How To Get Your Nursing License: A Detailed Guide on Nursing Licensure

By Sarah Collins

04/21/2022

However, the process of getting a nursing license can appear very intimidating. Where do you start from? What’s the application process?

We’ve got you covered! Keep reading to learn the steps needed to get your nursing license, including prerequisites, enrollment in an accredited nursing program, applying for licensure, and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Key Takeaways

  • All nursing students must complete an accredited, state-approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX exam to receive their nursing license.
  • Certified nursing assistants (CNAs), registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) require licenses.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 276,800 new registered nurse openings are expected each year.

How Do I Get My Nursing License and Become a Registered Nurse?

Obtaining a nursing license requires students to complete an accredited, state-approved nursing program, apply with their state’s licensing board, and pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial on obtaining your nursing license and becoming a registered nurse.

  • Enroll in an Accredited Nursing Program

Enroll in a nursing program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the American Association of College of Nursing.

Accreditation ensures that your education is held to the highest standards, allows eligibility for financial aid from the federal government, and lets you sit for the NCLEX-RN exam.

To check nursing school accreditation records, visit the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs (DAPIP).

  • Apply for a License

The next step is to apply for a license with your state’s licensing board. Do note that the application process requires completing an application and paying some fees.

Each state has different licensing requirements, which are essentially fees. For example, Alabama registered nursing students pay a $100 application fee, $50 temporary license fee, and $3.50 transaction fee.

  • Pass the NCLEX exam

Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX-RN exam allows students who have completed an accredited registered nursing program to become registered nurses.

There are two NCLEX exams: NCLEX-PN (for aspiring licensed practical nurses) and NCLEX-RN (for registered nursing applicants).

The exam covers all materials learned during nursing school, focusing on the human sciences. Expect a heavy focus on medical, pediatric, psychiatric, obstetric, and surgical subjects.

The NCLEX exam covers the following eight nursing subfields:

  • Management of Care – 20%
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies – 15%
  • Physiological Adaptation – 14%
  • Reduction of Risk Potential – 12%
  • Safety and Infection Control – 12%
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance – 9%
  • Psychosocial Integrity – 9%
  • Basic Care and Comfort – 9%

As per the format, the exam is computer-adaptive, meaning the number of questions depends on how often you provide the correct answer. It can be as short as 75 questions and as much as 265 questions, along with 15 experimental questions that do not count as part of your overall grade.

  • Receive Your Temporary/Permanent License

Once you pass the NCLEX, you’ll receive a temporary license, followed by a permanent license anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The exact duration will depend on volume and your state’s licensing board.

You’ll be able to apply for nursing jobs using a temporary license. However, a permanent license is required to execute all of the tasks you learned during nursing school.

What Type of Nurses Require a License?

Four types of nurses require licensure: certified nursing assistants (CNAs), registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

How Can I Obtain a Nursing License in Another State?

After you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN exam, you have the option of applying for a “licensure by endorsement” through Nursys. This online verification company stores all license and disciplinary data and facilitates licensure in another state.

After obtaining your compact license, it’ll allow you to work in other states participating in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) program. For example, registered nurses in Arizona are eligible to work in Nebraska with an NLC license.

Here are all participating states in the program:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  •  Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Virgin Islands
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

In short, pass your NCLEX exam, apply for licensure by endorsement in the state you wish to practice in, and pay all applicable fees.

Can I Work as a Nurse Without a Nursing License?

Without a nursing license, job prospects are fairly limited.

Expect to find work as a nursing assistant performing limited patient care tasks. Another option is working in sales, where a nursing research background can help you pitch medication and sell medical supplies to public and private practices.

How Do I Become a Registered Nurse With an Associate Degree?

An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ASN) program allows students to become registered nurses. To become a registered nurse with an ASN, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination and apply for licensure through your state’s licensing board.

We highly recommend working towards a BSN. In addition to earning higher salaries with a broader job scope, more and more hospitals and healthcare settings now require all nurses to have a bachelor’s degree. New York passed a 2017 law, “BSN in 10”, requiring all nurses to obtain their BSN within ten years of receiving an RN license.

BSN coursework is much more rigorous than ASN coursework, focusing on the sciences, clinical hours, and increased responsibility.

All About Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

What is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)?

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is an 18-month to a two-year program that trains students to perform basic nursing care tasks, such as monitoring/recording vital signs, administering medication, and speaking with patients about symptoms and conditions.

