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Starting Out

Here are some steps you can take to begin an exciting and rewarding career in nursing, whether you’re in high school, changing majors in college, or interested in nursing as a second career.
  • Here’s how to get started:

  • 1 Get your high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED)

    Taking these classes in high school will give you a head start on your nursing prerequisites in college:

    • English: 4 years
    • Math: 3-4 years (including algebra and geometry)
    • Science: 2-4 years (including biology and chemistry; physics and computer science are recommended)
    • Social Studies: 3-4 years
    • Foreign Language: 2 years (recommended, but not required)
  • 2 Choose your nursing school and apply

    Here are the different paths you can take to become a Registered Nurse:

    • Get your Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN/ADN): it takes about two years, or more, at a college or university and qualifies you to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
    • Get your Bachelor of Science Nursing (BS/BSN): it takes four years at a college or university and prepares you for bedside and leadership roles. You’ll also be qualified to take your NCLEX-RN.
    • Get your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): it takes two years at a college or university, after you earn your BSN. It qualifies you to work as a Nurse Educator or manager, and is a prerequisite to get your PhD.
    • Go through a hospital: earning your Nursing Diploma takes two years through a participating hospital. You’ll likely take your courses at a nearby school.
    • Go through the Military: You can train for two, three, or four years in an ROTC Nursing program at a college or university.

    Here are some tips to help you decide on a school:

    • Visit the school website or campus that interests you the most.
    • Find out which entrance exams they require, such as the SAT, ACT, or others.
    • Know the application deadlines by checking the school's website or contacting them.
    • Give yourself options by applying to more than one school, or check out nursing schools without waiting lists.
    Find your school
  • 3 Apply for Financial Aid

    You can find hundreds of scholarships, grants, loans and other opportunities for financial assistance right on this site.

    Find a Scholarships
  • 4 Get licensed as an RN

    You’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX–RN) in order to practice as a RN. Research shows that students who take the test soon after graduating have higher success rates—something to keep in mind when scheduling your exam. Here are a few things you’ll need to do before taking it:

    • Make sure you’ve met the eligibility requirements, then submit an application to the board of nursing where you want to be licensed.
    • After you apply, you’ll get an Authorization to Test letter, from the board, that you’ll need in order to register for the exam.
    • Register with Pearson VUE, then schedule your exam.
    • Familiarize yourself with the NCLEX test plan and find your test site.
    Find out more about the NCLEX
  • Nursing as a second career

    It’s not too late. If you didn’t go to school for nursing, or you’ve worked in another industry, there are programs to help you switch careers. If you already have a degree, you can apply for a Post-Baccalaureate, Second Degree BSN, Accelerated BSN, or a Direct Entry MSN program. These programs build on the education you’ve got, without repeating it.

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