Become a Registered Nurse in Four Steps!

  • 12 November, 2021

Nursing is both a challenging and rewarding career. Nurses are responsible for taking care of the medical needs of others, which is not always an easy endeavor. Although nursing is just one direction one can take in the medical field, it is a critical one in constant demand. Individuals may pursue becoming a nurse for a variety of reasons, but some of the most common are for increased salary, greater sense of purpose, more flexibility with scheduling and specialization, and access to travel opportunities.1 Becoming a nurse is a relatively straightforward process; after obtaining the relevant educational experience through a four-year BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program or two-year ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) program, individuals will need to pass their NCLEX-RN® exam, which is designed to test the competency of nursing school graduates. Finally, nursing candidates will need to apply for licensure within their state board-licensing requirements vary between states, however. Today, we will be diving into the four simple yet necessary steps to entering the field. By the end of this blog, you should have a stronger understanding of how to begin the journey to becoming a registered nurse!

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Step 1: Complete Prerequisites

The first action you will need to take is to complete the necessary prerequisites indicated by your chosen nursing school. Some common prereqs include basic anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, and anatomy. For example, The Ohio State University College of Nursing wants their nursing candidates to have taken biology, chemistry, human anatomy, human physiology, English composition, psychology, and sociology. OSU also accepts a score of 3 or higher on corresponding AP tests to satisfy requirements.2 Some schools require liberal arts and math courses as well. Another common expectation is that incoming students have earned a minimum of a "C" grade in these courses.3 Maintaining average and above grades indicates to nursing schools that you are a committed student with academic priorities-that you are serious not only about learning but also exceeding expectations.

Step 2: Earn a BSN or ADN Degree

Next, you need to earn a BSN or an ADN from an accredited program.

Accreditation: Yay or Nay?

You will want to make sure that your nursing program is accredited. Not all nursing boards recognize non-accredited programs as sufficient in teaching the necessary nursing skills. Some Boards of Nursing will not greenlight nursing candidates to take their NCLEX exam if they haven't trained with an accredited program. Another concern is that of credit transfer: most accredited program credits transfer with ease to other programs, but this is not the case for non-accredited program credits.4 With the intent of ensuring relevant and accurate programs for nurses, two organizations that exist to provide this accreditation include the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).5 Most nursing programs with a partnership with ACEN or CCNE will have this information displayed on their site as a point of pride indicating their program meets or exceeds required standards.

Two- or Four-Year Program?

Another decision you will need to make regarding degree programs is whether you want to pursue a two-year or four-year program. The program you choose will be dependent on your own preferences, but key differences between the two programs are the length of time needed to complete them and the number of credits required for graduation. ADN programs are a great way to start your nursing career if you are busy with your personal or family life, strapped for cash, or wanting to begin nursing as soon as possible. Nurses with ADNs can enter the workforce, begin earning money, and accrue nursing experience sooner than their BSN counterparts. These programs can typically be completed in as few to 18-24 months.6

On the other hand, BSN programs teach the same course work as ADN programs with additional training in social sciences, management, research, public and community health, and leadership.7 According to an article from Nightingale College of Nursing, the "main focus of BSN programs is for the learner to broaden their scope of practice and have the opportunity for enhanced professional development."8 This type of management and leadership training sets up nurses with BSNs to take on administrative and managerial positions.9 In contrast to ADNs, BSNs are typically more expensive and take more time to complete, approximately four years unless it is an accelerated program.

States hold varying opinions on which degree program they want nursing students to have taken before granting licensure. In fact, in this piece by Regis College, it was found that, "more and more states have made the decision to require RNs [to] hold at least a bachelor's degree in nursing" before they can apply for a nursing license. For individuals who choose to pursue an ADN first and later decide to advance their nursing careers with additional education, there are RN to BSN programs available to streamline the process.

Though, a nurse's degree program will not affect the way they take care of patients. All registered nurses with ADNs and BSNs will have the similar if not exact responsibilities, including working side-by-side caring for patients, administering medication, and monitoring and updating medical charts and patients' symptoms.10 Outside of the financial and temporal differences, nurses with their BSN will typically have more options in terms of career advancement opportunities. Regardless of whether you pursue an ADN or BSN, numerous factors such as your selected program, college courses you've already completed, and the pace in which you work will all influence your program completion time.

Become a Registered Nurse in Four Steps

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX® Exam

After obtaining their nursing education, all nurses must pass the NCLEX exam, which tests nursing competency, before they can receive licensure and begin working. The NCLEX is not easy-medical licensing boards only furnish passing grades to qualified candidates. But although this exam is challenging, that doesn't mean it is impossible. A combination of the right education, experience, effort, and advice can help increase your chances of success on exam day. We previously published a blog with some top tips on how to pass this exam, here's a synopsis of the most important points:

