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How Long Is Nursing School: Time It Takes to Become a Nurse by Program & Degree

How Long Is Nursing School: Time It Takes to Become a Nurse by Program & Degree

Before going into nursing school, one of the most pressing questions you will find yourself asking is how long does it take to get a nursing degree and actually become the type of nurse you envisioned.

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because the length of time required to achieve your desired nursing status is determined by various factors, from your aspirations and priorities to your current educational level. 

If your objective is to start practicing and earning money as soon as possible, there are definitely quicker routes you can pursue, such as becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). However, if you're in it for the long haul and your final goal involves more advanced nursing credentials, the academic route will be lengthier, with results to match the effort. 

So, prior to starting your learning journey, you need to assess your situation carefully: are you fresh out of high school? Are you already working and can't afford to quit your job to enroll in a full-time nursing program? To help you answer these questions, in this article, we will talk about how long nursing school takes, depending on the program you might choose.

How long is nursing school

How Long Is Nursing School: Period of Learning And Results Based on Degree

Whether you want to become a registered nurse right after high school, already have a Bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, or find yourself in a different situation, the length of the nursing program will vary. While each degree has a standard completion period, your background can influence the time it actually takes for you to graduate.

Program Type

Nursing Program Length

Nursing Level

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Program

4 weeks – 12 weeks

Certified nursing assistant

Practical Nursing (PN) Diploma 

1 year – 16 months

Licensed practical nurse (LPN)

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

2 years – 3 years

Registered nurse (RN)

Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

2 – 3 years

Registered nurse (RN)

LPN-to-ASN Path

16 months

Registered nurse (RN)

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

3 years – 4 years

Registered nurse (RN)

RN-to-BSN Track

1 year

Registered nurse (RN)


Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN)

19 months

Registered nurse (RN)

Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)

2 years – 3 years

Nurse practitioner (NP) or Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)

Doctoral Level Programs (DNP or Ph.D. in Nursing)

1 year – 2 years

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Clinical Researcher

Here's how long it takes to become a nurse as well as what you will study, what exams you will attend, and the outcome you can expect, depending on your chosen educational path. 

How long does nursing school take for CNAs

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

The certified nursing assistant is an entry-level role, the fastest way to enter the job market in the healthcare industry. Earning a CNA qualification will take learners anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks, depending on the program chosen. It is also an accessible choice, needing only a high school diploma or a GED to qualify for the training program.

You can enroll in a CNA preparatory program in institutions such as community colleges, vocational schools, or healthcare facilities.

Qualification requirements for nursing assistants differ by state, but, in general, you only need to complete the program and pass the final assessment. A program’s curriculum includes both theoretical instruction and clinicals, amounting to at least 75 hours of training for qualification

To get your certificate, you must pass a specific CNA exam.

As a CNA, you will provide basic support to patients under the supervision of other nurses, such as LPNs and RNs. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1,300,000 nursing assistants nationwide, and the estimated salary is $36,220 annually or $17.41 hourly at a national level.

LPN program length

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

It typically takes between 1 year and 16 months to become an LPN by completing a practical nursing (PN) program. You should expect classroom work as well as clinical practice. You can enroll in a PN diploma program in community colleges, vocational schools, or healthcare facilities, with online hybrid programs also available. 

To get the license and become an LPN, you have to pass the NCLEX-PN exam.

As a licensed practical nurse, you will be able to provide primary care to patients, although you will complete all your duties under the supervision of a registered nurse

According to BLS's latest data, LPNs make an average of $55,860 a year or $26.86 per hour. As of 2022, 632,020 licensed practical nurses were working in the U.S.

Find out more about current LPN salaries across U.S. states and what you can expect based on where you reside.

The PN Diploma Program at Nightingale College is designed to prepare learners for licensure in the most flexible way possible by combining fully online didactic instruction with on-ground supervised field experience. You can complete the accredited curriculum in as few as 12 months or 3 academic semesters.

Start your nursing career with our PN Diploma Program. Send in your application today!

ADN RN schooling length

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

It takes 2 years to get an associate degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. It’s the shortest path to enter the job market as an RN without any experience. You can also pursue Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Associate of Applied Science (AASN) degrees, which are equivalent in learning time and outcomes but place different levels of importance on practical skills.

As an ADN student, you’ll have to split your time between studying nursing fundamentals through core classes and gaining hands-on clinical experience. You also need to attend general education (GE) courses, but if you have previously attended a community college or post-secondary school, you can receive credit for them, leading to a shorter learning period.

