I graduated from Excelsior in 2008. I wouldn't sign up with any of those third party vendors unless you find someone that is willing to split the cost of those work books with you. . they are ridiculously expensive. I had 3 other girls that wanted to do the program with me and we split the cost between us . . much more reasonable. And we used Chancellors books. And when we were done, we sold them on eBay. I took 1 test a month until I was done (I graduated before they added the extra test and additional lab). The longest part was waiting for my CPNE test, which I took in Racine, WI. . . and they were wonderful there. I cannot recommend that test site enough. I also purchased the skills lab kit from Excelsior for the CPNE and practiced religiously. I attended Lynns workshop to prepare for the CPNE. I went to my CPNE and had no repeats. . .on skills lab or PCS.
Was it worth it? Yes. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Was I prepared? Yes. However, this program is designed for healthcare professionals that already have a strong foundation from working clinically. I had worked as a Respiratory Therapist for 12 years in a 900+ bed trauma center so I had a very strong clinical background. I do not think I would've been overly prepared if I had been more "green" with little working experience. If you are working while taking these tests. . pay attention to what the nurses are doing. . learn what they are doing and why. Ask questions! If you do those things, you'll be prepared too. I also graduated from Excelsior and went right into a large ICU and I learned even more. The beautiful thing about healthcare is you can NEVER know it all. . don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
I earned my CCRN credential last year (proudly) and am still learning.
As for the NCLEX. Let me first say, I'm a fast reader and I don't second guess myself. . I answer with my gut and I never go back. I got 75 questions (the least amount you can get) and was done in 40 minutes. I passed.
Excelsior is very doable and reasonable. Its a great solution for working professionals with a strong clinical foundation. Good luck!!!