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How to Become a Nurse: Your Guide

February 17, 2022
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Part 1: Introduction Part 2: Deciding if Nursing is Right for YouPart 3: How to Become a Nurse: Steps and Timelines Part 4: How Can I Prepare For a Career in Nursing?Part 5: How to Become a Nurse FAQs

Read on below to learn more about nursing as a profession, if it's the right career path for you, and what you need to do to get into nursing school. 


Are you thinking about a career in nursing? Nursing is an excellent option for anyone passionate about healthcare. Unlike becoming a doctor, nursing does not require medical school or residency, making it a much shorter path. 

Here’s our guide to the nursing school timeline. Whether you’re looking for key nursing dates or you want to know how to become a nurse, we’ve got you covered. Read on for the complete guide to the nursing school timeline.

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Deciding if Nursing is Right for You

Before diving into the steps to becoming a nurse, let’s talk about the big decision. Is nursing right for you? There are a few factors that can help you make the decision. Let’s break down what it means to pursue a career in nursing.

Nursing requires a high level of compassion and patience. You will be caring for people at their most vulnerable, which is not an easy task. Despite high levels of stress, job satisfaction for nurses is generally quite high. Nurses often report their emotional career journey as rewarding and have no regrets about their choice. 

If you’re passionate about healthcare and you fare well in high-pressure environments, nursing may be the perfect career for you. It also takes much less time to become a nurse than a doctor, making it ideal for older candidates or people entering the field on a non-traditional path. 

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How to Become a Nurse: Steps and Timelines 

Here are the main steps to becoming a nurse. Note that these are general steps, as different types of nurses require different levels of education. 

1. Decide What Kind of Nurse You Want to Become

Before starting your educational journey, it’s vital to understand the type of nurse you want to become. Generally speaking, you can choose to become a CNA, APN, RN or APRN, each of which requires different levels of education, as demonstrated in the table of nursing hierarchy below. 


CNA: A Certified Nursing Assistant provides care for patients under the supervision of an LPN or RN. Their duties include helping with patient transfers, bathing and grooming patients, delivering patient meals, answering calls, and more. You can become a CNA by attending a four to twelve week program, passing the CNA certification exam, and earning a state license.

LPN: A Licensed Practitioner Nurse manages basic patient care with similar responsibilities to a CNA. They check blood pressure and vitals, helping patients eat and get dressed. The main differences between a CNA and an LPN are the amount of education needed, salary, and the scope of responsibilities. You can become an LPN by attending a year-long program, passing the NCLEX-PN exam, and earning state licensure.

RN: Registered Nurses have more responsibilities than CNAs and LPNs, and must obtain a two-year APN or four-year BSN degree. RNs provide direct care for patients in a clinic, hospital, care facility, or residence. They administer medication, schedule procedures, and provide physicians with up-to-date information on a patient's condition. After nursing school, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and obtain state licensure to be an RN.

APRN: An Advanced Practice Registered Nurse is an RN who has completed a further education program. APRNs can diagnose and treat certain illnesses, order and interpret tests, prescribe medications, and perform medical procedures. In addition to their complete RN education, APRNs must achieve at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and may be required to obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

There are several other types of nurses that fall within these categories. To make your educational decisions, you can generally base them on this hierarchy. 

2. Ensure You Are Eligible for Nursing School

To ensure you are eligible for nursing school, check your target school’s application requirements. Most US nursing schools require a high school diploma, English proficiency, and the following prerequisite courses and tests:

Prerequisite courses aren’t always necessary to achieve a CNA or LPN certificate, but they are highly recommended. It should be noted that English proficiency is almost always required for any US nursing position.

3. Earn a Nursing Degree 

Once you have decided the type of nurse you want to become, you can move forward with your education. A state-certified diploma will allow you to become a CNA or LPN. An RN requires either a two-year Associate Nursing Degree or a four-year Bachelor of Nursing Degree. If you continue with a two-year Master of Science in Nursing, you can become an APRN.

