How Hard is it to Get Into Nursing School – (15 Biggest Challenges & How to Overcome)


Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA


Are you dreaming of becoming a nurse but feel unsure where to start? Have you heard stories of competitive admission processes and wondered is it hard to get into nursing school or asked, “Just how hard is it to get into nursing school?”

It is no secret that getting into a good nursing school can be challenging. To help ease the stress, in this article, I will share some personal insight and discuss the 15 biggest challenges you will face to get into nursing school and how to overcome them. As you continue reading, you will gain some insight into why admission to nursing school is so difficult, reasons the process is competitive, and learn ways to address and overcome the challenges.



Is It Hard to Get Into Nursing School?


The process of getting into nursing school is hard at times. Several factors impact how challenging admission to a good program is, such as the number of available spots in the class and whether you can meet the strict admission criteria. If you genuinely want to become a nurse, stay determined and press through the challenges. I can tell you from experience as a long-time nurse and healthcare instructor, persistence is key to success!



On a Scale of 1 to 10, How Hard is It to Get Into Nursing School?


The level of difficulty you face when trying to get into nursing school varies. On a scale of one to ten, most schools rate about a six or seven. However, many factors influence how hard the admissions process will be. The required prerequisites, the need to take entrance exams, and whether you meet preset minimum grade point averages are among a few of the reasons why it is hard to get into nursing school.



Is It Harder to Get Into Nursing School Compared to Other Healthcare Schools?


Getting into nursing school is hard, but it is not necessarily harder than getting into other healthcare schools. The level of difficulty in the admissions process depends on the type of program and whether you meet all the criteria set forth for prospective students. For example, medical school and dental school are often more challenging to get into than nursing school. Conversely, nursing assistant, medical assistant, and medical office specialist programs usually have less stringent admission processes, making it easier to get into them than nursing school.



5 Main Reasons That Make Nursing School Admissions so Hard and Competitive


There are many reasons why it is hard to get into nursing school. Identifying some of the reasons may be helpful in trying to overcome the challenges and improve your chances of getting into nursing schools. Five of the main reasons that nursing school admission is so hard and competitive include the following.

REASON #1: Nursing schools typically have strict admission standards.

Perhaps the most obvious reason that makes getting into nursing school hard is that schools have high standards for their admission requirements. As you research programs, it is vital that you verify each requirement for admission to ensure you meet the necessary criteria. As a nursing instructor, I urge you to work hard to exceed the minimum requirements for admission. Anyone can make mediocre grades, but striving to go beyond the minimum accepted standards will make you a more attractive candidate. For example, if the school you want to attend requires applicants to have a 3.0 GPA, work hard to earn a 3.3 or higher.

REASON #2: The nursing school curriculum is rigorous.

Because the curriculum in nursing programs is rigorous, schools look for candidates with a likelihood of success. Students with a likelihood of success reduce the attrition rate, which benefits students, the school, prospective patients, and the profession. Having a low attrition rate is important because a school’s retention rate and NCLEX-RN pass rate impact its overall score and availability of federal funding, which keeps many schools operational.

REASON #3: Nationwide, there is a shortage of nursing faculty to teach students.

Despite a growing need for qualified nurses to provide essential nursing care services, a nationwide shortage of nursing faculty makes getting into nursing school hard. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that in the 2021-2022 academic year, nursing schools nationwide turned away nearly 92,000 qualified applicants because there was insufficient faculty to educate them.

REASON #4: The applicant pool for nursing schools is often quite competitive.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 683,002 people applied to RN programs in 2022. Although the average acceptance rate is 66%, that still leaves an average of 232,220 people who do not get into the programs each year. Whether it is because of failure to meet criteria, lack of faculty, or not enough classroom space, the large number of applicants makes getting into nursing school hard.

REASON #5: There are not enough schools and dedicated clinical sites to accommodate the number of qualified applicants.

Another reason why it is hard to get into nursing school is that there are too few accredited schools to accommodate the number of applicants. Nursing schools are limited to the number of applicants they can accept based on factors, including not only the number of available faculty to teach the programs, but also the size of their facilities and available clinical sites.



How Hard is It to Get Into Nursing School?

(The following are the 15 biggest challenges you will face to get into nursing school and ways you can successfully overcome them.)


CHALLENGE #1: Completing Necessary Prerequisites


About the Challenge:

Most nursing schools have a list of required prerequisites candidates must complete to be accepted. If you do not complete the necessary prerequisites, it could make getting into nursing school hard.

How to Overcome:

The easiest and, frankly, the only way to overcome this challenge is to take the time to complete your prerequisite courses. If you plan to apply to more than one school, verify the prerequisite requirements for each program and complete them. Keep in mind that not all schools have the same admission requirements, so review the prerequisite list for each school carefully.


