How Long is Nursing School?

8 Min Read Published February 15, 2024

Your nursing school journey will vary depending on several factors, including your desired license, availability, and prior education. This article breaks down nursing program lengths at each level to help you determine how long nursing school will be.

How Long is Nursing School?  Degree and Program Length Guide

There are nearly 6 million nurses practicing nationwide. If you want to join this rewarding career field, you're probably already asking, how long is nursing school?

Nursing School Length: Key Facts to Know

  • Average Time to Become an RN: You can earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) in two years, while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) takes four.

  • Average Time to Become an APRN: In addition to your prior degrees, licensure, and experience, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs take 1-2 years, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) takes 2-5.

  • BSN-RN vs ADN-RN: Despite the two-year difference in program length, BSNs may be preferential as 25% of employers require a BSN, and nearly 70% strongly prefer it, according to a 2022 report from the AACN.


How Long is Nursing School?

Several factors will impact the length of your nursing schooling. But the most important variable is which nursing track you pursue. From nursing assistants to registered nurses and beyond, completing your nursing education can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 7 years.

Nursing School Length by Program

Program/Degree Length Career Track
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) 4-12 weeks CNA
Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) 1-2 years LPN/LVN
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) 2 years Registered Nurse
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 4 years Registered Nurse
RN to BSN Program 1-2 years Registered Nurse
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) 2 years
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
RN to MSN Program 2-4 years APRN
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) 2-5 years APRN, Nurse Leadership and Administration
Ph.D. in Nursing 3-7 years

APRN, Nurse Researcher, Nurse Educator

Nurse Practitioner (NP) 2-4 years APRN, NP
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 2-3 years APRN, CRNA

What Are the Fastest Nursing Programs?

The fastest way to become a registered nurse is by earning an ADN. However, you can pursue other nursing careers without needing RN licensure. Namely, you can become a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Certified Nursing Assistant

Completing a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program generally takes 4-12 weeks. CNAs are also known as nurse's aides, patient care assistants, or nursing assistants. As the title suggests, they report to and assist registered or licensed practical nurses.

You can become a CNA by taking a state-approved training program from local hospitals or community colleges. After passing the program, you will be eligible to take a state-administered competency exam in two parts: a written test and a practical skills exam. Passing this test certifies you to work as a CNA.

Licensed Practical Nurse

Licensed practical nurse (LPN) school can take seven months to two years to complete. The time it takes you to graduate from an LPN program depends on which program you choose and whether you attend it full-time. 

Accelerated LPN programs take as little as seven months to complete if you attend them full-time. This may be the fastest way to get an LPN license since most programs take 1-2 years, depending on how many credits students can take.

How Long are Registered Nursing Programs?

Becoming a registered nurse (RN) takes around 2-4 years of college, depending on your chosen nursing program. ADN programs can be as short as two years, while BSN programs take about 4.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program takes two years to complete, making it the shortest path to becoming an RN. ADNs do not receive the same training in leadership and research as BSNs. However, they do learn the same nursing procedures as BSN-RNs and work in the same settings.

Community colleges offer ADN programs with classwork that you can complete online or in person full-time or part-time. Most ADN students will complete at least 700 in-person clinical hours before graduation.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

BSN programs take four years of full-time study to complete. Though BSN degrees cost more than ADNs for the same price, there's still an incentive to earn them over ADNs. Often, BSN-RNs earn higher salaries and have more leadership and advancement opportunities.

BSN programs include two years of gen-eds like English Comp, Stats, and other nursing program prerequisites. After that, you'll complete two more years of school. These courses include nursing-focused education with advanced nursing principles and clinical training.

RN to BSN Bridge Programs

RN to BSN programs often take less than two years to complete and are designed for ADN-trained registered nurses. You can complete many RN-to-BSN programs online, making them perfect for ADNs hoping to expand their career opportunities while continuing to work.

How Long are Advanced Practice Registered Nursing Programs?

Becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) requires a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which takes between 2-4 years to complete.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

MSN programs generally take two years after earning a BSN degree, equating to six years of total nursing schooling. However, ample clinical experience can reduce that timeline to 18-24 months.

Earning your MSN won't just make you eligible for nursing jobs with higher salaries; it will also give you an advanced level of nursing education that encompasses training in leadership, community and public health, research, and ethics.

RN to MSN Bridge Programs

ADN-trained nurses can complete RN-to-MSN programs in 2-3 years. This type of program supplements the MSN education with the baccalaureate education that ADNs are missing. Similarly, non-nursing bachelor's degree holders may attend a direct-entry MSN program to supplement their BSN education and earn an MSN in 2-3 years.

Popular Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs

Grand Canyon University

GCU's College of Nursing and Health Care Professions has a nearly 35-year tradition of preparing students to fill evolving healthcare roles as highly qualified professionals. GCU offers a full spectrum of nursing degrees, from a pre-licensure BSN degree to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Capella University

Capella’s online RN-to-BSN degree is an accredited program designed for working nurses. Thousands of nurses have completed their BSN program with FlexPath, that allows you to control your pace and set your own deadlines. With FlexPath, you can complete your RN-to-BSN program in 9 months and under $10,000. Fastest 25% of students. Cost varies by pace, transfer credits, other factors. Fees apply.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Capella for details.

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Depending on your prior education, you can earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in 2-5 years. The average DNP program length by education level is as follows:

  • ADN: 5 years
  • BSN: 3-4 years
  • MSN: 2 years

The Doctor of Nursing Practice degree represents the highest level of nursing expertise and leadership. As a DNP-holding nurse, you may serve various roles, from clinical settings or administration to education and healthcare policy.

>> Show Me DNP Programs

Ph.D. in Nursing Programs

Completing a Ph.D. in Nursing generally takes at least three years of full-time scholarship. Ph.D. in nursing programs only admit MSN-educated students with clinical experience. They require up to 70 credit hours of classroom education and a research dissertation to graduate. Instead of clinical settings, those with a Ph.D. in nursing often work in research or academia.

>> Show Me Online Nursing Programs

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Programs

Completing a nurse practitioner degree takes two to four years. You can complete both MSN and DNP programs to become a nurse practitioner (NP). MSN-trained NPs spend two years in graduate school, while DNPs have four.

Candidates must have RN licensure and clinical experience before becoming eligible for these programs. If you are an ADN-RN, you can attend an RN-to-MSN program to become a nurse practitioner without first earning a BSN. 

>> Show Me Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) School

CRNA school must award a DNP degree, which takes 2-3 years to complete. However, CRNA school requirements take several years and a lot of hard work to achieve.

Certified registered nurse anesthetists specialize in providing anesthesia-related care before, during, and after medical procedures. They are among the highest-paid nurses, which reflects the level of knowledge and skill required to perform their duties.

>> Show Me CRNA Programs

Factors that Impact How Long Nursing School Will Take

By now, we know that your chosen career path and degree will impact how long it takes you to complete nursing school. However, there are still other factors that may alter your nursing school timeline, including the following:

  1. Full vs. Part-Time Attendance: Full-time attendance is the fastest way to finish nursing school. However, your finances and availability may make part-time attendance your only option, which will increase your educational timeline.

  2. Educational Hiatuses: Breaks provide respite from rigorous academics and allow you to earn the clinical experience necessary for advanced degrees. However, the length of these breaks will affect how long it takes you to reach your nursing education goals.

  3. Accelerated Learning Tracks: Fast-track nursing programs like ABSN or accelerated NP programs can help you become a nurse faster. For example, ABSN degrees can range from 1-2 years, cutting the time it takes to earn a BSN in half or less.

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