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How Hard is Nursing School? The Challenges of Becoming a Nurse from A to Z

How Hard is Nursing School? The Challenges of Becoming a Nurse from A to Z

Becoming a nurse is not for the faint of heart. The field of nursing is competitive; school is challenging from the moment you start the admission process to the moment you sit in for the NCLEX exam. And the current pandemic isn’t making it any easier for aspiring nurses who want to pursue an education in the field.

Most nursing education has moved online, which has affected students and institutions alike. While for some schools, such as Nightingale College, the switch to virtual learning has been instead a natural transition due to the extensive experience with online teaching the academic institutions have found it harder to cope with the challenges of moving everything – from lectures to clinicals online.

But even without the current constraints imposed on nursing education, studying to become a nurse is a tedious, time consuming, and plainly speaking, hard process. Before you decide to enroll in a Registered Nurse Program, you should know exactly what to expect. How hard is it going to be to get in? How difficult is it going to get once you are already in nursing school? Is it really that hard to pass nursing school? Will it get any easier once you graduate?

Keep on reading to find the answers to these questions and decide for yourself if nursing is the right career track for you.

How Hard Is Getting into Nursing School?

Working as a nurse implies a huge responsibility. You are literally responsible for the lives and wellbeing of your patients, so it makes sense for the educational process to be reasonably tricky as to prepare you to the best of your ability for the important role you are to play in the healthcare industry.

But before you actually start studying, it’s notoriously hard to get into nursing school. From strict academic requirements, such as a higher than average GPA or having to complete prerequisite courses with good grades, to having to sit in for stressful, complicated entrance exams, nursing schools don’t make it easier on the aspiring nurses.

Let’s see what boxes you will have to check in order to get into a nursing program:

is nursing school hard to get into

Is There a GPA Requirement?

Nursing school admissions are competitive, so having good grades and a higher than average GPA (grade point average) is one of the very first requirements of getting accepted into nursing school.

Generally, GPA requirements are different from one school to another, but on average, BSN programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0.

At the same time, for an ADN program, the average GPA for admission ranges from 2.0. to 2.8. You should keep in mind that these requirements are the bare minimum, so if you want to be truly competitive, you should aim for a higher GPA. In the more competitive programs, where the percentage of applicants per spot is higher, even 3.5 GPAs can be deemed insufficient.

If your GPA is below these averages but you are seriously committed to the idea of becoming an RN, you can try to increase your chances of getting into nursing school by (at least slightly) increasing your GPA. One solution would be to take General Education classes at a local community college. If you do your research in advance, these classes could even transfer to your desired nursing program and count as prerequisites. But even if they don’t transfer if you get good grades (although you should do your best to get the best grades you can), they still raise your GPA a little bit, so your transcripts look more attractive to nursing schools.

Do I Need to Complete Any Prerequisite Courses?

Regardless of your goal is to enroll in an Associate’s program or a Bachelor’s program, completing some prerequisites is going to be top of the list when it comes to admissions requirements. Prerequisites are classes that must be completed prior to enrollment into the given course as a way to ensure that prospective students have a solid background in nursing-related courses.

So, while specific requirements will vary from school to school, some of the specific classes you can expect to see include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, chemistry, sociology, statistics, and others.

In order to get into Nightingale College’s BSN program, you will need to complete prerequisites such as Human Anatomy and Human Physiology, Pathophysiology, college-level English, and Mathematics. You can choose to complete the prerequisite coursework at the College or another institution of higher learning.

Do I Need to Take Entrance Exams?

Even with good grades and a high GPA, with stellar prerequisites completion, regardless if you wish to pursue a traditional education in a brick and mortar institution or you choose to go the hybrid or online route, most nursing schools will require prospective students to pass an entrance exam. Granted, it makes the admissions process a lot more complicated and stressful, but entrance exams are common practice in order to prove that students have the skills, or, better yet, the potential to complete a nursing program.

These may be general tests like SAT or ACT or other exams, designed specifically for nurses. Some schools will even require one of each category. Some of the most common tests for aspiring nursing students are:

  • NLN PAX (The National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam) is one of the most frequently used entrance exams. It’s focused on measuring your verbal ability, as well as your knowledge of maths and science.
  • NET (Nursing Entrance Test) it’s also fairly common and it covers topics on reading and math at a high school level.
    Kaplan Admissions Test measures an aspiring nurse’s performance in reading, writing, math, science, and critical thinking.
  • TEAS (Test of Academic Skills) is another popular test that schools may use in order to determine how prepared aspiring nursing students are actually to enter the healthcare industry.
  • HESI A2 (The Health Education Systems, Inc. Admission Assessment) assesses prospective nursing students’ knowledge in three academic areas: English, Math, and Anatomy & Physiology.

