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 licensure to find out if this is the career for you. View article »

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  • 00:01 Essential Information
  • 0:55 Education Requirements
  • 1:52 Licensure
  • 2:24 Entering the Workforce
  • 2:55 Career Advancement

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Video Transcript

Essential Information

Program Levels Associate degree, bachelor's degree, or diploma program through a hospital
Field(s) of Study Nursing
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent
Program Length 2 years for associate's degree, 4 years for bachelor's degree, 3 years for diploma program
Licensure/Certification Must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN); state licensure required
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 6% growth
Median Annual Salary (2015) $71,000 (for RNs)
$72,980 (for RNs working in hospitals)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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.

To be eligible for these programs, applicants must have a high school diploma or it's equivalent. In addition to completing formal education, candidates must pass a national licensure exam to become licensed RNs. Depending on the state, additional licensure requirements may apply. RNs who want to specialize in a particular area of nursing, like AIDS, oncology or pediatric nursing, can pursue certification in their specialty.

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  • Clinical Nursing
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  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Neonatal Nursing
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Nurse Assistant or Patient Care Assistant
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing for Adults and Seniors
  • Nursing Science
  • Occupational Health Nursing
  • Operating Room and Surgical Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Public Health Nurse or Community Nurse
  • Registered Nurse

Education Requirements

Let's take a closer look at educational requirements for aspiring registered nurses.

Associate's Degree in Nursing

An Associate's Degree in Nursing (AND) 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 of nursing programs 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 might 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 employment of registered nurses was forecast to grow 16%, in the decade spanning 2014-2024. The majority of RNs worked in hospitals as of 2014. The BLS also noted that the mean annual salary of RNs in general was $71,000 in 2015. Those who worked in general medical and surgical hospitals earned slightly more, at $72,980 per year.

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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