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 right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a registered nurse or another similar career!

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Step 2

High School

If you're interested in becoming a registered nurse, there are several courses you can take in high school that can prepare you for a nursing program. Here are some suggested high school courses to consider:

  • Science: Nursing is a science-based profession, and taking courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology can provide a strong foundation in the sciences that will be useful in a nursing program.
  • Math: Nurses need to be comfortable with basic math skills, such as calculating dosages and measurements. Taking courses in algebra, geometry, and statistics can help develop these skills.
  • English: Effective communication is essential in nursing, and taking courses in English can help develop writing and speaking skills.
  • Social Sciences: Nursing involves interacting with patients from diverse backgrounds and cultures, and taking courses in social sciences, such as sociology or psychology, can provide insights into human behavior and social dynamics.
  • Foreign Language: Knowing a foreign language can be an asset in nursing, especially if you plan to work in a diverse community or with patients who speak another language.

In addition to these courses, it's essential to maintain a strong GPA and participate in extracurricular activities that demonstrate leadership, teamwork, and community service. Nursing programs also consider personal characteristics, such as empathy, compassion, and critical thinking skills, when evaluating applicants.

Keep in mind that the specific admission requirements for nursing programs can vary, so it's always a good idea to research the requirements for the programs you're interested in and talk to your high school guidance counselor about course options and opportunities for hands-on experience, such as job shadowing or volunteering at a hospital or clinic.

Step 3

GPA Requirement

The minimum GPA requirement for nursing schools can vary depending on the school and the program. Typically, nursing schools look for students who have a strong academic background and the potential to succeed in a rigorous nursing program. Here are some examples of minimum GPA requirements for nursing schools:

  • Community colleges or vocational schools: Many community colleges or vocational schools require a minimum GPA of 2.5 or higher for admission into their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program.
  • Four-year colleges and universities: Four-year colleges and universities that offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree may require a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher. Some highly competitive programs may require a higher GPA, such as 3.5 or above.
  • Accelerated BSN programs: Accelerated BSN programs typically require a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher, and some programs may require a GPA of 3.5 or above.

It's important to note that GPA is not the only factor that nursing schools consider when evaluating applicants. They may also consider factors such as work experience, volunteer work, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and entrance exam scores (such as the SAT or ACT).

In addition, some schools may have specific course prerequisites that applicants must have completed with a minimum grade to be considered for admission. It's always a good idea to research the specific admission requirements for the nursing schools you are interested in to determine their minimum GPA requirement and other admission criteria.

Step 4

How to Choose a Nursing School

Choosing a registered nursing school can be a significant decision in your education and career. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a nursing school:

  • Accreditation: It's essential to choose a nursing program that is accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Accreditation ensures that the program meets certain quality standards and prepares you to become a competent and safe registered nurse.
  • Program Type: You'll want to consider the type of nursing program that fits your needs and goals. An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year program that prepares you to become a registered nurse, while a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year program that offers a more in-depth education and prepares you for advanced nursing roles.
  • Clinical Experience: The clinical experience is a crucial part of nursing education, and you'll want to ensure that the nursing program you choose offers ample opportunities for hands-on training. Look for programs that offer clinical experiences in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and community health centers.
  • Faculty: The nursing faculty's experience, education, and credentials are critical in your education. Look for programs with highly qualified and experienced faculty members who are passionate about nursing education.
  • Cost: Nursing education can be expensive, so you'll want to consider the cost of the program, including tuition, fees, and other expenses such as books and supplies. Research financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, and loans, to help offset the cost of nursing school.
  • Location: Consider the location of the nursing program, including the proximity to clinical sites, as well as your personal situation, such as your proximity to family, work, and housing.
  • NCLEX Pass Rates: The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is a mandatory exam for registered nursing licensure, and you'll want to consider the nursing program's NCLEX pass rates. A high pass rate indicates that the program prepares its graduates well for the NCLEX and for a career as a registered nurse.

By considering these factors, you can choose a nursing program that aligns with your goals and prepares you for a successful career as a registered nurse.

