The Résumé Rx

How To Become A Nurse Practitioner (no matter your background)

Amanda Guarniere

It’s 2020 and the nurse practitioner career continues to be booming. Many RNs (and non-RNs) are discovering the specialty and want to know how to become a nurse practitioner. The truth is, there are multiple different pathways to become an np! Sure, the obvious final step is that you have to go to and graduate from a nurse practitioner program. But what are the different ways to get there?

Questions I often hear from both nurses and non-nurses are:

  • How long does it take?
  • How do I get into school?
  • How do I pay for it?
  • How long should I work before becoming an NP?
  • Do I have to take a test to get in?

So many of the answers to these questions are conditional, meaning it depends.

Pathways on How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

For the nursing student

If you are currently in nursing school, you have a few steps ahead of you to become an np. That said, it is great to keep your eyes on the future so that you can make decisions that are aligned with your long-term goals!

Here are some basic steps that you should take:

  • Finish nursing school, graduate, and pass the NCLEX exam!
  • Get a job as a nurse
  • Get your BSN, if you didn’t do so already!
  • Get clinical experience and explore specialty options
  • Research nurse practitioner schools and apply

For the Registered Nurse

If you are currently a registered nurse, you can potentially become a nurse practitioner in as little as 2-3 years, depending on where you go to school and how quickly you complete your coursework. Most nurse practitioner programs require nurses to already have their BSN. 

Here are your basic steps to take:

  • Get your BSN if you don’t already have it.
  • Continue getting clinical experience and explore specialty options
  • Research nurse practitioner schools and apply!

For the high schooler or graduate

Let’s say you are not a nurse and not yet in nursing school. It may seem like a far-off goal to become an NP, but taking a stepwise approach will break your long-term goal into smaller, more attainable ones.

Here are your basic steps to take:

  • Finish high school and graduate
  • Apply to nursing schools
    • You will need to decide whether you want to pursue a 4-year Bachelor’s degree in a traditional college setting. Alternatively, you can go to a community college nursing program that will give you an Associate degree or certificate. You will eventually need a BSN to apply to NP schools, and this can be done online once you complete your RN program.
  • Work as a nurse and get clinical experience. Explore specialty options and determine what field you want to work in as a nurse practitioner
  • Research nurse practitioner schools and apply!

For the degree holder person in another field

Believe it or not, you can become an NP even if you already have pursued another career and have a bachelor’s degree in another field. There are many people (myself included!) who discover a bit later in life that they would like to become an NP.

Here are some basic steps on how to become a nurse practitioner:

  • You can become an NP by taking a more traditional pathway of becoming an RN first (I recommend researching accelerated RN/BSN programs), working as a nurse, and then applying to nurse practitioner school.
  • Alternatively, you can fast track by research and applying to direct-entry programs, which are made for people with non-nursing bachelor degrees, and combine the RN and nurse practitioner education in one continuous program.




There has been chatter over the past few years that the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) will soon become the terminal degree for nurse practitioners, meaning you may eventually be REQUIRED to have a DNP to be an NP.

There’s no sign of this happening soon and if your adventure predicts you can become an NP within the next 2-5 years you will likely be grandfathered in. There’s also not a lot of benefit for those who strictly want to work clinically. It’s a great option that should be considered if it won’t delay you working as an NP and won’t put you into tremendous debt.

Cost Considerations to Become a Nurse Practitioner

I have been pretty open about the fact that I graduated from NP school with more than $110,000 of student debt (thanks, Yale!). This is a lot of money. Fortunately, due to some scholarship money, frugal living choices, and working two jobs I was able to pay off my debt in 7 years. This is not typical. 

As you consider becoming a nurse practitioner, please do your due diligence and crunch some numbers. Your starting salary as a nurse practitioner will not be off the charts. While I certainly don’t regret anything about my education,

I do wish that I didn’t have so much debt. It really set me back a couple of years that I could have been investing in my retirement account. I don’t want to work forever…do you? 

The best nurse practitioner education hack, in my opinion, is getting a job at a facility that’s affiliated with a nurse practitioner program or offers tuition benefits. If you can get a discount on a nurse practitioner education, then you are in good shape, my friend!

If you are in the process of becoming a nurse practitioner reach out to us if you need help fixing your resume.


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