7 Steps to Become an RN

If you are wondering how to become an RN, we can help. With seven steps to become an RN, ranging from which nursing degree to choose (spoiler, we think it’s Xavier’s 16+ month ABSN program) to tips while job hunting, we have a complete guide to help.

Xavier ABSN student working with sim manikin

If you have recently decided to become an RN, you may be overwhelmed by the number of routes you can take to get there. While many paths all lead to licensure as a registered nurse, your decision can lead you to a different place within the profession.

At Xavier University, we’re well versed in helping students achieve their nursing goals through our 16-month Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. To help prepare you for the road ahead, we’ve mapped out a complete guide to become an RN with seven steps to help you find success in your career.

1. Choose the Right Nursing Degree

Whether you earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), you’re eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN® licensure exam and pursue an entry-level registered nurse position upon passing it. However, it’s important to understand the difference between these two education options in relation to your future career goals.

Both degree options teach you the competencies of nursing and provide real-world clinical experience. However, a BSN program as the first step to become an RN dives deeper into the profession by focusing on areas such as nurse leadership, research, and public health. Therefore, BSN-prepared nurses have more opportunity for career advancement.

Ongoing changes within our health-care system have also created an environment where an ADN may one day become obsolete. In the past, it was common for students to earn an ADN first, with the intent of eventually pursuing a BSN.

Today, however, health care employers across the country are increasingly hiring nurses with a BSN over those with an ADN. Not to mention, several of the hospitals here in Ohio now require their working associate-level nurses to go back to school to earn a BSN within a certain timeframe. This overall shift in nursing preparedness can be attributed in part to:

  • Extensive research conducted by the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing shows that the more BSN-prepared nurses a health care facility employs, the better the patient outcomes.
  • A 2010 report on The Future of Nursing published by the Institute of Medicine called for increasing the number of BSN holders in the U.S. workforce from 50 percent to 80 percent by 2020. While this goal was not met in 2020, healthcare facilities are still actively increasing the percentage of their nurses on staff who hold BSN degrees.
online nursing coursework

If you already have a bachelor’s degree outside of nursing, your best bet would be to earn a BSN via a second-degree accelerated nursing program as the first step to become an RN. Why? Because while an associate-level nursing education can be affordable and completed quickly, the advantages are only short term. Over the long term, a BSN is going to give you a better return on your investment, not to mention reduce the overall time you’ll spend in nursing school. In fact, our ABSN program takes 16 months to complete, which is shorter than most traditional two-year ADN programs.

2. Apply to An Accredited Program

Once you’ve found a potential nursing program, it’s important to make sure it maintains accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

These autonomous accrediting agencies serve to validate the quality and integrity of nursing programs, with the difference between the two being that CCNE does not accredit LPN, diploma, or ADN programs, whereas ACEN does. CCNE is the accrediting body for our 16-month ABSN program here at Xavier University.

3. Commit to Your Studies

Nursing school, especially when you’re in an accelerated program, is extremely challenging. You can expect to study anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week to keep up with the compressed curriculum. Therefore, it’s important to stay organized and manage your time wisely to be successful.

This can require some planning beforehand. Most of our students do not work during their time in the program, and we don’t advise it either. If you will be working on schoolwork for 40 to 60 hours a week, you likely won’t have the free time to commit to a full-time job. This means that before you begin an ABSN program, it is important that you have a financial plan to not only pay for nursing school itself, but also be able to cover you expenses over the 16+ months spent in the program.

Nursing student studying with textbook and computer

4. Maximize Your Clinical Experience

While, of course, you must be taking full advantage of the learning opportunities we provide in our online coursework and skills and simulations labs, clinical rotations are the heart of your education. This is because they allow you to gain real-world experience in diverse practice settings. Students in our ABSN program start on their clinicals during the first semester. And throughout the 16-month program, they interact with patients from all walks of life in disciplines such as:

  • Adult health
  • Community health
  • Mental health
  • Obstetrics
  • Pediatrics

To get the most out of your clinical experiences, it’s important to network as much as possible during your clinical rotations. You never know who might be able to help you get a job after graduation. When it comes time to find nursing employment, it’s often about who you know and who knows you.

Keep in mind that effective networking requires you (and the person you’re speaking with) to be a good listener. Listening is the best way to create a good connection with others, both personally and professionally.

5. Register For and Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Upon graduating from nursing school, you’ll need to contact the Board of Nursing in the state for which you plan to practice and apply for an Authorization to Test (ATT). Once you have your ATT, then you can register to take the NCLEX.

While you’re not required to take the NCLEX immediately following graduation, it’s a good idea to take it within two months of earning your degree. That way those important nursing concepts will still be fresh in your mind and you can take advantage of the shorter timespan between entering the program and entering the nursing field than through a four-year curriculum. If you are taking time in between graduation and taking the exam, ensure that you are setting yourself up for success by dedicating daily study time.

Xavier ABSN student at desk using a laptop computer

Learn more about how you can prepare for the NCLEX.

6. Apply for Licensure

Once you have passed the NCLEX, you’ll need to apply for licensure. While there may be subtle differences depending on your state, generally you must show that you have your nursing degree, have passed the NCLEX, and in some cases, are able to pass a criminal background check. Be sure that you’re applying for licensure in the state in which you hope to be employed.

Nurse and man looking at notes together

See the easiest way to hold a nursing license in multiple states.

7. Begin Your Job Search

While there’s never a guarantee of employment, many of our ABSN program students receive offers for employment while still in nursing school. If you do not receive an offer during your clinicals, don’t worry. If you actively networked during clinicals, you can ask your new contacts if they know of any organizations that are hiring. Additionally, upon receiving their permission, these individuals may be willing to act as a reference for you on future job applications.

Here at Xavier, we also host employment workshops and networking sessions for our ABSN program graduates, connecting them with recruiting managers from top health care facilities in Ohio, such as Mercy Health, TriHealth, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Cleveland Clinic.

Regardless of your job-searching approach, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that RN employment will grow 6% from 2021 to 2031, and with a competitive degree like a BSN, it is likely you won’t have too hard of a time finding employment.

side profile of xavier absn student smiling

Ready to Become an RN?

If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and want to make a quick transition into the nursing profession, contact our admission team and ask about our 16-month ABSN program today!

Xavier ABSN simulation lab

ABSN 101 Guide

Download our ABSN 101 Guide to help you successfully navigate the accelerated path to nursing.