Accelerated Online Nursing Programs

By Janice Monti

Changes in U.S. healthcare policy have upended the nursing industry in recent years. Amidst a cultural shift that prioritizes long-term maintenance over acute care, the demand for well-educated nurses has grown.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine addressed these changes by issuing an official recommendation that all registered nurses should receive baccalaureate-level training.

In response, nurses around the country began augmenting their two-year degrees with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), and aspiring nurses enrolled in four-year BSN programs. Since then, school have developed targeted academic programs that help working nurses earn a bachelor’s degree. Many of these professionals have chosen to pursue their degree in an accelerated format, where they can bunch classes in order to graduate quickly.

Delivered primarily online, an accelerated nursing program offers students the opportunity to earn their BSN or MSN much faster than in a traditional campus program. Degree candidates quickly move through an advanced curriculum, completing clinical rotations at facilities near their homes or workplace. These programs are competitive and time-intensive, and students are expected to dedicate their full energy to their studies.

Types of Accelerated Online Nursing Programs

There are three main types of online accelerated nursing degrees to choose from: a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), a master of science in nursing (MSN), and an associate degree in nursing (ADN).

Online accelerated BSN programs prepare you to pursue licensure and become a registered nurse (RN). After completing accredited online nursing programs, some BSN graduates go on to earn their MSN.

Accelerated MSNs allow BSN holders to become advanced practice nurses. An MSN curriculum is longer and more focused than an online accelerated BSN program. Students prepare to specialize in a certain field, take on more advanced responsibilities, and qualify for a wider variety of higher-paying roles.

Although associate programs do not exist in accelerated format, ADNs serve a similar purpose as other accelerated nursing programs online. Only two years in length, ADNs are often more affordable than accelerated BSN online programs. ADNs also prepare students both to become an RN and to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. Alternatively, associate degree holders can take another two years to pursue an accelerated RN to BSN online degree, which allows them to earn both their associate and bachelor’s degrees in four years.

Online Accelerated BSN Programs

Online accelerated BSN programs give students the opportunity to develop broad knowledge of nursing, including skills in leadership, critical thinking, and communication that qualify them for careers in a variety of fields. An accelerated BSN is for you if you have already completed any required coursework or earned a bachelor’s in a non-nursing field but want to become a nurse without completing another full degree.

Although generally more affordable than traditional programs, accelerated BSN online costs vary depending on your residency. Many schools offer different rates to in-state and out-of-state students. Accredited online nursing programs can cost as little as $17,000 per year in tuition and fees, and, for qualifying students, financial aid can make costs more manageable. Check our scholarship database to explore more than 260 opportunities available to students of online nursing programs.

Length of an Online Accelerated BSN Program

Accelerated BSN online programs vary from 12 to 15 months in length, as opposed to traditional BSNs that typically take four years to complete.

Accredited online nursing programs require students to complete a certain number of clinical hours for degree completion. As a distance learner, you will have the opportunity to do clinicals at a facility located near you.

The number of required clinical hours is only one factor that influences the exact length of online accelerated BSN programs. Other factors include course load, transfer credits, part- or full-time study, whether the school is public or private, and whether you take classes synchronously (according to a fixed schedule) or you are free to work asynchronously (at your own pace).

Accelerated BSN Program Admission Requirements

Designed for the aspiring nurse who has already completed a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing discipline, accelerated BSN programs offer a much faster pathway to a nursing degree than a traditional four-year program. An accelerated BSN can take 12-24 months of study to prepare graduates for RN licensure. All states require a criminal background check before granting the RN license.

Applicants to accelerated programs must submit college transcripts demonstrating an overall 3.0 GPA. While these programs admit bachelor's degree-holders from any field, applicants must have completed prerequisites in subjects like physiology and anatomy, biology, and statistics. Most schools also require entrance exams to assess basic skills in math, science, and English.

Online Accelerated MSN Programs

Accredited online nursing programs allow MSN degree seekers to dive into advanced theories, research, management techniques, and clinical practice, qualifying them for even higher earnings and levels of advancement than BSN graduates. In some states, you must hold an MSN for practices, such as prescribing medication, while some employers hire only master’s-educated candidates.

According to survey data on tuition and fees, MSN programs average from $25,000 to $65,000 in costs. Accredited online nursing programs rarely admit working students, due to the demanding nature of MSN coursework, but some employers may offer funding for their employees’ graduate education. Financial aid is also available to accelerated nursing programs’ online students through federal grants, scholarships, and school-specific opportunities.

Length of an Online Accelerated MSN Program

Online accelerated nursing degrees usually take up to two years to complete at a master’s level. Meanwhile, direct entry MSN programs require at least three years, with the first year dedicated to entry-level nursing coursework.

