Today's aspiring nurses have many options when it comes to education and don't need to spend four years obtaining a bachelor's degree to begin a fulfilling clinical nursing career. Instead, they can enroll in an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) to become a registered nurse (RN) in as little as 16 months.
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Prospective students can choose from traditional universities, community colleges, technical colleges, and specialized nursing schools.
They can even look for schools that offer online options to enjoy a hybrid learning environment, all while maintaining robust coursework, allowing them to kickstart their careers while feeling confident about their education.
What Is an ADN?
An ADN provides students the knowledge and skillset necessary to feel confident in starting their clinical nursing careers while also providing comprehensive nursing theory courses in preparation to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
This exam is the standardized test that assesses knowledge and competency in entry-level nursing practice.
Upon passing the NCLEX-RN, nursing students become registered nurses with solid working knowledge of clinical practice, nursing theory, and patient care and can begin their careers in healthcare.
What Is a Registered Nurse?
Registered Nurses (RNs) are licensed healthcare professionals who provide hands-on patient care. They practice in hospitals, home care agencies, doctor's offices, long-term care facilities, and many other care locations. Some RNs specialize in specific types of care to work with one patient population. A few RN specialties include:
- Emergency Department
- Public Health
- Community Health
- Intensive Care
- Home Care
- Pediatric care
RNs perform various patient care activities and work on interdisciplinary teams with doctors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals. They deliver patient care, ensure safety, and educate patients on their disease processes and self-care strategies. While care tasks will depend heavily on the unit in which a nurse works, some everyday registered nurse duties include:
- Performing head-to-toe assessments
- Obtaining and recording vital signs
- Creating nursing care plans
- Administering medications and treatments
- Obtaining thorough medical histories and symptoms
- Prepping patients for exams, procedures, and treatments
- Using specialized medical equipment for patient monitoring and treatments
- Educating on self-care and post-treatment care and needs
RNs are often in leadership or management positions as well. They oversee the care provided by licensed practical nurses (LPNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and other healthcare professionals.
RNs don't need a bachelor's degree or other advanced degrees, like a master's degree, to oversee other healthcare professionals. An RN is enough to be a team leader and delegate care tasks to LPNs and CNAs in a clinical setting.
However, if you want to hold other advanced practice roles or higher leadership positions, you'll probably need to obtain a BSN at a minimum. In addition, many executive leadership positions and advanced practice clinical roles will require you to attend an MSN program specializing in a type of care or role. Fortunately, continuing your nursing education is relatively seamless once you earn your associate's degree in nursing practice.
Registered Nursing Prerequisites and Requirements
Every nursing program has its list of prerequisites and requirements. However, there are a few basic requirements that all nursing programs require before you start on your career path.
You'll need proof of prior education to enroll in any college program. To be accepted into a nursing school, you must prove that you earned a high school diploma or GED. If you don't have either, consider getting your GED before starting the nursing school application process.
You'll likely be asked to provide official school transcripts so the college can confirm that you earned either a high school diploma or GED. The school of nursing might also require that you have a minimum GPA of 2.0 or higher during high school or other formal education. You'll probably need to contact your high school and request official transcripts be sent directly to the nursing school.
There aren't usually many required prerequisite courses for ADN programs. If the school does require prerequisites, you'll probably already have them if you graduated high school. Typical requirements include chemistry, physiology, algebra, and biology. If you didn't take these in high school, the nursing program might require you to take a few entry-level courses to cover this requirement.
It's critical to understand that the requirements for accelerated nursing programs may be a bit different compared to typical nursing schools. For example, accelerated programs may require that you take all general education requirements before beginning the nursing program. This format allows you to focus solely on nursing practice education rather than trying to take everything simultaneously. So, when an accelerated program provides a timeline for completion, you must understand that this may not include general education requirements that you must complete.
Some ADN programs require prospective students to take an entrance exam, such as the HESI or TEAS. These tests assess the likelihood you'll be successful in nursing school. Every entrance exam is a little different, so you'll need to know which test you must take and then take a prep course to be ready to pass the test. In addition, some entrance exams test basic healthcare knowledge, so you'll need to brush up on nursing and healthcare topics before taking the exam.
Related: 10 Best DNP Programs in 2023
Nursing school doesn't only provide nursing theory in lecture halls. You'll also complete clinical experiences in hospitals and other healthcare facilities where you'll work with actual patients. But before you can provide hands-on care, you'll need a health assessment to ensure you're in good health.
