How Do I Apply for a Compact State Nursing License? All You Need to Know

Map of compact nursing states in the U.S.

In the world of nursing, licensure is a big deal. You’ll need a license before you can start working as a registered nurse. In recent years, licensure has become far more efficient and allowed for greater nurse mobility between states, thanks to the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC).

The NLC was created to ease some of the burden of licensing by allowing nurses in participating states to work in other NLC states without needing to get a new license. You may be asking, what is a compact nursing license, and how do I apply for a compact state nursing license? We’ll clarify all the important details for you about NLC licensing.

At Concordia University Texas, we are situated within an NLC state, meaning the graduates of our 16-month Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track can benefit from launching their nursing careers in an NLC state if they obtain their nursing license in one.

When you graduate from nursing school, getting your license and passing the NCLEX are the final steps before starting your career. By attending nursing school in a compact state like Texas, you’re in a prime position to make connections that will help you land a job in a state where you can get a multistate license.

How to apply for a compact nursing license is a straightforward process, so let’s begin with the details of how to apply for a compact nursing license.

1. Graduate from a BSN Program

The first step in the process of earning your compact nursing license is graduating from a BSN program like the accelerated BSN track at Concordia University Texas. The hybrid curriculum at CTX educates students to become skilled nurses through a combination of online courses, simulation labs, and clinical experiences.

You do not need to apply for your license in the state where you attended school unless you plan to work in that state after graduation.

2. Decide Where You’ll Work as a Nurse: Choose a Compact State

The next step in how to apply for a compact license is choosing to get licensed in a state that’s part of the NLC. It’s important to decide what state you’ll live and work in as a nurse before applying for your nursing license.

You can view the NLC map for a complete list of the compact and non-compact states. Where you live means your legal place of residence, so it’s the state where you vote and hold a driver’s license. If you want to live and work as a nurse in Texas, a compact state, you can apply for a compact license from Texas.

Here are a few guidelines to help you decide where you’ll need to apply for your license based on where you plan to live and work:

  • If you are living and working in the same state, apply for your license in that state.
  • If you’re living in a compact state and working in another compact state, you only need to apply for your multistate compact license in your home state.
  • If you’ll be living in a compact state, but working in a non-compact state, then apply for your license in the state where you’ll be working.
  • If you’re living in a non-compact state, but you’ll work in another non-compact state, apply for your license in the state where you’ll be working.
  • If you’re living in a non-compact state, but you’ll work in a compact state, apply for a compact multistate license in the state where you’ll be working.

3. Apply for Your Nursing License by Exam and ATT

Once you know the state from which you will request a license, you can start the process of submitting your application. As a new nurse, you’ll need to apply for licensure by exam and approval to test (ATT), which means you’ll need to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to obtain your license.

The process essentially unfolds in this way: you apply for licensure from the state, then that state’s board of nursing grants your eligibility to test. Finally, you take your exam, and if you pass, you receive your nursing license from that state.

4. Pass the NCLEX Exam

Once you submit your application for licensure by exam and ATT, you can sit for the NCLEX in any state. You do not need to take the exam in the same state where you’re applying for your license. Once you complete the exam and receive notification of your passing, you’ll receive your nursing license.

ABSN@CTX student

5. Receive Your License

As described above, once you pass the NCLEX, you’ll receive your initial nursing licensure. If you applied for a multistate license from a compact state, you can also practice as a nurse in any other compact state with that license.

How to Get Licensed in a New State

Anytime you need to obtain a new nursing license because you move or take a job in another state, this is called licensure by endorsement, and it is similar to a transfer of your prior license, meaning you won’t need to retake the NCLEX.

Transferring your nursing license can be complicated, so we’ll discuss how to navigate this based on your situation:

  • Compact to compact: If you change your permanent residence from one compact state to another compact state, you’ll need to get a new compact license for that state upon moving.
  • Compact to non-compact: If you move from a compact state to a non-compact state, you’ll need to apply for a single-state license in your new state.
  • Non-compact to non-compact: If you change from one non-compact state to another, you’ll need to get another single-state license for the new state. You can hold multiple single-state licenses at one time.
  • Non-compact to compact: If you change from a non-compact state to a compact state, you can keep your only single-state license, but you’ll need to apply for a new compact license in the new state.

A quick reminder for you: you can only have one compact license at a time, but you can hold multiple single-state licenses at once.

The History of Compact Nursing Licenses

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) originally created the NLC in 2000 as a way to simplify and unify the nurse licensing process across states. Prior to compact nursing licenses, nurses needed to obtain a license from each state where they were planning to work. This increased the burden on nurses wanting to work across state borders, made travel nursing more challenging, and made disaster nursing relief less feasible.

However, with the original NLC of 25 states, nurses within those states could work in the other NLC states using their multistate compact license from their home state.

In 2018, the NLC amended the agreement, adding a more uniform licensing process and requiring all nurses to pass a background check. Other states have joined in the agreement, so now there are 35 states with active NLC implementation, and 4 others in the process of implementation.

What Are the Benefits of Nursing in an NLC State?

two CTX ABSN students

Being in an NLC state means nurses can become licensed more affordably and simply. Because of compact states, nurses can work in telehealth, travel to other states to work, and aid in disaster situations. This is because nurses licensed in an NLC state can work in another NLC state without the tedious process of applying for a new license.

Nurses can benefit from being in a compact state in a variety of situations, including:

  • Living across the state border from where you work
  • Working as a travel nurse
  • Working as a disaster relief nurse
  • Providing telehealth nursing to other states

Learn More about Nursing School at CTX

If you’re considering nursing, earning your BSN from Concordia Texas ABSN track is a perfect place to start. Our 16-month accelerated track, with locations in Austin and Dallas, Texas, offers three start dates each year so you can finish sooner.

Eligible applicants have a prior non-nursing bachelor’s degree or at least 60 prior college credits. The ABSN track uses a hybrid curriculum that combines online classes, hands-on simulation labs, and enriching clinical experiences.

To learn more about how you can become a registered nurse through the accelerated nursing track at CTX, reach out to an admissions counselor.