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How to Get Into Nursing School

Updated : July 18th, 2022

Nursing School

Having a career as a registered nurse is a worthwhile goal, and pursuing a career in health care is a great way to make sure you can always find a job. Nurses, especially, remain in high demand across the country.

The first step toward a fulfilling career as a nurse is getting into nursing school. Competition for nursing school acceptance can be fierce, yet with historical nursing shortages across the country, many opportunities exist to find a path to a meaningful nursing career.

How To Get Into Nursing School

  • Graduate high school or earn a GED
  • Research nursing programs
  • Take all prerequisite courses
  • Submit your application
  • Develop a plan to cover the costs of nursing school
  • Complete an admission interview
  • Wait for your decision

Nurses remain in high demand across the country, yet nursing programs largely have struggled to expand their capacity for students at a pace that effectively keeps up. This fact, combined with the rigorous academic and clinical coursework associated with a nursing degree, has resulted in fierce competition when it comes to being accepted to nursing school. But don’t lose heart – additional pathways are opening to welcome people into nursing practice at many different points in their careers, and in the meantime, some careful research and a methodical approach can greatly increase your chances of being accepted into nursing school.

Whether you’re applying to nursing school as a recent high school graduate, switching careers, or returning to nursing school later in life, you can find the nursing program that’s right for you.

How Hard is it to Get Into Nursing School?

It’s challenging to get accepted into nursing school, though exactly how hard it is depends on the type of program you’re pursuing. Nursing is a career that requires a high level of clinical skill and knowledge, along with good judgment and the ability to develop strong relationships with patients. With all of these factors combined, it’s no surprise that the entrance criteria for a BSN program can be especially rigorous.

Nurses are responsible for the lives of their patients, so there must be high standards that can be difficult for some students to meet. But it’s important to stay positive. If you’re persistent and flexible, you can find a BSN program that fits your needs.

Steps To Get Into Nursing School

While competition can be intense for getting accepted into nursing school, the steps in the process are straightforward. We’ve listed the most typical steps below.

Graduate high school or earn a GED

To be considered for any nursing program, you must be a high school graduate or have earned your GED. No matter the program, this is a basic requirement. You also can be admitted to nursing school if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another area, or if you have completed some college coursework without earning a degree. As long as you take any required prerequisites, you’ll be all set.

Research nursing programs

You may need to put in substantial research time to find the right program for you. Make sure that any program you’re applying to is accredited and has a good reputation within the nursing field. You want to make sure that your degree will work in your favor and be well received by future employers because it’s coming from a well-respected institution. You also need to decide whether you’ll pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADM).

Currently, around 60% of registered nurses hold BSN degrees, and that number continues to rise. This is largely due to a recommendation in 2010 from the Institute of Medicine that 80% of nurses should have BSN degrees. With these changes, you may find that ADM programs are more difficult to find than in years past.

You also need additional information to make a good decision. For example, you should focus on finding accredited programs that fit your needs as a student, for everything from geography to availability of online courses and/or alternate scheduling. Think about whether you want to push through school as quickly as possible or take your time. Would you want to relocate and live on a college campus, or do you need something close to home so that you can commute?

Do you prefer taking all of your classes in person, or would you benefit from the flexibility of being able to access some courses online? Would you want to attend classes at a large campus with an enviable reputation, or would you prefer a smaller, more personalized classroom experience? All of these questions will help determine the ADM or BSN program that’s the best fit for you.

Take all prerequisite courses

No matter the nursing education program you pursue, all schools require specific prerequisite courses. These are classes generally taken in high school. They are used as the foundation of your advanced, college-level classes. A prerequisite course may represent anything from biology and human anatomy to chemistry and college-preparatory math. In addition, you may need a certain GPA for your science courses or a specific overall GPA. Some programs also may require specific SAT scores in certain areas.

