Fast Track to Nursing Understanding Accelerated Programs & Finding the Right Fit

Accelerated nursing programs may be the answer to the growing demand for nurses. These programs give students a chance to fast track their studies so they can start their nursing careers earlier. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 16 percent job growth for registered nurses between 2014 and 2024, making it one of the fastest growing professions in the U.S. Learn about the benefits of starting an accelerated nursing program, what it takes to graduate and who may be a good fit.

Top Accelerated Nursing Degrees & Programs for: 2018

For maximum student benefit, online accelerated nursing degrees and programs must show a desire for student success while maintaining affordability, accreditation, and high NCLEX pass rates. Quality accelerated nursing programs should also employ professors that are trained to educate students in the virtual classroom and can provide industry-specific information to boost student comprehension. Through our methodology, we have compiled a list of the top accelerated nursing degrees and programs for the 2018 year. Discover which programs stood out above the rest.

Minimum Qualifications
  • Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution, including specialized accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)

  • At least 1 accelerated online BSN degree (Bachelor of Science in Nursing)

  • Annual in-state tuition below $25,000

  • Availability of academic/career counseling services

  • Availability of job placement services for graduates

Ranking Metrics

Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:

  • Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates

  • NCLEX-RN pass rate for BSN programs

  • Count and breadth of accelerated nursing programs available

  • Student-teacher ratio

  • 6-year graduation rate

  • % of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college

  • Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college

  • 3-year loan default rate

  • AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*

*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or ‘bang for your buck’ – of an online degree.

Data Sources

Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.

  • Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017

Rank University Location Score Annual Tuition # of Online Programs Financial Aid % Student-Teacher RatioNCLEX Pass RateCredit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
1 Newman University Wichita, KS 99.85 $23,700 1 98% 14:194%yes yes yes
2 Lincoln Memorial University Harrogate, TN 99.45 $19,440 1 100% 13:191%yes yes yes
3 Colorado Christian University Lakewood, CO 98.50 $20,435 1 98% 15:195%yes yes yes
4 University of Kentucky Lexington, KY 98.42 $9,403 1 67% 17:1100%yes yes yes
5 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham, AL 98.35 $7,510 1 72% 18:197%yes yes yes
6 Freed-Hardeman University Henderson, TN 97.87 $20,468 1 100% 13:178%yes yes yes
7 Ball State University Muncie, IN 97.53 $8,682 2 48% 14:193%no yes yes
8 University of Rhode Island Kingston, RI 97.40 $10,878 2 84% 17:178%no yes yes
9 Aurora University Aurora, IL 97.24 $21,120 2 100% 17:197%no yes yes
10 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS 96.91 $3,450 3 74% 16:195%no yes yes
11 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ 96.87 $8,072 6 64% 18:183%no yes yes
12 Clemson University Clemson, SC 96.74 $12,606 2 62% 18:192%no yes yes
13 King University Bristol, TN 96.73 $24,316 4 86% 16:173%yes yes yes
14 Cumberland University Lebanon, TN 96.50 $19,200 1 99% 16:181%yes yes yes
15 University of Northern Colorado Greeley, CO 96.38 $6,024 3 69% 18:193%no yes yes
16 Clarkson College Omaha, NE 96.25 $11,016 7 68% 13:196%yes yes yes
17 Anderson University Anderson, SC 96.09 $21,660 1 99% 16:190%no yes yes
18 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC 96.01 $3,669 4 69% 16:196%yes yes yes
19 Fayetteville State University Fayetteville, NC 95.93 $2,743 1 88% 17:187%yes yes yes
20 Angelo State University San Angelo, TX 95.84 $3,760 3 59% 19:193%no yes yes
21 Emporia State University Emporia, KS 95.79 $4,500 1 74% 18:194%no yes yes
22 Shorter University Rome, GA 95.64 $19,880 1 96% 15:170%no yes yes
23 East Carolina University Greenville, NC 95.60 $3,959 8 48% 18:196%no yes yes
24 Bethel University McKenzie, TN 95.56 $9,600 1 70% 17:174%yes yes yes
25 Plymouth State University Plymouth, NH 95.38 $10,410 1 85% 17:195%no yes yes
26 North Carolina Central University Durham, NC 95.34 $3,455 1 85% 16:170%yes yes yes
27 Lees-McRae College Banner Elk, NC 95.23 $23,450 1 100% 15:169%no yes yes
28 Lander University Greenwood, SC 95.22 $9,538 3 49% 14:189%yes yes yes
29 Appalachian State University Boone, NC 95.11 $3,772 2 34% 16:190%yes yes yes
30 University of Memphis Memphis, TN 95.07 $7,056 3 40% 14:185%yes yes yes
31 Tennessee Technological University Cookeville, TN 95.02 $6,168 1 43% 19:195%no yes yes
32 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC 94.95 $6,423 5 43% 14:1N/Ano yes yes
33 Washington State University Pullman, WA 94.89 $10,874 2 59% 15:187%no yes yes
34 Mount Vernon Nazarene University Mount Vernon, OH 94.87 $15,845 1 100% 13:1N/Ano yes yes
35 University of South Alabama Mobile, AL 94.84 $6,888 1 58% 20:185%no yes yes
36 Wichita State University Wichita, KS 94.83 $5,869 2 74% 18:186%yes yes yes
37 Towson University Towson, MD 94.81 $6,004 7 35% 17:183%yes yes yes
38 Western Illinois University Macomb, IL 94.82 $8,175 1 69% 14:184%yes yes yes
39 Schreiner University Kerrville, TX 94.81 $22,760 1 99% 14:173%no yes yes
40 MacMurray College Jacksonville, IL 94.71 $22,900 1 99% 14:1100%no yes yes
41 Midwestern State University Wichita Falls, TX 94.72 $5,012 7 68% 18:184%yes yes yes
42 Shepherd University Shepherdstown, WV 94.70 $4,660 1 45% 15:181%yes yes yes
43 Texas Woman's University Denton, TX 94.65 $5,650 6 43% 18:192%no yes yes
44 University of Maine at Fort Kent Fort Kent, ME 94.49 $6,600 1 54% 15:184%yes yes yes
45 East Tennessee State University Johnson City, TN 94.41 $6,312 5 15% 17:188%yes yes yes
46 Indiana Wesleyan University Marion, IN 94.39 $24,102 9 43% 15:187%yes yes yes
47 Pittsburg State University Pittsburg, KS 94.34 $4,936 1 54% 18:189%yes yes yes
48 University of North Alabama Florence, AL 94.25 $5,856 2 60% 21:185%no yes yes
49 University of Southern Indiana Evansville, IN 94.17 $6,637 5 41% 18:198%yes yes yes
50 Fitchburg State University Fitchburg, MA 93.89 $970 2 42% 14:194%yes yes yes

Accelerated Nursing Timeline

Between classes, labs and studying, accelerated nursing programs cater to students who have both the time and ability to complete a degree on a shorter schedule. But what does that schedule look like, and how long will it take to complete? See how one school helps nursing students move through a degree program in just four semesters.

Explore Online Degree Programs to Become an RNSearch Program

The typical September back-to-school season doesn’t necessarily apply to accelerated nursing programs. Some programs begin in spring or summer, and others have a “rolling” enrollment where students can begin any time of the year.

First Semester – 16 credits Sample Courses:
  • Introduction to Practical Nursing + Clinic
  • Health Assessment and Health Promotion + Clinic
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Advancing Nursing Practice
Third Semester – 15 credits Sample Courses:
  • Nursing Care of Vulnerable Populations + Clinic
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Public Health Nursing
Second Semester – 14 creditsSample Courses:
  • Nursing Care Across the Lifespan + Clinic
  • Research in Nursing
  • Nursing Informatics- Concepts and Issues
Fourth Semester – 15 creditsSample Courses:
  • Integrated Advanced Nursing Concepts + Clinic
  • Leadership and Management in Nursing
  • Validating Nursing Competence

Accelerated Nursing Programs vs. Traditional

As the demand for nurses grows, schools are exploring ways to increase student enrollment. One way schools are doing this is by offering accelerated nursing programs for those who have already earned a degree in another field, otherwise known as “second degree” students. Typically offered at the baccalaureate and master’s degree levels, these take less time to complete than traditional nursing programs. However, these programs may not be for everyone. Below is a chart to help you decide whether an accelerated program is right for you.