Step 5


The licensure requirements for registered nurses (RNs) in the United States may vary by state, but the process generally includes the following steps:

  • Education: You must complete an accredited nursing program that leads to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
  • Examination: You must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which is a standardized test that measures your competency as a registered nurse.
  • Licensure Application: You must apply for a license to the state board of nursing where you plan to practice as a registered nurse.
  • Background Check: Most states require a criminal background check as part of the licensure process.
  • Continuing Education: Many states require registered nurses to complete continuing education courses to maintain their license.

It's important to note that the specific requirements for licensure may vary by state, so it's always a good idea to research the requirements in the state where you plan to practice. In addition, some states may have additional requirements, such as passing a jurisprudence exam that tests your knowledge of nursing practice laws and regulations in that state.

It's also essential to maintain a professional and ethical practice as a registered nurse, as violations of nursing standards and regulations can result in disciplinary action, including the suspension or revocation of your nursing license.

Step 6

Voluntary Certifications

Voluntary certifications for registered nurses are available in many specialty areas and can help demonstrate expertise and dedication to a specific area of nursing practice. Here are some of the voluntary certifications that are available for RNs:

  • Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN): This certification is offered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board and is designed for RNs who work in medical-surgical settings.
  • Certified Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN): This certification is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and is designed for RNs who work in critical care settings.
  • Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN): This certification is offered by the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board and is designed for RNs who work with pediatric patients.
  • Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN): This certification is offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing and is designed for RNs who work in emergency settings.
  • Certified Nurse Educator (CNE): This certification is offered by the National League for Nursing and is designed for RNs who teach nursing students or work in staff development.
  • Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR): This certification is offered by the Competency and Credentialing Institute and is designed for RNs who work in operating rooms.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): This certification is offered by the American Midwifery Certification Board and is designed for RNs who have completed a nurse-midwifery program and are certified to practice as nurse-midwives.
Step 7

Master's Degree in Nursing

With a master's degree in nursing, registered nurses can pursue a variety of career paths. Here are some examples:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP): As an NP, you can provide primary care services to patients in a range of settings, such as clinics, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): A nurse anesthetist is a highly trained advanced practice nurse who administers anesthesia to patients undergoing surgical procedures.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): Nurse midwives provide care to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. They also provide gynecological care and family planning services.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): As a clinical nurse specialist, you can work in a specialized area of nursing, such as oncology, pediatrics, or critical care. You can also provide expert consultation to other nurses and healthcare professionals.
  • Public Health Nurse: Public health nurses work in community settings to promote health and prevent disease. They develop and implement health programs, conduct health screenings, and provide education and counseling to individuals and groups.
  • Informatics Nurse Specialist: Nurse informaticists combine nursing and information technology to improve patient care. They design, implement, and evaluate healthcare information systems and technologies.
  • Nurse Educator: As a nurse educator, you can teach nursing students at universities, colleges, or vocational schools. You can also train nurses in hospitals or other healthcare facilities.
  • Nurse Researcher: Nurse researchers conduct studies to improve patient care, develop new nursing practices, and advance the field of nursing.
  • Nurse Administrator: Nurse administrators manage healthcare facilities or specific departments within healthcare organizations.
  • Nurse Advocate: Nurse advocates work on behalf of patients and their families to ensure that they receive quality healthcare. They can work in hospitals, clinics, or other healthcare organizations.
  • Nurse Consultant: Nurse consultants provide expert advice and guidance to healthcare organizations on issues related to nursing practice, patient care, and healthcare policy.
  • Nurse Entrepreneur: Nurse entrepreneurs start their own businesses or consulting practices to provide innovative solutions to healthcare challenges.
  • Nurse Executive: Nurse executives manage healthcare organizations or specific departments within healthcare organizations. They are responsible for developing and implementing strategic plans, managing budgets, and ensuring that the organization meets regulatory requirements.
  • Nurse Case Manager: Nurse case managers coordinate healthcare services for patients with complex medical needs. They work with patients, families, and healthcare providers to develop care plans and ensure that patients receive appropriate care.