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Guide to Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing programs offer students with non-nursing backgrounds faster options for entering the field. This guide explores common accelerated nursing programs, including ABSN, ABSN, and AMSN, and their requirements, program lengths, and curriculums.

Nursing is one of the fastest-growing careers, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects more than 200,000 more positions to become available between 2019 and 2029. With the high demand for nurses, more options have emerged for knocking out a nursing program. Many schools across the United States now offer accelerated nursing programs so that students can complete the requirements for becoming nurses more quickly, whether they are just beginning their adult journey or making a career change.

We created this guide so that you can explore the characteristics of accelerated nursing programs and what types of programs are available. In addition, we'll dive into the admissions requirements, curriculum, and potential careers available for each type of program. If you are considering a career in nursing, continue reading to find out what programs you may be eligible for and see how to increase your chances of success in an accelerated nursing program.

What is an Accelerated Nursing Program?

An accelerated nursing program is meant to help students complete their nursing programs more quickly than traditional programs. Many are designed for students who have earned college degrees in other fields and want to make a career change. While the specific characteristics of accelerated nursing programs can vary by school, they have a few things in common including year-round learning, cohort models, flexible learning options and admissions requirements that allow students from non-nursing backgrounds to pursue a nursing degree.

Benefits of Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing programs help students earn their degrees faster and more conveniently. There are a lot of ways they might help you become a nurse and we'll cover several below. Keep in mind that programs vary by school, so make sure to review the specific characteristics of the programs that you are considering.

  • Online Format: Accelerated online nursing programs give you more flexibility for your courses. Students who complete on-campus programs must work their courses around their schedule, which may restrict which courses that they can take. Accelerated nursing programs that offer online options bypass time restrictions that traditional courses include. This allows you to take more courses as your schedule and program permit.

  • Year-Round Learning: Programs that enable you to take courses year-round automatically enable you to earn more credits per year, finish your degree faster and start finding work sooner. Traditional programs for undergraduates, for example, lead to 30 credit hours if students take the minimum full-time course load. Through a year-round model, students taking the same load might complete 36 credit hours.

  • Entrance Requirements: The alternate entry options for students who have previously completed another program in a non-nursing field enable them to earn a higher degree and/or need to complete fewer credit hours. For example, a student with a non-nursing bachelor's degree could enroll in an accelerated BSN or MSN program, completing their degree in around 2 or 4 years, respectively.

  • Staying Near Home: Students in nursing programs are required to complete practicum hours, due to the nature of the field. Traditional programs usually require students to complete these hours near the school, but many accelerated nursing programs allow students to complete the required in-person hours at healthcare facilities near their geographic area.

  • Cost Savings: An accelerated nursing program can save you money because you're in school for less time. In addition, by taking courses online and completing in-person hours close to where you live, you are also able to save money on travel, room and board. Students who have previously completed non-nursing coursework and can apply it to their nursing programs also save on the total tuition of their programs.

Types of Accelerated Nursing Programs

There are several different types of accelerated nursing programs, including undergraduate and graduate options. Some programs are more common than others, and program characteristics vary by school. The table below summarizes common elements of accelerated nursing programs.

Program Level Entrance Requirements Length (estimate)
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
Undergraduate High school diploma 2 years
ADN Bridge Undergraduate Related certificate/coursework 1 year
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Undergraduate Bachelor's degree 1 year
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Graduate Bachelor's degree 2 years

Accelerated ADN Programs

Accelerated ADN/ASN programs are not as common as other accelerated nursing programs. Some schools offer a faster associate degree in nursing programs to students with or without prior related experience. Students without prior college coursework typically spend about two years of full-time study completing their programs, but those in programs with more flexibility can complete their coursework sooner. This can occur when schools offer the required coursework year-round and/or offer some of the required courses online.