Explore Online Degree Programs to Become an RNSearch Program
  Accelerated Nursing Programs Traditional Nursing Programs
Time Requirement

Classes are taught back-to-back and there are no scheduled breaks during the program.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs can take four years or more to complete. Summer and holiday breaks lengthen the time it takes to earn a degree.


Students have often completed prerequisites during their initial degree program and aren’t required to repeat those courses.

Prerequisites are part of a traditional four-year degree and can eat up a lot of time, therefore delaying entry into the workforce.

Financial Aid Availability

Students can receive financial aid at most schools. Since the time commitment is intense, many healthcare settings partner with schools to provide financial assistance for students.

Financial aid is usually offered through the school a student attends. Students can go directly to the financial aid office on campus for more information.

Free Time

Classes run back-to-back and students are required to take the same amount of clinical hours as traditional students. The course load in addition to clinical hours limit students’ free time.

Students are expected to report to class at specific times, which leaves them less flexible for other plans. However, traditional schools typically offer winter and summer breaks, which are not offered in accelerated programs.

Employer Pay Options

Students in an accelerated program may already be working in the health care field. Those, and employers seeking to boost their collective skill set without hiring, may sponsor an employee’s graduate schooling through tuition reimbursement.

Students beginning a traditional program may not be already working in the health care field, and will not be able to get employer tuition assistance. If, however, the student participates in an employer-educator partnership these opportunities may be available.

Pre-Accelerated Nursing Program Checklist

Before entering into an accelerated nursing program it is important to research the impact it will make on one’s personal and professional life. To get an idea of where to start researching to find the best fit, SUNY School of Nursing’s Assistant Dean Susan Grislade, PH.D., provides a list of things to do before enrolling.

  • Do your homework. Research a number of programs within your regions and compare them.
  • Talk to graduates of those programs to find out what it is really like.
  • Ask questions of prospective employers, including what the differences between traditional versus accelerated graduates are, and if there is a preference in hiring one over the other.
  • Look at admission criteria and prerequisite coursework to determine what you will need to do to be admission-applicant ready.
  • Talk to family and friends and consider what-if scenarios: What if I can’t work, can we support our family on one income? If I focus more time on school, how can we support each other so this is a win-win for everyone?
  • Explore financial resources and scholarships to sustain tuition.
Explore Online Degree Programs to Become an RNSearch Program

Tips for Accelerated Program Success

While graduates of accelerated programs may reap rewards after completion, survival in a fast-paced program can be a challenge. Students are expected to learn material and complete their clinical practice in a shortened amount of time. Those used to traditional on-campus learning experiences should keep these tips in mind before enrolling in an accelerated program:

  • Define priorities

    It can be difficult to balance a personal life with nursing school. It’s important to clearly communicate to family and friends that nursing school is the top priority in an accelerated program.

  • Practice the new skills

    Whether it is information learned in a lecture class (also known as didactic classes) or in a clinical class (labs, etc.), be sure to practice the material.

  • Learn how to take exam-style questions

    Knowing how to apply different strategies to various questions on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is critical for success at exam time. For example, knowing normal lab value ranges, electrolytes, how to prioritize diagnoses, etc.

  • Step up in clinical practice

    Take every opportunity to perform any tasks in clinical classes. Start IVs, take someone’s vitals and be willing to do what’s asked. The more comfortable students are with procedures, the better off they will be when working in a clinical setting.

  • You are not alone

    At times, students may feel like they’re drowning in medical terminology and dosage calculations; their classmates are in the same situation. Other nursing students can serve as a great support system and can help build up a nursing network. Join a study group or ask classmates if they’d like to form one.

