What To Know About Applying to Nursing Schools

10 Min Read Published October 10, 2019
What To Know About Applying to Nursing Schools

While there may be a nursing shortage, U.S. News & World Report states that nursing programs remain one of the most competitive programs in terms of gaining entry. As the nursing shortage continues, nursing programs remain selective as there are only a certain number of spots available. 

There are a handful of reasons why nursing schools have become increasingly competitive despite the ongoing nursing shortage including decreasing class size, aging nursing faculty, increase in the number of applicants, availability of clinical sites, and classroom space.

According to AACN’s report Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away 75,029 qualified applicants for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Here are a few helpful tips for applying to nursing programs. It is important to remember that each program may have specific requirements, so check the program’s website or contact an admissions counselor with questions or concerns.

Nursing School Admission Requirements

The main requirement for applying to nursing school is a high school diploma or GED. Major universities require a minimum 3.0 GPA or better. The better the applicant’s GPA, the better the chances of getting into a top-notch program. Applicants without the minimum GPA should not apply as Universities will rarely consider the application. Hospital-based nursing programs and community colleges allow for lower GPAs.

Students will be required to take either the SATs or TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) depending on the university of their choice. Prospective applicants are encouraged to purchase study guides, take review courses, and seek out additional help if needed. Individuals should confirm which exam is required by the program of their choice.

Once ready to apply, applicants will need to submit the following, 

  • Official Transcript
  • Standardized Test Scores
  • Admission application
  • Essay
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Volunteer experience (preferably in healthcare)
  • Application Fee (fee can be waived if the application is submitted during the tour)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if applicable

Pay close attention to deadlines that are listed on the website and, if possible, submit the entire application early.

Applying early reinforces the applicant’s commitment, as well as his or her eagerness to enter the program. Furthermore, early application gives admission counselors time to contact you if there is a need for supplemental information. Some major Universities offer early acceptance to the nursing program and others offer rolling admission. 

Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing encourages applicants to make sure their resume is updated and includes all leadership activities, volunteer history, education and work history, and publications or presentations.

Volunteer Work

Not all universities require volunteer work, however it is encouraged by college admission counselors. Ideal prospective students should volunteer at a community clinic or hospital.

Volunteering not only gives an applicant experience and a view into the nursing profession, but it also looks good on an application. Furthermore, it allows students to know if nursing is the right career path with ample time to change plans if need be. It’s important to show nursing programs that you are invested in the healthcare industry and have the initiative to expand your knowledge even prior to nursing school. This will make your application more competitive amongst hundreds of other applications. 

Students who wish to expand their volunteer resume can also join an organization such as the American Red Cross. While the majority of volunteers are needed internationally, the Red Cross does have local chapters with numerous volunteer opportunities.

One benefit of volunteering with the Red Cross is that they allow volunteers to tailor their experience towards their nursing career goals. For example, if a volunteer is interested in child health, there are opportunities to work in daycare and school settings. According to the American Red Cross website, additional opportunities for nursing students include teaching first aid, assisting with local blood drives, and providing disaster response.

Nursing School Interview Process

Applicants that pass the initial screening process will schedule an interview with an admission counselor, as well as several key members of the department. This interview doesn’t necessarily weed out candidates but it does allow a face to face interaction and an opportunity for students to explain why they would be a good fit for the program. It is important to know that not all nursing programs require interviews. 

The interview is a chance for the applicant to sell themselves. Nursing program committee members want to know why a student would make a good nurse and be a positive representative of the program. 

Other important things to remember during the interview process is,

  • Be up to date on current health stories
  • Prepare by practicing mock interviews
  • Know key facts about the nursing program and the university
  • Don’t lie, evade, or embellish during the interview

While the type of questions asked at nursing school interviews is expansive and differs for every program, most nursing school interview questions fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Traditional, open-ended
  2. Personality and involvement
  3. Behavioral
  4. Situational or ethical dilemma in nursing
  5. Current affair

A recent nursing school interview format that is gaining popularity among many nursing programs throughout the U.S. is the multiple mini-interview. This type of interview consists of 6-10 timed stations that the applicants rotate through within a two-hour time period. This allows students to meet nursing faculty and get to know more than just a few key individuals. 

Sample interview questions include,

  • Why do you want to be a nurse?
  • What do you feel like your greatest skill is that will allow you to be a great nurse?
  • Do you have any examples of when you needed to make a split second decision that impacted others?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next ten years?
  • Do you have any experience volunteering or working in the healthcare industry?
  • If you could change one aspect of your personality at the snap of your fingers, what would it be and why?
  • Tell me about a time when a barrier challenged your ability to communicate and how did you deal with that?
  • Do you think a physician should tell a patient they have 8 months left to live?
  • What is your opinion on physician-assisted death?
  • Would your decision to become a physician change if the US moved to a universal healthcare system similar to that of Canada?
  • Do you know the difference between Medicaid and Medicare?
  • If you see a classmate stealing, what would you do?
  • A nurse at a clinical practicum site is acting unethically. What would you do?
  • What are some of your passions?

Check out this interesting article to find out more tips and tricks about nursing interviews. 

Do Research

Many nursing programs receive more applications than the number of spots available. Unfortunately, this means that not everyone who applies will be accepted. Students can be put on a waitlist which means that if another accepted student does not wish to attend that program, the school will open up spots to applicants on the waiting list. 

