How Long is Nursing School? → Timelines by Program Type

how long is nursing school

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Interested in becoming a nurse? If so, it’s time to find the right nursing program to get you started on your journey!

Nursing is an incredibly rewarding and well-sought after profession full of hardships, challenges, and moments to connect with people during real moments of their lives. If you are considering exploring nursing as a possible career, finding the right nursing program for your needs is one of the most important steps to achieving your goal.

In this article, we discuss some of the most common nursing school programs available across the country, sharing some of their unique benefits, drawbacks, and the amount of time they take to complete. Using this information, we hope that you are better able to choose a program designed to offer you the education and support you need to flourish as a newly graduated nurse in no time.

So, how long is nursing school, and which program should I take? Read on to find out!

How long does it take to become a nurse?

As one of the most popular questions prospective nurses ask, the answer can be a bit more complicated than some may realize.

Nursing school is designed to provide the attending students with the education and support needed to become self-sufficient nurses working in the healthcare system. While most other professional degrees and diplomas offer only one program option for completion, nursing school does things a little differently.

There are currently four different programs available for nursing students to take to achieve their practice license in America. Designed to be more accommodating to people in various stages of their life and career, choosing the correct program is essential to give you the best chance at success. But, to know which option is right for you, we first must explore the four primary types of nursing programs:

Understanding the difference between different nursing programs

Offering their own unique benefits and drawbacks, each of the following nursing programs can be taken in order to achieve your practice license:

Nursing Diploma or Certificate 

As a nursing program that is being slowly phased out, it is still possible for student nurses to complete a nursing diploma or certificate as their entry point into the field. Often offered by community colleges or from specialized teaching hospitals, this program focuses on hands-on experience rather than generalized education in a classroom setting.

Offering plenty of clinical hours, this is an excellent choice for those who prefer to learn by submerging themselves in the experience. But, as other programs are becoming more popular and desired by hiring managers, nursing diplomas are being offered less — meaning that you may want to look into other options before committing to this certification. 

Additionally, for those wanting to become an RN, bridging courses that can take anywhere from 1-4 years are required, which may be another barrier to achieving your career goals.

Program highlights:

  • Timeline to completion: 1-3 years
  • Offered at community colleges or hospitals
  • Prepares you to pass NCLEX-PN to become an LPN or LVN

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The Associate Degree in Nursing is a relatively new program designed to offer a faster and more streamlined option for students looking to become registered nurses (RN). Dividing coursework between in-class education and hands-on clinical experience, this fast-paced program is a great choice for those who want to enter the workforce as soon as possible.

Highly favored by hiring managers, having an ADN degree is a great way to get your foot in the door of various nursing positions and units. Additionally, an ADN degree can be used as a stepping stone towards earning a higher degree, with some nursing positions offering financial compensations for their employees to get further education. 

This being said, some may find the intense instructional schedule to be too much, especially if they are working other jobs or have other family obligations. Because of this, some students prefer to take other programs that can be taken at a slower pace to accommodate their current schedule.

Program highlights:

  • Timeline to completion: 2 years
  • Offers classroom and clinical experience
  • Prepares students to pass the NCLEX-RN to become an RN

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSc)

Known as the gold standard of nursing programs, earning a BSc in Nursing is considered one of the most favored degrees for getting hired as a nurse. As the longest program available for achieving an undergraduate nursing degree, the goal of the BSc program is to create a solid foundation of clinical knowledge and practical skills. 

Additionally, this program covers other career-based courses about leadership, management, research, and public health — all of which give BSc nurses a leg-up when it comes to earning more high-paying positions right out of school. Additionally, if you are looking to go back to school for further education (like to earn your Master’s in Nursing to become a nurse practitioner), having a BSc is often a requirement.

Currently, most BSc programs are offered through state universities, requiring sufficient high school or post-secondary grades as well as a passing TEAS grade to be accepted. Because of this, some may find it challenging to get accepted on their first attempt — which may be a contributing factor to why people choose other nursing programs.

Program highlights:

  • Timeline to completion: 4-5 years
  • Prepares students to pass the NCLEX-RN to become an RN
  • Includes advanced education about leadership and management

What nursing program is best for me?

Now that we understand the available nursing program options a little better, the final decision ultimately comes down to which option best fits your needs. If you are still unsure of which to pursue, where are some additional factors to consider before you make your decision:

  • Career aspirations — While this can be hard to imagine as a person without nursing experience, thinking about what you would like your future career to be can help you decide on your program. Whether you are looking for hands-on experience right away or want to take a more academic route, options are available to fit your needs!
  • Current age and lifestyle — Nursing students come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds, which is one of the best things about the program. We recommend thinking about how quickly you would like to start working as a nurse when picking your program so you can select the best one to blend into your current lifestyle and schedule.
  • High school and post-secondary grades — Grades are not everything, but they do impact program acceptance. Take a look at your grades and assess which program is the best match — and don’t worry if you aren’t quite meeting the cut just yet. There are plenty of options available for students to improve their grades to get accepted to the program they want, so just hang in there!
  • Financial considerations — Unfortunately, the longer the program is, the more expensive it tends to be. This is an important factor to consider before applying, but it should not be the primary limiting factor to achieving your goals. Scholarships and financial aid programs exist to help students get through nursing school, so explore their options and get excited to start a brand new and exciting career.

About SimpleNursing

SimpleNursing is a world-class nursing educational resource created to fill the gaps in conventional healthcare education. Started by a nursing student who was sick of the traditional learning styles offered throughout his program, SimpleNursing is now used by over 400,000 students worldwide.

Join SimpleNursing today to enhance your comprehension and boost your grades in no time. As the perfect resource for new or prospective nurses, we offer everything from TEAS exam preparation guides to NCLEX prep courses designed to help boost your confidence and lock in knowledge to ace your final exams.