  • You can’t do it all – and that’s OK

    Students might have been happily holding down job, family and volunteer commitments while organizing book club meetings and driving kids to soccer practice before enrollment, but that won’t be the case with an accelerated nursing program. Ask friends or neighbors to start a ride-share schedule to shuttle kids, and divide family responsibilities into age-appropriate tasks: Designate a teenage chief dish washer and a younger child as head of the family’s sanitation department (which sounds more important than “trash-taker-outer.”)

  • Take time for yourself

    Accelerated programs don’t schedule summer or holiday breaks, which may make it seem like life has turned into one prolonged study session. Be sure to schedule time for entertainment and activities – a workout, a walk or brunch with friends.

  • Clinical practice: 5 steps to getting ahead

    The first day of clinical practice can be nerve-wracking to anyone, no matter how well they’ve done in their courses. From figuring out where essential equipment is kept to being self-sufficient, here are several tips for a great first day:

    • Familiarize yourself with the emergency equipment

      It’s important to know where emergency equipment is located, what to do in case of emergency, and where the emergency contact list is located.

    • Determine the most frequently used equipment

      Whether it is oxygen, ventilators or more complex machines, taking a few minutes to figure out how the equipment works will save time in the future. Just like class, it may be a good idea to take notes.

    • Ask questions

      Being in a hospital can be intimidating, especially when students are still learning. That said, don’t be afraid to ask questions when shadowing other nurses.

    • Be resourceful

      The hectic hospital environment means nursing students may be brushed off at times. Don’t be offended. Find other resources when looking for information. Some ideas include: the internet, head nurses, your CI. It’s okay to be persistent.

    • Remember the individual

      Each patient and their family has specific needs. Successful students remember this during clinical practice and address each need to the best of their ability.

Research and Support: Nursing Organizations

Want more information before committing to an accelerated nursing program? There’s a lot to consider, including school selection, degree path and traditional versus non-traditional education options. Below are a few resources that will help prospective accelerated nursing students narrow the choices.

Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses

Dedicated to the practice of medical-surgical nursing, AMSN provides networking and professional opportunities to medical-surgical nurses.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing

Prospective students can learn facts, figures and fast-track education requirements to become a nurse.

American College Health Association

The American College Health Association is a network for college health professionals.

American Nurses Association

The ANA is a professional organization representing the interests of the nation’s registered nurses through its constituent and state nurses associations.

National Council of State Boards of Nursing

The NCSBN is an independent, not-for-profit organization through which boards of nursing act together on matters concerning public health, including the development of nursing licensure examinations. Here students can find information on the NCLEX-RN exams.

National League for Nursing

The National League for Nursing provides resources for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education as well as opportunities for professional development.

PreHealth Advising Program

Northeastern University developed a resource for prospective students interested in careers in medicine. This particular page is geared toward those interested in practical nursing.

Expert Advice on Accelerated Nursing Programs

Susan Grinslade has been the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs and a clinical professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY School of Nursing since 2006. She earned her nursing diploma from the Barnes Hospital School of Nursing in St. Louis in 1969 and went on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Education and Medical-Surgical Nursing, culminating with a Ph.D. in Nursing Science. She has won numerous awards for her work.

Interview with Susan Grinslade

What should prospective students consider before enrolling?
  • The program is intensive and not for the faint of heart.
  • The cost is not spread out over a period of time.
  • It’s crucial for students to understand that if they start an accelerated program and then find out nursing is not a good fit, they have probably already made huge investments in a life change that is costly and not easily undone.
Who is a good candidate for this program?

Susan says: “Accelerated nursing programs are not for everyone. Some individuals need more time to process and assimilate not only new knowledge but values and commitments.”

  • Individuals who are goal-directed
  • Individuals who are dedicated to keeping commitments
  • Second-career individuals who know exactly what being a professional nurse entails
How much time is dedicated to finishing an accelerated nursing program?

Susan says: “Our accelerated baccalaureate program is 12 months. Students are in class or clinical five days a week, six to eight hours a day.”

  • Factor in study time, outside the classroom
  • Note the time it takes to get to and from class
  • Estimate time taken by other life responsibilities, like child care or work
  • Plan to make time for maintaining healthy relationships