CHALLENGE #2: Finding Sources for Good Recommendations


About the Challenge:

One of the requirements when applying to get into nursing school is to provide professional or academic letters of reference. Without proper recommendations, your application could be rejected, or you could be wait-listed. Choosing the wrong people to write your letters could make it especially difficult to get into a good nursing school.

How to Overcome:

This challenge that makes getting into nursing school hard is typically easy to overcome if you know what admission teams want. Schools that request letters of reference are used to obtain a third-party opinion about you and your potential for success in the program. The ideal people to ask for recommendations are former teachers, employers, or supervisors. If you have no college experience, your high school guidance counselor is an excellent source. If you do have college experience, consider asking one of your former college faculty to write a letter of reference.


CHALLENGE #3: Not Knowing How to Write a Personal Statement


About the Challenge:

Another challenge nursing school candidates often face is writing an effective Personal Statement. Whether it is a lack of writing experience, a feeling of uncertainty about what the statement should include, or anxiety about not creating a good statement, failure to write a good personal statement could make getting into nursing school hard.

How to Overcome:

Your personal statement is your opportunity to tell the “story of you” It is one of the most important parts of your nursing school application, which means following directions and including pertinent information is essential. Follow the guidelines set forth by the school to prepare your statement. Proofread your statement for grammar and punctuation errors, and consider asking someone else to read it as well. Also, there are several resources to help you draft a great personal statement.


CHALLENGE #4: Preparing for and Passing the TEAS Test


About the Challenge:

It is hard to get into nursing school, and one reason is that prospective students do not do well on the TEAS test. The TEAS test is an exam that nursing schools administer to determine a candidate’s academic potential. Nursing schools know that a good score on the TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) is a strong indication that you will succeed in their program. So, do not be surprised if this is one of the first steps you must complete to get into nursing school.

How to Overcome:

Accessing the right resources to study and prepare for the TEAS test is important. ATI Nursing Education wrote the TEAS test and has prepared several resources to help you prepare for the exam. I would like to recommend that anyone interested in getting into nursing school use study resources and practice tests to prepare. The more you study and practice mock exams, the easier the testing process will seem to you, and the better your chances of scoring well.


CHALLENGE #5: The number of available spots in the program may be limited.


About the Challenge:

Depending on its size, some nursing schools are limited in the number of applicants they may accept, which makes getting into nursing school hard. Technical colleges and community colleges, which offer associate nursing degree programs, are more likely to have limited capacity than universities. However, there are times when even university nursing schools reach capacity for their classes.

How to Overcome:

The best way to address and overcome this challenge is to get ahead of the game by applying early to multiple nursing schools. When you apply early, admissions teams can review your application and supplemental documents before the rush of last-minute submissions from other applicants. Another benefit to applying early is that, if the school requests additional information, you can submit it before the final deadline. Also, applying to multiple schools increases your odds of being accepted to at least one program.


CHALLENGE #6: Not Having the Right Experience Before Applying


About the Challenge:

Many nursing schools require applicants to have some type of relevant work or volunteer experience to be eligible for admission. The type of program you wish to pursue usually determines the kind and amount of experience you need. If you choose a school that requires experience and you have none, getting into nursing school is hard.

How to Overcome:

One thing I have always suggested to anyone considering going to nursing school is to get some type of healthcare experience before applying. Frankly, even if the school you hope to attend does not require work or volunteer experience, it looks good on your application, which can make you a more viable candidate in the process.

One easy way to get experience is to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). One of the pros of being a nursing assistant is that you can become one in a relatively short time. Becoming a CNA can get you in on the clinical side of healthcare before you enroll in a nursing school. Other jobs that would give you exposure and that look good on your nursing application are working as a ward clerk in a hospital or nursing home or a medical assistant. Volunteering at places like your local Council on Aging or Boys and Girls Clubs is also an excellent idea.


CHALLENGE #7: Meeting the Required Grade Point Average for Admission


About the Challenge:

As a former nursing instructor and student recruiter, I cannot tell you how important it is to get good grades. Whether you are considering becoming a nurse right out of high school or planning to go back to school to get a higher degree in the field, it is hard to get into nursing school without good grades. Most nursing schools require applicants to have a minimum high school or cumulative college GPA of at least 3.0 to be considered for admission.

How to Overcome:

Earning good grades, whether you are in high school or college, requires dedication and hard work. College faculty typically recommend that students spend three hours of study time dedicated to each credit hour of coursework for which they are enrolled. This may seem like a lot of time, and it is. However, nursing school is challenging, and you should prepare for those challenges by developing good study habits now.