The ADN program prepares you for the NCLEX-RN exam, the national licensure exam you must pass in order to start working as a registered nurse. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses earn an average of $89,010 annually or $42.80 hourly. However, salaries differ heavily by state and based on whether you hold an ADN or BSN.

Read our nurse salary by state study to discover all differences in payment based on location and accreditation.

Granted, many healthcare institutions prefer BSN-trained nurses, but you should not disregard earning your ADN as a great way to start your nursing career. According to the Journal of Nursing Regulation, around 24.3% of medical staff begin their RN career with an ADN or ASN, and there are many reasons why. 

It's less expensive and takes less time, so you'll become a nurse faster. You will also gather experience (and money), and when (and if) you feel ready to advance your career, you can return to school and obtain your BSN in an RN-to-BSN program

LPN-to-ASN Bridge Program

If you already have our LPN certification, you are eligible for a 2-year ADN program but also for an LPN-to-ADN fast track. The bridge program takes as few as 16 months and focuses more on clinical practice. So, in the end, this route capitalizes on your LPN formation and work experience, allowing you to become an RN in around 2 years and 4 months.

Read our LPN vs. ADN comparison to learn which is the best RN educational path for you!

The LPN-to-ASN track at Nightingale College is a 16-month hybrid program that merges online instruction with on-ground practice to provide an accessible learning experience. Its curriculum is accredited by the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (NLN CNEA), helping LPNs acquire all the skills and knowledge needed to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and receive their RN licensure. 

Enroll in the LPN-to-ASN Program and advance your career!

BSN RN schooling length

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN)

Getting a BSN degree is the most popular educational route among undergraduates who know right from the start that they want to become an RN. This program will take 3 to 4 years of full-time study to complete in traditional educational programs. 

As far as courses in a nursing bachelor program go, you will get in-depth specialized nursing courses, classes related to critical thinking and decision-making, ethics, and policy, as well as research, technology, and leadership. Overall, the BSN curriculum broadens the scope of your practice and grants you more career advancement opportunities, including highly sought-after nursing specialties like informatics nurse, legal nurse consultant, oncologist, or pediatric nurse. On top of that, RNs with BSN can expect to earn higher salaries than nurses with LPN or ADN degrees

While it is a lengthier program for becoming an RN, the extra time spent in school will pay off. As reported by the BLS,  a registered nurse with a BSN would qualify to earn salaries in the 75th percentile for RNs, with a yearly average of $101,100 or $48.60 per hour

It is also worth noting that a BSN degree might soon become a requirement, with the possible adoption of the BSN in 10 law by more and more states. The piece of legislation would require all registered nurses to obtain a BSN degree within 10 years of entering the profession, with a maximum 2-year extension, subject to limitations. Additionally, more and more employers prefer BSN  registered nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, already 71.7% of registered nurses working in the U.S. have a BSN or a higher degree, with 51.5% entering the workforce with a bachelor's or entry-level master’s degree.

Discover the RN requirements by state to know what to expect in your RN career.

If you want to begin or advance your career in nursing with maximum flexibility, you can start with the 32-month BSN program at Nightingale College. It’s a hybrid program that combines online instructional classes with on-ground and hands-on field training under expert supervision. 

Go to the next level in your nursing career with our BSN Program. Send in your application today!

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing as an ADN RN

If you are already a practicing registered nurse after having completed an ADN program, you can enroll in an RN-to-BSN bridge program. This type of program, designed with working professionals in mind, usually takes up to 2 years to graduate from but can be completed in as few as 1 year (or eight months if you have completed all the GE requirements). In this case, taking into account your ADN degree, you could spend a total of 3 to 4 years in nursing school. Most RN-to-BSN programs are entirely online.

This program is also perfect for older nurses who, after years of experience in the nursing workforce, find themselves face-to-face with the necessity of returning to school so that they can keep practicing. In nursing, you are never too old to extend the scope of your knowledge, especially since this field requires life-long learning. So, regardless of your age, if you feel that earning a BSN is the right step for your career, you should go for it. 

Read more about why going back to nursing school through an RN-to-BSN program is worth it, even for experienced nurses. 

While ADN-trained RNs are prepared mainly for the clinical aspect of the job, BSN holders, with extra training in leadership, nursing research, management, and more extensive clinical skills training, are open to more opportunities, more specialized roles, and more rewarding benefits. 

