How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner After High School & How to Fast-Track?

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you or someone you know is a high school student who is considering a career as a nurse practitioner? If so, you probably have several questions like, “how long does it take to become a nurse practitioner,” or “how long do nurse practitioners have to go to school?" There are several options for education paths that will lead you to a career as a nurse practitioner. This article will answer the above questions and provide a more in-depth look at how to become an NP after high school and how to fast-track to a degree as a nurse practitioner.

What Does a Nurse Practitioner Do?

Nurse practitioners are RNs who have advanced training in patient care. They provide healthcare services to patients, including assessing, diagnosing, and treating both acute and chronic health conditions. NPs also order tests, evaluate test results, and help develop plans of care focused on managing patient care. Additionally, nurse practitioners play a role in making sure patient medical charts and histories are kept up to date and may operate some medical equipment.


Where Do Nurse Practitioners Work?

Nurse practitioners may work in physicians' offices, hospitals, private or community health centers, correctional facilities, long-term care, and assisted living facilities. The setting that a nurse practitioner works in typically depends on what type of specialty area they want to focus on. For example, nurse practitioners who wish to take care of patients with heart conditions may work in a cardiologist's office.

Is Becoming a Nurse Practitioner a Good Career Choice?

Only you can determine if one career choice is better for you than another. However, if you like caring for others, are interested in the dynamics of healthcare from a nursing standpoint, and want to earn a reliable income, becoming a nurse practitioner can be an excellent career choice. By looking at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates and other sources, such as the U.S. News and World Report, one can deduce that job opportunities and earning potential will likely remain steady for many years to come. The following information should further help in your decision-making process.

Annual Job Openings:

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are almost twenty-four thousand job openings for nurse practitioners annually. This number is a strong indication that securing a job as a nurse practitioner is promising.

New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
11,070 13,130 24,200
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Earning Potential:

Earning potential for nurse practitioners is influenced by several factors. For example, the amount of experience a nurse practitioner has, where he/she lives, the shift they work, and geographical location may all contribute to potential earnings. According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earn approximately $53.77 per hour, which is equivalent to $9,320 monthly or $111,840 annually.

Hourly $53.77
Monthly $9,320
Annual $111,840
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook:

With an estimated job growth rate of over twenty-eight percent between 2019 and 2029, the outlook for nurse practitioner career opportunities is favorable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over 320,000 nurse practitioner jobs will be available by the year 2029.

Employment New Employment Growth (2019-2029)
2019 2029 Number %
211,300 322,000 110,700 52.39%
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Satisfaction:

US News and World Report recognizes nurse practitioner jobs in the top five in the country. In fact, per a Medscape survey which was based on data submitted by practicing nurse practitioners, ninety-six percent of nurse practitioners say they are satisfied with their career choice. Of the nurse practitioners surveyed, almost half revealed that the most rewarding part of their jobs is the opportunity to enrich patients' lives.

How Many Total Number of Years Does It Take to Become a Nurse Practitioner After High School?

If you want to become a nurse practitioner, perhaps one of the most pressing questions you have is how many years of school to be a nurse practitioner? After graduating high school, it takes the average student between five and seven years to complete the degree, licensure, and certification requirements to become a nurse practitioner. If you choose to enroll on a part-time basis or if you take a semester off, the nurse practitioner school length of time may be lengthened.

Undergraduate Studies: What Education is Required & How Long Does It Take?

There are two undergraduate nursing programs, the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees. An associate degree in nursing typically takes students who are enrolled full-time about two years to complete. On the other hand, Bachelor's degree programs usually take at least four years of full-time study to complete. After completing an ADN or BSN program, students must take the NCLEX-RN and become licensed to practice as a registered nurse.

Both associate and bachelor’s nursing programs require students to complete pre-requisites before entering the program's nursing component. Pre-requisite classes, taken during the first year of any nursing program, are considered the foundational knowledge of any nursing degree. Some of the pre-requisite requirements include the following.

• Communications
• English Composition
• Psychology
• Human Anatomy and Physiology
• Biology
• Chemistry
• Sociology
• Statistics

After successful completion of pre-requisite courses, students can apply to the nursing component of their desired program. The second year of the program includes courses such as the following.

• Nursing Health Assessments
• Microbiology
• Medical-surgical Nursing
• Professional Issues Related to Nursing Care
• Ethics
• Psychiatric Nursing
• Community Health Nursing
• Geriatric Nursing
• Pediatric Nursing

Students enrolled in a BSN program take many of the same courses as associate degree students. However, they also take additional courses, including the following.

