How to Get into Nursing School

Nurses are in high demand, particularly those with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). A report from the Institute of Medicine has recommended that at least 80% of the nursing workforce should hold a baccalaureate degree or higher.

Holding registered nurses (RNs) to this standard by requiring a majority of the nursing workforce to have at least a bachelor’s degree has the potential to improve patient outcomes. Some nursing students choose to earn their BSN right away while others may return to school for an RN-to-BSN program. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in another field can also enter an accelerated BSN program to join the nursing workforce.

Because the profession requires great skill, nursing schools are often rigorous in their admissions process. It’s important for future nurses to find the right program, understand the application process and be aware of what financial aid and scholarship opportunities are available.

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Choosing the Right Nursing School for You

There are many factors to consider when choosing which nursing schools to apply to. When researching potential programs, think about the following:

LOCATION

Are you interested in relocating and living on campus, or do you want to go to a local commuter school? Having the ability to move locations offers a wider variety of schools to consider while choosing a program close to home may be more affordable.

MODALITY

Are you interested solely in an on-campus experience? Do you want the flexibility of taking some or all of your courses virtually? Depending on your circumstances, it may be possible to attend nursing school online. However, you will be required to complete a preceptorship in a clinical setting where you are located.

SCHOOL AND CLASS SIZES

Do you want to attend a larger university with a recognized brand? Do you want smaller classes and more face-time with professors? When researching programs, be sure to look at the population of the university, as well as the number of nursing students in the program and average class sizes.

COST AND FINANCIAL AID

Affordability is another important factor to consider. In addition to looking at tuition costs, see what grant and scholarship opportunities are available through the nursing school.

PROGRAM QUALITY

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), individuals should look at a nursing program’s reputation by ensuring it meets national standards, has accreditation from an approved national nursing organization and has a high pass rate for students taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for registered nurses.

RELATIONSHIPS AND CONNECTIONS

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), looking at faculty and institution connections is an important factor. Ask an admissions representative the following questions: Does the school have strong affiliation with clinics and hospitals? What kind of counseling from faculty members and administrators is available to help you succeed?

PREVIOUS EDUCATION

Where are you in your higher education journey? If you have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you may consider an accelerated BSN program, which takes less time to complete than a traditional BSN program.

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Nursing School Requirements

Applicant requirements will vary depending on the nursing school to which you are applying. As a general rule, if you are applying as a recent high school graduate, your SAT scores and grade point average will be considered.

According to the AACN, in some programs, nursing classes start during the freshman or sophomore year, while others have students wait until they are juniors. Many schools require a certain grade point averages before students advance into professional nursing classes in their junior year.

On a 4.0 scale, admission into the last two years of the nursing program may require a minimum grade point average of 2.5 or higher in preprofessional nursing classes. The national average is about 2.8, but the cutoff level varies with each program.

Classes to Take Before Nursing School

Class requirements for nursing school applicants also will vary depending on the program. AACN recommends taking advanced courses in science and mathematics during high school, as it is preferable among many nursing programs.

To get specific admission information about a program of interest, it is advised to contact the school’s nursing department directly for guidance.

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Is Nursing School Worth it?

Nursing is a challenging but rewarding career. Before you apply to nursing school, it’s important to make sure that the profession is a good fit. Understanding the skill set required of nurses, along with the outlook for nursing jobs, can help in this assessment.

Nursing School Skills

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook for Registered Nurses, the following skills are critical to succeed in nursing school and within the profession:

Critical-thinking: RNs need to be able to assess changes in a patient’s health status and determine when to take corrective action.

Communication: RNs must effectively communicate with patients to understand their concerns and provide important information, such as instructions on taking medication. They also work with other providers, which requires strong inter-team communication.

Compassion: Nurses have a lot of direct interaction with patients and their loved ones. Handling the human side of this job requires care and empathy.

Attention to detail: RNs must be precise because they must ensure that patients get the correct treatments and medicines at the right time.

Emotional stability: Healthcare is a stressful field, which requires resilience and the ability to cope with difficult situations.

Organization: RNs often work on multiple cases at once, requiring the ability to coordinate treatment plans and maintain records for each patient.

Physical stamina: RNs are on their feet for most of their shift and need to perform physical tasks such as lifting and ambulating patients.

Nursing Career Outlook and Salary

According to nursing job projections from the BLS, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 12% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The increase in nursing jobs is due in part to the aging baby boomer population, which will need additional nursing care as they continue to develop chronic conditions that need management, such as diabetes, dementia and heart disease.

According to salary data for registered nurses, the median annual wage for RNs was $71,730 in May 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $50,800, and the highest 10% earned more than $106,530.

How to Pay for Nursing School

When applying to nursing school, you should research financial aid options that may be available by using resources such as the Federal Student Aid website. Scholarship opportunities for nursing students can also be found through the schools you are applying to as well as external sources.

Scholarship Resources for Nursing School

NURSING ORGANIZATIONS

HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS

  • American Red Cross awards the Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship to both undergraduate nursing students and graduate nursing students who are a volunteer or employee of the American Red Cross Unit.
  • Bureau of Health Professions financial aid page offers a useful introduction to all financial assistance programs under the Health Resources and Services Administration.

GENERAL SCHOLARSHIP RESOURCES

  • CareerOneStop is sponsored by the US Department of Labor and has a scholarship search tool, job search function, and other helpful career resources.
  • FastWeb is an online scholarship search engine that provides a variety of listings for higher education opportunities.
  • Scholarship Experts is a free and trusted scholarship resource that allows students to search for updated and accurate scholarship information.

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FAQs 

How Hard Is Nursing School?

Nursing degree programs are known for their rigorous coursework. According to the AACN, in a university or college setting, the first two years of a traditional BSN program include classes in the humanities, social sciences, basic sciences, business, psychology, technology, sociology, ethics, and nutrition.

In the junior and senior years of university, the curriculum focuses on the nursing sciences, and emphasis moves from the classroom to health facilities. This is where students are exposed to clinical skills, nursing theory and the varied roles nurses play in the health care system.

Courses include nurse leadership, health promotion, family planning, mental health, environmental and occupational health, adult and pediatric care, medical and surgical care, psychiatric care, community health, management and home health care.

While nursing school can be a challenge, it is important to prepare students for their licensing exam, as well as a rewarding career in nursing.

How Long Is Nursing School?

The length of time spent in nursing school will depend on the type of program in which you enroll:

  • BSN programs typically take four years.
  • Earning an ADN typically takes two years.
  • RNs who would like to earn their bachelor’s degree can enroll in an RN to BSN program, which may take an additional two years.
  • Accelerated BSN programs, designed for individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, can take 12 to 18 months.

How Much Does Nursing School Cost?

Cost depends on the program, including whether you attend a state university or a private non-profit or for-profit school, as well as the type of program in which you enroll. For example, tuition for a four-year BSN program may differ from that of a two-year ADN program.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2016-2017 school year, the average total tuition, fees, room and board rates for a full-time student in a public four-year institution was $19,488; the cost for private non-profit and for-profit four-year schools was $41,468; the cost for public two-year institutions was $10,091; and the cost for two-year private nonprofit and for-profit institutions was $24,882.

Nursing students may also incur additional costs, such as purchasing scrubs for their preceptorship and paying fees for their licensing exam.

Why Should I Get a BSN?

While licensed graduates of a bachelor’s, associate’s, or diploma program may qualify for entry-level positions as a staff nurse, some employers—particularly magnet hospitals—may require a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook for Registered Nurses.

Additionally, entering the workforce with a BSN offers a competitive advantage from a hiring perspective in many settings, as well as greater career advancement opportunities, according to the ANA.

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