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Steps to Become a California Registered Nurse

1. Take college prep classes in high school

  • In addition to a U.S. high school education or the equivalent as as described in Section 1412 of the Board's regulations to become a registered nurse (RN) you should take the following classes in high school, and you will have a head start on your nursing class prerequisites at college:
    • English - 4 years
    • Math - 3-4 years (including algebra and geometry)
    • Science - 2-4 years (including biology and chemistry; physics and computer science are recommended)
    • Social Studies - 3-4 years
    • Foreign Language - 2 years
  • Check out nursing prerequisites at colleges you are considering.
  • Individual nursing schools vary in their nursing course prerequisites. Talk to your high school guidance counselor, and check out the website's of the California nursing schools you are considering.

2. Choose the type of nursing school you want to attend

In California, there are three types of pre-licensure nursing programs, and two alternative routes to become a registered nurse:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) - Takes 2-3 years. Offered at many community colleges. Prepares you to provide registered nursing care in numerous settings.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) - Takes 4 years. Also referred to as Baccalaureate degree. Offered at many California State Universities and some private colleges. Prepares you to provide registered nursing care in numerous settings and to move to administrative and leadership positions.
  • Entry Level Masters Program in Nursing (ELM) - Designed for adults who have a baccalaureate degree in another field and wish to become registered nurses. Takes 1-2 years depending on how many nursing course prerequisites you have already completed. Graduate receives a masters degree.
  • LVN 30 Unit Option - Designed as a career ladder for California Licensed Vocational Nurses wishing to become registered nurses. Takes approximately 18-24 months. No degree is granted upon completion. Most other states do not recognize California's LVN 30 Unit Option and will not issue RN licenses to these LVNs. Some LVNs prefer to complete an ADN program in order to obtain a degree and to have the flexibility to get an RN license in other states. Most ADN programs will give LVNs credit for some of the coursework they completed to become an LVN.
  • Military Corpsmen - California law permits military corpsmen to take the national exam for RN licensure if they have completed RN level education and clinical experience.

3. Select a college and apply for admission

  • Visit the website's and campuses of the colleges in the geographic areas of interest to you. You can choose from over 130 California Nursing Schools.
  • Find out which entry exams are required at the colleges you are considering.
  • Apply at more than one college to give yourself options. Many colleges have limited space for nursing students.

4. Apply for financial aid

Opportunities abound for scholarships, loans, and loan forgiveness programs. Please visit the Financial Aid Information section of our website for more information.

5. Obtain an RN license

To practice as an RN in California, you must be licensed by the California State Board of Registered Nursing (BRN). You must meet educational requirements, pass a criminal background check, and pass the national licensing examination. To apply for licensure:

  • Obtain an application package and detailed instructions online at the BRN website or by contacting the BRN.
  • Send your application to the BRN at least 6-8 weeks before graduation.
  • Have your school send the BRN your transcripts.
  • Complete a fingerprint background check.
  • Take and pass the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX). The exam is computerized and given continuously 6 days a week. (New graduates are advised to take the exam soon after graduation because research has shown that there is a higher success rate for early test takers compared with those who wait several months.)
  • Apply for an Interim Permit if you wish to work in a supervised nursing capacity while awaiting the results of your examination.