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Nursing School Admissions: 8 Things You Need to Know

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Applying to nursing school is just one of the many challenges you’ll be presented with as an aspiring nurse. Nursing schools are among the most competitive undergraduate programs in the country, and it can be overwhelming when you start to think about all the work that lies ahead. Don’t let that discourage you from applying or taint your view of an incredibly rewarding and exciting career. 

After being accepted to over ten nursing schools across the northeast, I’ve learned many valuable lessons that I would like to share with anyone who’s considering a career in nursing.

1. Gain as much experience in high school as you can.

Making the decision to become a nurse is one that takes considerable time and thought. It’s a rapidly evolving, fast-paced, and stressful career, albeit incredibly fulfilling. Burnout in the healthcare field is a real issue, and you’re even more prone to it if you enter it for the wrong reasons. To make sure nursing is the right career for you, do your best to gain as much healthcare experience in high school as you can.

While you’re taking advanced science and math courses, try to get volunteer or work experience that is relevant to your ultimate career goals. Many hospitals accept high school volunteers, and while you won’t get to perform any direct patient care, you’ll still get to play a supporting role in the hospital and get a feel for what that environment is like. 

No matter what ways you choose to explore the nursing field in high school, make sure to reflect on your experiences and evaluate what you liked or disliked about certain parts. Talking it over with friends and family is a great way to explore this, but make sure you’re making the right decision for you and only you

2. Take a look at the NCLEX pass rate.

The NCLEX is the state licensure exam every graduating nursing student must take to actually work in the field, and you’ll ideally want your school’s first-time pass rate to be close to 100%. The pass rate is an indication of the school’s rigor and how well they prepare students. As a baseline, the national average pass rate was 88% in 2018, so you’re golden if you find schools at or above that. 

3. Make sure clinical sites are nearby.

At most colleges, you’ll start your clinical rotations in hospitals as a sophomore. Students are responsible for their own transportation to and from clinical sites that are randomly assigned to you, and that hour drive each way can quickly eat away at your study time. 

Check out the public transportation system in your school’s area to see if there’s an easy route to major hospitals. If you’re able to take a train or bus to your clinical site, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress by being able to study, read, or take a quick power nap instead of fighting rush hour traffic.

4. Look for direct-entry programs.

Personally, this was the number one thing I was looking for in every nursing school I applied to. All direct-entry means is that upon acceptance to the college or university, you are also directly accepted to the nursing school, and you don’t have to undergo an additional application process.

For schools that don’t have a direct-entry nursing program, you start as a “pre-nursing” major and must pass prerequisite science courses before you can officially apply to the nursing school as a sophomore.

Many times, there are more pre-nursing majors than nursing school seats, so the environment can get competitive very quickly. If you don’t get into the nursing school as a pre-nursing major, you might have to change your major to something you’re less passionate about simply because there isn’t enough room for everyone.

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5. Remember that the acceptance rate is different for nursing.

When you search university acceptance rates online, it turns out that it’s usually not reflective of the nursing major. Nursing programs have much lower acceptance rates than the general college or university because there are limited seats with a very high demand.

For example, my state’s public school has a general acceptance rate of about 90%, but for nursing, it’s less than 10%. That’s about the same as some Ivy League schools!

6. Check if additional entrance exams are required.

Besides the SAT or ACT, many nursing schools require students to pass the TEAS exam, also known as the Test of Essential Academic Skills. This exam assesses your preparedness for entering a health science field. If you end up having to take it, there are many different books and video resources to help you score well, but at the end of the day, it’s just another moving part of your complete application.

7. Apply to nursing scholarships.

Let’s face it: college is expensive. For you, a stethoscope will set you back almost $200, scrubs around $50, and clinical fees (yes, those exist) about $150 a semester. 

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it’s found in scholarships that are rarely taken advantage of by deserving students. You’ll find plenty of scholarships and grants at your school, so apply to those, but there are many private organizations that have funds specifically for students like you. 

For example, Johnson & Johnson and Tylenol offer a wide variety of scholarships for nursing students (even full-rides) along with specific programs for traditionally underrepresented minorities in the field.

Scholarships may have competitive and lengthy application processes that typically require essays, recommendation letters, and interviews, so make sure to start early.

The summer before senior year is a great time to begin getting everything in order, but once first semester rolls around, you’ve got to get to work. 

8. Remember: you’ll end up exactly where you’re meant to be.

No matter where you are in your nursing journey, find time to take breaks when you need them and don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed. The universe works in magical ways, and you’ll end up exactly where you need to be at the end of the day. 

When your decisions roll in, celebrate all your acceptances with those you love, be a little bummed if one school didn’t work out, but pick yourself right back up. 

It’s what nurses do.

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Author: Norah Baldwin

Norah is a high school senior from Boston, Massachusetts, and will major in Nursing next year at college. She currently works as a lifeguard and swim instructor for kids, and volunteers with the American Cancer Society in addition to blogging for Niche.