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How to Become an RN
Take These 3 Steps

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Requirements to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

Nursing continues to be a high-growth field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for registered nurses will increase by 16 percent by 2026, more than double the average growth rate of all occupations.

A growing emphasis on preventative care and an aging Baby Boomer population is driving increased demand for healthcare services and creating a greater need for qualified, skilled nurses and other healthcare professionals.

The U.S. is also expected to encounter a critical nursing shortage, as many current nurses reach retirement age. The BLS has projected that 1.2 million nurses will be needed in order to replenish the workforce and account for rising demand by 2022.

Interested in joining this fast-growing profession? Follow these three steps to learn how to become a registered nurse and begin your career as an RN:

  1. Enroll in a BSN program
  2. Earn clinical experience
  3. Take the NCLEX

1. Enroll in a bachelor’s degree nursing program

A bachelor’s degree is becoming the new educational standard for nurses, as hospitals and other healthcare organizations respond to the Institute of Medicine’s call to increase their bachelor’s-prepared RN staff to 80 percent by 2020. A bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) will generally take between three to four years to complete, depending on your prior learning experience. While a bachelor’s degree is not required in order to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), it will offer you a competitive advantage in the nursing job market and increase your earning potential.

Do I really need a bachelor’s degree or can I get an associate’s degree?

You can get an associate’s degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. You should really get a BSN and put yourself in the best position for potential job opportunities and make more money. The average salary for a BSN will trend above average compared to the field of RN’s without a bachelor’s degree. More and more nursing employers are encouraging and sometimes requiring nurses to attain their BSN, and you will make your resume much more attractive by doing so.

Paths to earning your BSN and becoming a registered nurse:

Earning your BSN can open many doors to pursue the nursing specialty right for you and help you advance your career. ASN/ADN-prepared nurses may consider an online RN to BSN program to earn their bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1 year or less.

2. Earn clinical experience

Clinical experience is a critical part of your nursing education. Through your clinical rotations, you will have the chance to apply the skills you’ve learned in class to real-life nursing situations. Clinicals are also a great opportunity to gain experience in different healthcare settings as well as to expand your professional network.

3. Take the NCLEX-RN exam after you graduate

In order to become a registered nurse in the U.S. and Canada, you must first pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Graduates who successfully pass this national examination will be eligible to practice as registered nurses in the state in which they took the examination and will also be qualified to apply for licensure in all 50 states. This exam is very different from those you will take in your nursing classes, so be sure to check out these NCLEX-RN study tips beforehand.

As a registered nurse, you have ample opportunities for advancement. After completing your bachelor’s degree in nursing, you can accelerate your career by earning a graduate nursing master's degree (MSN) and position yourself for advanced practice, management and nursing faculty positions. Follow these steps to start your nursing path today!

Frequently asked questions

Is nursing school difficult?

Our nursing programs are designed to be challenging, but not impossible. Your career as a registered nurse will be demanding, and our goal is to help you succeed and become the best healthcare provider you can be. We won’t do you any favors by making things too easy.

Learn more about how hard nursing school is from Herzing graduates who have been through it. You will have support from Herzing University faculty, staff and other students every step of the way. Never be afraid to ask for help when you need it!

What is the difference between RN and BSN?

The difference between RN and BSN is that RN stands for Registered Nurse and BSN stands for Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing. RN is the career; BSN is a degree needed to become an RN. Earning your BSN positions you for more possibilities as a registered nurse both in earning potential and ability to specialize in the field of your choice.

Is it better to earn an associate or bachelor degree in nursing?

It’s a question of:

  1. What your goals are
  2. How quickly you want to reach them

If your goal is to become an RN quickly, the best choice may be an associate’s degree program since you may be able to become an RN in less than 2 years.

If your goal is to become an RN and potentially advance further by working towards a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), your best option is a bachelor’s degree in nursing program.

Read about the most basic differences between an associate and bachelor degree.

Are you an RN automatically with an associate degree in nursing?

No, not quite. You become a licensed registered nurse when you pass the NCLEX exam and meet all the board of nursing requirements.

Earning your associate degree is one step in the process to get there.

Are hospitals hiring nurses with associate degrees?

Yes. Demand remains extremely high for all registered nurses, and if you earn an associate degree, pass the NCLEX and meet the board of nursing requirements in your state, you’re one of them.

Nurses with bachelor’s degrees may have an advantage in earning a nursing position at a hospital (especially hospitals seeking Magnet status), but nurses are currently in such high demand many healthcare organizations are eager to hire ASN nurses.

Can you get an associate degree in nursing online?

You cannot truly complete any accredited associate degree program in nursing 100% online. There are some programs that offer all online coursework, but in any program you will need to complete a required amount of lab or clinical hours, and that cannot be completed online.

The Herzing University ASN program does offer flexibility to complete your general education classes online. Otherwise the remainder of the program must be completed on campus.

What kind of nursing specialties can I choose?

There are many different types of nursing careers to choose from. Depending on your personality, educational background and preferred working environment you can follow your own personalized path in the nursing profession.

We have put together several guides to pursuing the nursing specialty that’s right for you:

There are many more specialties to choose. You can take our nursing personality quiz to get a better idea of what you might prefer in your nursing career.

What are the different types of nursing degrees?

There are a wide variety of different career paths in nursing, and depending on what makes the most sense for you there are several different types of nursing degrees you may consider:

  • Diploma in Practical Nursing. The fastest way to start your nursing career is to earn a diploma in practical nursing and become a Licensed Practical Nurse. This isn’t a “degree” but it’s an alternative starting point if you’re ready to get your feet wet in nursing.
  • Associate degree in nursing. Earn an associate’s degree in nursing and you’ll be eligible to site for the NCLEX and become a Registered Nurse (RN).
  • Bachelor’s in nursing. A bachelor’s degree is becoming the new educational standard for registered nurses, and it will qualify you for a master’s degree program.
  • Master’s in nursing. Many roles up the ladder in nursing will require a master’s degree.

All schools have their own distinct degree programs based on their qualifications and expertise. Herzing University offers many different options to provide the shortest path to your destination no matter where you are right now, including campus bridge programs and online programs to help you reach the next level in your education.

Learn More About Our BSN Program


Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. Herzing does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salary.

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