Thanks again... :)
If only all of my nun questions could be answered here... Unfortunately, some of them concern so specific details that they would be answered best by writing an e-mail to real religious orders... and as I mentioned, it would feel weird. Hm...
Depending on the order, you might actually be surprised at how much information nuns would be willing to give if you only ask. You don't need to be specific about why
you want to know; you could, for example, simply explain that you're conducting research for a book and would they consent to an interview? No need to go into graphic details. Anyway, thought I might offer up a few tidbits that might prove interesting. Mind you, this information dates back to WWII so I don't know how accurate it would be now. My Grandmother attended a Convent School in England during this time and it's one of the few periods of her life which she shared in graphic detail. Anyway, this is based on the Order of Mary, Help of Christians, based in London just before the war.
Generally speaking, a woman who wished to become a nun would be required to pay a dowry prior to taking her initial vows. It may be different now, but at that time the amount of dowry paid affected how much you could progress through the ranks (The Mother at my grandma's school was very upset when told she couldn't take her final vows to become Mother Superior because her dowry wasn't high enough).
You first enter the convent as a Novice, and as a rule you would remain a Novice for a minimum of one year. During this time you would be expected to immerse yourself in the convent and learn everything about it. Novices didn't usually wear a full habit but the details of exactly what they would wear would vary from order to order.
Once the Mother Superior was satisfied that you were ready (and providing your dowry permitted you to), you would take your final vows to become a Sister. At this point, you become 'Bride of Christ' and are permitted to wear the full habit. You would then eventually (and again assuming your dowry permitted it) take final vows as a Mother, and then a Mother Superior. As Mother Superior, you are responsible for the entire convent and oversee everything to do with it, including any schools that are attached.
Life as a nun was quite strict, and once you had taken your vows as a Sister it was expected you would remain a nun until death; to leave the Order and return to 'civilian' life, you would have needed to make confession to an Archbishop or Cardinal regarding a matter that was considered a serious breach of the last vows you took.
Like I said, I don't know how much of this is accurate or even still stands today; it's just what I have managed to glean from my grandmother's stories.