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How to Get Into CRNA School: Nurse Anesthetist Degree Requirements and Timeline

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
Updated April 15, 2024
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Learn how to get into CRNA school, what CRNAs do, and how to create an application that helps you stand out as a CRNA school applicant.
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If you want to get into CRNA school, it’s important to be meticulous about your application. This guide discusses how to get into CRNA school and how to become a nurse anesthetist.

We’ll dive into what to expect from your program, the courses you’ll take, the skills you’ll learn, and the granular details of the application process.

How Can I Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

Becoming a CRNA is a lengthy process that rewards persistence, dedication, ambition, and time management. If you want to become a CRNA, you must understand how clinical experience will strengthen your application.

After completing your CRNA DNP program, you will earn your license by passing the National Certification Exam (NCE) for nurse anesthetists, and submit a license application to the state where you reside. Each state’s requirements may be slightly different, and you can get that information from your state’s board of nursing. Once licensed, you will enter a job market where the average annual salary for nurse anesthetists is $212,650. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting 38% job growth for nurse anesthetists through 2032, there is great opportunity to create a highly rewarding and well-paying career.

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What Should I Expect from a Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Program?

7-8.5 years
How Long to Become

According to the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA), becoming a CRNA involves 7 – 8.5 years of education, 25-51 months of which is within the CRNA program itself.

Most programs require an absolute minimum of one year of ICU experience, but some nurses may wait until they have much more experience in order to be more competitive in the application process.

Accredited nurse anesthetist programs need at least 2000 hours of clinicals. However, many programs elect to require more. AANA states that the average number of clinical hours accumulated by CRNA program graduates is 9,369. In 2025, all graduating CRNAs will be required to have a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) — therefore, since 2022, all students entering CRNA programs are on a DNP track. CRNA program curricula include classroom hours, simulation lab, and clinical practicum hours. Program coursework generally includes anesthesiology, pain management, leadership, advanced pharmacology, healthcare policy, advanced physiology and pathophysiology, and numerous hands-on simulation/practicum hours.

Typically Required Courses

  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Advanced physiology and pathophysiology
  • Pain management
  • Leadership
  • Anesthesiology

Key Skills You’ll Learn

  • Anesthesia induction
  • Intubation
  • Patient assessment before, during, and post-anesthesia
  • Titration of anesthesia during surgery
  • Administering precisely calculated amounts of anesthetic medications

What are the Requirements to Get into Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) School?

Students applying to a CRNA program will encounter varying requirements depending on the school. These may include:

  • Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Active unrestricted RN license
  • At least 2-3 years of critical care experience
  • GPA of at least 3.0 and a GRE score of at least 300 (if required)
  • Prerequisite coursework
  • Current BLS, ACLS, and PALS, and CCRN certifications
  • Shadow a CRNA for at least 8-40 hours
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Admissions essay and interview (if invited)
  • Current resume or curriculum vitae (CV)

1 | Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)

To apply for a CRNA program, you need a BSN. Since CRNA programs are highly competitive and academically rigorous, most schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0.

How to Stand Out: A high GPA demonstrates strong academic skills. A student can also get involved in student-based leadership activities, be inducted into Sigma Theta Tau or other nursing honor societies, and otherwise try to excel in classrooms and clinicals. Volunteer hours and community activities related to healthcare also strengthen your application. Everything in this step could and should be on your CV, which may be part of your required application materials depending on the program you apply to.

2 | Active Unrestricted RN License

If you’re a nurse practitioner, an unencumbered RN license is a crucial part of how to get into CRNA school. An unrestricted RN license is a registered nursing license free of limitations, restrictions, or disciplinary actions.

A CRNA program would not choose a student whose licensing record demonstrates substance use, disciplinary issues, or other infractions that have impacted the nurse’s ability to practice safely. It is always in the best interest of every nurse to maintain a clean and infraction-free license at all times.

3 | At Least One Year of Independent Critical Care Experience

Critical care experience provides CRNA applicants with crucial exposure to the care of critically ill patients. While most schools require one year of critical care experience, some may require more. Since a nurse’s first six months in critical care are focused on orientation and learning, it will actually take at least 18 months to achieve one year of independent experience caring for critical care patients. According to Nurse Journal’s interview with CRNA instructor and expert Nancy A. Moriber, Ph.D., CRNA, APRN, FAANA, nurses can improve their chances of admission by accumulating at least 2-3 years of focused critical care experience.

