What Are the Prerequisites for Nursing School?

Gayle Morris, MSN
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Updated November 14, 2023
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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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Once you have decided on a nursing career, figure out what classes you must pass to get into the program of your choice. Although every nursing school has slightly different entrance requirements, all programs share similar nursing prerequisites you need to pass with a C grade or better at the college level.

This guide can help you understand nursing school requirements and the type of academic preparation necessary to apply to nursing school.

Why Nursing School Prerequisites Matter

Nursing school prerequisites provide applicants with foundational knowledge and demonstrate 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. 1

    Academic Foundation

    Prerequisites provide students with background knowledge to build upon in advanced nursing courses.
  2. 2

    Educational Prowess

    Successfully completing prerequisite courses assures admissions counselors of the applicant’s academic ability.
  3. 3

    Commitment

    Completing prerequisites highlights the applicant’s motivation, illustrating their desire to enter the nursing field.
  4. 4

    Terminology

    Prerequisite courses provide students with a basic understanding of medical terminology that helps them succeed in more advanced medical courses.
  5. 5

    Broad Perspective

    Some 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.

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When and Where Do You Take Nursing School Prerequisites?

Learners can fulfill nursing school requirements in several ways. Students may 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.

Future 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 have completed these courses within the past five years.

Common Nursing School Prerequisites

While prerequisites vary by institution, programs often require similar courses because of their importance in the field. Whether pursuing an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree, completing courses online or in-person, most institutions mandate similar coursework to ensure students have the appropriate background for success.

Even though admission into a BSN program is more competitive, associate and bachelor’s programs prepare their students for the same NCLEX licensing exam, making the prerequisite coursework vital for degrees.

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: 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 allows students to gain experience handling biological samples.

  • Required Semesters: Two semesters
  • Example Courses: General biology, biology lab, introduction to biology, foundations of biology

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: 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: 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, writing and communication skills form an important part of their training. These skills enable nurses to convey information clearly and objectively to patients, physicians, 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: 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: 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: One semester
  • Example Courses: Fundamentals of nutrition, nutrition science for nurses

Psychology

Introductory general psychology explores 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: One semester
  • Example Courses: General psychology, introduction to psychology, psychology for nurses

Statistics

Knowledge of statistics helps nurses apply evidence-based practice to patient care delivery. The course prepares students to identify patterns in vital signs and symptoms, adjust the 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: One semester
  • Example Courses: Introduction to statistics, introductory statistics for nurses

Other Nursing School Requirements

In addition to prerequisites for nursing, students need to meet other nursing school requirements. For instance, most schools require a C grade 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 expand your interest in healthcare.

Although many schools no longer require standardized tests, students who score well on the SAT or ACT may 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 involves earning a high school diploma or GED certificate. Once you decide to become an RN, investigate the type of degree program that fits your career goals. Then, explore schools that offer this degree. Inquire about nursing prerequisites and other admissions requirements to increase your chances of getting accepted into the nursing program.

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.

What if my GPA is too low for nursing school?

First, identify why your GPA was low. If it was for a specific reason, write a personal statement to explain why it happened and point out your grades outside the event. Take a couple general classes to raise your GPA. Meet with the admission counselor and ask for advice. Become a CNA and advance your education from there. Finally, consider schools that look at more than your grades and might accept a lower GPA.

What is the hardest nursing prerequisite?

For most, the hardest prerequisite class is statistics. Some aspiring nurses must take the class several times to obtain a passing grade. The class involves a lot of technical terms in an area of study outside nursing and human health. Data sets are complicated, and you need a good understanding of probability theory and linear algebra.


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Page last reviewed on October 19, 2023

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