Are you thinking of becoming an RN?
Are you already working in another field, but considering switching to a nursing career?
Well, you’ve come to the right place!
Becoming an RN is not easy, but it’s a very fulfilling profession. And other than helping others, you can also enjoy a good salary, stable employment, and a wide landscape of opportunities!
But where do you begin?
The process can seem daunting and confusing, right?
That’s precisely why we’re here! We’re going to give you a very simple guide on how to become a registered nurse (RN).
Although the steps differ from state to state, some steps apply to most (if not all) of the states.
And don’t worry! We have all the websites of the different nursing regulation boards listed below so that you can quickly access information about the specific state you are interested in.
We’ll also answer some FAQs to further help you out, such as:
- Are RNs in demand?
- What states hire the most RNs?
- Where do RNs usually work?
- What’s the average annual salary of an RN?
- What are the highest-paying states for RNs?
- Can I work as an RN in multiple states?
We have a LOT to discuss, so let’s get right into it!
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) – 5 Simple Steps
Becoming an RN will require a lot of effort, but the process itself is pretty straightforward.
We’ll break down the process for you in 5 steps:
- Enroll in an RN Education Program
- Do an Initial Application in the Appropriate State Board of Nursing
- Take and Pass the NCLEX-RN
- Start Practicing as an RN and Pursue Further Education
- Keep Your RN License Up-to-Date
Let’s discuss each step.
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Step #1: Enroll in an RN Education Program
Before anything else, we want to make sure that you know what an RN is.
Did you know that there are many different kinds of nurses in the States?
There are Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs), Registered Nurses (RNs), and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs).
In this article, we are going to focus on becoming a Registered Nurse (RN), but if you want to learn more about the different kinds of nurses, you can read this article.
Now, let’s focus our attention on Registered Nurses…
All RNs are required to enroll in and graduate from an RN Education Program.
There are two main kinds of RN programs – Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
But there are also bridge programs and accelerated nursing programs, which we will discuss later.
ADN VS BSN
The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a nursing education program that can be completed in 2-3 years, depending on your pace.
It teaches you the fundamentals of nursing care and prepares you to take the NCLEX-RN.
Since this is a shorter and cheaper program, you may prefer to take this so that you can become an RN as soon as possible.
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, on the other hand, takes about 4 years to complete.
It teaches you the fundamentals of nursing care, but also includes more coursework and gives you a wider range of clinical skills and experience.
Since this is a longer and more in-depth program, BSN-RNs have more job options and career advancement opportunities. They can take leadership positions and can also specialize in different fields of nursing.
Many hospitals prefer to hire RNs who graduated with a BSN degree.
Some states may even require all their RNs to be BSN-holders soon.
So, if you’re looking for more job opportunities and if you want to specialize in a certain field of nursing, it is advised that you take BSN instead.
RN-to-BSN Completion Programs
If you want to get a BSN degree but don’t have the time or money to do so, you can also opt to take ADN first and then proceed to take a BSN later on.
There are bridge programs that are designed for those who choose this option!
It’s called an RN to BSN program, and you can usually complete this WHILE working as an RN.
You can complete this program in about 12 to 14 months.
Accelerated Nursing Programs
If you’ve already graduated from a different field, but want to become a registered nurse instead, there are some accelerated nursing programs designed for you!
Depending on your pace, these accelerated programs can be completed in about 16-24 months.
After you graduate, you can then proceed to take the NCLEX.
But, now that we know the possible nursing programs that you can take, the next question is… how do you choose a good nursing school?
Things to Consider in Choosing a Nursing School
There are a LOT of nursing schools out there. How do you choose which one to enroll in?
Well, there’s no hard-and-fast rule in choosing a school, because it will also depend on your schedule, budget, location, and preferences.
But we have a few tips for you to consider when choosing a nursing school:
- Check if it is state-approved or accredited.
Most states require that the school you enroll in is part of the list of accredited schools.
You can usually find a list of approved schools on the board of nursing website of the state you are in.
- Check their NCLEX-RN passing rate.
Although this is not a requirement, it is always best to check if those who graduate from the school you are considering do well in the NCLEX-RN. This will tell you something about the quality of education that the school provides.
The higher the passing rate of the school, the more likely they can prepare you for your nursing journey.
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Step #2: Do an Initial Application in the Appropriate State Board of Nursing
Each state has its own Board of Nursing which regulates the practice of nursing in that area.
All aspiring RNs have to apply for an RN license through their state’s board of nursing.
General Requirements for Application
Although the requirements for application may differ from state to state, there are some general requirements that you may expect, such as:
- An application form (online or physical) to be submitted to the board of nursing
- The transcript of records (TOR) or diploma from the nursing school you graduated from
- A criminal background check or fingerprint scanning
- Application fees
Requirements Per State
We’ve already given you some general requirements for licensure application.
