July 23, 2021

How Long is Nursing School?

Deciding that you want to be a nurse is the first step in an exciting and fulfilling journey. But how long will it take for you to get there? 

The answer to that question depends on a number of factors including:

  • What type of nurse do you want to be?
  • How are you going to go earn your degree?
  • Are you going to go to school full time? 
  • Are you going to take classes in person or online? 
  • Do you want to get some hands-on experience before you move on to a position with more responsibility? 

Every nursing degree will prepare you to care for patients, but each does so in a different way. This guide will explain the different types of nursing degrees and how long each will take you to complete each of them.  

How Long is Nursing School?

Nursing School Program Type How Long it Takes to Complete
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) 4-12 weeks
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) 1-2 years
Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) 2-3 years
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 4 years
RN to BSN Program <2 years
Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN)  2 years
RN to MSN Program  2-4 years
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 2-3 years
Nurse Practitioner (NP) 2-4 years
Doctorate Nurse Practitioner (DNP) 2-5 years
Ph.D. in Nursing  3-7 years

How Long Does it Take to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)?

You can expect to become a registered nurse in around 2-4 years, depending on which nursing program you go with (ADN or BSN) and the level of education you having going in. 

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How Long is an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) Program?

Earning an Associate’s Degree in Nursing is the shortest path to becoming a Registered Nurse. Completing an ADN program generally takes two to three years. Though ADNs do not have the same training in leadership and research that Registered Nurses who have earned BSNs do, those who choose the ADN path learn the same nursing procedures and work in the same settings.  

Programs are offered through community colleges and can be taken online or in person, on a full time or part-time basis. Most ADN students will have completed at least 700 clinical hours before they graduate from their program. 

Once you have completed your ADN program you will be prepared for and eligible to take the Registered Nurse licensure exam known as the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination). First-time test takers can schedule themselves to take the test within thirty days of eligibility, and the test itself takes just four hours to complete.  

Some states allow test takers to get their test results within 48 hours after taking the exam, though official results are mailed from the state board of nursing within two months of taking it. 

How Long is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program?

Choosing to be a Registered Nurse with a BSN degree takes longer than doing so with an ADN degree, but provides you with more generous compensation, the opportunity to take on leadership roles, and many more options for advancement. 

Completing a BSN program generally takes four years. The most common and direct way of earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing is to attend a full-time baccalaureate program.

These programs generally include two years of general education classes such as English Composition, Math and History and courses that are prerequisites for the nursing program, followed by a two-year program that teaches advanced principles of nursing and clinical training.  

Once you have graduated from a BSN program you will be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination) and become licensed by your state to become a Registered Nurse.  

If you choose to specialize in a particular area of care, there are several nursing certifications that can add value and credibility to your role and professional standing. Each certification has its own requirements, with most including an RN degree and license and a minimum number of direct-care hours in the chosen specialty, as well as passing a certification test. 

How Long is an RN to BSN Program?

In addition to pursuing a BSN in a four-year program, Registered Nurses who have earned their ADN and who want to attain further knowledge and training can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program that generally takes less than two years to complete, and which can be taken online to allow them to continue working while advancing their education. 

How Long is Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) School?

Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNAs, are also referred to as Nurse’s Aides, Patient Care Assistants or Nursing Assistants. As the title indicates, they report to and assist Registered Nurses or Licensed Practical Nurses.

Completing a program to become a CNA generally takes 4-12 weeks. You can become a Certified Nursing Assistant by taking a state-approved training program offered through local hospitals or at community colleges. 

After you complete the CNA program, you will be eligible to take a state-administered competency exam that consists of both a multiple-choice written exam and a practical skills exam. Once you have passed this exam you will be certified and eligible to apply for a CNA job and to begin working.

How Long is LPN School?

The amount of time it will take to complete your LPN certification depends on which program you choose and whether you decide to go to school full-time.

There are accelerated programs that can help you earn your certification in just 7 months. However, most people finish the program in 1-2 years depending on how many credit hours they are able to take. 

How Long Does it Take to Become an APRN?

Beyond becoming a registered nurse or other entry-level nurse, you also need to think about how long it will take to advance your education and become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). 

How Long is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program?

A nurse that has their Master of Science in Nursing degree will generally make more money than they would as a Registered Nurse with a BSN or AND. Rather than indicating that you work in a specific position, earning your MSN means that you have pursued an advanced level of nursing education that encompasses training in leadership, in community and public health, in research and in ethics.  

Every MSN program offers some type of specialty path: It might be an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse position, a Nurse Administrator position, a Nurse Educator position or a role in Informatics. 

Completing an MSN program generally takes two years after earning a BSN degree. If you have already earned a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) degree and have both clinical experience and solid nursing education, a BSN-to-MSN program can be completed in 18-to-24 months.  

Though competencies in the specialty path you choose as you pursue your Master of Science in Nursing will be provided by the curriculum, you may need to take additional certification exams. 

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses will require certifications in their field, and post-master’s certificates programs are also available for MSNs who decide to expand or change their specialty or role. 

How Long is an RN to MSN Program?

