What Degree Do You Need to Become a Nurse?

picture of a person who decided to become a nurse
Written by
Lori Fuqua
September 1, 2022

To become a registered nurse (RN), you'll need an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. Alternatively, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) typically complete an accredited nursing program for one to two years.

Have you decided that you want to be a nurse but are overwhelmed with various nursing programs? Is the vocabulary confusing? Do you know what type of degree you need to become a nurse? This guide outlines the steps required to become a nurse.

The term "nurse" is commonly used when referencing both a registered nurse (RN) and a licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN/LVN). And yet there are significant differences between RNs and LPNs regarding the financial investment in education and training, the scope of practice, earning potential, workplace settings, and career trajectory.

What Degree Is Needed to Become a Nurse?

To select an appropriate degree program that will launch you to your goal of becoming a nurse, you'll need to be firmly decided on these four questions:

  1. How many years of schooling can you commit to?
  2. How much responsibility or autonomy do you want? How much school loan debt are you willing to undertake? (Or use of your finances?)
  3. Is it a passing fancy or a concrete goal?

To become an LPN, you'll invest considerably less money; clinical experience will be part of your formal education, and opportunities for specialization or certification exist (although not to the breadth of what is available to an RN). Your job duties will be focused on patient care and are less likely to be managerial or supervisory.

The path of an RN involves more years of schooling, expanded topics of studies and clinical experiences, an almost unlimited number of specialization opportunities, job duties that hold more responsibility, and more input to patient care decisions.

This is an exciting decision, arguably, one of the most important of your life. It's appropriate for you to research and learn about the topic to choose the right nursing school program. By further exploring each path, you'll gain the confidence required to answer the four questions above thoughtfully.

How to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse

Hundreds of practical nursing programs across the nation can be found at affordable colleges, including community colleges and some tech schools. LPNs and LVNs complete an accredited practical nursing program. These programs are typically one year long if you attend full-time but can stretch to two if you opt for part-time. 

The curriculum for this program will be packed with biology, nursing, and pharmacology studies, a portion of which may be offered online. Moreover, practical nursing students will gain valuable clinical experience before completing the program and obtaining their license to practice.

The part-time path for the LPN program is popular for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) who want a broader scope of work and more significant income while remaining in the nursing field. The part-time option makes it easier for students to continue working, and CNA PRN shifts are a fantastic way to earn more even as they work less often. 

How to Find an LPN Program Near You

Follow this link to search for a practical nursing program in a community college near you. Hover your cursor over the LPN Programs header, select your state (or the state you want to live and work in), and see the list of accredited programs.

How to Become a Registered Nurse

There are primarily two options to become an RN. You can choose an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). Acceptance to a nursing school for both the ADN and BSN will require successful completion of several prerequisite classes, with grades in those classes no lower than average.

How to Find Nursing Schools for ADN and BSN Near You

The ADN is a two-year time commitment, while the BSN is a four-year commitment. Here's a list of 2022's top nursing schools offering BSN programs. This link shows the best ADN programs per state.

Requirements to Become a Nurse

Don't forget that you'll need to be licensed to put all of your studying and experience to use. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops the licensing exam. LPNs must pass the (NCLEX-PN) and RNs the NCLEX-RN. Don't stress about the test just yet. Your nursing program will prepare you, and several study resources, practice courses, and practice exams are also available.

How Much Do Nurses Earn?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that nurse incomes vary by geographical location, level of nursing ( LPN or RN), and work setting. 

Licensure

  • Annual Salary Nationwide Average
  • Annual Hourly Rate Nationwide Average
  • Work Setting for Highest Average
  • Work Setting for Lowest Average

LPN/LVN

  • $51,850
  • $24.93
  • Personal Care Services
  • Doctors' Offices

RN

  • $82,750
  • $39.78
  • Non-Scheduled Air Transportation
  • Doctors' Offices

Starting as an LPN is a quick way to enter nursing. You can increase your income as a nurse by specializing. Specializing requires work experience, courses, and exams. Some specialization certifications are available for LPNs, but the income gap between an LPN and RN is significant. However, not all LPNs remain LPNS. Many nursing schools offer what is called bridge programs.

LPNs Can Become RNs Later

Bridge programs were created as a unique path to RN licensure for LPNs. While an LPN doesn't have as much education as an RN, their completed studies and valuable work experience do place them on a different learning curve than a new ADN or BSN nursing student.

Work PRN Shifts While Earning Your Nursing Degree

Concerned about finances while studying for an advanced nursing degree? Download the Nursa app to pick up PRN shifts near you. The app gives you access to hundreds of PRN jobs in real time. You choose when to pick up shifts, meaning earning a living will stay out of the way of making your goal.

Lori Fuqua
Blog published on:
September 1, 2022

Lori is a contributing copywriter at Nursa who creates compelling content focusing on location highlights, nurse licensing, compliance, community, and social care.

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