I became an RN slightly "later" in life, going to college for the first time just before turning 30, after raising my kids and working in crappy retail and customer service types of positions. I had no medical experience and started from scratch, like you.
I started with my ADN, mostly for financial reasons and because it was easier to get into my ADN program at that moment in time. I found a way to do the test-out option for CNA licensure in my state and didn't even take the CNA class, just self-studied and went in and took the test. Never worked as a CNA either, only got that because it was required by the ADN RN program before you could start. I took about a year's worth of general education / prerequisite courses before I started the RN program, which is about average for most people going for an ADN. If you go for BSN, you take about 1.5-2 years of gen eds and prereqs before you can apply to the nursing program. It's a separate application process to get into any nursing program. You must first apply to the school as a general / undeclared student or a pre-nursing student, then once you fulfill the prereqs and other requirements (minimum GPA, etc.) then you can apply to the nursing program / major. It's competitive, so be prepared. Many students apply that do not get admitted the first time. Continue to work on other general ed courses which would fulfill your degree requirements in the meantime and bring your GPA up higher and apply again. Eventually you will get in.
It's critical to know the school's admissions process and how they determine who gets in. So talk to an academic adviser and ask them questions like how many students apply vs. how many get admitted to the nursing program, what is the average GPA of admitted students, is there a wait list and if so are you guaranteed a spot the next admission session, how do they rank their applicants or is it a lottery system once you meet the minimum requirements, etc.
You can take a lot of gen ed / prereqs for less money at a community college and then transfer to whatever school offers your BSN, but when you transfer, make sure well ahead of time that your schools have transfer agreements or can verify that the common courses like English, Biology, Chemistry, Anatomy & Physiology, etc. will transfer equally so you don't waste your time repeating courses.
Once you finish your degree, you take the NCLEX exam to earn your RN license. Get a job, work for awhile and see where your interests lie before deciding on an NP program and specialty focus, like Adult or Family or Psychiatric or Pediatric, etc. For now, minimum education for NP is a Masters, and despite rumors of the changeover to a minimum of a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) in 2015, this is not the case and there is no date set in stone - but it is coming eventually. As an NP you're more of a primary provider, like a doctor, seeing patients, writing prescriptions (in most states), making referrals to specialists, diagnosing and treating illnesses and minor injuries. You can make a decent amount of money, although many regular RNs who work in hospitals can make nearly the same as an NP once you get some seniority and work a little overtime. So you should decide where your interests lie and base your decision off that, and not on money aspects.
Answered By: Take A Test! - 8/27/2012