How Can I Become an NP Without a Nursing Degree?

Nurses are America’s most trusted professionals, ranking first in Gallup’s annual ranking of professions having high honesty and ethics for the past 20 years. Expanded medical insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act, the aging Baby Boomer population, and the Covid-19 pandemic have created an unprecedented demand for qualified nurse practitioners (NPs). Becoming an NP requires at least a master of science in nursing (MSN), and nowadays, there are unique programs tailored to non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders. 

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). NPs have more professional autonomy than registered nurses (RNs). As a result, they fill healthcare gaps in regions that fall short of providing medical care to underserved areas and populations. A central public health issue is the scope of practice laws, which have expanded in recent years thanks to advocacy groups. Increased scope of practice allows nurse practitioners to prescribe more medications and practice independently. This increased support for scope of practice authority will likely attract more NPs and APRNs to the field.

The demand for qualified nurse practitioners is at an all-time high in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) shows that nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioner careers are among the fastest-growing occupations, predicted to increase 45 percent from 2020 to 2030. This equates to 121,400 new jobs or 12,140 new jobs yearly, paying a median annual salary of $123,780 (BLS May 2021). Opportunities for NPs are expected to swell 52 percent during the same timeframe. 

To become an NP, registered nurses (RNs) with associate’s degrees or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees can enroll in an online RN-to-MSN program or an online BSN-to-MSN program

Fortunately, there are also several options for those with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees to become nurse practitioners through an accredited accelerated BSN or direct-entry MSN program. These programs include online courses and in-person clinical rotations that meet most state licensure requirements to become a licensed nurse practitioner (NP).  

If you’re ready for a career change and to make a difference in people’s lives, read on for a step-by-step guide to becoming an NP without a nursing degree.

Step-by-Step Guide to Become an NP Without a Nursing Degree

There are several pathways to becoming a nurse practitioner after earning a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Here is one possible path to becoming an NP without a nursing degree. 

Step 1: Enroll in an Accelerated BSN Program (12 Months)

Please note that candidates can pursue a direct entry MSN program and bypass earning the BSN degree. If a longer, more involved master’s degree program is desired initially, please skip to step 3.

The University of St. Thomas Houston offers an online accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN@UST), which students can complete full-time in 12 months. This program is designed for non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders to prepare for RN licensure. 

The curriculum includes online courses, hands-on laboratory experience, and clinical rotations. Prerequisite courses may be required for admission, which can be completed at the University of St. Thomas or any other accredited college or university. Upon completing this program, graduates are eligible to sit for the NCLEX exam to be licensed RNs. 

  • Location: Shenandoah, TX
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,100 per credit 

The College of Nursing at the University of South Alabama (USA) offers an on-campus accelerated BSN pathway for non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders. Students admitted to this program begin in the pre-professional track and can start in January or July each year. Upon completing the first track, students can transition to the professional component. 

Admissions to the professional component are competitive, and students are encouraged to meet all prerequisite requirements, including biology, human anatomy and physiology, psychology, and chemistry courses. Once admitted to the professional component, students complete coursework and clinical rotations on weekdays and weekends. 

  • Location: Mobile, AL
  • Duration: Three semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $393 per credit (in-state); $786 per credit (out-of-state)

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse (Timeline Varies)

There are three steps to becoming a registered nurse: earning a two- or four-year accredited nursing degree, taking the NCLEX exam, and applying for state licensure. Education requirements for RNs vary by state, although most states require a minimum of a BSN degree. 

For example, California is the top-employing state for registered nurses (BLS 2021), and the California Board of Registered Nursing outlines the following requirements to become an RN: 

  • Education: Earn an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN); a BSN; an entry-level master’s in nursing (ELM); a 30-unit non-degree licensed vocational nurse (LVN); or equivalent military education and experience. 
  • Apply for licensure: This includes completing an application, submitting official transcripts, and a criminal background check.
  • Take the NCLEX: The National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX) is accepted in all 50 states for RN licensure. 

Graduates are encouraged to take the NCLEX soon after completing their education and clinical experience requirements. Most accredited nursing programs include coursework that prepares graduates to take the NCLEX exam. 

Please see the National Council of States Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) for specific state-level requirements for RNs. 

Step 3: Earn an MSN Degree (Approximately Two to Five Years)

While there are many online MSN degree programs, all nursing programs require clinical experience in addition to didactic online coursework. MSN programs may have a specialty nurse practitioner track or offer a direct-entry option for non-nursing bachelor’s degree holders. 

Joyce University’s direct-entry hybrid MSN program is for non-nursing bachelor’s degree students. Courses are offered online, and students must complete direct-care clinical components in person. 