Dr. Moriber states, “Some programs will be more inclined to take nurses that come out of the CTICU (the cardiothoracic intensive care unit) or the surgical intensive care unit, while other programs don’t necessarily negate something like neonatal intensive care or pediatric intensive care experience.”

How to Stand Out: Moriber advises that being able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of hemodynamics, invasive monitoring, arterial lines, pulmonary artery catheters, balloon pumps, LVADs, and other critical care technologies is essential for success as a CRNA program applicant. She stresses that it’s not as much the type of unit as the skills and knowledge that the applicant has accumulated while caring for patients.

“It’s not necessarily the unit you’re in, it’s the level of acuity of the patient. How sick are the patients? What are you getting to see?”

–Nancy A. Moriber PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAANA

4 | GPA of at least 3.0 and GRE Score of at least 300 (if required)

Since CRNA programs are highly competitive and academically rigorous, most schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0, although striving for a higher GPA could boost your application further. Not all programs require applicants to take the GRE. Schools that do require it ask that applicants earn a combined score of at least 300. Students may sit for the GRE exam up to five times per year, with 21 days between any two attempts.

How to Stand Out: Achieving the highest possible academic success involves intense focus and discipline. Being a member of a study group can be helpful, as well as studying in a manner that fits with your personal learning style. GRE prep courses and tutors or coaches can assist in preparing you for this high-stakes exam.

5 | Prerequisite Coursework

Successful completion of prerequisite coursework is central to most CRNA program applications. In terms of how current those courses should be, make sure you took them within the past 2-7 years prior to applying.

Individual programs’ requirements will vary. Depending on each program, prerequisite coursework may include:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Human growth and development
  • Nutrition
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Statistics
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Chemistry and/or organic chemistry
  • Research
  • Physics

How to Stand Out: Achieving the highest grades possible will strengthen a candidate’s GPA, and having taken a few core graduate-level courses such as statistics or chemistry may be impressive in terms of standing out from other candidates.

6 | Current BLS, ACLS, PALS, and CCRN certifications

Most CRNA programs will require applicants to have certifications in BLS and ACLS prior to the first day of classes, and some may also require PALS. These certifications must remain current throughout the duration of the program.

How to Stand Out: Not all programs will require all of these certifications, including PALS and CCRN. One way to stand out from other candidates and demonstrate your commitment to critical care nursing, evidence-based practice, and becoming an expert in the field is to obtain CCRN certification from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) and PALS from the American Heart Association.

“There are other certifications out there that students can achieve, and I recommend that you get certified in whatever you can get certified in.”

–Nancy A. Moriber PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAANA

7 | Shadow a CRNA for at Least Eight Hours to 40 Hours

Shadowing a CRNA demonstrates you’re serious enough about anesthesia nursing and taking the time to discover as much about the CRNA role as possible. Shadowing at a prestigious academic institution may also be helpful.

Dr. Moriber recommends shadowing at different times of day in order to experience as much variety as possible. There are many aspects of the life of a CRNA that are challenging, and it’s important for the candidate to have a realistic view of the position. She states, “A good mentor is going to tell you all the amazing things about being a CRNA, and they’re also going to tell you some of the things that present challenges in our profession.”

How to Stand Out: Spending more time than required shadowing a CRNA — or shadowing a CRNA even when it’s not required — are both strategies that may strengthen your application, as well as the ability to articulate knowledge of the role in a personal essay or during a CRNA program interview.

“If you find a mentor that doesn’t provide a balanced picture of the profession, I would find a new mentor, because they’re being unrealistic. They’re not telling you everything you need to know.”

–Nancy A. Moriber PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAANA

8 | Letters of Recommendation

Similarly to professional references provided on a job application, letters of recommendation show how an applicant is viewed by current or former colleagues, managers, professors, supervisors, mentors, or employers.

These letters should give clear insight into the applicant’s impact in the healthcare and nursing space and how others perceive the applicant as a professional.. Most programs require a letter of recommendation from your current nurse manager, but wise CRNA program applicants are very strategic in terms of whom they ask to write their other letters of recommendation.

