How to Get Into Nursing School

8 Min Read Published August 2, 2023
How to Get Into Nursing School: A Nurse.org Guide

Getting into nursing school is a dream come true for most prospective nurses, but the process can be daunting. Nurse.org has broken down the entire process of how to get into nursing school, from the prerequisites and the requirements to the process you'll take. Read on to learn how to secure a spot in your first-choice nursing program.

How to Get Into Nursing School

  1. Graduate high school or earn your GED
  2. Get your prerequisites
  3. Research nursing programs
  4. Make a plan for paying for nursing school
  5. Complete the application  
  6. Apply early
  7. Nail the admissions interview
  8. Wait for the acceptance letters

1. Graduate High School or Earn Your GED

To get into a nursing degree program, you must be a high school graduate or have earned your GED. Regardless of which type of nursing program you plan on applying to (BSN or ADN), this first step is required.

2. Make Sure You Meet all Nursing School Requirements

Whether you apply for an ADN or BSN nursing program, all schools require specific prerequisite courses. These are classes generally taken in high school and are used as the foundation that is built upon in advanced, college-level classes.

Nursing School Prerequisites

  • One year of high school biology with a C or better
  • One year of high school chemistry with a C or better
  • Two years of college-preparatory math with a C or better
  • GPA of 2.75 or higher for ADN program or GPA of 3.0 or higher for BSN program
  • SATs or TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills)

Specific nursing school requirements will vary based on the program, so it is very important to check with an admissions counselor prior to applying. Typically, BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) programs will require more perquisites than an ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) program.

Moreover, some universities will require a minimum high school GPA of 3.2. The GPA required to get into an Ivy League nursing program, such as the University of Pennsylvania, may differ from the GPA needed to get into the University of Florida’s nursing program.

Finally, many nursing programs also have entrance exam requirements. Though no entrance exam nursing schools exist, most require passing scores on the TEAS, HESI, or both exams for admissions.

>> Related: The Top Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program in Every State

3. Research Nursing Programs

It’s important to decide what kind of nursing program you are interested in. Ask yourself the following questions as you compare accredited institutions:

  • Are you interested in a large public university in a major city or a small private college in a rural setting?
  • Do you have the ability to live on campus or do you have to commute?
  • Are you planning on going to an ADN or BSN nursing program?
  • How will you pay for school?
  • Do you want to move away from home?
  • Do you already have an LPN or LVN license?
  • Do you prefer an online program vs an in-person program?

One of the biggest decisions is choosing between an ADN program and a BSN program. With the increase in BSN programs and the ongoing push for all new graduates to have a bachelor’s degree, associate degree nursing programs are becoming less and less popular.

In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report. This report strongly recommended that 80% of Registered Nurses should have their bachelor’s degree by 2020.

The nursing field didn’t meet this goal, but it made a lot of progress. About 60% of registered nurses have baccalaureate degrees, and the number continues to rise.

The report also informed the need for change in nursing education to meet the changes in healthcare. This recommendation was made for a few key reasons, including the increasing complexity of care and hospital magnet status.

Differences Between ADN and BSN Nursing Programs

Advantages of an Associate Degree in Nursing

  • Provides entry-level requirements to become an RN
  • Allows you to try the field without committing to a four-year program
  • Credits can transfer to another four-year degree if you want to change paths
  • Quick, convenient for working adults or those with families
  • Cheaper
  • Focuses more exclusively on science courses to help pass the NCLEX-RN examination

Disadvantages of an Associate Degree in Nursing

  • There are better options if you are sure you want to be a nurse
  • Less competitive compared to more educated candidates
  • Does not provide the necessary training to pursue a specialty
  • Less opportunities in hospital settings
  • Less career advancement in the nursing field
  • Less time for clinical experiences
  • Very little coursework in the humanities or arts

 

4. Determine How You are Going to Pay for Nursing School

College isn’t cheap. Nursing programs are not cheap. Most students require financial assistance, so 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 scholarships, grants, and federal loans help make the cost of nursing school more manageable for many students. Read our in-depth guide on how to pay for nursing school for more information. 

5. Complete the Application 

Each nursing program will have its own admission packets and information that must be submitted. Universities across the country accept the Common Application or Universal College Application. Check with an admissions counselor as utilizing these forms can save an applicant time and money.

Nursing School Application Requirements

  • Official transcript from high school and other college-level coursework
  • Standardized test scores
  • Admission application
  • Personal essay or statement letter
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Volunteer experience (preferably in healthcare; ideally with duties connected to patient care)
  • Application fee 
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if applicable

We recommend applying to multiple nursing programs as these programs are highly competitive. If accepted to several programs, you can then decide which school of nursing is the best fit academically and financially.

7. Apply 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.

Show Me RN-to-BSN Programs

8. Nail Your Admission Interview

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.  

Get used to this kind of pressure because you’ll face it again after you’ve earned your RN license if you apply for nurse practitioner programs or other advanced degree programs.

Important things to remember during the interview process

  • 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
  5. Current affair

9. Wait for the Acceptance Letters to Roll In

This is the hardest part of the application process. You’ve researched, applied, and now all you do is wait. Some nursing programs will have rolling admissions and others will send out acceptance or rejection letters at specific times. 

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How to Make Your Nursing School Application Stand Out

The competition for nursing schools is tough, but there are ways to increase your chances and make yourself stand out amongst the other applications. Here are 3 ways to set yourself apart and set yourself up for success. 

1. Volunteer!

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. It allows students to know if nursing is the right career path, with ample time to change their 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 for enrollment more competitive amongst hundreds of other applications. 

Students who wish to expand their volunteer resumes 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 toward 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. 

2. Become a Certified Nursing Assistant 

Becoming a CNA can add valuable work experience to a prospective nursing student’s resume. CNA education requirements take only several months to complete but can provide great insight into the healthcare field. Additionally, it also can help pay for nursing school. A lot of people start their nursing practice as CNAs. 

3.  Know Why You Want to Be a Nurse 

This may sound basic, but it’s extremely important. Most nurses can describe the moment they realized they wanted to be a nurse and specifically why. It’s important to know, fundamentally, why nursing is your passion or at least why you think it is.

During the interview process, application committees will want to know why you are interested in the nursing profession. Have a clear and concise answer.

Knowing why you want to become a nurse will also help motivate you when you’re bogged down in microbiology, human anatomy, and general education coursework that seems to go on forever.

The nursing school application process can be competitive and stressful, but stay positive! If you know nursing is what you want to do with your life, you’ll make it happen. 

Find Nursing Programs

FAQs

  • How can I get into nursing school? 

    • You can get into nursing school as a direct entrant from high school by having a strong GPA and meeting the prereqs or by joining a wait list program. 
  • How can I increase my chances of getting into nursing school? 

    • Have a strong GPA and demonstrated experience in the medical field, such as through volunteer or paid work. 
  • Is it hard to get into nursing school?

    • Nursing school can be competitive, but some schools also offer waitlist entries that may not have as stringent requirements. 
  • What is a good GPA for nursing school?

    • Every school will have their own prerequisites, but in general, most schools will require at least a 3.0 GPA. 
Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
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.

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