How Long is Nursing School?

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It’s an exciting time to become a nurse. Not only does a career in nursing offer great professional benefits, job stability and growth potential, but it also offers a way to make a real impact. If you’re considering pursuing a career as a nurse, you may be asking yourself these questions: How long is nursing school? How long does it take to become a registered nurse? We’ll explain how long it takes to complete nursing school depending on the nursing program you choose, allowing you to choose a path to nursing that’s the best fit for you.

Nurse looking down at clipboard

The Pacific Lutheran University Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, located just north of Seattle allows students to earn their bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSN) in as few as 16 months. Offering three different start dates each year, the ABSN program makes it possible for students to begin and graduate from nursing school sooner than traditional nursing programs.

There are several options to choose between for nursing school, and each program takes a different amount of time. We’ll explain each option so you can feel confident in answering the question: “How long is nursing school?”

Nursing Program Options

Becoming a nurse can take anywhere from one to four years. The amount of time it takes will depend on which type of nursing program you choose and your prior educational experience. Therefore, it’s important to determine which path is the best fit for you so you can optimize your time and start your nursing career as soon as possible.

nurse looking at monitor above patient's bed

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Associate Degree Program

Many people believe the quickest way to become a nurse is to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN), as this degree path generally takes about two years to complete. To apply to an ADN program, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, but you generally won’t need to have taken college-level prerequisite courses.

Associate degrees have fallen out of favor in recent years, however, as more health care facilities are opting to hire nurses with bachelor’s degrees. For this reason, most nursing program candidates find that earning a bachelor’s degree is a better choice, as this path offers improved job stability, a higher salary and more career advancement opportunities.

Traditional BSN Program

Traditional nursing programs typically last four years and provide graduates with a bachelor’s degree. These programs include two years of general education courses and two years of nursing-specific courses. To be eligible for a traditional nursing program, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED but will generally not need to have taken additional college-level prerequisite courses.

Similar to other four-year undergraduate programs, traditional BSN classes generally take place in person on campus. These programs are ideal for students who have earned fewer than 60 college credits.

Accelerated BSN Program

An accelerated BSN program incorporates the same nursing curriculum as a traditional BSN program, but it is condensed into a time frame of one to two years. For example, at PLU, the ABSN program consists of a 16-month curriculum and incorporates three different learning modalities:

  • Online classes
  • Skills and simulation labs
  • Clinical rotations
Pacific Lutheran University nursing students working in simulation lab

PLU incorporates online classes, which allows the program to accept more qualified students and offer three different start dates per year. Having multiple start dates allows students to begin the program sooner, making it possible to earn a nursing degree in less time than a school offering only one start date per year.

If you have at least 60 non-nursing college credits or a prior non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible to join an accelerated nursing program. PLU will work with you to identify any needed prerequisites to prepare you for an accelerated BSN program. You’ll need to complete the required prerequisite courses before beginning an accelerated BSN program.

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Learn more about Pacific Lutheran's ABSN program near Seattle, Washington.

Entry-Level Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Program

Another less common path to becoming a nurse is through a master’s degree program. This option incorporates RN courses in the first half and then focuses on graduate nursing courses in the second half. There are some programs that allow students to earn an MSN without a prior BSN.

Earning an MSN is required to become a nurse educator, nurse practitioner or other advanced-practice registered nurse. An MSN program is a bigger commitment and may take more time, however, so pursuing a BSN is still the best first step for most nurses.

Comparison of Nursing Programs

This table outlines the duration, key advantages and disadvantages of each type of nursing program. Use this data to help you determine which program is right for you.

