Accelerated BSN Programs: Fast Track Into an RN Career

Written By: Dawn Papandrea

There are many pathways into a career as a nurse, but more and more, having a bachelor’s of science degree is the best way to position yourself for advancement, and compete for the best jobs. If the thought of embarking on a four-year degree journey – especially if you’ve already got a bachelor’s under your belt – isn’t appealing to you, you might consider an Accelerated BSN program.

An Accelerated BSN is specifically geared toward career changers who already earned a college degree in another field, but want to become RNs. In many cases, going this route can get you in scrubs even more quickly than a two-year associate degree program. That’s because accelerated, or sometimes referred to as second-degree, nursing programs can be completed in as little as 12 – 18 months.

It’s no wonder that these programs have been gaining popularity over the last decade, as more and more people set their career sights on nursing careers. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there are approximately 230 accelerated BSN programs in the nation’s colleges and universities.

If you’re aiming to get on the fast track toward becoming a Registered Nurse, here’s what you need to know about Accelerated BSN programs.

Already a student in an accelerated BSN program?  See open RN positions now.

What you’ll learn

The concept of the accelerated BSN in nursing is that students take intensive coursework, and don’t have to repeat all of the usual required courses in a regularly-paced bachelor’s program (since they already did that the first time they went to college). In other words, you won’t have to take English, history, and other liberal arts type classes. However, you will take lots of science-based courses including anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and chemistry, for starters. In addition, you’ll need to complete hands-on clinical instruction in labs and real-life healthcare settings like hospitals, nursing homes, or other medical facilities. Between the classroom instruction and practical skills, graduates should be adequately prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN for licensure as an RN , and to enter the field as RNs.

Because of the immersive nature of an Accelerated BSN, it’s usually recommended that students treat the program like a full-time job, and not work while pursuing the degree. However, the good news is that these programs can usually be completed in less than 18 months, with some schools making it possible to finish in just one year. Keep in mind, that means attending school straight through – no long breaks like traditional college students get for the summer or between semesters.

If you have a prior degree and think you can fit an Accelerated BSN into your lifestyle, there’s no quicker pathway toward becoming an RN.

Getting into an Accelerated BSN program

One of the potential roadblocks, besides not having completed a bachelor’s degree program in the past, is that Accelerated BSN programs are very selective. Admissions requirements usually include a respectable GPA of 3.0 or higher, for instance. In addition, if the student’s original degree was not in a science field, it’s possible that they may be required to take certain prerequisite courses before becoming eligible to start the BSN program, according to Nursetogether.com . Unfortunately, thousands of potential nursing students are being turned away from nursing schools related to a shortage of nursing faculty. This means you’ll need a very competitive admission application that could be more than a GPA. Some recommend even doing some volunteer work around healthcare to show interest and commitment to the field.

Finally, as mentioned above, the idea candidate will have to make a commitment to work through the program straight through. There usually isn’t  any opportunities to pause or scale back like you might be able to do in a traditional program.

Other admissions requirements might include an essay, letters of recommendation, official transcripts from your former college, and more.

Another factor worth mentioning is that there is usually a specific start date and admissions deadline for an accelerated program. Some programs might start in August, or others might offer a point of entry during the spring semester. The point is you’ll need to check with your colleges of interest to stay on top of admissions deadlines and adhere to them.

Paying for an Accelerated BSN Program

Even though it’s a shorter duration than an associate degree program, you can expect to pay more for an Accelerated BSN program. Most students, however, qualify for some type of financial aid, scholarships, or they utilize student loans to help pay. In some cases, for those who are already working in the healthcare industry in some capacity, employers might sponsor your education or offer tuition reimbursement.

The good news is that upon graduation, as an RN you will command a strong starting salary to help you begin making payments on your educational debt. As of 2012, the annual median salary for Registered Nurses was $65,470, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Even more encouraging is that the job outlook is strong, with the employment of registered nurses projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Choosing an Accelerated BSN

With so many institutions offering this program, there’s a good chance that it will be easy to find a high-quality school in your area to get your nursing education going. From local state colleges to prestigious private institutions, chances are that wherever you’d find a traditional nursing BSN, you may find an accelerated program. The AACN offers a comprehensive list of programs to help you get started you're your research. There are even some opportunities to pursue some of the coursework online, with the exception of clinical hours.

As far as the “best” Accelerated BSN programs, among the top ranked nursing programs in the country compiled by USA Today , here are the ones that offer an Accelerated BSN:

  • Quinnipiac University – this program can be completed in one calendar year beginning in August
  • New York University - The 15-month program is completed in four consecutive semesters (fall, spring, summer, fall or spring, summer, fall, spring)

Is an Accelerated BSN in nursing right for you?

As with any educational commitment, deciding to pursue an Accelerated BSN is not a decision to take lightly. For starters, it’s a big financial investment, but there’s also the fact that for the next 12-18 months, your life will revolve around the program on a full-time basis. That being said, here are some of the pros of choosing this type of program.

  • Although it’s possible to work as an RN without a BSN, many employers will indicate that a BSN is preferred. In other words, gaining access to the more exclusive opportunities will most likely require a bachelor’s degree. The same goes for promotions and advancement opportunities.
  • You’ll be ready to move forward should you decide to pursue Advance Practice Nurse specializations. For these positions, you’ll need a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), so having your bachelor’s already done is key.
  • By completing an intensive, accelerated program, students are usually thoroughly prepared for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.
  • While your starting salary as an RN will likely be the same whether or not you have a BSN, there is more potential for higher earnings for those with strong educational credentials.

On the flipside, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) is usually a less expensive option that can still get you into the profession in two years. This option may be more realistic for those who don’t already have a Bachelor’s Degree and who can’t commit to the stringent, full-time student schedule that being an accelerated BSN student demands.

See open LPN/LVN positions.

If your career aspiration is to become a registered nurse, pursuing an Accelerated BSN degree could help speed the process along. If you have already completed a bachelor’s degree in another field of study, have a strong academic record, and you can commit to an accelerated program, your RN career could very well be right around the corner.

Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, WomansDay.com, Parents, CreditCards.com, and more.

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