How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse?

by | Feb 26, 2023 | Nursing Student | 2 comments

Are you wondering how long does it take to become a nurse? In this post, we will answer this question.

In this article, we will explore the various pathways to becoming a registered nurse, as well as provide an overview of the length of time it takes to complete each type of program.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse

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

There’s not just one way to become a nurse. Registered nurses can be educated in a number of different ways, including through an Associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a nursing diploma.

Years to Become a Nurse Graphic

Types of RN Degree Programs

There are levels of nursing degrees program available, so it’s important to do your research to find the one that is best suited for your career goals. Here are a few of the most common types of RN degree programs:

  • Diploma for Nursing
  • Associate’s Degree (ADN)
  • Bachelor’s Degree (BSN)
  • Master’s Degree (MSN)
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Nursing has several degree options, and each one is unique in its offerings. Let’s find out the most popular ways of becoming a nurse. We talk about the differences in this blog post a little bit more.

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

This type of program is offered by hospitals and other healthcare organizations and typically takes between 18 and 24 months to complete. They are very skill-focused, and diploma program graduates are very technically-competent upon graduation. However, graduation from a diploma program is not equivalent to an undergraduate or associates degree.

How Long Does it Take to Become an RN With an Associate’s Degree?

Associates Degree Nursing programs are the most common way to become a registered nurse. These two to three years programs are offered by community colleges and train students in both theoretical and practical nursing skills.

ADN programs are more cost-effect and shorter than BSN programs, thus it is a very viable option. Many will go through an ADN program and begin working as an RN, and then go back for their BSN online with tuition assistance from their employer.

The challenge with the ADN option is that highly competitive hospitals tend to prefer, or only exclusively hire, BSN-prepared nurses.

How Long Does it Take to Become an RN With a Bachelor’s Degree?

A BSN is the most popular route to becoming a registered nurse, and the preference of most hospitals. This four-year degree offers a comprehensive education in nursing and prepares students for graduate-level study or for a career in nursing.

Newer option: If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can complete an accelerated BSN program. These programs are very intensive and expensive, but are a quick path at approximately 12-18 months.

How Long Does it Take to Become an RN With a Master’s Degree?

MSN programs are designed for nurses who want to advance their careers and become leaders in the field of nursing. These programs offer concentrations in areas such as adult-gerontology, family nurse practitioner, or nurse educator. Most MSN programs require between 36 and 48 months to complete.

There are multiple options to becoming an MSN-prepared RN in addition to your typical pathway of first obtaining your BSN and then picking an MSN pathway.

ADN-to-MSN Programs

there are programs available for nurses with an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ADN) to bridge to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) without first obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). These programs are commonly known as RN-to-MSN programs or ADN-to-MSN programs.

RN-to-MSN programs typically take 2-3 years to complete and include coursework in advanced nursing concepts, leadership and management, research methods, and advanced clinical practice. These programs may also offer specialized tracks such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator, or nurse administrator.

To be eligible for an RN-to-MSN program, you must hold a current RN license and have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Some programs may also require professional experience as an RN.

It’s important to note that RN-to-MSN programs can be intensive and demanding, as they cover advanced nursing concepts and clinical practice in a condensed timeframe. Additionally, these programs may have higher tuition costs than traditional BSN or MSN programs.

Direct-Entry MSN Program

A Direct Entry Master’s program for nurses, also known as an Entry-Level Master’s (ELM) program or a Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN), is a graduate-level program designed for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field but wish to pursue a career in nursing.

In a Direct Entry Master’s program, students complete a combination of undergraduate and graduate nursing coursework in an accelerated timeframe. The program typically takes about 2-3 years to complete and includes clinical rotations and hands-on experience in a healthcare setting.

Upon completion of the program, graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and become licensed as registered nurses (RNs). They also earn a Master’s degree in Nursing, which can lead to career advancement opportunities and specialization in a particular area of nursing.

Direct Entry Master’s programs are becoming increasingly popular as they allow individuals to transition into a nursing career more quickly and efficiently than traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. However, they require a significant time commitment and may have higher tuition costs than traditional nursing programs.

How Long Does it Take to Become an RN With a Doctorate or PhD?

DNP and PhD programs are the highest level of education that a nurse can achieve. DNP programs offer a focus on clinical practice and leadership, while PhD programs focus on research. Most DNP programs will take six to eight years to complete, and students must have a BSN and MSN before enrolling.

The exception: There are direct-entry DNP programs for people who already have a bachelor’s degree. These programs tend to take approximately 3-4 years to complete (in addition to the time it takes to get the bachelor’s degree required for entry) and you will take your nursing board examination (NCLEX-RN) during the program. These are extremely intense and often expensive programs.

The career options for a doctorate-prepared nurse are similar to that of an MSN-prepared nurse, but also include:

  • Nurse Practitioner (many hospitals prefer their NPs to have a DNP these days)
  • Nurse Researcher (PhD)
  • Nursing Leadership (many CNOs and directors have DNPs or PhDs)
  • Professor or Dean of Nursing at a university or college

So, how long does it take to become a nurse? The answer is—it varies! Depending on the degree pathway you choose, it can take anywhere from 18 months to 8 years to become a registered nurse after high school. No matter which route you choose, though, be assured that you will receive an excellent education in one of the most rewarding professions around.

