Countdown to Licensure & Hiring

Snapshot: This article reviews the basic steps to apply for and obtain licensure as a Registered Nurse, including graduating from your nursing program, registering for the NCLEX, verifying your licensure, and completing basic requirements for employment to begin your job search.

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Before You Graduate Applying for Licensure Registering for the NCLEX NCLEX Testing Center Requirements After the NCLEX During Your Job Search

Before You Graduate

  • Your first step in the countdown to licensure and hiring is to ensure that you have the necessary credits and clinical hours to graduate on time from your nursing program.
    • You should plan to double-check this at least 6 months (or one whole semester) in advance of graduating. The last thing you want to learn is that you’re not eligible to take the NCLEX because of some oversight regarding academic or clinical requirements.
  • If you’re missing anything, this should give you the time you need to correct it (i.e. to take a needed class, obtain the correct number of clinical hours, etc).

Applying for Licensure

  • Next, apply for licensure with your state board of nursing (BON).
    • You will need to fill out the necessary application for your particular state board of nursing, and your school will need to send your completed, official transcripts, along with your application fee. Speak to your academic advising office for more information, as your school of nursing will have a process in place to do this.
  • You should apply for licensure in the state where you are most likely to apply for jobs and work as a nurse.
    • Note: You cannot initially apply for licensure in more than one state. Once you are licensed (and only then), you may apply for licensure by endorsement in other states.
  • Some states are ‘compact states,’ which means that if you are licensed in one of these states, you can temporarily work as an RN in another compact state while you are waiting for your license to be endorsed.
    • If you are initially licensed in a state that is not a compact state, or if you want to work in a state that is not a compact state, you will need your license endorsed by the state you want to work in before you can get a job there. Depending on the state in question, this can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
    • Check out this link at the National Council for State Boards of Nursing website for more information: https://www.ncsbn.org/nlc.htm.

Registering for the NCLEX

  • Once you have applied for licensure, your next step is to register for the NCLEX with Pearson VUE, the company that administers the exam.
    • The fee for registration is a non-refundable $200. Registration can be completed via the Pearson Vue website, or via phone or mail. Go to http://www.pearsonvue.com/nclex/ for more information.
    • Note: The first and last name on the photo identification you use to gain entry to the NCLEX testing site must match exactly the name you provided when registering. Certainly, you should double-check your spelling!
    • If your registration was successful, you’ll receive an “Acknowledgment of Receipt of Registration” via email. This does not, however, mean you are yet eligible to take NCLEX. (See the bullet point below).
  • The Board of Nursing (BON) where you’ve applied for licensure will next make you eligible in the Peason VUE system to take the NCLEX. Your BON can only do this once they’ve received all of your necessary application materials, including complete transcripts, fees, and other requirements from your school of nursing.

  • Then, after you’ve been determined eligible to test by your Board of Nursing, and have received your “Acknowledgement of Receupt of Registration,” you should receive an “Authorization to Test (ATT)” from Pearson VUE. You cannot take the NCLEX without this ATT.
    • The Authorization to Test (ATT) will contain your authorization number, candidate identification number, and will spell out the dates when you are eligible to take the NCLEX.
    • In most cases you will have 90 days to take the NCLEX after you receive your ATT. There are no exceptions granted for this testing timeframe.
    • If all your paperwork is in order, you should receive your ATT within 2 weeks via the email address you provided when you registered for the NCLEX. If you do not, contact NCLEX Candidate Services via the NCSBN website.
    • Note: In some cases applicants have reported receiving the ATT in their “spam” or “junk mail” email folders. Be sure to check all of your relevant email folders. All correspondence from Pearson VUE will end with “@pearson.com”.

  • Once you have received your ATT, you are then eligible to schedule a date and time to take the NCLEX via the Pearson Vue website at http://www.pearsonvue.com/nclex/, or call 1-866-496-2539.
    • Schedule your test sooner rather than later. Many tests sites (especially those in major metropolitan areas) tend to fill up quickly. If you wait until your ATT is close to expiration to schedule your exam you may have re-register and repay.
    • When choosing a test date, give yourself enough time to thoroughly prepare for the NCLEX (see the article “Ace the NCLEX” for more information), but not so much time that your knowledge from nursing school begins to fade. A rule of thumb is to take the NCLEX between about two weeks to four or five weeks after graduation. Keep in mind that many employers require that you pass the NCLEX before you can apply for any nursing positions.
    • Make sure that you register for the correct exam! For Registered Nurses, this is the NCLEX-RN, not the NCLEX-PN (which is for Licensed Practical Nurses, or LPN’s).
    • Note: Exam scheduling for international applicants can only be done via telephone.

