How long does it take to become a RN? The precise timeline depends on the state, as well as one’s career goals. At a minimum, aspiring nurses must complete a 2- to 4-year undergraduate education in Nursing. Advanced practice nurses may spend 6 to 8 years earning graduate-level qualifications. Prospective U.S. nurses must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to be eligible for a Registered Nurse (RN) license.
The education of a nurse takes as long as any undergraduate education: around 2 to 4 years. An aspiring RN may earn a hospital nursing diploma or an associate, bachelor, master, or even doctoral degree. To become an entry-level Registered Nurse, the degree must be in a dedicated Nursing major geared toward passage of the NCLEX-RN test.
Hospital-based diploma programs and community college associate programs offer 2- to 3-year courses of study, including clinical practice. Colleges and universities offer the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to graduates of 4-year nursing programs.
Additionally, students who have already completed a baccalaureate degree in another field can attend an entry-level master’s program in nursing, called an ELM, or Entry-Level Master’s. The ELM takes 1 to 2 years to complete and qualifies graduates to apply for RN licensure.
Students must submit an application for a license to the state before they can take the NCLEX-RN. They will then take the exam as a step in the state licensing process.
There will be an application deadline by which students must apply with their state’s Board of Nursing. Be sure to check with the intended state-of-practice for updated nurse licensing guidelines.
Which Nursing Degree Should I Choose?
Keep in mind that the educational requirements for nurses have changed dramatically over time, and will continue to evolve. For example, the rising complexity of advanced nursing practice now necessitates a research doctorate called the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), in lieu of the formerly-acceptable master’s degree. The need for highly skilled nurses educated to the doctoral level continues to grow.
At the entry-level, associate programs are still the most popular educational pathway to becoming a nurse, but this is likely to change in the future as employers increasingly favor bachelor degrees for entry-level nursing hires. The trend also applies to those who earn conventional diplomas and degrees versus accelerated ones; the former group increasingly has the comparative advantage.
The trend in favor of bachelor degree-holding nurses is expected to intensify, which is why “RN to BSN” programs have proliferated around the country. Established nurses with diplomas are entering these programs to earn bachelor degrees so they can continue working with their present employers, have job security, and access expanded career opportunities.
Given current employment patterns, Forbes reports, entry-level nurses with little experience benefit significantly from having a full 4-year baccalaureate education on their resumes in a tight job market, the ‘nursing shortage’ notwithstanding. Therefore, many students will need at least 4 years of undergraduate education to become competitive nursing job applicants.