May 2, 2023

What Are Nursing School Prerequisites?

Training to become a registered nurse (RN) takes time, dedication, and countless study hours. But working toward your nursing career begins before you submit your college applications. Every accredited program in the US will ask for nursing school prerequisites that you must meet for them to consider your application. 

Nursing program prerequisites are the minimum requirements to enter any given nursing school. Specific nursing school requirements may vary slightly depending on the program. But most have similar education, GPA, physical, and legal nursing pre-reqs.

This article will discuss common pre-reqs for nursing school, why they're important, and how to complete them. By the end of this post, you'll know exactly what to do to prepare for your nursing school applications.

Why Do Nursing Schools Have Prerequisites?

Pre-reqs for nursing programs are anything but arbitrary. These qualifications help prove to potential nursing schools that you have a foundation of knowledge suitable for nursing study. Nursing school prerequisites tell them whether you can understand complex topics and learn new technical skills.

How Do Nursing School Prerequisites Help Me?

Completing your nursing school prerequisites is the only way you will gain entry into your dream program. But they also help improve your SAT or TEAS exam scores, giving you a competitive edge against other applicants.

General Nursing School Prerequisites

Most in-person and online nursing programs have a similar set of nursing prerequisites. In general, you should meet the following requirements before applying to nursing school.

High School Diploma or Equivalent 

Most pre-nursing programs require a high school diploma or high school equivalency (HSE). You can earn an HSE by:

  • Passing the general education development (GED) test
  • Passing the high school equivalency test (HiSET)
  • Verifying an equivalent certificate from your country of origin

This prerequisite proves you can understand and further your healthcare education to pursue a nursing career.

Minimum GPA Requirement 

Nursing school GPA requirements often depend on the type of degree you want and the program’s competition level. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs typically require a minimum GPA of 2.75. But Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs usually require a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Health Requirements 

As a nursing school student (and eventual nurse), you will provide immediate care to patients who may carry communicable diseases. Likewise, proximity to vulnerable patients increases the chances of you passing an illness to them. Therefore, nursing school applicants must meet certain health requirements.

The most common health requirements you should meet include the following:

Physical Exam

Most nursing programs want to know you're up to the job's physical demands. Therefore, you must be in satisfactory physical condition and health to be a nursing school candidate. You'll likely have to make a doctor's appointment for a physical up to three months before program acceptance.


The Centers for Disease Control for Health Care Workers and the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices recommend nursing school immunization requirements. However, each care facility establishes its specific standards. 

Your school's prerequisites may differ, but in general, you should have the following vaccines:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria (TDip)
  • Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)
  • Varicella
  • Influenza
  • Covid-19
  • Tuberculosis screening

Criminal Background Check  

As a nurse, you'll work with vulnerable groups like infants, children, and the elderly. You will also handle sensitive medical information. So, you may be subject to a criminal background check and drug screening before getting accepted into nursing school.

English Proficiency Test  

If you’re a native English speaker or someone who completed an education program in English, you may not need to fulfill this requirement. However, some non-native speakers may need to pass an English proficiency exam to enter nursing school. If you do need to complete this step, you’ll likely take the TOEFL or the IELTS.

SAT or TEAS Exam

Most nursing schools consider your Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) scores. Each school has its own passing score on the SAT or TEAS that you must meet to be eligible for enrollment.

The TEAS exam consists of 170 questions. But only 150 questions count towards your final score because the other 20 questions are used for internal purposes. 

There are four different sections in the test, including:

  • Reading
  • Math
  • Science
  • English/Language usage

Many nursing schools have discovered that the TEAS is a better indicator of how well students will perform in nursing school. So, even if you already took the SAT, you may also need to take the TEAS as a nursing school prerequisite.

Nursing School Prerequisite Classes

Most schools of nursing also want you to complete specific courses in high school before applying. As you finish your high school diploma, be sure to take these courses and pass with a "C" or better. 

One Year of High School Biology

Many American high schools will already require you to complete biology your freshman year. In this science course, you'll receive a basic foundation of:

  • Microscopic structure and function
  • Genetics and heredity
  • Ecology
  • Adaptation and evolution
  • Human growth and development

Aside from general freshman biology, some high school classes that satisfy this prerequisite include:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Botany
  • Ecology 
  • Microbiology with Lab

Most high school biology courses are lab-based and involve hands-on activities that help reinforce the material being taught. Some assignments you’ll have in these classes include dissections, analyzing data from experiments, and creating presentations about the material.

One Year of High School Chemistry

These courses will give you a foundational understanding of chemistry's fundamental concepts, theories, and laws. As you complete your high school chemistry classes, you'll learn about the following:

  • Atomic structure
  • Chemical bonding
  • Thermodynamics
  • Kinetics
  • Equilibrium
  • Acid-base theory

The skills you'll learn in this class that you will use as a nursing student include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Laboratory safety
  • Lab techniques (e.g. titration, distillation)
  • Critical thinking 

Two Years of College-Preparatory Math

These math classes will give you the skills necessary to succeed in college-level mathematics courses. Depending on your middle school math experience, you can begin taking college-preparatory math classes as soon as you start high school. These classes include:

  • Pre-Algebra I and II
  • Statistics
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Trigonometry
  • Pre-Calculus

College-preparatory math will also help you develop problem-solving strategies, learn how to work with equations and graphs and understand different mathematical systems.

Which high school courses are nursing school prerequisites depends on the program you apply to. Typically, bachelor's degrees require more math credits than associate's degree programs. Check with an admissions counselor to know which courses you need before applying.

Where to Earn Your Nursing School Prerequisites

In most cases, you can complete your nursing school prerequisites in high school. But that's not always possible for every prospective nursing student. You have several other options if you could not finish these prerequisites in high school or want a higher grade to increase your chances of getting in.

Community College

You can complete your prerequisites for nursing school or earn your GED at most community colleges. These courses are often more affordable than those offered at four-year universities. Plus, many community colleges have transfer agreements with nursing programs at local universities so it's easier to get into your desired program.

Online Courses

Online courses are ideal if you need flexibility as you complete your nursing school pre-reqs. Including GED programs, biology, and math, online classes help you fulfill nursing school requirements from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Four-Year University

You can also complete your nursing school requirements at the same four-year university you plan to attend for your nursing degree. This is an excellent option if you want a traditional college experience or plan to live on campus.

No matter how you choose to earn your nursing school pre-reqs, you must ensure that your desired nursing program will accept the courses you take. Confirm your course selection with an admissions advisor to avoid taking classes that won't transfer.

Planning for Success: Tips for Nursing School Prerequisites

If you want to set yourself up for success and get into your dream nursing school, you have to come prepared. Take a moment to review these tips for acing your nursing school prerequisites and becoming a stand-out candidate.

Prepare for Prerequisites

Time management will help you successfully complete your nursing school requirements. Plan strategic breaks, designated study hours, and create a review schedule to stay organized. Make sure you space out your courses and avoid overloading your schedule.

Build Strong Study Habits

Your study habits will help you retain more information from your prerequisite classes. Attending all your classes, forming a study group, taking detailed notes, and reviewing them will help you build a strong study routine.

Seek Guidance From Nursing School Advisors

The nursing school advisors at your prospective universities will have detailed prerequisite information. They can help guide your course selection decisions and curate your study path to get into nursing school.

Prerequisites are Essential, But Not the Only Factor

Fulfilling these courses and requirements will help you get into your desired program. But pre-reqs are just one part of the nursing school application process. As you complete your nursing school prerequisites, consider your college entry essays, extracurriculars, and other factors that impact your candidacy.