Each exam is different.

They have different formats, measure different abilities, and use different scoring systems, so when choosing the nursing program you want to attend, you need to research the entrance exam (if any) that the school expects you to take. For instance, Nightingale College asks prospective students to take the HESI exam, and only applicants who achieve a minimum cumulative score of 75% are granted admission.

Are There Any Other Requirements?

In addition to the previously mentioned requirements, there are also other conditions you must fulfill if you want to become a nurse. Writing a personal essay, submitting letters of recommendation, and doing an interview with an admissions advisor might all be part of the process. The schools can individualize their process a bit, but overall, these are the mandatory steps – and they’re not easy – you need to go through if you want to enroll in nursing school.

how hard is nursing school

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Accepted Into Nursing School

Alongside having a high GPA and completing prerequisite courses, there are a few other steps you can take in order to boost your chances of being enrolled in nursing school.

Obtain relevant certifications

Depending on the school, having some relevant certifications may be mandatory or at least highly recommended. For instance, obtaining a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification or a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification show commitment to learning and a genuine interest in helping others. It will also make you more competitive among other candidates.


Volunteering, especially in a healthcare setting, not only looks good on the application form, but it’s also a great opportunity for you to gain some experience and take a glimpse at the nursing profession. It’s not unusual for hospitals to have open volunteer opportunities, so, with a little bit of research, you can find a volunteering gig in lots of medical settings, from working in the ER department to assisting with childcare.

Volunteering shows commitment, and it proves to schools that your interest in nursing is a thought-through plan, a passion which you nurtured and in which you’ve invested time and energy.

There is no specific requirement for the amount of time you should volunteer, but generally, anywhere from one hundred hours to multiple hundreds will give you an edge over other applicants.

Become a CNA

Becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant looks good on a resume, but it also serves as a great bridge into nursing. It usually takes just a few months to complete this certificate program but it offers great insight into the life and responsibilities of a nurse.

As a Certified Nurse Assistant, you’ll be working side by side with Registered Nurses and other healthcare professionals before, and that’s a great way to get you excited about a career in nursing. Hence, when you do decide to enroll in a degree program, such as an ADN or BSN, it will be because you demonstrated the needed experience in the field. From this, you’ll significantly increase your chances of getting in. Another plus is that (as always, depends on the school) you experience as a CNA can count as transferable credit for further education.

Why Is Nursing School So Competitive and Hard to Get Into?

During the last few years, it’s gotten more and more difficult to be accepted into nursing school. As you’ve already seen, there are many requirements, and none of them are easy.

And the admissions processes aren’t getting any easier even though we desperately need RNs. The nursing shortage showed the critical lack of nursing professionals that our country is facing, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic proved once more not only how critical nurses truly are to the healthcare industry, but also how urgently important it is to have significantly more highly trained nurses.

Yet, the numbers aren’t gladdening. The 2018-2019 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) showed that during the 2018-2019 academic year, more than 75,000 qualified applicants were denied admission in nursing schools. Why does that happen? Why is it so hard to get into nursing schools, and why are they so extremely competitive?

Here are the four biggest reasons nursing schools are competitive:

1. Nursing School Shortages

One of the biggest reasons for nursing school competitiveness is a shortage of nursing education. There are not enough nursing schools to educate everyone who wants to be a nurse. Here’s why:

why is nursing school hard

– Brick-and-Mortar limitations

There is a shortage of nursing schools in urban and rural areas. In rural areas, it’s too expensive to build a brick-and-mortar campus to house nursing equipment if there are only a few learners needing education in that area. Brick-and-mortar campuses also pose a problem in urban areas: when a classroom can only hold 25 learners, the school can only have 25 seats in its program.

A great solution to this problem is online learning. Virtual nursing programs, be it fully online, like the RN-to-BSN and MSN, or hybrid, such as the ADN, BSN offered by Nightingale College, is a great way to exclude the geographical and brick and mortar limitations and make nursing education available to more people. The online format doesn’t make the nursing education process any easier – quite the contrary – but it makes it more accessible, which is already a huge step in the right direction.

Find out everything you need to know about online nursing schools.

how competitive is nursing school

– Equipment Expense

Additionally, equipping a campus for nursing education is expensive. Not only do you have to think about a campus or location and pay for upkeep, but nursing programs have to provide equipment for experiential learning, such as nursing mannequins, IV arms, foleys, catheters, scrubs, wheelchairs, lifts, beds, and much, much more.

