how to get an associate degree in nursing

How to Get an RN Nursing Degree

Registered nurses (RNs) are some of the most vital members of the healthcare field, with close to five million RNs today actively delivering care to patients in need. If you are seeking an important career where you can make a difference, find in-demand opportunities, and earn a lucrative salary, becoming an RN is an incredible choice. Plus, the pathway to earning a nursing degree is relatively short. Entry-level nursing degree programs can take as little as two years to complete!

The question now is, how do you get a nursing degree and become an RN? Below we unpack the steps it takes to get an RN degree from start to finish, including the requirements to get into nursing school and walk across the graduation stage.

The fundamental RN degree requirements

At a minimum, registered nurses (RNs) are required to have an associate degree in Nursing. Also known as an ADN, this two-year degree program teaches the fundamental nursing skills needed to deliver patient care and operate in a busy clinical setting.

However, some aspiring RNs may opt to pursue their bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN). Traditionally, a BSN degree is a four-year program that covers the basics of nursing as well as expanded topics like nursing leadership and research.

Both nursing degrees make candidates eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination. Passing this exam is required to become an RN in every state, as it grants nurses the license to practice.

With this in mind, aspiring RNs have options when it comes to their education. An associate degree in Nursing offers a short pathway to becoming an RN and working in a patient care setting. Meanwhile, a BSN degree takes longer to complete but can prepare candidates for advanced RN careers, such as managerial positions, as well as graduate-level education (which is needed to become an APRN).

How to get an associate degree in Nursing

If you are interested in becoming an RN quickly and looking to gain experience fast, an associate degree in Nursing is an excellent way to jumpstart your career. The admission requirements to get an associate degree in Nursing are relatively straightforward, too. In general, most ADN programs require the following for entry:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Completion of some prerequisite classes, such as introductory college courses in Mathematics, Chemistry, Biology, and/or Anatomy & Physiology
  • Submission of the college application, as well as the nursing school application
  • Taking the pre-entrance examination to get into the nursing program

Of course, different nursing schools will mandate different prerequisites. You can learn about the admission requirements for Goodwin’s associate degree program here.

Being accepted into an RN degree program is step one. Afterwards, you may need to fulfill a few additional requirements before diving into the curriculum, such as:

  • Become a member of the National Student Nurse Association (NSNA)
  • Complete a background check and drug screening, ensuring your fitness to deliver patient care
  • Find malpractice insurance for yourself as a nursing student
  • Get certified in Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Submit a medical examination report, with the required immunizations recorded

Now, once you get into nursing school and complete the above, how do you actually get your nursing degree? This is where things get exciting, as you can start learning about the field and gaining experience in your clinicals. Typically, RN degree programs at the associate level offer a blended approach to learning, combining practical experiences (in real healthcare settings and simulation labs) with classroom lectures. To earn your associate degree in Nursing, you will be expected to complete the following:

  • General education courses, such as English, Psychology, Sociology, and Lifespan Development
  • Key science courses, including Anatomy and Physiology and Microbiology
  • Nursing major courses, such as Nursing Skills Development, Integration of Nursing Practice, and classes across the Wellness Continuum
  • Practical nursing experiences, in real clinical facilities working with patients and professionals


Download our Get Started Guide to the Associate Degree in Nursing for free, and learn how you can become an RN quickly through this level program.


How to get a bachelor’s degree in Nursing

As noted above, some nursing candidates will opt to get a bachelor’s degree, either in pursuit of their RN licensure or even after starting their RN career. That’s right – you can get a bachelor’s in Nursing at any point during your nursing career. In fact, there are different types of BSN degrees available that will meet you where you are in your trajectory. Each BSN degree has different requirements for admission and completion, so let’s explore these a bit more below.

Entry-level BSN degree programs for first-time RNs with no experience

Traditional, entry-level BSN degree programs take about four years to complete and offer a similar curriculum to that of an associate degree in Nursing. However, the BSN goes beyond what’s covered in an ADN program. In addition to teaching the fundamentals of nursing and patient care, an entry-level BSN program will also explore expanded topics in leadership, research, public health, and policy.

Those applying to a traditional BSN program can expect similar requirements to that of an associate degree, including:

  • A high school diploma or GED equivalent
  • Completion of the college application and BSN program application
  • Passing of a few, prerequisite courses in science and mathematics
  • Successful completion of the pre-entrance examination into nursing school

Once accepted, BSN students will also need to:

  • Become CPR-certified
  • Obtain medical malpractice insurance as a nursing student
  • Receive required immunizations and submit a medical records report clearing them to practice
  • Successfully complete a background check and drug screening

Accelerated BSN programs for new RNs with another college degree

An accelerated bachelor’s in Nursing (ABSN) degree is designed for people looking to become registered nurses for the first-time, but who have already been through college once. These individuals have earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing major, but have decided to switch careers to nursing. An ABSN offers a flexible pathway for them to do so, knowing that they already have some college experience under their belts.

