There are nearly 6 million nurses practicing nationwide. If you want to join this rewarding career field, you’re probably already asking, how long is nursing school?
Many factors will impact the length of your nursing schooling. But the most important variable is which nursing track you pursue. From nursing assistants to registered nurses and beyond, starting your nursing career can take anywhere from 4 months to 7 years.
We’re here to narrow down that timeline to give you an idea of how long each nursing certification or degree takes. This guide will break down nursing programs to explore how long nursing school is. Keep reading to learn more about nursing degrees and program lengths.
How long nursing school takes depends primarily on the program you choose to attend. Each program teaches you different skills to apply to different nursing careers. Longer educational tracks like Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs provide higher levels of nurse training, include study in nursing theory, and prepare nurses for more responsibility.
How Long Nursing School Takes By Program Type
Becoming a registered nurse (RN) takes around 2-4 years of college, depending on your chosen nursing program. ADN programs can be as short as two years, while BSN programs take about 4. However, depending on your educational background, you can reduce the time it takes to earn a BSN.
Let’s take a more detailed look at how long nursing school is for RNs.
How Long is an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) Program?
Earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing generally takes 2-3 years, making it the shortest path to becoming an RN. Though ADNs do not have the same training in leadership and research as bachelor’s-trained RNs, those who choose the ADN path learn the same nursing procedures and work in the same settings.
Community colleges offer ADN programs with classwork that you can complete online or in person full-time or part-time. Although you can take ADN classes online, you must show up in person for clinical training. Most ADN students will complete at least 700 clinical hours before graduation.
How Long is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program?
In general, BSN programs take four years to complete and cost more than ADN degrees despite sitting for the same licensure exam. However, there is still an incentive to earn a BSN over an ADN. BSN-trained registered nurses tend to earn higher salaries, have more leadership opportunities, and have more options for advancement.
Attending a full-time baccalaureate program is the most common and direct way of earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing. These programs generally include two years of general education classes such as English Composition, Math, History, and nursing program prerequisites. After that, you’ll complete two more years of school with nursing-focused education, learning advanced nursing principles and completing clinical training.
If you choose to specialize in a particular area of care, several nursing certifications can add value and credibility to your role and professional standing. Each certificate has its own requirements, but most RN-level certifications require at least the following:
- ADN or BSN degree
- RN licensure
- Minimum number of in-specialty practice hours
- Passing a certification test
How Long Is an RN to BSN Program?
RN to BSN programs often take less than two years to complete and are designed for ADN-trained registered nurses. You can complete many RN-to-BSN programs online, making them perfect for ADNs hoping to expand their career opportunities while continuing to work.
Getting an RN License with Your ADN or BSN
Once you have completed your ADN or BSN program, you will become eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to earn your RN license. If you’re a first-time NCLEX taker, you may schedule yourself to sit for the exam within 30 days of eligibility. The test itself takes just over four hours to complete.
In some states, you can access your NCLEX results within 48 hours of taking your test. However, your state board of nursing will send your official scores in the mail within two months of completing the exam.
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) pursue higher degrees with specialty training to serve a specific population or hone certain nursing skills. There are four types of APRNs:
- Nurse practitioner (NP)
- Certified nurse midwife (CNM)
- Clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
- Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
Becoming an APRN requires a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Let’s discuss different APRN paths and how long nursing school takes for each:
How Long is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program?
MSN programs generally take two years after earning a BSN degree, equating to six years of total nursing schooling. If you already have a BSN and plenty of clinical experience, you may be able to enter a BSN-to-MSN program to complete graduate school in 18-24 months.
Earning your MSN won’t just make you eligible for nursing jobs with higher salaries; it will also give you an advanced level of nursing education that encompasses training in leadership, community and public health, research, and in ethics. Every MSN program offers some type of specialty path, including the following:
Your nursing school curriculum will provide the necessary competencies for your specialty path. However, some of these specialties may require additional certifications after graduation. For example, APRNs will require credentials in their field. After earning your MSN, you may also attend post-graduate certificate programs to expand or change your specialty role.
How Long Is an RN to MSN Program?
ADN-trained nurses can complete RN-to-MSN programs in 2-3 years. This type of program supplements the MSN education with the baccalaureate education that ADNs are missing.
Similarly, non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders may attend a direct-entry MSN program to supplement their missing BSN education and earn an MSN in 2-3 years.
How Long is a Nurse Practitioner (NP) Program?
Completing a nurse practitioner program takes from two-to-four years after qualifying to enter the program. You can complete both MSN and DNP programs to become a nurse practitioner (NP). MSN-trained NPs spend two years in graduate school, while DNPs have four. Nurse practitioner specialties vary widely and include but are not limited to:
Nurse practitioner candidates must already have RN licensure and clinical experience before becoming eligible for these programs. If you are an ADN-trained registered nurse, you can attend an RN-to-MSN program to become a nurse practitioner without first earning a BSN.
