How Long Does It Take To Become a Registered Nurse?

7 Min Read Published February 24, 2023
How Long Does It Take To Become a Registered Nurse?

If you have been considering a career in the healthcare field, you may be wondering, how long does it take to become a registered nurse? Well, that depends. 

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of the different types of registered nursing degrees and the amount of time it takes to achieve each of them. 

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

There’s not just one way to become a nurse. How long it will take you to become a registered nurse depends on a number of factors, including:

  • What type of registered nurse do you want to be?
  • How much education do you want to achieve?
  • What are your ultimate nursing career goals?

Let’s dig into how long each type of nursing path will take you.

How Long Does it Take to Become an RN With a Diploma?

What is a Nursing Diploma?

A diploma RN degree was the original way to become a nurse dating back to the late 1800s, with many programs founded by Florence Nightingale. These programs usually existed within large medical hospitals as a way to train nurses on the job.

How Long Does it Take to Complete?

This registered nurse diploma typically takes about two years to complete; however, some take less or more time. Diploma RN programs aim to prepare students to take the NCLEX-RN exam upon completion of the program. 

Pros and Cons of a Nursing Diploma

Today, this type of RN degree still does not require college nursing courses, and in completing one, you do NOT earn a full academic degree. A diploma RN’s education is achieved almost entirely within a designated diploma RN medical setting.  

Since the Diploma RN does not require college courses to achieve the degree, there are some limitations to educational learning in terms of the depth and scope of medical terminology, anatomy and human physiological understanding. Thus, few diploma RN programs are currently available in the United States.

Also, the Diploma RN route has become less popular at many medical institutions which now favor a degree that offers both a formal classroom and clinical education. If you want to keep your career goals open and plentiful, it may make more sense for you to complete an RN program that requires a full academic degree.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

An Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year junior college nursing education that prepares you to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Obtaining this degree allows ADN RNs to work in any medical setting that requires an RN certification.  

(ADN and BSN students must attend a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).  Without graduation from an accredited program, the student will not be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and cannot become a registered nurse.)

>> Show Me Online Nursing Programs

How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse With a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree? 

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) RN is a four-year college education in nursing. Like the ADN, it prepares students to take the NCLEX-RN and become registered nurses. However, since a BSN requires at least two more years of education, there are additional benefits to achieving one.  

Choosing Between the ADN or BSN Degrees

A BSN is becoming the preferred RN educational pathway for most hiring managers, especially in major medical facilities and teaching centers. Many ADN graduates later decide to complete a BSN to stay competitive in the workplace, maintain a higher education level, and in some cases, earn a higher income.  

If becoming a nurse educator or other nurse leader sounds appealing to you, achieving a BSN may be a wiser educational pathway.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) created the Magnet Recognition Program to recognize medical facilities with the highest nursing excellence standards. But to qualify, 75% of the organization’s nurse managers must have a BSN or higher. (Some major medical institutions even require that a nurse have an MSN to be considered for a management role). 

ADN to BSN Bridge Programs

ADN nurses who want to earn a BSN have the option to complete an ADN to BSN bridge program to complete their degree. These programs usually take about two years.  

One significant benefit is that many people can complete their education while working as an RN.  

However, an important consideration is that some students who completed an ADN have more difficulty obtaining an RN job upon passing the NCLEX exam than a BSN grad. This can result in months or years waiting for employment as a new grad nurse. 

For this reason, you may decide that even though a BSN is more expensive and time-consuming, it may make more sense just to achieve a BSN degree from the start.  

How Long Does it Take to Become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) or Nurse Leader?

Nurses who want to further their careers and become nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, or any type of advanced practice registered nurse or nurse leader will need to obtain a master’s degree or higher, these take anywhere from 1-3 years to complete depending on what degree you currently hold. 

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree?

A Master of Science in Nursing is a post-graduate degree that prepares an RN to be a nurse administrator, clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP), or certified nurse-midwife (CNM). 

To be eligible to go to school for an MSN, you must have already earned a BSN, although some MSN programs will help you achieve both at the same time.  

There are several pathways for a registered nurse to complete an MSN, including:


RN to MSN programs allow a student with an ADN to earn both a BSN and an MSN within the same program (in general, RN to MSN programs are for RNs who want the education needed to obtain higher-level administration and leadership roles). 

RN to MSN programs usually take two to four years to complete, depending on the curriculum and clinical rotation schedule.

Also, RN to MSN programs usually require that a candidate have a minimum of 1-2 years of working experience as an RN before applying to a program.  

(If you want to go the CNS, NP, or CNM route, it may make more sense first to attend a BSN program and then apply to a BSN to MSN program within your desired specialty.) 


BSN to MSN programs allow bachelor's prepared nurses to enter directly into a postgraduate MSN program. These programs include: 

  • Leadership & Administration
  • Advanced Practice Registered Nursing (APRN)
    • Nurse-midwife (CNM)
    • Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
    • Nurse Practitioner (NP)

The time frame for each program depends on your choice of specialty. Here are approximate timeframes for BSN to MSN programs if attended full-time:

  • BSN to MSN (Administration & Leadership): 24- 36 months
  • BSN to MSN (CNM): 24-36 months
  • BSN to MSN (NP): 24 - 48 months
  • BSN to MSN (CRNA): 24 - 48 months

>> Show Me Online MSN Programs

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)? 

The length of time it takes to complete a BSN to DNP program is three to four years. However, many working RNs can choose to attend school part-time, extending the program to up to six or seven years.  

An important consideration is that the length of time it takes to achieve a DNP depends on the type of DNP career you want to have. For example, a DNP student can choose to be both an APRN (such as an NP or CRNA) and be a DNP. That dual pathway generally requires more coursework and clinical experience and will take longer than a DNP student who does not desire to be an APRN.

>> Show Me DNP Programs

How Long it Takes to Become a Registered Nurse Depends on You!

There are many different factors to consider when deciding on the type of nursing education you want to achieve. The length of time it takes to become a registered nurse depends on multiple factors. Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself as you consider how much time it will take to achieve your nursing education:

  • What are my ultimate nursing career goals?
  • How much money do I want to spend?
  • What type of nursing do I want to do? (Keep in mind that you may want to switch specialties at some point; having a higher degree may offer more opportunity- but also takes longer). 

No matter what you decide, nursing school is a considerable time commitment and requires a lot of thought before taking the plunge. It is essential to understand the investment you are making in yourself. 

Nursing school will take you very far out of your comfort zone. But with perseverance and effort, you will earn your licensure and soon be helping humankind one patient at a time.

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Sarah Jividen
Sarah Jividen Contributor

Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a trained neuro/trauma and emergency room nurse turned freelance healthcare writer/editor. As a journalism major, she combined her love for writing with her passion for high-level patient care. Sarah is the creator of Health Writing Solutions, LLC, specializing in writing about healthcare topics, including health journalism, education, and evidence-based health and wellness trends. She lives in Northern California with her husband and two children. 

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