  1. Give yourself time to prepare: Pace yourself and your time to make exam prep more manageable.
  2. Create a study plan: Creating an organized and consistent study plan will not only help you reach the goals you've set on when you will study, but also stay on top of the content you want to cover in each study session
  3. Get to know the test format: The NCLEX exam is administered using computerized adaptive testing (CAT), which is much more dynamic than a scantron: once a student answers a question, the exam will generate the next questions in respect to whether the students' answer on the first question was correct or incorrect.
  4. Get to know what will be on the exam: The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) releases updated NCLEX test plans every three years that outline testable exam content and the item writing process.
  5. Practice content retrieval through flash cards, tests, and practice quizzes: Research in long-term content retention corroborates the importance of taking memory tests that encompass not only concepts you are already familiar with, but also topics on which you have less confidence.
  6. Use different learning styles: A 1992 study showed there are 4 modalities of learning: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic: experiment with these different styles to keep the content fresh in your mind.
  7. Develop test-taking strategies: Simulate the exam-day experience with a timed dry run. Set up a quiet testing space, set a timer, and practice the process of elimination. This should help reduce anxiety on exam day.
  8. Manage stress: Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of wasting time-these are all doubts that you might experience at some point during your preparation process. Try to put the exam into perspective and maintain a positive attitude towards yourself. Instead of saying to yourself "I will never pass this exam," try a more positive spin, like, "I will try my best on this exam."
  9. Get a good night's rest the night before the exam: It's practically impossible to produce your most high-quality work while running low on sleep. Give yourself time to rest so you can wake up refreshed and ready to conquer your exam!
  10. Go with your gut: Second guessing yourself, micromanaging, or reworking problems will waste valuable time you could be spending answering other questions.

If you are having trouble getting started in your exam preparation, consider taking an NCLEX exam prep course with EduMind for some direction; in our course, you will review content based on licensing board standards, discover time management and stress reduction strategies, learn how to recognize incorrect answers, and more! EduMind's NCLEX courses have been developed by experienced course instructors with years of nursing under their belts. They know what will be on the exam as well as the best strategies to come out on top!

Step 4: Obtain a License

After you have completed the necessary prerequisites, earned your nursing degree, and passed the NCLEX, you are at the end of your journey to becoming a registered nurse! The last step will be applying to your state's licensing agency or nursing board for your nursing license.11 Most states typically have similar licensing requirements: you will need to send your transcripts, application, and any required fees. In addition, you may need to have a background check, report any previous addictions or past legal trouble, show proof of proficiency in the English language, and provide proof of good moral character with references from past employers, supervisors, and/or professors.12

Practicing in Multiple States

If you are interested in practicing in multiple states, "you will need to obtain a license from each state, unless the states specifically honor the license of those other jurisdictions."13 Another option is the Nurse Licensure Company (NLC), which gives nurses the opportunity to receive a multi-state license and practice nursing in any state that is a member. This alternative may be a good fit for individuals wanting to be travel nurses.14

Travel Nursing

A travel nurse is a nurse who fills in when there are staff shortages across the United States and the globe. Some of the benefits of travel nursing include having the opportunity to "explore new places, experience diverse practice environments, and make new friends. Competitive pay, great benefits, and free housing are also major benefits of the job."15 Application requirements include a current nursing license in good standing as well as around two years of nursing experience. A travel nurse interviewed in this article by noted that as a travel nurse, she particularly loved being able to choose where and when she worked.

Bonus Step: Specializations and Board Certifications

Earning your nursing license does not necessarily mean the end of your journey. Nurses who would like to further their careers-financially, educationally, or otherwise-have many opportunities to do so.

Just like with most other professions, obtaining certifications and additional education can really pay off. The extra effort will not go unnoticed by potential employers, either. Nurses can become board certified, which typically consists of gaining "two or more years of clinical experience in a specialty focus" and passing an exam."16 They can pursue becoming nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and many other advanced careers.17 In addition, there are clinical specializations for nurses who would like to boost their expertise in certain areas, such as adult critical care, pediatric critical care, cardiac surgery, or dialysis.18

Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, couldn't have been more accurate when she observed that nursing is one of the finest arts. Nursing is a gratifying career that provides the opportunity to have tangible effects on the lives of others. Furthermore, nurses are in high demand right now-especially with the ongoing pandemic. Job stability, quality pay, and comprehensive benefits are also attractive advantages of the job. No matter your reason for wanting to become a nurse, we want to help you get there. With the proper effort, commitment, and time, you will surely reach your goal of becoming an RN!


1 Zimlich, Rachael. "Why Become a Nurse? 7 Reasons to Consider a Nursing Career." Healthline. Healthline Media, August 4, 2021.

2 "BSN Admissions." The Ohio State University College of Nursing. Accessed November 11, 2021.

3 "How to Become a Registered Nurse." NurseJournal, October 6, 2021.

4 Bucceri Androus, Amanda. "What If My Nursing School Isn't Accredited?", October 25, 2021.

5 "How Can I Verify That a RN Degree Program Is Accredited?" Accessed November 11, 2021.

6 "ADN vs. BSN Debate: These Are the Real Differences between ADN and BSN Prepared Nurses." Nightingale College. Accessed November 11, 2021.

7 "ADN vs. BSN Debate: These Are the Real Differences between ADN and BSN Prepared Nurses."

8 "ADN vs. BSN Debate."

9 "ADN vs. BSN Debate."

10 "ADN vs. BSN Debate."

11 Behring, Stephanie. "How to Get Your Nursing License in 5 Easy Steps." All Nursing Schools. Accessed November 11, 2021.

12 "How to Get Your Nursing License in 5 Easy Steps."

13 "How Do I Become an RN?" All Nursing Schools. Accessed November 11, 2021.

14 "How Do I Become an RN?"

15 Walker, Angelina. "What Does a Travel Nurse Do?", April 16, 2020.

16 "How to Become a Registered Nurse."

17 "Advancing Your Nursing Career: Exploring Your Options." Bellarmine University. Accessed November 11, 2021.

18 Advancing Your Nursing Career: Exploring Your Options."
About the Author: Martha Hunsucker

Martha Hunsucker is a content writer for EduMind. She received her BA in English from Stetson University and has experience marketing, copywriting, editing, and blogging. In her spare time, she enjoys reading books by Jon Krakauer (her current favorite author), hiking with her two dogs, and sleeping in on weekends.

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