What You Need to Know About LPN-to-RN Programs

Considering a job as a registered nurse? If you’re already working as an LPN, this program may be just what you’re looking for.    

What are LPN-to-RN Programs?

An LPN-to-RN program is an educational path designed specifically for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) looking to further their education and career. The program uses your LPN education and experience as a starting point and offers in-depth curriculum at an accelerated pace.

While licensed practical nurses (also called licensed vocational nurses, or LVNs, in California and Texas) are an integral part of a health care team, your career options and salary are limited unless you become a registered nurse (RN). And in order to work as an RN, you must have either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

An LPN interested in becoming an RN can take one of two degree paths: the LPN-to-ADN path is a shorter path that will earn you an associate’s, while the LPN-to-BSN takes about twice as long and results in a bachelor’s. Both programs are sometimes called “bridge” programs, since they take into account your prior education and experience to shorten the usual amount of time you need to earn an ADN or BSN degree.

With either an ADN or BSN under your belt, you’ll be qualified to sit for the national NCLEX-RN exam, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Once you pass this test, you’ll be a licensed registered nurse.

Watch: The Benefits of an LPN-to-RN Program

What’s the Difference Between the Paths?

Aside from the time it takes to complete each path, there are other differences between the ADN and BSN paths towards RN licensure:

LPN-to-ADN

Program Length: One to two years

Where can I find these programs? Community colleges, vocational schools, and some universities

What can I expect upon graduation? Earning an associate’s degree will allow you to work as an entry-level RN. You may also have opportunities to manage LPNs.

LPN-to-BSN

Program Lengths: Two to four years

Where can I find these programs? Four-year colleges and universities

What can I expect upon graduation? RNs with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to receive promotions and autonomy, manage other nurses, and receive higher pay. Nursing students in BSN programs can also choose specializations, such as pediatrics.


Search LPN to RN Programs

LPNs earn your ADN or BSN degree online in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs. All applicants must be either an LPN or LVN to apply.

Are You an LPN/LVN?:

How Your Responsibilities Will Change

LPNs and RNs share some of the same duties—taking vital signs and administering medication—regardless of the letters next to their name. However, because of their additional education, an RN is tasked with more complex duties than an LPN. Take a look at how your role can change if you become a registered nurse.

Role Changes from
LPN to RN


LPN

RN

Assembling catheters and oxygen supplies

Educating patients and families on disease prevention and other topics

Observing patients for adverse reactions to treatment

Modifying treatment plans based on patient conditions

Supervising nurses’ aides and assistants

Supervising other nurses

Preparing food trays in accordance with patients’ diets

Monitoring patient care, including diet and activity

Cleaning rooms and beds

Preparing rooms with equipment and supplies

Assisting patients with daily activities such as dressing, bathing, and walking

Providing immunizations and first aid to various populations

One of the main differences you’ll notice when you transition from LPN to RN is the level of autonomy you gain. As an LPN, your tasks are directed by a higher level nurse whereas an RN has some independence—although they do take direction from a superior as well—allowing them to make decisions in a number of areas. The scope of practice for LPNs differs by state, but generally an LPN isn’t permitted to initiate treatment plans nor are they able to independently take action based on patient information they interpret.

Once you’re working as an RN, you’ll be required to take a certain number of continuing education courses to keep your license current. The types of courses will be dictated by your state or your employer.

Salary Differences Between an LPN and an RN

Registered nurses earn significantly more than licensed practical nurses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

LPN Mean Annual Income

$48,500

RN Mean Annual Income

$77,460

This gap stays consistent across industries when it comes to earning power for both positions.

Average Earnings for Common Nursing Workplaces


General medical and surgical hospitals

LPN: $46,120

RN: $79,460

Physicians’ offices

LPN: $44,320

RN: $69,570

Home health care services

LPN: $49,900

RN: $73,660

Skilled nursing facilities

LPN: $49,780

RN: $69,740

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019

Watch: LPN-to-RN Online Program Tips

Online LPN-to-RN Programs

laptop with notepad and pen resting on top

Like many other nursing degree programs, LPN-to-RN online programs are available. Offering schedule flexibility, yet rigorous coursework, an online program is especially useful if you have other obligations, such as work and a family, that make it difficult to get to campus.

Another perk? Some online schools charge lower tuition than their brick-and-mortar counterparts.

Although you can take many of your classes online, most LPN-to-RN bridge programs operate using a hybrid model. This means you’ll still be required to gain clinical experience in person.

