How Long Does IT Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

Sep 15, 2019

Here we discuss the different RN degree program options available and how long, depending on the chosen option, it may take to become an RN. Explore each educational option and how long each program is here. View article »

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Video Transcript

How Long Does it Take to Get Your RN Degree?

Students wondering 'how long does it take to become a nurse?' or 'how long is the RN program?' need to first understand the different educational paths to earning a nursing degree. Each kind of degree program takes a different amount of time to complete and helps prepare students for national licensure as a registered nurse (RN). Depending on the program, it may take students anywhere from a little over 1 year to 4 years to become an RN. Explore the different educational paths below.

Types of RN Degree Programs

Students interested in becoming an RN can choose from a variety of nursing colleges and even some hospitals from which to earn their degree. Each degree pathway generally has its own prerequisites and/or requirements for admission.


Diploma programs may take as little as 16 months up to about 2 years to complete and are the minimum education requirement for an RN. These programs are offered by hospitals and colleges and include hands-on learning through clinical experiences. Students may take courses in topics like:

  • Anatomy
  • Health care needs
  • Health issues
  • Holistic care

Associate's Degree

Associate's degrees in nursing are typically offered as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). These programs may take 20 to 24 months to complete and include hands-on clinical training. Students may take coursework in subjects such as:

  • Medical terminology
  • Microbiology
  • Health assessment
  • Nutrition
  • Pathophysiology

Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor's degree programs in nursing are typically offered as Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees and take 3 to 4 years to complete. A BSN is the most advanced degree for an RN and is the degree most preferred by employers or for further education, such as nurse practitioner schools. Students in these programs participate in diverse clinical experiences and may take courses in:

  • Chemistry
  • Ethics
  • Healthcare policy
  • Population based health
  • Nursing assessment

RN Licensure

All nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to earn the title of RN. Students are eligible to sit for the exam after completing an accredited diploma, associate's, or bachelor's degree program in nursing. In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN, some states and/or nursing positions may have additional requirements, such as background checks or certifications. Some common nursing certifications include:

  • Basic life support (BLS)
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS)


RNs may also choose to specialize in a particular area of nursing and pursue specific certification in that area. For example, those wishing to be a nurse for newborn babies may pursue different certification in pediatrics than a nurse wishing to work with emergency medicine in ambulatory care.

Once they are licensed as an RN, some nurses may choose to pursue advanced education in nursing and become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), such as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist. These positions typically require a master's degree in nursing and further clinical training. Students can choose from a wide range of nurse practitioner schools and typically need a BSN and licensure as an RN for admission.

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