Applying to Nursing School

NurseJournal Staff
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Updated June 28, 2024
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    Wondering how to apply for nursing school? This guide explains different nursing programs and tips and advice for how to get into nursing schools.
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    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Featured ImageCredit: SDI Productions | E+ | Getty Images

    Are you considering a nursing career or wondering how to apply to nursing school? Now is a great time to get started. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of registered nurse (RN) jobs is projected to grow by 6% from 2021-2031. That means the industry could add over 203,000 RN positions.

    Before beginning your nursing career, you must obtain the right diploma or degree. Earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is one common pathway to entering the nursing industry. Candidates interested in advanced positions should consider pursuing a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate.

    Individuals can also enter the field through programs for nursing assistants, practical or vocational nurses, and two-year associate degrees. Some learners may choose to attend nursing school online, which offers the same education as traditional, on-campus programs.

    Read on to learn how to apply to nursing school and choose a program that suits your professional interests.

    Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

    Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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    What to Do Before Applying to Nursing School

    Before applying to nursing schools, carefully examine each institution’s academic prerequisites. Prospective undergraduates should obtain their high school transcripts, while MSN applicants should contact their previous schools for their official undergraduate transcripts.

    You should also take the appropriate entrance exam. These may include the ACT, SAT, and GRE, depending on the program. Many programs will require a specific nursing entrance exam, such as the HESI, ATI, TEAS, NLN Pre-Admission Exam (PAX), Nursing Entrance Test (NET), or Kaplan Admissions Test. In addition, you will likely need to submit one or more letters of recommendation with your nursing application.

    Feeling overwhelmed? Check out our helpful breakdown of a nursing school application timeline.

    Pick a Career Path

    “Nurse” is a catch-all term that actually encapsulates several different roles: certified nursing assistant (CNA), licensed practical or vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), registered nurse (RN), or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

    Consider each type of job and decide your professional ambitions before heading to nursing school. Your educational requirements depend on which career path you want to pursue. Many nurses — especially APRNs — choose to pursue a specialty area or serve a particular patient demographic. You can read about more different nursing speciality options here.

    As the next section demonstrates, educational requirements vary greatly according to position. Entry-level nurses do not necessarily need a full bachelors degree to earn certification or licensure. APRNs, however, must complete additional education before pursuing a master’s degree and a nursing license.

    Choose a Nursing Degree Type

    Defining your career goals can help you determine which degree you should pursue. While prospective CNAs and LPN/LVNs can enroll in educational programs specifically for those positions, aspiring RNs can either pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree prepares candidates to become nurse practitioners or other nursing specialties such as nurse executive, informatics specialist, nurse educator, or public health.

    Nursing School Admission Requirements

    Requirements for applying to nursing school vary by program, and every institution maintains different admission guidelines. Be sure to double check your prospective school’s requirements before applying.

    The list below includes some common requirements to get into nursing school:

    • Admissions application
    • Previous academic degree (a high school diploma for undergraduate programs, and bachelor’s degree for graduate school)
    • Minimum GPA that meets your prospective program’s requirements
    • Personal essay or statement of purpose
    • Letters of recommendation
    • Volunteer experience documentation
    • Entrance exam scores
    • Application fees
    • Admissions interviews

    Nursing Volunteer Work

    Some programs include anywhere from 100 hours to several hundred volunteer hours among their nursing school requirements. Volunteer work can also help your nursing application stand out from others.

    Search for volunteer opportunities at hospitals or senior care facilities in your community. You might find other volunteer positions with the Red Cross, at homeless shelters, or in community health organizations. If you feel a bit more adventurous and can dedicate the time, you might even consider spending your summer volunteering for an overseas healthcare organization.

    Nursing School Interview Process

    Some nursing schools require interviews with one or more faculty members as part of their admissions process. While applicants must sometimes travel to campus for this requirement, some programs conduct virtual interviews.

    While an interview may seem intimidating, plenty of preparation can help you keep nerves at bay. Although it is impossible to know exactly what questions the interview will include, you can likely expect to answer questions like: “Why did you choose nursing?” or “How would you face a certain challenge?” You may also be asked to describe yourself and your professional goals.

    There are other ways to ensure you are prepared for your interview. Arrive early, for example, and dress professionally. Do enough research to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable about your prospective program and current trends in the nursing industry.

    Nursing School Entrance Exams

    Most colleges and universities expect all undergraduate applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. While master’s and doctoral program applicants are generally required to provide GRE scores, some nursing program requirements allow prospective graduate students to apply without submitting test results.

    Nursing schools may also require specialized entrance exams that measure abilities like communication, critical thinking, and core healthcare related subjects. These exams include the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam (NLN PAX) or the Nursing Entrance Test (NET), which focus on math and science. Some CNA and LPN/LVN programs require the Test of Academic Skills (TEAS), which evaluates students’ foundational knowledge in science, math, and reading.

    Fortunately, test preparation materials are available to help you study for these exams. Educational companies provide books and online materials, including practice exams, so students can feel confident on test day. Remember to give yourself plenty of time to study.

    Questions About Applyiing to Nursing School


    What can I do to increase my chances of getting into nursing school?

    Improve your chances of getting into nursing school by taking math and science courses — especially biology and human anatomy — and maintaining a high GPA. You can establish foundational skills in the field by first becoming a CNA or an LPN. You can also volunteer at a hospital to gain knowledge about nursing and the healthcare industry.

    When should you apply for nursing school?

    While deadlines differ by school, the earlier you apply, the better. If you are considering a program with a fall start date, try applying for nursing school the winter before. If the school requires recommendation letters, give your references at least one month’s notice before you plan to submit your nursing application.

    Is nursing school hard to get into?

    This depends on the school and your own perspective. Generally, CNA and LPN/LVN programs feature the least stringent admission requirements. Some nursing schools expect applicants to provide higher GPAs and entrance exam scores than others.

    What should I know before applying to nursing school?

    Writing essays, tracking down recommendations, and studying for entrance exams all demand a considerable amount of time and effort. In addition, nursing school costs can add up quickly. Check with your prospective school to see if financial aid is available.

    Can you get a nursing degree online?

    Yes. Many schools offer web-based nursing programs, which allow students to complete coursework online. However, distance learners must usually complete a supervised clinical component on location. Most schools let online students perform their clinical work at a healthcare facility in their own town or locality.

    Paying for Nursing School

    Paying for nursing school can be challenging for many candidates. While tuition costs remain relatively low for CNA and LPN/LVN students, tuition for undergraduate and graduate degree-seekers can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

    Fortunately, there are different opportunities to help learners pay for nursing school. Look for scholarships from your school, professional associations, nonprofit foundations, special interest groups, and other organizations. While you can find scholarship information all over the internet, it may be helpful to start your search right here.

    You might also apply for federal grants, or explore work-study options. In addition, many students take out loans from the government, which they must pay back after graduation. Get more information about your federal financial aid opportunities by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.