How Long Does it Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

Numerous factors affect how long it takes to become a registered nurse.

Those interested in becoming registered nurses must complete a nursing program to earn their ADN or BSN degree.

Obtaining an ADN/BSN enables students to take the NCLEX-RN exam to acquire licensure as registered nurses.

From there, graduates and licensure holders can pursue a broad range of registered nursing careers.

Most nursing schools offer students two and four-year nursing degree programs.

However, students must complete the prerequisite courses and maintain a satisfactory GPA to gain acceptance into the program.

Prerequisite courses take approximately 1 – 2 years based on the student’s prior education.

As a result, the time it takes to become a registered nurse depends on the prerequisite courses and the nursing degree.

Most nursing students become registered nurses in two to four years, plus the time needed to complete their prerequisites.

Nevertheless, many hospitals and organizations prefer registered nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing.

A BSN degree enables registered nurses to pursue non-entry-level careers and diverse specializations.

It also provides a more comprehensive education to ensure patients receive exceptional medical care and attention.

Comparatively, a two-year associate’s degree enables registered nurses to enter the healthcare field quickly.

This degree is excellent for those who want to earn money quickly and gain hands-on experience.

However, it limits career opportunities for those pursuing non-entry-level nursing positions.

Competitive hiring also makes it challenging to acquire specific jobs as institutions consider education for certain careers.

Finally, some nursing students attend part-time nursing programs, enabling them to work and manage life circumstances.

Taking courses part-time can significantly increase the duration it takes to earn a degree and become a registered nurse.

For part-time students, obtaining an ADN or BSN degree may take an additional year.

Estimates Based on Students with and w/o Nursing Education

Education LevelProgram Length
Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)4 – 12 Weeks
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)1 – 2 Years
Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)2 – 3 Years
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)2 – 4 Years (ADN to BSN program)
Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN)2 – 7 Years, depending on the education level
Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)2 – 10 Years, depending on the education level

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

After high school, it takes approximately 3 – 6 years to become a registered nurse from the moment students join college.

Students who join college directly after high school must complete numerous prerequisite courses to enter nursing school.

The nursing school prerequisites take roughly 1 – 2 years to complete depending on the student’s prior education.

After completing the prerequisites and joining the nursing school, students spend 18 – 24 months studying to earn an ADN.

However, nursing students who want to obtain their BSN (bachelor’s) spend about 36 – 48 months in school.

The fastest a high school student can become a registered nurse is approximately three years.

It includes one year of prerequisites and two years of nursing school to earn their ADN.

Nevertheless, aspiring nursing school students must complete as many prerequisites as possible in high school.

It reduces the number of perquisites necessary to enter the nursing program once joining college.

Most individuals can become registered nurses in about four years, which is considered average for full-time students.

To become a registered nurse quickly after high school, it’s highly beneficial to consult a guidance counselor.

They’ll help create a plan to complete nursing school prerequisites quickly and assist with transitioning into the program.

How Long Does it Take to Earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing?

It takes approximately 18 – 24 months to earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).

Some nursing graduates pursue entry-level nursing positions after acquiring their ADN degree and licensure.

An ADN degree is ideal for nursing students who want to enter healthcare, gain experience and earn money quickly.

Nevertheless, entering more specialized careers requiring further education may be challenging for those without a BSN.

It may also be more challenging to work at highly competitive institutions interested in primarily hiring nurses with a BSN. 

Registered nurses who obtain an ADN degree and pursue work may continue their education to acquire a BSN.

Numerous online nursing schools and in-person universities offer part-time and full-time programs.

These programs are excellent for working nurses who want to further their education and enter advanced specializations.

Earning a BSN offers multiple benefits, including higher pay, better career options, and a broader scope of practice.

They also have more prominence and leadership among peers and those they supervise, like LPNs and CNAs.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing?

It takes approximately 36 – 48 months to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN).

A BSN degree provides students with more comprehensive and in-depth nursing education.

BSN graduates develop a better understanding of ethics, pharmacology, nursing theory, and other advanced topics.

They also acquire additional knowledge in nursing research, case management, and other relevant subjects.

There are over one hundred unique specializations/disciplines within the registered nursing profession.

Accordingly, graduates with a BSN have more specializations and advancement opportunities than those with an ADN.

Registered nurses with a BSN earn more money, obtain work faster, and have a broader scope of practice.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master of Science in Nursing?

Depending on the field, it takes approximately 18 – 36 months to earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree (MSN).

This estimate is based on registered nurses with an existing BSN and valid licensure.

