Associate Degree in Nursing

Educational Requirements for Registered Nurses

Associate Degree in NursingMarch 14, 2017

Are you interested in becoming a registered nurse (RN)? If so, congratulations. Nursing ranks among the most challenging—yet rewarding—professions one may aspire to. Nurses are highly respected individuals who bring years of training and expertise to the front lines of healthcare delivery. Depending on an individual’s educational attainment, a nurse may bear responsibility for attending to the needs of numerous types of patients across a wide range of healthcare settings. But the level of responsibility—and the degree of compensation you may expect as a working nurse—are largely a reflection of the level of nursing education you’ve achieved.

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), for example, are not qualified to perform all the important duties that may be required of a registered nurse. Nor may they work without direct supervision. Rather, the most crucial tasks, such as administering intravenous medications, supervising other nurses, performing simple procedures, and other technical duties, are usually reserved for registered nurses (RNs) with a bachelor’s degree. Baccalaureate prepared nurses typically earn significantly more than their less-educated peers.

Although there are plenty of opportunities for LPNs to find employment in today’s healthcare workplace, increasingly there’s a trend towards hiring RNs to fill vacancies, especially in the acute care setting. Accordingly, most nurses enter nursing with the understanding that they will eventually earn their baccalaureate degree. While it’s possible to obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), capped by earning one’s RN license by taking and passing the standardized NCLEX-RN exam, many nurses choose to further their education—and career prospects—by obtaining their baccalaureate degree.

So what does it take to become a registered nurse (RN)? Requirements vary by state, but at the very least the path to RN usually involves earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which will qualify a candidate to take the standardized, national licensure examination known as NCLEX-RN. Only after taking this exam and passing may a nurse work as a RN. This is true of all states and the District of Columbia. Some localities may also have additional requirements.

The ADN Route

Most ADN programs involve at least two years of study after high school graduation, usually in a community college or hospital-based school of nursing that provides opportunities for obtaining one’s ADN. The second pathway involves earning one’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN. As noted above, either approach will prepare a student to take the NCLEX-RN.

ADN students typically focus on topics related directly to human anatomy, physiology, and medicine. Examples include adult and family health, psychiatric nursing, pharmacology, human development and other core science topics. Upon completion of required coursework, and graduation, ADN students are typically prepared to take and pass the NCLEX-RN.

The BSN Route

Increasingly, employers are interested in hiring RNs with additional education. For that, they look to candidates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Typically taking about four years to complete, some nurses with work experience and existing RN certification may be able to complete a BSN faster, through an accelerated RN-to-BSN program. Courses required of BSN students typically involve a broader approach to one’s education, with a deeper exposure to humanities-related subjects. This approach is common among virtually all bachelor level degrees, whether one is pursuing a degree in education, marketing, journalism, or nursing. BSN coursework tends to delve more deeply into areas related to administration, leadership, and critical thinking skills. Courses may include topics such as community health, professional issues in nursing, healthcare management, nursing research, etc.


To become a registered nurse (RN) you will need to obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), at least, followed by successful completion of the NCLEX-RN exam. Degrees are available through traditional, face-to-face programs as well as online nursing programs. Many associate degrees prepared nurses to choose to further their education by enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program, to obtain their BSN degree. Other students may choose to skip the ADN route altogether and pursue their BSN straight out of high school.