How Long Does IT Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a registered nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and licersure to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

The timeline for becoming a registered nurse (RN) varies according to what type of formal education program an individual chooses. Aspiring RNs have their choice of 2-year associate's degree programs or 4-year bachelor's degree programs in nursing to gain training in this field; less commonly available are 3-year diploma programs held at hospitals.

In addition to completing formal education, candidates must pass a national licensure exam to become licensed RNs. Depending on the state, some additional licensure requirements may apply. RNs who want to specialize in a particular area of nursing, like AIDS, oncology or pediatric nursing, may pursue certification in their specialty.

Required Education Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in nursing
Licensure and Certification License is required in all states; voluntary certification in specialty areas of nursing is available
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*19% for all RNs
Mean Salary (2013)*$68,910 for all RNs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Becoming a Registered Nurse

The most common educational paths to becoming a registered nurse (RN) are to obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. Aspiring nurses may also consider 3-year diploma programs offered by hospitals, although these programs are much less available. To be eligible for these programs, applicants must have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Education Requirements

Associate's Degree in Nursing

An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) can be earned at both 2-year community colleges and 4-year learning institutions. ADN programs generally take two or more years to complete and include classroom education in addition to clinical training in a healthcare setting. Students explore topics in nursing skills, human anatomy and health assessments.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may take up to four years to complete. While earning an ADN may provide a faster entry into the profession, earning a BSN generally offers comprehensive training. Additionally, completing a BSN program may enhance prospects for nurses seeking additional career advancement. In addition to clinical practicums or internships, BSN students also take courses in pathophysiology and special health problems.


After earning their degrees, graduates must sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become registered nurses. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the examination ( While study time may vary based on the individual's knowledge and testing aptitude, the exam itself is completed in a day. Candidates who pass may still need to fulfill additional state requirements in order to earn their licenses.

Entering the Workforce

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of RNs worked in general medical and surgical hospitals as of 2013. The BLS also noted that in the same year, the mean annual salary of RNs in general was $68,910, while those who worked in general medical and surgical hospitals earned an average of $70,590. RNs are typically required to take yearly continuing education classes to maintain their licenses.

Advancement for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses may choose to advance their careers through additional education. Some common options for career advancement include becoming an advanced practice nurse, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. To enter any of these advanced nursing practices, RNs must earn a master's degree in nursing.

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