GuidelinesNursing School Entry Requirements: A Detailed Explanation for Prospective Students

Nursing School Entry Requirements: A Detailed Explanation for Prospective Students

Are you considering a rewarding career in nursing? Becoming a nurse requires completing an accredited nursing program, which has specific admission requirements you’ll need to meet.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the key nursing school entry requirements and explain what you need to do to get accepted into the program of your choice.

Understanding Nursing Degrees

Before diving into the specifics of nursing school requirements, it’s important to understand the different types of nursing degrees available. The most common nursing degrees include:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): A 2-year degree offered by community colleges and technical schools. Prepares you to take the NCLEX-RN exam and work as a registered nurse.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A 4-year degree offered by colleges and universities. Provides more advanced training than an ADN and is increasingly preferred by employers. Prepares you for the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): A graduate degree for registered nurses looking to advance their careers. Can lead to roles like nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse educator. Typically takes 2-3 years to complete.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus primarily on entry requirements for ADN and BSN programs, since those are the most common paths to becoming a registered nurse. However, many of the same requirements apply for MSN programs as well.

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High School Diploma or GED

Nursing School Entry Requirements: A Detailed Explanation for Prospective Students

The most basic educational requirement for nursing school is a high school diploma or GED. You’ll need to submit official transcripts as part of your nursing school application. If you earned a GED, you’ll need to submit proof of passing the GED exam.

Nursing schools will look at your high school grades, especially in math and science courses. Most programs have a minimum GPA requirement, which is typically around a 2.5 or higher. However, a higher GPA will make you a more competitive applicant.

Prerequisite Courses

In addition to a high school diploma, nursing programs also have specific prerequisite course requirements you’ll need to complete. These prerequisites ensure you have the necessary background knowledge to succeed in nursing school.

ADN Prerequisites

Prerequisite requirements for ADN programs vary, but often include:

  • Biology with lab
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Chemistry with lab
  • English Composition
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Nutrition

Some programs may require a few additional courses, such as statistics or microbiology. It’s important to check with your prospective schools to see their specific requirements. Most ADN prerequisites can be completed at a community college. You’ll typically need a minimum grade of C in each course, although some competitive programs may require a higher grade.

BSN Prerequisites

BSN programs have similar prerequisites to ADN programs, but usually require a few additional courses since the degree is more in-depth. Common BSN prerequisites include:

  • Biology with lab
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology with lab
  • Chemistry with lab
  • Statistics
  • English Composition
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Nutrition
  • Public Speaking or Communication

Again, the specific courses required will vary by program, so always check with the schools you’re interested in. BSN prerequisites can usually be completed at any accredited college or university.

Entrance Exams

Most nursing schools require applicants to take an entrance exam as part of the admissions process. The exam is designed to assess your academic readiness for nursing school.The most common standardized tests for nursing school include:

Each school decides which exam(s) it will accept, so check the requirements for the programs you’re applying to. You’ll need to register for the exam in advance and pay an exam fee, which is usually around $100.The exams cover subjects like reading, math, science, and English.

Most of the content is similar to what you learned in high school. Investing in a study guide and taking practice tests can help you prepare.Nursing schools usually have a minimum score requirement you’ll need to meet. Requirements vary, but generally fall somewhere around the 60th-70th percentile. Scoring well can give your application a boost.

Background Check and Drug Screening

Because nurses work closely with patients in healthcare settings, nursing schools require students to pass a criminal background check and drug screening as a condition of admission.

You’ll need to get a background check from an approved vendor, which the school will provide information on. The background check looks for past convictions that could affect your ability to work with patients.

Drug screenings detect the presence of illegal drugs or unauthorized prescription drugs. You’ll go to a lab to provide a urine sample for the screening.

If you have any prior convictions or a history of substance abuse, it’s best to be upfront about it with the school. Some offenses may be disqualifying, while others may be acceptable if enough time has passed or if you’ve demonstrated rehabilitation.

Immunization Records

Nursing students complete clinical rotations in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, so it’s critical that you’re up-to-date on all required immunizations. You’ll need to provide proof of the following vaccinations as part of your nursing school application:

  • MMR (measles, mumps, rubella)
  • Varicella (chicken pox)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis)
  • Influenza (flu)
  • TB skin test

If you’re unsure of your vaccination history, contact your healthcare provider. You may need to get some booster shots. Some schools also require a physical exam to ensure you’re healthy enough for the demands of nursing school.