Nursing FAQs

What is the best way to become a nurse?

The answer to this question depends on your:

  • Overall goal – is it to be a researcher, bedside nurse, administrator, manager, etc?
  • Budget
  • Time / availability

There is no “right” answer to this, and thankfully there are many different pathways to get your RN license and degree!

What are the most common types of nursing roles?

The three most common types of nursing roles are staff nurse, case manager, and nurse practitioner.

  • A staff nurse works on the front line of patient care in a hospital or clinic. They typically work with a team of nurses to provide direct care to patients.
  • A case manager oversees the care of a group of patients, ensuring that they receive the right treatment and that all their needs are met.
  • Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who have completed additional education and training beyond the level of a registered nurse. They can diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medication, and perform procedures.

There are many other types of nursing roles out there, so it’s important to do your research to find the one that suits your interests and career goals!

What is the fastest way to become an RN?

The fastest way to become an RN is a diploma program. However, these programs can be difficult to find. The next option is an ADN program, which takes about 2-3 years (depending on if you take summer school courses or not).

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can complete an accelerated BSN program in as little as 12-18 months.

Can you become an RN in 2 years?

Yes. You can complete an ADN program in 2 years, if breaks are minimized. You can also complete an accelerated BSN program in 12-18 months.

What is the average salary for an RN?

Salaries vary widely in the United States, depending on the state you live in, the organization you work for, and the role you hold.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for registered nurses (RNs) in California, Florida, Montana, and Maine as of May 2020 was as follows:

  1. California: $120,560
  2. Florida: $65,890
  3. Montana: $66,570
  4. Maine: $69,930

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?

To become licensed as an NP, you must have at least a master’s degree. This tends to take about 5-7 years from post-high school education to MSN.

What advancement opportunities are available after becoming a registered nurse?

Your ability to advance depends on your education level. If you have a diploma or ADN, advancement will be difficult. If you have your BSN, you can be considered for assistant management, utilization review, case management, or education roles. To have increased opportunities, one likely needs to obtain an MSN.

What are the different jobs you can have as an MSN-prepared RN?

There are a wide variety of subspecialties within Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs, which allow nurses to develop expertise in a specific area of nursing. Here are some examples of subspecialties within MSN programs:

  1. Nurse Practitioner (NP): NPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who provide primary and specialty healthcare services to patients of all ages. They can specialize in areas such as family medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, acute care, or psychiatric-mental health.
  2. Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): CNSs are APRNs who provide advanced care to patients in a specific population, such as oncology, critical care, or emergency care. They are responsible for developing and implementing evidence-based practice and improving patient outcomes.
  3. Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): CRNAs are APRNs who provide anesthesia care to patients in a variety of healthcare settings, including surgery, obstetrics, and pain management.
  4. Nurse Midwife (CNM): CNMs are APRNs who provide reproductive and gynecological care to women throughout their lifespan, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, and postpartum care.
  5. Nurse Educator: Nurse educators teach nursing students and practicing nurses about nursing theory, research, and practice. They may work in academic settings or in healthcare organizations.
  6. Nurse Administrator: Nurse administrators are responsible for managing healthcare organizations, including hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. They oversee operations, financial management, and human resources.
  7. Nurse Informaticist: Nurse informaticists use technology and data to improve patient care and healthcare outcomes. They develop and implement electronic health records, decision support systems, and other healthcare technologies.

These are just a few examples of subspecialties within MSN programs. Other options include nursing leadership, healthcare policy, gerontology, and public health.

Why should I become a nurse?

There are many reasons to become a nurse! Nurses are in high demand, and the job outlook is excellent. Nurses enjoy a good salary and benefits, and the work is both challenging and rewarding. Nurses also have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their patients. The degree is quite versatile, so if you are working in one area of nursing but need a change of pace, there are plenty of other opporunities.

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More Resources

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Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


  1. Linda H.

    In NYS, a diploma in Nursing is acquired through a Hospital School of Nursing. It is a three year program. (An Associate Degree in Nursing is accomplished in two years). Your first year is spent at a University alongside BSN students. Chemistry, microbiology, anatomy,sociology, physiology and an English elective are included. Classes in Nursing Foundations, OB/GYN, Pediatrics,Psych,Med Surg, Pharmacology, OR and Geriatrics take place at the the Nursing School. The beauty of a three yr Hospital S of N program is the amount of hours of direct patient care. Nothing can replace hands on experience. Students were on the floor after classes for patient care several times a week. The final 6 weeks of training consisted of being in “charge” on a teaching floor, 2weeks on each shift. It was wonderful preparation for your first position as a graduate nurse. Unfortunately, Hospital schools of nursing began to close their doors in the 1980’s. It’s a shame they have done away with these programs. I graduated from the Buffalo General Hospital School of Nursing in 1974. I have had the opportunity to work in many areas of nursing, from the ED to school nurse at an elementary school. 46 years have given me wonderful experiences. I hope nursing continues to focus on Patient Care .

    • Kati Kleber, MSN RN CCRN-K

      At the very beginning of my career, I worked with some diploma nurses. There weren’t many at that time. But, the word on the street was that diploma nurses were always more technically proficient at graduation. It is too bad that we’ve gotten away from this education structure because it seems to have really helped nurses get up speed safely and efficiently.


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