Applying to Nursing School as a First-Generation Nursing Student

Rebecca Munday
Updated July 6, 2023
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Being a first-generation college student and getting into nursing school are hard. Find out what you should know to prepare for, get into, and pay for school.
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You may have decided to become a nurse but don’t know where to start. No one in your family has been to college, navigated the rigorous path to becoming a nurse, or knows any of the nursing-specific terms that come with it. Applying and paying for nursing school can seem daunting at first without the right information.

Nursing programs don’t make it easy, either. Unclear admissions processes may make you feel unsupported and isolated when you don’t have family members with college experience.

Explore our guide to learn what it takes to get into nursing school, including how to prepare, apply, and pay for your nursing degree.

Preparing to Apply for Nursing School

After you decide to become a nurse, you can start to think about the:

You can choose from several different paths into the nursing field. You can become a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in 1-2 years by completing an LPN program and earning your license. Some nursing students choose to become certified nursing assistants (CNAs), which can take 1-16 weeks. Then, they work as CNAs while in nursing school to gain experience.

Training to become a registered nurse (RN) will take you 2-4 years, depending on whether you start with your associate degree in nursing (ADN) or earn your bachelor’s in nursing (BSN) right away. Most employers require or prefer nurses with their BSN, but you can sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and earn your RN license with an ADN.

Some choose to get their ADN first, so they can start working as a nurse sooner and enroll in an RN-to-BSN program later in their career. You’ll need a BSN to get an advanced degree, earn higher salaries, or pursue leadership positions. Whether you choose an ADN or BSN program, you’ll have to complete nursing school prerequisites such as statistics, psychology, and anatomy and physiology. You should also decide if you want to enroll in a part or full-time nursing program. A part-time program can be an excellent option if you wish to continue working while in school. Nursing schools may also offer in- person, online, or hybrid programs for additional flexibility. These options make it easier to complete your degree if you have other responsibilities such as work or family.

You’re ready to start applying to nursing programs after you:

  • Know whether to want to start out as an LPN or RN
  • Choose the program(s) that meet requirements and your needs
  • Complete your prerequisites with at least a grade C or better
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Applying for Nursing School

Nursing programs’ application requirements vary by school. Read them carefully to make sure you complete your application correctly. Incomplete or incorrectly completed applications will not be considered. Your nursing program application has similar requirements as your college application.

Common Admission Materials and Requirements

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    Admissions Application

    This multiple-page online form requests information like your name, contact information, and area of study. Fill out the application completely and accurately. If you’re not ready to hit submit on your partially complete application, many applications allow you to create an account, save it, and come back later.
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    Letters of Recommendation

    These letters show the nursing program that other people, such as your teachers and supervisors at community service or work, think that you can succeed in nursing school. Make sure you ask people you know well to objectively speak about the skills and qualities you have that would make you a good fit for the program.
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    Proof of Previous Degree

    Transcripts show that you have the required education to start the next level of education. Carefully read your nursing program’s instructions for submitting your transcripts. If your program requires official transcripts, do not submit unofficial transcripts or official transcripts in an envelope that the seal has been broken.
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    Grade Point Average or GPA

    Your nursing program application will ask for your high school or college GPA depending on your education level. You will have to report it in your admissions application, and it will appear on your transcripts. Your GPA shows you did well in your previous degree or prerequisite courses.
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    Personal Essay or Statement of Purpose

    You need to answer a question that the nursing program provides you in 300-1000 words. The application questions vary, but often ask why you want to become a nurse and why you choose a specific program. Make your personal statement stand out by talking about your passion for nursing, relevant personal experiences, and reasons why you choose that nursing program.
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    Entrance Exam Scores

    Your nursing application may ask for your entrance exam scores to demonstrate basic math, reading, english proficiency, and health science skills. Common entrance exams include the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) and Health Education Systems, Inc. Admission Assessment (HESI). Prepare for these exams with practice tests, test books, study guides, and online videos.
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    Volunteer Experience

    Healthcare-related volunteer experience is required or optional depending on the program. Some programs require 100 or more hours of volunteer experience. Experience with the Red Cross, hospitals, or nursing homes can make your application stand out. For each volunteer experience, document where, when, how many hours, and what you did.
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    Admissions Interview

    The admissions interviewer wants to learn more about you as a well-rounded person and why you want to become a nurse. This helps them determine if you’re a good fit for the program. Prepare for the admissions interview by understanding its format, reviewing potential questions, and practicing your answers ahead of time.

Paying for Nursing School

You’ve applied for nursing school and maybe even received a coveted acceptance letter. But, now you have to figure out how to pay the $8,000-$120,000 in tuition, room, and board to become a registered nurse depending on whether you:

  • Earn an ADN or BSN
  • Attend a public or private school
  • Qualify for in-state tuition

This price range does not include the supplies, books, or uniforms you’ll need. If you do not live on campus or attend online nursing school, you may not pay room, board, or other university fees. But, you may have to find your own housing and transportation, which adds additional costs.

The good news is you have several options for paying for nursing school such as grants, scholarships, and student loans to help cover tuition, room, board, and school supplies. Review our guide to financial aid for nurses to learn more about applying for financial aid.

Your first step in applying for financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA asks for information about your financial needs and sources of income to determine what financial aid you qualify for. Make sure you know the FAFSA deadline, which is October 1 through June 30 of the following year. Find out what federal and state financial aid you qualify for by filling out the FAFSA. Some states may require you to fill out additional forms to receive state aid.

Then, you can apply for scholarships for first-generation students. You do not have to repay scholarships and grants in most cases unless you do not complete the service agreement or degree. You can apply for federal student loans or private student loans. Federal student loans are eligible for student loan forgiveness programs.

Unfortunately, financial aid does not always cover all your expenses during school. Sometimes, you have to take out extra loans to cover these costs, but that doesn’t mean you have to let your loans impact your life. Some tips for paying off loans quicker include:

Frequently Asked Questions about Getting into Nursing School

What type of nurse is most in demand?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects higher-than-average job growth for nurses across all degree levels and specialties from 2021-2031. Yet, nurse practitioners, who earn either a master’s degree or doctorate, are the highest in demand. BLS projects 46% for nurse practitioners between 2021-2031.

What is a 2 year nurse called?

A nurse with a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) program and an RN license is called a registered nurse. Nurses with an ADN can work in the same specialties as nurses with BSN degrees, but they typically earn lower salaries and have to go back to school before they can pursue leadership positions.

What’s the fastest way to become a nurse?

The fastest way to become a registered nurse is through a two-year ADN program. If you want to enter the nursing field more quickly, licensed practical nursing (LPN) programs only take one year. But, LPNs do not have as many career opportunities or earn as high of salaries as registered nurses do.

How do I stand out when applying to nursing school?

You can stand out when applying to nursing school by including documented employment or volunteer experience with places like your local homeless shelter, nursing home, hospital, health department, or the Red Cross.

Volunteer experience shows you’re compassionate and committed to helping others and may give you valuable skills or references when you apply for nursing school. Employment experience as a certified nursing assistant (CNA), patient care technician, or even in meal service can demonstrate your ability to work in a health setting and interact with patients.

Check Out Our Top Nursing Programs

Page last reviewed on February 1, 2023

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