support for patients with general questions and concerns. 

Start Your Nursing Career Today

With Labouré College, you can begin your nursing journey with top-level education and expanded opportunities for professional growth. The 2-year Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) program even allows you to begin your new nursing job two years earlier than traditional four-year programs. Apply now to begin an exciting lifetime journey as a nursing professional!

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