To get an accelerated bachelor’s in Nursing degree, candidates must:

  • Already have a bachelor’s degree (with a minimum GPA to be determined by each school) in a non-nursing major, from an accredited college or university
  • Complete the application for admission into the college, and into the ABSN program
  • Fulfill prerequisite courses, such as Chemistry, Statistics, Lifespan Development, and Biology
  • Pass the pre-entrance examination, granting entry into the nursing program
  • Submit official college transcripts (i.e. proof of prior degree and GPA)

Because these are first-time RNs, too, accepted candidates must also undergo a series of background checks, drug screenings, immunizations, and certifications to ensure they are ready to practice in clinical settings as a nursing student.


Get started in an accelerated BSN program today. Download our free guide to the ABSN program here.


RN-to-BSN programs for seasoned nurses with their associate in hand

In addition to those looking to get a nursing degree for the first time, there are also a handful of nurses who want to know how to get a BSN degree after earning their associate and launching their nursing career. There is good news for those who qualify – Registered nurses with an associate degree in Nursing can go back to school for their BSN in a flexible, fast-paced format.

RN-to-BSN programs are designed for these nursing professionals, allowing RNs to take classes online, advance their knowledge in nursing, and complete their BSN degree within a matter of months. This means RNs don’t have to go back to school for four years to complete their BSN.

To get into an RN-to-BSN program, nurses must have:

  • Completed an associate degree in Nursing or other pre-licensure nursing program, where they’ve fulfilled foundational courses like Anatomy and Physiology, Psychology, and lower division nursing courses
  • Passed the NCLEX-RN examination and are actively licensed as an RN (proof of completion must also be submitted for entry into the program)


Interested in learning more? Download our free guide to earning an RN-to-BSN degree.


How to get a nursing degree at the bachelor’s level (general requirements)

No matter the type of program, BSN degrees hold similar curriculums and graduation requirements.

With an entry-level BSN program, including the ABSN, students are required to complete all the general education and core science courses that establish a foundation for entry-level RNs. Basic nursing courses will also be covered, developing students’ nursing skills and wellness knowledge, and a clinical rotation will be mandatory to get experience in the field. These are the same requirements that you’ll find in an associate degree in Nursing program, laying the groundwork for a career.

After those basic courses are complete, BSN programs will then expand into other areas of nursing. BSN students benefit from coverage of advanced nursing topics, such as:

  • Clinical Nursing Leadership
  • Ethics in Healthcare
  • Evidence-Based Nursing Practice
  • Health Assessment
  • Healthcare Policy and Advocacy
  • Health and Social Issues in Nursing
  • Nursing Research
  • Professional Nursing
  • Public Health Nursing

To get a nursing degree at any level, associate degree or bachelor’s degree, you must complete all the required courses, generally with a grade of “C” or better. Some nursing schools may have a minimum GPA requirement, too, so be sure to speak with your program director or an academic advisor to understand their specific application requirements.

How to get an RN degree and get into a career you love—fast!

If you are looking for information on how to get a nursing degree and become an RN, it’s likely that you have goals you want to accomplish fast. Like many registered nurses, you may opt for the quickest pathway to becoming a nurse, through an associate degree in Nursing program. An ADN enables you to earn your nursing license and start working within two to three years or less. (At Goodwin, our associate degree in Nursing can be completed in 20 months part-time, after taking the prerequisite courses.) Through this path, you can gain valuable experience, make connections with other healthcare professionals, and start earning a salary more quickly than the BSN route.

An associate degree in Nursing is synonymous with an RN degree for this very reason—most nurses take this degree path to become a registered nurse. Later on in their careers, many RNs will go back to school for their BSN, as they can earn the BSN online and on a flexible timeline.

Of course, the choice is yours! The beauty of the nursing field is that it is full of choices and options for aspiring RNs. You can choose the degree path that fits best with your schedule, needs, and goals. You can also choose from a variety of career options after graduation.

Now that you know how to get an RN nursing degree, when will you start? At Goodwin, first-time nursing students can look forward to:

  • Multiple class starts per year
  • No wait lists for enrollment
  • Nursing applications accepted three times per year
  • Tailored financial aid packages


Learn more by requesting information online, today!