Ask a Nurse: My Options If I Get Rejected From Nursing School?

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated September 27, 2023
    Thousands of nursing school applicants are rejected each year. Persistence and these strategies raise your chances of admission with your next application.
    Featured ImageCredit: Maskot / 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: I got rejected from nursing school and feel so defeated. How do I move forward? How do I pick myself back up and make myself a better applicant?

    I understand exactly how you feel! You should know that many applicants are not accepted into nursing programs. Despite a nursing shortage and the need for more nurses, many students are experiencing nursing school rejection.

    There are fewer spots for students in nursing programs, so applicants are accepted less often. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 80,407 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools in 2019 alone.

    Take time to get out all your negative emotions with friends and family so you have the energy and focus on taking positive steps forward. Remember, failing to get into the nursing program you wanted isn’t final, and it isn’t fatal.

    And there are steps you can take to improve your application next time!

    Retake Classes With Poor Grades

    If you have science or math classes where you got a C or D, consider retaking the class. Check with the nursing schools where you’re applying first to be sure that they’ll consider the better grade the second time you take the class.

    One of the factors schools consider is your GPA. You can improve your overall GPA and your science and math GPA by retaking classes where the grade was lower than a B.

    Get Experience

    One sure way to make your application more competitive is to gain experience in healthcare. Experience demonstrates the student is aware of the challenges and rewards in the field and should not be caught off balance by the work.

    Consider a CNA Program

    An excellent way to get experience is to complete a certified nursing assistant (CNA) program. This can give you more experience in patient care and confidence when you start your nursing program. After getting rejected, many nurses take a year off to become a CNA and gain experience before reapplying.

    You can complete a CNA program in approximately 15 weeks or less, with classroom hours and clinical training included. This gives you a median annual earning potential of $30,830, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also gives you the ability to gain experience in various settings as you wait to gain admittance into a nursing program.

    Complete Your Prerequisite Classes

    You may not have been accepted into a nursing program if you haven’t finished your prerequisite classes for nursing school. Most programs have general prerequisite classes, but some programs may have specific classes they expect students to complete before acceptance.

    Schools usually look for a solid background in biology, physiology, and microbiology. Anatomy, math, statistics, chemistry, and sociology are also typically required. The program you apply to may also have requirements for nutrition and English, or they might require more credits in a specific subject.

    Ask the School What They Value in Their Students

    Generally speaking, schools value well-rounded students who have volunteer experience, good test scores, and meet the minimum GPA standards. It is in your best interest to speak with the admissions counselor to determine how highly each of the admission requirements is ranked.

    For example, while one program may weigh the GPA heavily in admission criteria, another may prefer students with experience in healthcare or give extra points to letters of reference. You can’t meet the criteria for admission until you know what it is.

    Take the Test of Essential Academic Skills

    Most schools want you to have a good grade on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). TEAS assesses your math, science, reading, English, and language skills. Nursing programs use this to estimate how well you’ll do in the nursing program.

    You can choose to take the exam in person or remotely at an institution where the test is proctored. Each section of the test is timed. Students should prepare for at least six weeks to take the exam, which has 170 questions in multiple-choice format.

    Apply to Several Programs

    You may have your heart set on a specific nursing program, but you increase your chance of success by applying to several nursing schools and different programs. For example, don’t just apply to bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs. Include associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs as well. This strategy increases the potential you’ll be admitted to a program where you can graduate and be licensed as a registered nurse (RN).

    If you are admitted to an ADN program, you can work and attend an RN-to-BSN or RN to master’s bridge program, depending on your career goals.

    Pay close attention to the application process. Nothing messes up your chances for admission faster than not thoroughly completing the application. For example, if the school requires three letters of reference, send the correct number of letters.

    Some programs are also interviewing applicants before offering a place in the program. Prepare well for the interview since it will likely make a difference in their decision.

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    Be Open to Relocation

    As you are considering nursing school programs, look outside your geographical area. Consider applying for a spot in a program where there isn’t as much competition. For example, if you live in New York City, think about applying to schools in the surrounding states.

    Although you’ll be charged out-of-state tuition, you may be able to make up the extra charges in scholarship awards and grants for nurses.

    Do Not Give Up

    At first, a nursing school rejection can make you feel defeated and crushed, but there is hope. The additional experience and education you can gain before the next round of applications can boost your chances for admission. It also gives you greater confidence and awareness.

    After being rejected from a nursing program, some students have found that they were more motivated to achieve their goals and worked harder once admitted.

    Without a doubt, getting a rejection letter is crushing. All your hopes and dreams for the coming months are suddenly put on hold, and you’re facing an uncertain future. But, you can try again.

    The healthcare field desperately needs new nurses who are excited to participate in patient care and nursing leadership. It may take a few more months than you had planned to achieve your goal, but it is achievable when you apply yourself to becoming the best applicant possible.

    In Summary:

    • The American Academy of Colleges of Nurses found 80,407 qualified nursing applicants were denied admission in 2019 because nursing schools didn’t have adequate numbers of teaching staff.
    • You can raise your chances of admission by taking steps to improve your application.
    • Gain experience through a CNA program and work before the next application process.
    • Complete all the prerequisite classes for the program and raise your GPA by retaking classes you got below a B.
    • Prepare for and take the TEAS.
    • Apply to several programs in the area and the surrounding states to raise your chance of admission. Consider applying to both ADN and BSN programs.