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How Many Years is Nursing School?

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: April 10th, 2024
How Many Years is Nursing School?

Every person’s  journey towards their higher education degree is different. This is truer in some fields than others, and especially when it comes to nursing. Although you can take the typical four-year college route to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN), this is not your only option!  If you are asking yourself, “How many years of school does it take to be an RN?”, keep reading. We researched the many ways you can attain a nursing degree, and approximately how long each journey takes.

Related: How to become a nurse

Types of nursing roles

Ultimately, the type and duration of nursing program you enter will largely depend on what role you want. So, let’s review some of your options (in order from least to most schooling required)!

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

The first type of nurse you should know about is a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). Nursing assistants are primarily responsible for helping with the day-to-day needs of patients in healthcare settings, which include eating, bathing, walking, and other similar activities. Besides this, they are responsible for paying close attention to their patients, and reporting any unusual conditions or behaviors they find. Similarly, they also measure patients’ vital signs and record them in their health records. All these tasks are extremely important. They ensure that each patient’s needs are being met, so that recovery is as comfortable and quick as possible. Registered Nurses, or RN’s, supervise CNAs while they are on the clock.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) are similar to nursing assistants in that they also aid patients in their daily activities and are overseen by RNs. However, there are differences between the two professions. Besides requiring more schooling, LPNs can also offer more treatments and procedures to patients than CNAs, such as providing medications. They can also suggest alterations to patient care plans (when appropriate) and often work in the field of home care.

Registered Nurse (RN)

Next up is a Registered Nurse (RN), the most common type. Registered nurses play a huge role in taking care of their patients, from constructing their care plans themselves to assisting them in their day-to-day needs. They often serve as leaders of their health care teams, collaborating with other health professionals and establishing close relationships with patients and their support systems. Depending on where an RN works (e.g. in the ER, a mental health unit, etc.), their duties may differ slightly. However, beyond helping in daily activities and making care plans, some of the main responsibilities of RNs (no matter where they work) include administering medications/treatments, drawing blood, and caring for wounds.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

Last, but certainly not least, are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). Before we get into the general duties of APRNs, though, it’s important to note that “Advanced Practice Registered Nurse” is an umbrella term. Included under the “APRN” label are nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives. Each of these are different roles with unique responsibilities, but they do have some general responsibilities in common. APRNs of all types diagnose illnesses, treat sickness and disease, educate the public on health issues, and make sure to keep updated on technological and methodological developments in the field.

We’ve now gone over some of the different nursing professions out there, but how do you pursue them? Great question – let’s see!

See Also: Nursing major overview

What types of nursing programs and degrees are available?

There’s a vast range of nursing programs and degrees available, with some lasting less than a year to finish and others taking over six years. Due to the vast number of options available, knowing which program is right for you can sometimes be complicated. To make things more straightforward, we’re going over nursing programs by the profession (of those introduced above) you can get with each one. Let’s get started.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

As mentioned before, Certified Nursing Assistants require the least amount of schooling. Becoming a CNA is a unique process, in that it does not require a college degree. This is unlike the majority of nursing roles. To become a CNA, individuals are required to have either a high school diploma or GED (General Education Developmental Test) and complete nursing assistant training. Such training programs can typically be completed at community colleges, medical facilities, or trade schools. Before you enroll in a training program, make sure that the program has been approved by your state’s nursing board and the NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (NLN CNEA). Such programs take just a few months (varies, but usually between one to six months) to complete.

Once you’re finished with your training program, your next task is to pass a CNA certification examination. And, if you pass, you’re good to go – you now have the qualifications to become a CNA in your state!

Related: What you should know about Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

If you’d like to have most of the same duties as Registered Nurses (but with less schooling), consider becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse. In order to become a LPN, you must complete a Practical Nursing Diploma Program (if you need help finding one in your state, check out Finding LPN/LVN Programs by State!), which typically take around 12 months to finish. 

Once you’re done with this course, depending on your state of residency, you may be required to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to receive your nursing license (this is the case for most states).

Also see: Can I defer my loans if I go to grad school?

Registered Nurse (RN)

As is the case for LPNs, the journey to becoming a RN similarly requires you to pass the NCLEX-RN. Before you do this, however, you have a choice of earning your ADN (Associate’s Degree in Nursing) or your BSN. 

Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The ADN route is the quickest way to become a RN, with Professional Nursing ADN Programs typically taking between 18 and 24 months. You can take these programs at your local community college or online, making them not only quick but also convenient. Let’s say you’re already done with your ADN program and want to further your education. You could consider a RN to BSN Program. You can complete these programs online (or on a physical campus) and they typically take 12 to 18 months. But keep in mind that these require that you’ve already completed an ADN program!

 Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Alternatively, you can go straight for a BSN, a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. As with other Bachelor’s degrees, these generally take four years to do. However, if you choose an accelerated program, you can receive your degree in as few as 33 months. Or, if you already have a Bachelor’s in a non-nursing field, you can earn your Bachelor’s in as few as 18 months. You can accomplish this through an accelerated program.

As mentioned earlier, after finishing either your ADN or BSN program, you will have to take the NCLEX-RN. If you pass, and finish any other licensure requirements in your state, you’re now a registered nurse. Congratulations!

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

If you’re looking to become an APRN, you’ll have to go to graduate school. While many APRNs receive a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), certain professions (such as nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists) will require students to take specialized programs for the role. Further, while some schools will require you to have your BSN to apply for a MSN, this is not always the case. Many universities will allow you to try for an MSN as long as you have a Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. Once you receive your MSN (or Ph.D, if you so choose), pass the NCLEX-RN, and complete any other licensure requirements in your state, you’re now an APRN!

Before we move on, we want to make it clear that nursing is a large field – and there are even more professions in nursing than what we’ve covered today. If you’re interested in learning about the other nursing career options out there, we recommend checking out 35 Best Specialty Career Choices For Nurses, each complete with a job description, average salary, and more.

Now that we’ve covered a few different nursing careers and programs, how can you manage your nursing school debt? 

Don’t miss: How to spot student loan forgiveness scams

Managing Nursing School Debt

Nursing school can be expensive depending on where you attend. Getting a higher-level degree and a higher-paying job may help lessen the burden of nursing school debt. But don’t forget, it also means accumulating more debt in the process.

So, how can you manage your debt? Well, we have a few tips for you:

  • Apply for nursing scholarships (For a full list of nursing scholarships, check out top nursing scholarships!)
  • Primarily apply for federal loans rather than private nursing student loans. This way, you’ll be able to participate in income-driven repayment programs
  • Check to see if you qualify for nursing student loan forgiveness programs after graduation

And with that, we’re done! We hope this article has helped you plan out your nursing career, and wish you the best in your future endeavors. Remember: every day is one more accomplishment!

Frequently asked questions about nursing school

What is the oldest age you can train to become a nurse at?

We’re happy to say that there is no upper age limit to train to become a nurse. So, no matter your age, if you have dreams of becoming a nurse, we encourage you to follow them! Before you enroll in a program, however, we simply recommend that you make sure it will fit your schedule, and will not be too much of a burden (financial or otherwise).

Is it hard to pass the NCLEX?

Whether you pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination) will largely depend on how much you study. While the test is intended to be difficult to ensure that nurses are competent and knowledgeable, it is not impossible. So, as long as you regularly attend classes, study, do your clinicals, and fulfill your other nursing responsibilities, don’t fret. You should be able to pass! 

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