If you are in high school and preparing to apply to nursing school after graduation, talk to your guidance counselor about ways to improve your GPA. If you have earned a college degree or taken college courses and need to improve your GPA, consider taking some extra classes relevant to nursing to help raise your overall grade point average.


CHALLENGE #8: Figuring Out Whether to Choose a Specialty


About the Challenge:

When you think about whether getting into nursing school is hard, the idea of choosing a specialty may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Nevertheless, it is important to consider one, and if you are unsure, it can be a challenge to decide. The reason it is necessary to decide if you want to pursue a nursing specialty is that you will likely be asked about it in your nursing school interview. Interviewers ask about your interests and your desire to focus on a specific patient population or disease category to see if you align well with the program options they offer.

How to Overcome:

There are so many options for nurses to specialize in. Keep in mind you may not be required to choose a specialty, but having a sense of the direction you want to go in your career shows you have put some serious thought into your future. Think about what interests you. Do you like working in fast-paced settings? If so, emergency or critical care nursing may be a good option. Alternatively, if you enjoy working with children or older adults, you could specialize in pediatrics or geriatrics.


CHALLENGE #9: Meeting the Financial Obligations


About the Challenge:

It is hard to get into nursing school, and the financial responsibility that comes with it can make it even more challenging. Before you can enroll, you must have a plan for how you will pay for your nursing degree. Some fees must be paid upfront. So, if you are unsure of where to begin, you could feel overwhelmed.

How to Overcome:

The first thing I suggest doing as soon as you know you want to get into nursing school is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The information you provide on this application will determine your eligibility for federal grants and loans to help pay for your nursing degree. There are also many resources for privately funded grants and scholarships designed specifically for nursing students. The American Association of Colleges of Nurses, Johnson & Johnson, and Scholarship Owl are a few places you can search for available funds to help offset your nursing school costs.


CHALLENGE #10: Getting Required Documents Turned in on Time


About the Challenge:

There is more to getting into nursing school than filling out an application. In addition to the school application, there will be a list of required documents that you must submit. For example, you will need official transcripts, copies of any licenses or certifications, a resume or curriculum vitae, and an admissions interview or Statement of Intent. Gathering everything you need and getting it turned in on time can be challenging.

How to Overcome:

As you search for and find nursing schools and programs that interest you, print out or save copies of the admission criteria for each one, including a list of the required supplemental documentation you need. Make copies of your resume/CV because you can use the same one for each application packet. Most importantly, verify the application deadline and try to get all your information submitted by the priority deadline.

By carefully planning and working on getting your information turned in early, you can relieve some of the stress that comes with the deadline crush that often makes getting into nursing school hard.


CHALLENGE #11: Choosing a Nursing School


About the Challenge:

One of the awesome things about wanting to become a nurse is there are thousands of nursing schools and programs available. However, it can be challenging to choose the right one. Getting into nursing school is hard enough; you certainly want to choose the school that is right for you.

How to Overcome:

As you begin your journey to find the right nursing school, I recommend checking into several schools. Once you decide which degree you want to earn (associate or bachelor's), look at the program goals and expected student outcomes. By reviewing these, you can determine which schools align with your goals and values, which makes choosing the right school easier.


CHALLENGE #12: Deciding Which Degree to Pursue


About the Challenge:

Some people feel one of the things that make getting into nursing school hard is choosing which degree to pursue so you can apply to the right program. The two undergraduate nursing degrees to become a registered nurse are the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both degrees prepare you to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The associate degree typically takes two to three years to complete, while a bachelor’s degree can take four to five years.

How to Overcome:

To overcome this challenge, I recommend thinking about the role you want as a nurse. Although both degrees qualify you to sit for the NCLEX-RN and become a registered nurse, there are some differences in the roles. RNs with an associate degree in nursing are usually more focused on clinical tasks and daily patient care. With a BSN, you may find positions that offer more autonomy and greater opportunities to specialize. Once you decide the role you want to have in nursing, you can search for schools that offer programs tailored to your goals.


CHALLENGE #13: The admissions interview can feel grueling.


About the Challenge:

One of the most important parts of the admission process, and something that many prospective students feel makes getting into nursing school hard, is the admissions interview. The admissions interview is typically the last step in the application process. After you have been screened by the admissions department to determine if you meet general admission requirements, you will meet with program faculty for an interview. The purpose of the interview is to determine if you are a good fit for the program.

How to Overcome:

I have conducted many interviews with prospective students and one of the best tips I can give you is to be yourself. Program faculty are not "out to get you" or looking for reasons to reject you. Yes, the interview is a formal part of the admissions process, but it does not have to be frightening.

Prepare for your interview by reviewing possible questions that may be asked and practicing answering them. Keep in mind that this is the final step in the admissions process, which means you have met the admission criteria. Now faculty just want a chance to get to know you. So, relax and show them why you are a great candidate and should be part of their program!


