Accelerated Nursing Program Advice from Nurses Who Did It
This fast-track nursing program is specifically designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field.
Your Bachelor of Arts degree proudly hangs on your wall. The only problem? You want to become a registered nurse—without having to commit to many more years of school.
You’re not the only one, and nursing schools have heard the call. According to the American Association of Colleges and Nursing (AACN), more than 23,354 students were enrolled in accelerated nursing programs in 2018.
These programs are designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Also known as second degree or direct-entry nursing programs, accelerated programs allow students to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in 11 to 18 months of full-time study.
A natural concern for accelerated nursing program students is returning to campus life, but it’s nothing like freshman year of college.
Because of the full-time course load and rigid schedule, students are often discouraged, or sometimes prohibited, from working. However, some accelerated BSN programs are offered part time in the evenings and on weekends, though these typically take about 22 months to complete.
These programs shouldn’t be confused with RN-to-BSN programs, which are designed for current nurses looking to advance their career. RN-to-BSN programs take about two years to complete.
Learn more about program prerequisites, online learning, and what to expect in class and after graduation.
Who Are the Ideal Students?
Accelerated nursing program students are often described as ambitious, motivated, and striving for academic excellence. Because the programs are so rigorous, nursing students often spend most of their time together.
Amanda Criner, a Chicago-based RN who also holds a BA in journalism, recalls the diverse group of students she went to school with. Some had business and real estate backgrounds.
“It was a really good mix,” says Criner, who returned to school after 10 years. “It was a second career or people who had decided [to go into nursing] later in college. They were supportive and we studied together.”
A natural concern for accelerated nursing program students is returning to campus life, but as Criner points out, it’s not like freshman year of college. There are no dorms or learning how to do laundry for the first time. The sole focus is on nursing and gaining clinical experience.
Some Students Drawn by Better Career Options, Personal Experience
What would draw someone to such a fast-paced and intensive nursing program? For many students, the impetus is job dissatisfaction or a positive personal experience with nurses.
Criner taught preschool prior to getting her nursing degree. The pay was low, the hours weren’t ideal, and she didn’t see any room for job growth.
A career change became a real consideration after her father spent an extended amount of time in the hospital. Criner’s regular interaction with his nurses made her realize she wanted to go back to school.
“The nurses were amazing,” she says. “They were smart, and they cared about my dad and us. I said, ‘I think I can do this.'”
Jessica Mooney, a Boston-area RN, was also inspired by a personal experience and the desire for job growth. Her original bachelor’s degree was in communications.
“My first job was working as an administrative assistant in a large teaching hospital in Boston in the neonatal intensive care unit,” Mooney says. “Working alongside the clinicians, especially the nurses, made me want to enter the field.”
Types of Programs
All types of accelerated nursing programs are similar in their goal—to provide a fast-track degree and prepare future nurses for a career. But there are nuances among these programs.
BA or BS? When researching programs, pay attention to the type of bachelor’s degree they accept. Some schools design their programs for students who already have a bachelor’s in science, while others are open to students with a bachelor’s in any field.
Start date? The typical September “back to school” season doesn’t necessarily apply to accelerated programs. Spring and summer start dates are popular, while other programs may begin in October or January.
Another thing to remember: There are no breaks, so you’ll attend classes without a stop between semesters. Be sure to plan your schedule accordingly.
Accelerated BSN on-campus or online? One factor to consider is how you learn best. If you’re focused and self-disciplined, an online accelerated BSN may work for you. However, if you’ll learn better with face-to-face interaction with other students and professors, think about an on-campus program.
Accelerated programs include the same amount of clinical time as traditional BSN programs, usually about 700 to 800 hours. However, you begin the clinical phase much sooner in an accelerated program because it allows you to use your previous educational experience to meet non-nursing course requirements.
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Once you’ve completed the prerequisites, it’s time to get to the good stuff: nursing classes. Unlike RNs who head back to school, new-to-nursing students may not be familiar with the types of courses they’ll take. Here’s an example of classes you may encounter:
Your clinical rotations will occur in a hospital or other healthcare facility so you can gain skills in an authentic setting. In most clinical experiences, you work one-on-one with a nursing preceptor, an experienced nurse who directs and guides you in your new role.
As online degrees grow in popularity, nursing schools have taken notice. Many institutions have begun offering accelerated programs online to provide students with more flexible scheduling and a new way to learn.
Since many students who are earning an accelerated BSN have other obligations, such as family, an online learning environment removes the stress of finding time to get to campus. (It’s important to note that online accelerated BSNs actually use a hybrid model. Theory classes can be done online while clinical experiences and lab work must be done in person).
Students typically complete their clinical rotations in their community, which is helpful if you enroll at a school that isn’t nearby.
