In the United States, an aspiring registered nurse must complete an education program as part of the licensing process. RNs have several options for getting their pre-licensing education, which include completing a four-year bachelor's degree. Other options include diploma and associate degree programs, which students can complete in two years or less of full-time study.

Nursing Diploma

Hospital-affiliated nursing schools offer nursing diplomas for both aspiring practical and registered nurses. While the diploma programs are in decline, many still do exist, and it can take a student two to three years of full-time study to earn a registered nursing diploma. Licensed practical nurses who want to earn a registered nursing diploma may be able to complete their program in less time, depending on the school's policies.

Associate Degree

Many community colleges offer associate degrees in nursing, which usually take about two years to complete. Some schools, however, offer accelerated tracks for individuals aspiring to be health-care professionals, such as practical nurses, emergency medical technicians or dental hygienists. Completion of an accelerated associate degree could take as little as one year.

Bachelor's Degree

Another option for registered nurses is to earn a bachelor's degree. Like most bachelor's degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree usually takes four years of full-time study to complete. Some BSN programs are structured as "RN to BSN" programs, allowing experienced RNs who hold a diploma or an associate degree to complete a bachelor's degree in one or two years.


State licensing boards set criteria for the recognition of educational programs for RNs. Before enrolling in a nursing program, an aspiring nurse should verify that the program is approved or recognized by the nursing board in the state where she wants to practice. Failing to make sure that the licensing board has approved the school can result in a rejected application.

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