ultimate guide to nursing school

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Into Nursing School

How to get into nursing school

  • Graduate high school or earn your GED
  • Research nursing programs
  • Complete the prerequisites
  • Take nursing entrance exams
  • Make a plan to pay for nursing school
  • Complete the Nursing School application  
  • Wait for your acceptance letter from Admissions!

Nursing is more than holding a person’s hand when they are sick or in pain; it’s an art. You help save lives and make patients feel better. 

Nursing careers are diverse and complex, which makes the preparation of nursing school quite challenging. Even getting into nursing school can be a long and difficult process. 

From meeting the prerequisites to completing the application process, we’re here to help. This ultimate guide to getting into nursing school will take you through each step. We’ll even cover what to do if you don’t get into nursing school on your first try. 

Are you ready to feel more confident about getting into your first-choice nursing program? Let’s get started!

1. Graduate high school or earn your GED

For all nursing programs, the first step is to finish high school or pass the General Educational Development (GED) Test. Either option demonstrates that you have achieved a high school-level education. Nursing school requires a copy of your diploma or your GED test results with your application. Most schools also require students to be 18 years old. 

Your nursing school will also require transcripts from schools you’ve attended. This is to show what courses you’ve taken and what your grades were. Schools often consider an applicant’s grade point average (GPA) in the selection process. 

Colleges with a lot of competition may only accept students with high grades and GPAs. However, less competitive schools may take students with lower scores. That’s one of the reasons it helps to research different nursing programs.

2. Research nursing programs

You can research nursing schools by reading about programs online. Also, talk to people you know and visit local schools. Find the best academic, social, and financial fit for you! 

Here are some questions to think about as you research and explore your options. 

  • Where do I see myself spending the next two to four years? Would I prefer a small college in a rural setting or a large public university in a big city?
  • Do I want or need to live on-campus, or can I commute? 
  • What type of program (licensed practical nurse, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree) do I want, and how many months or years can I dedicate to the program?
  • What is the nursing program’s acceptance rate? (A lower acceptance rate means that it is more competitive and, therefore, harder to get into.)
  • How do I prefer to learn, virtually or in-person? (Many schools offer online options, except for clinicals and labs being face-to-face.)
  • What programs are available to help students?
  • What is the student-to-faculty ratio? (In general, students in smaller class sizes outperform students in large classes.)
  • What is the school’s pass rate for the nursing board exam? (Graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) test to become licensed nurses, so knowing what percent of students pass the NCLEX can give you an idea of how strong the program is.)

Think about these questions and write down your answers. Putting pen to paper when you think about your requirements and goals will help you see which schools will be right for you.

3. Complete the prerequisites

Next, students must complete the prerequisite courses, called “pre-reqs.” Some students start these before they choose a nursing school. That’s because many schools have the same requirements. 

Still, to save time and money, you should know what type of nursing license or degree you’ll pursue before beginning prereqs. There are three main types of nursing programs for students who want to become nurses, which are:

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) 
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) to become a Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to become an RN

LPN/LVN Prerequisites

An LPN or LVN license is the most basic entry level for nursing. The title varies by state — in Texas and California, these nurses are called LVNs, and in all other states, they are called LPNs. 

Students graduate from LPN/LVN nursing school in about 12 months. The LPN/LVN schools do not award graduates with a college degree. Rather, they grant students a diploma or certificate in nursing. 

The prerequisites for LPN and LVN nursing schools may include:

  • College-level English
  • College-level Math
  • Anatomy and Physiology (A&P)
  • Microbiology
  • Certified Nurse’s Aide(CNA) certificate
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification

Some community college LPN/LVN programs only require an application and placement test.

ADN Prerequisites

Students who complete an ADN program are prepared to take the NCLEX-RN test for an RN license. They also earn an associate’s degree, which takes two years to complete. 

Here is a sample of courses required to start an ADN program. Most nursing schools require these classes, although they might go by different names in different schools or states. 

  • Anatomy & Physiology I 4 credit hours
  • Anatomy & Physiology II 4 credit hours
  • Psychology 3 credit hours
  • Human Development 3 credit hours
  • Nutrition 3 credit hours
  • English College Composition I 3 credit hours
  • College Algebra 3 credit hours
  • Introductory Statistics 3 credit hours

The list of courses above is 26 credit hours, which equals two full-time semesters of pre-nursing coursework. As you can see, an ADN may take three years or more because of the heavy load of prerequisite courses you must complete before starting nursing school. 

Some nursing programs allow students to complete certain “prereqs” after admission or during their nursing program. 

BSN Prerequisites

Graduates from a BSN program can take the NCLEX-RN test to earn an RN license. They also earn a bachelor’s degree in approximately four years. 

Here is a sample of courses required for a BSN program. 

