Typical Minimum Entry Level Requirements for Nursing Degree Programs

nursing programs

Undergraduate Nursing

Getting into a Bachelor’s Degree program for nursing (BSN) can be highly competitive, but for motivated students it is always achievable. Typically, before a student can be enrolled in a BSN degree, the student must first obtain a license to practice as a basic RN.

Acquiring an RN degree should take no more than two years, though many people can get it in only three semesters online. After passing the RN courses from an accredited school, students must then take the NCLEX, or National Council Licensure Examination, in order to gain their right to practice nursing in the U.S. This test is difficult, but a high score will give students who are interested in higher degrees a supreme advantage.

Other than having an RN degree and certification, prerequisites and qualifications for a BSN vary, depending on the school. College GPA of applying students should be at least a 2.5, but some schools require higher GPAs like 3.0. The strongest candidates will have GPAs above a 3.2. Letters of recommendation may be needed from previous instructors. Some schools may require applicants to write an essay related to the nursing occupation, or career choice, as part of the application process. They will use these tools to isolate the strongest matches for their particular academic program.

Nursing is more than just academics, though, and colleges and universities understand this. Schools will be interested in your extracurricular activities during your early years of college. These experiences outside the classroom help enrich the student’s education, and will set apart certain applicants. Nurses are in high demand so schools are accepting higher number of students than ever before, but no one is guaranteed admittance. To be a competitive applicant, interested students should be well-rounded and actively involved within their community.

Many colleges and universities actually offer the BSN option entirely online, so you don’t have to worry about rushing through a busy campus or finding parking in an overcrowded parking lot. Online programs offer fantastic incentives for interested nursing students. Some programs have an RN to BSN, in which part of your RN credits can be applied toward your B.S. degree. This helps limit the amount of time students are in school, and thus it detours some of the school related costs and tuition. These programs also simplify the transition from the RN degree to the BSN degree, and makes it less competitive for the student who decides on the BSN early in the student career.

Graduate Nursing Programs

Those students who are successful in undergraduate nursing programs, and who want to obtain higher degrees, can continue their education at the graduate level. Many schools offer a Masters of Sciences degree in nursing (MSN). Again, there are extensive options for MSN programs including degrees that can be attained exclusively online.

The graduate programs in nursing are highly coveted positions, as many of the higher salary nursing jobs require degrees at or above the Masters level. So nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners must acquire their MSN before completing their own specialized programs of study. The same type of criteria exist for the Master’s program as for the BSN program, although admission may be more of a challenge as there are fewer positions available for Master students.

Schools require applicants to have a license to practice nursing and GPA requirements may vary, although many schools set the standard of at least 3.0. To be a stronger candidate, an applicant would want a GPA of a 3.4 or higher. Additionally, most schools require all potential graduate students to take a GRE, or Graduate Record Exam. They use this to determine which MSN candidates would perform best in their program. Letters of recommendation from university faculty members may be necessary and, as also required in the BSN degree, an essay may be required during the application process.

PhD or Advanced Nursing Degrees

Those who have an M.S. in nursing have the opportunity to expand their career into a sub-specialty with an advanced degree. Careers that require these advanced or specialized degrees include nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse educators, nurse researchers, and clinical nurse specialists. These sub-specialties pay top-dollar and are therefore the most competitive nursing degrees; admission to an advance nursing degree is reserved only for the strongest students.

PhD nursing programs, or advance specialized programs, require the greatest demonstration of academic excellence. Minimal GPA scores to apply are typically around 3.3, but strong candidates should have a 3.5 or higher. Letters of recommendation from previous instructors and essays may be required. Advanced degrees like the PhD in nursing go beyond stereotypical class work; this level of education is designed to elicit students to advance the knowledge of the nursing field and to explore advanced, prevailing theories in clinical research. Emphasis at this level is not on memorizing facts or writing term papers, but the discovery of new facts by scientific methodology and research. Therefore, depending on the school and the type of nursing program, board committees may expect to see participation in clinical research, publications, and a minimal field experience. For example, most nurse anesthetist programs require an RN, a BSN, and then two years of nursing experience in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Costs for such degrees are tremendous, so before attending expensive schools it is good to examine your financial status. While scholarships and grants are available for students, be aware and be prepared to borrow a mass amount of student loans when working toward a PhD in nursing or advanced degree in nursing.

Researching the program and school is much more important at the PhD/advanced level of nursing because these programs can be highly specific and catered toward specific sub-specialties. When making school decisions it is important to already know your career goals and see how a school can help you meet your goals before you submit an application. The odds are the more a school is right for you, the more that school will want you there. Fortunately, there are also online options for advanced nursing degrees and programs. Some of these schools have higher tuitions, but may save you money in the long run; the cost of living on campus is overwhelming. These online programs may also offer more incentives, like easier transitions from the BSN to the PhD. The prerequisites for these schools and programs should be about the same as for a traditional program.