RN Requirements and Prerequisites

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an RN. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you. View article »

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  • 00:01 Essential Information
  • 00:31 Career Outlook & Salary
  • 0:47 Education Prerequisites
  • 1:20 Education Requirements
  • 2:46 Licensing Requirements

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Video Transcript

Essential Information

Registered nurses (RNs) work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare institutions. Primarily, they provide care to people who have suffered injury or illness. RNs are qualified to administer medication, perform minor treatments and consult with physicians regarding patients' care. There are several education options available for becoming an RN, as well as necessary licensing to legally practice in the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 16% job growth for RNs in the years 2014-2024. These workers earned a median annual salary of $67,490 in May 2015, according to the BLS.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree
Other Requirements National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 16% (registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 (registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

RN Education Prerequisites

The initial requirement for individuals interested in becoming registered nurses is to earn a high school diploma with a grade point average of at least 2.0. Taking high school classes in first aid, health science, anatomy, and biology is encouraged. RNs must explain the results of treatment options and tests to patients and their families; therefore, courses in communications, English, or related subjects are also good choices. Most nursing degree programs also require the submission of standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT.

Education Requirements

Earn an Associate of Science in Nursing

Some individuals on the path to becoming a registered nurse choose to first earn an Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) before moving on to a bachelor's degree program. Other students choose to only earn an associate's degree and pursue entry-level nursing positions immediately. ADN programs typically consist of courses such as microbiology, physical assessment, and issues in healthcare. They usually take 2-3 years to complete and qualify nurses to take the licensure exam (NCLEX-RN) to become registered nurses.

Complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program also satisfies RN educational requirements. In addition to the courses typically required in an ADN program, bachelor's programs combine classroom lectures and hands-on clinical experience. BSN programs are four years in length and are considered a better option for students who wish to enter administration or enroll in graduate programs. Graduates of an ADN program who have taken the licensure exam to become RNs must complete a bridge or degree completion program to earn their BSN degrees.

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing

RNs choosing to further their education to become a nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse, clinical nurse specialist, nurse educator or other specialist in nursing need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing. Master's degree programs include two years of schooling in addition to a minimum number of hours of clinical work.


All 50 states require that nurses who work in a hospital or healthcare institution be licensed. This involves passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and periodically renewing licensure after entering the workforce. To qualify for the NCLEX-RN, nurses must have graduated from a properly accredited nursing program. Application for the exam must be sent to the jurisdiction in which the student plans to work.

RN Licensing Requirements

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is a computerized adaptive testing exam, which measures the skills and abilities of nurses. The NCLEX-RN typically requires six hours to complete, and the questions are determined based on the test-takers' previous responses. Regional Boards of Nursing receive students' exam results and are responsible for issuing a license to the candidate, enabling them to practice within that state.

Registered nurses need to be licensed in order to practice but can enter the field with an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree.

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