Check with the school to see if they have a specific form they want to be completed by a care provider or if any standard physical exam form will work. You'll also want to get a list of required immunizations to be sure you are up to date before spending time with patients.
Most ADN nursing schools will require you to be certified in CPR before enrolling. In addition, some schools want you to have a specific type of CPR for healthcare providers. They might even specify that the certification comes from the American Heart Association or American Red Cross, so check with the nursing faculty before you purchase and pass your CPR class.
Criminal Background Check
Your clinical experiences will put you face-to-face with vulnerable populations such as older adults or pediatrics. To ensure patients are safe while being cared for by nursing students, nursing schools require students to take and pass a criminal background check. You might also be required to provide fingerprints too.
If you've been convicted of any crimes, disclose this information on your nursing school application and during the criminal background check and fingerprinting process. Never lie about your criminal history or fail to disclose it because this will cause you far more trouble than telling the truth from the beginning.
The last nursing school requirement is to submit a drug screening. Like the criminal background check, this ensures the patients you care for during clinical experiences are safe. Drug screenings require you to visit a clinic or laboratory to provide a urine or blood test, depending on the school's requirements.
Fastest Registered Nurse Programs in 2023
Now that we've covered the basics, let's check out some of the registered nurse programs that will have you on the fast track to becoming an RN.
The following schools have been selected based on allnurses' methodology of surveying our readers to understand what they value most when selecting a nursing school. We've also reviewed other criteria, like NCLEX pass rates, graduation rates, student-faculty ratios, price, learning format, duration, and admission rates for hundreds of the most prominent nursing schools in the U.S. to be sure we're giving you the most comprehensive list of RN licensure programs possible.
The University of Charleston in West Virginia has over 50 years of experience delivering nursing education. They offer the fastest nursing program comprising 61 credit hours delivered in a hybrid learning format. The college reports that 90% of all nursing students completed the program in 2019. These students went on to achieve a 100% NCLEX-RN pass rate too.
Along with standard admissions criteria such as a high school diploma, the university requires all prospective students to take the TEAS entrance exam and pass with a 60% or higher. The school estimates that an associate degree in nursing will cost you about $22,800 to complete.
If you're looking for an ADN-RN program offered across 19 campuses in five states, then Rasmussen University might be best for you. This fast-track RN program boasts no waiting list at many of their campuses, so you can begin your nursing program fast and finish quickly too.
Rasmussen has nursing school faculty with real-world, hands-on clinical experience, so you'll be well-prepared for your career. In addition, your nursing education will cost just over $48,000. Because there are several campuses, it's challenging to report NCLEX pass rates, so be sure to ask about this information when talking to admissions staff at the school.
Are you looking for an ADN nursing education program with an evening option that you can complete in 18 short months? Midway University offers an accelerated undergraduate nursing program focusing on classroom theory coursework and supervised clinical laboratory experiences. Situated in Central Kentucky, this school equips you to take and pass the NCLEX-RN. You'll also be able to seamlessly transition into the RN to BSN program if you decide to pursue your BSN nursing degree.
The school proudly reports the NCLEX pass rate for the ADN program was 95% in 2020 and 94% in 2021. And the average NCLEX-RN pass rate for the previous three years was 96%
In just six quarters across 18 months, you can earn your ADN from Denver College of Nursing. With campuses in Denver and Houston, you'll complete didactic and clinical coursework to build a foundation of nursing education that will translate into a successful registered nursing career.
This program consists of 110 total credits, with 86 of these earned during the nursing program. In addition, you must meet all standard nursing school prerequisites to be accepted, including passing an entrance exam.
With multiple campuses, the ACEN-accredited nursing program at ECPI University can be completed in 18 months. So not only will you be ready to sit for the state NCLEX-RN exam, but you'll also be ready to begin your nursing career quickly. This nursing program curriculum covers ethical, legal, and regulatory topics while teaching you nursing courses, diagnoses, and treatments.
The school reports NCLEX-RN pass rates by location, so be sure to ask about the specific pass rates of the campus you plan to attend to get the most accurate information.
This school is a bit different than the others because it offers an accelerated BSN program. Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, offers an 18-month Rural Nursing Opportunities Program that achieves a bachelor's degree in nursing. This accelerated nursing education program includes 16 nursing courses taught in four to six-week blocks covering didactic nursing coursework and clinical experiences.
Hartwick requires completing all general education courses before starting the nursing program. You'll also be required to take a writing competency exam and achieve a writing level 4 before beginning the nursing program.
