December 7, 2018  |  Purdue University Global

Nursing is a challenging and rewarding career that provides significant opportunities to help others and make a difference in the world. There's also ample room to achieve higher levels of education and advance into many different roles. Many nurses wish to continue their education and grow in the profession, becoming advanced practice registered nurses, community or public health nurses, nursing and health care administrators, nurse educators, and health care policymakers.

If you’re thinking of becoming a nurse or looking to expand your nursing career, this article is for you. It explains the various nursing degrees you can earn, average time to completion, and the possible career outcomes that go along with each degree.

1. Become a Registered Nurse

smiling female nurse scrubs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.*

How do you become an RN? Start with either of the following degree programs:

  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN). This program is mostly offered through on-campus community colleges and career schools, although some hybrid online/on-campus programs exist. It usually takes about two years to complete.
  • Prelicensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (PLBSN). This is a bachelor’s degree program for those who do not already hold an RN license. It usually takes about four years to complete.

Successful completion of these programs qualifies you to sit for the NCLEX-RN, the exam that, if you pass, gives you the RN credential.

2. You May Wish to Earn an RN-to-BSN Degree

smiling male nurse in scrubs sitting at a front desk

Many nurses who hold an ASN and work as registered nurses go back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Not only do BSN programs aim to provide a broader educational perspective, but many employers prefer a BSN, and having one may present you with greater career opportunities. In addition, a 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine recommended that 80% of nurses hold a BSN by 2020.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing–RN-to-BSN: These programs are available at on-campus colleges and universities and in online programs. The time to complete varies. Purdue University Global offers an online RN-to-BSN program as well as an accelerated competency-based online RN-to-BSN program known as ExcelTrack™.

3. Earn a Master of Science in Nursing

smiling African American nurse in white coat holding a tablet

Once you earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you may wish to move on to a master’s degree. The Master of Science in Nursing is available in online programs and on-campus colleges and universities, and it usually takes about 18 to 24 months of full-time study to complete. Accelerated programs may allow you to earn your degree faster.

What can you do with a master's degree in nursing? Depending on the concentration, you can prepare to pursue a career as:

  • A family nurse practitioner
  • An adult-gerontology nurse practitioner
  • An adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner
  • An executive leader
  • A nurse educator

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurse practitioners is expected to grow 36% between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Purdue Global offers an online master’s degree in nursing and a competency-based, online accelerated master’s degree in nursing.

4. Post-Master's Certificates

female nurse checking on an elderly female patient

Numerous certificate programs are available to help you build upon your master's degree in nursing. These are available at on-campus colleges and universities and in online programs, and they usually take about two years to complete.

For example, you may wish to earn the:

5. A Terminal Degree: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

Group of Health Care Professionals

One of the highest nursing degrees you can earn is the Doctor of Nursing Practice. This degree program is available at on-campus colleges and universities and in online programs, and the time it takes to complete varies.

A doctorate in nursing degree could provide new opportunities for clinical and higher level leadership positions, including working in clinic administration or as a healthcare executive, working in healthcare policy development, or holding a position as faculty in a School of Nursing.

Learn More About an Exciting and Fulfilling Career in Nursing

If you feel called to a nursing career—or if you’re interested in earning a higher nursing degree—reach out to an institution of higher education today. The baccalaureate degree program in nursing, master's degree program in nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice program, and post-graduate APRN certificate programs at Purdue Global are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The programs are all online, so you can study on your own schedule. Request more information about Purdue Global’s nursing programs today.

Filed in: Nursing

About the Author

Purdue University Global

Purdue University Global delivers a fully personalized, world-class education online that's tailored for adults. We offer 175 programs, including associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees as well as certificates, in areas such as business, IT, education, health sciences, nursing, criminal justice, and more.


* National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Purdue Global cannot guarantee employment or career advancement. Additional certification or licensing may be required to work in certain fields. Graduates must meet state licensing and certification requirements and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse or the NCLEX-PN to become a licensed practical nurse. NCLEX is a registered trademark of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc.

‡ This isn't representative of every nursing degree available at the postsecondary level; these are the degree programs offered by Purdue Global.

Sign in with LinkedIn