CPR Certification

All nursing students must be CPR certified before beginning clinical rotations. The most common certification for healthcare providers is the American Heart Association’s BLS (Basic Life Support) course.

You can find BLS classes offered through the American Heart Association or American Red Cross, as well as some hospitals and community organizations. The certification typically lasts for two years.If you’re already CPR certified, check with your school to make sure your certification meets their requirements. You may need to renew it before starting the program.

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Letters of Recommendation

Most nursing schools require 1-3 letters of recommendation as part of the application process. These letters should come from people who can speak to your academic abilities, character, and potential as a nurse.Good sources for recommendation letters include:

  • High school teachers (especially science teachers)
  • College professors (if you’ve taken any college courses)
  • Employers or volunteer supervisors
  • Coaches or extracurricular advisors

Ideally, at least one letter should come from someone who can attest to your academic skills, like a teacher or professor. Additional letters can come from people who know you in other capacities.Choose recommenders who know you well and can provide specific examples of your strengths.

Give them plenty of advance notice and provide them with a copy of your resume and any other information they need, like a list of nursing schools you’re applying to.

Personal Statement or Essay

Nursing schools want to admit students who are not only academically qualified, but also have the right motivations and characteristics to succeed in the profession. A personal statement or application essay is your chance to show who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

Each school will have different essay prompts, but common topics include:

  • Why you want to become a nurse
  • A challenging situation you overcame
  • Your career goals
  • An impactful experience you had with a nurse or in a healthcare setting
  • How you can contribute to the nursing profession

Your essay should be well-written, thoughtful, and convey your passion for nursing. Highlight any relevant experience you have, like volunteering in a hospital or taking care of a family member.Proofread your essay carefully and have someone else read it too to catch any errors.

Make sure you’re answering the prompt and staying within the word limit. A strong essay can make a big difference in your application, especially if you’re a borderline candidate in terms of grades or test scores. It’s worth putting significant time and effort into crafting a compelling statement.


Some nursing schools require interviews as part of the application process, particularly for competitive programs. An interview is an opportunity for the admissions committee to get to know you better and assess your interpersonal skills, which are critical for success as a nurse.

Interviews may be one-on-one with an admissions representative or faculty member, or in a group format with multiple applicants.

They can take place in person, over the phone, or via video chat.To prepare for your interview, research the school and program thoroughly. Be ready to talk about why you’re interested in that particular school and what you hope to accomplish with your nursing degree.

Practice common interview questions with a friend or family member. Dress professionally and arrive early if it’s an in-person interview.

During the interview, be honest, confident, and enthusiastic.

Provide specific examples to illustrate your points. Ask thoughtful questions about the program to show your interest. Send a thank-you note or email to your interviewer afterwards, reiterating your interest in the program.

Volunteer Experience

While volunteer experience is not always an official requirement for nursing school admission, it can significantly strengthen your application. Volunteering shows your commitment to helping others, which is a key value in the nursing profession.Volunteering in a healthcare setting is particularly valuable. Options include:

  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospice centers
  • Community clinics
  • Blood drives
  • Health fairs

You can also volunteer in non-healthcare settings that involve working with people, like tutoring, mentoring, or working at a homeless shelter. Any experience that demonstrates compassion and a desire to serve others is worth highlighting in your application.

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Keep track of your volunteer hours and be prepared to discuss what you learned from the experience in your essay or interview. Volunteering can also lead to strong letters of recommendation from supervisors who have seen you work with people in a caring role.


Meeting nursing school entry requirements takes significant planning and preparation. Start researching programs early to ensure you have time to complete all the necessary prerequisites and application components.Remember, nursing school is competitive, so it’s wise to apply to multiple programs to increase your chances of acceptance.

Meeting the minimum requirements is essential, but going above and beyond – with a high GPA, strong test scores, compelling essay, and relevant experience – will help you stand out as an applicant.

If you’re not accepted to your top-choice program, don’t be discouraged.

Consider applying again in the future or exploring alternative paths to a nursing career, like starting with an associate’s degree program.

Nursing is a challenging but incredibly rewarding field. By putting in the work to gain admission to a quality program, you’ll be setting yourself up for a successful and fulfilling career caring for others.

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