Changing Careers to Nursing with an Accelerated Degree

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Key Infor­ma­tion:

  • Accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing pro­grams offer a fast-track path for career chang­ers to enter the nurs­ing field.
  • These pro­grams con­dense the tra­di­tion­al nurs­ing edu­ca­tion time­frame, allow­ing com­ple­tion of a Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence in Nurs­ing (BSN) in as lit­tle as 11–18 months or a Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Nurs­ing (MSN) in about two years.
  • Key advan­tages include swift career tran­si­tion, cost-effec­tive­ness, and meet­ing the high demand for nurs­es with poten­tial finan­cial incentives.
  • Appli­cants typ­i­cal­ly need a non-nurs­ing bach­e­lor’s degree, a min­i­mum 3.0 GPA, and to meet sci­ence pre­req­ui­site cours­es. It’s cru­cial to select accred­it­ed pro­grams that align with pro­fes­sion­al nurs­ing stan­dards to ensure eli­gi­bil­i­ty for licensure.

Nurs­ing is a tough yet high­ly reward­ing career. Though the tra­di­tion­al route to becom­ing a nurse is to go to nurs­ing school and get a Reg­is­tered Nurse license, you can also switch careers from an unre­lat­ed field to become a nurse.

The ques­tion is, how does one do that?

Accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing pro­grams are tai­lor-made for stu­dents like you who seek a career change to nurs­ing. These pro­grams are short and intense but cov­er all the essen­tial top­ics of a tra­di­tion­al four-year pro­gram. The ben­e­fit is that you can earn your degree faster and start your nurs­ing career sooner.

Like­wise, tran­si­tion­ing to nurs­ing career options can be finan­cial­ly reward­ing. Demand is high for nurs­es, and posi­tions often come with incen­tives, like sign­ing bonus­es, to sweet­en the com­pen­sa­tion package.

The guide below teach­es you how to become a nurse quick­ly. We’ll also go over a few accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing FAQs so you know exact­ly what you need to do to become a nurse.


Understanding Accelerated Nursing Programs

An accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing pro­gram dif­fers from tra­di­tion­al nurs­ing edu­ca­tion because of the trun­cat­ed sched­ule. Fast-track bachelor’s degree options like an Accel­er­at­ed Bach­e­lor of Sci­ence in Nurs­ing (ABSN) can be com­plet­ed in 11 to 18 months. Direct entry MSN (Mas­ter of Sci­ence in Nurs­ing) pro­grams usu­al­ly take about two years to complete.

ABSN and direct entry MSN pro­grams are designed for stu­dents with no nurs­ing back­ground. Instead, the pre­req­ui­sites and qual­i­fi­ca­tions for admis­sion to these pro­grams focus pri­mar­i­ly on your pre­vi­ous edu­ca­tion­al experience.

For exam­ple, both degrees require you to have a non-nurs­ing under­grad­u­ate degree. It’s com­mon for ABSN pro­grams and direct entry MSN pro­grams to require you to have a 3.0 GPA or high­er and to sub­mit sup­port­ing doc­u­ments like tran­scripts, a resume, and a per­son­al statement.

Assessing Your Eligibility and Preparing for Admission

Nurs­ing degree fast track pro­grams make it easy to deter­mine if you’re eli­gi­ble for admis­sion or not. As not­ed above, each pro­gram lists spe­cif­ic require­ments you must meet, such as the type of degree you have and your under­grad­u­ate GPA. Sim­ply com­pare the nurs­ing school pre­req­ui­sites to your qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and if they match, start the appli­ca­tion process. 

If not, you’ll need to work to align your qual­i­fi­ca­tions with the require­ments. This typ­i­cal­ly involves tak­ing required sci­ence pre­req­ui­site cours­es, such as chem­istry, anato­my, phys­i­ol­o­gy, and micro­bi­ol­o­gy. A com­mon require­ment is earn­ing a C or high­er in all pre­req­ui­site classes.

