The Associate's degree in Nursing, or ADN, is a 2-year degree and is the minimum amount of school required to become licensed as a registered nurse, or RN. Once the student graduates, he or she is eligible to take the NCLEX-RN examination which must be passed to become licensed by the State. A RN must be licensed to be able to work.

Many community colleges and vocational schools across the county offer the ADN program. When researching programs, consider these areas:

  • Tuition
  • Additional Costs
  • Curriculum
  • Waitlists and length of program
  • Clinical Hours
  • NCLEX-RN Exam and RN Licensure
  • Jobs to expect
  • Salary


Checking with local community colleges and vocational schools for tuition cost and what is included with tuition, is a good place to start.

Community college courses for ADN students range from $2,250 for in-state tuition at Northwest Mississippi Community College and up to $12,123 for out-of-state tuition at Red Rocks Community College. Main College of Health Professions in Lewiston, Maine is priced at $9,520 for the 2-year degree. There is a wide price range exists between schools and states.

Reasons for more expensive tuition may include:

  • Shorter waiting list than other schools
  • All prerequisite courses included within the program
  • Additional costs included in tuition, like uniforms and textbooks
  • Shorter length of program

Additional Costs

Costs which may not be included in tuition include supplies and transportation costs.

Nursing school supplies include:

  • Stethoscope, vary in cost and quality, from about $35 up to $500+
  • White shoes, most nursing schools require sparkling white sneakers or Dansko clogs
  • Pen light, usually just a couple dollars
  • Uniforms, 2 or 3 sets of scrubs in required colors and with school's name embroidered, approximate cost $200
  • Textbooks, up to $1000 but may be included in tuition
  • Meals and incidentals during classes and clinicals
  • School and/or clinical location parking permits

Also consider transportation to and from school and clinical locations (if required). The school's location is obvious, but ask the adviser where clinicals might take place. Usual healthcare settings for clinicals are hospitals, especially teaching hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and long-term acute care facilities.

Ask yourself:

  • How many miles will I have to put on my car?
  • How much will gas cost per week?
  • Do I need to take public transportation and if so how much will that cost?

Learn more about the cost of RN schools.

ADN Curriculum

Prerequisites and nursing classes make up the ADN. Exact titles and requirements vary but each school must meet the requirements outlined by each state's board of nursing.

Prerequisites for ADN program:

  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • English
  • Statistics
  • Psychology
  • Communications

Nursing classes for the ADN program include:

  • Foundations in Nursing
  • Nursing Care of Adults
  • Behavioral Health
  • Pharmacology
  • Maternal and Child Nursing Care

Waitlists and Program Length

Nursing School Waitlists Are Common

Due to the high demand for nursing programs many students find themselves on a waiting list before they can start the actual nursing program.

Some schools will allow prerequisite classes and volunteer hours to be completed while the student is on the waitlist and others require all prerequisites and volunteering to be completed prior to being listed. This is an important distinction when comparing schools because it may take up to a year to complete prerequisite classes for some institutions.

Long Waitlists

When considering the true value of higher tuition bear in mind that the longer a student waits to graduate the longer it will be before joining the workforce as a RN. RN's have a median starting salary of $27.00 per hour ( which grows rapidly with experience and education or certifications. If the student is not earning more than $27.00 before becoming a RN it may be wise to pay more money and finish school faster. Once the RN is working those experience years begin to add up and more money will be earned over the RN's lifetime. But, this is a personal decision.

ADN programs are about 2 years in length. Many schools allow students to transfer credits from accredited schools which may shorten the program. Vocational schools may be designed to fast-track students by removing breaks, like spring or winter breaks. This make take a few months off of the program.

Clinical Hours for ADN

Clinical hours are required for most ADN program. Each program may slightly vary, so it is important to review the requirements prior to beginning. Clinical hours are faculty-monitored real-world experience which are part of the nursing school curriculum. Each state has a required amount of hours which needs to be completed before the graduate can be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam. This exam must be passed for the graduate to be licensed as a RN.

NCLEX-RN Exam and RN Licensure

The required examination for registered nurses is the NCLEX-RN exam. It is a national exam which much be passed in order for the State to allow RN licensure.

Nursing schools teach students what they need to know to pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

NCLEX-RN Pass Rates

NCLEX-RN exam "pass rates" are the percentage of students who graduate from the school and successfully pass the NCLEX-RN. This information is available through both the school and the State's nursing board. Schools with higher "pass rates" are more desirable. These schools may also have higher standards than schools with lower "pass rates" and because of this many students who begin the program fail out of school. See nationwide NCLEX-RN exam pass rates.

Becoming Licensed as an RN

Once the ADN program is complete, the graduate should follow these steps to take the NCLEX-RN exam (

The RN license will arrive in the mail from the State Board of Nursing once the graduate passes the Exam. It will also available to employers on NURSYS (

The RN can now start to look for jobs! Find an RN job.

Jobs to Expect

For most new graduate RNs the first job is an internship.

These are designed for newly graduated RN's, or New Grad RNs, who need to learn the complexities of a specialty. Specialties in nursing are usually explored during clinical hours while in nursing school so students have an idea of where to work after graduation.

Nursing specialties for New Grad RN Internships include:

  • Emergency Room
  • Critical Care - meaning Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Progressive Care Unit (PCU)
  • Medical-Surgical
  • Labor and Delivery
  • Neonatal ICU (NICU)
  • Operating Room (OR)
  • Oncology
  • Telemetry
  • Orthopaedics
  • Skilled Nursing Facility
  • Long Term Acute Care
  • Outpatient Clinic
  • Physician's Office

See our complete list of nursing specialties.

Before starting an ADN program it is a good idea to search job requirements for various specialties of interest.

Some employers require a Bachelor's of Science degree in Nursing (BSN). This is especially true for large teaching hospitals, research, and education. However, many RN to BSN bridge programs are available 100% online and have little to no waiting list. Once the RN is completed, clinical hours are not required for a BSN.


The median hourly wage for an Associate's degree educated RN is $27 nationwide with the range being $20.80-$38.52 ( ).

The biggest influences on salary are location and experience. See more precise RN salary details.


Nursing salaries, like other professions, tend to align with cost of living. Areas with higher costs of living usually pay more for staff nurses. The exception to this rule is for travel nurses. Travel nurses are contracted RNs who work for a third-party. Many travel nursing contracts in less desirable areas pay more than those in more desirable areas because the hospitals have trouble attracting enough staff to live and work in those areas.


Experience counts for a lot in nursing. In fact, a nurse with less education, like an ADN, may actually make more money than a nurse with a Bachelor's degree. This is because the ADN educated RN has more experience. For this reason, in part, many hospital require ADN educated RNs to obtain a BSN within a certain amount of time after hire.

Once some experience is gained the RN can become certified in his or her specialty. Not only do certifications validate and further education, they also drive up the hourly wage for RNs. For most specialties in nursing a certification is available.

Here are a few popular certifications:

  1. CCRN, certification for Adult, Pediatric, and Neonatal Critical Care Registered Nurses (
  2. RNC-OB, certification for obstetric nursing (
  3. RNC-MNN, certification for maternal newborn nursing (
  4. RNC-LRN, certifcation for low risk neonatal nursing (
  5. RNC-NIC, certification for neonatal intensive care nursing (
  6. CEN, Certified Emergency Nurse (

Becoming a RN is a great career choice and doing it as fast as possible to start working is how most students approach the RN education. Many schools offer the ADN program and with a little research a good fit is bound to happen.