A variety of nursing specialties exist that each require a different level of education and the fastest way to earn a nursing degree often requires entry into an accelerated program or an associate’s degree program. Accelerated options exist whether a student is freshly graduated from high school and first entering college or whether he or she already has a degree.

Traditional Paths to Nursing

Depending on the career goals of a nurse, there are three general paths that will lead to nursing jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests these paths include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, associate’s degree or a diploma from an approved nursing program. In most cases, an associate’s degree will result in a swifter nursing degree than a bachelor’s degree.

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) usually takes around two years to complete while the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) usually takes around four years. Obtaining an associate’s degree instead of getting a bachelor’s degree may offer swifter entry into the job market; however, a student must consider that more education may offer a wider array of job opportunities.

Paths Without Prior Higher Education

Entering an associate’s degree program in nursing will offer the fastest path to becoming a nurse. A student can expect to spend about two years in an associate’s degree program. Attending a community college may offer one of the most inexpensive options for obtaining an associate’s degree that will eventually lead to employment as a registered nurse.

To become a registered nurse after having attended a nursing program, students must become certified. The certification test is called the National Council Licensure Examination and is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. The degree is administered in every state in the country and also requires that nurses complete continuing professional education courses to remain licensed. Requirements vary by state.

Options for Students with a Previous Degree

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, one of the trends in higher education today is the accelerated program option (please see: What is an Accelerated Nursing Degree?). This degree is for students who already have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and want to transition into the nursing profession. Designed as accelerated baccalaureate programs, it’s possible for students to become registered nurses within a year to 18 months of study, which is probably the fastest way to earn a nursing degree.

Colleges usually refer to students who enter accelerated programs as second-degree students. They are already experienced in college learning and wish to make a career change or are interested in entering the medical profession without a previous degree in a health or medical field. One of the ways that accelerated programs work is that they eliminate the general education and liberal arts components of a traditional degree. These eliminations mean students aren’t responsible for completing as many credits as they would if they were in a regular 4-year program.

A job in healthcare offers tremendous earning opportunities, and after earning an initial nursing degree, dedicated students may take additional courses or enroll in graduate programs to move into higher-level work. The fastest way to earn a nursing degree is through obtaining an associate’s degree or entering into an accelerated degree program, but many nurses choose to go on to additional education in the years after becoming certified.