To pre­pare for full admis­sion, you need to gath­er sup­port­ing doc­u­ments like tran­scripts, let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion, a resume, and a per­son­al state­ment (and oth­er doc­u­ments, as required). Tran­scripts can be request­ed from pre­vi­ous uni­ver­si­ties by con­tact­ing the admis­sions depart­ment. If let­ters of rec­om­men­da­tion are required, ask your ref­er­ences well in advance to draft the let­ter. It’s best to have three let­ters, but it’s a good idea to ask four or five peo­ple for let­ters, just in case.

If a per­son­al state­ment is need­ed, use it to show­case who you are beyond your grades. Explain why you want to tran­si­tion to nurs­ing and the skills you have to make that happen.

Choosing the Right Program

Choos­ing a fast track nurs­ing degree is a big deci­sion that can sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact your aca­d­e­m­ic and pro­fes­sion­al suc­cess. Use the tips below to research and com­pare dif­fer­ent accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing programs:

  • Accred­i­ta­tion — Choose a pro­gram accred­it­ed by the​Com­mis­sion on Col­le­giate Nurs­ing Edu­ca­tion (CCNE) or the Accred­i­ta­tion Com­mis­sion for Edu­ca­tion in Nurs­ing (ACEN). Accred­i­ta­tion ensures your edu­ca­tion aligns with pro­fes­sion­al stan­dards of nurs­ing. Grad­u­at­ing from an accred­it­ed pro­gram is often required for licen­sure as well.
  • Cost — Accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing pro­grams range wide­ly in price; choose one you can afford that min­i­mizes your reliance on stu­dent loans. Oth­er finan­cial aid for nurs­ing stu­dents, like schol­ar­ships, is wide­ly available. 
  • Dura­tion — Most accel­er­at­ed pro­grams are 11 to 24 months in length. Choose a pro­gram that fits your desired time­line, but beware that short­er pro­grams are the most intense.
  • Loca­tion - The program’s loca­tion impacts every­thing from com­mute times to cam­pus to the tuition you pay. Con­sid­er online options for the great­est flexibility.

Application Process

As not­ed ear­li­er, you’ll need time to gath­er all the rel­e­vant appli­ca­tion mate­ri­als required by your select­ed pro­gram. And since each pro­gram has dif­fer­ent require­ments, it’s crit­i­cal that you thor­ough­ly inves­ti­gate what’s need­ed of you to make your application.

The nurs­ing pro­gram appli­ca­tion guide below is a good exam­ple of what to expect as you set off on your nurs­ing career path:

  • Cre­ate a Nurs­ing­CAS pro­file. This stream­lines the appli­ca­tion process and allows you to apply to mul­ti­ple schools simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. It also allows you to sub­mit tran­scripts, resume, and oth­er documentation.
  • Pre­pare a resume and goals state­ment. Ensure these doc­u­ments address the following: 
    • Clear­ly explain your career goals.
    • Dis­cuss how the pro­gram can help you meet your goals and how your val­ues align.
    • Address weak­ness­es on your transcripts.
  • Com­plete any required back­ground checks and drug screenings.
  • Sub­mit oth­er doc­u­men­ta­tion as need­ed, includ­ing immu­niza­tion records and CPR certification.
  • Review your appli­ca­tion and sup­port­ing mate­ri­als before submission.

Many accel­er­at­ed nurs­ing pro­grams require an inter­view, too. When inter­view­ing, be polite, pro­fes­sion­al, and engaged. Show con­fi­dence in your abil­i­ties and give the inter­view­ers your “ele­va­tor pitch,” or why you’re a good fit for the pro­gram. Cre­ate a list of ques­tions to ask about the pro­gram, and when they ask you ques­tions, be hon­est and take your time.

