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How to Prepare for Nursing School (Challenges, requirements, expectations & more)

Nursing school is notoriously tough. And with more and more students pursuing nursing degrees, preparing for (and surviving) the competitive pace of nursing school is no easy feat.

But nursing is also an incredibly rewarding profession, making going to nursing school well worth the effort. The even better news is that your time preparing for school is made easier when you have the right tips and tools for success.

In this guide, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to get ready for your nursing career, as well as uncover some bonus tips for making nursing school a breeze.

Why Go to Nursing School to Begin With?

Applying to school can be stressful, especially when it comes to competitive programs like the RN to BSN, and that stress doesn’t stop when you get accepted! It’s important to keep in mind along the way your reasons for wanting to become a nurse to begin with. 

Knowing your “why” can make it easier to stay motivated, make it through those late nights of studying, and graduate with your new degree. 

Here are some reasons why nursing school is a smart option:

  • It’s fulfilling. Nurses save lives every day. They make sure patients receive the care they need and also go above and beyond to promote public health (the majority of nurses volunteer in their communities).
  • It’s a growing field. The registered nurse workforce is projected to grow by 15% over the next 10 years, meaning nursing graduates can look forward to a wealth of job opportunities. 
  • There are different pathways of licensure. There are several levels of licensure in nursing, so you can find a pathway suited to your needs. Each licensure level builds on the one before it. Some students know right away they want a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program to earn their Registered Nurse (RN) license, while some start with shorter certification programs like a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program, or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program.
  • You can enter the workforce relatively quickly. While some nursing students decide to earn their BSN in a 4-year program right off the bat, others may choose a 2-3 year associate degree or diploma RN program first, or a certification program. Each license level allows entry to the workforce, though with different responsibilities based on licensure. 
  • Nursing programs exist everywhere — in-person and online. Many colleges and universities offer nursing degrees and you can find programs all over the country. You can also find convenient, affordable online programs.


Must-Haves for Preparing for Nursing School

Whether you’re still considering applying or are just about to start your program, there are some boxes you must check off in order to prepare for nursing school. Knowing these must-haves will give you peace of mind knowing you are ready to kickstart your nursing career.

Find the Right Nursing Program

Different nursing programs have different benefits to offer. It’s important that you take your time researching different programs and considering what it is that you need in order to succeed. 

Note that not every school offers every degree. It's rare to find a school that has every pathway, so be sure to review the degree options below before choosing a nursing school.

Consider your lifestyle, career goals, learning style, and budget. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What level of nursing do you want to begin with? 
  • How long will the program take?
  • Does the schedule fit with your lifestyle? 
  • Where is the school located?
  • Do you want in-person or online classes?
  • When will classes meet? Day? Evening? 
  • What academic resources are available? 
  • What facilities does the program partner with for clinical hours? 
  • Are there job opportunities on campus?
  • Are other specialty programs or certifications available?
  • Do they have a career placement program?

Decide on Your Degree 

Your search for the right nursing school will likely begin after you have decided on your preferred degree or during your process of comparing your options. This is because not all colleges offer every level. You’ll need to decide which program you want before you can choose the right school for you. 

Your career goals will define where you ultimately want to be, but your pathway will be determined by the amount of time and resources you can commit to a program in your life right now.

Here is a brief summary of each type of nursing degree or certification:

  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Certificate or Diploma (4-12 weeks): A non-degree diploma offered at community colleges and vocational schools. You’ll learn how to provide basic healthcare services to patients, and must pass a state licensure exam to practice.
  • Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) Certificate or Diploma (12 months): A non-degree diploma offered at hospitals, community colleges, and vocational schools. LPN/LVN programs qualify you to work under the supervision of RNs once you have passed a state licensure exam. 
  • Registered Nurse (RN) via an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (2-3 years): The minimum requirement for becoming a registered nurse (RN). As an RN, you’ll have the credentials needed to qualify for most nursing jobs once you pass a state licensure exam. LPNs may be able to earn their associate degree and RN licensure in approximately 1 year via LPN-to-RN programs. 
  • Registered Nurse (RN) via a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (4 years): A traditional BSN degree is for recent high school graduates with little to no healthcare experience. Requirements are similar to other bachelor’s degree programs. If you already have college experience or another level of nursing licensure,  you may also pursue an LPN-to-BSN, an RN-to-BSN, or a second degree BSN to earn your BSN faster.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (2 years): A graduate program for nurses who want to practice in a specialized role and become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). 
  • Joint Master’s Degrees in Nursing (1.5-3 years): An option for those wanting to earn an MSN plus a complementary degree in less time than completing two programs.
  • Doctoral Degree in Nursing (3-6 years): Degrees intended to help nursing students gain the knowledge necessary to teach nursing at the university level, conduct research, or pursue high-level nursing roles.

Research the Field

Make sure you have a solid understanding of what nursing-related jobs exist, what jobs you may be interested in, and what your prospects look like in terms of landing your dream job. The more information you have, the better prepared you will be to choose the right program and follow the right track for you.

Complete the Prerequisites

Make sure you meet all of the prerequisites required for your chosen nursing program. 

Obviously, these will differ by program, so be sure to ask your program advisor or admissions counselor whether you are on track to pursue your future program. Also know that your grades matter, so you should work to get the best grades possible.

Take the TEAS Test

The Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) is a test used to assess your skills in reading, math, science, English language and usage. Getting a good score on this test is essential for getting into many nursing schools, so study up and do your best.

Update Your Immunizations and Certifications

Many nursing schools require that you be up-to-date with your immunizations before starting your program, and some may require you to have your CPR certification, too, so be sure to ask your admissions counselor what (if anything) is required. Immunizations might include:

  • Chickenpox
  • Hepatitis B
  • Meningitis
  • Mumps
  • Pertussis
  • Rubella
  • Rubeola
  • Tetanus
  • Tuberculosis
  • Influenza 

Bonus Tips for Preparing for Nursing School

While there is something to be said for studying hard and getting good grades, preparing for nursing school is also about having the right mindset, having a support system, and prioritizing your own well-being.

Here are some expert tips for not only surviving but thriving in nursing school.


You don’t need to be a one-person studying machine. Part of achieving success in nursing is building the right connections, creating a support system, and networking with people in your field. You never know which connection might lead to your first internship or job. 

Become a CNA.

By getting your CNA license first, you’ll gain a foundational understanding of nursing and have experience providing healthcare services to patients. You’ll also have an easier time in school because you’ll already know your way around patient care and medical equipment. 

Find a Tutor.

Tests and homework can be difficult for any student. There’s no shame in finding a tutor to help you organize your time, study for tests, and improve your grades. Don’t underestimate the power of getting a little help!

Stock Up on the Essentials

Check with your program to see what kind of equipment and supplies they require students to purchase. Invest in high-quality nursing supplies so you can avoid some embarrassing mishaps during your clinicals or labs. Research supplies with great reviews, test them before you put them to use, and be prepared to replace broken equipment when needed. 

Prioritize Your Mental and Physical Health.

While you may not have much time for extracurriculars, it’s still important to find time to prioritize your physical and mental health. Nursing school can be demanding, so you’ll need to make time for self-care to make sure you are on your A game. The healthier you are, the easier it will be to weather those long nights and stay focused throughout the day. 

Get Ready for Nursing School Success

Are you ready to pursue a career in nursing? If so, hopefully you’ve gained some valuable tips for preparing for nursing school. The key to a successful future is making the most of nursing school while doing your very best. That’s made easier by having the right tools and tips at your disposal.

At Labouré College, we’re passionate about helping students find the right nursing program and helping them find their  path to success. Learn more about our nursing programs online. 

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