Some accelerated MSNs require clinicals, while others require preceptorships (mentored experiences with practicing physicians). Accelerated MSN programs take about 12 to 15 months for completion, the same amount of time as the BSN. In addition, MSN programs offer specializations that vary the length of completion time.

Accelerated MSN Program Admission Requirements

Graduates of non-nursing bachelor's programs can enter accelerated direct-entry MSN programs. This option may take up to three years for students to complete their entry-level nursing courses and RN licenses during their first year.

A licensed RN who has not completed a BSN can pursue an accelerated RN-to-MSN program, which can lead to a degree in only 12-15 months. These fast-track nursing programs at the master's level typically require each applicant to submit undergraduate transcripts documenting a 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, and letters of reference. An RN-to-MSN candidate must also show proof of active RN licensure and pass a criminal background check.

Frequently Asked Questions about Accelerated Nursing Programs

What are other names for accelerated nursing programs?

These programs are nearly always identified as accelerated or fast-track in nature, and sometimes indicate the first degree that an applicant must hold. Typical accelerated nursing programs include these options:

  • Accelerated BSN, ABSN
  • BSN for non-nursing graduates
  • Second-degree BSN
  • RN-to-BSN
  • Direct Entry MSN
  • Accelerated BSN/MSN

Who enrolls in an accelerated nursing program?

Enrollees in an accelerated nursing program have already earned a nursing diploma, an associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree in nursing or another field. While a bachelor’s degree in a related field is helpful for non-nursing graduates, it is not strictly required. All programs, however, expect you to have taken certain natural science prerequisites.

Having already completed some formal education, students in accelerated nursing programs are generally older and have some work experience. These students return to school with a specific goal in mind. Consequently, they approach an academically rigorous curriculum with the focus and drive necessary to succeed in these fast-paced, intense programs. Because enrollment in these programs is competitive, admission space is limited.

What are the biggest differences between an accelerated nursing program and a traditional nursing program?

Traditionally, BSN programs require a 4-year commitment, and MSNs can be completed in two. Classes are taught on campus, and clinicals are offered on-site at an affiliated medical facility. The curriculum is well-rounded, delivering a liberal arts education alongside your science courses. BSN students are generally recent high school graduates with little to no work experience, and graduate students have already earned the BSN.

Accelerated nursing programs differ significantly, mostly in the level of personal responsibility demanded of students. All courses are taught online, requiring students to be organized and disciplined. Classes are delivered successively, often without breaks, for the duration of the program. You must also arrange any practicums at an approved facility near your location. Because these students already hold another degree, the curriculum dispenses with general education requirements and focuses exclusively on nursing practice. The quick pace demands that students take an active role in their studies, and professors expect a high level of engagement from their students.

What are the pros and cons of an accelerated nursing program?

  • These programs can be completed in about half the time as a traditional campus program.
  • Tuition is frequently reimbursed by employers.
  • Program curricula immediately delves into nursing instruction.
  • A plentiful job market offers immediate return on investment.
  • There are no breaks between class sessions throughout the program.
  • Clinical rotations occur at facilities unaffiliated with the school.
  • The cost per credit hour can be significantly higher than for a traditional program.
  • Full-time employment combined with full-time study is too challenging for many students.

On average, how much faster are accelerated programs than traditional ones?

Program Program Length
Traditional BSN Program 4 years minimum
Accelerated BSN Program 1 to 2 years
Traditional MSN Program 2 years minimum
Accelerated MSN Program 18 months or less

What financial aid options are available if I enroll in an accelerated nursing program?

Paying for school can seem daunting, especially given that accelerated programs have a relatively high price tag. Students at all accredited U.S. colleges are eligible for federal financial aid, however, and nursing students can draw from several sources to pay for their education. Aside from federal aid, many schools offer institutional scholarships based on academic performance; given that academic prowess is a requirement for these programs, many accelerated nursing students may be eligible for merit-based awards. Graduate students are unfortunately not eligible for as much federal aid as undergraduates, but many students who are returning to school find that their employers offer tuition-reimbursement benefits. Others may benefit from federal grant programs recently established by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

What are general pre-reqs for being admitted into an accelerated nursing program?

Every program has different requirements. Some programs accept only students with a formal education in nursing, while others are designed to help non-nursing students get into the profession. As a general rule, you should already have some educational experience at an accredited school. College transcripts must demonstrate your academic performance; a 3.0 cumulative GPA is a typical requirement, with the additional caveat that students have at least a B in all prerequisite classes.

Non-nursing graduates are expected to complete fundamental studies in a number of subjects before they enroll. Typical prerequisites usually include courses in:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Basic Statistics
  • Human Growth and Development/Developmental Psychology
  • Nutrition
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry

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