What Are the Prerequisites for Nursing School?

Updated September 26, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC
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This guide explores some of the most common prerequisites for nursing school admission. Discover what classes and requirements you need before you apply.

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What Are the Prerequisites for Nursing School?
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Once you have decided on a nursing career, figure out what it takes to get into the school of your choice. Although every nursing school has slightly different entrance requirements, all programs share similar nursing prerequisites for college-level work.

This guide can help you understand nursing school requirements and the type of academic preparation needed before applying to nursing school.

Why Nursing School Prerequisites Matter

Nursing school prerequisites provide applicants with foundational knowledge and showcase their commitment to the field. While each nursing program’s acceptance criteria may differ, the importance of completing those prerequisites is universal. Meeting these criteria provides the following benefits:

1 Academic Foundation

Prerequisites provide students with background knowledge they can build upon in advanced nursing courses.

2 Educational Prowess

Successfully completing prerequisite courses provides admissions counselors with information regarding the applicant’s academic ability.

3 Commitment

Completing prerequisites highlights the applicant's motivation, illustrating their desire to enter the nursing field.

4 Terminology

Prerequisite courses provide students with a basic understanding of medical terminology that allow them to succeed in more advanced medical courses.

5 Broad Perspective

Some of the courses offer students a broad perspective on math and science rather than solely focusing on nursing. Having a comprehensive grasp of the basics benefits nursing students academically and professionally.

When and Where Do You Take Nursing School Prerequisites?

Learners can fulfill nursing school requirements in several ways. Students are often able to complete course prerequisites at the beginning of their associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs. Some institutions may even allow high school courses to fulfill certain nursing prerequisites.

Prospective nurses can also complete prerequisites by enrolling in a community college that offers pre-nursing associate programs. Many of these programs design their courses to fulfill the nursing prerequisites needed to pursue a BSN.

Students with a non-nursing degree can enroll in a post-baccalaureate program to fulfill the course requirements at an accelerated pace.

Regardless of where and how applicants complete prerequisites, most institutions require candidates to complete these courses within the past five years.

Common Nursing School Prerequisites

While prerequisites vary from one institution to the next, programs often require similar courses due to their importance to the field of nursing. Whether pursuing anassociate degree or abachelor's degree, orcompleting courses online or in-person, most institutions mandate the completion of similar coursework to ensure students have the appropriate background to succeed.

Even though admission into a BSN program is more competitive, associate and bachelor programs prepare their students for the samelicensing exam (NCLEX), making the prerequisite coursework vital for both.

Because nursing school requirements vary by degree level and institution, always check the school's website for up-to-date admission eligibility. Below are common nursing school prerequisites.

Anatomy and Physiology

This course studies the structure and functions of the human body and introduces students to basic terminology. Topics include the human skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems and the impact of diseases on certain systems. Students learn to use lab equipment, prepare lab reports, and conduct research and dissection projects. The advanced course covers the human cardiovascular, digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems. Laboratory courses must be taken concurrently with lecture courses.

Required Semesters/Credits: 1-2 semesters

Example Courses: Introduction to human anatomy and physiology, human anatomy and physiology lab 1, advanced topics in human anatomy and physiology, human anatomy and physiology lab 2

Biology

General biology covers the five kingdoms of life, cell structures, taxonomy and reproduction, evolution, ecology, and an introduction to genetics. Introductory biology courses provide nurses with key foundational knowledge. General biology courses also require a laboratory component, which allow students to gain experience handling biological samples.

Required Semesters/Credits: Two semesters

Example Courses: General biology, biology lab, elementary microbiology, microbiology lab

Microbiology

Microbiology focuses on the study of organisms that are not visible to the naked eye (microorganisms), such as bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Courses in microbiology instruct potential nurses on the classification of microorganisms, reproduction of pathogens, the chain of infection, immunology, and human disease. Understanding the behavior of microorganisms and the diseases they can cause provides nurses with insight into how to control and avoid the spread of infection. These courses often include a lab requirement that helps nurses identify and eliminate dangerous microorganisms.

Required Semesters/Credits: One semester with lab

Example Courses: Elementary microbiology, introductory, microbiology, microbiology lab

Chemistry

Nurses must study chemistry to understand processes that take place in the human body at the cellular level. Chemistry courses introduce prospective registered nurses (RNs) to the structures and properties of atoms, ions, molecules, and biological substances and mixtures (both inorganic and organic). The courses teach students how to write balanced chemical equations for reactions of inorganic, organic, and biological substances. Laboratory components, often taken concurrently with lectures, focus on the analysis and reporting of experimental data.