Accelerated nursing programs online go beyond reading and lecture notes. In some programs, lab work is replaced with interactive simulations of situations you’d encounter as a nurse.
Students typically complete their clinical rotations in their community, which is helpful if you want to enroll at a school that isn’t nearby.
A word about online accelerated BSN degrees: The “flexible” component of these programs primarily refers to the level of independent study time. Since you won’t be required to show up to a classroom, you’ll have the freedom to get your work done at any time of the day. However, the program is structured; there are strict due dates and students move through the program at the same time.
While accelerated BSN programs typically last 11 to 18 months, you may be in school a bit longer if you need to complete prerequisites. Some students take one class at a time while working. Mooney took three semesters to meet her requirements and worked full time.
Here’s a sample list of accelerated BSN prerequisites. A grade of B or better is usually required.
If looking at a list of science classes gives you flashbacks of high school, don’t be intimidated. Your life experience may help you more than you realize. Daunted by the prerequisites when she first saw them, Criner gave herself a pep talk.
“I can balance my checkbook so I can balance an equation,” she says. “Dive in and take a class to see how it is.” Many pre-nursing students take these classes at local community colleges due to convenience and affordability. And your Bachelor of Arts degree won’t go waste. Mooney said her liberal arts education prepared her for writing many papers in nursing school.
Other Admission Requirements
Accelerated BSN programs are competitive; schools often look for students who have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Many programs also meet with prospective students or provide a pre-screening questionnaire to identify individuals who will succeed in this type of program.
Career Outlook: Your Skills and Maturity Are Assets
Unfortunately, there can be misconceptions about accelerated nursing programs. To the uninitiated, it can seem like they’re easy or that students don’t gain the same expertise as those in traditional programs.
Don’t let the naysayers discourage you. In fact, the outcomes for accelerated programs are promising.
According to the AACN, some employers look for graduates of these programs because of their skill and maturity. Criner agrees, noting that a younger nurse may have less experience dealing with difficult personalities or sensitive situations.
“You have this advantage. You had a life before,” Criner says. “As someone with more experience, I’m more apt to say, ‘Let’s find a solution.'”
Some employers look for students from accelerated programs because of their skill and maturity.
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Accredited programs are designed to prepare students to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Schools often publicize NCLEX-RN passing rates for their students; this can be helpful when deciding which school to attend.
So is all that hard work worth it? We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, registered nurses have a rosy outlook, with a predicted 12% increase in job growth through 2028.
And a nurse with a BSN has many careers to choose from.
Financial Aid for Accelerated BSN Programs
Financial aid is an especially important topic if you plan to attend an accelerated BSN program that doesn’t allow students to work during school.
You may recall filing a FAFSA form when you attended school the first time. To be eligible for federal financial aid, you’ll need to complete this application again. If you have extenuating circumstances, such as high day care costs, you’ll need to provide this information to specific schools to factor into your potential aid award.
Nursing is also one of a handful of professions in which loan forgiveness may be an option.
In some cases, students will try to pick up side jobs to supplement their income. For instance, Mooney worked as a nanny near her home, but she warns it can be difficult to juggle work and school.
“It allowed me to study while the kids were doing their homework,” she says. “This was stressful because the fixed hours prevented me from meeting classmates for study groups or staying late after class to talk to a professor.”
Accelerated BSN Survival Tips
It’s no secret that accelerated BSN programs are fast-paced and intense, but for the nurses we talked to, it was the best decision they ever made.
“The program was the most challenging thing I have ever completed in my life,” Mooney says. “But still to this day, I smile when I see my diploma.” Mooney offers these accelerated BSN program survival tips to get the most out of your experience:
Have a dedicated place to study.
“Be comfortable in the space as you will spend every Friday and Saturday night here for 18 months!”
Get to know your professors well. Email them frequently and visit during office hours.
“They are nurses too. They want you to succeed. They can offer guidance if you’re struggling. Stay visible.”
Stay ahead of your work.
“Know your to-do list a week ahead so that you can anticipate how much time you’ll need to study.”
Make time to meet with your friends and support system, but don’t take a day off.
“Even if you have an R&R day, read for 20 minutes at some point in the day to stay focused.”
Talk to your professor if you do poorly on a test/simulation.
“Find out where you made your mistakes.”
Find a small study group with no more than four people.
“If you find yourself in a group that is not focused, get out ASAP.”
Get to know the staff nurses you meet in clinical.
“They may be able to help you get a clinical nursing assistant job and or even a staff nurse job in the future. Get their email, ask them informed questions and keep in touch with them.”
The truth is out: Accelerated nursing programs will certainly consume a significant portion of your life for about 18 months, but the payoff can be immense.
“People think it’s pretty great that you went back to school,” Criner says. “It means more to people. We need nurses with experience in the world. Start by having the confidence you can do it.”