Although a four-year bachelor of nursing degree isn’t required for every nursing career, it is highly recommended. The more education you obtain, the better job opportunities you’ll have. Remember, you can always continue your education later if you decide you want a different nursing position.  

4. Obtain a Nursing License

Once you have graduated from an approved prelicensure nursing education program, you can move forward with obtaining your nursing license. A license will grant you permission to practice nursing in the US and demonstrate to future employers that you have the necessary skills to care for patients.

To become a licensed nurse in the US, you’ll have to successfully complete an NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN examination and, in some cases, provide a criminal background check. If you graduated from a nursing program outside of the US, you may also be required to take a Foreign Educated Nurses (FEN) exam.

It should be noted that the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) will go over your credentials to ensure you are qualified to practice nursing in the US. Once you have successfully completed your evaluation and exam, you can begin your nursing career.

How Can I Prepare For a Career in Nursing?

Even if you’re uncertain about what kind of nurse you want to become, there are steps you can take to improve your knowledge and resume before making your decision. Let’s go over a few steps you can take in the years before you begin your career in nursing. 

What To Do Two Years Before You Apply

Whether you are in high school, college, or the workforce, you should begin thinking about your prerequisite courses about two years before applying for nursing. In this time period, you can also take the SAT or TEAS exam to include in your application for nursing school or help you obtain a nursing certificate.

The main focus in the two years before applying should be building up your academics and resume. Getting involved in extracurriculars, volunteering, or working in a healthcare center are all great ways to demonstrate a passion for nursing and gain experience in the field. You should also start networking with teachers, professors, or healthcare professionals at your workplace who can serve as references.

What To Do One Year Before Applying

The year before applying should be entirely focused on the application process. By now, you should have completed (or will complete) all of the necessary prerequisites so you can focus on interview preparations, writing your personal statement, and acquiring letters of recommendation. 

If you’re interested in a CNA or LPN program, take this time to order relevant textbooks online, take practice tests, and study for your specific program. For future nursing school students, focus mainly on your application materials, GPA, and acquiring financial aid if necessary.

How to Become a Nurse FAQs

Here are our answers to the most frequently asked questions concerning the nursing school timeline.

1. How Long Does It Take To Get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)?

A Master of Science in Nursing takes one to two years to complete. 

2. What Is a Bridge Program?

A bridging program is a degree pathway for nurses to move up to the next level in their careers (for example, an LPN could become an RN through a bridging program.) 

3. How Long Does It Take to Be an Rn?

It can take two to four years to become an RN, depending on the type of degree you choose to complete; a two-year APN degree or a four-year BSN degree. 

4. How can I prepare for nursing school?

The best way to prepare for nursing school is to ensure you have:

5. How Long Does a Bridge Program Take to Complete?

Most nurse bridge programs take three to four years to complete. The length can vary depending on the position you’re starting from.

6. What Is The Difference Between a CNA and an LPN?

The main difference between a CNA and an LPN is the amount of education. LPNs rank higher than CNAs as they have more education. As a result, LPNs can take on a broader scope of responsibilities than CNAs.

7. What Is The Difference Between an RN and an APRN?

An APRN is an RN who has furthered their education with a master’s degree or higher. APRNs have more authority than RNs and can prescribe certain medications and treat illnesses. 

Final Thoughts 

If you’re considering a career in nursing, make sure to first decide what type of nurse you want to become. Once you have decided, you can begin to plan your educational timeline. Regardless of what path you choose, you should take the necessary prerequisite courses and tests, complete a high school diploma, and volunteer or work in a healthcare setting.

In nursing, you’ll always have the opportunity to up your rank by furthering your education, so it’s a good idea to cover your bases before getting started. Becoming a CNA is a great way to enter into the nursing field relatively quickly, and it can give you an upper hand when applying to nursing school.

Good luck!

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