How to Become a Registered Nurse: Your Step-by-Step Guide

how to become a registered nurse

You want to earn a degree and you don’t want to waste any time in doing so. Whether you have young children who count on you or you’re simply ready to move on to your next career as soon as possible, you want to know exactly how to earn that degree — and if it will fit around your other commitments.

The path to nursing isn’t easy and it’s not always clear-cut, either. The work only just begins once you get into nursing school. After that, you have important decisions to make, classes to ace and a crucial exam to pass. Knowing exactly how to get to where you want to be will help you keep your priorities in line. After all, you don’t have time to waste wavering between degrees to decide which one will get you where you need to be.

You need to know how to become a registered nurse (RN) so you can decide which path would work best for you. This guide will help you figure out each step along the way so you can earn your degree and get that RN career you’re seeking.

4 Steps to becoming a registered nurse

1.Get into nursing school

Becoming an RN starts here: nursing school. We’ve already discussed how to get into nursing school, but here’s a quick summary. After graduating high school you’ll need to research programs, choose your school, fill out an application, take the TEAS test and prepare for your entrance interview.

Sound like a lot? It is, but when you break each step down it’s easy to see your path starting to take shape. Each step takes time and effort, but each is equally important to successfully getting into nursing school.

2. Decide on your RN path

You’ll undoubtedly be researching nursing degrees while you’re researching nursing schools. It’s a lot to take in, but no one ever said becoming an RN would be easy and decision-free!

There are two major paths you can take to become an RN, and your decision determines whether you’ll earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Either degree will have you studying nursing terms and getting prepared to help out real-life patients, but they do have some key differences.

You can earn an ADN in 18-24 months at a career-focused college, which means you’ll be in the workforce sooner. While that’s undoubtedly a plus, you should be aware that your education might not end there. Those hoping to work in a hospital may eventually need to acquire a BSN, as a result of a mandate from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which says that 80 percent of hospital nurses need the degree by 2020. Of course, you may eventually decide you want to earn a BSN, master’s degree or even a PhD no matter where you work.

If you decide to earn a BSN right away, you’ll likely spend around four years in school up front. A major benefit to earning your BSN degree is that it comes with a wider range of job opportunities than does the ADN degree. With a BSN, a nurse can work in research, consulting, administrative or teaching positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the end, both of these degrees lead to an RN career and neither is necessarily better or worse than the other. Your decision simply depends on what’s best for you right now and your career goals in the future.

3. Graduate nursing school

It’s only one word, but this step isn’t so simple because getting through nursing school is no easy task. Whether you end up with an associate degree or a bachelor degree, graduation will be immensely rewarding. Graduation isn’t time to sit back and relax though — next comes the NCLEX exam!

4. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

There’s more to becoming a nurse than just earning a degree. The NCLEX is the exam all nurses have to pass to actually become nurses. It ranges from 75-265 questions that test all areas of nursing, though critical thinking and memorization are key.

Passing the exam takes some preparation. Test plans are available online, so you’ll know exactly what you need to study. But make sure you space out your study time — cramming is rarely ever useful, and the exam covers a lot of material. In addition, don’t panic during the test and remember to read every question thoroughly so you don’t make any errors on answers you definitely know.

Individual states make the call on nursing license requirements, but both BSN and ADN degree nurses can be eligible to take the exam.

Which path will you choose?

Now that you know how to become a registered nurse, it’s time to choose exactly how you’ll get there. When you want to earn a degree as quickly as possible, you can’t waste time. Having all the facts at hand will help you make the smart decisions that will lead you on the right path, whether that path leads to an ADN or a BSN.

You have all the information you need about nursing degrees. Now it’s time to move on to finding the right college. Gain the insight you need about earning your nursing degree by checking out “10 Facts You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen College Nursing Program.”

External links provided on are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She enjoys writing engaging content to help former, current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.

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