How to Get into Nursing School: A 5-Step Guide

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With more than 2,000 nursing schools in the United States and three program tracks to choose from, knowing where to begin can seem a bit overwhelming. However, don’t let a few big numbers stop you from choosing the rewarding career of nursing. Here are five steps to help you navigate the nursing school application process!

Step 1: Achieve your high school diploma or GED

To become a nurse, all candidates must obtain either a high school diploma or a GED. While the prerequisites vary from school to school, this one is required across the board.

Step 2: Explore the career of nursing

As with any career choice, it is important that you do your fair share of research before making a decision. Nursing can be an extremely rewarding career path for many men and women, but it might not be for everyone. Here are some criteria you will want to take into consideration when deciding on a career:

  • Your skills and interests
  • Required certifications and degrees
  • Job market
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Work-life balance
  • Salary

Related Read: Job Market Stats Every Nursing Student Should Know

Another component to exploring a career in healthcare is to get involved with volunteering. Taking the time to volunteer at a hospital or local clinic has many benefits. One of these is the ability to observe firsthand a nurse’s role in a hospital. By experiencing a nurse’s day-to-day duties, you will have a better understanding of whether this is a suitable career choice for you.

Another big benefit of volunteering is the experience. Not only is this type of experience beneficial to you, it could also be of value to both the nursing schools that you will apply to or your future employer.

Step 3: Determine the nursing career path for you

Did you know that there is more than one path to take when going into the career of nursing? For starters, it is important to understand the difference between PN and RN nurses. While both PNs and RNs are critical in nearly every nursing setting, the job responsibilities, education requirements, and salary opportunities are varied.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN/LVN): Licensed practical nurses, known in some states as licensed vocational nurses, work under the guidance of both physicians and registered nurses. Some of their daily duties include bedside care, taking vital signs, and laboratory testing.
  • Registered Nurse (RN): Registered nurses are responsible for many roles, but the chief role being responsible for patient care. Each day is hands on, from administering medication and treatment to performing diagnostic tests and analyzing the results. There are three degree paths associated with becoming a RN:
    • Associate of Science Degree in Nursing (ADN) – This degree path typically takes  two years to complete.
    • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – A BSN degree program typically takes four years to complete.
    • Nursing Diploma/Certificate – Diploma programs are often associated with a hospital or provider. The duration of this degree path will vary.

A great resource to get you started with choosing the right career path is Johnson + Johnson’s Find Your Path in Nursing. Be sure to select your education level before getting started!

Step 4: Research nursing school requirements

Requirements to get into nursing school vary by program. Because of this, our best advice is to visit all of the schools that you are interested in and attend an information session. Be sure to come with a list of questions to help you differentiate between your options and fully understand what is required. Below are a few questions to get you started:

    • What does the admissions process look like?
    • What are important admissions deadlines?
    • What number of students are accepted versus the number that are qualified?
    • What are the prerequisites for the program?
    • How can I stand out?

One common requirement is to take a nursing entrance exam. Just like each nursing school’s requirements vary, so does the required nursing entrance exam. As the creators of the ATI Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) Exam, we understand the importance of achieving a good score. After all, a good score may help you get into the school of your choice. See everything that you need to know before taking the ATI TEAS Exam here.

Step 5: Apply to nursing schools and prepare for an entrance interview

Once you have met all of the admissions requirements for your schools of choice, it’s time to apply!  Nursing school is competitive, so it is best to do your due diligence. According to a study by the National League of Nursing, 64% of BSN programs and 78% of ADN programs turned away qualified applicants in 2014. We recommend that you apply to a few schools to give yourself better odds of being accepted. And don’t give up if your first application is unsuccessful! Review your preparation methods, retake your entrance examination, revise your personal statement. Your persistence can pay off!

Looking for more resources to help you navigate nursing school? We’ve got you covered. Follow ATI Nursing Education on Facebook for nursing career sneak peeks, helpful resources, and more.


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