Nurses who have earned their ADN (Associate’s Degree in Nursing) can pursue an RN-to-MSN program that supplements the MSN program with the baccalaureate education that they are missing. This type of program can be completed in two-to-three years

Similarly, those who already have earned a baccalaureate degree outside of nursing can complete an entry-level MSN program that supplements the MSN program with the nursing education that they are missing can complete it in two-to-three years. 

How Long is a Nurse Practitioner (NP) Program?

Nurse Practitioner is one type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse that is available as a career to those who complete either an MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) program or a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program. There are many different specialty areas in which a Nurse Practitioner can practice, including Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Gerontology, Cardiology and Psychiatry. 

Completing a Nurse Practitioner program takes from two-to-four years after qualifying to enter the program. Nurse Practitioner programs offer either a Master of Science in Nursing program that takes two years to complete or a Doctor of Nursing Practice program that takes four years to complete.  

Before applying to a Nurse Practitioner program, candidates will need to have become Registered Nurses, and those who have done so by earning an ADN degree will need to pursue an RN-to-MSN program that supplements their nursing training with a baccalaureate education program. 

Nurse Practitioners who choose to work in a specialty area will need to seek certification through the appropriate certifying board for their area of practice and to maintain their certification through both continuing education and retesting depending upon that board’s requirements and criteria. 

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How Long is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Program?

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists are a type of Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) that specializes in providing anesthesia-related care before, during and after surgical, therapeutic, diagnostic and obstetrical procedures. They are among the highest-paid nurses, and this is a reflection of the level of knowledge and skill required to perform their duties. 

Though they frequently work alongside anesthesiologists, surgeons, dentists and other medical staff, they are also the primary providers of anesthesia in areas that are medically underserved. 

Completing a CRNA program generally takes two-to-three years after spending several years qualifying for entry to a program. Deciding to become a CRNA requires a significant level of commitment. Before applying to a CRNA program, nurses will need to have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing and have a minimum of one year of experience, though most will need to have worked in a critical care setting for three to five years in order to be admitted to a CRNA program. 

Though nurse anesthesia programs were once MSN programs, the standards are changing and in 2025 CRNAs will be required to have a Doctorate level of education, meaning that in 2022 all CRNA programs will switch to Doctorate programs. 

Following the completion of a CRNA program, a nurse anesthetist candidate will need to pass the three-hour-long National Certification Examination which evaluates their knowledge and skills. 

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How Long is a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program?

Nurses who earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree represent the highest level of nursing expertise and leadership. They may serve in a variety of roles, including working in a clinical setting, in administration, in education and in the field of healthcare policy. 

Though the requirement has not yet been implemented, there is a growing consensus that the DNP degree should become the standard for direct care Advanced Practice Nursing positions, but DNP degrees are also valued in indirect care settings such as nursing informatics, organizational leadership and health care policy. 

The time that it takes to complete a DNP program varies from 2 years for nurses who already have an MSN, all the way up to 5 years from nurses starting at the ADN level.

While those who enter a DNP program after earning their Bachelor of Science in Nursing will need to spend three-to-four years to complete the program, candidates that have already earned their Master of Science in Nursing will be able to complete the program in two years.  

Registered Nurses who gained licensure through an ADN path will require supplemental baccalaureate education and may need five years to complete a DNP program. 

Other variables to the amount of time that a program takes to complete will include whether a student is pursuing their studies on a full-time or part-time basis, and the specialty area that they are focusing on. 

Nurses who pursue a DNP program will need to attain and maintain certification if they choose to practice in a direct care specialty area. 

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How Long is a Ph.D. in Nursing Program?

Earning a Ph.D. in nursing is the final degree available for those who want to conduct nursing research or become a nursing educator. 

Though a nurse who has pursued and completed this level of education may provide hands-on care, in most cases they do not pursue these responsibilities.

Completing a Ph.D. in Nursing program generally takes a minimum of three years if pursued full-time, and five-to-seven years if pursued part-time. 

The program requires up to 70 credit hours of classroom education and the preparation of a dissertation at the end of the program. Entry into a Ph.D. in Nursing program requires having graduated from an accredited Masters in Nursing Program, as well as nursing experience. 

Nurses who pursue a Ph.D. do not generally have a certification that requires renewal unless they have an advanced practice degree that they wish to maintain. 

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Factors that Impact How Long Nursing School Will Take 

No matter what type of nursing degree you are pursuing, there are important personal factors that will impact how long it will take you to complete your program. 

Full Time vs Part Time

If you are able to dedicate yourself to your education on a full-time basis you will complete the program in the shortest period of time, but your personal responsibilities or financial situation may make that impossible. 

Fortunately, studying part-time offers a solution to both of those challenges, reducing the costs and providing the flexibility to continue working, caring for your family, or attending to whatever other commitments you have. 

Taking Time Between Degrees

Additionally, many find it worthwhile to take their time between each level of education that they attain so that they can spend enough time to gain experience, explore different specialty areas, and solidify your interest.  

Whatever nursing school program you choose, your education will prepare you for a rewarding career that offers the ability to work as part of a team, to improve patients’ lives and to support yourself in a way that you can be proud of and grow in. 

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