Clinical Experience Requirements

While the LPN-to-RN and other nursing degrees can be earned mostly online, students will still need to complete their program’s required clinical hours in person at a clinic, hospital or other brick-and-mortar facility.

In many cases, clinical experience—which involves on-the-job training in a clinic or hospital—often follows more advanced classes so students can apply their classroom learning into a real-world setting.

When applying to an LPN-to-RN online program, your school will provide you with clinical work requirements. Some programs set students up at a local health care facility, while other schools ask students to find their own clinical site.

If your program asks you to find a clinical site, it’s a good idea to scout out locations early and secure school approval.

Before you begin your search, find out if your program has a list of approved sites. They could range from hospitals to school systems.

What To Look for in a School

Choosing a school is a big decision, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As you explore your options, make sure the school has a good reputation and is delivering a good education to its students. Most schools publicize key student statistics on their websites. These numbers typically include:

  • The pass rate for the NCLEX for RNs (NCLEX-RN) for the most recent academic year
  • Percentage of graduates from the most recent graduating class who have jobs as nurses
  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • Ranking among equivalent programs in their state

Nursing School Accreditation

When searching for an LPN-to-RN program, whether online or on-campus, be sure it’s accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and/or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

accreditation commission for education in nursing and commission on collegiate nursing education logos

ACEN accredits nursing certificate, undergraduate, graduate and doctorate programs. CCNE accredits nursing undergraduate, graduate and residency programs.

Accreditation is important for a few reasons. It ensures the program and school meets strict requirements set forth by an accrediting agency. These organizations review a program to determine whether students will receive an effective education.

The other important reason is financial aid. If you attend a school that is not accredited, you’re not eligible for federal aid.

Accreditation is voluntary and isn’t guaranteed in perpetuity. Schools must reapply at certain intervals of time.

LPN-to-RN Bridge Program Curriculum

Before you can begin taking higher level nursing courses, you’ll first have to complete a number of prerequisites. The specific courses and amount will vary depending on your educational background. The length of your program will also be affected by how many prerequisites you need to complete.

Prerequisite Classes You May Take

Prerequisites typically fall in the “general education” category and include classes such as:

  • English composition
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biology
  • General chemistry

Be sure to check with your school regarding time limits for prerequisites. In some cases, if you took these courses more than five, seven or 10 years ago, they won’t be considered valid.

If you choose the BSN route, some schools will allow you to use some of your LPN experience as credit. In this case, the length of your program is shortened since you’ll jump into the BSN track around junior year.

Upper Level Nursing Classes You May Take

Once you’ve completed your prerequisites, you’ll be ready to start your nursing curriculum. If you’re working toward an ADN, you’ll learn about adult health nursing and transitioning to the role of RN. As a BSN student, your coursework will be more comprehensive, including studies in public health, leadership, and nurse management.

Here’s a sample of classes you may encounter during your time in an LPN-to-RN program:

Course

Description

Transition to Professional Nursing
Using LPN experience as a base, students learn about the RN’s role, ethical, and legal issues, communication, and critical thinking.
Health Assessment
Overview of physical exams and health evaluations.
Pharmacology
Drug interactions, dosages, and how drugs react in the body are covered.
Nursing Research
Problem solving skills and evaluating research are covered.
Adult Health Nursing
Students learn how to care for patients with a variety of conditions, including respiratory, cardiovascular, substance abuse, and cancer.
Community-based Nursing
Students focus on public health and how they can deliver health care in a diverse population. Disease management and health promotion are discussed.
Women’s Health
Reproductive difficulties, pregnancy, and newborn care are focused on.

LPN-to-RN Admission Requirements

As you start to get serious about a school, make sure you have what you need before you apply. While every school is different, here are some general guidelines on what you’ll need:

  • Current LPN license
  • High school diploma
  • Six months of LPN experience
  • Passing score on entrance exam

Entrance Exams

stethoscope resting on computer

Assessment Technologies Institute’s Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS)
The Test of Essential Academic Skills is one of the most common tests required of aspiring nurses. The test evaluates and measures proficiency in math, English, science, and reading.

You’ll be tested on scientific reasoning, algebraic formulas, grammar, and life sciences.

National League for Nursing’s Pre-Admission Examination

Administered by the National League for Nursing, the Pre-Admission, or “PAX,” exam covers reading comprehension, general biology, geometry, algebra, earth science, first aid, and health in a multiple-choice format.

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