6 Steps to Making a Career Change to Nursing

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If you’re thinking about making a career change to nursing, you can benefit by using your prior non-nursing college education as a springboard. Look for an Accelerated BSN program that accepts non-nursing credits and follow the admissions process, which includes completing prerequisites and applying for financial aid.

Nurse smiling at camera

You’ve been thinking about making a career change to nursing, but you have lots of questions. How exactly can you change your career to nursing? How long does it take to become a nurse? First, it’s helpful to think about your reason for wanting to become a nurse. You’ll need to articulate that reason when you work on the admissions process for nursing school.

Some people might decide to switch careers to nursing because they desire a more meaningful line of work that enables them to help other people in their community. Others may be fascinated by health science and want to learn more about it, while others may appreciate the strong job growth trajectory.

Regardless of your reason, there are multiple paths toward becoming a registered nurse (RN), a licensed healthcare provider who provides direct patient care with a certain degree of autonomy.

Through Northeastern University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, you can earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in as few as 16 months. If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or at least 62 college credits from an accredited institution, you can apply to our Charlotte location and make the career change. Additionally, our location near Boston is open to applicants with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.

The process of making a career change to nursing can look a little different from one person to the next. In general, however, you can expect to go back to school to earn your nursing degree. Then, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), which is how RNs earn their licensure. Take a closer look at the specifics below.

Step 1: Determine Which Nursing Degree to Pursue

nursing student writing on clipboard

When you know you are ready to change your career to nursing, it can be tempting to look for the program that will get you into the nursing field the soonest. However, it’s important to invest in your future nursing career by dedicating time to researching the options available.

Associate Degree in Nursing

With an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), you can earn your nursing degree in about two years. Just like a four-year degree, an ADN will qualify you to sit for the licensure exam.

However, an associate degree does not offer the longevity in your career that a bachelor’s degree offers. Although you can still work in similar entry-level nursing positions with an ADN, you won’t be eligible for manager positions or to continue your education to earn a master’s degree or higher.

Additionally, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, more employers are hiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree and requiring current ADN-prepared nurses to earn their bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A BSN degree offers a far more in-depth exploration of nursing topics and preparation for clinical practice. When you earn a BSN, you are prepared to pursue clinical and non-clinical RN positions and management positions. You also have more opportunities to advance your education with a master’s degree or higher in nursing.

There are two paths you can pursue to earn your BSN. The path that’s right for you will determine your answer to the question, “How long does it take to become a nurse?”

1. Traditional BSN Program

The first option is a traditional bachelor’s program. It typically takes four years of full-time study to earn a BSN in a traditional program. These programs are generally intended for students who have recently graduated from high school or are enrolling in college for the first time.

2. Accelerated BSN Program

Another option is to pursue your degree through an accelerated program, such as Northeastern University’s ABSN program. Through accelerated programs, you can apply your previous non-nursing college education to earn your nursing degree faster than a traditional BSN program.

An accelerated nursing program offers you the same scope of nursing education as a traditional BSN program within a compressed timeframe. You will still complete clinicals at top-ranked area hospitals and work with high-tech manikins in simulation labs. Some accelerated nursing programs, such as Northeastern’s, allow you to complete your classes online, offering more flexibility than traditional bachelor’s programs.

Northeastern nursing student in sim lab

To get a better idea of how Northeastern's Accelerated BSN program works, download your free guide, "What to Expect in Accelerated BSN Nursing School".

Step 2: Contact an Admissions Counselor

If you aren’t sure yet about whether the Accelerated BSN program is the right step for you, you can speak to admissions counselor.

Your dedicated admissions counselor will review your unique circumstances, offer advice, provide program details and guide you through the application process. Together with your admissions counselor, you’ll also explore your financial aid options and determine your ideal start and graduation dates.

Your counselor will be by your side throughout your admissions process, from the first moment you call in about the program until you start your nursing courses. At that point, you’ll have the support of our faculty as you work towards earning your BSN.

Before reaching out to an admissions counselor, it’s helpful to gather together your unofficial transcripts from your prior non-nursing college education. This enables your counselor to determine which prerequisites you may need to take before enrollment.

Step 3: Complete the Prerequisites

The ABSN prerequisites build an important foundation for your nursing education. Your admissions counselor will help determine which prerequisites you have to complete before starting your nursing courses.

