Discover what you need to do to become an RN
We commend your desire to join the rewarding, fulfilling RN profession, working firsthand to help people heal and make a significant impact in your community. Our goal is to support your pursuit of this wonderful career path.
The best way to get started to become a registered nurse is to fully understand what you’re getting into and begin considering your nursing education. Earning an undergraduate nursing degree represents the biggest step to becoming a licensed RN qualified to practice as an RN.
Here are the key steps to take to become a registered nurse:
1. Know the role: what to expect as an RN
Registered nurses are the backbone of the day-to-day operations in many different types of healthcare settings. You’ll wear a lot of hats and be expected to handle a wide variety of tasks, including:
- Develop and direct treatment plans
- Communicate with patients and family members
- Administer medication and treatments
- Perform diagnostic tests
- Operate medical equipment
- Community-based work, including public health education and services
- Serve as the key connection between patients and doctors
Keep in mind no job description is identical. Your specific roles and responsibilities will vary depending on your education, experience level, and requirements of your employer.
RNs may specialize in many different areas, including pediatrics, geriatrics, OBGYN, ER, trauma and much more. As you develop more experience you may discover certain types of care or patient populations that interest you more than others.
The field of nursing offers many unique career opportunities for those looking to specialize, and oftentimes you can be qualified to pursue these unique pathways with a BSN and experience. In some cases, like becoming a nurse practitioner, you will be required to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
RN level designations
In the future, when you’re ready to begin looking for your first job, you’ll want to look for “RN 1” or “RN I” positions. These designations are usually made for new grads with very little or no experience as a professional RN.
What’s the difference between RN 1, RN 2 (II), RN 3 (III), etc.? The differences between one level to the next vary by hospital/institution. Typically, a mix of experience, tasks you can perform, and roles and responsibilities dictate your RN level.
2. Choose your career pathway
Now that you have a better understanding of what it’s like to work as an RN, take a moment to confirm you’re ready to fully commit to this career. If you’re looking for the fastest path to a job as a nurse, the prospect of going back to school for 2-3 years before getting there may feel daunting.
There are other jobs in nursing you might consider before pursuing a job as an RN:
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). CNAs are tasked with basic patient care activities, such as bathing, getting dressed, using the toilet, and eating and drinking. CNA training can be completed quickly, and you could potentially be working as a CNA in a matter of months depending on your state.
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN, or Licensed Vocational Nurse - LVN). Becoming a practical nurse can be a great first step for those who want to get started faster in nursing. It typically only takes 12 months to complete a practical nursing (PN) diploma program, and you can potentially transfer credit into an RN program in the future—or enroll in an LPN to RN bridge program. We offer programs to students looking to go from LPN to Associate in Nursing (ASN) or LPN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Keep in mind that while pursuing these paths may get you to work and making money faster, your earning potential increases considerably by becoming an RN, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):*
Average Salary Estimates, May 2020
|Job / Career||Per year||Per hour|
|Nursing Assistants (BLS)||$32,050||$15.41|
|Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses (BLS)||$50,090||$24.08|
|Registered Nurses (BLS)||$80,010||$38.47|
All salary data courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
You’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of how much you can potentially make vs. how much time it takes to begin working in the field in a nursing role.
If you’re confident you want to begin working towards becoming an RN right away, beginning to earn the undergraduate education you need to sit for the NCLEX-RN represents the quickest path to begin seeking an RN job.
3. Earn an undergraduate degree in nursing
Ready to begin?
Prepare for nursing school!
Nursing school can be a challenge—but the challenge is what prepares you best to succeed in your later career. We always strive for a steady balance: the curriculum and clinical experiences equip you with the skills and knowledge to truly excel while providing extensive resources to ensure things never get too overwhelming.
RN requirements: what degree do I need?
You can’t become a registered nurse without first earning a nursing degree.
To qualify for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), you’ll need to first earn either:
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your prior education, what your goals are in the field and how quickly you want to get started. Primary differences between earning an associate and bachelor’s degree in nursing include:
How long does it take?
It can take anywhere from 16-36 months for you to earn a degree in nursing, depending on the track you choose, college coursework you’ve already completed, and the pace at which you choose to complete classes.
- 20-24 months:
- If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you may be eligible to complete our Accelerated BSN Option (ABSN) in as few as 20 months. However, 20 months is an aggressive pace, and most students complete this program in about 24 months.
- Current LPNs/LVNs, paramedics, Respiratory Therapists (RT) and Cardiovascular Technicians (CVT) may be eligible to enroll in a bridge-style program designed to decrease the time needed to earn an ASN—usually 16-18 months.
- 20 months. Our ASN program for those new to nursing typically takes at least 20 months to complete.
- 28-32 months. LPNs/LVNs, paramedics, Respiratory Therapists (RT) and Cardiovascular Technicians (CVT) may also be eligible for bridge-style options at the BSN level as well.
- 36 months. Students new to healthcare with no prior degree may qualify for our 3-year BSN program. Even if you didn’t finish your degree, you may be able to transfer up to 90 credits of prior college courses and lessen the time needed to complete your bachelor’s in nursing. You can choose an on-campus program, or our online BSN program for new nurses looking to become an RN.