  • Anatomy & Physiology I 4 credit hours
  • Anatomy & Physiology II 4 credit hours
  • Psychology 3 credit hours
  • Sociology 3 credit hours
  • Human Development 3 credit hours
  • Nutrition 3 credit hours
  • English Composition I 3 credit hours
  • English Composition II 3 credit hours
  • Biology I 3 credit hours
  • Biology II 4 credit hours
  • Chemistry I 3 credit hours
  • College Algebra 3 credit hours
  • Introductory Statistics 3 credit hours
  • History 6 credit hours
  • Government or Political Science 6 credit hours
  • Philosophy 3 credit hours
  • Speech 3 credit hours
  • Art 3 credit hours

The list of courses above is 60 credit hours, which equals approximately two years of college “pre-reqs.” Many schools give extra weight to your GPA in science and math classes during the application process. The higher your grades, the better your chances of getting in. 

In addition to certifications or classes, some schools have prerequisite entrance exams. 

4. Take nursing entrance exams 

While not every nursing school has an entrance exam, those that do usually require one of three tests: 

  • HESI A2
  • ATI TEAS 7
  • Wonderlic SLE


The Health Education Systems, Inc. (HESI) A2 Assessment is a common entrance exam for nursing schools. You can take it in person at your school, at an alternate site, or online through ProctorU. Test results are available within 48-72 hours after testing. 

The HESI A2 is divided into nine subjects, but your school will tell you which sections to take. 

Appointments are necessary to test, and you must pay a testing fee to your school. The exact price depends on your school, but may range from $35–50. Reach out to your school for more information about the cost and any other fees. 

You’ll also need a photo ID and your receipt to test at your testing center.

NurseHub gives users access to over 7,500 practice questions, detailed answer explanations, and a pass guarantee with premium. You can also access timed practice tests and Math, Grammar, ELU, and A&P video courses. Head over and try the free practice tests now!


The ATI TEAS 7 test has four subject areas: Reading, Math, Science, and English. Each test site, including schools and testing centers, sets the exam price. In general, ATI costs around $115. Read more about what types of questions you will see on the ATI TEAS 7 in this blog post!

NurseHub helps students pass the TEAS tests on the first try. Watch free ATI TEAS test prep videos with tons of questions and in-depth answer explanations from experts. When you’re ready to test your knowledge, try NurseHub’s free ATI TEAS 7 practice tests here. You can also join the ATI TEAS 7 Study Group on Facebook!

Wonderlic SLE

The Wonderlic Scholastic Level Exam (SLE) is a cognitive ability test. It tests students in language, logic, and numeric reasoning — with 50 questions in 12 minutes! Most nursing schools require you to score at least 16 correct, but some schools set the bar as high as 30. 

Test yourself with a free Wonderlic practice test here.

5. Make a plan to pay for nursing school

Another factor to consider when getting into nursing school is how to pay for your program. Nursing school costs vary dramatically — from a few thousand dollars to over $100,000 when you factor in fees and books! It all depends on where you enroll.

As an example, the ADN program at Oklahoma City Community College costs between $1500 and $4000 per semester in Fall 2022. Over two years, the price for this program would be less than $10,000.

On the other hand, tuition and fees for a BSN from the Meyer School of Nursing at New York University were around $29,084 for the Fall 2022 semester. Over four years, the total out-of-pocket to become an RN would be in the six figures!

When planning your career, keep these points in mind:

  • LVNs and LPNs programs are the least expensive and take about one year to complete. 
  • ADN programs are moderately priced and take at least two years to complete. 
  • BSN programs take around four years and are the most expensive.

As a rule, state schools cost more than community colleges. Private colleges and universities are more expensive than both of them.

Other costs that future nurses must think about include the following:

  • Housing if you are going to live on-campus
  • Nursing textbooks
  • Required health insurance
  • Scrubs, shoes, stethoscope, and other supplies

Don’t panic. There are tons of resources to help you pay for your nursing program. We’ve compiled a list for you. With some planning, you can confidently apply and get into the nursing school of your dreams. 

Unless you have a trust fund or savings account somewhere, you can pay for school with help from these three types of financial aid:

  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Loans 

You can also check with the Financial Aid office at the school you plan to attend for more help.


Scholarships are financial awards that you must apply for. Your school can provide a list you may qualify for. But did you know that you can also find hundreds of scholarship opportunities through various organizations online?

Each scholarship has unique conditions, from GPA minimums to organization membership. Many require you to write an essay or submit a resume. Create a scholarship file in your home or computer to track your applications.

Hint: You can use parts of your application for multiple scholarships if you stay organized. Work smarter, not harder — am I right?

Here are a few other links for nursing scholarships once you get accepted into your dream nursing school:

And here are a few more scholarship databases (not nursing-specific, but still helpful):


You may have heard that grants are like “free money.” And it’s true! If you meet the criteria to qualify, a grant is a sum of money paid to you while you attend school. Pay your tuition first. Then you can use any leftover funds for expenses related to school, including transportation, room and board, and even childcare. 

