How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse? It Varies.

Summary: Over the past couple of decades, the nursing profession has been in a state of continuous change. Everything from education options to career diversity to the role itself has evolved. This post discusses how long it takes to become a nurse via different education paths, and how nurses can use their influence to improve patient outcomes and reshape the nation’s health care system.

Xavier ABSN student saying someday just got closer.

How long does it take to become a nurse? While a straightforward question, the answer is less so. That’s because there are several paths you can take to enter the profession. And depending on where you are now and what your plans are for the future, you could spend anywhere from 16 months to four years preparing for your RN license.

To become a registered nurse, you need an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)—and you must pass the nurse licensure exam. But what you’ll find is that while these education options can get you started in the profession, they don’t produce the same career outcomes.

In this post, we’ll break down these entry points as well as take an in-depth look at how Xavier University can get you started on your nursing career sooner. 

How Long Is Nursing School?

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

ADN programs take about two years to complete and focus primarily on clinical skills application. Given that they are less time-consuming and more affordable than traditional BSN programs, ADN programs used to be the go-to education path for entering the nursing profession.

Today, however, the health care industry has evolved to the point where employers see the value of having more BSN-prepared nurses on staff. Not to mention, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recognizes a BSN as the minimum education requirement for professional practice.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

While ADN programs focus mainly on applied skills training, a BSN education dives deeper into the profession. The degree’s well-rounded curriculum covers nursing research, disease prevention, informatics, patient advocacy, and much more. Thereby, nurses with a BSN have a better understanding of how economic, social, and cultural issues affect patients and the health care delivery system.

The length of time it takes to earn a BSN varies by individual. If you’re a high school graduate, you need to take the traditional four-year college route. If you’re a working registered nurse with an ADN, you can earn a BSN in 12 to 15 months via an online RN-to-BSN program.

Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN)

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field of study, you can become a nurse in under two years via a second-degree BSN program, which includes our 16-month ABSN program in Ohio.

Nursing School Acceptance Rates

You’ll find that more and more universities are starting to offer accelerated nursing programs. Even so, it’s still difficult to get into nursing school, with far more qualified applicants than seats available.

Your chances of getting into nursing school are higher when you apply to an accelerated nursing program that has multiple start dates a year and multiple enrollment locations. These tend to be the programs that can accept the highest number of qualified students annually. 

So it’s great you discovered our ABSN program, because Xavier has made a BSN education accessible for second-degree students and career changers. And that’s because our ABSN program has enrollment locations in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, with each one offering three start dates a year. Not to mention, the program has an online learning component and ample clinical placement opportunities.

In other words, we’re one of the few nursing schools in Ohio with no waiting list. We’re also among the few Accelerated BSN programs with minimum prerequisites.

ABSN Prerequisites in Perspective

What’s great about Xavier is that you only have to satisfy four ABSN prerequisites—a major advantage if you’re eager to transition into nursing (some programs have as many as 15). Plus, you can complete these prerequisites 100% online through our university. Once you’re done with these courses, it won’t take long to become a nurse.

Xavier ABSN Program Overview

Our full-time ABSN program builds on your non-nursing bachelor’s degree, making it possible to earn a quality BSN in as few as 16 months. The program spans four semesters and features a rigorous blend of online and onsite curriculum—a total of 63 credit hours.

  • Online courses teach you the fundamentals and theories of the nursing profession.
  • Nursing labs provide a realistic, risk-free platform for you to develop your clinical skills.
  • Clinical rotations provide you with real-world experience in diverse areas of practice.

To be successful in this accelerated nursing program, you must devote between 40 and 60 hours a week to your education. But it’ll be worth it in the end. Not only will you graduate from nursing school in 16 months, you’ll also be prepared to enter the profession as a practice-ready nurse.   

Ayana - Xavier ABSN student studying

Everyone knows that nursing school is hard and stressful, but you just have to breathe and relax. This program is actually less intimidating than I thought it would be.
—Ayana, ABSN Program Graduate, 2020

Online Courses

The nice thing about online learning is that you’re not tied to a specific classroom schedule or location. So when it comes to our online ABSN coursework, you can learn the fundamentals and theories of the nursing profession (didactic portion of the program) at any time of the day or night. You just want to make sure you meet the assignment deadlines set forth by your instructors. 

As an ABSN student, you’ll complete online courses that range from pathophysiology to research to pediatrics. These courses set the foundation for the hands-on skills you’ll develop at one of our ABSN Learning Centers and top health care facilities.    

If you’ve never taken online courses, they can take some getting used to, but we have support resources to help see you through. It’s also important to note that online learning is just as effective as learning face-to-face in the classroom. Just know that success with online learning requires a higher level of self-discipline and personal accountability.

Hands-on Labs

Taking place at one of our ABSN Learning Centers, nursing labs are the bridge between online coursework and clinical rotations. As an ABSN student, you’ll attend labs two to three days a week. We divide our labs into two categories: skills and simulation.

