How to Get Into Nursing School: Your Step-by-Step Guide
By Hope Rothenberg on 10/17/2023
From your compassionate nature to your hardworking tendencies, you’re starting to feel pretty confident about your prospects of launching a successful nursing career. Pursing nursing offers a chance to support yourself and your family, all while doing things you're naturally good at.
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? Can I work while in nursing school? 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 move, we compiled this step-by-step guide to choosing your nursing school and getting admitted.
6 Straightforward steps to get into nursing school
Aspiring nursing students seeking a simple play-by-play of how to get into nursing school have come to the right place. Here are the six steps you’ll need to take.
1. Determine which type of nursing credential you want
While nursing may seem like a straightforward profession on the surface, there are a number of different levels and specialties within the field.
From a critical care nurse to a neonatal nurse to a certified registered nurse anesthetist and beyond, there are a ton of different niche nursing roles—and many you've probably never even heard of. That said, each one starts with a base-level degree requirement. The thing you need to narrow down before your education is the type of nursing credential you need.
Here are a few of the most popular pathways.
Licensed practical nurse (LPN)
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).
Registered nurse (RN)
If you’re looking for more medical duties, becoming an RN could be a more suitable path to take. Registered nurses serve as a direct link to patients, expertly coordinating necessary medical care, education and support.
An RN will work alongside other RNs and LPNs, and could also supervise certified nursing assistants. You can achieve RN licensure by obtaining the necessary associate degree: an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN).
Bachelor's-level nurse (BSN)
Some RNs also opt to obtain a Bachelor 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.
Master’s-level nurse (MSN)
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). A master's degree in nursing is an excellent option for those who’d like to work in leadership or teaching positions while still putting their nursing license to good use. If you think you may be interested in becoming a nurse practitioner (NP), you will need to complete an NP-specific master's program and board certification exam.
Each of these education levels can lead to a multitude of types of nursing positions in a hospital or nursing practice. 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 which nursing degree it'll require.
Doctorate-level nurse (DNP)
Earning a doctor of nursing practice can sound like a misnomer—but it’s true—you can become a doctor of nursing practice. DNP nurses can use their vast knowledge base to guide public health policy and work in executive-level healthcare positions, shaping nursing practice for an entire healthcare system.
Nurses who hold a DNP can work as the president of patient services, a director of nursing, government policy activist, director of public health policy and so much more. If you believe in creating large-scale change in the healthcare system or the population, pursing a Doctor of Nursing Practice Doctoral Degree can help you open those doors.
2. Identify the level of nursing education you’ll need
As you work on determining the type of nurse you’d like to become, you’ll want to start looking into the relevant education requirements. If you’re looking to become an LPN, for example, you can earn your diploma in as few as 12 months.1
If you’re more partial to the opportunities that could await you as an RN, you can earn your ADN in as few as 21 months, while the traditional BSN route is more likely to take as few as 33 months.1 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 as few as 18 months.1
There is also an option for practicing RNs who do not yet have a bachelors of science in nursing to earn a BSN with an estimated time to completion in as few as 12 to 18 months (if you study full-time) through online RN to BSN programs.1 And finally, if you’re hoping to take your career even further with an MSN or DNP, you’ll need to first earn your BSN to enroll in the graduate level programs.
3. Research different nursing programs
In some cases, narrowing down your nursing program options may be more intensive 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 program details, there are a few key things to look for that often signify a high-quality nursing program.
It's important to make sure the programs you’re selecting have obtained the proper accreditation to be educating nurses. Without a degree from an accredited nursing program, you won’t qualify to sit for the NCLEX-RN® or the NCLEX-PN® (for licensed practical nurses).
Since we now know that not all nursing programs are the same, it’s important to examine a particular program’s approach to care. See if you can identify any core nursing theories or educational models upheld by a program, and determine if those align with your professional goals.
Multiple learning options
If you’re looking for a program with plenty of options—such as online or night classes—be sure to identify that early on in your process.
Instructor nursing experience
Studying under highly qualified, experienced nurses is the best way to learn how to achieve the same kind of success yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask about a potential school’s faculty and their experiences in the field.
Student support services
From the support you’ll need along your education journey 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.
Many aspiring nurses 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 required supplemental materials, 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. This can help reinforce your eagerness and commitment, while showing the school that you’re both prepared and reliable. Submitting an early application will also provide you with some extra time to provide any missing materials before the deadline, should any last-minute issues come up. Check out our article "How to Ace Your Nursing School Interview: Pros Tell All".
5. Attend a nursing program information session
Many schools provide nursing information sessions for prospective students who are looking to learn more about their program. In fact, some schools may require you to attend these sessions if you plan to enroll in any of their courses.
These sessions provide the opportunity to meet some important faculty members and 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 attendance isn’t a requirement for your school of choice, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the program and gather as much information as possible.
Check out our article "7 Questions You Should Be Asking Your Nursing Admissions Reps" for additional information.
6. Take the entrance exam
While some schools rely on other assessments to examine a nursing candidate's reading, math, science and English skills, most programs use the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). This is a standardized exam proctored through the Assessment Technologies Institute (ATI®).
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. It has 170 total questions, with 209 minutes in allocated testing time. Questions include multiple choice, multiple select (select all that apply), fill in the blank, ordered response and hot spots.2
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 University is on your list of potential programs, you’ll find plenty of helpful information in our article, “11 Facts You Didn't Know About the Rasmussen University Nursing Programs.”
NCLEX-RN® is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. CORPORATION PENNSYLVANIA 111 EAST WACKER DRIVE SUITE 2900 CHICAGO ILLINOIS 60601
NCLEX-PN® is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. CORPORATION PENNSYLVANIA 111 EAST WACKER DRIVE SUITE 2900 CHICAGO ILLINOIS 60601
NCLEX is a registered trademark of National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Inc. CORPORATION PENNSYLVANIA 111 EAST WACKER DRIVE SUITE 2900 CHICAGO ILLINOIS 60601
ATI® is a registered trademark of ASSESSMENT TECHNOLOGIES INSTITUTE, L.L.C. LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY DELAWARE 11161 Overbrook Road Leawood KANSAS 66211
1 Completion time is dependent on the number of transfer courses accepted and courses completed each term.
2 ATI, (date accessed 10/16/2023). https://atitesting.com/teas/exam-details
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally written by Callie Malvik and published in May 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2023.