Nursing Programs You Can Finish in About a Year or Less

first year nursing student raises hand in class

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been heralding the warning for years: The U.S. needs nurses and it needs them now. By 2050, the population of people over age 65 is projected to hit more than 83 million, bringing with them an increased need for healthcare related to aging and chronic disease. What’s more, a survey published in 2018 found that roughly half of the nursing workforce is over the age of 50, meaning more than one million nurses are expected to reach retirement age within the next 15 years.

Thankfully, nursing-related jobs that don’t require years of education are rapidly on the rise, and many are among the fastest-growing occupations in the nation. If you’re looking to join the field—whether you have a month or a year or more for your education—there’s a program that’s right for you.


Want to Knock It Out in as Little as 4–6 Weeks? Become a Home Health Aide

Length of Time

1–6 months, with at least 75 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$500–$1,500

Average Annual Salary

$25,330

With a whopping projected job growth of 37% over the next decade, home health jobs are the third fastest-growing occupation in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The hottest job prospects in particular are those that require certification in order for you to work within hospice care or for home health agencies that receive reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid. Not only are aides in high demand in these services, but some agencies might even pay for the training you need to get certified.

In a home health aide (HHA) program, you’ll learn how to help individuals who are elderly, disabled, or are suffering from a critical illness to take care of daily activities like bathing, dressing, and cooking, as well as health-related tasks such as checking vital signs and administering medication. Your program will also include education on basic nutrition, safety techniques, and infection control.

Though not all states or agencies require certification to work as a home health aide, those that do require at least 75 hours of training in a state-approved program. Depending on the program you choose, you might be able to complete this education in as little as four to six weeks, though semester-based programs could take up to a few months. Online options can be excellent for students who want to take classes at their own pace, but keep in mind that you’ll still need in-person clinical training—at least 16 hours in most states.

Next steps for advancement: As a home health aide, you might choose to pursue a program to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which will give you the chance to take on much more responsibility, oversee nursing aides and assistants, and potentially double your salary.


Have 1–6 Months? Go for Your Nursing Assistant Certification

Length of Time

1–6 months, with between 75 and 180 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$1,000–$1,500

Average Annual Salary

$29,580

A nursing assistant program will prepare you to work in settings where you’ll be responsible for tasks such as taking vital signs, assisting with patient grooming, cleaning rooms, dressing wounds, and helping with minor medical procedures. Your program will also cover basic medical terminology, body mechanics, communication skills, and patient/resident rights.

The job prospects are good here too, with 9% growth predicted over the next nine years. Changes in patient preferences and federal funding have increased the need for nursing assistants who work in home healthcare and community rehab services. Nursing assistants with specialized experience in heart disease, dementia, and diabetes could be especially in high demand.

To work as a nursing assistant, you must be certified by your state’s department of health. But first, you’ll need to complete a state-approved program with at least 75 hours of training, though some states require as many as 180. Because of this broad range, programs can last anywhere from one to six months, with the majority of your time spent in clinical training. No matter the length of your program, you’ll have to pass your state’s certification exam and be able to demonstrate three to six skills in front of a registered nurse (RN).

Next steps for advancement: Without having to change jobs, CNAs can increase their employment opportunities and salary potential by earning a certification as a medication aide (CMA). This allows you to legally administer certain medications and report patient changes to the rest of the staff. Depending on the requirements of your state, you could complete a medication aide course in as little as six weeks before taking the MACE certification exam.


What About 9–12 Months? Consider a License in Practical Nursing

Length of Time

9–18 months, including various hours of clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Average Annual Salary

$47,050

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)—known as licensed vocational nurses in Texas and California—have much of the same responsibilities as CNAs, but take on advanced duties and work more closely with doctors and senior nurses in specialized areas such as pediatric, medical-surgical, and geriatric nursing. With the aging baby boom population, there’s expected to be a growing need for LPNs—11% over the next nine years—especially in home healthcare and assisted living facilities. Those with specialty certification, particularly in gerontology, could have even greater opportunities.

All LPNs are required to become licensed in the state where they work. Licensing involves completing a board-approved program of roughly nine months to a year, though some might be closer to 18 months. You might have the option to accelerate some of your classroom coursework online, but most LPN programs consist of about 60% clinical training. Once your program is complete, you can earn your license by passing the NCLEX-PN exam given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

Next steps for advancement: LPNs can often apply the credits they earned in their program to associate’s level coursework, earning a registered nursing degree in as little as a year. By doing so, you can increase your level of responsibility, save money on a higher degree, and give yourself the chance to significantly boost your salary.


Have a Year or More? Earn a Registered Nursing Degree at an Accelerated Pace

Length of Time

At least 1 year, including clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Average Annual Salary

$75,510

Due to financial reasons, many hospitals are facing increased pressure to discharge patients as soon as possible. They’re moving more patients through the system at a given time, which leads to higher demand for nurses in outpatient and long-term care centers. Facilities that specialize in the treatment of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease especially need registered nurses.

Designed for aspiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree in a different field, the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) allows you to apply credits from your first degree to a program for registered nursing. Your previous education must have covered the specific science and humanities prerequisites of your program, but if it does you could earn your BSN in as little as a year. These programs are rigorous but let you focus on completing nursing-specific coursework and clinical experience. The amount of clinical hours you’ll need varies, so it’s important to make sure that your program at least meets the minimum requirements for licensing in your state.

Like LPNs, RNs must have a license in the state where they work. Licensing requirements are widely different across the country but all require having at least an associate’s degree in nursing, completing the number of supervised clinical hours as defined by your state, and receiving a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam.

Once you have your RN license, you can work in many medical settings such as hospitals, physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes. If you choose to specialize, you could go into less traditional roles such as legal nurse consulting or forensic nursing. Travel nursing is also an excellent opportunity, letting you explore new cities while bringing your talents to areas in desperate need of care.

Next steps for advancement: If you wish to take on greater responsibility and earn a higher salary, you might choose to pursue a master’s degree to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Depending on what you study as an APRN, you could work as one of the following:



You could also choose to go into administration, such as working as a hospital’s director of nursing, or move into nurse education. While job growth for RNs is projected at 12% through 2028, many roles within advancing nursing are expected to see an average of 26%. What’s more, APRNs make the most of any nurses in the field, often more than $100,000 a year.


Have More Time Than a Year to Earn Your Education?

In just two to three years, an associate’s degree program can help you get the training you need to immediately begin working as an entry-level RN. But keep in mind that as the field evolves, more and more nurses are earning their bachelor’s degrees. In fact, the Institute of Medicine has recommended that 80% have their BSN by 2020, and some employers are demanding that nurses with associate’s degrees go back to school within the next five years. If you want to increase your job opportunities, earning potential, and competitive advantage in the field, use the Find Schools button to research BSN programs in your area.

Source: Salary and job growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor States, as of 2018

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