Nursing Skills

Skills labs focus on the safe, effective application of core clinical skills such as catheter insertion, intramuscular injections, nasogastric tube insertions, and wound care. Our lab replicates the clinical setting, featuring real hospital equipment and supplies. And thanks to our clinical task trainers and full-body medical manikins, you’re able to make a mistake without causing harm to a patient.

Diane - Xavier University ABSN Student

Being able to practice my skills in lab allowed me to go into the clinical setting with more confidence.
—Diane, ABSN Program Graduate, 2020 

Nursing Simulation

Simulation labs have you integrate theory, practice, and reasoning in real-time. They challenge you to think critically, problem-solve, and collaborate, with the intent of building your confidence before entering clinicals. Simulation scenarios vary based on the learning objectives set forth by instructors.

Either an actor or a patient simulator plays the patient role during a simulation. It just depends on the clinical scenario and learning objective. Our high-tech adult and child simulation manikins, for example, serve as patients in complex, high-risk scenarios.

Controlled by faculty from an adjoining room, our simulation manikins are capable of delivering realistic physiologic responses, such as pupil reaction, heart sounds, respiration, and blood loss. These manikins can also be vocal if they don’t like your treatment approach.

And just like in skills labs, you don’t have to worry about putting someone’s safety at risk. Nor is there the pressure of getting a good grade because we don’t grade students on their simulation performances. We just want you to focus on learning and improving your skills.

As an ABSN student, you’ll complete at least one simulation per term. By the time you graduate from the program, you’ll have completed between 10 and 12 nursing simulations, which cover everything from adult health to pediatrics to mental health.

Xavier ABSN graduate Ayana using stethoscope

In one simulation, our patient simulator was vomiting profusely. I thought it was a good learning experience because you never know what you’re going to get when going into an actual patient’s hospital room.
—Ayana, ABSN Program Graduate, 2020

In-person Clinicals

Clinicals allow you to gain relevant, real-world patient care experience across the health care continuum. And we provide some of the best clinical placements of any nursing school in Ohio.

Your first clinical takes place during the first semester and focuses on the foundations of nursing practice inside a long-term care unit. Overall, you’ll gain valuable experience in settings that include hospitals, mental health facilities, and outpatient clinics.

In your final semester of the program, you’ll participate in a role transition experience. It’s where you gain concentrated clinical experience under the guidance of a preceptor (a trained and experienced registered nurse). You’ll work the same shift as this nurse, and as you refine your skills and build rapport with patients, you’ll take an active, if not primary role, in their care.   

Xavier ABSN graduate Lauren in skills lab

You can’t go into clinical as a student. You have to go in as a nurse.
—Lauren, ABSN Program Graduate, 2018

Clinical Partnerships in Ohio

Given the value health care providers place on Xavier nurses, we’ve been able to establish clinical partnerships with several highly respected health care facilities across the state of Ohio, including:

  • Bon Secours Mercy Health
  • Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • OhioHealth
  • Nationwide Children’s Hospital
  • The Christ Hospital Health Network
  • TriHealth

Take note that we can’t guarantee placement in a specific facility, but rest assured we ensure placement in a quality clinical setting that promotes personal and professional development.

Labs and Clinicals Disclaimer

Please be aware that due to COVID-19 restrictions and limitations, our labs and in-person clinicals could change at any time without prior student notification.

NCLEX Preparation

Whether you graduate from nursing school with an ADN or a BSN, you must pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN®) to legally practice the profession as a registered nurse.

NCLEX preparation begins on your first day of nursing school and ends when you pass the exam. Our ABSN program teaches and continuously reinforces the type of nursing content presented throughout the NCLEX.

The exam comprises complex multiple-choice questions that are unlike any you’ve seen before. These questions feature several correct answers, and it’s up to you to determine which one is the most correct. Our faculty will coach you on test-taking strategies, including how to break these questions down to get to the correct answer.

Overall, our ABSN program will provide you with a great education that not only prepares you to take the NCLEX, but also gives you the path to enter the nursing profession with confidence.

Jesuit Values and Pedagogy Approach

Since 1831, Xavier University has maintained a strong Jesuit tradition of educating students through a series of mind-body-spirit interactions that promote care of oneself and others. It’s a teaching philosophy that helps students cultivate lives of reflection, compassion, and informed action.

Just know you don’t have to be Catholic to attend our university. Anyone who has a desire for knowledge in the service of others and a willingness to always do more is welcome here.

Sarah - Xavier ABSN program graduate

As someone who was not brought up Catholic, I felt incredibly welcomed by the Xavier community when I moved to Cincinnati from Vancouver, Washington, to attend the ABSN program.
—Sarah, ABSN Program Graduate, 2018

As part of our Jesuit heritage, you’ll find that we apply the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm in our College of Nursing. It’s a holistic teaching-learning strategy that allows us to offer an education that not only focuses on your academic mastery and personal growth, but also contributes to the greater good of society.

The Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm that focuses on experience, reflection, action, and evaluation.

Holistic Nursing Certification

Our ABSN program is among a select few in the country to have the American Holistic Nurses Credentialing Corporation endorsement. Thereby, when you graduate from our College of Nursing, you’re eligible to sit for both the NCLEX and Holistic Certification Examination.*

“One of the reasons I chose Xavier was because they follow the holistic model of patient care, and you can get certified in holistic nursing,” said Lauren, a 2018 ABSN program graduate. “I believe it’s important for nurses to not only tend to a patient’s diagnosis, but also his/her mind, body, and spirit.”

Holistic care became a nursing specialty in 2006. Yet, while it’s a specialty, its philosophy applies to universal practice. Not to mention, nurses with holistic nursing certification tend to garner more attention in the health care industry. Why? Because holistic nurses have the intellect and empathy to properly care for patients, which is critical as more health care facilities adopt integrative care systems.

*Nursing graduates of non-endorsed schools must pass the NCLEX and actively practice as a holistic nurse before they can pursue certification.

Did You Know?

Xavier University consistently ranks among the nation’s best universities. In 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked us #5 on its list of best colleges in the Midwest.

Top 3 Benefits of a BSN

Generally speaking, a nursing graduate with a BSN:

1. Stands out with employers.

A growing body of evidence shows the more BSN-prepared nurses a health care facility employs, the better the patient outcomes, and the lower the mortality rates.

2. Earns higher salaries.

Nursing graduates entering the profession, whether they have an ADN or a BSN, tend to earn comparable starting salaries at the bedside. In the long run, however, BSN-prepared nurses have higher earning power given the career advancement options available to them.

3. Gains more opportunities.

The higher their education, the more opportunities nurses have for career growth and advancement. BSN-prepared nurses can practice the profession in a variety of health care settings. Plus, nurses with a BSN can continue their education by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, which opens the door to some of the highest-paying jobs in the profession.  

Health Care Shift to BSN

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, a report that discussed how a stronger nursing workforce would give Americans better access to health care. At the time, 49% of working nurses had a BSN, with the IOM recommending 80% by 2020.

So where are we now? According to this 2019 article, as of 2017, 56% of the nurses working in the U.S. held a BSN degree, putting 2029 as the new target year for reaching the 80% goal.

Furthermore, a 2020 survey conducted by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) asked 647 nursing schools about employer preferences regarding student education levels. The results of the survey indicated that 41.1%of employers require new hires to have a BSN, while 82.4% strongly prefer applicants with a BSN.

Nursing Employment in Ohio

Ohio is home to some of the best health care systems and facilities in the Midwest, from TriHealth in Cincinnati to OhioHealth in Columbus to Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland.

U.S. News & World Report ranked these the top 5 hospitals in Ohio for 2020.

#1Cleveland Clinic Main Campus
#2Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
#3University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center
#4Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital
#5Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital

The state is also a hot spot for nursing employment, with a projected +7% change in job openings between 2019 and 2029. As of 2020, the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati metro areas had the highest employment numbers for registered nurses in the state. Let’s break it down.

Metro Area2020 Employment2020 Median Wage
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN24,750$69,260
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nationwide Nursing Employment

When you graduate from our College of Nursing, you open yourself up to any number of job opportunities. After all, nursing is one of the most diverse and in-demand occupations available today.

You have the option to practice the profession in hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care clinics, private practices, and schools. And while hospitals remain the largest employers of registered nurses, there are also several alternative nursing careers for you to consider, such as becoming a/an:

  • Flight nurse, who helps provide patient care before and during air transport.
  • Forensic nurse, who accesses, screens, treats, and collects evidence from victims.
  • Informatics nurse, who evaluates and selects technology for use in a health care facility.
  • Military nurse, who sets up triage and cares for military personnel around the world.
  • Travel nurse, who helps offset nursing shortages in underserved parts of the country.
  • Clinical research nurse, who cares for various patients participating in clinical trials.

When it comes to projected employment for registered nurses in the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a +7% change in job openings between 2019 and 2029. In other words, the projected annual job openings during this timeframe are 221,900.  

Ready When You Are

If you believe you have what it takes to become a nurse, we can help you accelerate into the profession. Currently, all three of our ABSN program locations in Ohio have seats available. And as long as you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, meet the prerequisite requirements, and maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.7, you can set your nursing education in motion. If you reach out to our admission team today, you’ll see it doesn’t take long to become a nurse. In fact, here is a visual summary of our admission process.

P.S. Xavier follows a rolling admission process, which means we review ABSN applications as they come in. Thereby, you’ll receive an admission decision from us within a few weeks of submitting your application. More importantly, admitted students have the opportunity to secure a spot in their preferred term (spring, summer, or fall) on a first-come, first-served basis.

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