Aug 13, 2020
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Do I Need to Be a CNA to Become an RN?

If you’re interested in attending nursing school, you may have heard that you need to be a CNA before you can become an RN. While it’s not needed for every school, it is beneficial to have healthcare experience before you start applying to nursing programs. Keep reading to learn more about what it takes to get into nursing school and some ways to increase your chances of getting in. 

What is the difference between a CNA and an RN?

While certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and registered nurses (RNs) often work in the same environments such as hospitals and nursing homes, they have different responsibilities. CNAs typically work under RNs, and when it comes to caring for patients, they do a lot of the physical labor. CNAs help patients with tasks like bathing and eating, and they also take the patient’s vital signs. 
RNs often do tasks that CNAs do, but they tend to have more decisions to make, as well as more flexibility in terms of where they work. 

RNs assess patients, provide treatments, and interact more with patients and their families. RNs also have to go through more schooling than CNAs and pass the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses exam (NCLEX-RN). 
Additionally, RNs make more money than CNAs. The median salary for CNAs is $27,520, while the median salary for RNs is $70,000. While the amounts vary depending on what state you live in, and what setting you work in, the pay disparity is always significant. 

Do you have to be a CNA before you can be an RN? 

You don’t need to be a CNA before you can apply to nursing school. Many nurses never complete their CNA exam. Yet, some nurses would argue that it would be helpful to become a CNA before you apply to nursing school. Being a CNA not only gives you experience working with doctors and other nurses, but it shows nursing programs that you’re committed to learning. 


Many schools want you to have a certain amount of healthcare experience before you can start their program. Though it isn’t needed for every school, some require that you have your CNA certification before you can apply. As mentioned before, completion of a CNA exam proves that you’re committed to your career in medicine, and some programs want to see that commitment. When searching for a nursing school, make sure you know which schools require CNA certification and which don’t so you can prepare the right way. 


When researching potential nursing programs, prospective students can use the ValueColleges nursing guide to find any information they may need. ValueColleges has a collection of research focused on college factual information. You can find answers to your questions about BSN programs, best value colleges, tuition rates, and more. While there aren’t online schools for CNA certification, ValueColleges can help you find online RN programs. 

How do you get your CNA certification?

If you’re interested in becoming a CNA, you will have to enroll in a training program. Prospective students can find CNA programs at community colleges, trade schools, and the American Red Cross. CNA programs usually last a few weeks as opposed to the several years it takes to become a registered nurse and cost a lot less money.

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