Nursing School Requirements: How to Become a Registered Nurse

By craig


  • Nursing offers high earning potential and career growth for its prospects.
  • Registered nurses have the opportunity to continue education, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) for greater career prospects, earnings, and responsibilities.
  • All registered nurses must pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination), a nurse licensure exam in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Nursing is one of the most highly sought-after professions today. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 200,000+ nursing positions are expected to become available every year until 2026, representing a 15% annual growth rate.

This exciting stat shows an excellent opportunity for prospective registered nurses to build a fantastic nursing career. But how do you get started?

Keep reading to learn more about nursing schools and the prerequisites needed to get into them. You’ll also learn about the differences between an RN and a BSN and more.

What Are the Requirements to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)?

Registered nurses must hold an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). We highly recommend earning your BSN for higher salaries and increased responsibilities in any medical setting.

Note that different state laws have other requirements for obtaining a BSN. For example, some states require that you earn your BSN degree within ten years of receiving your first RN license.

Don’t forget – future employers also have a say in what degree is required.

All nursing students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) upon graduation.

Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX offers eligibility to become a fully licensed registered nurse in the state where they took the exam.

What Are the Prerequisites for Admission to a Nursing Program? (ADN)

Nursing school prerequisites needed to vary from school to school. At a minimum, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED along with prerequisite science courses, such as biology and chemistry.

You must be able to provide proficiency in the biological sciences to be considered for any nursing program.

As for additional requirements, you’ll also need to submit some documents besides your grades and coursework. Some of these documents include transcripts, letters of recommendation from teachers/employees, and (for many programs) an essay.

Be sure to consult with your nursing school’s website to learn of all requirements, along with submission deadlines.

What’s the Minimum High School GPA to Get Into a Nursing Program?

Minimum GPAs to get into nursing programs depend on the nursing school’s specific requirements and the program.

For example, expect BSN programs to require higher minimum grade point averages than ADN programs. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see some universities asking for a minimum 3.0 high school GPA.

How Long Does It Take To Become an RN?

How long it takes to become a registered nurse depends on many factors, primarily the type of degree.

An ADN typically takes two years, while a BSN takes four years. However, the option for accelerated BSN programs could take as little as two years to complete.

Graduate-level degrees like the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) take roughly two years to complete.

What Types of Courses Will You Take In Nursing School?

Nursing school programs are among the most rigorous you’ll ever find. They cover a lot of sciences with fundamentals in human behavior and the human body.

Basic nursing courses consist of several fields, including anatomy, chemistry, psychology, and biochemistry.

Other areas of focus cover less specialized subjects, such as ethics, philosophy, and family sociology.

Nursing school programs come with prerequisites as well. However, these subjects may not immediately be apparent, such as English composition, math, and the social sciences.

Clinical theory and clinical study are also critical parts of the coursework in nursing school. Nursing programs incorporate plenty of fieldwork in a hospital or health clinic.

Here are some of the most important courses in nursing school.

Anatomy and Physiology

This course area covers the assessment and diagnosis of issues with the human body, specific to the anatomical parts of the body. Expect lots of focus on all body systems, including cardiovascular and reproductive systems.

Health Assessment

Nursing students can expect to learn all aspects of a patient’s physical and psychosocial health in health assessment courses. This subject involves assessment and treatment determination.


Psychology is the study of human development and mental health disorders.

Nursing Skills

Nursing skills incorporate high hands-on learning, leaning on patient communication and assessment. Expect plenty of clinical work in a hospital or health clinic.

What Are the Focus Areas for Nursing School Programs?

All accredited nursing school education programs have three major areas: didactic, simulation lab, and clinicals.
Clinicals focus on hands-on learning at a hospital or health clinic. Didactic focuses on classroom lectures, while simulation labs replicate clinical settings and scenarios.

What Criteria Do Many Nursing Schools Base Their Success On?

It all depends on the school.

For example, LaGuardia Community College (part of the City University of New York) posted 2020 student achievement data citing NCLEX-RN passage rates, graduation rates, graduation employment, graduate continuing education, and graduate employment/continuing education rates on its website.

Some schools may be more transparent than others regarding this information.

Is There a Clinical Component to Nursing School Education Programs?

Yes, there’s a clinical component to nursing school education programs. A nursing student will have a placement in a hospital or health clinic under the direct guidance of a clinical instructor.

At the end of your nursing program, you’ll be eligible to manage a small patient caseload with oversight from your clinical instructor and staff nurse.

During this program, nursing students focus on care plans with assessment and nursing diagnosis for a select group of patients. Expect one to four care plans for every clinical rotation you participate in.

In all, clinicals are an excellent way to gain exposure in different areas, including perioperative, community health, psychiatric, emergency care, and pediatrics.

The NCLEX Exam

After completing nursing school, the next step to becoming a registered nurse is to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.
The NCLEX exam is an adaptive computer test comprising anywhere from 75 to 145 questions, which gauge your expertise in all areas of nursing, including medical, pediatric, psychiatric, obstetric, and surgical subjects.

