Ask a Nurse: How Can I Become a Nurse as a Second-Degree Student?

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated February 10, 2023
    Do you want to become a nurse and have a non-nursing bachelor's degree? Review these options to become a nurse.
    Featured ImageCredit: Fly View Productions / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: I already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. How can I become a nurse as a second-degree student?

    Choosing a career direction straight out of high school can be challenging and doesn’t always lead to the career you imagined. If you’d like to become a nurse and have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, you have options.

    A second-degree nursing student candidate has four options to become a registered nurse (RN), including:

    • Associate degree in nursing (ADN)
    • Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
    • Accelerated BSN
    • Direct-entry master of science in nursing (MSN)

    While these are options, they may not all be available in your local area. However, with an increasing number of schools and nursing programs offering online education, you are likely to find an educational opportunity that meets your needs.

    Since you already have two years of general prerequisites under your belt, getting your second bachelor’s degree should be quicker than getting your first degree. The prerequisite classes you took in your non-nursing bachelor’s degree can transfer toward your nursing degree.

    All nursing programs, however, will require you to complete the mandatory clinical hours to meet accreditation for the nursing program.

    After completing any nursing program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive your nursing license. To take the test you must have graduated from an accredited nursing program.

    Option 1: ADN

    An ADN degree may be the best local option in low-population areas with less educational access. If a second bachelor’s degree is more intensive than you are looking for, an ADN degree will still allow you to practice as an RN.

    Time Line

    Most ADN programs are not accelerated, so it will take roughly two years to graduate. The time is not significantly different from completing a second-degree BSN program. For students who are working while attending school, it may take more than two years to complete the program.

    Admission Requirements

    Admission requirements do not include graduation from an accredited non-nursing bachelor’s program. A second-degree nursing student must have a minimum GPA, prerequisite courses in chemistry, biology, and physiology, a personal essay, and recommendation letters.

    Some schools also require a Health Education Systems, Inc. (HESI) test that assesses a student’s ability in several subjects. An ADN program may also require a health assessment and federal and state criminal background checks.

    What Can I Do With an ADN Degree?

    Nurses with an ADN degree from an accredited program are qualified to work in any job where the employer is seeking an RN.

    However, while the student has a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, most employers want to hire a BSN-prepared nurse. Some employers will hire an ADN and request the nurse complete an RN-to-BSN degree program within a specified time to stay employed.

    ADN-prepared nurses can work as staff nurses in a hospital, physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, home healthcare, and retirement communities.

    Is This Degree Right for Me?

    The time it takes to complete an ADN for a second-degree nursing student is nearly identical to completing a BSN degree when the credits from the first bachelor’s transfer. However, an ADN program may be more cost-effective than completing a BSN program.

    Option 2: BSN

    A BSN degree normally takes four years to complete. BSN-prepared nurses are highly sought-after professionals in healthcare institutions, physicians’ offices, and schools. The program provides a comprehensive curriculum that covers clinical skills, leadership, and critical thinking.

    BSN graduates can expect to earn higher pay and have greater career opportunities than those with an ADN. Healthcare facilities with a higher percentage of BSN-prepared nurses have lower mortality rates and better patient outcomes.

    Time Line

    In a traditional BSN program, a second-degree nursing student can expect to complete the curriculum and clinical hours in two years if the prerequisite classes from the first bachelor’s degree transfer. Many schools also offer online second-degree BSN programs. Students with a non-nursing associate degree may have credits that can transfer.

    Admission Requirements

    Admission requirements include a minimum GPA in the prerequisite coursework. The minimum GPA depends on the program and can vary from 2.5-3.5 on a 4.0 scale. Admission requirements may also include, but are not limited to:

    • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
    • Transcripts from the first bachelor’s degree
    • State and federal criminal background checks
    • Health assessment
    • Recommendation letters
    • Interview

    What Can I Do With a BSN Degree?

    The degree prepares nurses for advancement into leadership roles in an organization, such as team leaders, case management, charge nurse, quality assurance, or a clinical specialty role.

    BSN-prepared nurses often practice with greater autonomy. They can help the organization achieve magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Magnet hospitals are excellent places for nurses to work and have good patient outcomes.