East Ohio College in East Liverpool offers an ADN nursing program that can be completed in 18 months. This direct admission program serves students from Ohio and the surrounding areas of Pennsylvania. The nursing faculty teach you essential nursing skills, such as the nursing process, health promotion, therapeutic communication skills, and other health sciences topics.
This nursing program is accredited by ABHES and approved by the Ohio Board of Nursing.
With multiple campuses across four states, you can complete your ADN in 20 months at Herzing University. This nursing program comprises 73 credit units offered through a hybrid learning format. You'll take general education classes online and attend in-person nursing classes, labs, and clinical experiences.
The program is career-focused and flexible. You'll learn face-to-face from experienced faculty and receive lifelong career advancement and coaching support from the school. In addition, if you have a prior healthcare certification like an LPN, RT, or paramedic, you can complete this program faster during a bridge pathway course.
This 20-month ADN nursing education program boasts no waitlist and multiple start dates every year. West Coast University offers a diverse list of clinical experience partners that will expose you to numerous clinical specialties and experiences. In addition, you'll connect with your nursing curriculum through technologically advanced simulations in the skills labs to master nursing techniques and build muscle memory even before you attend clinical.
One of the great things about this school is that they provide test prep services for your licensure exam once you graduate. You can receive one-on-one counseling and tutoring, which should make passing the NCLEX-RN a breeze.
10. Howard College
Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, offers an ADN registered nursing degree program that can be completed in 24 months. This hybrid format offers the second year online for the lecture portion to provide flexibility and upward mobility for nursing students. While Howard doesn't offer an RN to BSN program, they provide several articulation agreements with Texas universities, making obtaining your baccalaureate degree in nursing easy.
The ADN program began in 1976, so this school is rich in nursing history. However, don't mistake their deep roots. They are on the cutting edge of education and have offered online course formats since 2003. They must be doing something right because their 2020 ADN grads earned a 100% pass rate on the NCLEX-RN
Salary Expectations for RNs in 2023
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median RN salary in 2021 was $77,600, or a little over $37 an hour. Unfortunately, BLS doesn't differentiate its pay data between ADN and BSN nurses. However, ZipRecruiter reports that the national average for ADN nurses is just over $82,000 annually or around $40 an hour for full-time nurses. These salaries are general guidelines, as nursing pay varies based on geographic location, tenure, and specialty.
FAQ and Additional Readings
We've covered lots of great information, but choosing a nursing program is tough and can leave you with many questions. So, we've rounded up some of the most common nursing licensure, nursing school, and ADN nursing program questions for you below.
Q: Will I have a different license type if I graduate from an ADN program versus a BSN program?
A: No. Graduating from an ADN or BSN program still gets you an RN license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The only difference is the type of nursing degree you obtained - an associate degree in nursing versus a bachelor of science in nursing. Nurses with BSNs go to school for four years and can hold higher-level management positions, but there is no difference between the two degrees when it comes to hands-on patient care.
Q: Can I take my ADN program online?
A: Some ADN programs offer online courses. However, it's critical to understand that no ADN programs will be delivered in a fully-online environment because you'll need to be present to complete practice lab and clinical experiences.
Q: Can I go from an ADN to a BSN?
A: Many schools have RN to BSN programs, often called bridge programs. These programs are for healthcare professionals with a registered nursing license but not a BSN degree. You can find RN to BSN programs offered online and accelerated programs too.
Related: 10 Best RN to BSN Programs in 2023
Q: Can I go to nursing school part-time or in the evening?
A: Unfortunately, most schools of nursing only offer full-time, daytime programs. However, don't give up if you need an alternative nursing school format. Look for local schools that offer programs during the evening, on weekends, or part-time so you can achieve your dream of becoming a nurse.
Q: What is Accreditation, and is it important?
A: It's essential to look for nursing schools that are accredited. Accredited nursing schools undergo an independent, nongovernment peer review process by an accrediting body. This process reviews all aspects of the school and the nursing program to ensure graduates are qualified and prepared to pass the state boards and practice as nurses. If a school isn't accredited, you probably won't be able to use federal or private loans to attend the program.
Q: What is covered in an ADN program, and how many credit hours will I need to graduate?
A: You'll take between 60 and 70 credit hours to obtain your ADN. You'll also complete about 500 hours of clinical experience. During nursing school, you'll take many courses, including pathophysiology, pharmacology, and anatomy, along with nursing classes.
Q: Can I get an ADN if I already have a baccalaureate degree in another discipline?
A: Yes, if you've already completed a bachelor's in another field, you can get an ADN as a second degree. Getting your associate's degree is a great choice when you want to complete a short program to get started in the nursing profession.
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