Career Resources / How to Get Into Nursing School
Pursuing a career that allows you to help others in a medical setting can naturally lead you to consider nursing. Whether you want to work as a certified nurse assistant (CNA) or become a registered nurse (RN), nursing school is the first step in your journey.
Accredited nursing programs give you the skills and experience you need to succeed in your nursing role. If you’re wondering how you find the right nursing school and meet the prerequisites for admission, this article includes the following information:
- What are the steps for getting into nursing school?
- How do you find the right nursing school?
- What are the most common nursing degrees?
- What are the most common career paths?
- How do you pay for nursing school?
- What are the salary and job outlooks for nurses?
What are the steps for getting into nursing school?
There are six steps for preparing to get into nursing school. From earning your high school diploma (or GED) to researching the best schools that fit your budget, each step gets you closer to your goal of becoming a nurse.
Step 1 – Graduate high school or obtain your GED
Before you can apply for nursing school, you must first graduate from high school or obtain your General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Nursing schools may have a minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement, which can vary between programs.
Most CNA programs don’t have minimum GPA requirements. However, you can expect them from LPN and RN programs.
Step 2 – Determine if nursing school is right for you
Nursing school may not be the best option for you if you want to work in a healthcare career but not as a nurse. Nursing students must work hard and commit time and effort to their studies. Later, they must apply what they’ve learned during clinical rotations.
Ask yourself some tough questions before you decide to apply to nursing school:
- Do I really care about other people?
- Do I have the desire to help other people become healthy?
- Am I committed to continuing education to advance my skills and stay current in nursing best practices?
- Can I remove my ego from the situation to improve patient outcomes?
- Can I endure the long hours that often come with nursing?
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Step 3 – Research schools
One of the most important decisions you’ll make in the process is choosing the best nursing school. There are many good nursing programs available. Finding one that suits your career goals, and your budget is important.
Before you can choose a school, you need to decide what nursing degree you plan to pursue. Not all nursing programs offer every nursing degree. Consider the following when researching nursing schools:
- Does this nursing program provide the resources I need to succeed?
- Is this nursing program accredited?
- How long does the program take to complete?
- What specialties are offered?
- How much time is spent on clinical rotations?
Step 4 – Complete prerequisites
Nursing schools have different prerequisites depending on the type of degree you plan to pursue. Lower-level nursing degree programs usually expect applicants to complete general education courses like English and math, plus some science-based courses like anatomy and biology.
More advanced degree programs have specific requirements that depend on your nursing specialty. Prerequisites could include courses such as microbiology and physiology. If you don’t already meet the nursing prerequisites, you must earn the credits before you can apply to nursing school.
Step 5 – Fill out an application
Once you know where you want to attend and you’ve verified you meet all criteria, the next step is to fill out an application. You may want to speak with an admissions adviser before you apply to make sure you’ve met all prerequisites.
Most nursing school applications require the following:
- Official transcripts from your high school and any other college-level programs you’ve completed.
- A persuasive resume and statement of professional goals.
- Letters of recommendation (usually 2-3) from professional referrals.
Step 6 – Prepare for the interview
The final step is to prepare for your admissions interview. Nursing schools include interviews with prospective students to identify whether they are a good fit for the program.
You can best prepare for this part of the admissions process by doing the following:
- Be honest about your academic record. Grades aren’t the full picture of your ability to become a competent nurse. Don’t try to embellish your academic achievements. Just stick to the facts and be prepared to answer any questions the interviewer has about your past academic performance.
- Copy all important documents. Bring a copy of every required document to your interview. Having extra copies on hand can help if the interviewer doesn’t have access or for you to verify facts before you speak.
- Research the school thoroughly. Know what kinds of nursing programs and specialties they offer students so you can speak intelligently about how their school matches your nursing career goals.
- Sell yourself. No one knows your skills and strengths better than you. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn during the interview and share evidence of why you’re the perfect fit for their program.
How do you find the right nursing school?
There are some basic things to consider about nursing programs before applying. One of the most important factors is location. Nursing programs include academic courses and hands-on clinicals. Find one near your ideal location to make hands-on learning more convenient. You may want to look for hybrid programs that include some classes online.
In your research, you can also verify the program’s accreditation status. A few agencies include:
- National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (NLN CNEA)
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Accreditation Committee for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
Available degree programs
Make sure the schools you’re considering offer the nursing degree you want to earn. Some nursing programs are geared toward training CNAs and may not offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you want to advance your nursing career, you may want to see if the school offers a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
What are the most common nursing degrees?
You can earn a basic nursing diploma or go all the way to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Your choice depends on your nursing career goals. Here are the three most common nursing degrees and what you can do with them.
