How Long Does it Take to Become an RN?

February 2, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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In a turbulent and uncertain economy, becoming a registered nurse (RN) is a great career choice for anyone looking for a job that genuinely helps people and is always in demand. Of course, whether you’re changing fields or just starting out, entering a new profession is always challenging. One of the first questions that many prospective RNs ask is how long it takes to become an RN.

How long it takes to become an RN is different for almost everyone and depends on a number of factors. These include the type of degree you are seeking, your previous experience, and whether you can go to nursing school full time or part time. In this helpful guide, we’ll share some of the common timeframes for becoming an RN, as well as tips and career options for starting your journey on the best foot.

Common Timeframes for Becoming a Registered Nurse

For most nursing students seeking to become an RN, it will usually take between two to four years to earn a nursing degree. This may or may not include the time it takes to pass a licensing exam, get your license, and land your first job.

There are two primary nursing degrees a prospective RN can choose, and which one you pursue can have an impact on how long it takes. These degrees are:

  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN): This is a two-year degree program and is the minimum required degree for obtaining a nursing license as an RN. There are generally prerequisites for most accredited programs, and once accepted, ASN students will have a mixture of classroom learning and clinical learning.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): This is a four-year degree program and is increasingly becoming the standard that many professional nursing associations and employers are looking for. BSN programs will generally cover the same material as an ASN program, but with a deeper focus on areas such as leadership, therapeutic communication, care planning, and case management.

There are other factors that can determine how long it takes to become an RN, which includes:

  • Previous Experience: Many licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs) transition to becoming RNs through bridge programs that can help them earn either a BSN or ASN on an accelerated time frame.
  • Full or Part-Time Student Status: While many students need to continue to work while going to nursing school in order to meet life needs and financial goals, other students are able to go to school full time. Full time students have the opportunity to focus more energy on school and earn a degree quicker than part-time students, although everyone is different.

Ultimately, no two pathways to becoming a nurse are the same. You should always be realistic about your current situation when mapping out a plan for nursing school.

Tips for Navigating Nursing School and Starting Your RN Career Off Right

To successfully finish nursing school on your ideal timeline, it’s important to realistically assess your situation and nursing goals. Helpful tips that most nurses would share include:

  • Make a Plan: Whether you’re trying to become an RN in two, four, or six years, it won’t help to just wing it. Decide what type of degree you want, whether you can go to school full time or part time, and pick the program that is right for you. Apply to as many programs as you can, and don’t be afraid to reapply in the future if you don’t get accepted the first time.
  • Line Up Financial Aid: Part of your plan should include a financial plan. Many counselors and instructors recommend trying to go to school full time to be able to focus your attention on classes. Applying for student loans and scholarships as early as possible will help you create a budget so you can make this and other important life decisions.
  • Study, Study, Study: Any nursing student will tell you that nursing school is hard work. Make enough time in your schedule to stay on top of your studying so you can be successful in passing classes and earning your degree. One of the best ways to be consistent and accountable is to join a study group with other students in your program.
  • Take Care of Yourself: Nursing school can be stressful, and it’s extremely important to take care of the basics of your life so all the stress won’t catch up to you. This means eating right, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. It also means finding even a little bit of time to relax if at all possible. Support groups such as friends and family also play a key role in staying grounded and focused on your goals.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Make Adjustments: Sometimes unexpected life events happen, you have a rough semester, or your budget changes. Almost no one’s journey to becoming an RN goes exactly to their plan. Even if it takes a little longer, or you pursue a different degree than you initially thought, adjusting to your circumstances and creating a backup plan can still lead to long-term success. Just be positive and persistent.

Once you graduate, to officially become an RN, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) and receive a nursing license. The results can take up to six weeks after you finish the examination, so it is important to factor this critical step into your plans.

Career Options and Specialties for RNs

Once you have a degree and are licensed, it is time to land your first job as an RN. Even in a high-demand field such as nursing, this can still take some time. But there are more options and opportunities today than ever before.

Most RNs start in an entry level position, such as a floor nurse at a hospital or nursing home, before moving on to a specialty such as pediatrics, critical care, medical-surgical nursing, or home health.

Home health nursing is a rapidly growing field that is always in need of caring RNs. Being a home health RN means one-on-one patient care opportunities, flexible schedules, independent work environments, and the ability to build a sustainable work-life balance.

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