This 155-credit program includes 95 credits of core nursing courses and can be completed in eight semesters. First semester courses include anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, and introduction to nursing & evidence-based practice. Three start dates are offered throughout the year. 

  • Location: Draper, UT
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $65,550 total

The direct-entry MSN program offered by Marquette University’s College of Nursing is a hybrid and on-campus program available to RNs with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. It includes clinical rotations for full-time students in three of the five semesters. Students are encouraged to explore different APRN specialty options during clinical rotations, including nurse practitioner, nursing administration, and nurse-midwife. 

  • Location: Milwaukee, WI
  • Duration: 2.5 years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $63,000 total

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) with five specialty tracks, including family nurse practitioner (FNP). In addition, a multi-day immersion experience in advanced pharmacology for the prescriber is required on-campus. A minimum of 650 clinical hours is required beyond the immersion experience. 

Courses include advanced clinical pathophysiology, and primary care for women, children, infants, adolescents, and gerontological patients. To be admitted to this program, students must already have an unencumbered nursing license and live in a state with a state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA) with SNHU. 

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Duration: Two to five years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $627 per credit 

Step 4: Gain Clinical Experience (Timeline Varies)

Clinical experience is an essential part of nursing. Accredited BSN and MSN programs require nursing students to complete clinical hours to be eligible for graduation and licensure. These experiences are known as clinical rotations and give students hands-on experience with patients under the supervision of licensed clinicians, such as APRNs and physicians. 

Clinical rotations are completed in healthcare facilities near campus or near the student’s location of residence. The number of clinical hours varies for each program and depends on part-time or full-time enrollment. Students wanting to pursue NP licensure should seek out clinical hours that meet NP licensure requirements. 

Step 5: Apply for a Nurse Practitioner Certification (Timeline Varies)

Although voluntary, having NP certification demonstrates commitment and knowledge to employers and patients. Several organizations offer certification to NPs, including the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). 

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers four unique certifications for nurse practitioners: family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care and acute care, and psychiatric-mental health. To be eligible, applicants must hold an MSN, post-graduate certificate, or doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degree with a minimum of 500 clinical hours; and show evidence of three graduate-level courses in advanced physiology, health assessment, pharmacology, and other diagnosis and treatment interventions. 

Once accepted, candidates have 90 days to take the test at a Prometric testing location. The test includes 175 questions and must be completed in 3.5 hours. The exam is $395 and $295 for American Nurses Association (ANA) members.  

The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB) offers three certifications for nurse practitioners: family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care, and emergency nurse practitioner. More information about eligibility and continuing education requirements is available to those with registered accounts. 

To learn more about the certification requirements within each NP specialty, check out the comprehensive guide on becoming an NP.

Step 6: Apply for State APRN License (Timeline Varies; Requirements Vary by State)

The Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) title is reserved for RNs with graduate degrees who have passed a national certification exam and state-level requirements. 

For example, Texas is the top-employing state for nurse practitioners (BLS 2021). In addition, the Texas Board of Nursing (BON) requires applicants to submit the following for APRN licensure:

  • Education: Earn an accredited MSN or DNP degree with a minimum of 500 clinical hours and coursework in pharmacotherapeutics, advanced assessment, and pathophysiology. 
  • Clinical major: Applicants must have nine semester hours in a clinical specialty or practice area, such as pediatrics or family nurse practitioner.
  • Application and fee: An application, official transcripts, copies of a current nursing license, and a $100 fee are required to apply for state-level APRN licensure. 

Step 7: Renew NP Certification & State License (Timeline Varies)

NPs with ANCC certification must renew their credentials every five years. Renewal applications can be completed up to one year before certification expiration. In September 2022, the cost to renew an ANCC certification is $100.

NPs with AANP certification must renew their certifications every five years. Candidates can choose to recertify by acquiring minimum clinical practice hours and continuing education requirements or by taking and passing the certification exam. A $50 processing fee is required for both recertification options.

Bottom Line: How Long Does It Take to Become an NP Without a Nursing Degree?

In summary, it generally takes anywhere from three to five years for a candidate with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree to become a nurse practitioner (NP), depending on part-time or full-time enrollment and previous education and experience

Part-time and full-time enrollment is a significant factor in the time-to-completion of a degree program. The timeline may also be faster for someone with a bachelor of science degree who may have a solid background in science and math courses. By comparison, someone with a bachelor of arts degree may need more time to meet prerequisite requirements for accelerated BSN or non-nursing MSN degree programs. 

Finally, please see our Day in the Life of a Nurse Practitioner (NP) blog section to read accounts of working in various subfields of this rewarding career.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond

Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).