CNA to RN Guide

8 Min Read Published November 7, 2023
Student in green scrubs holding books in study hall

Advancing your nursing career from a CNA to RN is a smart move towards securing a lucrative future in the nursing profession. Not only can it be incredibly rewarding to wear the title of Registered Nurse, but the salary increase from CNA to RN is nearly triple on average. With the many offerings of nursing programs, finding the right one might be a bit confusing.

This guide will clarify your choices and serve as a template for what you can expect during your journey. 

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CNAs: earn your RN degree in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs with Achieve Test Prep's "Nursing Test-Out Program". All applicants must be a CNA to apply.

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The Benefits of Becoming an RN (Registered Nurse)

Becoming a registered nurse opens new career doors and offers a variety of avenues to explore. Professionals within the nursing industry enjoy career-enrichment benefits including:

  • Flexible Scheduling
  • High Salaries
  • Travel 
  • Job Security
  • Career Flexibility
  • Tax Savings Plans
  • Continuing Education Assistance
  • Healthcare Plans
  • Adoption and Childcare Assistance
  • Retirement and Investment Packages

>> Related: Top CNA Programs

What is a Registered Nurse?

A registered nurse is typically defined as an individual who has completed the appropriate level of education through an accredited nursing program and passed local state licensure examinations. The scope of practice for a registered nurse varies from state to state, however, some of the more generalized responsibilities include:

  • Performing a variety of diagnostic tests
  • Administering medications
  • Operating medical equipment
  • Analyzing medical situations
  • Assisting physicians and other staff with various medical procedures
  • Maintaining patient records via digital clinical reporting data platforms

Career Outlook

The future is overwhelmingly positive for registered nurses. According to recent analytical reports and job projection statistics:

  • The projected growth of available nursing jobs is expected to grow by 6% from 2022-2032.
  • Demand for Registered Nurses is expected to increase by 177,400 jobs to a by 2030

Registered Nurses generally work within a hospital setting. However, the versatility of this career will present a variety of career options both inside and outside the hospital walls. Registered nurses are also employed by children’s hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, specialized medical clinics, oncology practices, privatized medicine situated in corporations, private care, travel nursing, and many more organizations. 

After becoming a registered nurse, there will be opportunities to expand into niche areas. RNs may find enhanced opportunities in areas of:

  • Trauma Centers, Critical Care, E.R. (emergency room)
  • NICU (neonatal intensive care unit)
  • Dermatology
  • Flight/Transport
  • Burn Centers
  • Forensic Nursing
  • Psychiatric Care Nursing
  • Missionary Work
  • Occupational Nursing
  • Labor and Obstetrics, Midwifery
  • Correctional Facility Nursing

Salary and Benefit Outlook

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics has indicated a 2022 median level salary range for Registered Nurses in the United States as $81,220 per year or $39.05 per hour of work. The field of nursing is very broad and the levels of pay may vary depending on the work environment, location, experience, and expertise. 

Registered Nurses enjoy a range of perks and benefits. They typically receive comprehensive medical and dental plans, retirement benefits, sick and vacation time, overtime pay, continuing- educational assistance, tuition reimbursement, and student loan forgiveness.  

Types of Programs 

Accelerated BSN Programs: Accelerated programs are intended for those who already possess a Bachelor’s Degree in another subject. The program qualifications typically require a minimum GPA and the BS degree to enroll in a fast track program achieving the BSN in as few as 12 months. 

Bridged BSN Programs: This type of program is intended for the graduate who didn’t enter into a nursing career right away or who began in an alternative nursing capacity I.e. LPN, LVN, CNA. These types of programs are intended for those who need to bridge the educational gap using both online and traditional educational tools. 

Part-time BSN Programs: Part-time programs are best for those who are immersed in a full-time job and need to pursue their education on nights and weekends. 

Full-time BSN Programs: Full-time programs are best for those who are able to commit to comprehensive scheduling of classes. There are over 670 BSN programs available in the United States, many of which are online. 

Online BSN Programs: Online programs are for those who are interested in pursuing their education remotely through online modalities. Online education has grown recently due to increased demand and technological improvements. Those who work on a full-time basis may find online learning programs to be a much more viable option that of a campus-based program. Many online-accelerated programs allow you to complete your BSN in 12 months.

Search CNA to RN Programs

CNAs: earn your RN degree in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs with Achieve Test Prep's "Nursing Test-Out Program". All applicants must be a CNA to apply.

Are you a CNA?

