How Long Is Nursing School? Breakdown by Degree and Type of Nurse
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How long is nursing school? Depending on the degree, nursing programs can take a year or less, or they can take several years. Learn more about programs and time frames.
Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
How long is nursing school? Depending on the degree, the answer might be less than a year, two years, four years, or six years and up.
If that sounds confusing, this guide explains different types of nursing school programs, nursing degrees, and how long each program takes. It also describes some alternative nursing pathways.
Keep reading to get the information you need to plan for nursing school.
Fast Facts About Nursing School
The majority of nurses attend nursing school for 2-4 years to become a registered nurse (RN). An associate degree in nursing (ADN) is a two-year program and a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is a four-year program. The 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey reports that 37.7% of nurses complete an ADN program to receive their RN license. The survey also reports that 41.8% of nurses complete a BSN program to receive their RN license.
Length of Nursing School, by Degree and Program
There are three main categories of nurses. In order of years of education, these are:
- Licensed practical nurses/licensed vocational nurses (LPN/LVNs)
- Registered nurses
- Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse practitioners (NPs)
Most people think of RNs when they think of nurses. There are three possible tracks to becoming an RN: a nursing diploma, an ADN, and a BSN.
The BSN is the most common degree for RNs, with almost half (48.1%) holding a BSN, according to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. The next most common degree is an ADN, which 28.1% of nurses have, followed by a master of science in nursing (MSN), which 14.9% of all nurses hold.
The MSN is the minimum education required for most APRN roles.
|Degree||Time to Complete||Career Path|
|LPN/LVN Program||12-18 months||Licensed practical/vocational nurse|
|Nursing Diploma||12-36 months||Registered Nurse|
|Associate Degree in Nursing||24 months||Registered nurse|
|Bachelor of Science in Nursing||48 months||Registered nurse|
|Master of Science in Nursing||66-72 months||Advanced practice registered nurse|
|Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)||84-90 months||Advanced practice registered nurse|
LPN/LVN programs are the fastest entry-level nursing program for nurses and usually take between one year and 16 months. LPNs and LVNs have the lowest level of authority and professional autonomy among all nurses and also receive the lowest salaries.
Many healthcare workers consider this an excellent entry-level role. Once you complete this program, you are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for Practical Nurses, a national examination to test your knowledge.
There is no real difference between LPNs and LVNs. In Texas and California, the term is LVN, and in all other states, the term is LPN.
Nursing diplomas are the least common education option and according to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey, only 6.7% of RNs hold a nursing diploma as their highest degree, compared to 12.3% in 2013. Unlike other nursing degrees, nursing diplomas are offered directly by hospitals and hospital-based nursing schools. They can take 1-3 years to complete.
Once you earn your nursing diploma, you are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN examination, which is the national licensing examination.
Associate Degree in Nursing
An ADN program takes about two years to complete. Almost one-third (28.1%) of all nurses report an ADN as their highest level of nursing education. This is the fastest widely available pathway to becoming an RN.
However, this program does not prepare you for direct entry into an MSN program, and many employers require or strongly prefer a BSN for leadership positions. Because it takes less time and tuition and fees are generally cheaper, many nurses start with an ADN and earn a BSN or MSN later through a nursing bridge program.
This degree also makes you eligible to take the NCLEX-RN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A BSN is the most common degree for RNs; 48.1% of RNs have a BSN. A BSN typically takes four years for full-time students. However, if you have an ADN and nursing experience, there are bridge programs that let you complete a BSN in three years.
When you finish your BSN program, you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN examination. The BSN curriculum includes more topics and depth than the ADN curriculum and prepares you for the MSN.
Master of Science in Nursing
An MSN program is the minimum requirement to become an APRN, such as a nurse midwife, nurse practitioner, or clinical nurse specialist. Unlike BSN programs, MSN programs are designed for a specific specialty, such as family practice or nurse midwifery. As of 2020, 14.9% of RNs have an MSN.
MSN programs typically take two years for full-time students, but programs range from 18-30 months. There are RN-to-MSN programs that take around 36 months.
Once you graduate, you will be eligible to take the appropriate board-certification examination.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
The DNP is the highest possible degree for nursing practice, what is called a terminal degree. As of 2025, new certified registered nurse anesthetists must have a DNP. This is the least common degree for RNs. In 2020, only 1.4% of RNs reported a DNP as their highest level of nursing education.
How Long to Become a Registered Nurse?
How long is nursing school for RNs? It depends on the degree program. Most RN programs take between 2-4 years.
The most common pathways to an RN license are an ADN (two years) or a BSN (four years). ADN programs are shorter and the tuition is generally cheaper, so this is the fastest and most affordable track. However, a BSN degree is more valuable for career and educational growth.
There are other pathways. Accelerated BSNs are for students with a bachelor's degree in another field but have completed certain prerequisite courses in physiology, microbiology, and related courses. The specific requirements vary by school. There are also LPN/LVN-to-BSN programs. Both of these options take less than the typical four years.
How Long to Become a Nurse Practitioner?
The most common pathway to become a nurse practitioner is to earn a BSN and an RN license, work as an RN for at least one or two years, and then complete an MSN degree in about two years. This adds up to six years of education and at least one or two years of experience.
Just like there are other pathways to earn a BSN, there are other tracks to earn an MSN. Students with an ADN and nursing experience can enter an RN-to-MSN degree program. A direct-entry or accelerated MSN is for students with a bachelor's in another subject and college credits in certain prerequisite courses. Graduates from this program can earn an RN license as part of their MSN program. How long is nurse practitioner school with one of these pathways? It typically takes three years.
After earning an MSN, students take the applicable board-certification examination. How long to become a nurse practitioner with a DNP depends on many factors. DNP programs for nurse practitioners typically take three years, but some take slightly longer or shorter, depending on the curriculum and pace.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many years does it take to become an RN?
The answer to the question how long to become a registered nurse depends on your goals and how much time you have to attend school. Earning an ADN degree typically takes two years, while a BSN generally takes four.
How many years does it take to become an NP?
Most NP programs take around two years for students who already have a BSN and attend full time. How long is nurse practitioner school for part-time students? If you attend part time or do not have a BSN, it will typically take three years.
What is the most common degree for nurses?
The most common degree for an RN is a BSN; as of 2020, 48.1% of RNs have a BSN. For APRNs, the most common degree is an MSN, though some have a doctorate. Among RNs, only 2.2% have a doctorate. How long to become a registered nurse with a BSN can vary, but it typically takes four years.
What is the fastest way to become a registered nurse?
The fastest route to becoming an RN is earning an ADN degree. This takes two years. After you graduate, you must take the NCLEX-RN examination to earn your license. BSNs generally take four years for full-time students who do not already have an ADN.
• 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. (2021). https://www.journalofnursingregulation.com/article/S2155-8256(21)00027-2/fulltext
Page last reviewed June 27, 2022
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