If you have already completed some of the required coursework, you can typically have those credits transferred in and decrease the number of classes that you will need to take. Students who have completed related programs, such as LPN or paramedic programs, may be eligible for ADN bridge programs. ADN programs can offer flexibility for students who want to earn their degrees faster, even if they don't specifically state that they are accelerated nursing programs.

Admission Requirements

Students without prior college coursework can be admitted to ADN programs that offer flexibility, while those who do have related experience and education (such as paramedics) are typically eligible for more accelerated options. To be admitted for accelerated ADN programs, students often need to submit high school transcripts and college transcripts (if applicable). Students may also need to take a placement test as part of their admissions process, especially if they do not have previous college credits.

Courses

The courses required for nursing school can vary by college, but typically include a combination of general education classes and healthcare/science coursework. Some of the more common courses that are included in accelerated ADN programs are below.

  • Nursing Concepts explores nursing theories and practices as well as ethics and patient care topics that provide students with best practices for patient interaction and care.
  • Pharmacology delves into pharmaceutical drugs, including their uses and effects on patients, appropriate dosing practices, and related medication topics.
  • Pediatric Nursing relates to children and adolescents, including health promotion, familial elements, critical thinking and evidence-based practices.
  • Adult Nursing explores topics for caring for adults and aging patients, and students will review adult-specific health problems as well as techniques for caring for patients in various settings.
  • Maternal Nursing is a course where students learn about the health issues and specific care needed for female patients. Topics can include pregnancy care, newborn care, family planning and more.

In-Person Requirements

To obtain a nursing license, students are required to complete a specific number of clinical hours. These are set by the state, so check with yours to see what's required. Accelerated ADN programs include in-person requirements -- usually laboratory time and clinical experiences. The number of hours can vary, but students typically have in-person requirements with several of their classes. For example, some nursing courses will require students to demonstrate their skills in front of professors and students, and some science courses might require hands-on lab work.

Careers

Graduates of accelerated nursing programs at the associate degree level are typically preparing for work as registered nurses (RNs). The table below shows key elements of the field and compares those characteristics to those of similar positions. The other career fields shown in the table are those that some accelerated ADN students may already be working in.

Job Title Median Pay (2020) Job Outlook (2019-2029)
Licensed Practical & Licensed Vocational Nurses (LPNs & LVNs) $48,820 9%
EMTs & Paramedics $36,650 6%
Registered Nurses (RNs) $75,330 7%

Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Registered nurses care for patients and provide patient education and support. RNs typically work with other healthcare providers to provide patient care. Specific duties can vary based on where RNs work, but often include recording patient information, administering medications, observing patients and educating patients on their care. To become an RN, candidates must complete the requirements for their state, which typically include a degree program and passing the RN exam (NCLEX-RN).

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs are much more common than accelerated ADN programs and are often offered with online coursework. These programs typically cater to students who already have a bachelor's degree in a different field and take around 1 to 2 years of full-time study to complete. Students are required to complete some in-person components but can finish most of their coursework online at many schools.

Admissions Requirements

Although admissions requirements vary by school, most accelerated BSN programs are open to students who have non-nursing bachelor's degrees. You may need to have completed a certain number of credit hours previously as well as have already taken specific courses (such as general mathematics and English classes.

Courses

Since many students have previously completed a non-nursing bachelor's degree program, the curriculum for ABSN programs is much more focused on nursing courses than a traditional BSN program. Some of the courses commonly included in ABSN programs are listed below.

  • Health Assessments is where students have a chance to learn methods for assessing patient health, including physical assessments, asking appropriate questions and proper record-keeping techniques.
  • Mental Health Nursing explores psychological topics and issues, such as prominent mental illnesses, and how to incorporate mental health practices into different settings.
  • Surgical Nursing Skills is a course that covers key nursing skills for surgical settings, and topics can include surgery-connected stressors for patients as well as after-surgery care and treatments.
  • Community Care centers on population and community health, including environmental and cultural influences on health and recommended community care practices.
  • Nursing Leadership focuses on leadership topics for nursing and healthcare settings, and subjects can include communication, healthcare finance, managerial techniques and conflict resolution.