Two federal grants that you may qualify for are the Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Both are based on financial needs. 

In addition to national programs, many states also offer state-funded grants for nursing students. Maryland’s grant programs for nursing students and Oregon are two examples.

You must complete the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) and check with your school’s financial aid office to see if you qualify.


The last option if you cannot pay for school with money from other sources is loans. When it comes to loans for nursing school, there are two types: federal and private. 

Federal student loans are the better choice out of the two because they offer students the following:

  • Lower interest rates
  • Long deferment periods
  • Better repayment options

Students with financial needs will also qualify for Federal Subsidized Loans, in which the government helps with some of the interest, so your payments are lower. 

Another federal resource to look into is the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). This agency works directly with schools to fund students in medicine and nursing. Ask your school’s financial aid office for more information on eligibility and how to apply.

6. Complete the Nursing School Application

When you have a solid plan for nursing school, it’s time to complete the application. In many cases, there are two applications. You must apply to the school you want to attend and then the school of nursing (nursing program). 

Know your deadlines! Plan to complete and send in your requirements before the deadlines to be safe.

Remember, procedures vary from one school to another. However, we will explain the general application, or petition, process here.

You will need to gather and submit the following:

  • Admission/Petition application 
  • An official transcript from high school and any college courses you’ve taken
  • Standardized test scores (ACT, SAT, etc.)
  • Essay, letter, or personal statement 
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Documentation of volunteer experience (may not be required but may strengthen your nursing school application)
  • International students may need to provide documentation for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or undergo a transcript evaluation.

There is usually an application fee. However, some schools waive this if you attend on-campus activities like orientation, if you demonstrate financial need or for other reasons. 

Nursing school admissions interviews

Some colleges and programs may require an admissions interview, although this has become less common since the pandemic. If your school requires a virtual or face-to-face meeting, here are a few pointers:

  • Let your passion for nursing as a professional shine through!
  • Don’t be shy about your achievements and accomplishments in school — now’s the time to toot your own horn!
  • Have a “study plan” for how you plan to be successful as a nursing student. Share details!
  • Never lie during an interview. 
  • Prepare by staying up on current events in nursing and healthcare. 
  • Practice beforehand by asking a trusted friend to participate in a mock interview, so you get comfortable answering questions about yourself and your nursing dreams.
  • Be ready for difficult questions such as “how would you deal with this conflict?” or “describe an ethical dilemma you’ve faced and how you dealt with it.” Jot down a couple of scenarios for examples to bring to mind.

Getting into Nursing School

After you’ve applied, your student file goes through a selection process. Many schools use a point system. They assign a certain number of points to each candidate according to the application criteria. The students with the most points are offered admission. 

Here is an example of one school’s petition (application) process:

  1. Students who are ready to begin the core nursing courses inform the Nursing Program through a process known as petitioning. This happens one semester before they desire to start the core courses. 
  2. To petition, the student meets with their Academic Advisor to discuss questions and submit a form online.
  3. The process is competitive. The Nursing Program verifies that all requirements have been met and scores applicants according to a rubric.


7. Wait for your acceptance letter from Admissions!

After you’ve applied to your first-choice nursing program, the final step is to wait for acceptance. 

Enjoy your brief reprieve. When you receive your acceptance letter, there may be more conditions! 

Most acceptance letters are contingent upon meeting additional requirements before starting the program. Here is a list of additional pre-nursing requirements.

  • Tuberculin (TB) skin test
  • Criminal background check
  • Fingerprinting
  • Drug screening
  • Immunization documentation (MMR, Varicella, Hepatitis B, Flu)
  • Health Physical

Your acceptance letter or email will be followed by an orientation packet explaining what to do next and key dates such as orientation to plan for.

What if you don’t get into nursing school?

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Do not be discouraged if you do not get in right away. Often, there are many applicants and few seats. Your application just wasn’t strong enough for that round. 

You can strengthen your application and reapply. For ADN and BSN programs, you can retake some of your non-nursing courses (“basics”) to boost your GPA. If your entrance exam scores were low, see if your school allows you to retest and increase your scores.

If you’re missing “pre-reqs”, continue working on pre-nursing courses to strengthen your transcript. 

Your first option is to retake some of the non-nursing courses required for the program to improve your grade and, in turn, your overall GPA. Alternatively, if you’re missing some of the prerequisite courses, this is an opportunity to bring up your average by doing well in these courses.

You can also apply to other schools. Applying to more than one school increases your chances of getting into nursing school. Then, you’re more likely to start in the semester you’d hoped.


The road to getting into nursing school isn’t always a straightforward one. And it’s never too early to start preparing. Now that you know what to do, go ahead and get started today!

We hope this post helps you along the way. And if you find it helpful, don’t forget to share.