How to Become a Nurse in 4 Steps

Stethoscope on textbook with text nursing career planning guide

If you’ve decided you want to become a nurse, you know you’ll be entering a unique, growing profession that is as needed as it’s ever been. But do you know how to become a nurse? How do you start, what needs to happen first and what are your options for nursing school? How do you plan for something like this? Thankfully, the process is much more approachable than it might appear at first.

Following the steps to become a nurse can take time, but once you find your path you will be equipped to answer your calling in nursing and fulfill your career goals. Follow these steps and learn how to become a nurse.

1. Create Your Nursing Education Timeline

When deciding on a new career, it’s important to factor in how soon you want to begin your career. For various reasons, you may not be able to put your life on hold to return to school to earn a traditional degree. And although some career transitions allow you to move from one field to another with few hurdles, it’s likely you will have to return to school for many career changes. There are also other barriers that could make changing careers a lengthier process than initially thought.

If you are considering a career in nursing, however, you may be able to start your new life as a registered nurse sooner than you realized. If you are considering a program such as Utica’s Accelerated B.S. in Nursing program, which allows you to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing in as few as 16 months, you can compare this accelerated timeline against the length of time you would need to put into a traditional nursing program. Regardless of which is better for you, settling on a timeline can help to shape your approach to your nursing education.

Two ABSN students studying together at desk with their laptops

2. Find and Apply to a Nursing Program

Once you know the type of nursing program you want to enroll in, the next step is to find the best nursing program for you and begin following the necessary steps for admission. Finding a program that feels like a good cultural and logistical fit will be key in helping you to find a welcoming, supportive environment that helps you to thrive.

Contact an Admissions Advisor

Once you find a program that seems like it could be a good fit, you should first contact an admissions advisor. Utica ABSN’s admissions advisors will work with you from the day you first reach out until the day you start your nursing classes. Many students develop a close relationship with their advisors, so you may find yourself in touch with them throughout your nursing education.

You will work with the same advisor throughout the admissions process. They will review your transcripts and help you determine which prerequisites you must complete, as well as help you decide on an ideal start date. Since Utica’s ABSN program has three start dates per year in January, May and August, you can take your time gathering application materials (such as transcripts) and completing prerequisites without stalling your nursing education.

Complete Nursing Prerequisite Courses

Once you and your advisor have established the prerequisites you’ll need to complete prior to enrollment, you should create a timeline for completing those classes.

The timeline you and your advisor decide on should be influenced by a couple of factors including how many prerequisites you need to complete, as well as where and how you will complete these prerequisites.

If you need to take all the prerequisites, spread them out over a couple of semesters. You won’t be doing yourself any favors by taking on too much at once then struggling to pass your classes. If you have discovered you only need to complete a couple prerequisites, you may be able to complete them within one semester, allowing you to join the next start date.

With Utica ABSN, you will have the option to complete your prerequisites 100% online through our Prerequisite Priority (PREP) Program. This program grants qualified students with provisional admittance as they complete prerequisites and can make the process more seamless.

3. Take on Nursing School, Semester by Semester

Once you have been accepted and have a start date, it’s time to commit to excellence in nursing school semester by semester. It depends on your chosen school and program whether you can achieve this in 16 months or on a longer timeline.

Regarding ABSN programs like Utica’s, in less than two years you are expected to learn the foundations of nursing, complete clinicals and labs, pass the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN), and begin your nursing career. Although Utica provides all the tools and resources for you to earn an outstanding education, it’s important to start building your professional network early so you can find a job once you graduate and pass the NCLEX-RN.

Semester I: Start Nursing School

During your first semester with Utica ABSN, you will be getting used to Canvas, the online learning platform you’ll use as a student in the Accelerated B.S. in Nursing program. You will complete your online nursing coursework through this platform, designed to be flexible, responsive and accommodating to all learning types. You will also participate in hands-on skills and simulation labs at our program site location, learning with hospital-grade equipment under close instructor guidance. Use this time to get to know your instructors and classmates, as they can help and support you both in and out of school. Create study groups to prepare for exams, and never hesitate to reach out to instructors with questions.

Semester II: Begin Building Your Professional Network

In your second semester, you continue your clinical rotations at local health care facilities. Once you’ve been doing your clinical rotations for a semester, you can start building your professional network beyond your fellow nursing students. If you build a good relationship with your preceptor, they may be willing to write a reference letter in the future for any jobs you may apply for. Your preceptors may also be a good resource for interviewing tips and ideas on where to apply for positions.

Semester III: Practice Job Interviews or Research Advanced Nursing Degrees

As you stay on top of your courses, labs and clinicals, continue working on building a professional network. This is also the time for you to consider future jobs you will apply for. If possible, volunteer at a hospital or clinic you are interested in working at in the future. This gives you the chance to get your foot in the door and meet people who may be able to offer you a position in the future. Start practicing your interview skills with family, fellow nursing students, and any nurses you may know who are willing to help. If you are considering continuing your nursing education beyond earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, now is the time to start looking for a reputable program. Talk to school representatives and find out the requirements for acceptance into a Master of Science in Nursing program.

Semester IV: Begin Applying for RN Positions or Graduate School

Your fourth semester of nursing school should be spent preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam on top of your classwork. However, this is also the time for you to apply for positions you are interested in. Just because you haven’t taken the NCLEX-RN yet doesn’t mean you won’t be able to interview — some hospitals or clinics may offer you a position dependent upon passing the NCLEX.

If you are continuing your education to earn your Master of Science in Nursing, start the application process for your chosen school.

4. Pass The NCLEX-RN Exam

Once you have completed your education, you are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Exam. This is one of the vital steps to become a nurse, as you cannot practice without having passed. Once you have taken and passed the exam, you are eligible to begin working as a B.S. in Nursing-educated registered nurse.

Make sure you stay in touch with your fellow nursing students and any health care professionals you may have built relationships with while in nursing school, as your professional network can play an integral role in your nursing career.

Pursue Your Calling in Nursing

Now that you know how to become a nurse, it’s time to begin the process for yourself and enter your new career with a B.S. in Nursing degree. Gaining your nursing education can be challenging, but the challenge is a worthwhile one with many rewards. To start your own nursing journey, contact an admissions advisor today.

The Ultimate Nursing School Admissions Checklist

Ready for nursing school but stressed about applying? We recommend downloading our free admissions checklist to learn the important ins and outs of applying to accelerated nursing school.

The ultimate nursing school admissions checklist