RN: Educational Requirements 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 degrees, job duties and state licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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In the immediate future, the demand for registered nurses (RNs) is expected to increase much faster than the average of that for all occupations. Though licensure is required throughout the country, aspiring RNs can earn either an associate's or bachelor's degree to qualify for the licensure exam. A few institutions offer nursing diplomas that also qualify students for RN licensure.

Essential Information

RNs care for patients and educate them on health issues to prevent future illnesses. Along with technical skills necessary for the medical profession, RNs must have people skills to work closely with patients and their families. Becoming a RN entails formal education from a state-approved nursing school and state licensure.

Required Education Bachelor's degree, associate's degree, or nursing diploma
Other Requirements State licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490*

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Education Requirements for an RN

There are generally three educational approaches to becoming a RN. RNs usually train by completing a bachelor's or associate's degree program in nursing. Less commonly, RNs prepare for the occupation by earning a diploma in nursing. Graduates of any of these programs are generally eligible for licensure and entry-level employment as RNs.

Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs who graduate from Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs may see greater advancement opportunities than associate's degree or diploma holders. These 4-year degree programs are generally more comprehensive, focusing on human development and behavioral sciences applicable to the profession.

BSN program curricula are typically divided into two parts. The initial two years focus on general science instruction, such as courses in physiology, organic chemistry and psychology. In the final two years, students gain instruction in nursing practice and may study pediatrics, chronic disease and mental health nursing. Students also gain supervised clinical experience in health care facilities during the last two years of study.

Associate's Degree

Some RNs hold Associate's Degrees in Nursing (ADNs). Associate's degree programs are designed to last two years; however, the American Nurses Association (ANA) reports that many programs took students three or more years to complete. ADN programs focus on technical applications of nursing, and instruction takes place in both classrooms and clinical settings. While these degree programs are the most widely available training programs, the ANA states that many RNs who hold ADNs return to school to earn at least bachelor's degrees.


Another education option is the Diploma in Nursing program. These programs are the least-common of all nurse training programs and are administered in health care facilities. They consist of three or more years of classroom and clinical instruction. As with ADN degree holders, many RNs with diplomas eventually pursue undergraduate degrees in nursing.

Licensure for an RN

All states require RNs to obtain licensure after completion of an approved nursing program. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all licensing boards require RNs to pass the National Council Licensure Examination- Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) before practicing in the profession. Developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX-RN covers four basic categories, including psychosocial and physiological integrity, healthcare environment safety and health promotion. Some states and employers require RNs to participate in continuing education.

Salary and Career Information

The BLS estimated faster-than-average employment growth of 16% for RNs in the years 2014-2024. The BLS also reported that RNs earned a median annual wage of $67,490 in May 2015.

While a 2- to 3-year diploma or an associate's degree program might be sufficient education to become an RN, students may find their chances for advancement and certainly for specialization will increase if you hold a 4-year BSN. At any rate, before you're allowed to practice in any U.S. state, territory or the District of Columbia, you must sit for and pass the NCLEX-RN. Depending on your state of residence, you may be required to complete continuing education credits in order to maintain your license to practice.

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