Type of ProgramProgram LengthAdvantagesDisadvantages
ADN2 yearsShorter timeline to earn degree•Less desirable degree
•Less comprehensive education
•Lower career salary
•Less career growth potential
•May need to return to school later for BSN
Traditional BSN4 years•Great career benefits: higher salary, growth potential, job stability and more nursing specialty options
•Well-rounded nursing education
•Ideal for those with few or no prior college credits
•Longer timeline to earn degree
•In-person learning rather than hybrid online classes
•One start date per year
Accelerated BSN1–2 years•Faster timeline to earn degree
•Well-rounded nursing education
•Career benefits of a BSN: higher salary, growth potential, job stability and more nursing specialty options
•Online learning component
•Multiple start dates per year
•Challenging workload in order to complete the curriculum within a condensed time frame
MSN1.5–3 years•Growth potential and opportunity to pursue advanced practice nursing roles
•Well-rounded nursing education
•Potentially longer educational time frame
•Unnecessary if your goal is to become a clinical nurse

Fastest Way to Become a Nurse

Now that you have reviewed the options for becoming a registered nurse, you can see that there are several possible avenues for those wanting to pursue nursing as a career. The timeline for earning a nursing degree depends heavily on which route you choose. So, how do you choose a program that’s the best fit for you and will help you achieve your goal in as little time as possible?

If you have at least 60 non-nursing college credits or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, an accelerated BSN program will likely be your go-to choice. A BSN will open many doors as a nurse, setting you up to have a long, fulfilling career with job stability, a competitive income and future leadership opportunities.

An accelerated BSN program offers the advantages of a bachelor’s degree while saving time, allowing you to complete your degree in as few as 16 months.

Pacific Lutheran University nursing students with instructor

5 Steps to Become a Nurse

Now that we’ve discussed the time frame for becoming a nurse, let’s outline the steps to earning your degree. Because an accelerated BSN program tends to be a preferred choice for becoming a registered nurse quickly, we’ll talk through the process of becoming a nurse via this path.

1. Speak with an Admissions Counselor

The first step to becoming a nurse is to reach out to the admissions counselors at the nursing program you’re considering.

At Pacific Lutheran University, our admissions counselors are committed to ensuring the admissions process is smooth and you feel supported every step of the way. Your admissions counselor will talk with you over the phone to review your prior education and determine your eligibility before helping you create a plan for completing prerequisite courses and submitting your nursing school application.

2. Complete Prerequisites

The next step of the nursing school admissions process is to complete any required prerequisite courses. The specific course requirements will depend on the school, but there will likely be at least a few science prerequisites.

At PLU, we require applicants to complete the following prerequisite courses before beginning the ABSN program:

  • Intro to Microbiology with Lab
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I and II with Lab
  • Chemistry of Life with Lab
  • Development Across the Lifespan
  • Introductory Statistics
  • Nutrition in Healthcare

3. Submit Nursing School Application

The next step in becoming a nurse is to submit a completed application along with any needed transcripts or supplemental documents. Once you are in your final semester of completing your prerequisites, you’ll be able to submit your application for the ABSN program. Admissions decisions at PLU are made on a rolling basis, so you can expect to hear back relatively quickly after submitting the application.

4. Complete Nursing School

nursing student in scrubs working with sim manikin

Once you’ve been accepted into nursing school, the hard work of learning how to be a nurse begins. Accelerated nursing programs are challenging, and you will be expected to learn quickly. It’s imperative that you prioritize nursing school during these 16 months in order to succeed and achieve your goal of becoming a nurse in an accelerated time frame. The good news is that since the ABSN program averages only 16 months, the time will fly by.

Woman at desk working on laptop

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5. Pass the NCLEX and Receive a Nursing License

Once you graduate from an ABSN program, the final step to becoming a registered nurse is to apply for nursing licensure in the state where you plan to work. You’ll then receive approval from the state board of nursing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Most students take a month or two after graduating from nursing school to study for the NCLEX. It is a challenging exam, requiring dedicated practice to complete it successfully. Once you pass the NCLEX, you’ll receive your nursing license and officially be a registered nurse.

Start Your Nursing Journey Today

Now you have a more informed answer to the question: “How long is nursing school?” At PLU, we are dedicated to helping you every step of the way to make your nursing goal a reality. If you’ve been considering a career in nursing, now is the time to take the first step.

If you’re interested in learning more about the accelerated nursing program at Pacific Lutheran University, fill out our online form to get in touch with an admissions counselor today.