How To Become A Registered Nurse (RN)

a female nurse in scrubs putting on a mask

Being a nurse is a rewarding major that offers graduates a wide range of job opportunities in a variety of healthcare settings. The demand for nurses is high and expected to grow even more in the coming years. Nurses play a vital role in our healthcare system, providing care and support to patients at all stages of their lives. They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, schools, and nursing homes.

There are many different types of nurses, each with their own unique focus. Some nurses specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as pediatrics, oncology, or cardiology. Others work in a more general setting, providing care to patients of all ages and with a variety of conditions.

Before we dive into how to become a nurse it is important to note nursing programs are competitive and very impacted. It is important to start planning early.

There Are Two Paths To Become A Nurse

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): This is a two-year program that is offered at community colleges. ADN graduates are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam to become registered nurses (RNs).
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): This is a four-year program that is offered at universities. BSN graduates are also eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam to become RNs.

It is possible to earn a nursing degree from somewhere other than a college or university. There are several accredited vocational schools and programs that offer nursing programs.

However, not all nursing programs are created equal. It is important to choose a program that is accredited by a reputable organization, such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation ensures that the program meets certain standards of quality and that graduates are prepared to practice nursing safely and effectively.

If you are a little confused about the different types of nurses, what is the difference between an RN, LPN, and LVN should clarify things.


Regardless of which degree you want to earn, ADN or BSN you will need to meet the prerequisites in order to apply to the program. As I previously stated, nursing programs are impacted. A nursing program is considered to be impacted when the number of qualified applicants exceeds the number of available seats in the program.

When a nursing program is impacted, it means that the program has to be selective about who it admits. Applicants may be required to have higher GPAs or test scores, or they may need to have completed certain prerequisites. Additionally, some nursing programs may give priority to in-state applicants or to students who have already completed a degree in another field.

I’m not trying to scare you by pointing out how impacted nursing programs are. I’m trying to show you that you need to plan for it.

Apply To The Nursing Programs As Soon As You Can

I know that applying to the programs as soon as possible sounds like a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how many students I have coached who waited, put it off, or simply didn’t understand the process. Do not put off any courses which will allow you to apply to the program. Be mindful about which classes you take first and in what order you take them.

You want to apply to the program as soon as you can because chances are you will not get in the first time. Not because you are not a good candidate, but simply because the program is so impacted. You will need to reapply the next time the program opens.

Every nursing program’s prerequisites will be slightly different. To find the required prerequisites just go to the college or university website and they will have them listed.

I will use my two alma maters, Butte Community College and California State University Sacramento, as examples.

Here are the requirements for Butte Community College ADN program:

Butte College Associate Degree Nursing Program Prerequisite courses

As you can see there are 8 classes you MUST take in order to apply to the program. Take these classes as soon as possible. The BIOL and MATH classes may have prerequisites before you can take them. Take the prerequisite classes first and then immediately take the required classes. This may take a few semesters to complete.

Here are the requirements for California State University Sacrament BSN program:

California State University Sacramento Nursing Program Prerequisite Courses

Again there are 8 classes you MUST take in order to apply to the program. Take these classes as soon as possible.

To Be A Nurse You Need To Get Good Grades

Getting good grades in your prerequisite courses will make you a more competitive applicant for nursing programs. Having the best grades possible in your prerequisite courses is a must as nursing schools are looking for students who are likely to succeed in the rigorous program and go on to become compassionate and effective nurses.

Nursing schools typically require applicants to have a GPA of at least 3.0, and some programs have even higher requirements. In addition to GPA, nursing schools also look at applicants’ grades in specific prerequisite courses, such as anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. Getting good grades is not always easy, but it is definitely possible with hard work and dedication. Here are some tips to help you succeed.


To become a registered nurse (RN) you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX-RN exam is a standardized test that all RNs must pass in order to be licensed. The NCLEX uses computerized adaptive testing (CAT) to administer the exam. CAT is a method that uses computer technology and measurement to increase the efficiency and accuracy of the exam process.


Sensei Side Note:

For my concurrent enrollment students who want to become a nurse. You can begin taking many of the prerequisite courses needed to apply to the nursing program while you are earning credits for both high school and college. General education classes like biology, English, and math will count for both! I had a student who was able to graduate high school at 17 and immediately apply to the nursing program!