How to Become a Registered Nurse

The path to becoming a registered nurse is relatively straightforward.

Students must earn their GED/Diploma, complete prerequisite courses, finish nursing school and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

After that, graduates may work as licensed registered nurses assuming they paid their credentials and nursing fees.

To become a registered nurse, students must graduate from an accredited nursing school and pass the NCLEX-RN test.

Most registered nurse programs last at least two-year, awarding successful students with an ADN degree.

However, students can also take a four-year program to earn their BSN degree.

The higher a registered nurse’s education is, the more opportunities they have for career opportunities.

For instance, higher education allows nurses to earn increased pay, better benefits, and new career specializations.

Finally, nurses who’ve earned their ADN can apply to a BSN bridge program to obtain their bachelor’s more quickly.

There are also programs for LPNs (licensed practical nurses) to continue their education and earn an ADN or BSN degree.

Overall, there are four degrees available for aspiring registered nurses.

It includes the ADN (associate), BSN (bachelor), MSN (master), and DNP (doctorate) degrees.

The associate’s degree allows nurses to enter the field quickly and obtain registered nurse positions.

However, some healthcare organizations pick nurses with a bachelor’s degree due to work requirements and demands.

Some states require registered nurses to possess a BSN for particular nursing positions.

As a result, it’s a good idea for aspiring registered nurses to earn their bachelor’s or advanced degrees.

Steps to Become a Registered Nurse

  1. Get your GED or Diploma
  2. Complete Prerequisite Courses
  3. Apply to an Accredited Nursing Program
  4. Pass the Nursing Program
  5. Take and Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
  6. Apply for Registered Nurse Jobs

Here are six steps to becoming a registered nurse to provide a clear understanding of what’s required and how to get there,

1. Get your GED or Diploma

The first step toward becoming a registered nurse is to earn your GED or Diploma.

Most colleges/universities require students to have a general education development certificate or Diploma before accepting enrollment into their nursing program.

Nevertheless, you may want to see if your school offers RN-related courses/prerequisites if you’re currently in high school, 

That way, you transition into the nursing program faster once you’ve completed your education and earned your high school degree.

Upon earning your GED or Diploma, take the necessary nursing school prerequisites and apply to an accredited nursing program.

2. Complete Prerequisite Courses

Every nursing program requires students to take prerequisites and maintain a GPA average before gaining acceptance.

However, some schools are incredibly competitive, and simply passing their requirements may not be enough.

As a result, it’s best to consult a guidance counselor to determine the most fitting way to get accepted into the program.

For instance, some nursing programs require students to achieve a GPA average of 3.4.

Nevertheless, students may need a higher GPA average of 3.7 to compete with other talented students applying for the program.

Many colleges use prerequisite courses to measure students’ interest levels and dedication.

It also helps colleges/universities determine the probability of students passing the nursing program.

Most importantly, numerous colleges use GPA because their programs have limited seating, and it’s a practical way to qualify students.

While some prerequisites vary, the most common ones required by accredited nursing programs include:

  • English 101
  • Anatomy & Physiology I & II
  • Intro to Psychology or Psychology 101
  • Introduction to Sociology or Sociology 101

Once again, sit down with a guidance counselor to determine how difficult entry is into the nursing program. They’ll provide you with the required prerequisite courses, GPA level, and other expectations for gaining acceptance. 

Understanding the deciding factors of the program provides you with a much better chance of getting into the program.

Most colleges and universities require students to take similar prerequisite courses before accepting students into the nursing program.

However, some variations exist depending on the university and program you apply to join.

3. Apply to an Accredited Nursing Program

The next step to becoming a registered nurse is to find an accredited university offering a nursing program.

Some students take prerequisite courses at a community college and transfer credits to an accredited nursing program.

However, you must ensure the nursing school accepts your credits if you take another school’s courses and transfer the credits.

The most popular nursing program degrees for students are associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.

However, MSN and DNP degrees are available for students who want to become advanced practice registered nurses.

The ADN degree is a two-year program assuming full-time students have completed the prerequisites.

Yet, some colleges/universities have accelerated programs for those interested in completing their degree more quickly.

The BSN degree is a four-year program for full-time students as long as they’ve completed the prerequisites.


The ADN degree allows registered nurses to enter the nursing field quickly.

As a result, it’s excellent for students unsure whether nursing is the right career or for those who want to start immediately.

However, the BSN degree is preferable for dedicated registered nurses interested in career advancement and specialization.

Some states also require registered nurses to hold a BSN degree.

As a result, it’s necessary to determine whether your state requires a BSN before pursuing an ADN degree.

Many employed registered nurses serious about career advancement return to school to earn their bachelor’s degrees.

Finally, numerous careers available to registered nurses require a BSN since extra training and education are needed.

Additional Resources

4. Pass the Nursing Program

Upon getting into the nursing program, you’ll learn anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and physiology for several years.

Find a dedicated study group to perform at your highest level in the program.

A good study group allows you to share your collective learning, answer complex questions and reflect on various nursing theories.

It also allows nursing students to receive constructive criticism and critique necessary to succeed in nursing.

It’s important not to overwhelm yourself with more work than you can handle during the nursing program.

In many cases, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of study required.

As a result, you must be careful when taking on additional projects or work if you’re unsure whether you can manage the workload.

Finally, field experience early on if you can find temporary assignments.

You can look for volunteer work at a local hospital or an internship program while attending school.

Accordingly, you’ll better understand the nursing field, increasing your chances of obtaining work once you’ve completed the program.

