How to Get Into Nursing School: Your Step-by-Step Guide
From your compassionate nature to your hardworking tendencies, you’re starting to feel pretty confident about your prospects of launching a successful nursing career. The idea of supporting your family by doing what you’re naturally good at can sound far-fetched, but the truth is that kind of success could be within your grasp as a nurse.
Now that you’re ready to commit to your new career goal, you have some questions about how to get into nursing school: What nursing school requirements are there? Are there any classes to take before nursing school? What else should I know about applying to nursing school?
To help you map out your next moves, we compiled this step-by-step guide to help prepare you for the process of choosing your nursing school and getting admitted.
6 Straightforward steps to get into nursing school
Aspiring nursing students who are looking for a simple play-by-play of the steps needed to get into nursing school have come to the right place. Check out the video below for an overview of the six steps you’ll need to take before you secure your student status.
1. Determine which type of nurse you want to be
While nursing may seem like a straightforward profession on the surface, there are a number of different levels and specialties within the field. The quickest path to becoming a nurse is becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN). If you decide to go the LPN route, you will be qualified to administer medicine, check patients’ vital signs and perform a variety of tasks under a supervising registered nurse (RN).
If you’re looking for more medical duties, becoming an RN could be a more suitable path to take. RNs serve as a direct link to patients, expertly coordinating necessary medical care, education and support. You can become an RN with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).
Some RNs also opt to obtain a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). BSN-qualified nurses often perform the same duties as those with an ADN, but they are also qualified for more leadership and management positions. Once you’ve earned your BSN, you still have options to advance your nursing career by pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN), an excellent option for those who’d like to work in leadership or teaching positions within the field of nursing.
Each of these education levels includes a multitude of types of nursing positions. Doing some research into these opportunities can help you identify a career path that aligns with your personal skills and interests. From there, you can determine how much of an educational commitment you’ll need.
2. Identify the level of nursing education you’ll need
As you inch closer toward determining the type of nurse you’d like to become, you’ll want to start looking into the specifics surrounding the educational commitment that will be expected of you. If you’re looking to become an LPN, for example, you can earn your diploma in as few as 12 months.*
If you’re more partial to the job responsibilities and opportunities that could await you as an RN, you can earn your ADN in as few as 18 months, while the traditional BSN route is more likely to take as few as 33 months.* If you’ve already obtained a bachelor’s degree in a different field and you’d like to pursue a BSN as your second degree, you can complete a program in closer to 18 months.*
There is also an option for practicing RNs who are not yet baccalaureate-qualified to earn a BSN in as few as 18 months with online RN to BSN programs.* And finally, if you’re hoping to take your career even further with an MSN, you’ll need to first earn your BSN and then complete at least another 18 months of schooling to become Master’s-qualified.*
3. Research different nursing programs
Some contend that narrowing down the nursing programs you’d like to attend can be even more nerve-wracking than the application process itself. The more research you do, the more you’ll realize that nursing programs are not one-size-fits-all.
As you begin digging into the details of the programs that pique your interest, there are a few key things you can be looking for that often signify a high-quality nursing program:
- Accreditation: It is important to make sure the programs you’re selecting have obtained the proper accreditation to be educating nurses. Without a degree from an accredited institution, you won’t qualify to sit for the NCLEX.
- Curriculum: Since we now know that not all nursing programs are created equally, it’s important to examine a particular program’s approach to care. See if you can identify any particular nursing theories or types of educational models they operate upon and determine if those align with your professional goals.
- Flexible learning options: If you’re looking for a program with flexible options — such as online or night classes — be sure to identify that early on in your process.
- NCLEX success rate: If it’s not advertised on their nursing program information page, make a point to ask the admission representatives you speak with about the NCLEX pass rate of the program’s graduates. This can be a great indicator of how well the program prepares its students for a nursing career.
- Instructors’ nursing experience: Studying under highly qualified, experienced nurses is the best way to learn how to achieve the same kind of success for yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask about a potential school’s faculty and their experience in the field.
- Student support services: From the support you’ll need along your journey toward graduation to career search assistance after graduation, the student services offerings can be a big differentiator from one nursing program to the next.
4. Apply to your chosen programs
Once you’ve determined the type of nurse you’d like to become and have identified some programs that meet your criteria, it’s time to start applying to nursing schools. Filling out an application can seem daunting, but just remember that every nurse who came before you had to clear the same hurdle.
Also note that many nursing hopefuls find it useful to block off a few hours when it comes time to fill out an application. You will need to pay close attention to the application guidelines and any supplemental materials required of you, such as essays and letters of recommendation.
Be sure to also pay close attention to any deadlines listed on the program’s website and, if at all possible, submit your application early — it can help reinforce your eagerness and commitment, while also showing the school that you’re both prepared and reliable. This will also provide you with some extra time for the program personnel to contact you if any supplemental application materials are needed before the deadline.
5. Attend a nursing information session
Many schools will provide nursing information sessions for prospective students who are looking to learn more about their program. In fact, some of them require it if you plan to enroll in courses at their school.
At these sessions, you’ll have the opportunity to meet some important members of the faculty, you will learn more about the nursing school requirements and what you can expect from that particular program. You’ll also have the chance to ask any additional questions you may have. Even if this isn’t technically a requirement for your school of choice, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the program and gather additional information.
6. Take the entrance exam
While some schools rely on other assessments to examine nursing candidates’ reading, math, science and English skills, most programs use the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). This is a standardized exam proctored through Assessment Technologies Institute.
The purpose of this test is to gauge a student’s readiness for enrollment in a nursing program. It’s similar to other standardized tests you’ve likely taken in the past, consisting of 170 multiple-choice questions to be answered in 209 minutes.
Be sure to prepare yourself for the big day by taking practice tests online, forming study groups and reading up on expert tips to pass the test. Knowing what to expect is half the battle, and being well-prepared as you walk into the exam room will boost your confidence and help you succeed.
Start on your journey to nursing school
It’s normal to have questions and concerns about applying to nursing school. This is a major milestone on your path towards launching the rewarding career you’ve been dreaming of. If you’re confident in your decision to become a nurse, why wait to get started?
Now that you have a better understanding of how to get into nursing school, it’s time to start working your way through the steps outlined above. Start researching different nursing school requirements and programs to find what makes them unique. If Rasmussen College is on your list of potential programs, you’ll find plenty of helpful information in our article, “Things You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen College Nursing Programs.”
*Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer courses accepted and courses completed each term.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in May 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2020.