There are two main paths you can take to get started in nursing: becoming a licensed practical nurse (called a vocational practicing nurse in some states) or a registered nurse.
The license practical nurse (LPN) route is attractive if you would like to get your first nursing job as quickly as possible and gain real experience. Many students who can’t afford the financial investment or put in the two years usually required to get an RN associate’s degree (an associates degree) right off the bat will start as a licensed practical nurse, and then gradually get more advanced degrees to push their careers forward.
One good strategy to keep in mind: You may be able to save yourself a bundle by getting started as a working (LPN), and then getting your employer to pay for you to study for an RN degree and eventually even a BSN degree. A variety of abbreviated degree or certificate programs can prepare you to take the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing) exam you must pass to become a licensed practical nurse.
To start your nursing career at a level where you’ll earn a bit more and have more advanced job responsibilities, you can study to become a registered nurse, or RN. This requires you to earn an associates degree in nursing, generally a two-year program, and pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nursing), given by all 50 states.
An ADN is truly a college-level associate’s degree, and you will be required to have some liberal arts prerequisites already completed, usually with a minimum grade of B, before you can start on your nursing courses. The payoff, however, is that you will be trained to work with patients and their doctors more as an advisor, and you’ll earn more.
More tips here on how to get started with an entry-level nursing job