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How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

If you're planning to enroll in nursing school in the future, but don't know where to begin, keep reading to learn how to become a registered nurse (RN). 

Nursing is one of the most popular fields of healthcare to develop a career in due to its relatively low entry requirements, the competitive salaries, and the satisfaction nurses get from helping their fellow man directly.

While there are many areas that future healthcare professionals can choose which require less training, no other career path lets you exercise your compassion for humanity in quite the same way. You can become a registered nurse (RN), or an advanced nurse, with many different levels of education, so its important to keep in mind that the more education you complete, the more valuable you will be in the long-run.

How to Become a Registered Nurse:

1. Earn an Associate's Degree (2 Years)

You can become a registered nurse (RN) in just a few years through a nursing diploma program or associate degree program. Many community colleges offer Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs. Many new RNs will begin their education with an ADN program, then later advance to enrollment in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or master’s degree programs.

During your time you will take general education courses along with Anatomy, Nursing, Nutrition, Chemistry, and Microbiology. An ADN will allow you into entry-level nursing positions.

2. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (2 Years)

Currently, there is a national push to require all nurses to hold a BSN degree. Research has concluded that patients experience better outcomes after illness or injury when they are under the care of nurses who are educated at the baccalaureate level in nursing. The current nursing workforce in the U.S. consists of 55 percent of nurses holding a baccalaureate degree or higher.

A conventional BSN program takes 4 years to complete. A popular movement now finds more and more colleges and universities offering students who already hold a bachelor’s in another field an accelerated route to nursing-program graduation. These accelerated BSN programs take between 12 to 18 months to complete. If you already have your RN from an Associates Degree, you can do the RN-to-BSN program in 2 to 3 years, which can open you up to more opportunity and growth.

3. Take the Graduate Requisite Exam (GRE)

Most graduate programs revolving around forensic science require the GRE for admittance. It's a 3 hour and 45 minute, standardized, multiple choice exam that covers analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

The GRE is broken down into six primary sections:

Section Components
1 Analytical Writing Section
  • 2 writing assignments
  • 60 minutes
  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas
2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections
  • ~20 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes per section
  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data
2 Verbal Reasoning Sections
  • ~20 questions per section
  • 30 minutes per section
  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material
1 Unscored Section
  • A duplicate of one of the above sections

You can find study materials, GRE registration, and your test scores on the GRE website.

4. Earn a Master's Degree (Optional)

It's not necessary to get your master's to become a registered nurse (RN), but if you do get your Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) you will open yourself up to a salary increase, more independence and job freedom, you'll be in demand, and you can teach, do research and be involved in policy making.

There are programs available for an accelerated master’s degree (MSN), which takes about three years to complete. More and more RN-to-MSN and BSN-to-Ph.D. programs are being launched as a way to meet the increasing demand for more highly educated nurses in the workforce.

Another accelerated program is being offered by an increasing number of four-year institutions. These programs, called articulation agreements, are formed in collaboration with community and junior colleges to enable associate degree nurses or bachelor’s degree nurses to effortlessly transition into BSN and MSN programs.

5. Earn the Required License & Certification

Regardless of the type of entry into practice program you attend, all graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam before they can become a registered nurse. The exam is administered by each state’s board of nursing. In order to take the test, you must first apply for your nursing license from your state board. Each state is different, so you must check to see if you meet all of the requirements for your state.

The NCLEX covers the following:

  • Safe, effective care environment: Management care and safety and infection control
  • Psychosocial integrity: Coping and adaptation and psychosocial adaptation
  • Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development through the life span and prevention and early detection of disease
  • Physiology integrity: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and physiological adaptation

Related: Top 10 Best NCLEX-RN Review Books

6. Earn a Specialty Certification

Some nurses may choose to focus on a particular area of specialization. There are many specialty options open to registered nurses, each with its own training and certification requirements and professional organizations and networks.

These specialty areas include:

There are four advanced areas of professional clinical practice open to registered nurses. Each of these areas requires a graduate degree and specific certification:


Nursing is one of the most fulfilling careers that a person can take on, and comes with great benefits and a highly-competitive salary. The field is open to those who choose to complete only an associate's degree, but many more doors for advancement and opportunities to specialize.

However, the requirements for many healthcare careers can change frequently, so its important to stay on top of how to become a registered nurse (RN) and to maintain any certifications and/or licenses that you may hold. Any changes that are made to the requirements for becoming a nurse will be updated here.

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