ADN nurses can also obtain additional certifications in specialty areas to expand their scope and increase their salaries. These nurse specialties and certifications may include ambulatory care, cardiac vascular, medical-surgical, and nursing case management.

What Are the Benefits of an ADN?

There are many benefits to having an ADN.

  1. Fast Track to Registered Nursing

An ADN degree puts you on the fast track towards an ADN degree. The degree can be completed in as little as 18 months, allowing you to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) faster.

  1. Cheaper Tuition than a BSN

Pursuing an ADN is cost-effective, saving more in tuition and fees than a traditional four-year BSN program.

  1. Easier for Practicing LPNs

Practicing LPNs who want to become registered nurses can use a 2-year ADN program as a springboard before considering the more rigorous BSN curriculum.

  1. Excellent Knowledge Base

Working towards an ADN prepares you for critical subjects, including human anatomy, psychology, biology, nutrition, mathematics, physiology, and the social sciences.

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Registered Nurse With an Associate’s Degree?

Here are the steps to becoming a registered nurse with an associate’s degree.

  1. Obtain your HS/GED Diploma

All prerequisite requirements for math and the sciences should be met with a minimum GPA, as well as an essay and letters of recommendation,

  1. Apply To An Accredited ADN Program

Accredited ADN programs take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years to complete, allowing you to enter the field as a healthcare professional.

  1. Pass the NCLEX Exam

Once you’ve completed your ADN program, it’s time to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. You’ll be awarded licensure to work as a registered nurse if you pass it.

What Does the ADN Curriculum Look Like?

See the schedule below for a simple ADN curriculum, courtesy of the FVI School of Nursing and Technology.

Course #Course TitleCredits
TERM I
ENC1101English Composition3
MAT1101College Math3
PSY2012General Psychology3
BCS2085Anatomy and Physiology I and Lab4
TERM II
HUM1205Human Diversity3
BCS2086Anatomy and Physiology II and Lab4
MCB2010Microbiology and Lab4
TERM III
NUR1000Nursing Concepts9
NUR1100Pharmacology for Nursing3
TERM IV
NUR1500Nursing Concepts II12
TERM V
NUR1500Nursing Concepts III12
TERM VI
NUR1500Nursing Concepts IV (Capstone)12

Is an ADN Worth It?

More nursing students are being asked to obtain their BSNs, with many studies showing improved patient outcomes, a lower mortality rate, fewer clinical errors, and other success indicators.

Also, the number of available nursing jobs is expected to grow significantly through 2030. So obtaining a BSN degree becomes even more valuable to compete well with other nurses for entry-level employment.

How Do I Become a Licensed Practical Nurse With an Associate Degree?

To become a licensed practical nurse with an associate degree, you’ll need to follow these steps:

1) Earn your HS Diploma/GED

2) Enroll in an LPN training program accredited by the National League of Nursing Accrediting Agency (NLNAC)

3) Take and pass the NCLEX-PN exam

4) Receive your LPN license from your state’s board of nursing.

How Long Does It Take To Get Your Nursing License in the US?

How long it takes to get your nursing license depends on the state. Each state has its time frame for issuing temporary and permanent nursing licenses.

For example, Alaska issues temporary and permanent licenses in as little as ten business days, whereas Arizona issues temporary licenses under 48 hours and permanent licenses anywhere from 1 to 2 months.

Be sure to check with your state’s nursing board for the exact time frames.

How Much Money Do You Need for Tuition and Other Expenses When Getting Your Nursing License in the US?

Nursing school costs depend on several factors, such as the type of program (e.g., ADN, BSN, MSN), online versus on-campus, in-state versus out-of-state programs, and additional miscellaneous costs such as room & board.

  • Tuition for ADN programs at public universities may cost upward of $20,000 and $40,000 for private universities.
  • Tuition for BSN programs at public universities can reach up to $100,000 (120 credits)
  • MSN program costs could range from $35,000 to $100,000 for 30 to 60 credits.
  • Tuition for Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs ranges from $40,000 to $70,000 for 60 to 80 credits.

Additional costs for nursing schools cover incidents such as room & board, books, and lab fees. Expect to pay hundreds of dollars in textbooks, nursing supplies, lab fees, and background checks throughout your degree program.

All About Financial Aid

What Types of Financial Aid Are Available to Nursing Students?