In-Person Requirements

Students in BSN programs practice the nursing techniques that they learn through their courses under supervision in various healthcare settings. While the total number of in-person hours varies, you may spend around 700 hours completing clinical and laboratory requirements.

In addition, you might have one or more on-campus intensive sessions during your programs. These sessions can consist of lectures or study sessions, hands-on practical experiences or other related activities. The specific in-person requirements for accelerated BSN programs vary by school, so check the requirements of your target schools.

Careers

Accelerated BSN programs prepare students for roles as registered nurses, just like an ADN. However, BSN-holders have higher NCLEX-RN pass rates and can often move into positions of more responsibility after some experience in the field. The table below summarizes the earnings and outlooks for these careers.

Job Title Median Pay (2020) Job Outlook (2019-2029)
Registered Nurses (RNs) $75,330 7%
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,280 32%

Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Medical and health services managers oversee departments, practices or facilities. Their duties vary by specific position and where they work but can include goal development, hiring and training employees, managing budgets and directing employees. To become a medical or health services manager, candidates typically need to have a bachelor's degree and several years in a related role (such as nursing).

Accelerated MSN Programs

There are a few types of accelerated MSN programs, including those for current nurses as well as non-nurses. Students without prior nursing experience should look for direct-entry and other pre-licensure programs. These accelerated MSN or MN (Master of Nursing) programs are typically designed for students who have a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing. Characteristics of some of the available accelerated MSN programs are noted below.

  • Direct-Entry or Entry-to-Practice: These programs are for students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree and are designed to prepare students for licensure as RNs. They can be completed in around 1.5 years of full-time study and lead directly to a master's degree.

  • Advanced Study Programs: These programs are also for students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree. Students of these programs earn their RN license once they have completed the requirements and continue the program to prepare for more advanced roles. Students may earn both a BSN and an MSN during these programs, which take around 3 years to complete.

Admissions Requirements

The accelerated MSN programs for non-nurses usually require students to have earned a bachelor's degree as well as have a certain number of credit hours under their belts. In addition, students might need to have a certain GPA on their previous undergraduate work as well as have completed certain prerequisite courses (such as nutrition and anatomy). Schools may also require students to submit references, a resume and transcripts for prior schools.

Courses

Courses in accelerated MSN programs dive deeper into nursing topics than those within undergraduate nursing programs. Students who have no undergraduate nursing coursework will typically complete courses that are required for other RN programs, such as those listed under the BSN section.

In accelerated MSN programs, students will take classes that focus on general nursing practices as well as more specific areas of healthcare, such as acute care and nursing theories. In addition, programs that prepare students for advanced nursing careers will usually include a significant amount of coursework relating to a student's chosen specialty.

  • Research in Nursing is where students review research and evidence that is related to nursing and learn to evaluate and apply evidence in nursing practice to improve patient outcomes.
  • Quality in Healthcare focuses on organizational and individual responsibilities involved in maintaining quality and safety for patients in healthcare settings.
  • Acute Care covers topics and best practices relating to patients dealing with acute issues, and specific things discussed can include end of life, health maintenance and palliative care, evaluation of effectiveness and administration.
  • Family Centered Care is a class where students have a chance to learn about family-centered care practices for promoting health, addressing chronic and acute issues, as well as family dynamics and diversity.

In-Person Requirements

Accelerated MSN programs require students to participate in face-to-face activities, including laboratory hours as well as clinical practice. As with undergraduate programs, the specific number of hours that are required varies by school. Clinical hours consist of students completing nursing duties while supervised to improve their nursing abilities and knowledge. Students may need to go to their campus once or more during their programs to complete other learning and skill-building activities. Programs that prepare students for both RN licensure and advanced practice include more practical hours to prepare students for more advanced, specialized care.