However, aspiring nurses with no prior education must complete the necessary prerequisites to enter nursing school.

They must also complete a nursing program to acquire a BSN before taking postgraduate education to earn an MSN.

As previously mentioned, acquiring a BSN takes roughly 36 – 48 months for first-time, full-time enrollment students.

Therefore, nursing students without prior education require around 5 – 7 years to earn an MSN from start to finish.

The MSN program enables nurses to become APRNs and pursue advanced careers, which I’ll explain later in the article.

Finally, non-nursing students with a bachelor’s in another discipline may take a Direct Entry MSN or transition program.

These programs enable non-nursing bachelors graduates to obtain an MSN without going to nursing school to acquire a BSN.

It’s ideal for bachelor holders in different fields because they don’t need to spend 36 – 48 months in a prior nursing program.

Nevertheless, non-nursing bachelorette applicants must meet the university requirements to enter an MSN program.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree?

It takes roughly 24 – 36 months to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) for APRNs with an MSN in most disciplines.

Nevertheless, the path to acquiring a DNP for those without prior education is significantly longer.

It can take anywhere from 7 – 10 years to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from start to finish.

The DNP degree enables advanced practice registered nurses to operate at the highest levels of nursing.

These experts become educators, take on leadership/management roles, and pursue government-level healthcare careers.

They also work as executives and researchers, while others may specialize further in one of the four APRN disciplines.

How Long Does it Take to Become an APRN

Those who return to school and complete postgraduate education become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

APRNs specialize in one of four disciplines to provide high-level primary care to patients.

It includes nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and certified nurse midwives.

Each role specializes in a particular patient care area and enables nurses to become primary care providers.

It also enables them to diagnose patients, administer anesthesia, prescribe medications, and operate independent clinics.

How long it takes to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) depends on the specialization and degree.

Advanced practice registered nurses can earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.

Depending on the specialization, it takes approximately 2 – 3 years to earn an MSN and 3 -5 years to obtain a DNP.

Some nurses spend up to 10 years developing the education necessary to earn their DNP in specific specializations.

Some universities and specializations also require prior work experience to pursue postgraduate education.

Universities requiring students to have work experience further increases the time needed to become APRNs.

Nursing School Prerequisite Courses

Before participating in an ADN or BSN program, aspiring nursing students must complete multiple prerequisite courses.

The number of prerequisites students must complete and the time needed to finish them is approximately 1 – 2 years.

The time needed to complete the prerequisites depends on the student’s prior education and the university requirements.

You can find a list of potential course prerequisites here: Nursing School Prerequisite Course Requirements.

Most full-time students can complete the prerequisite course in 12 – 18 months.

However, those who have already taken some courses in high school may finish the prerequisites sooner.

Consult a guidance counselor if you’re in junior high or high school and want to complete the nursing school prerequisite.

They’ll help you speed up the education process before applying to a college with an accredited nursing program.

Accelerated Nursing Programs

In some cases, universities enable students to apply for the nursing program if they’ve completed most prerequisite courses.

It enables them to speed up earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Assuming you take one year of prerequisites and want to obtain an ADN, earning your degree could take three years.

However, some colleges also offer accelerated nursing programs for primary education students.

It speeds up the degree process by as much as a year!

As a result, nursing students may obtain an ADN or BSN 6 – 12 months faster than those in non-accelerated programs.

Postgraduate Education Information

Those looking to further their career and advance beyond their BSN may spend several years working as registered nurses.

It enables them to understand the nursing profession and determine their interest before pursuing an MSN or DNP.

Registered nurses specialize in pediatrics, acute care, rehabilitation, holistic care, gastroenterology, or other specialized areas.

The MSN and DNP programs offer specialized training and education.

It allows nurses to fully engage in a specialized area of care that requires more training and experience than general nursing.

Those who obtain a DNP become educators, independent primary care providers, legal consultants, and nurse practitioners.

Other specializations were mentioned earlier, like CRNAs, CNS, and certified nurse midwives.

The nursing profession has over one hundred unique career specializations.

As a result, there are many opportunities to find a suitable career path that fits your personality, interests, and skillset.

It takes significant training, education, and experience to specialize in nursing and reach the highest levels.

As a quick reference, the education programs and estimated lengths for nursing programs are as follows:

Nursing Degree Time Frames:

  • Associates degree in nursing (ADN) – 18 – 24 months
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – 36 – 48 months
  • Master of Science in Nursing – (MSN) – 18 – 24 months “after obtaining a BSN and gaining RN experience.”
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – 2 – 4  years “may vary depending on specialization, education, and experience.”