How Many Credits Do Online Accelerated BSN Programs Require?

Becoming a registered nurse involves various educational pathways, including an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) program. These fast-paced programs are designed for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and are looking to transition into nursing. ABSN programs, which can often be completed online, offer an intensive, condensed format that allows students to earn their nursing degree in a shorter time than traditional BSN programs, typically in 12 to 18 months. 

A common question prospective students often ask is: How many credits do online accelerated BSN programs require? This is a crucial consideration, as the number of credits required can impact the program’s length and cost. Understanding these requirements can help students plan their path to becoming a registered nurse and prepare for an ABSN program’s commitment.

Students in ABSN programs can expect a rigorous and fast-paced academic experience. Due to the condensed timeline of these programs, students should be prepared for an intensive course load that covers a broad range of topics, from anatomy and physiology to pharmacology and patient care. In addition to theoretical learning, ABSN programs incorporate clinical rotations, providing students with hands-on experience in various healthcare settings. Some programs include NCLEX prep to fast-track graduates into earning their RN licensure. Despite the challenging nature of these programs, they offer the advantage of a quicker path to becoming a registered nurse, making them an attractive option for those keen to transition into the nursing profession swiftly.

Read on to learn more about the typical number of credits required in ABSN programs, other factors that impact a program’s length and cost, and 20 accredited online ABSN programs.

Accelerated ABSN vs. BSN

Accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) programs, traditional bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs, and RN-to-BSN programs each serve distinct student populations with varying educational needs. 

ABSN programs, also known as second-degree nursing programs or fast-track BSN programs, are designed for individuals with bachelor’s degrees in a non-nursing field. These programs offer an accelerated curriculum allowing students to earn their BSN in as little as 12 to 18 months. 

On the other hand, traditional BSN programs are typically four-year programs intended for students without an undergraduate degree. They provide a comprehensive nursing education over a longer period, allowing more time to absorb and apply the material. 

Lastly, RN-to-BSN programs, sometimes called degree completion programs, target registered nurses who initially earned an associate degree or diploma in nursing. These programs provide additional coursework to bridge the gap between associate-level and bachelor-level nursing education, often focusing on leadership, research, and public health. 

Online ABSN programs offer the quickest path to a BSN for those with a prior bachelor’s degree and are the most efficient option for aspiring registered nurses (RNs) to get started on a career in nursing.

Quarters vs. Semesters

Accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) programs can follow either a semester or a quarter system, and the choice between the two can significantly impact the pace and schedule of one’s studies.

In a semester system, the academic year is typically divided into two semesters (fall and spring), each lasting around 15 to 16 weeks. Some schools also offer an optional shorter summer semester. The University of Washington offers a four-quarter ABSN program from autumn to summer. A semester system might involve more classes at once but spread over a more extended period, providing more time to delve into each subject. 

On the other hand, the quarter system divides the year into four terms – fall, winter, spring, and summer – each approximately 10 weeks long. For instance, Drexel University’s online programs use a quarter system, offering shorter terms and a faster pace. In a quarter system, students typically take fewer classes at a time but move through them more quickly.

It’s important to note that the total credits required for the degree remain the same, regardless of the system. In general, semester credits are worth 1.5 times more than quarter credits. Thus, a 120-credit-hour bachelor’s degree under the conventional system is equivalent to a 180-credit-hour degree under the quarter system.

Transfer Credits & Prerequisite Courses

While ABSN programs generally require 120 to 180 credit hours, many institutions offer transfer credit options for prior coursework or experience, reducing the total required credits to approximately. This makes the ABSN pathway even more accessible and efficient for students seeking to fast-track their nursing careers.

Here are a few common types of transfer credits:

  • General Education Courses: These are foundational courses in areas like English, math, social sciences, and humanities. 
  • Medical-Related Courses: Some programs may accept transfer credits for medical-related courses in a previous allied health degree.
  • Elective Courses: Depending on the program, elective courses taken in a previous program may be eligible for transfer credit.
  • Experiential Learning or Professional Experience: Some programs may offer credit for prior learning experiences or professional experience in healthcare.

Since ABSN programs are designed for those with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees, here are some standard prerequisite courses

  • Science Courses: Many ABSN programs require prerequisites in sciences such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology. Applicants who have taken these courses in a previous degree program may be eligible to receive transfer credits.
  • Mathematics Courses: Common courses required before enrollment include statistics or biostatistics. 
  • Nutrition Courses: These courses can be general or specialized for specific populations or diseases.

Remember, each institution has unique policies regarding transfer credits, and acceptance can vary widely. Applicants are encouraged to check with the specific ABSN program about their transfer and prerequisite credit policies.

Core vs. Specialization Courses

In general, ABSN programs are divided between core and specialization courses. 

Core courses provide a broad foundation of nursing knowledge and skills that every nurse needs, regardless of their specific field or role. They may cover subjects like anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and general nursing practice. 

On the other hand, specialization courses delve deeper into specific areas of nursing, allowing students to tailor their education to their career goals. These include pediatric nursing, geriatric nursing, critical care, and nursing leadership.

Clinical Hour Requirements for ABSNs

The required clinical hours for an accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) degree can vary depending on the program and institution. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) recommends a minimum of 600 hours as of October 2023. However, the NCSBN prioritizes the quality of clinical experiences rather than the quantity of hours.

To provide some examples, the University of Indianapolis’s online ABSN program requires students to complete 570 clinical hours. On the other hand, Holy Family University’s accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program requires 504 clinical hours. The ABSN program at the University of Rochester requires 720 clinical hours, while Concordia University requires 765 clinical hours.

Number of Credits in Common ABSN Degree Pathways

In addition to ABSN programs, ABSN-to-MSN and ABSN-to-DNP programs offer a comprehensive and expedited pathway to advanced nursing roles. These combined degree options are designed for students who wish to fast-track their nursing education and career advancement. 

Compared to a standalone ABSN, these programs are more efficient and cost-effective for ambitious individuals aiming for top-tier nursing careers. Furthermore, they often provide seamless transitions between levels of study, eliminating the need for separate application processes for each degree. 

These combined programs offer specialized knowledge and training to equip nurses with the expertise needed for leadership roles in clinical practice, administration, education, and research.

BSN PathwayCollege or UniversityNumber of Credits, Semester Hours, or Units
ABSN-to-MSN ProgramsConcordia University70
ABSN-to-DNP ProgramsMaryville University68-77

Contact Programs for More Information

For aspiring RNs seeking information about ABSN program requirements, contacting schools with specific inquiries is highly recommended. This allows for customized responses tailored to individual circumstances, which is especially important considering that the information on a school’s website may only sometimes be current. Given the rapidly evolving nature of the advanced nursing field, ABSN curriculums must stay up-to-date.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


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).