RN: Educational Requirements to Become a Registered Nurse

Aug 12, 2019

RN requirements include formal education and professional certification. Registered nurse education requirements offer some flexibility as there are three different types of programs available.

How to Become an RN

Registered nurse education requirements provide students with several options. RN requirements generally consist of formal education through a diploma program, associate's program, or bachelor's degree program that helps prepare students to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Below we discuss the different program options and other RN requirements in more detail.

Diploma Program

Diploma programs in nursing are the least common education option of the three and are often offered through colleges, medical centers, or hospitals. Some can be completed in as little as 12 months and may be available in online formats.

Associate's Degree Program

Students can pursue an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN) that usually take 2-3 years to complete. These programs may require around 72 credit hours and typically include hands-on clinical learning. Students may take courses in topics like:

  • Pharmacology
  • Management
  • Nursing skills
  • Patient care

Bachelor's Degree Program

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree programs are unique in that students can pursue the BSN program after high school or become an RN first and pursue an RN-to-BSN degree program. RN-to-BSN programs typically allow students to earn their BSN in about a year, while traditional BSN programs may take 3-4 years to complete.

Some RN-to-BSN programs may contain online coursework, but most BSN programs are on-campus due to the hands-on nature of the field. Students pursuing their BSN generally have clinicals and may take courses in topics like:

  • Clinical nursing
  • Adult health
  • Mental health nursing
  • Health assessment
  • Nursing research

RN School Requirements

While some diploma programs in nursing are less common and may not have prerequisites for admission, there are a wide range of RN colleges. Usually, associate's and bachelor's degree programs in nursing at these schools do have prerequisites. These degree programs may require students to meet a specific GPA and/or have prior coursework in various subjects. Depending on the program, and most commonly at the bachelor's level, students may need to have taken courses in areas like:

  • English
  • Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Algebra
  • Nutrition
  • Chemistry

RN Certification

Once students have earned their diploma, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree in nursing, they must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and meet their states' requirements for nursing licensure. Some nurses may also be required to and/or opt to earn a variety of additional certifications, such as basic life support (BLS) certification, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), or other specialty certifications in areas like pediatrics or gerontology.


As mentioned, once students become RNs they may specialize in a particular area through additional certifications and/or training. For example, students wishing to become neonatal nurses may pursue different certification and training experiences than one wishing to become an ambulatory nurse.

Some RNs may also decide to pursue advanced education to become nurse practitioners. There are a variety of nurse practitioner schools available that award students master's or doctoral degrees in nursing. Nurse practitioners are usually able to prescribe medications and provide primary and specialty care to patients.

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