What Education Is Needed to Become a Registered Nurse?

Registered nurses are the professionals who make sure that patients receive the care they need to get better after being admitted to the hospital, which includes performing tests and assessments, preparing them for surgery, administering medications, and more.

To become an RN, you must first earn an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), which takes two years of full-time study at an accredited program. From there, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), which typically takes four years of full-time study at an accredited program.

A Look at Education Options

Since becoming a registered nurse is an entry-level position, you typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. However, many employers also require that RNs hold associate’s degrees (or higher). To keep up with rapid advancements in medical research and technology, most professional organizations recommend that nurses registered complete continuing education courses throughout their careers.

If you’re interested in becoming an RN, your first step should be taking classes in biology and chemistry; both subjects are integral to understanding how human bodies work and how diseases develop. When it comes time to apply for jobs as an RN, you may be asked about any additional training you’ve had—this can include information on relevant certifications or licensing exams.

The Community College Option

Registered nurses (RNs) are critical to healthcare in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for RNs will grow by 20 per cent between 2016 and 2026, which is much faster than average for all occupations. Community colleges are an excellent option for those who want a job as an RN but don’t have any prior education or training.

Some states, such as California and Oregon, allow community college students to receive credit for their work experience and earn an RN license within two years, which is much faster than going straight to nursing school after high school or returning to school after ten years. Given how long and expensive nursing school can be, community college can be an attractive option if you know you want to become an RN.

The Associate Degree Option

First, if you want to be a nurses registered (RN), you must have an associate degree in nursing. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, obtaining your associate degree can lead to job opportunities in many hospitals, long-term care facilities and outpatient clinics.

Getting your associate degree can typically take two years of full-time study or four years part-time. You’ll study chemistry, biology, general education classes, clinical lab techniques, and nursing subjects like assessment, growth and development, and communication skills.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs for Nursing

Most registered nurses in America have at least an associate’s degree, but all RNs are expected to continue their education throughout their careers. Most people who become nurses registered earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing; each of these is usually completed in four years.

Some RN-to-BSN programs allow students with associate’s degrees to complete a bachelor’s program and earn both degrees in as little as two years. Earning your graduate degree online makes it easy to continue your education and even pick up new skills while working. Regardless of where you live or what you study, online schools make it easy for busy adults like you to get back into school without relocating.

Master’s Degree in Nursing Programs

Several colleges and universities offer master’s degree programs in nursing, which prepare graduates for careers as RNs. Completing an RN-to-BSN program is typically necessary for students to pursue graduate studies. The difference between a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) and MSN with an emphasis on administration or education is minimal; all confer similar preparation and career opportunities.

A few schools offer online master’s degree programs, although many require students to attend classes on campus. To enrol in an online MSN program, candidates must be currently licensed as nurses registered or hold proof of good standing as LPNs or LVNs. Classes are generally self-paced with flexible schedules that balance studies with work and family commitments.

Doctoral Degree Programs for Nursing

There are several doctoral programs for nursing that prepare nurses for higher-level careers. Many of these programs are offered by public universities, but due to high demand, many schools are beginning to provide private masters and doctoral programs. Joint doctorate degrees in nursing include Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Science (ScD).

There are currently around 100 accredited nurse doctorate programs throughout the United States, with over 16,000 students enrolled as of 2012. Nurses who have earned their doctorate can be found practising in almost every setting imaginable, including hospitals, health clinics and rehabilitation centres.

Where Do You Want to Work as a Registered Nurse?

You can work as a nurses registered in many places, from hospitals and doctor’s offices to schools and outpatient care centres. You’ll usually be required to get your RN license (or LPN or LVN if you want to work as an LPN or LVN) in the state where you plan on working.

There are quite a few different routes for becoming an RN, so it’s a good idea to look into them all before making your decision. Read below for more information about nursing education, licenses, and career options that could lead you down any one of these paths.

How Can I Advance as a Registered Nurse?

Once you’ve been on your feet for a couple of years as an RN, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to advance. While some people opt for nursing management positions in hospitals or medical clinics, others take their skills into other industries. There are plenty of job opportunities across multiple fields with travel nurse companies and even medical staffing agencies.

Becoming certified as an emergency medical technician (EMT) is another avenue worth exploring if it interests you but be sure to do your research before diving in. As an EMT, you can work for ambulance services or fire departments; the private industry isn’t an option here, but many healthcare companies will hire EMTs on-site and provide paid training as long as you pass muster.


A four-year degree is usually necessary to become a registered nurse, though you might also be able to complete an associate’s program. Associate’s programs in nursing are designed for people who want to go into nursing but can’t commit as much time or money toward school. Both associate’s and bachelor’s programs require that you pass a test, usually called the NCLEX, which allows you to practice working as a nurse while still in school.

You must pass both parts of an exam (the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN) before you can become a nurses registered; once licensed, RNs must complete continuing education courses every few years to keep their license valid. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nurses will make $77,010 per year by 2022