Fortunately, many types of financial aid are available to students attending accredited nursing schools. These include federal student loans, private student loans, scholarships, and grants.

To apply for financial aid, prospective students will have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. It’s used to determine eligibility based on household income and other factors.

As for scholarships, they are awarded based on specific eligibility requirements. Some are catch-all, and others apply to a particular niche. For example, the Deborah Stevens Pediatric Nursing Scholarship ($1500) is available for students interested in becoming pediatric nurses.

Of hundreds of available scholarships, here are a few to consider:

Pay It Forward CRNA Scholarship

By: CRNA School Prep Academy

Type: Graduate

Amount: $4,400 (4 winners, $1,100 each)

Criteria: Currently enrolled in a nurse anesthesia program.

Jeffrey A. Mattos Memorial Nursing Scholarship

By: Gifted Scholars Leadership Program

Type: Undergraduate

Amount: $3,200 (3 winners, $1,066 each)

Criteria: For minority women interested in pursuing a career in nursing

WiseGeek Nurse Appreciation No-Essay Scholarship

By: WiseGeek

Type: Any

Amount: $500

Criteria: For current or prospective nurses

Young Women in STEM Scholarship

By: Stephanie Hagopian (private donor)

Type: High School, Undergraduate

Amount: $30,000 (3 winners, $10,000)

Criteria: Foprn three female, low-income high school seniors majoring in a STEM program

Noah Jon Markstrom Foundation Scholarship

By: Noah Jon Markstrom Foundation

Type: Undergraduate, graduate

Amount: $3,000

Criteria: For undergraduate or graduate students interested in pediatric medicine

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Nurses That People Have?

As a high-profile job, nursing has no shortage of inaccuracies related to job responsibilities, pay, schedule, and other job conditions.

Here are five common nursing misconceptions, exaggerated in the media, movies, and TV shows.

  1. It’s a Woman’s World

According to the United States Department of Labor, roughly 12% of nurses are male today. This percentage is a considerable increase over 1970 when only 2.7% of registered nurses were men.

Also, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting more than 200,000 new nursing jobs through 2029, the percentage of males in the nursing workforce should continue to grow over time.

  1. Nursing School is Easy

Becoming a registered nurse is far from easy. Introductory nursing courses cover anatomy, chemistry, psychology, biochemistry, and other areas in the human sciences. Additionally, it requires hundreds of clinical hours, including simulation labs that try to mimic clinical settings.

  1. Low Salaries

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, registered nurses earn an average annual salary of $75,330 (May 2020) or a little over $36 an hour.

With a Master of Nursing (MSN) degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, one can easily eclipse $150,000 a year with the highest paying nursing jobs, such as Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CNRA), Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Cardiac Nurse Practitioner, Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner, and Oncology Nurse Practitioners.

Additionally, salaries between registered nurses vary depending on the state, years of experience, and specializations. For example, Alaska’s average annual salary for cardiac nurse practitioners is around $100,000 a year, while Arkansas-based cardiac nurse practitioners make an average yearly salary of $114,000.

Nursing Job Outlook by State

The job outlook for nursing has never been better. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 195,500 new registered nurse openings are expected each year over the next decade. These projected employment opportunities are due to several reasons, primarily increasing retirement by baby boomers and the greater demand for healthcare.

Another key stat is projected job growth for nurse practitioners, which is expected to rise by 45% through 2029. With all of these good numbers, being hired is virtually guaranteed.

Although there are no official stats on nursing job outlook (growth percentages) by state, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does tally other metrics, including the following:

  • Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for registered nurses
  • Percentile wage estimates for registered nurses
  • States with the highest employment level of registered nurses
  • States with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in registered nurses
  • Top paying states for registered nurses

For all metrics, visit Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics – Registered Nurses – US Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does the Job Outlook Look For Specific Nursing Specializations?

The job growth outlook for nurses varies depending on the type of nurse. According to the BLS, here are six types of nurses with percentage job growth figures from 2020 to 2030

  • Registered Nurse – 9%
  • Licensed Practical Nurse- 9%
  • Nurse Practitioner- 45%
  • Nurse Midwife- 45%
  • Nurse Administrator- 32%
  • Community Health Worker- 17%

All in all, getting your nursing license will undoubtedly lead to a long and fulfilling career. That’s thanks to steady industry growth, exciting work, and tons of professional development opportunities that will constantly keep you on your heels.

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