Careers

Accelerated MSN programs often prepare students for roles as registered nurses, but many also prepare students for advanced roles in nursing. Graduates of MSN programs may work as RNs, healthcare managers, nursing teachers or nurse practitioners. These careers are summarized and discussed below.

Accelerated BSN programs prepare students for roles as registered nurses. After acquiring the necessary experience, RNs may choose to become managers in healthcare settings. The table below summarizes the earnings and outlooks for these careers, each of which is then discussed further.

Job Title Median Pay (2020) Expected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Registered Nurses (RNs) $75,330 7%
Medical and Health Services Managers $104,280 32%
Postsecondary Nursing Teachers & Instructors $75,470 18
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives & Nurse Practitioners $117,670 45%

Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In addition to the roles we've discussed for ADN- and BSN-holders, an MSN can qualify you for roles like the ones below.

Postsecondary Nursing Teachers & Instructors: Postsecondary educators teach students beyond high school. For nursing teachers, this could mean teaching in college or university settings and training aspiring nurses. Specific duties of postsecondary teachers vary by their title and place of location. Nurses with a master's degree and nursing experience may qualify to teach at community colleges, but typically need a doctoral degree to teach at a 4-year university.

Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives & Nurse Practitioners: These types of nurses are often called advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs. They provide advanced care to patients in various healthcare settings and may work as part of a team of healthcare providers or independently. Their duties can include conducting tests, operating equipment, diagnosing patients and conducting research. APRNs need to have an RN license, an MSN in their specialty (or an MSN with a specialty certificate) and supplemental APRN licensure as required by their state.

How to Make it Through an Accelerated Nursing Program

If you are considering a switch to nursing and drawn to accelerated nursing programs, consider your time commitments and ultimate goals for completing the program. Accelerated nursing programs are not for everyone. However, for those who complete these programs, the benefits are realized more quickly than those who complete traditional programs. The sections below highlight some of the things that you should consider during your application process and program duration.

Choosing an Accelerated Nursing Program

As you begin your search for an accelerated nursing program, first consider which programs will best fit your needs. If you already have a non-nursing bachelor's degree, then you may be eligible for the BSN or MSN programs. Remember that the accelerated BSN programs can be completed in around 1 to 1.5 years if you already have a bachelor's degree, while the accelerated MSN programs can take 2 to 3 years. Each program can prepare you for an RN role, but MSN programs can also prepare you for advanced nursing roles.

Check out the accreditation of your target schools, since this is a huge indicator of quality. The nursing programs we're detailing here will probably be accredited by organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Many also have a stamp of approval from the state's Board of Nursing, which is a good way to know the program will prepare you for licensure.

Running an accelerated nursing program requires a ton of resources and some school overreach, admitting too many students. This can mean little personalized attention and competitive admissions. Schools with cohort models and multiple start dates typically avoid these pitfalls. You can also reach out to administrators at the school and ask how they combat this.

How to Apply to an Accelerated Nursing Program

Regardless of which school(s) you plan to apply to, you will likely need to submit official transcripts from your high school and any colleges that you have attended. It might be a good idea to contact the registrar's offices at each school and order a few official copies to have on hand. Many schools also allow you to request official transcripts online and can even mail those transcripts directly to the admissions offices where you are applying.

Also, talk with colleagues and other professional acquaintances to find out who might be willing to write you a recommendation or be a reference for your application. You may or may not need to furnish these when applying, but it would be better to have them lined up than to scramble to find a suitable reference or recommendation letter. If you haven't already, brush up your resume so that it looks professional and is up to date. For more tips and information on applying to a program, see our guide for How to Apply to College


Tips for Surviving an Accelerated Nursing Program

  • Time Management: As previously mentioned, accelerated nursing programs aren't for everyone. Because they are faster-paced than traditional programs, they are more rigorous and require more time each week than traditional programs do. Some great methods for better time management include establishing a routine, prioritizing critical tasks first and using a planner to keep a visual record of what your tasks are each week. Some nursing students swear by the Pomodoro method, which entails setting a timer for 25 minutes and focusing intensely on your studies. When it dings, you take a five-minute break and then dive back in for another 25 minutes. After three or four breaks, you take a longer one (25 to 30 minutes).