Certificate programs are intended for students who want to become CNAs. You can complete a nursing assistant certificate program in as little as 6 weeks. If the course is college or university-affiliated, you can earn college credits toward an advanced degree.
These programs can be offered as early as high school, but are also offered at the college level.
This program does not require any prerequisite courses.
With a nursing diploma you can become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). The courses you study relate directly to nursing. This means less time in school. LPN diploma programs can take less than 18 months to complete.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the next step in the academic ladder. Associate degrees focus on nursing courses as well as general education such as math and English. ADNs take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Some healthcare employers prefer RNs who have BSNs over ADNs. A BSN takes up to 4 years to complete and provides a more comprehensive education. In addition to learning about nursing best practices and anatomy and physiology, you also gain valuable leadership skills in a bachelor’s program.
If you already have your RN licensure, but not your bachelor’s degree, think about completing the RN to BSN program to advance your career.
What are the most common career paths?
Nursing career paths are personal and depend on several factors. What works best for you may not suit another person. Following is three of the most common nursing career paths to consider.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) complete a certificate program. CNAs do not need to be licensed to practice like some other nursing professionals. However, they must obtain certifications to prove competency.
Some of the tasks CNAs can perform include:
- Bathing and grooming patients
- Changing bed linens and cleaning patient rooms
- Checking vital signs
- Documenting patient information
- Moving or transporting patients
CNAs can work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), complete diplomas or associate’s degrees (depending on school and state of practice) and must pass the NCLEX exam to practice. Some of the tasks LPNs can perform include:
- Changing bandages
- Checking vitals
- Inserting catheters
- Providing basic patient care
- Placing IVs
- Administering medicine
- Obtaining lab specimens
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered Nurses (RNs) must complete a diploma program or earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to practice. Some nurses start as CNAs or LPNs and work toward their RN licensure to advance their careers.
RNs have more responsibilities, including:
- Administering medications
- Assisting with medical procedures
- Drawing blood and other samples for lab testing
- Creating care plans for patients as part of a healthcare team
- Educating patients and caregivers on treatment plans
- Supervising LPNs/LVNs, CNAs, and nursing students
How do you pay for nursing school?
How you pay for nursing school is as important as choosing the right nursing program. You can take out federal and private loans and may qualify for grants and scholarships.
Scholarships are free money you can get to pay for your nursing degree that doesn’t need to be paid back. Some nursing programs award scholarships to students who meet academic criteria.
You can research to find the best scholarships to meet your needs with this tool to quickly identify options.
Grants can be given at the local, state, and federal levels by nonprofit organizations and private institutions. Like scholarships, they are free money you don’t have to repay.
Many grants come with academic or other performance criteria to qualify. Others may be needs-based according to your income.
Student loans (FAFSA/Private)
Student loans and other private loans pay for the bulk of most nursing students’ schooling. To determine how much you qualify for in federal student loans, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
When you complete the FAFSA form, you’ll automatically receive information about state and federal grant programs for which you qualify.
Private loans are often obtained through banks. Make sure to pay attention to interest rates so when it comes time to repay the loan, you won’t be paying a hefty fee.
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What are the salary and job outlooks for nurses?
Nursing professionals are in high demand across the board. Nurses with more advanced degrees and licenses earn higher wages and have more opportunities available.
CNAs earn an average annual wage of $30,290 in the U.S. Job growth for this nursing role is expected to grow by 5% between now and 2031.
LPNs earn an average annual wage of $51,850 in the U.S. Job growth for this nursing role is expected to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031.
RNs are the highest in demand of the three common nursing types. They make an average annual wage of $82,750. Demand for RNs is anticipated at 6% between 2021 and 2031.
Are you ready to apply for nursing school? Make sure you follow the steps outlined in this article to increase your chances of acceptance to the nursing program of your choice. Good luck – you’ve got this!
Getting into nursing school requires meeting all prerequisites for admission. You must complete an admissions interview and submit documents that include transcripts and references.
It depends. Some nursing degree programs have strict requirements for GPAs. Generally, the more advanced the nursing degree, the more difficult it can be to gain admission.
CNA programs generally do not have minimum GPA requirements. For LPN/LVN and RN programs, schools seek between 2.5 and 3.0 GPAs.
CNAs earn $30,290, while LPNs and RNs make $51,850 and $82,750, respectively.
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. acenursing.org. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- CCNE Accredited Programs. aacnnursing.org. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid. studentaid.gov. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- How Do I Get My GED and How Long Does It Take? ged.com. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses. bls.gov. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- NLN CNEA. cnea.nln.org. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- Nursing Assistants and Orderlies. bls.gov. Accessed October 25, 2022.
- Occupational Employment Wages – Registered Nurses. bls.gov. Accessed October 31, 2022.
- Registered Nurses. bls.gov. Accessed October 25, 2022.
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