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There's an increasing demand for registered nurses, and while it might be considered a more traditional route, completing a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program in your early to mid-twenties is not the only way to become one. In fact, aspiring nurses have had other (slightly more circuitous) paths available to them for around 45 years — second-degree nursing programs or accelerated nursing programs.
What are accelerated nursing programs?
There are two types of accelerated nursing programs — accelerated BSN programs (ABSN) and accelerated master of science (AMSN) programs. ABSN programs are bachelor programs available to undergraduates of non-nursing disciplines, while AMSN programs are a degree-level alternative. Both are fast-tracked programs which utilize previous learning and encourage students to bring fresh enthusiasm and life experience to the nursing field. ABSN and AMSN programs are essentially BSN and master of science (MSN) programs compressed into shorter time frames and, as such, are more strenuous than traditional routes. Students who have already obtained bachelor's degrees in other disciplines, however, are primed to cope with the stress. AMSN programs are significantly longer and more expensive than ABSN programs, designed to prepare students for specialization and grant them the opportunity to access more (and ideally higher-paying) jobs.
How do you get into accelerated nursing programs?
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there were 294 ABSN and 62 AMSN programs available across 46 states (and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) in 2013. The AACN also provides an online program directory which you can use to find the programs available in each state. It's important to understand that admission standards vary between these programs, but there are some universal requirements.
In addition to a bachelor's degree, you must submit an undergraduate transcript with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA to be considered for an ABSN program. For an AMSN, you must hold a bachelor's degree, submit a 3.0 GPA transcript, submit two or three letters of reference (usually two academic references and one professional reference), and have taken a Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) within the past five years.
Many programs also require you to have completed specific subjects in your undergraduate degree. These mostly fall under the natural sciences — which include but are not limited to biology, microbiology, human anatomy, and human physiology — but they may also include non-science subjects, such as statistics and critical thinking. Other programs aren't as strict, aiming simply to get non-nursing students into the nursing field.
Some schools offer online accelerated nursing programs. Of course, nursing is a hands-on profession, so you will be required to complete a certain number of clinical hours. As opposed to taking them on campus, you may be allowed to take your clinical placements wherever clinical instructors or preceptors are available, potentially near where you live. Bear in mind that these practices may not be affiliated with your school. Online programs are generally cheaper.
Accelerated nursing programs are intense, full-time courses which require much of a student's focus and energy to complete. For this reason, some programs also require you not to work (as in maintain employment) during the program, while others simply encourage you not to.
Application processes vary between programs. Some require you to apply via a specific email address detailed online, some via a school-specific online application, and some via NursingCAS. Each school has specific application windows, and acceptance is usually on a case-by-case basis.
How long are accelerated nursing programs?
The durations of accelerated nursing programs also vary, with ABSN programs taking anywhere between 11 and 24 months to complete and AMSN programs taking about three years. Compare this with traditional four-year BSN programs and two-year master of science (MSN) programs, which together equate to a six-year journey. Part-time or full-time study, schedule flexibility, and credit transfer are among the factors which influence the length of an accelerated program.
How much do accelerated nursing programs cost?
The costs of accelerated programs vary too. On average, on-campus ABSN programs may cost around $40,000 to $45,000, while on-campus AMSN programs may cost around $70,000 to $80,000; California State University, Stanislaus, for example, offers a $40,000 ABSN program, while Northeastern University's AMSN program costs almost $78,000. Online programs can cost significantly less, as low as a third or even a quarter of the price; Sacred Heart University, for instance, offers an AMSN program for just $27,000, and some ABSN programs are available for as little as $17,000. Bear in mind that, with an online program, resources such as on-campus facilities and equipment and face-to-face communities may not be available to you.
You may be pleased to hear that financial aid is available to ABSN and AMSN students, though it is limited. Some schools offer scholarships, and some practices work with schools to provide tuition repayments. As the demand for nurses increases, more financial incentives, including government funding, will likely become available.
What can you gain from an accelerated nursing program?
An accelerated nursing program is a faster route to licensure as a registered nurse and, in turn, employment, but the journey differs from program to program. While some programs share curricula and even class titles, they are not ubiquitous. It's expected, however, that you will have the opportunity to gain all the knowledge and skills you could in a traditional BSN or MSN program. Additionally, according to the AACN, employers report ABSN and AMSN students to be quick learners who are generally more mature than traditional students.
Is an accelerated nursing program right for you?
To reiterate, accelerated nursing programs are designed to fast-track bachelor degree holders into the field of nursing. Both ABSN programs and AMSN programs are expensive, full-time gigs suited to motivated students capable of enduring the financial and emotional strain of accelerated study. ABSN and AMSN students basically do the same amount of work as BSN and MSN students but in half as much time. The main advantage of AMSN programs, specifically, is that they're the natural next step into higher education, following a bachelor's degree.
At the end of the day, both accelerated and traditional nursing students have the opportunity to become registered nurses and serve the nation, often side by side, and the demand for nurses likely won't slow any time soon. If you've decided that accelerated programs are indeed for you, it may be time to consider which school and which program will best suit your experience and needs.