How Is the NCLEX Exam Structured?

The NCLEX exam tests prospective RNs in the following categories and subcategories:

20% Management of Care

Advanced Directives, Advocacy, Case Management, Client Rights, Concepts of Management, Confidentiality, Continuity of Care, Quality Improvement, Delegation, Establishing Priorities, Ethical Practice, Informed Consent, Legal Responsibilities, Referrals, and Supervision.

12% Safety and Infection Control

Accident Prevention, Error Prevention, Hazardous Materials, Surgical Asepsis, Standard Precautions, and Use of Restraints.

9% Health Promotion and Maintenance

Aging Process, Ante/Intra/Postpartum and Newborn Care, Developmental Stages and Transitions, Disease Prevention, Health Screening, Lifestyle Choices, Physical Assessment Techniques, Health Promotion Programs, High-Risk Behaviors, and Self-Care.

9% Psychosocial Integrity

Coping Mechanisms, Grief and Loss, Mental Health Concepts, Spiritual Influence on Health, Sensory/Perceptual Alterations, Stress Management, Support Systems, Therapeutic Communication, Chemical Dependency, Behavioral Interventions, Crisis Intervention, Coping Mechanisms, End of Life Care, and Family Dynamics.

9% Basic Care and Comfort

Assistive Devices, Elimination, Mobility, Nonpharmacological Comfort Interventions, Nutrition, Oral Hydration, Personal Hygiene, and Rest and Sleep.

15% Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies

Adverse Effects, Contraindications, Blood and Blood Products, Central Venous Access Devices, Chemotherapy, Expected Effects, Intravenous Therapy, Medication Administration, Pharmacological Pain Management, Total Parenteral Nutrition, and Dosage Calculations.

14% Physiological Adaptation

Alterations in the Body Systems, Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances, Hemodynamics, Medical Emergencies, Pathophysiology, and Unexpected Response to Therapies.

12% Reduction of Risk Potential

Diagnostic Tests, Laboratory Values, Potential for Complications from Surgical Procedures, and Health Alterations and Therapeutic Procedures.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of an Associate’s Degree in Nursing?

Obtaining an Associates’s Degree in Nursing is an excellent first step in the door towards an entry-level role in a health care setting.

Course work is cheaper, with credits transferring to a BSN program if needed. Additionally, it allows you to become an RN for several years to test the waters without fully committing to higher education and costs.

However, the downsides to an Associate’s Degree in Nursing are essentially a matter of competitiveness and qualifications.

What Is the Difference Between ADN and BSN Programs?

In short, BSN nurses have higher qualifications and learn more complex medical procedures than ADNs.

Another difference is with the duration of education. ADN programs take up to two years, whereas BSN programs can take four or more years to complete.

BSN programs are much more rigorous, covering advanced management, social sciences, and public health subjects. It also allows BSN holders to go into administrative and leadership positions with a $100,000+ annual salary potential.However, recent years have seen the proliferation of accelerated BSN programs, which take no more than two years to complete.

Studies from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing have also shown that higher education levels lead to lower mortality rates and fewer medical errors.

How Soon After Completing an Accelerated Nursing Program Can I Become an RN?

After completing any nursing program in line with GPA and passing requirements, you’ll be automatically eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam. You can start practicing after you obtain your license.

How Complex Are Accelerated Nursing Programs?

Accelerated nursing programs are challenging, requiring up to 18 months of study, with 8900 hours of clinical time. However, its concentration lies solely with nursing courses (as opposed to general education or elective courses) for those who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Some classes you can expect in an accelerated nursing program include medical terminology, pathophysiology, geriatrics, pediatrics, biology, and nursing ethics.

On top of nursing classes, expect supervised clinical hours under the tutelage of a nurse who’s on standby to help you understand the curriculum and answer any questions you may have.

Are There Accelerated Online Nursing Programs?

Yes, there are many accelerated online nursing programs. Expect the same stringent curriculum with the same number of clinical hours required as those who work in a lab, clinic, or other traditional health settings.

What’s the Difference Between an Accelerated Nursing Program and a Bridge Program?

Both accelerated nursing programs and bridge programs serve two very different purposes. First, accelerated nursing programs are for those without any nursing experience.

In contrast, bridge programs are for existing nurses who wish to pursue higher education (e.g., RN-to-MSN bridge program)

What Higher Learning Opportunities Exist for Registered Nurses?

After obtaining an RN degree, you have the option of earning an MSN, which opens up even more career opportunities, such as work in hospital administration, health policy, and nurse education.

Also, MSN nurses can deep dive into higher-paying specializations such as clinical nurse specialists (CNS) and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA).

Nursing School Requirements: Is Nursing School Worth It?

Yes, attending a nursing school will present you with a near-endless amount of career opportunities and specializations, leading to good pay and more advanced role nurses in healthcare.

If you’re interested in helping others in arguably their greatest time of need, then nursing is an excellent and worthwhile career choice.

All in all, nursing schools have very stringent requirements, primarily demonstrating proficiency in the biological sciences with a solid GPA and evidence of high moral character.

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