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Accelerated BSN Programs: Get License-Ready Quickly

Accelerated BSN programs are typically designed for students for whom nursing represents a second degree and a second career choice. Programs capitalize on their academic and career maturity as well as give credit for courses already taken, moving them from the "But I'd rather be a nurse" stage to license-readiness quickly. Students who have not yet earned degrees may complete programs in a somewhat accelerated format, shaving a year or so off the traditional four-year degree. Second degree accelerated BSN programs – by far the most common – are much shorter. The timeframe for the second degree BSN will vary in part depending on the specific non-nursing courses the student has already taken. The program itself may be completed in as little as a year.

Research indicates second degree BSN students tend to be more positive about their experience and display more effective coping skills. ~ The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Part of what makes the program shorter is the elimination of redundancy. An accelerated BSN student is generally expected to have about 60 units of transferable credit. About half the credits that a traditional BSN student takes are not, technically speaking, nursing, though many are required as prerequisites. If one does just the nursing curriculum, that’s about two academic years of coursework. But an accelerated BSN programs brings the time frame down further. Accelerated programs are typically year-round.

The good news? Second degree students have proved they can handle it.

The Second Degree Enrollee as Student

The academic demands of college can seem like a big step up for students fresh out of high school. This is less likely to happen the second time around.

Second career professionals are less likely to be overwhelmed by clinical/ work experience and make a quicker transition to the work world. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing uses terms like “layers of skill” and “quick studies” to describe how employees view accelerated BSN graduates (

The accelerated student will face the same clinical requirements as a traditional student. He or she will need to gain experience with various age groups and populations in acute care and in other settings such as community/ public health. The experiences, though, will come at an accelerated pace.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has cited research that indicates second degree BSN students tend to be more positive about their experience and display more effective coping skills (

According to a study published in the Journal of Professional Nursing, second degree accelerated nursing students have better NCLEX pass rates than accelerated first degree students ( They are more likely to have higher GPAs at course completion.

Some people may be ready for acceleration at an earlier stage, but admission is generally limited to those who, on a population level, are most likely to succeed with an accelerated format: people with degrees.

The rise in accelerated second degree programs in part reflects the growing preference for BSN nurses. This is a way to produce them quickly!

Second degree BSN students have, statistically, a unique set of aptitudes. They also have their unique needs. Programs are designed to accommodate nontraditional learners (though they often recommend that they not work while completing their fast-track degrees). The program may boast dedicated advisors who work exclusively with second career/ accelerated students. There may be a quick admission process. There may be a substantial amount of online coursework.

The differences may go deeper. Research points to the need for distinct strategies for the two populations (

Preparing for Admission

Many programs are a year-and-a-half or less; some programs, less than a calendar year. There is a caveat; they typically have a long list of prerequisite courses. It's likely that the undergraduate degree will have included some, but not all. It's a science-heavy list, including microbiology and chemistry as well as anatomy and physiology. Other common prerequisites include nutrition, developmental life cycle psychology, and statistics. The school may have a recency requirement for science or statistics coursework.

Students should be aware that some schools have longer prerequisite lists than others. Some schools will consider students who have not yet completed all the prerequisites. However, this does not mean that their application will have the same strength that it would otherwise.

Accelerated nursing programs have a high set of academic standards. They typically look for a 3.0 whether in undergraduate education, the most recent 60 semester hours of coursework, or prerequisite courses. Individual prerequisite courses may be accepted with grades as low as 'C'. Higher is of course better. The program may use a ranking system to allocate limited seats. However, individuals who shine in non-academic areas needn’t despair. Schools want to be sure they have candidates who can complete the coursework and pass the NCLEX, but they also value candidates with diverse and enriching life experiences. Science aptitude is necessary, but one doesn’t need to come from a science background. The New Careers in Nursing Study of Teaching and Learning in Accelerated Nursing Degree Programs found that characteristics like commitment were considered important predictors of success ( Having a biology or healthcare degree? Much less important!

Some programs want to see a little volunteer healthcare experience. Partly this comes down to having realistic expectations.

An applicant can expect to submit a personal statement and references. He or she may even be asked to produce a video introduction as part of the admission process. Students can take advantage of information forums to learn what individual schools want. They should be prepared to demonstrate their commitment and readiness level in an interview.

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