Registered nurses (RNs) provide care and support to patients in various settings securing an essential place in the healthcare industry. However, to fill this important role, RNs must meet specific educational requirements such as having a comprehensive understanding of nursing theory, medical knowledge, and practical skills.

This article will explore the education requirements for registered nursing, including the types of nursing programs available, the licensing process, and the ongoing education needed to maintain RN certification. By understanding these requirements, individuals can make informed decisions about pursuing a career in nursing.

Educational Requirements for Registered Nurses: 2 Routes


There are two primary educational routes to becoming a registered nurse: completing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. An ADN typically takes 2 to 3 years to complete and focuses primarily on nursing fundamentals, patient care, and clinical skills. On the other hand, a BSN degree takes 4 years to complete and includes a broader range of coursework, including social sciences, leadership, and healthcare management.

Choosing between an ADN and a BSN program will ultimately depend on the individual’s career goals and personal circumstances. To make things easier for you, let’s review the requirements to become a nurse for each program.

Associate Degree in Nursing

ADN stands for Associate Degree in Nursing. This two-year degree program prepares individuals to become registered nurses. Community colleges, technical schools, or vocational schools typically offer ADN programs. These programs give students the necessary skills and knowledge to care for patients in various healthcare settings.

Admission requirements

The admission requirements for an ADN program vary depending on the educational institution offering the program. However, standard admission requirements include the following:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Minimum GPA
  • Prerequisite courses
  • Entrance exam
  • Immunization records
  • Criminal background check


The ADN program curriculum includes a combination of general education and nursing courses. These courses are designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become competent and safe entry-level registered nurses.

Prerequisites for an ADN program:

  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Statistics
  • Psychology
  • Communications

Nursing classes for the ADN program include:

  • Foundations in Nursing
  • Nursing Care of Adults
  • Behavioral Health
  • Pharmacology
  • Maternal and Child Nursing Care

Time to complete

The time to complete an ADN program differs depending on the educational institution and the individual’s enrollment status. ADN programs take about 2 to 3 years to complete when enrolled full-time. However, some programs may offer part-time enrollment options, which can extend the program’s duration.


The skills gained in an ADN program include:

  • Clinical skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication
  • Cultural competence
  • Leadership
  • Technical skills

Bachelor of Science in Nursing


Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year program that prepares individuals to become registered nurses. It typically includes a broader range of coursework than an ADN program, including social sciences, healthcare management, leadership, and nursing research. BSN programs also include clinical rotations to gain hands-on experience in patient care.

In addition to providing a solid foundation in nursing theory and practice, a BSN degree may offer greater career opportunities and earning potential than an ADN degree.

Admission requirements

The admission requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program depend on the educational institution but typically include:

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Minimum GPA
  • Prerequisite courses
  • ACT or SAT Scores
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Background check


The curriculum of a BSN program includes a combination of general education courses, nursing courses, and clinical experience. The specific courses depend on the institution, but the general structure of the curriculum is as follows:

Nursing prerequisites include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Microbiology

Nursing school curriculum varies but generally includes:

  • Nursing care for the geriatric adult
  • Nursing care of infants, children, and adolescents
  • Nursing care of adults
  • Maternal and Newborn Health
  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing Ethics
  • Wellness Promotion
  • Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Time to complete

The duration of a BSN program depends on several variables, such as the student’s enrollment status (full-time or part-time), the program’s structure, and any intermissions between semesters. Nonetheless, typically, it requires approximately four years of full-time study.


The skills gained from a BSN program enable graduates to provide high-quality nursing care, work effectively in healthcare teams, and assume leadership roles in nursing practice. Some of these skills include:

  • Clinical skills
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Leadership and management
  • Cultural competence

What Testing and Licensing Will You Need?

When pursuing a career as a registered nurse, there are testing and licensing requirements that you must meet. The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is the primary exam for RN licensure in the United States. It is a computerized adaptive test that measures the individual’s knowledge and skills in various areas of nursing, such as health promotion, pharmacology, and patient care.

In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN, you must also obtain licensure in the state where you plan to work. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically involve submitting an application, paying a fee, and meeting education and background check requirements. Some states may require RNs to complete continuing education courses to maintain their licensure.

Steps to Become a Registered Nurse


The steps to becoming a registered nurse may vary depending on the state or jurisdiction but typically include the requirements below.

Earn an ADN or a BSN

Earning an Associate Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is necessary to become an RN. After obtaining either degree, you are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to obtain RN licensure and start practicing.

While both ADN and BSN programs can lead to an RN career, there are differences in the coursework and career opportunities available with each degree.

Pass the NCLEX exam

The NCLEX-RN is a standardized examination that evaluates an individual’s skills and expertise necessary for delivering safe and efficient nursing care. It assesses the candidate’s comprehension of nursing principles, clinical decision-making, and critical thinking abilities. To obtain an RN license and start working as a nurse after finishing an accredited nursing program, you must pass the NCLEX-RN. To get ready for the exam, you can enroll in NCLEX-RN preparation programs, use study materials, or take review courses.

Find a job

Finding a job is typically the next step after completing the educational and licensure requirements to become an RN. Researching potential employers and job opportunities is critical to ensure the job aligns with their career goals and values. To find a job as an RN, you can search for job openings online, attend job fairs, network with other healthcare professionals, or contact staffing agencies specializing in nursing placements.

Get certified

In most jurisdictions, obtaining a nursing degree and passing the NCLEX-RN exam is sufficient to become an RN. However, you can choose to pursue certification in a specialized area of nursing to enhance your skills and career opportunities.

Certification is voluntary and usually requires additional coursework and passing an exam in the specific area of nursing. To become certified, you can contact the certification board in your area of specialization and review the requirements and application process.


The educational requirements for becoming a registered nurse are rigorous and multifaceted. Consequently, becoming an RN requires dedication, hard work, and ongoing education to provide safe and effective nursing care.

AIAM provides excellent nursing programs that prepare students for the challenging and rewarding nursing field. With AIAM’s exceptional education and training, you can be confident in your ability to care for your future patients. Explore our nursing programs and pursue your dream of becoming an RN.