The amount of prerequisites you have to complete may differ from your fellow nursing students. Some find they have sufficient credits that will transfer over from their previous degree. Your counselor will guide you through the process of determining transferrable credits.

Step 4: Fill Out the FAFSA and Apply for Other Student Aid

Your first step in filing for financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Even if you aren’t sure you will qualify for federal student aid, you should still take the time to complete the application. You may find that there is some student aid money you can apply to books, school supplies and tuition. Every little bit helps.

northeastern student studying on laptop

You can fill out your FAFSA as soon as January 1 for the following school year. Be sure to file as soon as possible.

To fill out the FAFSA, follow these steps:

  1. Apply for your FSA ID
  2. Go to fafsa.gov to fill out your application
  3. Enter your personal information, such as name and date of birth, exactly as they appear on government forms
  4. Enter all your financial information. You can use your previous year’s tax forms.
  5. Be sure to input all the schools you are applying for aid for.
  6. Sign the document. With the new FSA ID, you may have to wait up to three days to sign your document. Apply for your ID early to avoid waiting.

Once you have filled out your FAFSA and know how much you will get in federal student aid, you should look at your other options for financing your nursing education. Your counselor can suggest other resources, such as grants and scholarships.

Remember, you are investing in your future by going through nursing school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses are in high demand throughout the country.

Closeup of stethoscope and calculator

Read this guide to financial aid for second-degree nursing students to learn more about your options.

Step 5: Apply for the Nursing Program and Start Your Journey

Once you have completed all the above steps, all you have left to do is apply for admission to the BSN programs of your choice and get started on your nursing journey. Your admissions counselor will walk step-by-step with you through the application. Before your first day of classes, it’s helpful to know what to expect from a nursing program.

Step 6: Know What to Expect at Northeastern’s ABSN Program

The curriculum for the ABSN program at Northeastern offers an in-depth look at wide-ranging nursing topics. You’ll study everything from evidence-based practice to nursing leadership to healthcare ethics, as well as nursing specialties like obstetrics, pediatrics and public health.

nursing student working on whiteboard

Since you’ll earn your degree on an accelerated timeline, convenience and flexibility are built right into the format of the program. You’ll work through online nursing theory coursework along with in-person learning experiences like nursing skills and simulation labs. You’ll also complete multiple clinical rotations. Take a closer look:

  • Online nursing theory coursework: Delivered via an e-Learning platform, convenient online coursework allows you to choose when and where you participate in class. Through the platform, you can listen to and read lecture material, participate in simulated learning activities and join scheduled chat sessions with instructors.
  • Nursing skills and simulation labs: Hands-on skills and nursing simulation labs prepare you to provide patient care during clinical rotations. During these labs, you work alongside nursing school faculty who help develop your critical-thinking and decision-making skills in a controlled, risk-free environment.
  • Clinical rotations: Taking place at leading healthcare facilities, our accelerated BSN program clinicals have you working alongside top nursing staff and assisting them with patient care. You will gain diverse nursing experiences in areas that include behavioral health, obstetrics, intensive care and acute care.
Northeastern ABSN student working with sim manikin

You can learn about the benefits of simulation labs in nursing school here.

Quick Tips for Making a Career Change to Nursing

Following steps one through six will enable you to work toward transitioning your career and pursuing meaningful work in the healthcare field. You can also use the following tips to optimize your experience as a potential or current nursing student.

  • Research your state’s regulations on RNs. Although the NCLEX is the same for every state, the requirements to practice as a nurse can vary slightly from state to state. Each state maintains its own nursing regulatory board.
  • Learn about different nursing specialties and consider which one you might like to pursue. However, keep an open mind. Even if you have your heart set on pediatrics, a clinical rotation in mental health might change your mind.
  • While you’re working on the prerequisites, consider looking for an entry-level job in healthcare or a relevant volunteer position to boost your application.
  • Read nursing journals regularly to stay on top of changes and trends in the field.
  • As soon as you receive your RN license, make a note of when it will need to be renewed and the requirements for doing so.

Make the Career Change to Nursing with Northeastern University’s ABSN

smiling nurse portrait

When you’re ready to change your career to nursing, the admissions staff at Northeastern University is here to help. Your admissions counselor will provide personalized guidance to facilitate your career change to nursing.

After completing the prerequisites, you could earn your nursing degree in as few as 16 months. Through online coursework, nursing simulation labs and clinical rotations, students are prepared to become skilled and knowledgeable nurses. Take the first step and contact an admissions counselor today!