Nursing Career Planning Guide: 5 Big Steps to Becoming an RN

So you know you want to become a nurse. That’s a huge career change. But how do you start? What needs to happen first? How do you plan for something like this? It’s not as complicated as it might appear at first. Take it a day at a time and use this nursing career planning guide as well as a Utica College Accelerated BSN program admissions advisor to help you through the process.

Nursing Career Planning Guide

1. Create a 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 in order 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 that 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 BSN program, which allows you to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing in just 16 months, consider creating a nursing career planning guide. This guide will help you see how soon you can start your new career as a registered nurse.

2. Contact an Admissions Advisor

Your admissions advisor 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.

Before you get too far into the admissions process, you should first contact an admissions advisor.

You will work with the same advisor throughout the admissions process. He or she will review your transcripts and help you determine which prerequisites you have to complete, as well as help you decide on the ideal start date. Since Utica’s Accelerated BSN programs has three start dates a 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.

3. Create a Schedule to Complete Prerequisites

Once you and your advisor have established the prerequisites that you have to complete prior to program admissions, 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.

  • How many prerequisites you have to complete
  • Where and how you will complete these prerequisites (online vs. traditional)
  • How difficult you expect the prerequisites to be

Amount of ABSN Prerequisites

If you have to take all of 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 of prerequisites, you may be able to complete them within one semester, allowing you to join the next start date.

Completing Prerequisites Online

Utica Canvas Demo
You’ll experience interactive learning sessions through the online learning platform.

If you are new to online learning, consider completing your prerequisites online. This will allow you a degree of flexibility, as well as help you get used to online learning prior to starting the Accelerated BSN program. Keep in mind that Utica uses a unique online learning platform, Canvas, for the ABSN program, which offers an engaging education that benefits students of all learning styles.

Completing your prerequisites online may also mean you can complete them sooner than in a traditional setting. You can finish lessons and take exams as soon as you feel ready, or repeat lessons to truly grasp the concepts.

Difficulty of Prerequisites

Finally, consider how difficult you expect your prerequisites to be. If you are concerned about certain courses, take those one at a time so you can stay focused on that subject without hindering your ability to succeed in other courses.

When you consider all of these factors, you will be able to start a timeline for completing your prerequisites. Put these dates in your calendar along with your potential start date so you can stay organized. This visual cue will also serve as a reminder of the goal you are working towards- becoming a BSN-educated registered nurse.

4. Build Your Calendar


Once you have established a start date, build out your calendar. Whether you prefer a digital calendar from your phone or an agenda you can keep in your backpack or purse, your calendar will be a valuable tool throughout nursing school.

In addition to using your calendar to keep track of your classes and due dates each semester, you should also use it to create a semester-by-semester career planning guide.

You should use your calendar to:

  • Organize your study schedule
  • Schedule interviews
  • Build your professional network
  • Stay motivated

Although 16 months may seem like a long time, it’s only a little over a year. In less than two years, you are expected to learn the foundations of nursing, complete clinicals and labs, pass the NCLEX, and start your nursing career. Although Utica provides all of 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, you will be getting used to Canvas, the online learning platform used by the Accelerated BSN program, as well as labs. Use this time to get to know your classmates- they are a valuable resource both in and out of school. Create study groups to prepare for exams. Building these relationships early on may help you find a great job in the future.

Semester II: Begin Building Your Professional Network

In your second semester, you continue your clinical rotations at local health care facilities. Now that 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, she or he 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

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 out.

Tip: A thorough preparation strategy enhances your chances of having a successful nursing interview.

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 good school. Talk to school representatives and find out what all of the requirements for acceptance into a master’s program are.

Semester IV: Begin Applying for RN Positions or Graduate School

Your fourth semester should be spent preparing for the NCLEX, 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 on to earn your Master of Science in Nursing, start the application process for your chosen school.


Once you have completed your education, you are eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Exam. Once you have taken and passed the exam, you are eligible to begin working as a BSN-educated registered nurse.

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

If you are ready to start your career as BSN-educated registered nurse, contact an admissions advisor today to begin building your personalized nursing career planning guide.

Don't Wait on Your Nursing Future

Our ABSN has three start dates a year, so you can begin nursing school whenever you're ready.

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