All the studying and training you receive during the nursing program prepare you for the NCLEX-RN exam.

Moreover, your field experience makes it easier to obtain work after obtaining your license.

5. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

The final step towards earning your RN license is to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses, provided by your state.

The National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses tests the education and training you’ve acquired since entering the nursing program.

Getting a nursing job is vital since you cannot legally work as a registered nurse without your license.

Upon completing the exam and paying your licensing fees, you can apply for employment as a licensed registered nurse!

6. Find a Registered Nursing Job

Congratulations, you are now licensed and can apply for work as a licensed registered nurse.

It may seem overwhelming when you first start looking for a nursing job.

Knowing where to start, what to do, and how to prepare a resume is a lot of work.

There are numerous resources to help you find your first career opportunity.

For instance,’s 10 Tips for Landing Your First Nursing Job is a valuable resource for beginning RNs.

It provides excellent advice for picking a position, marketing your skills, and preparing for an interview.’s Top Nursing Interview Questions is another valuable resource for answering challenging questions.

Besides that,’s.20+ Nursing Resume Examples provide numerous illustrations on composing an excellent resume.

It’s particularly beneficial for new registered nurses unsure how to present their background and knowledge best.

These are a handful of resources you can look at to help you land your first job.

However, there are many other resources for spring registered nurses.

For example, consult your university professors and guidance counselor about the best ways to find work as a first-time registered nurse.

You can also reach out to contacts or previous employers if you accepted volunteer jobs, worked as a nurse aide/CNA, or did an internship.

Finally, popular job boards, forums like, and qualified recruitment agencies support registered nurses seeking employment.

State Licensure Requirements

Each state requires registered nurses to meet specific requirements to obtain or maintain their licenses.

For instance, most states require a background check, nursing school and NCLEX-RN completion, and payment of licensing fees.

However, the provisions nurses must meet vary depending on the state.

Here is a list of some requirements registered nurses may be required to satisfy in a particular state.

  • Legal citizenship
  • Pay examination, application, and licensing fees
  • Complete a comprehensive background check
  • Present official transcripts
  • Endorsements
  • A notarized application
  • A fingerprint card
  • Continuing Education Credits (to maintain license)

And other prerequisites depend on the state.

Some states have more accessible provisions for obtaining a license making it easier for registered nurses to work in their state.

Moreover, state licensing fees are less expensive in some states, allowing nurses to work or maintain their licenses at a lower cost. provides a list of RN License requirements by state to provide an overview of what nurses can expect.

RN to BSN Bridge Programs

Numerous universities offer RN to BSN programs for nurses who’ve obtained their ADN.

It provides flexible and affordable alternatives for registered nurses to pursue courses part-time to accommodate their work schedules.

Moreover, some registered nurses complete classes online, giving them more freedom to manage life circumstances.

The RN to BSN program is ideal for working nurses with limited time to pursue further education.

It’s also excellent for those needing a BSN to apply for advanced positions and career specialties requiring a bachelor’s degree.

Accelerated Nursing Programs

Accelerated nursing programs expedite students’ education to earn their BSN or advanced nursing degrees quickly.

These programs prepare non-nursing graduates with a BSN or higher in other occupations to transition into nursing.

The accelerated program builds on a student’s prior education.

As a result, it reduces coursework and prerequisites that duplicate a student’s previous learning.

Well-trained students can earn their BSN in 11 – 18 months, depending on the university and the student’s prior education.

Moreover, students earning an MSN degree can complete the necessary coursework in 3 years.

Advanced Registered Nurse Degrees

Advanced degrees in nursing include the Masters of Nursing Practice (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) degrees.

Nurses with advanced degrees are known as advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs for short.

Different advanced degrees allow APRNs to specialize in a particular healthcare field.

APRNs work as certified registered nurse anesthetists, clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.

Each of these four disciplines provides numerous specializations for APRNs to advance their career.

For instance, certified nurse practitioners specialize in over half a dozen domains. 

These medical experts work in family care, neonatal care, pediatrics, adult care, psychiatric mental health, and women’s health.

Separately these occupations require specialized training that doesn’t overlap, so APRNs must pick the career path they want to pursue.

It’s because nurse practitioners in one domain cannot practice in another discipline without adequate training and specialization.

In short, a pediatric nurse practitioner cannot operate as an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner and vice versa.

Therefore, students must select a career specialization that suits their wants, needs, and goals.

Consequently, it’s timely and costly to return to school and transition into another discipline if nurses don’t enjoy their specialization.

Benefits of an Advanced Degree

Nurses with advanced degrees earn excellent incomes and have the broadest scope of practice within the nursing profession.

For instance, some nurse practitioners work as primary care providers.

As a result, they diagnose medical conditions, prescribe medications, develop treatment plans, and own and operate clinics.

Alternatively, certified registered nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients undergoing surgery or dealing with chronic conditions.

These medical professionals are highly respected, specialized, and desired in various hospital and clinical settings.

They also earn one of the highest incomes in the united states inside and outside of healthcare professions.

Nurse anesthetists make more money than software engineers, enterprise architects, vice presidents, and nuclear engineers.

Besides, numerous APRNs become nurse entrepreneurs, legal consultants, or specialize in other domains.

It isn’t necessary to hold an advanced degree to become a nurse entrepreneur or legal consultant.

However, their expertise allows them to land high-paying jobs, start businesses more quickly, and earn substantial incomes.