CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a registered nurse.

Step 1

Is becoming a registered nurse right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do registered nurses do?
Career Satisfaction
Are registered nurses happy with their careers?
What are registered nurses like?

Still unsure if becoming a registered nurse is the right career path? to find out if this career is in your top matches. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a registered nurse or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

To prepare for a potential career as a registered nurse, take high school classes in both mathematics and the sciences:
• Algebra
• Geometry
• Biology
• Chemistry

Foreign language classes are also recommended.

Generally, nursing schools require applicants to have a minimum GPA of between 2.00 and 3.25.

Step 3

Select an accredited program

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are two of the most recognized accrediting agencies in the United States. They’re also two of the most influential agencies, often determining eligibility for student aid or employment feasibility. Financial aid agencies generally will not fund non-accredited nursing programs and employers are typically not comfortable hiring graduates from non-accredited nursing schools.

The CCNE accredits Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in nursing. The ACEN accredits the entire spectrum of nursing programs: Diploma, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s.

It is important to note that:

• Many states are pushing for hospital nurses to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) by 2020.

• Many nursing schools require that applicants take the TEAS Test, also known as the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS V).

Step 4

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs are comprised of classroom learning and clinical experience. Curricula components include:

• Anatomy and Physiology
• Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Immunology
• Psychology
• Nutrition
• Statistics
• Theoretical Foundations in Nursing
• Transitions into Practice (opportunities to apply classroom learning in real life clinical healthcare settings)
• Nursing Care of Patients with Complex Needs
• Nursing Management of Patient Care (development of patient advocacy skills)
• Professional Issues in Nursing (legal, ethical dilemmas; healthcare leadership conflicts; healthcare policies)
• Healthcare of Women
• Introduction to Nursing Research
• Public Health Nursing
• Chemistry and Physics for Nurse Anesthesia

Step 5


Although licensure requirements may differ somewhat from state to state, they invariably include completing an accredited RN training program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

The NCLEX-RN covers four ‘categories of needs:’

  1. A care environment that is safe and effective, including infection control
  2. Psychological integrity, which is about coping and adaptation
  3. Health maintenance and promotion, which is about early intervention and focusing on preventing health issues, rather than curing them
  4. Physiological integrity, which is about making sure patients are comfortable and properly cared for

Many states require RNs to fulfill continuing education requirements to keep their nursing license active. In most cases, credits may be earned by obtaining professional nursing certifications or completing medical research projects or college-level courses.

For complete state-specific licensure requirements and other resources, click here.

Step 6

Voluntary Certifications

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) administers several voluntary certifications. Among these are Gerontological Nursing, Pediatric Nursing, Cardiac Vascular Nursing, and Pain Management Nursing.

Step 7


Registered Nurses who earn a Master of Science in Nursing may pursue positions in management, consulting, teaching, research, or clinical specializations within the nursing profession. Master’s Degree programs focus on in-depth understanding of healthcare policy, use of specialized medical technology, implementation of advanced research methods, and nursing management and leadership.

How to become a Registered Nurse

Nursing programs are offered at the Associate’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree levels. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), is however, the preeminent undergraduate credential in the field. In fact, most students who opt for the Associate’s Degree tend to eventually earn a Bachelor’s.

Coursework in accredited BSN programs consists of physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and health assessment. The latter half of the curriculum is comprised of clinical rotations in major health disciplines such as pediatrics, women’s health, geriatrics, and surgery.

Upon completing their undergrad education, aspiring registered nurses must earn their RN license. Although licensure requirements may vary somewhat from state to state, they generally involve completing an accredited RN training program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

In addition to the mandatory NCLEX-RN, there are numerous other voluntary certifications available to registered nurses. The American Nurses Credentialing Center administers these certifications, some of which are Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nursing, Cardiac-Vascular Nursing, and Nurse Executive.