The eligibility requirements to become a nurse vary from state to state. Most public and private institutions, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Nurses Association, agree that completing an approved nursing program or a bachelor's degree in nursing is the first step to becoming a nurse.
An aspiring nurse can take several educational paths to a nursing career: a diploma, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing. A vocational diploma is available through hospital-based training or an accredited nursing center with approved programs. Not all states, however, accept a vocational nursing diploma. These states require students to obtain a degree. An associate's degree in nursing takes about two years to complete and is available in hospital-based and technical schools, community colleges and universities. Associate's degree programs teach basic nursing skills. Most employers, however, prefer graduates with bachelor's degrees, because four-year programs help develop the student's nursing skills both in theory and in a hospital setting.
Non-nursing bachelor's degree holders may take second baccalaureate programs that award the same nursing bachelor's degree in less time. Some states offer entry-level master's programs that require no nursing degree and award a master's degree in nursing. Most master's programs require a bachelor's degree in nursing, but other colleges and universities accept graduates with an associate's degree.