Accelerated Nursing Programs: How Do They Work?

Daniel Bal
Updated June 27, 2023
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Review aspects of accelerated nursing programs and the educational and career opportunities available for accelerated degree graduates.
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A young African-American nursing student stands outside a school hallway before his class begins. He is wearing teal green scrubs, and carries a notebook and a few file folders in his arms. He is looking at the camera and smiling.Credit: SDI Productions | E+ | Getty Images

Becoming a nurse is not just for those who decide to become one as soon as they enter college. Accelerated programs offer individuals who may have decided later on or were deterred an opportunity to pursue their goal in a timely fashion.

Available programs include an accelerated associate degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), or a master of science in nursing (MSN), with the last two being the most common.

Detailed throughout this guide, you will find an overview of the various accelerated programs available in the field of nursing. This guide can help you determine which path might meet your academic and professional goals.

What Is an Accelerated Nursing Program?

Accelerated nursing programs provide a fast-track option for individuals who already hold a non-nursing degree. Earning a bachelor’s degree on an accelerated track typically takes between 11 and 18 months to complete, whereas a master’s takes about three years.

In that time, students will complete all of the necessary requirements, such as prerequisite classes and clinical hours, to become a registered nurse (RN). The accelerated pace can be taxing with no scheduled breaks and daily courses that are longer than those in a traditional track. Additionally, the same number of clinical hours are required to receive a license, but they must be completed in a much shorter amount of time.

RNs who take part in an accelerated program are often deemed more competitive for certain roles since they typically have non-nursing backgrounds. For example, a nurse with a background in management in another field might be more competitive for a nursing leadership role.

Pros and Cons of Accelerated Nursing Programs

In deciding whether or not to enroll in an accelerated nursing program, it is crucial to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine if it is an appropriate fit for you. Detailed below are several pros and cons to consider.

Advantages to an Accelerated Nursing Program

Disadvantages to an Accelerated Nursing Program

Who Is an Accelerated Nursing Program For?

Accelerated nursing programs are best for those who are looking for a second degree to increase their knowledge and skill set. A nursing background can open up additional opportunities. These programs are also geared toward those who have a bachelor’s in a non-nursing degree and would like to make a career change.

Those who find that the accelerated program works well for them can dedicate their time to the rigorous schedule. Candidates should be able to financially commit as some programs might not allow students to work full time.

How Do Accelerated Nursing Programs Work?

Accelerated nursing programs are similar to traditional programs with regard to application guidelines, content, and career outlook.

Students who are applying to an accelerated nursing program must have earned a minimum GPA, usually a 3.0, submit transcripts, and provide a personal statement. Even though the application process is similar to other programs, accelerated programs also require applicants to hold a degree from a non-nursing program. Applicants must show that they will commit the time needed to successfully complete an accelerated program.

ADN students typically focus on human anatomy, clinical experiences, and other foundational courses. BSN enrollees focus on advanced content, such as research and evidence-based practices, health assessments, and nursing leadership.

MSN graduates are prepared to work in education, administration, health policy, among other advanced fields. Regardless of the program, all students must participate in clinicals, which is hands-on practical experience in various medical settings.

Upon completion of the program, students are required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to be eligible to become a licensed RN. State boards of nursing determine whether to issue a nursing license while considering the NCLEX results.

Types of Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing degree programs come in three types: ADN, BSN, and MSN. Out of these three options, the BSN is the most common and popular.

Provided below is an overview of each program, including admission requirements and career outlook.

Accelerated Associate Degree in Nursing

An accelerated ADN program is typically geared toward licensed practical nurses and/or postbachelor’s non-nursing students. Students gain foundational nursing skills necessary to enter a nursing career. After graduating from an ADN program, students can take the NCLEX-RN.

  • How long to complete: 12-16 months
  • Admission requirements: Prerequisites, such as high school chemistry, biology, and algebra; 2.7 GPA or higher; transcripts, SAT scores, and a personal essay
  • Career outlook: Work settings include physicians’ offices, nursing care facilities, labor and delivery, and rehabilitation services. The average yearly salary is $70,950 as of June 2021, according to PayScale.

Accelerated Bachelors Degree in Nursing

An accelerated BSN program is best for ADN-holders, those who want to become an RN, or RNs who are looking to further their education. Admission for the accelerated track is usually available to students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree in any field. Earning a BSN provides nurses with the opportunity to pursue more advanced degrees, such as an MSN.

  • How long to complete: 11-18 months
  • Admission requirements: Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field; minimum 3.0 GPA; science prerequisites; resume, statement of purpose, and a personal interview
  • Career outlook: Work settings include emergency rooms, intensive care units, and schools. The average yearly salary is $86,800 as of June 2021, according to PayScale.

Accelerated Masters Degree in Nursing

An accelerated MSN program is geared toward those who have earned either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a field other than nursing and ADN nurses. The program also works well for nurses who want to take on various roles in the fields of education, advanced practice nursing, and health policy.

  • How long to complete: 36 months
  • Admission requirements: Bachelor’s or master’s degree in a non-nursing field (RN-to-MSN programs are for RNs without a BSN); 3.0 GPA; science prerequisites; letters of recommendation
  • Career outlook: Focus areas include midwifery, education, leadership and organization, and clinical specialists. The average yearly salary is $96,290 as of June 2021, according to PayScale.

How Hard Are Accelerated Nursing Programs?

Accelerated nursing programs can be difficult because of the intense schedule and time commitment needed to earn the degree. Both the difficulty of the courses and the pace can be challenging. Students must learn the same material and complete clinical hours in a fraction of the time as typical programs, which can be hard to manage.

As such, accelerated tracks often discourage students from being employed in any capacity so they can focus on their studies.

To succeed, it’s important that students are aware of the time commitment needed to successfully earn an accelerated degree. It is crucial that students effectively organize themselves while being self-motivated. Accelerated programs are typically designed for full-time students.

Accelerated Nursing Program Tips for Success

See below for various ways students can increase their chances of success.

Accelerated Nursing Program FAQs

Are accelerated BSN programs worth it?

Determining the value of an accelerated nursing program depends on your professional goals. If you are interested in shifting your career goals toward nursing, then an accelerated program can be quite beneficial, as it allows you to earn your degree in a fraction of the time. Also, with the anticipated increase in the demand for nurses, there will be ample job opportunities after graduation.

Can I complete an accelerated nursing program online?

Many colleges and universities offer an accelerated nursing program online. For the hands-on portion of the program, students complete clinical hours at their local healthcare facilities. Online programs can provide more flexibility within an already demanding program.

Is it hard to get into an accelerated nursing program?

The difficulty of being admitted to an accelerated nursing program depends upon the degree. Admission into an ADN program typically requires at least a 2.7 GPA, while BSN and MSN programs require a 3.0. The latter two degrees also require that the applicant has already earned a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. It is also crucial for applicants to demonstrate in either the personal essay or interview that they can handle the pace of an accelerated program.

How much do accelerated nursing programs cost?

The cost of an accelerating nursing program depends upon the degree and institution. Tuition can range from $10,000 to over $130,000. The cost for an associate degree is typically on the lower end, and these programs are offered mainly through community colleges and technical schools. The cost of earning a BSN and an MSN are significantly higher, with programs ranging from $60,000 at a school such as Xavier University and $130,000 at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Portrait of Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC, is a nursing professional with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners here.

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