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Accelerated BSN Programs in Illinois (IL): Online & Campus

Explore Illinois’ top Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) programs and the unique benefits and challenges they present.

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Author: Angela Myers
Editor: Kari Scare

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Cityscape at dusk featuring Cloud Gate, also known as "The Bean," in Millennium Park, Chicago. The large, reflective sculpture is surrounded by illuminated skyscrapers and a vibrant Illinois sky. People are gathered around the structure, admiring its unique design.

If you’re looking to make a career transition, nursing is a great field to enter. It can take four years to gain nursing licensure, but there are accelerated options that allow non-nurses with bachelor’s degrees in other fields to pivot into nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in one to two years. Accelerated BSN programs in Illinois provide the same nursing skills and foundations as four-year degrees in half the time, allowing students to enter nursing work two years earlier than their counterparts in traditional nursing programs.

Two years of extra work can make a huge difference financially, too, especially in a state like Illinois where ample nursing roles are opening up. One-third of nurses, according to the Illinois Nursing Workforce Center, are planning to retire in the next five years, creating more high-paying opportunities for new graduates.

This guide details the best accelerated BSN programs in Illinois and provides an inside look at what these programs entail and how they differ from traditional ones. Keep reading to learn about the typical timeline for an accelerated BSN and the biggest challenges accelerated nursing students face, their solutions, and more.

Inside Accelerated Online & Hybrid BSN Programs in Illinois

Since many accelerated BSN programs in Illinois require students to complete all degree requirements on campus, it can be hard to find online and hybrid programs. Fortunately, there are a few high-quality accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs with virtual components in the Chicago area and beyond. The three below stand out in terms of academic rigor and flexibility and give you a measuring stick to use when researching programs.

Elmhurst University

When looking at accelerated BSN programs in Illinois, Elmhurst University offers two accelerated degrees, an Online Accelerated BSN and an Online Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice. Accelerated BSN students can transition to graduate study and do both on an accelerated timeline. For those interested in the accelerated BSN, all coursework can be completed online, though clinical and residency hours are in person. The school’s clinical team works with students to determine a healthcare site close to them to complete their hours, and the residency requirement must be completed on Elmhurst’s campus west of Chicago. The ideal applicant lives in the Chicago area since the program prepares students to become licensed nurses in Illinois after graduating. To apply for the accelerated BSN, applicants need a bachelor’s degree in another field.

Loyola University Chicago

Logo of Loyola University Chicago, Illinois, featuring a maroon shield with a motto, the university's name in large black letters, and the tagline "Preparing people to lead extraordinary lives" below.

Loyola University Chicago hosts one of the best accelerated BSN programs in Illinois. The program’s curriculum focuses on building nursing skills, empowering students with knowledge of the human body, and ensuring they are values-based nurses who understand how to ethically provide care. This Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program does this through either a hybrid or fully in-person courseload. The hybrid option consists of online lectures and in-person simulation labs. Students also complete a 120-hour clinical rotation in their final semesters, and all clinical partner sites are in the Chicago area. Along with coursework, labs, and clinicals, Loyola provides online and in-person study resources for the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX), and the school boasts a 93.7% first-time pass rate. If taken as a full-time, accelerated program, students can graduate in 16 months, though this timeline is dependent on them having completed several prerequisite courses, like anatomy and biology, before applying.

National Louis University

National Louis University has one of the best online accelerated BSN programs in Illinois. Designed for those who already have bachelor’s degrees in other fields, this Accelerated BSN program covers the knowledge students need to successfully work as nurses and prepares them to sit for the NCLEX. All classes are offered online in an asynchronous format, so students can watch course modules and complete classwork whenever works for them instead of at set class times. Each asynchronous module is followed by a synchronous class session that answers any questions and reviews concepts. Students also complete clinical rotations, labs, and simulations, which take place in person. All in-person components must be completed at approved sites in downtown Chicago. Successful applicants must submit transcripts indicating that prerequisites like microbiology, general biology, chemistry, anatomy, introduction to psychology, nutrition, developmental psychology, college algebra, and statistics are completed.

Inside Traditional Accelerated BSN IL Programs

While hybrid and online degrees are great, some students prefer in-person programs because they can provide more hands-on experience and opportunities for face-to-face interaction with peers and professors. If this sounds like you or you’re just curious about what a traditional accelerated BSN looks like, three stand-out programs that must be completed 100% in person are spotlighted below.

Bradley University

Logo of Bradley University featuring a shield with a stylized "B" on the left and "Bradley University" written in bold, red uppercase letters to the right.

One of the best accelerated BSN programs in Illinois is hosted at Bradley University. All components of this 15-month Accelerated Nursing (ABSN 2nd Degree) program are completed in person, either at the university’s Peoria campus or with local healthcare partners. Students take foundational nursing courses that include the fundamentals of nursing, adult health, maternal-newborn nursing, nursing care of children, and pharmacology. They can also dive into specialty areas of nursing – such as psychiatric-mental health nursing or gerontology nursing – that are of interest to them. Many courses also have labs and simulations that help students apply what they learn in a hands-on, low-stress environment. Clinical experiences are also sprinkled throughout the degree and give students the chance to explore nursing in a variety of settings, including critical care, pediatrics, surgery, and mental health. This program has a long list of prerequisites, which applicants should explore ahead of time.