Registered Nurse Program Requirements

Becoming a registered nurse requires a BSN and also a licensing exam by the authorizing state. Obtaining a BSN requires completing all the necessary educational classes and coursework outlined in the educational nursing program selection. 

The average BSN program takes a minimum of four years to complete with exceptions based on bridged or accelerated program options. Admission into a BSN program is typically based on a series of college preparatory coursework as outlined below:

Standard BSN Enrollment Prerequisites:

  • Cumulative G.P.A. of 2.75 or higher from High School or Associates Degree program
  • Prior coursework in laboratory-based science related classes such as Biology, Anatomy, Chemistry, and Microbiology
  • Documented volunteer efforts
  • A personal essay

Classes and Clinical Hours

The types of classes and clinical hours will vary depending on the nursing program you enroll in. Most programs require both a series of comprehensive course-work paired with clinical hours performed in a hospital or clinical setting.  Although the coursework may vary from school to school, a standard BSN curriculum involves:

  • Mental Health
  • Nursing Leadership 1, 2
  • Anatomy of the Human Body
  • Statistics
  • Research in Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Reproductive Health
  • Pharmacology
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Assessment of Health and Illness
  • Pathophysiology

*The exact number of clinical hours will vary depending on the educational program you choose. However, clinical hours are normally three hours of clinical time for every hour of classroom study.

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Cost of Registered Nursing Programs

The complete cost of an RN program may vary according to where you are in your educational journey. Pursuing your RN requires a Bachelor’s Degree. Students who already possess a Bachelor’s Degree in another subject may have the option of entering into an accelerated program and could potentially achieve the BSN between 11-18 months. 

The cost of an accelerated program can vary in cost between $17,000 - $90,000.  Many universities offer BSN degree programs that vary in cost depending on location, type of institution, and program offerings. A BSN program usually takes about four years to complete and can cost about $40,000-$200,000.

How to Pay for the RN Program 

So, you have made the big decision and said YES to committing yourself to a registered nursing program. Now, the other part of the equation is how to pay for the program. We know how scary it can be to secure funding for advanced education and while paying cash is a nice option – few of us are able to do that in one lump sum. 

The good news is that there are options available to you. The federal government has many grants available in addition to scholarship opportunities for nearly every circumstance. To begin the process of funding your education, first begin by doing a little homework:

  • Check with your employer for continuing education assistance or work-study programs.  Many hospitals offer tuition-reimbursement or other types of vehicles to help you obtain an RN credential. 
  • Search available grants. The federal government awards billions in grants every year. The trick is to find the criteria that best suits your circumstance and to apply within the appropriate window. It can be a daunting task, but there is a significant amount of resources available.
  • Visit your financial institution and learn about the various lending programs available to you. Privatized lending may be a solution. Many banks have low-interest rate loans available for achieving higher education, however, there is a qualification process. Don’t be deterred from not inquiring about what is available. They determine eligibility based on many factors. 
  • Check eligibility for a government and private scholarship. Government sponsored scholarships are a great avenue to getting educated while also gaining valuable work experience. By agreeing to work in an area where there is limited availability of nurses, you might be able to qualify for tuition reimbursement funded by the government. 
  • Other scholarship options to consider:
  • Student loans are great, but they require repayment with interest. However, student loans do have unique lending solutions and repayment options with rates ranging from the low 4% APR range to a higher 11% APR. They extend loans based on your creditworthiness. 
  • Federal based student aid is available as well. You can get more information and learn about the process by filling out a FAFSA.

Is the RN/BSN Program for Me? 

Taking the journey from a certified nursing assistant to that of a registered nurse is a personal decision that deserves careful thought. It takes a commitment to complete the amount of coursework necessary to accomplish the goal. Some thought-provoking tips to help you decide if the registered nursing program is for you might be:

  • You have a desire to enter into an advanced specialized area of nursing I.e. labor and delivery
  • You recognize you have a strength and willingness to provide a more advanced level of care
  • You have a desire to increase your salary and also have more flexible career options
  • Your motivations might come from personal experience or goal you have set for yourself
  • You have reached a point where the timing is right to begin pursuing a higher level of nursing education.

There are credible arguments for entering into an RN Program. The number of projected nursing jobs available in the next decade makes for a smart move for a secure career. The field of nursing has always been considered noteworthy and is known for being both a demanding and rewarding profession. Making the transition from CNA to RN will open a whole new world. Begin planning your educational journey today!

Search CNA to RN Programs

CNAs: earn your RN degree in up to 1/2 the time and cost of traditional programs with Achieve Test Prep's "Nursing Test-Out Program". All applicants must be a CNA to apply.

Are you a CNA?


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