Nursing | Nursing Pathways

Pathways to Become a Registered Nurse

If you are considering becoming a nurse, there are several paths that will get you there. Nursing is a rewarding career with multiple areas of practice and limitless opportunities for advancement.

As an RN, you will have a key role in promoting health and wellness, and help improve the quality of life from infants to the elderly. There are currently more open positions than qualified candidates to fill them, so becoming a registered nurse means you’ll enjoy job security, high earnings and excellent advancement potential.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment of registered nurses to grow 16% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.1 Opportunities for registered nurses will continue to grow as the baby boomer population reaches retirement age and the industry experiences new advances in medicine and expanded healthcare capabilities.

What Is the Average Registered Nurse Salary?

According to the BLS, the average annual income for registered nurses was $69,790 as of May 2014.2 RNs in the middle 50% bracket earned between $54,620 and $81,080, while the lowest 10% had salaries at or below $45,880. When you first become a registered nurse, your salary may fall in the lower to lower-middle range. However, your earnings can increase substantially with experience and advanced education. BLS findings showed that top 10% of registered nurses earned upwards of $98,880.

How Do I Become a Registered Nurse?

The first requirement in becoming a registered nurse is to obtain the proper education. There are several different paths that can lead to licensure as an RN. Those aspiring to become an RN may earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The ADN route usually involves a two-year program at a community or junior college.

What is the Difference Between RN and BSN?

Like bachelor’s programs in other fields, a BSN degree is awarded by a college or university and generally takes four years to complete.


1. Students enter the nursing profession at the associate or bachelor’s degree levels
2. Costs vary, however representative samples for a 2 year degree from Dakota College are $9,100 to $12,000 and a 4 year degree from Minot State at $32,500.

Associate's Degree Programs

An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) includes courses in anatomy, nursing, nutrition, chemistry, and microbiology. Liberal arts classes are also expected. An ADN is the most popular option and is the entry-level staff nurse position. This fast track takes two to three years.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

There are several routes to achieve a BSN:

- A traditional 4 year enrollment
- RN to BSN for a student with an A.D.N. or diploma. This program also takes two to three years.
- Fast track: where a student has a previous bachelor’s degree in another field. This route takes between one to one-and-a-half years.

Examples of BSN Classes:

• General Microbiology
• Anatomy & Physiology
• Chemistry
• Sociology
• Psychology
• Composition
• Life Span growth and Development
• Public Speaking
• Nutrition

Next Steps

After completing the academic training, all students need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This exam covers the following:

• Safe, effective care environment: Management care and safety and infection control
• Psychosocial integrity: Coping and adaptation and psychosocial adaptation
• Health promotion and maintenance: Growth and development through the life span and prevention and early detection of disease
• Physiology integrity: Basic care and comfort, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, reduction of risk potential and physiological adaptation

On-Line Nursing

Many associate's and bachelor's degree programs are available. Academics may be completed on line and the clinical rotations are done as close to their communities as possible.

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014 – 2015 Edition; accessed January 14, 2016.
2 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014; accessed January 14, 2016.