    Is This Degree Right for Me?

    A traditional BSN program for a second-degree nursing student can take between 2-4 years, depending on the program and if the student attends full time. Although the program may be more expensive than an ADN, it prepares students for career advancement.

    BSN-prepared nurses have the opportunity to focus on nursing specialty care and are one step closer to earning an MSN. An MSN can open more administrative and clinical doors.

    Option 3: Accelerated BSN

    This innovative type of program has become popular for second-degree nursing students. Accelerated BSN programs significantly shorten the time to graduation, lessen the cost for the student, and can positively impact the nursing shortage.

    The curriculum includes bridge and core classes to help transition the candidate to an RN position. The coursework is accelerated and students must attend full time, so working during this program can be challenging.

    Time Line

    An accelerated BSN (ABSN) program is an intensive 16-month second-degree option without the traditional semester breaks. Students can take up to 17 credits per semester and must complete 60 credits to graduate. Because it is a rigorous course schedule, most students are unable to work and maintain their grades.

    Admission Requirements

    Admission requirements for an accelerated program are similar to those for a BSN program for a second-degree nursing student. They include:

    • Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field from an accredited school
    • Cumulative or prerequisite coursework with postsecondary GPA of 2.5-3.5
    • Completion of prerequisite courses with a minimum grade requirement
    • Interview
    • Federal and state criminal background check
    • Negative drug screen
    • Health data
    • Recommendation letters

    What Can I Do With an ABSN Degree?

    Nurses who graduate with an ABSN have the same opportunities as those graduating with a BSN. This includes practicing with greater autonomy, the opportunity to increase salary potential, and better career advancement.

    Is This Degree Right for Me?

    There are many benefits to completing an ABSN degree. Since the program is accelerated it is often more cost-effective than completing a traditional BSN. However, the program is rigorous and requires the student to attend full time.

    For second-degree nursing students who don’t have an ABSN program in the area, online ABSN programs are an option. Since the programs are accelerated, it is crucial that nurses keep up with the coursework to graduate on time.

    Option 4: Direct-Entry MSN

    These programs are rigorous and fast-paced. The ideal candidate has strong leadership skills and a foundation in healthcare knowledge. Second-degree nursing students in a direct-entry MSN program must also take the NCLEX to get an RN license. Some programs also offer postmaster’s certificates for advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specialties.

    Time Line

    Most programs require eight semesters of coursework and clinical hours. The students move from a foundation in nursing theory and practice to advanced education in leadership, assessment, diagnosis, and intervention.

    Admission Requirements

    Program requirements include prerequisite transferable classwork from an accredited bachelor’s program. Other admission requirements may include:

    • Official transcript from an accredited bachelor’s degree
    • Cumulative GPA of 3.0-3.5
    • Federal and state criminal background check
    • Drug screening
    • Recommendation letters
    • Documentation of healthcare experience or knowledge
    • Distance learning assessment for online programs
    • Interview

    What Can I Do With an MSN Degree?

    Nurses with an MSN degree can work as clinical APRNs or pursue a career in administration and leadership. Candidates interested in pursuing a clinical APRN career may choose to be nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, or clinical nurse specialist.

    Is This Degree Right for Me?

    Pursuing a direct-entry MSN requires strong motivation and determination as the program can take up to four years of intense coursework and clinical application. Many students are unable to work during the program, which adds financial stress.

    Financial aid may also be a challenge as second-degree students may still be paying for the first bachelor’s degree. However, it is the quickest way to move from a non-nursing degree into an advanced practice nursing role with high-income potential.

    In Summary:

    • Second-degree nursing students may consider an ADN, traditional BSN degree, accelerated BSN, or a direct-entry MSN.
    • Most BSN and accelerated BSN programs accept transfer credits from the past bachelor’s program, which shortens the time to graduation.
    • A traditional BSN program can take 2-3 years; an accelerated program can take as short as 16 months. However, students in an accelerated program must attend full time.
    • There may not be an advantage to an ADN program as it also takes two years to complete. But an ADN program may also be less expensive or the only local option.
    • A direct-entry MSN program can take up to four years to complete. It is the quickest way to move from a non-nursing bachelor’s degree to an advanced practice role with high-income potential.