Depending on your NP specialty, you may also need to maintain certification after completing your degree. Most NP certifications have continuing education requirements and may even have you take exams for your initial and recertification. Whether these criteria apply to you will depend on your NP specialty and the board requirements.
How Long is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Program?
CRNA school takes 2-3 years to complete. However, CRNA school requirements take several years and a lot of hard work to achieve. These requirements include but aren’t limited to:
- BSN degree (4 years)
- Critical care experience (2-5 years)
- Prerequisite coursework
- CRNA job shadowing (8-40 hours)
Certified registered nurse anesthetists specialize in providing anesthesia-related care before, during, and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic, and obstetrical procedures. They are among the highest-paid nurses, which reflects the level of knowledge and skill required to perform their duties. Although CRNAs frequently work alongside anesthesiologists, surgeons, and other medical staff, they are also the primary anesthesia providers in medically underserved areas and can practice independently in many US states.
In the past, CRNAs could earn either an MSN or a DNP to begin practicing. However, new regulations state that by 2025, all CRNAs must hold doctorate-level degrees. Therefore, in 2022, all CRNA programs switched to a doctorate curriculum.
After completing a CRNA program, a nurse anesthetist candidate must pass the three-hour National Certification Examination, which evaluates their knowledge and skills.
How Long is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program?
The time that it takes to complete a DNP program varies from 2 to 5 years depending on the level of education you have going in:
- ADN: 5 years
- BSN: 3-4 years
- MSN: 2 years
The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree represents the highest level of nursing expertise and leadership. As a DNP-holding nurse, you may serve various roles, from clinical settings or administration to education and healthcare policy. Remember that some DNP direct care specialties require you to earn and maintain board certifications.
Though the requirement has not yet been implemented, there is a growing consensus that the DNP degree should become the standard for direct care advanced practice nursing positions. But DNP degrees are also valued in indirect care settings such as nursing informatics, organizational leadership, and healthcare policy.
How Long is a Ph.D. in Nursing Program?
Completing a Ph.D. in Nursing generally takes at least three years of full-time scholarship and five-to-seven years part-time. Although nurses who pursue Ph.D. degrees may work in clinical settings, they generally do not take on such roles. Instead, the nursing Ph.D. is the final degree available for those who want to conduct nursing research or become nursing educators.
Ph.D. in nursing programs require up to 70 credit hours of classroom education and the preparation of a dissertation at the end of the program. To get into a Ph.D. in nursing program, you must already have an MSN and clinical experience. Unlike other advanced nursing degrees, you generally won’t have to pursue certifications after graduation unless you already have a specialty credential you want to maintain.
The fastest way to become a registered nurse is by earning an ADN. However, you can pursue other nursing careers without needing RN licensure. Namely, you can become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN).
How Long Is CNA School?
You may also refer to certified nursing assistants as nurse’s aides, patient care assistants, or nursing assistants. As the title indicates, they report to and assist registered or licensed practical nurses.
Completing a program to become a CNA generally takes 4-12 weeks. You can become a CNA by taking a state-approved training program from local hospitals or community colleges.
After you complete the CNA program, you will be eligible to take a state-administered competency exam in two parts: a written test and practical skills exam. Passing this test certifies you to work as a CNA.
How Long is LPN School?
LPN school can take seven months to 2 years to complete. The time it takes you to graduate from an LPN program depends on which program you choose and whether you attend it full-time.
Accelerated LPN programs take as little as seven months to complete if you attend them full-time. This may be the fastest way to get an LPN license since most programs take 1-2 years, depending on how many credits students can take.
Deciding that you want to be a nurse is the first step in an exciting and fulfilling journey. But how long will it take for you to get there?
By now, we know that your chosen career path and degree will impact how long it takes you to complete nursing school. However, there are still other factors that may alter your nursing school timeline, including the following:
1. Attending Nursing School Full Time vs Part Time
If you can dedicate yourself to your education on a full-time basis, you will complete the program in the shortest period, but your personal responsibilities or financial situation may make that impossible.
Fortunately, studying part-time offers a solution to both challenges, reducing the costs and providing the flexibility to continue working, caring for your family, or attending to whatever other commitments you have.
2. Taking Time Between Nursing Degrees
Taking time between nursing degrees will impact how long nursing school takes you to complete. However, you shouldn’t, and often can’t, avoid this because some advanced nursing programs require clinical experience to attend them.
But taking a break between degrees benefits you as well. This time allows you to gain experience, explore different specialty areas, and solidify your interests. It also gives you a break from academic fatigue, burnout, and tuition rates.
3. Pursuing Accelerated Learning Tracks
Fast-track nursing programs like ABSN or accelerated NP programs can help you become a nurse faster. For example, ABSN degrees can range from 1-2 years, cutting the time it takes to earn a BSN in half or less.
But ABSN programs aren’t for everyone. These rigorous courses require a massive amount of dedication and resilience. You may find it challenging to work and go to school simultaneously, and you may experience higher academic fatigue or burnout rates than in a traditional program.