How long does it take to become a Registered Nurse?

Length of Time
Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) can take anywhere between two to four years, depending on the type and length of the nursing program. Traditionally, nursing students complete prerequisite courses, primarily in math and sciences during their first year of study. Prospective nursing students then apply to the nursing program in their sophomore year. There are strict GPA requirements, with students only being permitted to take each prerequisite course one to three times.

Each RN program has individual prerequisites, though it’s becoming increasingly common for nursing programs to admit student directly from high school and commence nursing courses in the freshman year of study.

Testing and State Requirements

After completed nursing coursework, students are required to take the National Council for Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses. Some nursing students choose to take a break between the completion of their nursing studies and taking the NCLEX-RN in order to prepare for the exam. Though the exam can be completed in one day, the exam is difficult and most schools publish their pass rates to encourage students to attend their institution.

Settings of RN Programs

There are three types of institutions where students pursue nursing education.


Hospitals offer three year diploma programs in nursing. The program usually does not require prerequisites and involves not only coursework, but onsite practical experience opportunities in the hosting healthcare facility. Hospital RN programs are increasingly less common.

Community College

Community Colleges are probably the most common institution where nursing instruction takes place. Throughout the United States, colleges offer a two year ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) program. Part-time programs which require about two and one-half years of study are available at certain institutions.


With the BSN being the preferred degree of choice, most students go to a university at some point to pursue a Bachelor of Science in nursing. Universities cater to two types of students, those who are pursuing nursing studies after high school as well as those who already hold an ADN and RN, and aspire to better career opportunities by earning an additional degree. The BSN usually requires four years to complete. Here are the main types of programs offered at a university for those seeking RN training:

  • BSN Format

Within the university setting, there are several program formats to choose from depending on the students’ prior education and current academic needs.

  • Accelerated

Because of the career stability and opportunity, some students with a bachelor’s degree or higher in another field, may opt to pursue a nursing career. These students are given credit for prerequisite courses and may complete the nursing program in as little as one year of continuous study (including two summers).

  • Online

Working nurses with an associate’s degree may not have the ability to pursue a course of study full-time and must continue to work to support themselves and their families. For RNs there are no clinical requirements for the BSN. RNs can complete a RN to BSN (Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program), a course designed specifically for RNs seeking a BSN completely online in as little as two years.

  • Combined

If an aspiring nurse ultimately wants to earn a graduate degree in nursing, a combined program may be the best option. A combined program prepares students to become a licensed registered nurse and earn an MSN. Some combined programs award the BSN degree too. A combined program can take five to six years to complete because it is both an undergraduate and graduate program. Ultimately combined nursing programs take less time than pursuing an undergraduate and graduate degree separately.