There are two basic components of any undergraduate nursing degree curriculum: didactic/lecture-style courses, and clinicals designed to help you prepare for real practice as an RN.
Frequently Asked Questions
General requirements for our ASN, BSN, and MSN degrees vary across degree programs.
Requirements to enroll in undergraduate degree programs (ASN/ADN, BSN) include a high school diploma or equivalent, and any of the following requirements:
- Minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5, and meet a minimum composite score on the most current version of the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). TEAS score must be from within three years of anticipated date of matriculation
- Minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5, and a minimum score of 21 on the ACT
- Cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher (no entrance test!)
* Minimum TEAS score varies by campus – contact your campus for more information. Students with 12 or more transferable collegiate credits will be assessed on their collegiate cumulative GPA. Candidates with a GED or HSED will be assessed a 2.5 cumulative GPA.
Enrollment requirements for graduate degree programs (MSN) include holding a current, active and unrestricted license as a registered nurse (RN) and a BSN degree from an accredited program with at least a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.
Most programs also require an interview with a Herzing admissions advisor before acceptance. Conditional admission may also be available for interested students who are waiting to take the National Council Licensing Exam (NCLEX).
For specific requirements, choose the program at the campus location that you are most interested in, or get in contact with a local admissions advisor.
Because nurses with a BSN have earned that next degree level and generally have the edge on the job market, they will on average earn a slightly higher salary than nurses with an ASN. However, there are always exceptions; an ASN with several years of an experience may earn a higher salary than an RN with a BSN who is just starting their career.
Registered nurses on average earn $80,010 per year ($38.47 per hour) nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—although estimates will vary based on your state of employment.* Find the average BSN nurse salary in your state.
The advantages of a BSN can include:
- Increased autonomy in decision making while on the job
- Open doors to more specialties in the nursing field
- Become a more attractive candidate for hospitals seeking Magnet Recognition
- Build a foundation to grow into education or leadership pathways
- Positions you better for nursing jobs with higher pay
- Qualify to enroll in an MSN program
- Become more familiar and educated with evidence-based practice opportunities
- Increase knowledge and understanding of RN specialties and skills
- Transition from “technical” to “professional” RN
- Gain a deeper knowledge of nursing theory and leadership theory
A 2017 study from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) indicates employers have the level of education at top of mind in the hiring process. Based on results from 586 schools of nursing, the study revealed 49% of hospitals and other healthcare facilities require new hires to hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and 86.3% of employers show a strong preference for BSN graduates.
The ultimate benefit is bettering yourself, becoming the best nurse you can be and following the career path of your choosing.
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.
Accreditation varies by nursing degree program and the Herzing campus where it is offered.*
The baccalaureate degree program in nursing at Herzing University Akron, Atlanta, Brookfield, Kenosha, Madison, Minneapolis and Orlando are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org).
The master’s degree program in nursing and post-graduate APRN certificate program at Herzing University Madison are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org).
Herzing University is approved to offer programs in an online learning modality through association with the main campus in Madison, Wisconsin.
For more information about accreditation, please check out our nursing programs to discover the program that interests you!
There are many different nursing specialties to choose from. Depending on your personality, educational background and preferred working environment you can follow your own personalized path in the nursing profession.
Here are a few popular nursing specialties you may consider:
- Travel nurse
- Flight nurse
- Oncology nurse
- Pediatric nurse
- Nurse Anesthetist
- Neonatal/NICU nurse
- Assisted living nurse
- Emergency room nurse
- Med/surgical nurse
- Home health nurse
You can take our nursing personality quiz to get a better idea of what you might prefer in your nursing career.
None of our nursing programs may be completed entirely online.
Here’s why: real experience in the field is critical to your success as a nurse. Your clinical experience is vital to becoming qualified for the job and excel immediately in your new career.
Many classes may be completed online, such as in our online BSN program, but it is your hands-on clinicals that will provide you with the best experience to prepare you for your career in nursing. Herzing University provides you with the best of both worlds.
Contact us to determine the program or course of study that will work best for you!
Herzing University is dedicated to providing you with affordable, quality education to help you complete your degree in nursing.
The cost of our nursing programs varies by degree, location and program. More information and an estimate for the cost of your education can be found on our Herzing Tuition Wizard.
Students attending Herzing may be eligible for a combination of grants, scholarships, and student employment to make tuition as affordable as possible. You might also be eligible to qualify for federal financial aid or military benefits and services. Contact us directly for more information.
4. Gain hands-on experience in clinicals and simulations
Degree programs typically begin with didactic courses to help you establish key concepts and build a strong academic foundation.
Eventually, you’ll progress into clinicals and begin establishing a skillset preparing you to work as an RN. Clinicals and hands-on simulation represent a crucial component of your education.
While general education and didactic/lecture style nursing courses can be completed online, and virtual simulation can be an effective teaching tool, there is no replacement for hands-on laboratory and clinical experiences with the guidance of experienced, talented instructors.
Your clinical experience will help you to apply theory to practice and develop key leadership, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
What you learn during your clinicals will be key to passing the NCLEX and becoming qualified for your first job as an RN. It will also prepare you best to succeed in your future career right from the start.
5. 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.