Second Degree Nursing Programs: How Do They Work?

According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 20 percent of registered nurses hold a bachelor’s degree, while only 9 percent hold a master’s degree or higher. However, the nursing field is changing rapidly, and the demand for nurses with advanced degrees is on the rise. In response to this trend, many colleges and universities have developed second degree nursing programs.

These programs allow students who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field to complete a nursing program in as little as two years. Second degree nursing programs typically include coursework in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. In addition, students must complete a clinical component in order to obtain hands-on experience in the field. Upon graduation, second degree nurses are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and begin their careers as registered nurses.

Typical Program Length

12-24 months
(full-time, excluding prerequisites)

Hours of Clinical Practice Required

400-900 hours

Expected Costs

$450-$1,040 per credit

For those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, a second degree nursing program offers the chance to change direction and pursue a registered nursing (RN) license. Read on to find out if a second nursing degree is the right path for you.

What is a Second Degree Nursing Program?

Second degree nursing programs provide non-nursing bachelor’s degree-holders an accelerated path to a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). These accelerated BSNs, or ABSNs as they’re also known, typically take two years of full-time study to complete and follow an intensive in-person, online, or hybrid format.

Regardless of the field in which you earned your existing bachelor’s degree, you can complete your BSN and make a career change. Like traditional BSN programs, second degree nursing programs prepare graduates to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and apply for an RN license.

Second Degree Nursing Programs: What to Expect

Second degree nursing programs usually take around two years to complete, but some can be finished in just 12-15 months. Maintaining employment while in the program is generally not encouraged, due to the intensive curriculum. Some schools may offer part-time options, which add a year or two to the timeline.

Most programs require the completion of 50-60 credits, through online or in-person classes. Students must log clinical hours in person at healthcare sites selected by the program or approved student-arranged locations. Online programs typically allow enrollees to complete their clinical rotations in their own communities.

Clinical experiences offer the opportunity to care for real patients under the supervision of an RN. Students rotate through different specialties, including community health, critical care, emergency, geriatrics, pediatrics, and surgical.

Course Descriptions

While curriculums vary by program, most second degree nursing programs offer common introductory courses that provide an overview of the topics, techniques, and fundamental knowledge needed for advanced classes and clinical rotations. Common courses include:

    • Health Assessment

      Students explore concepts of health assessment, including taking health histories and performing physical and psychosocial assessments throughout the lifespan. The course teaches patient interviewing skills and hands-on assessment techniques through supervised laboratory experience.

    • Microbiology

      Classes and labs introduce learners to the principles and applications of microbiology and the characteristics and activities of microorganisms and their relationships to humans. Students focus on microbial cell structure, functions, genetics, pathologies, and immunity.

    • Nursing Practice Fundamentals

      This course introduces basic nursing concepts, including clinical reasoning, health assessment, and medical terminology. The course includes labs and clinical experiences where students practice administering medication, taking vital signs, and performing other basic nursing skills.

    • Pathophysiology/Pharmacology

      Enrollees learn about disease pathology, basic pharmacological principles, and drug therapies for treating various illnesses. The course emphasizes safe medication administration, laboratory data analysis, and patient monitoring and education.

Featured Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Second Degree Nursing Program: Admission Requirements

In addition to an application and a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, second degree nursing programs may require a minimum GPA, test scores, and materials, such as essays. Applicants can expect to submit any of the following:

    • Transcripts
    • Minimum GPA (often 3.0)
    • SAT or ACT scores
    • Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) scores
    • Resume or CV outlining relevant experience
    • Essay or personal statement explaining the applicant’s interest in nursing and changing careers
    • References
    • Application fee
    • Prerequisite courses, such as those listed below, with a minimum grade of “C”
    • Admissions interview
    • Background check

Prerequisite Courses

Prerequisite coursework that wasn’t completed as part of a first degree program can be taken at the school in which the student plans to study nursing or through a community college or online program. Common prerequisite courses include:

    • Anatomy and physiology
    • Biology
    • Ethics
    • Human genetics
    • Lifespan development
    • Math for nurses
    • Microbiology for health science
    • Nutrition
    • Statistics
    • Survey of chemistry

Second Degree Nursing Program: Cost

Per-credit costs for second degree nursing programs range from $200 residential tuition rates on the low end to more than $1,000 on the higher end. Total program tuition costs can be as low as $13,000 at state technical schools and exceed $100,000 at top-tier universities.

Students should also budget for additional expenses, including program fees, books and materials, uniforms, and tools like lab supplies and stethoscopes. Other costs to consider are housing, meals, and travel.

Financial aid for nurses can help pay for tuition and costs through options, such as scholarships and grants, public and private loans, and student loan forgiveness programs for graduates who agree to work in high-need areas.

Is a Second Degree Nursing Program Worth It?

Earning a second bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean spending another four years in school. Many course credits transfer from the first degree toward a nursing degree. Accelerated learning allows completion in as little as 12-15 months and offers full immersion in developing nursing skills. Online coursework can facilitate self-paced and flexible study.

Graduates find employment in hospitals, physician’s offices, long-term care facilities, and clinics. RNs can opt to focus on adult-gerontology, critical care, labor and delivery, pediatrics, or surgical nursing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor StatisticsRN salaries average $77,600 per year, and the projected employment growth is 6% for 2021-2031.

A BSN also qualifies nurses to enter a graduate program leading to potential careers as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwives. These advanced practice RNs earn median annual wages of $123,780, with a projected employment increase of 40%.

Frequently Asked Questions About Second Degree Nursing Programs

Can I study nursing if I already have a degree?

If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can earn a second degree in nursing in 12-15 months by transferring credits from your first degree and enrolling in an accelerated program.

Can I do nursing as a second degree?

Nursing is a common second degree, especially for career changers. Coursework completed for a prior degree in a non-nursing field fulfills general education requirements, provides transfer credits, and may count as prerequisites for a second nursing degree program.

Are ABSN programs competitive?

ABSN programs can be competitive with high bars for admission. Many second degree nursing programs require a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, test scores, essays, and interviews. The accelerated pace is rigorous and immersive, requiring complete focus.

How difficult is nursing school?

Nursing school is challenging, particularly in an accelerated format, such as a second degree nursing program. Not only will you have a full course load, you also will complete hundreds of hours in clinical rotations. The good news is that you can earn your BSN in a shorter timeframe and start your new career sooner.

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