CHALLENGE #14: Getting Over Personal Insecurities


About the Challenge:

Nursing is an important profession that comes with a great deal of responsibility. It is common for prospective nursing students to battle personal insecurities, which can make even thinking of getting into nursing school hard. You may have heard stories about how difficult nursing school is or how scary clinical practicums can be.

How to Overcome:

The first step to overcoming this challenge is to realize that everyone feels insecure about something from time to time. So, do not be too hard on yourself. Think about why you want to become a nurse and where you imagine yourself in five, ten, or even twenty years. Talk to a family member or close friend about your feelings of insecurity. Another excellent way to overcome this challenge is to speak to current nurses. Discuss your feelings and ask how they overcame their own insecurities to become nurses. Finally, remember, you have what it takes!


CHALLENGE #15: Identifying Your “Why”


About the Challenge:

Nursing schools often ask prospective students to describe their “Why,” either in an essay, Statement of Intent, or in the admissions interview. Your “why” is your reason for choosing a profession. For example, why do you want to become a nurse? What do you hope to accomplish in your career? Why do you think this school is the best choice to help you achieve your goals?

How to Overcome:

It can seem intimidating when someone asks you about your "why" simply because you may not understand what they mean. As a nurse educator, when I ask someone about their why, what I want to know is what really drives you and makes you believe this is the perfect career for you. To overcome the anxiety of feeling like you need to answer the question perfectly, think about a few things. Did you have a life experience that involved a nurse and made you believe this is a great career and something you could picture yourself doing? Do you have friends or family who are nurses and love their careers, so it made you feel like you could be fulfilled as a nurse, as well? Make your answer or explanation personal. This gives faculty and interviewers an idea about who you are as a person.



My Final Thoughts


If you want to become a nurse, it is normal to be concerned about finding the right program or to ask, “How hard is it to get into nursing school?" The admissions process can take a while and may feel overwhelming at times. However, if you consider the 15 biggest challenges you will face to get into nursing school and how to overcome them I shared in this article, you can feel more at ease and take measures to improve your chance of admission. Nursing is an excellent profession with many benefits and opportunities. So, I encourage you to work to overcome any challenges you face and get started today!



Frequently Asked Questions Answered by Our Expert


1. What Is The Minimum GPA Required To Get Into Nursing School?

Although the minimum GPA required to get into nursing school varies, most schools require a high school or college GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 grading scale.


2. Do I Need To Take Any Exams To Get Into Nursing School?

One of the things that makes getting into nursing school hard is the admissions test requirements. Many schools require candidates to take the TEAS test or submit ACT or SAT scores.


3. Do I Need To Pass A Drug Test And Background Check To Get Into Nursing School?

At some point, you will have to pass a drug test and background check for nursing schools. Some schools accept students to classes but require them to submit to drug screenings and background checks before beginning clinicals. Others require a drug test and background check before admission and again before clinicals.


4. Do I Need Any Work Experience To Get Into Nursing School?

Some nursing schools require candidates to have work experience. Not knowing which type of experience is appropriate is what prospective students feel getting into nursing school is hard. I suggest verifying the work experience requirement with each school of interest to you.


5. Is An Interview Required To Get Into Nursing School?

Yes, most nursing schools require candidates to participate in an admissions interview.


6. When Usually Is The Application Deadline To Get Into Nursing Schools?

One of the things that can make getting into nursing school hard is meeting application deadlines. Each school determines the cut-off for submitting applications. So, it is crucial that you verify the deadlines for each school where you plan to apply. I encourage student-hopefuls to try and meet the priority deadline whenever possible.


7. Will Applying Early Increase My Chances Of Admission Into Nursing Schools?

One of the reasons getting into nursing school is hard is because there is such a large applicant pool, often with many qualified candidates. It has been my experience that applying early can increase your chance of admission into nursing schools.


8. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Med School?

Getting into nursing school is hard, but it is typically not as hard to get into compared to med school.


9. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To PA School?

No, it is usually a bit more challenging to get into PA school than nursing school.


10. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Physical Therapy School?

Because physical therapy school is typically more difficult than nursing school, it is often easier to get into nursing school than PT school.


11. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Respiratory Therapy School?

Although getting into nursing school is hard, it is often harder to get into respiratory therapy school.


12. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Radiology Tech School?

Getting into nursing school is usually harder than getting into radiology tech school.


13. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Surgical Tech School?

Getting into surgical tech school is typically much easier than getting into nursing school.


14. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Sonography School?

Getting into nursing school is hard, but it is usually harder to get into a sonography school.


15. Is Nursing School Harder To Get Into Compared To Dental Hygiene School?

Dental hygiene school is typically much easier to get into than nursing school.


Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).