Discover the differences between ADN and BSN to decide which degree fits your career plans, and read more extensively about how long it takes to get your BSN

If you are ready to upgrade your nursing credentials with the maximum comfort guaranteed, the RN-to-BSN Track at Nightingale College is the best option for you. The fully online program has been specifically designed for working professionals, with the required experiential learning hours being dedicated to the Community Health and Capstone Projects.

Enroll in our RN-to-BSN Track and advance your career in nursing!

Accelerated Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (ABSN)

Given the growing demand for registered nurses with BSN degrees, there are several alternative learning paths to earn one. If you have previously completed a Bachelor’s degree in a different field unrelated to nursing and decided to make a career change, you can opt for a direct entry BSN accelerated program, which takes up to 19 months to complete.

Bear in mind that the accelerated nature of the program makes it an intense and challenging learning process, requiring you to accumulate a great deal of information in a relatively short time. Given the rigor of direct entry BSN programs, most students find it challenging to keep a job while studying.

Find out more about how you can get a BSN degree and all the benefits and drawbacks of each path.

How long is nursing school MSN

Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)

If you want to climb even further on the nursing ladder, you can opt for an advanced degree in nursing, like an MSN, which takes  2 to 3 years to complete. Holding a BSN degree is a prerequisite for enrolling in an MSN program. 

During the program, you will advance the skills you earned during your BSN studies while also gaining skills in organizational leadership, interprofessional collaboration, and evidence-based practice. 

Read our BSN vs. MSN comparison and analysis to decide if you should pursue further education in nursing.

An MSN will prepare you for leadership and administrative positions and highly specialized nursing roles. You will also be eligible for careers in education and research. The three most frequent educational paths when it comes to MSN programs are: 

Other options include clinical nursing, midwifery, anesthesia, public or community health specializations, administration, informatics, nursing research, and leadership. Around 17.9% of nursing staff personnel hold an MSN, as reported by the Journal of Nursing Regulation.

Although it does take significant investments of time, effort, and money, this degree comes with compelling rewards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) earn considerably higher salaries. At the top of the list are nurse anesthetists, with a median salary of  $125,900 a year, followed by nurse practitioners (including family and mental health NPs), who earn around $121,610 annually, and nurse midwives, with an average wage of $120,880 per year. We delve deeper into the topic of wages in our article on nurse practitioner salary by state

Learn more about getting a master’s degree in nursing and why you should consider it for furthering your career.


Doctoral Programs (DNP or Ph.D.)

If you wish to advance your career even further, you can opt for a doctoral degree in nursing, such as a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) or a Ph.D. (Doctor of Nursing Philosophy). A full-time post-master’s doctoral program will take one to 2 years of full study to complete. Most doctoral programs require a Master of Science in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Both of these options are terminal degrees, offering the highest level of training in the field. A DNP is a practice-based doctorate for registered nurses who want to advance their studies as APRNs, while a Ph.D. is more research-oriented and is aimed at aspiring nurse scientists and scholars. 

So, How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

Becoming or advancing to an RN takes between 16 months and 4 years, depending on the educational path you choose and your current accreditation:

  • You can complete a 2-year ADN program. This path has the shortest RN program length if you are starting with zero experience and no other certification.
  • If you are an LPN, you can advance to an RN role via an LPN-to-ASN path. The bridge nursing program length is 16 months. 
  • You can also choose to join a full-time BSN program, which generally takes 3-to-4 years to complete
  • If you have completed a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can enroll in an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, which takes 19 months to complete.

All the educational paths above qualify you to sit the NCLEX-RN and earn your registered nurse credentials. Your exam results will become available 6 weeks after you take it. If you need to re-sit the exam, you must wait an additional 45 days before trying again.

Since a BSN degree is preferred by more and more employers in the industry and also qualifies you for better-paid positions, there are faster options to receiving one if you have an ADN already, such as a 12-month RN-to-BSN track

Long Does It Take to Earn Specialty Certifications?

No matter what level of education you currently have or aim to earn, you can pursue specialty certifications to open new job opportunities and advance your career. The length of certification programs varies, as it involves documenting your work experience, to be eligible to sit the examination.

Additionally, you will also need to renew most certifications that you obtain every few years. Validity periods also vary but generally range from 2 to 3 years.

For instance, one popular additional certification for LPNs is for IV therapy, which can take up to 6 months to earn and is valid for 3 years. Other options for LPNs will include long-term care, pharmacology, nephrology, urology, or correctional health. 

