Higher Education Options for Licensed Practical Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) in California and Texas, work in healthcare under the supervision of registered nurses. The path to becoming an LPN depends on the student’s current education and desired specialty. Requirements may vary by state, but all LPNs must have some post-high school education to ensure the best possible care for patients.

This guide informs prospective LPNs and LVNs about the requirements, careers, and paths to pursuing a career in nursing. Find out if nursing is a good choice for you and discover some of the best LPN nursing programs.

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Higher Education Options for Licensed Practical Nurses

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), known as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) in California and Texas, work in healthcare under the supervision of registered nurses. The path to becoming an LPN depends on the student’s current education and desired specialty. Requirements may vary by state, but all LPNs must have some post-high school education to ensure the best possible care for patients.

This guide informs prospective LPNs and LVNs about the requirements, careers, and paths to pursuing a career in nursing. Find out if nursing is a good choice for you and discover some of the best LPN programs.

AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Is an LPN?

Licensed practical nurses care for injured, ill, or convalescing patients or persons with disabilities. They work under a registered nurse's supervision. LPNs work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and group homes.

Among other tasks, LPNs are qualified to perform the following:

  • Administer prescription medications
  • Evaluate nursing intervention outcomes and discuss with other health care team members
  • Collect samples from patients such as blood and urine
  • Sterilize equipment
  • Make appointments and keep patient records

Who Pursues an LPN Program?

An LPN program is a fast-track route to a rewarding career in healthcare. The program can also help certified nurse assistants advance in their careers or change jobs. The sample profiles below will provide a closer look at reasons to pursue an LPN nursing program.

  • The Aspiring Nurse

    An aspiring nurse can get to work quickly with a high school diploma and a nursing certificate they can earn in about a year. Some high schools offer vocational programs. These programs allow graduates to start working after graduation and earn the state’s board certification. This fast-track option benefits those who want to start working quickly and gain professional experience. From there, practicing LPNs can go on to earn an RN or BSN with more education.
  • The Certified Nurse Assistant

    This is the fastest route to a healthcare career in nursing. Nursing assistants can train in just a few weeks or a few months, depending on state requirements. Programs include classroom and hands-on clinical experience. Some CNA-to-LPN bridge programs may offer coursework that counts toward both programs, reducing completion times.
  • The Career Changer

    An LPN career is a popular choice among those looking for a change. Many people can apply general education credits to the prerequisite requirements in an LPN program, shortening the program to less than a year. Graduates need to pass their state licensure exam to practice in a licensed facility.

The Path to Becoming an LPN or LVN

The path to becoming an LPN varies. Vocational and technical schools offer an exclusively nursing-related curriculum that puts graduates on a quick path to their careers. Students can often accelerate their learning to graduate sooner. At a community college, students must take general education classes, which provide extra credit hours and add time to the program's length. However, tuition generally costs less and students earn credits they may be able to transfer to another program later. Students can finish an LVN or LPN program online.

Path to Becoming an LPN/LVN
Points of Interest Vocational/Technical Schools Community Colleges
Curriculum Focus Courses are almost exclusively hands-on, practical LPN/LVN experience for immediate entry into the profession In addition to LPN coursework, may require general education classes, providing a more well-rounded education
Degrees/Credentials AwardedDiploma Certificate or associate degree
Typical Duration of Program(s) 9-18 months 18-24 months
Learning Format On-campus, online/hybrid, evening and weekend classes often available, accelerated learning options On-campus, online/hybrid, evening and weekend classes often available, general education classes usually can be completed entirely online
What’s Unique? Career-focused education with flexible scheduling options for busy students Lower tuition costs and the opportunity to transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree

Types of Degrees Available to LPNs

The education required to begin a career in nursing depends on the amount of education the aspiring nurse wants to complete. A diploma or certificate program allows a quick entry into the field but may limit career advancement. An associate in nursing program takes longer to complete but offers a more versatile curriculum that could serve aspiring nurses well in future educational endeavors. There are other benefits and disadvantages for each degree type, as outlined here.

Types of Degrees
Points of Interest Diploma or Certificate Associate Degree
Curriculum Focus Career-focused education limited to LPN skills and knowledge only Supplements LPN coursework with general education classes
Duration of Program 9-18 months 18-24 months
Benefits Offers a quick entry into the healthcare workforce, training is provided by professionals in the field More versatile academic credential, credits may transfer toward a bachelor’s degree
Disadvantages Limited education, some employers prefer to hire applicants with a degree, credentials typically won’t transfer should the individual pursue further nursing education Longer time commitment, admissions process might be more rigorous

Beyond the LPN: Bridge Programs to the RN

Licensed practical nurses who want to further their education can do so by becoming a registered nurse. Many schools offer a bridge program to make the process seamless. In an RN program, students learn more complex treatments and nursing assessments. They also learn advanced pharmacology, physiology, and pathology. Because they have more advanced training, RNs tend to earn more than LPNs.

An LPN-to-RN bridge program is a good opportunity for those who want to become leaders in their organizations or pursue a graduate degree in nursing.

For acceptance into an LPN-to-RN program at a top nursing school, applicants must hold a certificate or diploma from an accredited LPN program and hold a current LPN license. Depending on the state, the applicant may also need to have a number of clinical hours or work experience hours. The time to graduation varies depending on what type of LPN degree the applicant earned, and the school and program of application. LPNs can usually become an RN in 12-24 months.

Students can earn an RN degree online, on-campus, or in a hybrid program. Hybrid options provide both online and on-campus class options. Because graduates need practical experience, online programs do require clinical rotations at an approved local healthcare facility. Prospective RNs should talk to their school of choice before enrolling to ensure that the program will fit their personal and professional schedule.

Earning Potential for Practical Nurses

The healthcare field is growing rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses will grow by about 9% from 2020-2030. These nurses earn a median annual salary of $48,820. Our map below shows the mean annual salaries for LPNs or LVNs in top-paying states.

Salary Potential
State Mean Annual Salary
Alaska $67,620
California $64,090
Massachusetts $60,400
Washington state $59,780
Nevada $59,700

Source: BLS

Next Steps: Earning Your License

After fulfilling the educational requirements, aspiring LPNs need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to work as a licensed practical nurse. The five-hour exam's number of questions varies, depending on how many questions the test-taker answers incorrectly. The number of questions increases if a candidate answers a question incorrectly, for up to a total of 205 questions.

Learners preparing to take the NCLEX-PN exam should plan to begin studying about six months in advance. Candidates can prepare alone or find a study group to work with, in either an informal setting or in a more structured class.

A number of resources are available for test-takers. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website provides a test outline. The association updates the outline annually, so candidates should ensure that they have the most current outline. NCSBN also has a candidate bulletin to help test-takers prepare for the exam's layout. Students can buy flash cards and study books online from a number of retailers. Study Guide Zone features many practice question sets and a video with helpful tips.

Learners can find organized study courses through ATI Testing, Hurst Review Services, and other online and local test prep organizations. These courses encourage candidates to use lists, pictures, diagrams, and flashcards to gain a good knowledge base of the test topics. They also teach test-takers to focus on textbook answers, rather than answers that draw from personal experience. Some of the most challenging concepts include lab values, prioritization, delegation, and infection control.

Ongoing Support for LPNs

The National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service is dedicated to promoting and defending the practice, education, and regulation of LPN and LVNs.

The California Vocational Nurse Educators is a strong supporter of vocational nurses in the state of California. It produces conferences and seminars for continuing education and provides legislative information to its members.

The American Nurses Association is a professional organization for registered nurses. It promotes high standards of practice and promotes nurses' rights in the workplace.

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