If you’re going back to nursing school for a mid-career change, you may find that some professional nursing programs allow you to accelerate your progress toward your degree by using some of your past college credits, if you have those. And in some cases, you may be required to take a certain number of prerequisite science courses before you can be admitted into a BSN program. These prerequisites typically include anything from psychology and research methods to microbiology and chemistry.

Nursing education requirements may vary from state to state, and some states may even require specialized health care certifications before you can be admitted into a BSN program. Make sure you do your research to find out the specific requirements of the program you’re interested in so that you can fulfill each of them. This is where it’s also important to talk with an admission counselor about the specific requirements of the BSN program you’re interested in.

Submit your application

Each nursing education program will have its own application and criteria for acceptance. Make sure you read carefully through the requirements so that you don’t miss anything. Be prepared to submit the following documentation along with your application:

  • Your official transcript from high school and any other college-level coursework
  • Your standardized test scores
  • A personal essay or statement; all required letters of recommendation
  • An outline of your volunteer experience; and any required application fee

If you can, submit your application as early as possible. Doing so conveys enthusiasm and commitment to the program. Also, apply to multiple programs rather than concentrating only on one. Because these programs are so competitive, you’ll greatly increase your chances of acceptance if you apply to multiple schools.

Many times, once you submit your application, you will be assigned to a personal admission counselor. This counselor can help you complete the requirements and increase your chances of being accepted into your BSN program of choice. Your admission counselor can be a tremendous resource, so make sure you develop that relationship.

Develop a plan to cover the costs of nursing school

Nursing school is expensive, so you’ll need to be smart about making a plan to fund your nursing education. If you can, connect with a representative from the financial aid office of any school you’re considering so that you can fully explore your options for receiving financial assistance. Scholarships, grants, and federal loans help make nursing school a reality for many applicants each year.

You can apply for multiple scholarships, which can be need- or merit-based. You also may apply for grants, which are awarded based on financial need. Grants can be used to help cover costs associated with tuition, books, clinical supplies, housing, or other educational supplies. Your final option is to apply for federal student loans, which will need to be repaid once you graduate. It’s generally better to gravitate toward federal student loans rather than private loans – they usually have better interest rates and more attractive repayment requirements than loans from private lenders.

If you’re currently unemployed and thinking of applying to nursing school, also keep in mind that college students, thanks to 2020’s CARES Act, now can receive unemployment benefits while enrolled in classes – so if you’re receiving UI benefits for teachers, hospitality workers, or other industries, you may be able to keep those going to help cover your living expenses while you’re in school.

Complete an admission interview

Your admission interview is your chance to make a personal connection with representatives from your chosen BSN program and help them understand what you would bring to their program and professional nursing as a whole.

One of the key questions you’ll need to be prepared to answer is why you want to become a registered nurse. They want to know what kind of person you are. Make sure you can clearly articulate what it is about nursing that speaks to you and how you plan to use your nursing degree to help people.

Also, do your research. Make sure you know everything you possibly can about the particular program you’re interviewing for. Practice by participating in mock interviews if you can – maybe with a career coach, if possible. The main thing is to be your authentic self.

Wait for your decision

Waiting may be the hardest part of the whole process. Once you’ve submitted all your documentation and completed your admission interview, there is nothing left for you to do except wait. Make sure to ask your admission interviewer about the school’s timeline. Some schools release admission decisions once, all at the same time, while others share admission decisions on a more rolling basis. The best thing you can do is try to keep busy and avoid worrying over the decision. At this point, it’s out of your hands.

Consider a Career in Nursing

Nursing school can be demanding and stressful, but most nurses will say that it’s worth it. If helping people is your true passion, don’t lose heart no matter how complicated and competitive the admission process may be.

Pursuing a professional nursing career, no matter your stage of life, can provide a high level of job security and help you hedge against unemployment. With patience, persistence, flexibility, and research, you can find a nursing program that meets your needs and that sets you on a positive path toward becoming a valued member of the healthcare field.

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