RNs have many other options, such as critical care, pediatric nursing, neonatal nursing, oncology, or emergency nursing. For critical care, for example, you will need to prove 2-to-5 years of work experience in the field to apply for the certified acute or critical-care nursing (CCRN) examination. Once you earn your credentials, you can work in the field for three years, after which you will need to retake the exam in order to renew your certification.

Whether you enroll to receive a new degree or pursue certification in a field you are drawn to, you should understand why continuing education is important for nurses and for your own career.

How Long Does It Take to Get Clinical Experience?

Many educational institutions will require you to accumulate clinical experience before enrolling in one of their programs. This period is often considered a prerequisite and can lengthen your overall time spent in education. Usually, the recommended minimum time for clinical experience should be around 100 to 150 hours, with anything approaching the upper threshold of 300 hours being ideal for most med schools and anything below 100 hours being on the lower end

You will generally attend between 120 and 140 clinical hours per semester. You will have to complete clinicals several days a week, with shifts ranging from 4-to-6 hours to eight-to-twelve hours

However, the required number of clinical experience hours depends on the type of activities you have participated in, with shadowing one or more doctors weighing heavier than, say, volunteer work or a hospital scribe position. Additionally, if you have taken a considerable gap period in your formation or job activity, you may need to accumulate more experience hours than other candidates.

The overall requirement for clinical experience will also depend on the program you pursue, the school you apply to, and where you reside and look for certification. However, most educational institutions will publish their requirements or disclose them to interested learners.

working while studying

Can You Work While Earning Your Nursing Degree?

Sometimes, you simply cannot devote 100% of your time to nursing school. You have to spend time with your family and loved ones, or maybe you have other responsibilities that make it impossible for you to quit your job and start studying full-time. So, you wonder if it is possible to return to nursing school while still maintaining a job. 

Both work and school are major commitments, but proper time management, careful scheduling, and choosing the right school will make it possible for you to enroll in a program that will help advance your career. Not everyone has the luxury of taking some years off for school with no stable source of income, so explore some essential tips that will help you balance working full-time and meeting the demands of nursing school

You might worry that while juggling work, family, and school responsibilities, you will not have enough time to study. Truthfully, it is harder to focus and find motivation after a long day at work, but it can be done. You need to come up with a plan of action, to prepare yourself mentally, and to figure out what works for you. We are here to help you through the process. \

Read our post on how to become a nurse while working full time in order to make the best out of both experiences. 

However, keep in mind that the educational path you embark on is also a factor that determines how possible it is for you to keep a job. For instance, accelerated programs tend to be more challenging, which might make it harder to divide your efforts between work and school. So, choose your school and nursing program carefully, opting for one that allows you to study at your own pace. That might extend the duration of your studies, but it will get you one step closer to your goal. 

From picking a job with a flexible schedule to making sure you enter a nursing program that offers online training (making it more career-friendly), there are ways for you to manage nursing school and real life. Overall, it’s up to you to find the middle ground that works for you. With perseverance and determination, you’ll be able to face everything life throws at you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Get an LPN License?

To get PN licensure, you must pursue a program that takes between 1 year and 16 months to complete. Once you have graduated from the PN diploma program, you must attend and pass the NCLEX-PN. If you fail the exam, you must wait 45 days to retake it.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Registered Nurse After High School?

If you aim to become a registered nurse with no previous experience or accreditation, you can either pursue an ADN or ASN program that takes 2 years or a BSN degree program that takes 3 to 4 years. While associate degrees are the fastest route to becoming a registered nurse, many states and employers will require you to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at some point in your career, which you can do through RN-to-BSN bridge programs (with a length of 1 year).

What Is the Fastest Way to Become a Registered Nurse?

The fastest way to become a registered nurse depends on your starting point and previous accreditation in the field. If you are starting from zero, you can pursue a 2-year ADN program and pass the NCLEX-RN to become an RN. However, if you are already a licensed practical nurse, you can complete an LPN-to-ASN program within as few as 16 months, take the exam, and become a registered nurse.

How Long to Become a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?

Nurse practitioners need to earn a master's degree in nursing (MSN), which generally takes 2 years to complete. However, MSN programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, which would add an additional 3-to-4 years of education. So, if you are starting from scratch, you can expect to be in school from 5 to 6 years in total before receiving an MSN degree and becoming a nurse practitioner.

What Is the Most Common Degree in the Nursing Industry?

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, as of 2022, the broad majority (71.7%) of the RN workforce holds a BSN or higher degree, with over half (51.5%) of new job applicants having a bachelor’s degree in nursing or higher degree.

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