Other students, might get into the University but not the nursing program. This is often seen in large state schools such as Penn State University or The University of Alabama. These programs will encourage students to take basic liberal arts and science classes and then transfer to the nursing program after their freshman or sophomore year. This might not seem ideal to some students, but it does provide additional opportunities within top-notch nursing programs. 

Paying for Nursing School

Let’s be honest, nursing school isn’t cheap. Most students require financial assistance and that is why it is important to speak to a financial aid representative at the University or community college to understand your options. Not everyone will qualify for all the different types of aid that are available but hopefully between scholarships, grants, and federal loans the cost of nursing school will be more manageable. 

Here’s a more in depth breakdown of the different types of monetary aid that is available. Remember, research the different types of aid you may be eligible for and apply early. 


A scholarship is an award of financial aid to a student to further their education. This money does not have to be repaid. There are a variety of different types of scholarships. These include

  • Merit-based
  • Need-based
  • Athletic
  • Student-specific (gender, race, religion, family, and/or medical history)
  • Career-specific
  • College-specific

Most scholarships will require letters of recommendation, academic transcripts, and personal essays. Monetary amounts can be as little as $100 to as much as the cost of your education. You can apply to multiple scholarships as long as the school is on the approved list. 


Grants are determined by financial need. They can be used to cover the cost of tuition, books, clinical uniforms and supplies, housing and educational supplies. When applying for grants they will inform how they are to be applied towards your education. The amount of money you are eligible to receive depends strictly on your financial situation.

Typically grants do not have to be repaid as long as you graduate nursing school in the allotted amount of time. If you were to drop out there can be incurred costs.

Student Loans

Unlike scholarships and grants, loans must be repaid. Loans incur interest, so you will ultimately repay more than the initial amount of the loan. The exact terms of the loan will depend on the lender and other factors. There are several types of student loans.

The most common loans are Federal Student Loans. Federal student loans are a great option for most students for the following reasons:

  • They don’t have to be paid back while you’re in school.
  • They charge lower interest than loans from private lenders.
  • If you’re having trouble paying back your loan, there are programs you can qualify for to assist you.
  • You don’t need any credit history to get a federal student loan.

Two other fairly common loans are direct subsidized loans and direct unsubsidized loans more commonly referred to as Stafford Loans. 

Direct Subsidized Loans

  • U.S. Department of Education loan
  • Must meet certain income requirements
  • Demonstrate financial need
  • Government pays interest rate on loan while in schools
  • Pay back once graduated

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

  • U.S. Department of Education loan
  • Don’t have to meet income requirements
  • Student is responsible for accrued interest
  • Pay back once graduated

Federal Perkins Loan 

  • Very low-income students
  • Lender is the education institution
  • Meet income requirements
  • School must have funds available, limited monetary amounts

Private Student Loans

From banks and credit unions

Very high interest rates

Payments required while in school


  • How to apply for nursing school? 
    • Determine where you would like to attend classes? Do you want to live on campus? Do you want to live at home? Are you ready to move out of state?
    • Determine if you will be applying to a traditional four-year undergraduate program or a hospital-based/community college associates nursing program.
    • Research nursing programs that fit your goals based on location, financial ability, and career plans.
    • Set up college visits to determine if the programs are worth applying to. Make sure to meet with admissions counselors, members of the nursing faculty, and the financial aid department. ASK QUESTIONS!
    • Gather required documents and APPLY!
    • Once accepted, send the signed acceptance letter to the program and begin to prepare for your journey to become a nurse.
    • Apply for financial aid including scholarships, grants, and/or loans. Check out our scholarships page for more information about scholarships that are available to nursing students. 

Find Nursing Programs

  • What GPA do you need to get into nursing school? 
    • GPA requirements are set forth by the University that the nursing school is a part of. Generally, BSN programs will require a minimum of a 3.0 GPA while an ADN program at a community college may only require a 2.5 GPA. 
    • Depending on the type of University some will require a minimum high school GPA of 3.2. 
    • The GPA required to get into an Ivy League school nursing program such as the University of Pennsylvania may be different than the GPA needed to get into the University of Florida’s nursing program. 
  • Can applicants apply to multiple nursing programs? 
    • Yes! This is highly advised as undergraduate nursing programs are highly competitive. If accepted to several programs, you can then decide which is the best fit academically and financially. 
  • How many years does it take to become a nurse? 
    • A traditional Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program will allow individuals to graduate in four years with their nursing degree.  
    • For students that already have a bachelor’s degree in another field a BSN can be earned in as little as 12-18 months through an accelerated second degree program. 
    • An Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) can be earned in as little as two years through a community college or hospital based program. 
  • What are the requirements to get into a nursing school?
    • The only requirement to apply to a traditional four year nursing program is graduating from high school or earning your GED. All other requirements are part of the application process. These include, 
    • Successful completion of a high school diploma or GED
    • Minimum GPA
    • Admissions application
    • Personal essay
    • Personal interview
    • Teacher Recommendations
    • Volunteer experience (preferably in healthcare)
    • Application Fee
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if applicable
    • Minimum SAT scores or TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) (These will vary amongst Universities)
  • How do I pay for nursing school?
    • There are several different ways to pay for nursing school including scholarships, federal loans, and grants. 

Find Nursing Programs

Kathleen Colduvell, originally with a degree in journalism, has worked in numerous hospitals over her eight years as a NICU nurse. Currently, she works at one of the leading children’s hospitals in the country in the NICU, PICU, and CICU and working as a Certified Breastfeeding Consultant.

Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

Read More From Kathleen
Go to the top of page