  • Stay Motivated but Treat Yourself: If your friend invites you to see a movie but you know that you have school work to do, remember what it is that you are working toward. Setting aside the time for your schoolwork may, at times, feel daunting. It may help if you place a note on your desk or phone's home screen that provides you with a constant reminder of your goal. Seeing that reminder on a day when you are tempted to procrastinate might encourage you to keep your momentum. That said, the risk of burnout is high with accelerated nursing programs so be sure to build in plenty of 'me time' whenever you can get it.

  • Be Proactive: Adult students often juggle myriad obligations and activities with their schoolwork. With familial obligations, work, housework and school, it can sometimes be hard to address the tasks associated with classes. Many students push their schoolwork off until the weekends, or a few days before the work is due. This causes students to have no buffer if something goes wrong or if students need more time to get something done. Start your work early, even if it is a 15-minute session to review the week's assignments. The earlier that you complete your assignments, the more time you can have for other things later (like relaxation or social interactions).

  • Create a Dialogue with Teachers: Students sometimes make the costly assumption that teachers are too busy, or don't care, and do not reach out to them. This is especially true for online students. In reality, teachers have selected their jobs because they want to develop tomorrow's nurses, which means that they succeed when you succeed. At the start of a course, send a message to your teacher to let them know who you are and why you are excited about the class. Keep this dialogue open and check-in from time to time. Do not be afraid to ask questions and let your teachers know if you are struggling.

  • Study Somewhere Quiet: Science tells us to pick a quiet study spot and stick to it; doing this trains our brains to get into focused 'study mode' when we enter that space. If you're a parent, this may be a challenge. If your home is noisy during the day, perhaps you could use the first hour after everyone is asleep. There are places outside of homes that also offer excellent study spots, such as libraries, book shops and coffee spots.


How to Pay for an Accelerated Nursing Program

There are several types of financial aid available to students of accelerated nursing programs. Financial aid options include nursing scholarships and grants (you don't have to repay them) and those that have to be paid back (like loans). In addition, the federal government and some employers offer work-study programs, which involve working on-campus and earning money for your nursing program.

To obtain financial aid, the first step that you should take is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA will tell you what aid you qualify for and the results can be used to apply for different types of aid as well as be sent to schools of your choosing so that you can apply for any school-specific aid as well. For a more comprehensive overview, see How to Pay for Nursing School.

Resources for Nurses

You've decided on a career in nursing, so now what? With so many options, it can be daunting. Listed below are different pages that summarize some of the resources and information that can help you during your path to licensure as well as during your career. With the field of nursing continuing to grow, resources and networking opportunities will also continue to expand. Get connected with like-minded professionals who will support you while you support them, brush up on your knowledge in preparation for your license exam, and find out what it is like to be a traveling or non-traveling nurse from those who currently walk those paths.


  • Nursing Organizations Directory. Directory of more than 40 nursing organizations, which enable nurses to connect, get support, learn and more.
  • A Day in the Life of an RN. Learn what a day in the life of an RN consists of, including their schedule and activities.
  • Career Guide for Traveling Nurse. This page explores what a traveling nurse does as well as how to become one.
  • TEAS Practice Tests & Information. This page enables you to identify your scores on subjects like mathematics, similar to college entrance exams.
  • NCLEX Test Resources. The NCLEX is required to become an RN, and this page provides study materials and related resources to help you prepare.
  • HESI Test Resources. HESI tests are required for admission to some nursing programs. This page provides helpful resources for preparing for the test.