Illinois State University

Those who want to earn a nursing degree in 15 months should consider the Accelerated BSN program at Illinois State University. Housed at its campus in Normal, Illinois, students complete all course requirements in person. Most classes are on-campus lectures and have accompanying simulations that take place in campus labs. Courses cover topics like anatomy, nursing skills development, and the ethics of providing nursing care. The program also emphasizes leadership skills and offers career development resources to ensure students’ professional futures align with their interests. Along with coursework, students also complete clinical rotations with local healthcare partners. These clinicals are thoughtfully planned, so each student graduates with experience providing care across the lifespan. While clinicals are sprinkled throughout the program, students take a dedicated education unit where they work in one healthcare setting with a one-on-one nursing mentor in their final semesters. To make the degree more affordable, Illinois State University offers over 100 nursing scholarships.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville hosts a robust Nursing Post-Baccalaureate Accelerated option that can be completed in three semesters and one summer session. Housed through its Edwardsville campus, most program requirements take place on-campus and include lectures and labs. Courses cover a variety of foundational nursing topics, such as providing clinical care and nursing skills development. Students also complete clinical experiences, which take place with healthcare organizations near campus and offer hands-on knowledge of providing nursing care across the lifespan. The program is more general, meaning coursework spans many types of nursing instead of focusing on one type in-depth. Southern Illinois University also has several NCLEX exam prep resources and regularly boasts a high pass rate. If students are interested in continuing to their master’s or doctorate in nursing, the school offers an easy transition path for them. The school also offers professional development help, so students can forge a solid professional future.

Timeline of an Accelerated BSN Program in Illinois

As you may have already guessed, accelerated nursing programs have a more demanding timeline than traditional programs. However, there’s often a lot of confusion about the timing and what preparation students should complete before starting these programs. Below is what the typical ABSN program looks like broken into six-month increments.

Six Months Before

About six months before their program starts, students should research and apply to different accelerated BSN programs. If students are currently finishing a degree, like an associate in nursing or an undergraduate degree in another field, six months out is a good time to wrap up classes. It’s also a good time to start exploring financial aid options and make sure you’ve completed all the prerequisites for the ABSNs you’re considering.

First Six Months

Accelerated medical programs are rigorous, and students in these programs often must devote significant time to studying, attending classes, and completing clinical components. Prepare by developing good study habits – such as reviewing materials before class and studying in small daily increments instead of cramming near exams – in these first six months. Since an accelerated degree is shorter, now may also be a good time to start studying for the NCLEX. By reviewing NCLEX test strategies ahead of time, you’ll be better prepared to take the exam after graduating.

Last Six Months

Students typically continue taking courses in their last six months, though they may take less as clinical components ramp up. In some programs, clinical experiences at local healthcare facilities are scattered throughout an accelerated BSN. In others, all clinical rotations are completed in the final six months. No matter which type of program you’re in, you’ll most likely spend more time at clinical sites in the last six months than the first six. Along with clinicals, you’ll also want to make time to study for the NCLEX.

Six Months After

After graduating, it’s time to take the NCLEX and apply for licensure in Illinois. The state provides a new nurse licensing checklist, which includes requirements like paying a registration fee and successfully graduating from a state-approved nursing program. New nurses must also pass background and fingerprint checks before getting their licenses. Along with licensure requirements, new nurses should also begin looking for jobs. Remember to network with local healthcare employers, practice your interview skills, and brush up your resume, too.

Benefits & Challenges of Accelerated BSN Programs for Non-Nurses

Accelerated BSNs come with a specific set of challenges, such as their intensive pace, preparation for the NCLEX, and the quick adaption period. However, there are also benefits like a better return on investment, a fast track to a nursing career, and preparation for an advanced degree.

Benefit: High Return on Investment

Accelerated BSNs often have lower tuition rates, making them a more affordable option than traditional programs. Along with a lower price tag, these degrees let students graduate two to three years faster, boosting their lifetime earnings.

Benefit: Fast Track to Nursing Career

A fast track to a nursing career also means accelerated students gain experience faster. More experience sets students up to apply for nursing leadership roles or to take highly specialized courses to learn a specific skill set, such as nursing informatics.

Benefit: Preparation for Advanced Degrees

An accelerated nursing program has an intensive pace, so students must become experts at balancing many different demands. This skill set prepares them well to get an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science (MSN), while working. Many schools recognize this and even offer easy transition pathways or exploratory electives to accelerated students, so they can explore different advanced degree options.

Challenge: Adaptation to Nursing Culture

Nursing has its own language and culture. From understanding clinical procedures to nursing communication styles, there’s a steep learning curve when transitioning into the nursing culture. Accelerated students must navigate that curve faster than traditional students, which can lead to overwhelm. If you’re having trouble adjusting to the nursing culture, ask nurses at your clinical rotation sites or your professors for help. Those around you want to see you succeed and are a resource for any questions you may have.

Challenge: Intensive Pace

Accelerated nursing degrees are fast paced, making it easy to get burned out in these programs. Prevent burnout by making time for self-care and having a consistent bedtime routine. If burnout strikes, employ measures to fend it off as quickly as possible.

Challenge: Transition & Preparation for Licensing Exams

On top of an accelerated pace, students must also study for the NCLEX while attending classes and clinicals. This exam can be difficult, though a good program typically offers ample study resources. To set yourself up for success, choose an accelerated nursing program with a high NCLEX pass rate and be proactive about studying throughout your degree.