• Principles of Pharmacology
• Health Assessment for Registered Nurses
• Computing for Nurses
• Gerontology and Genomics
• Professional Nursing Concepts
• Nursing Research
• Public Health Nursing
• Nursing Management

Graduate Studies: What Education is Required & How Long Does It Take?

There are two options for graduate study paths to become a nurse practitioner, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). No matter which degree option you choose it should be accredited by either the ACEN or CCNE.

Master’s nursing programs

typically take two years of full-time enrollment to complete. Some of the courses that you can expect to take in an MSN program include:

• Health care policy
• Health care ethics
• Advanced Concepts in Pharmacology
• Specialty-based Theory and Practice

Clinical practicum:

Most MSN programs require at least 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Many schools allow MSN students to apply up to 500 clinical hours from their previous BSN program. However, it would help if you verified with your chosen school its policies regarding clinical practicum.

DNP programs

prepare post-BSN registered nurses to become actively involved in leadership roles within the nursing industry. These programs may take anywhere from three years up to five years to complete. Doctor of Nursing Practice courses are focused on the knowledge and skills required to earn the highest level of nursing practice. Regardless of where you enroll in a DNP program, there are essential courses that you will be required to take. Those required courses include the following.

• Healthcare Policy for Advocacy in the Healthcare System

o Health Policy and Economics
o Advanced Health Policy and Advocacy

• Concepts and Contemporary Issues Related to the DNP
• Methods and Measurement of Translational Practice Inquiry
• Interprofessional Collaboration

o Epidemiology
o Complex Healthcare Systems

• Clinical Prevention and Population Health

o Epidemiology and Health Promotion
o Legal and Ethical Issues of Advanced Practice Nursing

• Advanced Nursing Practice

o Advanced Research Methods
o Advanced Concepts

NP Certification & Licensure: What is Required & How Long Does It Take?

After completing a graduate degree in nursing, licensed registered nurses must apply to take the certification examination to become a certified nurse practitioner. The credentialing organizations that administer certification examinations determine how long the certification process is. In many cases, after applying to take the exam, you can get scheduled and take the certification examination within four to six weeks. After taking the certification exam specific to your chosen specialty, you can apply to the State Board of Nursing for licensure to practice as a nurse practitioner. The steps to obtain both certification and licensure include the following.

Step 1: To become a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse must earn a graduate degree in nursing with either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) diploma.
Step 2: After earning a minimum MSN degree, those wishing to become a certified nurse practitioner must take a national certification examination.
Step 3: After passing the national certification exam you must apply to your Nursing State Board along with the required documents to get your NP license.

The following is a list of organizations that offer certification exams for nurse practitioners.

1. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board:

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offers certification examinations in the following population foci:

a. Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP)
b. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (A-GNP)
c. Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP)

2. American Nurses Credentialing Center:

The American Nurses Credentialing Center is the largest certification organization for advanced practice RNs and offers certification examinations as follows.

a. Adult Nurse Practitioner Certification (ANP-BC)
b. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGACNP-BC)
c. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (AGPCNP-BC)
d. Emergency Nurse Practitioner Certification (ENP-BC)
e. Family Nurse Practitioner Certification (FNP-BC)
f. Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Certification (GNP-BC)
g. Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (PPCNP-BC)
h. Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC)
i. School Nurse Practitioner Certification (SNP-BC)

3. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses:

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers a certification exam for nurse practitioners interested in the care of acutely ill adult gerontology patients.

a. Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certification Adult-Gerontology (ACNPC-AG)

4. Pediatric Nursing Certification Board:

The Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB) offers certification exams for both primary and acute care pediatric nurse practitioners.

a. Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)
b. Acute Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-AC)

5. National Certification Corporation:

The National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers certification examination options for neonatal nurse practitioners and women’s health nurse practitioners.

a. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Certification (NNP-BC)
b. Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (WHNP-BC)

How Can You Cut Down on the Number of Years It Takes to Become a Nurse Practitioner?

Have you asked yourself how many years of school to be a nurse practitioner? Don’t worry! Once you have decided on a career path, it’s understandable that you would want to shorten the process of becoming a nurse practitioner as much as possible. There are a few ways that you may reduce the number of years it takes to become a nurse practitioner.

For example, some high schools offer students the opportunity to take dual enrollment classes. By enrolling in these classes, it is possible to complete some undergraduate pre-requisite courses and decrease the amount of time it takes to complete an NP program.