“When you enter into the ICU setting, you need to set a timeline, and your nurse manager needs to understand what your future goals are so that they become part of the process.”

–Nancy A. Moriber PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAANA

9 | Admissions Essay and Interview (if invited)

A personal essay puts your writing skills to the test. It’s a chance to demonstrate your motivations, goals, history, and personality. It’s a chance to show you can communicate in a clear, concise, authentic, and professional style.

The essay should describe personal and professional characteristics that paint a picture of success as both a clinician and student. A carefully chosen and well-written story or anecdote can strengthen the essay’s impact.

A CRNA program interview gives administrators and instructors a chance to assess applicants in person or over video. Most interviewers will assess your body language, eye contact, hygiene and dress, responses to questions, and personality. A CRNA program interview is high stakes, and worthy of a great deal of preparation and practice.

How to Stand Out: Ways to make a strong impression during an interview include professional dress and demeanor, open body language and eye contact, and engaging, thoughtful, and genuine responses to questions. The personal essay and interview should tell an overall story of your goals, motivations, and strengths. Color it with stories or anecdotes that demonstrate clinical knowledge, commitment, and excellent skills in patient care, communication, leadership, and multidisciplinary collaboration.

“So you have to think about what you want to say, but you want to come to an interview really being genuine, be yourself.”

–Nancy A. Moriber PhD, CRNA, APRN, FAANA

10 | Current Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV)

A nursing resume provides a clear picture of your nursing career history, including education, employment, publications, professional affiliations, and areas of specific skill and knowledge. It also provides a window into how you represent yourself, and your skill in describing our career history in a concise, coherent, and compelling way.

How to Stand Out: Consider seeking professional assistance in making a well-written and well-designed resume, or research on your own how to craft a high-quality resume or CV. Sources of assistance include blogs, books, articles, videos, podcasts, and free and paid resume/CV templates.

How Will I Pay for My Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Program?

$60,502 per year
Average Cost of a DNP Program

Source: NCES, 2020

CRNA school can be costly. Yes, you can likely expect a relatively high salary once the CRNA program is completed, but having a plan to finance your nurse anesthetist education is prudent.

You can find financial aid, student loans, and scholarships from a variety of sources. Grants and scholarships are financial awards for education that do not need to be repaid.

Scholarships may be sponsored by governmental and non-governmental agencies, nonprofits, and other groups, including private entities and civic organizations. Student loans, on the other hand, must be repaid, whether they are private or through a government program.

The National Health Service Corps Scholarship Program (NHSC SP) awards scholarships that you can repay by working for a certain amount of time in health professional shortage areas (HPSAs).

Frequently Asked Questions about Getting into CRNA School

How do I get into CRNA school on the first try?

To get into CRNA school on the first try, many factors contribute to increasing the odds: An outstanding resume, personal essay, and letters of recommendation are all very important, as well as achieving the highest possible GPA and GRE scores. You should also shadow a CRNA and practice your program interview.

The candidate who wants to get into CRNA school on the first try must also be fully prepared to perform superlatively during their admissions interview and have significant time documented shadowing a CRNA.

Is it hard getting into CRNA school?

Getting into CRNA school can be hard because it is a competitive area of nursing. Applications to CRNA school require many clinical, professional, and academic components that contribute to a candidate’s potential to be accepted into a CRNA program.

Is it harder to become a CRNA or NP?

The difficulty of becoming a CRNA or an NP depends on the individual who is applying. Since 2022, all CRNA students must pursue a DNP in order to complete a CRNA program, whereas not all NPs are required to have a doctoral degree, although this will change by 2025. CRNA training also involves deeper and more intensive advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology, and the responsibilities assumed by CRNAs may appear more clinically challenging in some instances.

Is CRNA school harder than nursing school?

CRNA school will likely be seen by most people as harder than nursing school due to many factors, including the number of years needed to complete the program. The advanced nature of the required coursework (e.g., advanced pathophysiology) also makes CRNA school a significant academic and clinical challenge that builds upon previously attained experience and knowledge.

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Page last reviewed on October 12, 2023

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