AIM: The main aim of this paper is to uncover whether the actual career choices and job values of newly qualified nurses are in accordance with the predictions they made at the commencement of their nursing education. BACKGROUND: A cohort of Norwegian nurse students was followed from the beginning of their education in 1998 through nursing school and 2,years after graduating. METHODS: Questionnaire data from 221 nursing students at three points in time: 1998, 2001 and 2003 were analysed with frequency distributions and paired samples t-tests. For 140 respondents data from all three points were available. RESULTS: Initially motives like human contact, helping others, job security were important, and 92% had a wish for further education. Career preferences were often midwifery, public heath and nursing practice in high tech areas. Towards the end of the bachelor course (2001), there was more ambiguity in the helping motives. On one hand, the students wanted to be altruistic but on the other hand, they wanted gratitude in return when giving help to patients. Seventy five per cent of the students had plans for further education within a period of about 2 years after graduation. Midwifery, public health work and high tech practice were still preferred. Findings from 2003 indicated only 16% had started or finished further education 2 years after graduation. When appraising future job challenges in 2001 and 2003, there is a decrease in emphasis on the values human contact and part-time work and an increase in emphasis on high salary and job security. CONCLUSIONS: During the student period, the bachelor programme was regarded as a basis for further education, but 2 years after graduation only 16% had realized further education. Preferences related to job values regarding a prospective job reveal a decrease in the importance of human contact and an increase in the importance of a high salary and job security from 2001 to 2003.