But here, we have a table for quick reference if you want to go to the nursing board website of a particular state, with some information on the states’ initial application fees and their nursing licensure compact status.
Click on your state to see the full process of that state!
Only includes initial application by examination. Each state may have other NCLEX fees, processing fees, criminal background fees, multistate license fees, etc.
 RNs from Nursing Licensure Compact states can work between states without having to apply for a license by endorsement – more on this in the FAQs below!
Please check your state’s board of nursing for updates.
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Step #3: Take and Pass the NCLEX-RN
Part of your initial application process is to apply for the NCLEX exam.
Many states partner with Pearson Vue to administer the NCLEX-RN for them. Because of this, you may need to register and pay for your exam on the Pearson Vue website.
If your initial application is accepted by your state’s board of nursing, they will give you an Authorization to Test (ATT), which means that you can now proceed to take the NCLEX.
There are many available resources (free and paid) that can help you prepare for this exam.
If you pass the exam, then you will be given a copy of your results, and you simply need to wait to receive your official RN license. The processing time to receive your RN license will differ per state.
But, if you fail the exam, you are given several chances to retake the exam, although you will need to pay the exam fees each time.
Some states allow you to take the exam up to 8 times within 2 years, as long as you wait 45 days between each trial. Some states only allow you to take the exam up to 3 times within 2 years.
If you still do not pass the NCLEX, then you will usually be asked to take a refresher or remedial course before you can attempt to take the exam again.
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Step #4: Start Practicing as an RN and Pursue Further Education
If you pass the NCLEX and have your RN license… CONGRATULATIONS!
You’ve come a REALLY long way!
Now is the time to start living your dream job!
As you gain more experience, you may also start to find areas of nursing practice that you are particularly interested in.
Some specialized areas of nursing include:
- Addiction nurse
- Cardiovascular nurse
- Critical Care nurse
- Gastroenterology nurse
- Medical-surgical nurse
- Neonatal nurse
- Occupational Health nurse
- Public Health Nurse
If so, then you may start considering pursuing further education. There’s always so much more to learn!
You might want to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN).
You may also consider getting training certificates, or even pursuing a Master’s and Doctorate Degree in Nursing.
How to Become a Registered Nurse (RN) Step #5: Keep Your RN License Up-to-Date
All RNs are required to keep their license active or up-to-date.
Most states require you to renew your license every 2 years.
You need to comply with certain requirements for you to be able to renew your license. These requirements differ per state.
Some require a certain number of contact hours of continuing education. Some also require a certain number of hours of employed nursing work.
If you do not renew your license, you cannot practice as an RN. So this is a crucial step for the whole duration of your nursing career.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN)
WOW! We talked about a lot of things already.
Now that you know the 5-step process of becoming a registered nurse, you may still have some questions in your mind.
Let’s try to answer some of these.
Are RNs in demand?
Yes, they are!
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the employment of RNs is projected to grow 9 percent from 2020 to 2030.
This means that there will be about 194,500 job openings for RNs each year over the decade.
Specifically, BSN-RNs are the ones in higher demand.
What states hire the most RNs?
The 5 states with the highest employment levels are California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
You can see this table on the website of the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Employment Per Thousand Jobs
Hourly Mean Wage
Annual Mean Wage
Where do RNs usually work?
Based on the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, most RNs are working in hospitals.
Out of the 3.1 million RN jobs in 2020:
- 61% of the RNs worked in state, local, and private hospitals
- 18% of the RNs worked in ambulatory healthcare services
- 6% of the RNs worked in nursing and residential care facilities
- 5% of the RNs worked in government; and
- 3% of the RNs worked in state, local, and private educational services
What’s the average annual salary of an RN?
The average mean annual salary of an RN in the U.S. is $82,750.
Of course, this will greatly differ from state to state. It will also depend on your experience and work performance.
What are the highest-paying states for RNs?
The top 5 highest-paying states are California, Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska.
You can see the hourly mean wage and the annual mean wage of these 5 states in the table below.
Employment Per Thousand Jobs
Hourly Mean Wage
Annual Mean Wage
District of Columbia
This table was taken from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Can I work as an RN in multiple states?
You may be wondering… Can I work as an RN in multiple states?
This depends on whether or not the state where you first get your RN license is part of the Nurse Licensure Compact.
This is a compact between several states which allows their RNs to have a multi-state RN license.
This allows the RN to practice across different states, without having to apply for licensure by endorsement in each state that they want to practice in.
Not all states are part of this compact yet though.
But even if they are not part of the compact, they do allow licensure by endorsement so long as the RN fulfills the requirements and pays the necessary fees of that state.
Well, there you have it!
Everything you need to know about how to become a registered nurse (RN) in one article!
Don’t forget our 5 steps to becoming an RN, and use some of the FAQs to help you choose where you might want to work!
We hope you found this helpful and that you can now embark on your nursing journey with confidence and ease.
If you have any questions, just let us know!