– Accreditation

To get accreditation, nursing schools must have some learners in their program, and be established for many years, but learners want to attend a school that is accredited (as they should), so it becomes very difficult for new programs to enter the market.

Discover in our video below everything you need to know about national vs regional accreditation:

2. Nursing faculty shortages

A large contributor to the nursing education shortage is a shortage of nursing educators. As part of the same cycle, a nursing education shortage increases nursing faculty shortages.

Jobs in the registered nursing career field are expected to grow quickly in the next few years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Due to the nursing shortage, nursing salaries are increasing, and it becomes difficult for schools to pay their faculty more than what they can make as a seasoned, specialized nurse.

For instance, the median salary for a nurse anesthetist is $111,840 and for a nurse practitioner is $181,040. Meanwhile, the yearly salary of a nurse educator is around $83,160. Find out more on nurse salary.

While they do make a higher than average wage, it’s still less than what they could earn as an advanced practice nurse. So, there is little motivation for nurses who love what they do to pursue an advanced degree needed to teach, creating a shortage of credentialed applicants for nursing education positions.

At the same time, over ⅓ of the current nursing faculty workforce is expected to retire by 2025, which is going to leave an even larger gap in the nursing faculty shortages, accentuating even further the competitiveness of nursing programs because while there are plenty of aspiring nurses, there simply aren’t enough instructors to fulfill the need.

how hard is to get into nursing school

3. High demand for nursing education, Waitlists

Due to this short supply of faculty, the demand for nursing education is not being met. Why is nursing school in such high demand?

Because nurses are in high demand, and it is a highly sought-after career. With just two years of education (in an ADN program), individuals can enter into a respected career, with flexible shifts, that pays a good salary even in an entry-level position. This career is also highly transferable, with job opportunities in almost every city.With such a high demand for nursing education, many schools have to put a waitlist in place for their programs, which delays their learners’ education by several years.

One of the things that set Nightingale College apart from other nursing institutions is the fact that we have no waitlists.

4. Pass Rates Being Used as a Measure of Program Quality

  • Currently, the public and many nursing boards and accreditors view NCLEX first-time pass rates as a measure of program quality. There are a few reasons why this is not a good practice:
    An emphasis on first-time pass rates increases schools’ motivation to implement heavy testing in the admissions process to screen out those who may not be the best at testing. This not only eliminates many people who may be great nurses, but it disproportionately impacts minorities. Health Affairs noted, “Increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the health care workforce is essential for the adequate provision of culturally competent care to our nation’s burgeoning minority communities.”
  • Schools’ emphasis on high-stakes testing.
  • Because schools want to preserve a high pass rate, they implement benchmark tests to see if their learners are on track, and if they are not, the learners are not allowed to continue in the program. Learners are then kicked out and left with nothing to show for their work. This practice is commonly referred to as “wash out.” When scoping out a nursing program, take a look at their program retention rate and graduation rate. That statistic will show you how many of their learners failed out or were kicked out prior to graduation.
  • Employers do not ask, nor do they care, if a nurse passed the NCLEX on a first or second attempt, therefore evaluating a nursing program based on how many times it took their students is not helpful for hospitals in desperate need of nurses.
  • Schools that have a higher pass rate are perceived as better quality by the public, which increases the demand for their programs. This, in turn, increases the school’s motivation to wash out learners they feel will not pass. This makes these programs extremely competitive.

It is because of a combination of all these factors that nursing programs are extremely competitive and even though the need for nurses is skyrocketing, the supply simply cannot meet the demand. We’re not saying nursing education shouldn’t be competitive.

We’re just saying it should be competitive because of the right reasons: because the responsibility is huge and RNs need to be prepared for everything. But, nowadays, that is only partially the case so nursing school remains a very tough shell to crack. But if you do become a nurse, the meaningfulness of the calling makes the effort worthwhile.

Nursing School Challenges: How Hard Is Nursing School to Pass?

Even with the strict requirements and against the backdrop of competitiveness that describes the field of nursing, you managed to get into your nursing school of choice. First off, congratulations, but at the same time, beware, the hard part is just beginning.

Nursing school is difficult, no doubt about that. There’s lots of learning, the exams are challenging, schedules are tricky, assignments constantly pile one on top of the over. All these have the potential of making your student life really hard. Of course, for every nursing student, the experience and the training process goes differently. Some find it easier to memorize great amounts of information, while others excel at clinicals.

In the end, how hard nursing school actually is up to you. In general, these are some of the most common challenges nursing students face:

– You will study A LOT

Nursing programs require you to learn large amounts of facts, completely new terminology, complicated nursing concepts, and practical skills. The number of memorization necessary is no easy feat for anyone to accomplish.

But in the end, as a nurse you are responsible for people’s lives and wellbeing, so, being prepared makes sense. All in all, nursing programs are difficult, but not impossible. Their purpose isn’t to fail you or shatter your self-esteem. It’s just to prepare you as well as possible for the stressful life of a nurse.

Also, having a nursing workforce that excels academically is linked to the providing of safer patient care with less negative outcomes. In hospitals with a larger percentage of BSN nurses, surgical patients experienced lower mortality and failure-to-rescue rates. Thus, a more comprehensive education makes a great difference in the nurse’s level of expertise. So all arduous studying requirements are there for a reason – to educate RNs to the highest standards of professionalism.

why is nursing school so hard

– You may experience burnout

As we’ve already established, nursing school requires lots of memorization, client care, reading, and practical skills. That is plenty for someone to handle on its own, but add to it personal life, social life, work, and other responsibilities and you have yourself a recipe for clear-cut burnout.

Burnout is a state of exhaustion that affects you on all levels – emotionally, mentally, and physically – and is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It ensues when you feel overwhelmed by all the obligations you must fulfill, and when you simply can’t handle it anymore, you lose interest and motivation, sometimes even up to the point of giving up.

Unfortunately, nursing school burnout is a real thing that lots of students deal with. But with the proper time management, with the right support system, with a clear vision in place, you can avoid it.

Discover more tips to help you cope with nursing school burnout.

– Time Management Is Key

Proper time management is important in all areas of life but when it comes to online nursing school – especially online or hybrid nursing programs – poor time management (or lack thereof) can make nursing school a lot more difficult than it already is.

With online nursing school, you are entirely responsible for how you schedule your time, but it is imperative that you keep up with all the school materials, assignments, quizzes, tests and so on. Should you leave everything to the last minute, you’d set yourself for failure. So you can either make your own life harder or devise a plan that will help you succeed.

A good idea would be to designate time each week dedicated to studying and reviewing class materials. If you already have time set aside each week, it can alleviate some of the stress of shuffling tasks around to make room for school.

Clinicals: How Hard Are They Actually?

Months of classes, hours of tests, and yet nursing school clinicals are still some of the most nerve-wracking and stressful parts of studying to become a nurse.

Clinicals are the hands-on part of nursing school, where you go directly to the hospitals and work with real-life patients. In order to become a highly trained nurse, you do need this kind of experiential learning experience. Even the smallest things like starting an IV or administering medications or drawing blood cannot be taught only through books. You need to do it under supervision, in a real yet safe environment, that’s why going through clinicals under the careful supervision of a nursing instructor is essential for your professional development.

The importance of clinicals cannot be understated.

While the didactic part of school is tremendously essential because it gives you the theoretical background for your nursing practice, nothing can substitute for the diverse experiences you encounter when on clinical rotations. These clinical experiences help you apply theory to practice and help you develop the leadership abilities, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills every successful nurse needs.

Because of the huge amount of responsibility – after all, it’s real people we’re talking about, not mannequins or case studies in a book – clinicals can seem stressful and difficult to some people.
So, undergoing clinicals can be intimidating, but the learning experiences that come out of it are invaluable.

During the pandemic, however, the idea of nursing school clinicals has slightly changed. Although institutions still recognize their importance, in order to protect the safety and wellbeing of their students, schools, such as Nightingale College have stopped all on-ground experiential learning and have shifted towards online simulations.

nursing school clinicals are hard

The NCLEX: How Hard is it Really?

After a complicated admissions process, a few years of pursuing a difficult nursing program comes the ultimate nursing test, the NCLEX.

The NCLEX is the nursing board exam and it’s a comprehensive test that has anywhere from 75 to 265 questions and can take up to six hours to be completed. The test questions are designed to test your critical thinking, knowledge of the nursing process, and assessment skills. Upon passing the NCLEX depends on whether or not you receive licensure as a Registered Nurse.

The thought alone of taking the NCLEX is enough to make anyone nervous. It’s undoubtedly a hard exam, but at the same time, it’s the most important stepping stone towards your future as an RN. Part of the reason why nursing programs are so difficult is that they aim to prepare you for passing the NCLEX, and with that, to propel you into the wonderful world of nursing. If you’re well prepared and confident, you’ll have no problem passing the test on the first try.

How Hard Is It to Work While You’re in Nursing School?

Another thing that makes nursing school particularly hard is how complicated it is to be studying nursing and holding a job at the same time.

Work and school are both major commitments and some people cannot simply choose one over the other. Having a stable source of income and not needing to work for a living is not a luxury everyone has. So, because the process of juggling a job and school is no easy feat, nursing school is even harder for working professionals.

Explore some essential tips that will help you balance working full time and meeting the demands of nursing school.

Some nursing programs are even harder than others: accelerated programs tend to be more demanding, so it would be even more complicated to divide your efforts between work and school. At the same time, you could choose a program that lets you study at your own pace but keep in mind that that might extend the duration of your studies.

All in all, you need to find your learning style and motivation to keep going even when you are tired and unfocused after a long day at work. We are here to help you through the process. Read our post on how to effectively study while holding down a job in order to make the best out of both experiences. With a plan of action, a well-defined schedule, and lots of motivation, nursing school might come just a little bit easier.

How Hard Is Nursing School Compared to Other Degrees?

Comparing nursing schools to other programs is a tricky thing to do because each program has its challenges and benefits. Studying for any profession – nursing included – requires passion, willingness to learn and to put in the effort, the time and the energy.

Nursing school vs. medical school

Although they both belong to the spectrum of healthcare, nursing school and medical school are two very different animals. Neither is easy because both professions imply tremendous levels of responsibility, so in the end, it comes to your motivation for choosing one over the other. From a pragmatic standpoint, nursing school takes much less compared to medical school. Depending on your previous educational background, you can become a Registered Nurse anywhere from 12 months to four years. Becoming a doctor, however, is a much lengthier process.

Discover what it takes to become an MD once you are a licensed Registered Nurse.

That doesn’t make nursing an easier major. It just depends on what you’re looking for in terms of a career.

Find out how long it takes to become a Registered Nurse.

nursing school is hard

Nursing school vs Teaching

Another comparison that often emerges is between pursuing a nursing degree or a teaching degree. Both these professions have one main goal: improving the lives of other people, but other than that, the jobs are extremely different.

The schooling process is different for these two majors as well. For instance, elementary, middle school, and high school teachers typically require a Bachelor’s degree if they want to find a job. Although BSN degrees are also recommended for nurses, they still have more educational options. You can easily find a career as an LPN with one year of postsecondary education, you can be a licensed nurse by pursuing an Associate’s Degree, but if you do want to go into more advanced practice, you’ll need an MSN at the latest.

Neither studying to become a nurse or a teacher is easy. As always, it depends on your career goals, your passions, and your motivations. But if you really can’t decide between nursing or teaching, why not do both?

By enrolling in an MSNEd degree, you can become a Nurse Educator and fulfill your calling of becoming a teacher while also doing what you love: practicing nursing.

Explore more of the differences and similarities in the nursing vs. teaching debate.

In the End, Is Nursing School Worth It?

Beyond any shred of a doubt, nursing school – from the moment you decide to apply to the moment when you can sign your name followed by RN – is complicated. It’s one challenge after the other, but the sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that you can make a real difference in people’s lives makes every stressful situation, every all-nighter, every exam, every clinical worth it.

And it’s not only worth it for the emotional benefits. Surviving nursing school and becoming a Registered Nurse is a great career choice, even from a practical point of view.

You will have a job that pays well, recession-proof, that offers plenty of opportunities for professional growth and advancement. You will be playing a tremendously important role in keeping our nation safe in the face of significant medical threats, such as the pandemic that’s currently looming over the entire world. You’ll be joining the ranks of some of the most compassionate, intelligent, and dedicated nurses. Does that make nursing school worth the effort and the hardships? We sure think so.

Even in the midst of the most stressful times, few things can bring as much pleasure as knowing that your help and care can actually save someone’s life. For an extra dose of inspiration, watch this Nightingale College graduate talk about her experience becoming a nurse.

Find out some tips that will help you get through nursing school successfully, no matter how hard it may seem at first.

Enroll in a Nursing Program and Fulfill Your Calling

Everyone’s journey through nursing school is different: some find it easier, while for others, it’s painstakingly hard. It’s not a career path for the faint of heart, but in the end, if you’re passionate and driven, you’ll not only survive, but you’ll thrive in nursing school.

Nursing school is meant to help you become the best nurse you can be. Is it hard? For sure. How hard? That ultimately depends on you.

Are you ready to become a Registered Nurse who will play an important part in the future of the healthcare industry? Enroll in our RN to BSN program and become the best nurse you can be!

is nursing school worth it

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