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Ask a Nurse: How Recent Should My Nursing Prereqs Be?

Nicole Galan, RN, MSN
Updated October 3, 2023
    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees,
    A young Hispanic female nurse wearing eyeglasses and scrubs is writing notes on a clipboard.Credit: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / DigitalVision / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: How current do the prerequisites have to be for admission to a nursing program?

    Answer: Ah, nursing school prerequisites: that list of courses you are required to have taken before you even apply to nursing school. You may have just assumed that those grades are simply a measure of how well you’ll perform in nursing school’s complex science courses. And while that is true, the reason for all of that coursework is a bit more involved.

    From the day you start, a bachelor of science in nursing program is a race to the finish line. There is so much information to master, including the pathophysiology of disease, pharmacology, nursing fundamentals, and everything else you need to know to provide competent and safe care to your patients.

    Taking those basic science prerequisites before nursing school allows students to dig deep into the new content to better understand the new material.

    So, what exactly is required, and do those credits “expire”? These terms vary among schools, and you’ll need to research the specific requirements for each prospective program.

    Understanding the Nursing School Admissions Process

    Typically, nursing programs require the following coursework as part of the application process:

    • 1-2 semesters of general biology
    • Two semesters of human anatomy and physiology with lab
    • 1-2 semesters of general or organic chemistry with lab
    • A semester of microbiology with lab
    • A semester of statistics
    • A semester of psychology
    • A semester of human nutrition
    • A semester of human development
    • 1-2 semesters of English composition

    While the minimum grade for the credits for acceptance is a “C,” the competitive nature of nursing school admissions means that you should strive for your grades to be as high as possible.

    The timeframe in which that coursework should be completed varies as well. While 2-7 years seems to be the most common, I definitely found some programs without an “expiration date” on the prerequisite credits.

    What can you do to maximize your chances of admission?

    First, make sure you carefully read the requirements for your desired program. Call the admissions department if you have any additional questions about credit requirements and where you can earn them.

    For example, some schools may require additional paperwork (like a course catalog) for credits earned in out-of-state institutions. If the school has a process for evaluating a course or transcript before applying, use it. It would be terrible to work hard on a course. only to learn that it doesn’t count toward your requirements.

    You may also want to consider retaking some coursework if you’ve only achieved the minimum grade required. Take only one course at a time to maximize your grade and content retention.

    While it is easy to focus only on earning a good grade, remember the point of all that coursework: You’re developing a strong foundation for everything you’ll learn in nursing school and provide excellent care after graduation. And honestly, isn’t that the point?

    In Summary

    • Every nursing school program has different prerequisite requirements. Make sure to check your desired program’s requirements very carefully.
    • Many programs allow credits earned 2-7 years ago, though this can vary among schools.

    Written by:

    Portrait of Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.

    Galan is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.