8 Tips If You Want to Become a Nurse But Have Bad Grades

6 Min Read Published November 15, 2019
Man studying in library holding head in his hands

If you’re looking to become a nurse but have bad grades or a low grade point average (GPA), you may be concerned about getting into nursing school. 

Nursing school admissions can be very competitive, so it is important that you put your best foot forward when applying. That means completing all application requirements, such as: 

  • Taking any prerequisite courses
  • Meeting the minimum GPA
    • For Bachelor in Nursing (BSN) programs the minimum GPA is usually at least 3.0
    • For an Associate Degree the minimum GPA ranges from 2.0 to 2.8. 

GPA requirements vary from school to school, and some early admission nursing programs require an even higher GPA of at least 3.8 or higher (weighted or unweighted). In general, you can expect that any highly competitive nursing program will have a high GPA requirement for applicants. 

If you have a low GPA right now, here are some options for you to consider to try to boost your chances of getting accepted into nursing school. 

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Take General Ed Courses to Raise Your GPA

No matter where you plan on ultimately attending nursing school, high school graduates with a low GPA can enroll in a local community college for your general education classes. 

If you can, try to ensure that the community college courses you take transfer to your desired nursing program and/or will count as credits for your prereq classes. But even if they don’t, you may be able to raise your GPA enough in as little as one semester that you can apply to nursing school with a higher GPA on your transcripts — all in a much more affordable way thanks to the lower cost of community college. 

One important note is to make sure that the classes you take are beneficial; some nursing schools will not factor classes that they deem is irrelevant to your GPA. So, if you try to take a semester of just gym classes to pad your GPA, a potential nursing school could throw out all of those classes while reviewing your application. A better bet is to work with your high school or college counselor to find classes that will help increase your chances of acceptance. 

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Consider a Waitlist Program

If you are unable to raise your GPA or cannot afford to take additional classes, it may be beneficial to look into nursing programs that work on a waitlist basis. Waitlist nursing programs do not have competitive minimum GPA requirements but instead allow a certain number of students into the program each year, so essentially you are given your “number” in line until you reach the top of the line. 

The major drawback to waitlist programs, however, is that you can wait a long time — in some cases, even several years — before you are officially accepted into the program. If your financial aid depends on you actively being enrolled in school, this can be a problem. So do your research, consider how long the wait will be, and determine if you will lose your financial aid or can re-apply after you get in. 

Get Involved 

An easy way to increase your knowledge and gain valuable hands-on experience is to simply get involved in the field more. There are a variety of ways to get involved in the medical field, even without being an official RN, including

  • Volunteering at a local nursing home or hospital
  • Job-shadowing a nurse to learn more about on-the-job requirements
  • Speaking with unit managers about ways you could get involved

While gaining more hands-on experience may not raise your GPA right away, the knowledge you gain could help you perform better in the future because you’ll have a real-world education to draw from. 

Work Your Way Up

If you don’t have the grades to enroll in a competitive nursing program at the moment, explore other educational pathways that will help you get where you want to go. For instance, you could become a Medical Assistant or Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) and begin working in the medical field. Some facilities even offer tuition assistance to CNAs to further their education. 

You could also look into becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) and working your way through to become an RN.

Realize That Grades Aren’t Everything

While school is important, it may help you to realize that when it comes to being a great nurse, the perfect GPA is not everything. There may be people out there who can rock a 4.0 writing a paper about nursing, but then get to the floor and flounder their way through field skills. 

The point is, we all have different strengths, and it’s important to recognize yours early. Maybe you need some assistance formatting that reference paper, but you can rock a hard IV stick like no one’s business, or maybe you need some extra study time but have the uncanny ability to relate to every patient you meet. Nursing is about knowing your abilities — and asking for help when you need it, including now. 

Meet with a Counselor

Want to be successful as a nurse in college? There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Nursing schools deal with potential applicants every single day and they are prepared to help students who want to learn and join their programs. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a counselor at the school you want to attend. They can connect you to resources, clearly outline what steps and classes you need to take in order to boost your credentials, and even help you identify your own strengths to help you study more effectively. 

If you’re still in high school, go to your high school guidance counselor’s office and get assistance on courses that may help boost your GPA, find nursing schools that may accept lower GPAs, or take additional steps you can take to increase your chances of being accepted. 

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Just Ask For Help

Many people underestimate the power in simply asking for what you want or need; if you need help boosting your GPA, try asking for help — that may look like asking your teacher for extra credit assignments you can do to boost your GPA, or getting some extra tutoring that could help you ace your next test. If you’re committed to raising your GPA, there are educators who will work with you to help you succeed. 

Include a Statement Letter

When you apply for nursing school, many schools require that you include your “position statement” or something similar declaring your intentions in becoming a nurse. Although you may think that your statement letter is just a formality, it’s actually an opportunity to let your application stand out in the crowd, even with a low GPA. 

Use your letter to be honest. Maybe you had a family member get sick and your GPA was impacted; maybe you’re a single mom working around-the-clock; maybe you transferred schools mid-way through the year; maybe you have a learning disability — the point is, tell your story and express your passion for being a nurse, because the admissions team wants to see someone who cares deeply about the nursing profession, no matter what obstacles they may face. 

If you have a low GPA right now and are worried about your chances of getting into nursing school, you should know that you have plenty of options and routes you can take. The best kind of nurse is one who knows how to work hard and problem-solve when faced with a challenge, so simply think of your less-than-ideal GPA right now as your first real-world problem as a nurse. 

You can do this — and more importantly, you’ll probably be an even better nurse in the end.

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