How Long Does IT Take to Become a Registered Nurse?

The timeline for becoming a registered nurse (RN) often varies according to the individual's education path of choice and speed of their studies. Additional state licensing and regulations can also affect how long it takes to enter the profession. Both 2- and 4-year institutions provide degree programs that help students launch a career in nursing.

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Becoming a Registered Nurse

The most common educational paths to becoming a registered nurse (RN) are to obtain an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. Aspiring nurses may also consider 3-year diploma programs offered by hospitals, although these programs are much less available. To be eligible for these programs, applicants must have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Education Requirements

Associate's Degree in Nursing

An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) can be earned at both 2-year community colleges and 4-year learning institutions. ADN programs generally take two or more years to complete and include classroom education in addition to clinical training in a healthcare setting. Students explore topics in nursing skills, human anatomy and health assessments.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) may take up to four years to complete. While earning an ADN may provide a faster entry into the profession, earning a BSN generally offers comprehensive training. Additionally, completing a BSN program may enhance prospects for nurses seeking additional career advancement. In addition to clinical practicums or internships, BSN students also take courses in pathophysiology and special health problems.


After earning their degrees, graduates must sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become registered nurses. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the examination ( While study time may vary based on the individual's knowledge and testing aptitude, the exam itself is completed in a day. Candidates who pass may still need to fulfill additional state requirements in order to earn their licenses.

Entering the Workforce

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of RNs worked in general medical and surgical hospitals as of 2013. The BLS also noted that in the same year, the average annual salary of RNs was $68,910. RNs are typically required to take yearly continuing education classes to maintain their licenses.

Advancement for Registered Nurses

Registered nurses may choose to advance their careers through additional education. Some common options for career advancement include becoming an advanced practice nurse, nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. To enter any of these advanced nursing practices, RNs must earn a master's degree in nursing.

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