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Planning Your Path
 This page was last updated on 15-Jun-02

Main Menu / Educational Guidance / Planning Your Path
 Educational Guidance:
 Planning Your Path

W
hen researching nursing programs, you will find there are many options to available to suit your circumstances.  The first thing to look at is the level of licensure you want to obtain.

There are two licensing designations that enable you to practice as
a nurse  - LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) and RN (Registered Nurse).  LPN programs are shorter in duration (typically 10 months to a year), while RN programs take 2 to 4 years.  The  difference between the two is in the scope of practice and duties.  RN's are
able to take on more responsibility and may supervise LPNs.  RN's also have increased earnings potential and a higher starting salary.  One more thing to keep in mind - there have been attempts to raise the educational requirements for an RN license to a bachelor's degree. These changes, should they occur, will probably be made state by state, through legislation or regulation.  If this happens,
RN licensure will require a 4-year degree.

A more in-depth look at LPN vs. RN is provided on this site on the following pages:
Licensed Practical Nurses
Registered Nurses

Some items to factor into your decision include:
Time frame - how much time are you able to devote to a program?  1 year?  2 years?  4 years?
Finances - there are many ways to finance your education (grants, loans, employer tuition reimbursement, etc.), however you will also need to think about living expenses while in school.  Will you need to work while attending school?  Are there ways you can cut costs?  Keep in mind the length of time you will be in school.  A helpful article on locating funding to offset college costs is provided on this site - go to Financial Aid.
Work - are you planning to work while attending school, either part-time, or full-time?  LPN and RN programs are very challenging and will require a lot of study time outside the classroom, as well as clinical rotations.  Additionally, degree programs typically run 8-5, Monday - Friday - this is something to think about if you need to work during the day.
Family - many new nursing students are non-traditional students, meaning they are enrolling later in life to pursue a second career.  Full-time nursing programs can present some challenges for balancing school and family, so it is best to go in with your eyes open.  Plan ahead for back-up daycare and work on ways to streamline household responsibilities.  Get family members involved and encourage their support.
Prior Education - most nursing programs have selective admissions policies, and some are highly competitive.  Additionally, almost all of them have prerequisites for admission - certain college-level courses you are required to have successfully completed ahead of time.  These may include college-level algebra and English courses, as well as basic sciences.  Have you attending college previously?  How was your GPA?  If your GPA wasn't so hot, or if you haven't attended college in some time, you may want to take a few courses before applying to a program.  This will give your self-confidence a boost, and will demonstrate to admissions committees your potential for college success.
Prior Experience - while not a requirement, admissions committees like to see that you have had some prior experience or exposure to the medical field.  This could be through work or volunteer experience.  It also helps you to have this experience ahead of time.  Spending some time working as a CNA, for example, is a great way to get insight into the profession - you don't want to invest 4 years in schooling, only to find out you do not enjoy the work.

Once you have narrowed your focus to LPN or RN, you can begin to research schools in your area that offer these programs.  Many community colleges offer fantastic LPN programs that are very cost-effective.  If you plan to pursue an RN, you can choose between 2-year ADN  (Associate's Degree of Science in Nursing) and 4-year BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) programs.  Many 4-year BSN students take their first two years of prerequisite courses at their local community college, then transfer into a university for the remaining two years.  This is a good way to reduce your costs.  Be sure to contact program advisors, who are a great resource for planning your path and showing you your options.

For students who already have their LPN or RN designation and would like to complete their bachelor's degree, many schools now offer accelerated degree completion programs (known as LPN/RN bridge programs).  Additionally, there are distance learning options, such as the Regents program.  If you are already working in the nursing field, these are viable alternatives to traditional degree programs and offer more flexibility.

For more information on plotting a course to your LPN or RN, take a look at the following websites:
American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Distance Learning at About.com
National Council of State Boards of Nursing
Nursing Spectrum
Regents College
Wetfeet (Career Overview & Stats)


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