Required Semesters/Credits: One semester with lab

Example Courses: Introduction to chemistry, chemistry for nurses, organic chemistry, chemistry lab

English Composition

Most associate and bachelor's programs require two semesters of English composition or a similar writing course. These courses are commonly taken in the first two semesters. For nursing students, mastery of writing and communication skills forms an important part of their training. It enables them to convey information clearly and objectively to patients, doctors, and other healthcare providers. Courses often cover writing skills, such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation, critical thinking, and practice in writing research reports.

Required Semesters/Credits: Two semesters

Example Courses: English composition I, English composition II, professional writing for nurses, communication and writing for healthcare professionals

Lifespan Growth and Development

This course, often included among the prerequisites for RN programs, presents an overview of human growth from conception to death and how human beings change over the course of their lifespan. Course topics explore biosocial, cognitive, and psychological development at each life stage, emphasizing the connections between heredity and environmental factors.

Required Semesters/Credits: One semester

Example Courses: Lifespan developmental psychology, human growth and development

Nutrition

Nutrition prerequisites provide a strong grounding in nutritional science and an understanding of the dietary principles that impact the quality of patient care. A basic nutrition course introduces nursing students to the principles of nutrition and nutritional requirements as they relate to changing health needs across the lifespan. Coursework examines food choices and health-related behaviors, prevention of chronic disease, food safety, nutrition challenges in underrepresented communities, and nutrition-related applications in public health settings.

Required Semesters/Credits: One semester

Example Courses: Fundamentals of nutrition, nutrition science for nurses

Psychology

Introductory general psychology introduces nursing students to the basic principles that form the science of psychology. This course focuses on topics like human growth and development, behavior, learning, memory, and intelligence. Course content includes research methods and psychological testing, neuroscience, personality theory and behavioral approaches, social psychology, and psychological disorders and therapeutic treatments.

Required Semesters/Credits: One semester

Example Courses: General psychology, introduction to psychology, psychology for nurses

Statistics

Knowledge of statistics helps nurses to apply evidence-based practice to patient care delivery. The course prepares students to identify patterns in vital signs and symptoms, adjust dosage of medications, and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments. Statistics courses also introduce students to the science of collecting, analyzing, and making conclusions from data. Nursing students gain a working understanding of terms such as mean, median, and mode and concepts such as "validity" and "reliability" which are necessary to evaluate research.

Required Semesters/Credits: One semester

Example Courses: Introduction to statistics, introductory statistics for nurses

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Other Nursing School Requirements

In addition to the prerequisites for nursing discussed above, students need to meet other nursing school requirements. For instance, most schools require a grade of "C" or better in these general education and science courses. ADN programs often admit students with an overall high school GPA between 2.5 and 2.75, while BSN degrees require at least a 3.0 GPA. More selective undergraduate programs may require GPAs of 3.25 or higher.

Nursing schools often ask for an essay describing educational and career goals. You can make these stand out from the competition by explaining why you want to attend this particular program, how you became interested in nursing, and what personal or volunteer experiences helped you expand your interest in healthcare.

Although many schools no longer require standardized tests, students who score well on the SAT or ACT may choose to submit these results to boost their chances or offset weaknesses in their academic record. Some nursing schools require entrance exams, such as the National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam or the Nursing Entrance Test to determine an applicant's likelihood of success. Check with your intended schools to learn about any examination requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing School Prerequisites


How do I start nursing school?

The very first step is to get a high school diploma or GED certificate. Once you make up your mind about becoming an RN, you should investigate the type of degree program you want to enter. Then, check with schools that interest you about nursing prerequisites and other requirements.

When do you take nursing school prerequisites?

Most students complete their nursing school prerequisites in their first two years of undergraduate study before officially declaring a major. Nursing schools often recommend students have experience in statistics, biology, and chemistry, which students often complete in high school. However, these courses can also be taken in the first years of undergraduate study without delaying a student’s acceptance into a nursing program.

Do nursing prerequisites transfer?

The very first step is to get a high school diploma or GED certificate. Once you make up your mind about becoming an RN, you should investigate the type of degree program you want to enter. Then, check with schools that interest you about nursing prerequisites and other requirements.


Page last reviewed: 9/7/2022


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