NCLEX Testing Center Requirements

  • It’s important to arrive at least 30 minutes early to the testing center. Failure to do so may even require you to forfeit taking the exam, meaning you will have to re-register and repay the registration fee.
  • Starting in 2014 a paper copy of the Authorization to Test (ATT) will no longer be necessary for admittance to the NCLEX testing site of your choice, but it may be wise to bring a hard copy of your ATT email, just in case.
    • You will, however, definitely have to show acceptable government-issued photo identification to test. For U.S. NCLEX test-takers, this is a U.S. Driver’s License, U.S. military identification, or a passport. For international applicants, the only acceptable identification is a passport.
  • You will also be required to supply biometric identification in the form of your digital signature, a palm vein scan, and will have your fingerprint and photograph taken. These are mandatory security measures for taking the exam.
  • You will not be allowed to bring anything into the testing room. Instead, an erasable note board and marked will be provided for you. (If you find them helpful, you can also ask for earplugs).
  • When you’re done with the NCLEX, you’ll be asked to take a brief survey about your testing experience. Raise your hand after you finish the survey, and a testing center associate will come and collect your note board and permit you to leave the exam room.
  • For more advice on how to prepare for the NCLEX, including testing center rules and what to expect, see the “Ace the NCLEX” article, and in particular the sub-section entitled “Testing Center Advice.”

After the NCLEX

  • If your state board of nursing participates in Pearson VUE’s “Quick Results Service,” you’ll have the option of viewing your “unofficial” NCLEX results online about 48 hours after you take the exam.
    • You can opt in to this early notification system by paying $7.95 on the Pearson VUE website when you register for the exam.
    • Note: Official results of whether you passed or did not pass the NCLEX are only available from your state board of nursing, and will be mailed to you about one month after you take the exam. Do not attempt to contact the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), Pearson VUE, or your state board of nursing to obtain a result, as you won’t receive any information.
  • If you discover you did not pass the NCLEX, don’t despair. You’ll receive a “Candidate Performance Report” that breaks down how well you did not each section of the exam, which will be a helpful tool to re-focus your study. Depending upon your state board of nursing, you’ll then need to wait 45 to 90 days to re-register and re-test.
    • See the sub-section entitled “If You Don’t Pass on Your First Attempt” in the “Ace the NCLEX” article on this website for some further important tips and information
  • You should expect to receive your official, printed nursing license about 4-6 weeks after passing the NCLEX
    • Some employers will require this official “hard copy” license before you begin work, while others will accept verification of an active nursing license (via your state Board of Nursing’s online directory), and will be content with obtaining a copy of your official license after you begin employment. Talk to your employer’s HR department for their specific policy.
  • Even before you receive your official license in the mail, you can verify that your nursing license is active in the state where you’ll be practicing.
    • Most states have an online license ‘lookup’ system where you can type in your first and last name and verify the status of your license. Do an internet search with your state’s name and combine it with keywords such as ‘nursing license’ and ‘lookup’ to find this. You should be able to find your name, and see “Registered Nurse” or “RN” beside it.

During Your Job Search

  • Complete all HR requirements and paperwork for the nursing jobs you’re applying to, and don’t be surprised by the breadth and depth of the information asked!
  • Spend time getting your resume and cover letter correct, and be smart about applying to jobs and to networking. See the articles on this website entitled “How to Find a Nursing Job” and “Nursing Resume and Cover Letter” along with sample resumes and cover letters, for guidance, and how to stay (relatively) sane during the process.
  • Be aware that once you receive a job offer, most positions you apply to will require, at a minimum, a criminal background check, a drug screening, and a physical (a routine medical exam). Make sure you complete these requirements in a timely manner; you don’t want them to hold anything up!
  • After you’ve gotten a job, purchase scrubs and a stethoscope, if you don’t already have them.
    • Don’t make these purchases until after you know where you’ll be working, as many employers mandate both the color and style of scrubs (or some other uniform) you’ll wear.
  • Get ready to start your job!
    • If you can, give yourself a week or two off to relax before you begin. You’ll be busy when you start work, and as a new nurse will have a huge amount of new information to learn and master. Congratulations and good luck!