Funding Your Education

Col­lege is expen­sive, but for­tu­nate­ly, you have many options for off­set­ting your costs:

Type of AidDescrip­tion of Aid
Schol­ar­ships and GrantsFund­ing does not have to be repaid; can be used for tuition, fees, books, and oth­er asso­ci­at­ed expenses.
Stu­dent LoansFund­ing must be repaid with inter­est (though loan for­give­ness pro­grams do exist); can be used for tuition, fees, books, and oth­er asso­ci­at­ed expenses.
Employ­er AssistanceSome employ­ers will pay for your nurs­ing school expens­es in return for a com­mit­ment to work for sev­er­al years.

The spe­cif­ic finan­cial aid options depend on many fac­tors, includ­ing aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance and finan­cial need. Fill out the Free Appli­ca­tion for Fed­er­al Stu­dent Aid (FAFSA) well ahead of time to see what aid you might qual­i­fy for. The Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Col­leges of Nurs­ing also main­tains a data­base of nurs­ing-spe­cif­ic aid programs.

Succeeding in an Accelerated Nursing Program

You must be pre­pared to han­dle the work­load of an accel­er­at­ed pro­gram. Here are a few tips to help you do just that:

  • Cre­ate a study sched­ule that gives you con­sis­tent study time each day. Time man­age­ment is key to your success.
  • Have a ded­i­cat­ed study space that’s qui­et and allows you to focus. Make it a com­fort­able space, too.
  • Take fre­quent breaks when study­ing. Get up, stretch, take a short walk, or get a snack — some­thing to get your body mov­ing and your mind off of study­ing for a few moments.
  • Uti­lize study aids, includ­ing tutor­ing, study guides, and study groups.
  • Net­work with your peers and instruc­tors. They are a great source of help and sup­port as you progress through the program.
  • Take time to relax, unwind, and have fun. Eat right, exer­cise, and avoid using alco­hol or drugs as well.

Transitioning into a Nursing Career

One of the biggest steps in tran­si­tion­ing to a nurs­ing career is prepar­ing for and tak­ing the NCLEX-RN exam. The Amer­i­can Nurs­es Asso­ci­a­tion (ANA) iden­ti­fies sev­er­al key strate­gies relat­ed to NCLEX-RN preparation:

  • Review an NCLEX prep book and oth­er study aids. 
  • Com­plete the NCLEX prac­tice exams.
  • Par­tic­i­pate in study groups. 
  • Lis­ten to record­ed lec­tures or podcasts.
  • Join NCLEX Face­book groups. 

You can take the NCLEX-RN exam 45 days after grad­u­a­tion. Give your­self time to study, but don’t wait too long to take the test, either. Dur­ing that peri­od, it’s pru­dent to seek intern­ships or part-time work that will help you solid­i­fy what you’ve learned and begin apply­ing it in a med­ical set­ting. Your pro­gram will like­ly have intern­ship and work expe­ri­ence part­ner­ships with local agen­cies; inquire at your school for assistance.

Craft­ing a well-formed resume and hav­ing a suc­cess­ful inter­view can enhance your abil­i­ty to get a job. Your resume should be fac­tu­al and to the point. It should be one page and pro­vide a broad overview of your aca­d­e­m­ic and pro­fes­sion­al accom­plish­ments. Sup­ple­ment it with a cov­er page that tells prospec­tive employ­ers about who you are, why you want to be a nurse, and oth­er fac­tors that set you apart from oth­er applicants.

You can pre­pare for inter­views using the nurs­ing job inter­view tips from the ANA below:

  • Use mock inter­views and sam­ple inter­view ques­tions to pre­pare ahead of time.
  • Research each poten­tial employ­er to learn about their mis­sion, objec­tives, and goals and how you can help achieve them. Also, thor­ough­ly read the job descrip­tion so you can high­light how you can meet each task you require.
  • Dress and act pro­fes­sion­al­ly, and be on time.
  • Take notes dur­ing the inter­view so you can ask ques­tions and be engaged.
  • Send a fol­low-up email 24 hours after your inter­view. Thank the inter­view­er for their time and reit­er­ate your unique qual­i­fi­ca­tions as being ide­al for the position.