Prerequisites for Nursing: How to Start a Career in Nursing

Oct 20, 2021

Two of the most common ways to become a nurse are to first become a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical or vocational nurse. These two entry fields require only undergraduate work in nursing, either through an associate's or bachelor's degree or through a diploma or certificate program.

Essential Information

Nurses provide basic patient care in hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities. Entry-level nurses may be either registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (LPNs and LVNs). Registered nurses usually require more education and undertake more important duties than licensed nurses. Both groups must be comfortable working with sick or disabled patients, and they must demonstrate an exceptional attention to detail.

Career Registered Nurses Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses
Education Requirements Associate's degree in nursing (ADN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or diploma from a nursing program Diploma or certificate
Other Requirements Licensure after passing the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) Licensure after passing the National Council Licensure Examination for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN)
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 7% 9%
Average Salary (May 2019)* $77,460 $48,500

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Aspiring nurses typically begin their careers as LPN/LVNs or RNs. Keep reading to learn more about these two entry routes into the nursing field.

Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses

LPNs and LVNs work under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses. Their jobs are restricted to basic nursing duties, such as changing bandages and recording patients' heart rates. These professionals require a diploma or certificate from a 1-year nursing program and state licensure upon passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN).

Registered Nurses

RNs deliver and oversee patient care under the supervision of doctors. They may administer medication or perform diagnostic tests, in addition to basic nursing duties. Because RNs undertake more responsibilities than LPNs or LVNs, they require more formal education. In addition to earning a diploma or certificate from an approved nursing program, aspiring RNs may receive their associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN). Like their counterparts, RNs must achieve licensure by passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Nursing Prerequisites

Aspiring nurses must first graduate from high school or earn the General Educational Development (GED) certificate. To prepare for nursing studies, high school students may consider taking classes in biology and chemistry.

Associate's Degree in Nursing

Completing an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) provides a baseline education for students interested in the profession. ADN programs provide a combination of classroom experience and clinical practice that prepares students for nursing careers. Students complete coursework in nursing skills, pharmacology and anatomy. During their clinical experience, aspiring nurses plan and provide care for patients in healthcare facilities.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

While ADNs generally take two years to complete, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees are typically earned in four years. BSN degree programs offer extensive training, and graduates are prepared to take on more challenging roles. Common topics include patient health assessment, pathophysiology and adult health issues. BSN programs may require students to complete comprehensive clinical training for all types of patients, including patients in mental healthcare facilities.


After graduating from nursing school, aspiring nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Students looking to become practical nurses (PNs) take the NCLEX-PN, while students interested in becoming registered nurses (RNs) sit for the NCLEX-RN. Some states may have additional requirements for licensure; candidates may contact their state boards for more specific information. Once licensed, nurses must complete continuing education to maintain their skills and stay abreast of medical changes and advancements.

Career Advancement Requirements

Registered nurses with a BSN may enroll in 1-2 year master's degree programs to specialize as clinical nurse specialists, nurse or other advanced nursing professionals. Courses may delve into topics in pediatrics, internal medicine and women's health. Upon completion of the program, an RN is required to pass a certification exam and obtain licensure from the state as a nurse practitioner.

In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that employment growth for RNs is expected to be 7% between 2019-2029 while LPNs and LVNS should see the same 9% growth over that same period. An aging population and growing demand for preventive care are factors likely contributing to this projected growth. As of May 2019, the BLS states the average annual salary for RNs was $77,460; for LPNs and LVNs it was $48,500.

Becoming an RN or an LPN or LVN is a good way to get experience in the nursing field and get started in a career. LVNs and LPNs are restricted to basic nursing duties, such as bandaging and taking vital signs, while RNs handle more challenging nursing responsibilities, such as performing tests and administering medication. In either case, new nurses have to pass a licensure exam, although the specific exam depends on what kind of nurses they are becoming.

Next: View Schools
Created with Sketch. Link to this page

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?