picture of wristwatch with words that say average waitlist time for a nursing program

Education takes time, especially in the medical and nursing fields. Sometimes it takes longer than expected. Currently, due to nursing faculty shortages, nursing shortages, and brick-and-mortar limits, many nursing schools experience far greater demand than supply, resulting in waitlists. But what’s the average nursing program waitlist time?

In this blog, we’ll discuss average waitlists times by program and what’s better: sacrificing a bit of extra dough for a private program with no waitlist, or waiting longer for a seat in a cheaper public program. Is it worth it to invest more than expected in your education, in a different college than you expected, to become an RN earlier? Let’s take a look.

The average waitlist time for a nursing program

Public schools are the ones that attract potential nursing learners the most. The low cost of their programs is attractive to learners who don’t want to go into debt for their education. This section will cover public schools’ waiting times as almost all private nursing schools, like ours, Nightingale College, have no waitlists for their programs.

Factor in your area

All waitlists vary by area. The more schools an area has, the lower the demand for education will be and therefore, the waitlists will be shorter. The waitlists often vary by state, due to approval and licensing issues. California, for example, is notorious for long waitlists. Areas that have more schools often have shorter waitlists.

Factor in your program

Waitlist time also varies by program of study: ADN, BSN, or RN-to-BSN. Let’s go over each of these individually.

  • Average waitlist times for ADN Programs
    Associate degree nursing programs have the longest average waitlist time due to being the highest demand program. “The Future of Nursing,” a book by the Institute of Medicine, reads, “At present, the most common way to become an RN is to pursue an ADN at a community college.” With that being the case, it makes sense that community colleges have the longest wait time for ADNs, so it may be cheaper to pursue a degree in another avenue. In some areas, you can expect to wait up to three years for a community college program. At a public or private university, the wait can vary from one semester to four.
    Learn more about Nightingale College’s ADN Program, which has no waitlist.
  • Average waitlist times for BSN Programs
    Average waiting times for Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree programs are slightly less than the ADN counterparts in the same city. However, the waitlist time varies by area, with those areas that have large numbers of schools (usually urban areas) usually having shorter waits. Waits can still average from one to four semesters.
    Learn more about Nightingale College’s BDN program, which has no waitlist.
  • Average waitlist times for RN-to-BSN Programs
    Many RN-to-BSN programs are online and, as a result of this, it is rare to find an RN-to-BSN program with a waitlist. If your program of interest has a waitlist, look into other comparable options to see if something else might work.
    Learn more about Nightingale College’s RN-to-BSN Program, which has no waitlist.

Will completing pre-reqs for a nursing program help me get in faster?

One of the biggest traps that nursing learners fall into is completing pre-reqs for a school’s nursing program before being accepted. Many learners will do all the necessary prerequisites with a school before they have been guaranteed a start date for the nursing courses. This is a BIG mistake, because even though you’ve completed some courses with the institution, they are not required to admit you to the program, and you may not get as much credit for your work at another school. So when you complete those courses, they may simply put you on a waitlist for another four semesters – when you might’ve completed an entire nursing degree in the same amount of time at another school! Which brings us to our next point.

Is it worth it to wait?

Should you wait around for a slot in a nursing program to open up? Or should you pay extra and get into a program that will admit you right away? Here’s your answer: compute the opportunity cost.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to calculate whether or not waiting for a nursing program seat will be more advantageous for you in the long run:

  1. Use this blog to find the average salary of an RN in your state.
  2. Call a program you are interested in that has a waitlist, and ask what the LONGEST waitlist time could be for someone wanting to enroll (just to be safe.) Ask this program what their tuition is per semester. Call any additional programs that you may be researching and interested in applying to and ask the same questions. 
  3. Call a program that has no waitlist and ask what their tuition is per semester.
  4. Compare what you could be making as an RN with the difference in cost.

Here’s a video that outlines the process of calculating opportunity cost:


As discussed in this video, a private college’s program may end up being cheaper than a public one due to the long waitlist times at public universities. If both programs are of similar caliber, you could become an RN faster with a private college. In summary, in most cases it is NOT worth it to wait for spot to become available, as the opportunity cost of a nurse’s salary is higher than the difference in tuition!

Should you consider an LPN first?

Another option you have is to become an LPN first, then complete an LPN to RN program. We don’t recommend this option as it is far more expensive than the other options.

Don’t let the price stop you!

Although the price of some nursing programs may be daunting, nursing school is an investment. Once you graduate, you will be working as an RN and the payments that seemed so astronomical before may seem a little more within reach. Calculate the opportunity cost of a waitlist so you don’t end up paying more money in the long run! Many schools also offer financial aid help, or scholarships to lessen the financial burden. So, instead of waiting in a waitlist to start pursuing your dream career, make an investment in your future!