Another option for earning college credit without spending additional years as a student includes credit-by-examination. This is a great way for undergraduate and graduate students to show their knowledge and skills and possibly decrease the amount of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner.

Colleges and universities determine which credit-by-examination tests that they will accept and how many a student can take to earn credit toward their degree. College-Specific Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) awards college credit, advanced standing, and/or certification for students. These exams evaluate a student's knowledge that was gained in high school, training programs, independent study, community service, or military service.

PLAs may be earned by the following:

1. College-Level Examination Program, also known as CLEP, allows individuals to receive credit toward college courses for information they already know. CLEP tests cost a fraction of what taking a full course may take at a university. Additionally, some people, such as active military or veterans, may be eligible to test for free.

2. DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) is a testing program that provides active military members and veterans the opportunity to earn undergraduate credits.

3. Advanced Placement is a program that was created by the College Board that offers college-level examinations to high school students. After successfully completing an advanced placement course, colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who have earned high scores on the exams.

The Bottom Line

Once you have made the decision to become a nurse practitioner and answered questions such as, “how long does it take to become a nurse practitioner?” you can begin to make plans regarding the education path you plan to follow. Nurse practitioner school length of time may vary depending on whether you attend full-time or part-time and whether you take any credit-by-examination tests. It is essential to begin planning as early as possible if you are considering a career as a nurse practitioner. You can help reduce the amount of time it takes to complete a nurse practitioner program after high school by implementing some of the article's suggestions.

Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner after ADN?

If you have already earned an associate degree in nursing (ADN), you can complete a master’s program through the RN to MSN pathway in two and a half to four years, depending on whether you enroll on a full-time or part-time basis. Those who choose to test for credit by using CLEP or other credit-by-examination options may shorten the length of time it takes to become a nurse practitioner after ADN even more.

RN to MSN30 to 36 Months36 to 48 Months

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner after BSN?

BSN nurses have already completed at least four years in a nursing program, including a clinical practicum. After completing a BSN degree, you can earn an MSN in as little as fifteen months of full-time enrollment and up to four years if you choose to attend school part-time. For those who want to earn their DNP, they can enroll in the BSN to DNP degree pathway. This option usually takes as little as 36 months if you enroll full-time or as much as 7 years if you attend part-time.

BSN to MSN15 to 24 Months24 to 48 Months
BSN to DNP36 to 48 Months48 to 84 Months

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner after MSN?

If you have completed your MSN in a NON-NP specialty and now are planning to become a nurse practitioner, then you can enroll for the post-master’s certificate program. Most applicants can complete this in a year’s time. However, it can take up to sixteen months if you enroll full-time or as much as two years if you attend part-time.

Post-Master's Certificate12 to 16 Months16 to 24 Months

How long does it take to become a nurse practitioner with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree?

Becoming a nurse practitioner if you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree is possible. Students with a non-nursing degree can pursue an accelerated MSN/Direct-Entry MSN program. This program will typically take you about two years as a full-time student or between two and four years as a part-time student.

Accelerated MSN20 to 24 Months24 to 48 Months

How much does it cost to become a nurse practitioner?

Several things typically determine the cost of becoming a nurse practitioner. For example, whether you choose to enroll in a school in the state where you reside or out-of-state will influence whether out-of-state fees are required. Additionally, the cost of transportation to and from school, books, fees, uniforms, and other expenditures should be considered. While there are ways to cut costs, such as receiving credit by examination or applying for scholarships, some people may still pay more than $100,000 for a graduate degree in nursing.

Do nurse practitioners prescribe medications?

Nurse practitioners in all 50 states can prescribe medications. However, it is important to note that an NP's authority to prescribe medications typically fall into one of three categories: restricted authority, reduced authority, and full practice authority. Restricted practice means that a nurse practitioner must have an agreement with a collaborating physician before he or she can prescribe medications. States that grant full practice authority allow nurse practitioners to work independent of a collaborative physician, even when prescribing regulated medications such as Schedule II-V substances.

What is the difference between a nurse practitioner’s scope of practice and their practice authority?

Scope of practice refers to the tasks or services that a nurse practitioner or other healthcare professional can perform. The Scope of Practice is based on the professional's training and competence to perform skills. On the other hand, practice authority determines what services a nurse practitioner is allowed to perform based on regulations set by the state where the professional practices.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years' experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels.