Are you discouraged because nursing school is so competitive? You may have noticed that it’s difficult to be accepted to a nursing program, or that it’s hard to keep your grades to perfect levels to keep your seat in your program. Why are nursing schools so competitive? 

This blog will give you an overview of a few factors that contribute to nursing school competitiveness, as well as explain workarounds that can help you understand how to navigate this tricky territory.

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. Why?

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.

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.


To get accreditation, 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.

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 the nursing faculty shortages. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably aware of the nationwide nursing shortage. 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. 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.

3. High demand for nursing education, Wait lists

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 wait list in place for their programs, which delays their learners’ education by several years.

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.

What does this mean for you?

Learners who want to get into nursing school are left to choose between waiting for a competitive public program or paying for a more expensive private-sector program that will admit them immediately. More often than not, learners end up waiting for a public program, not realizing it’s more expensive to wait when you factor in opportunity cost. (For a helpful video on how to calculate opportunity cost, click here.)

Some programs are different!

A facet of Nightingale College’s mission is to reduce the nursing shortage, especially in rural communities. By not kicking out our learners when they don’t pass tests, we ensure that we graduate as many nurses as possible. We believe that whether a nurse passed on a first or repeat attempt has no bearing on whether the nurse will be a confident, competent, and compassionate nurse. Although this has an impact on our overall NCLEX first-time pass rates, we believe this to be an outdated measurement. Nightingale College is leading the nationwide effort to educate the public on appropriate metrics of program quality. Only by considering admissions testing and graduation rates will the public understand how cutthroat a school is.

Additionally, instead of building a brick-and-mortar campuses, Nightingale College partners with healthcare facilities in communities with nursing shortages. These healthcare facilities offer space for us to house an experiential learning hub that we stock with our equipment, and then we educate nurses right there in their hometown. This allows us to operate in rural areas. However, there aren’t very many schools that operate like Nightingale, so the shortage of nursing education remains.

We hope that you found this blog answered your questions about why nursing school is so competitive. If you have more questions about our ADN, BDN, or RN-to-BSN programs, request info here.