Accelerated Nursing Programs: Facts and Advice from Nurses Who Did It
Accelerated nursing programs are specifically designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field.
Your bachelor of art degree is proudly hung 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 of Nursing (AACN), more than 17,725 students were enrolled in accelerated nursing programs in 2016.
Accelerated nursing programs are specifically designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field. Also known as second degree nursing programs, accelerated programs allow students to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in 11 to 18 months. Because of the full-time course load and rigid schedule, students are discouraged, or sometimes prohibited, from working.
These programs shouldn’t be confused with RN-to-BSN programs, which are designed for current nurses looking to advance their career. These programs take about two years to complete.
Keep reading to find out about accelerated nursing program prerequisites, online learning and what to expect in class and after graduation.
Accelerated Nursing Programs: Who Are the 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,” Criner, who returned to school after 10 years, says. “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 re-entering 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.
Better Career Options & Personal Experiences
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 pre-school 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 remembers. “Working alongside the clinicians, especially the nurses, made me want to enter the field.”
Types of Accelerated Nursing Programs
All types of accelerated nursing programs are similar in their goal—to provide a fast-track degree and prepare future registered nurses for a career—but there are nuances between them.
BA or BS? When researching the types of accelerated nursing programs available to you, 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 nursing programs. Spring and summer start dates are popular, while other programs may begin in October or January.
Something to remember about an accelerated program: 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 interactions with other students and professors, think about an on-campus program.
Accelerated nursing programs include the same amount of clinical time as a traditional BSN program, usually about 700 to 800 hours. However, you begin the clinical phase much sooner in an accelerated program.
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Accelerated BSN Classes
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 health-care facility so you can gain skills in an authentic setting. For even more training, most schools will coordinate time with a preceptor so students can learn in a one-on-one setting.
Accelerated Nursing Programs Online
As online degrees grow in popularity, nursing schools have taken notice. Many institutions have implemented accelerated nursing 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 accessed online while clinical experiences and lab work must be done in person).
Accelerated nursing programs online go beyond reading and lectures 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 located 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.
Accelerated BSN Programs: Prerequisites
While accelerated BSN programs typically last between 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, all is not lost if you have a Bachelor of Arts degree. 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 perspective students or provide a pre-screening questionnaire to identify individuals who will succeed in this type of program.
Second Degree Nursing Programs: Outcomes
Unfortunately, there can be misconceptions about second degree nursing programs. To the uninitiated, there can be the belief that the program is easy or that students don’t gain the same expertise as those in a traditional program.
Don’t let the naysayers discourage you. In fact, the outcomes for second degree nursing programs are promising.
According to the AACN, some employers look for second degree nursing students 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.”
Accredited second degree nursing programs are designed to prepare students to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Schools often publicize the NCLEX-RN passing rate for past students; this can be helpful when deciding which school to attend.
So is it all that hard work worth it? We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, registered nurses have a rosy outlook, with a predicted 15 percent increase in job growth through 2026.
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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 for employment during school.
You may recall filing a FAFSA form when you attended school the first time. In order to be eligible for federal financial aid, you’ll need to complete this application again. If you have extenuating circumstances, such as high daycare costs, you’ll need to provide this information to specific schools to factor in to your potential aid award.
Nursing is also one of handful of professions where 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 both.
“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 Programs: 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 describes. “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 their 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.”