Everything You Need to Know About Getting Into Nursing School

by Janda Anderson, Director of Admissions, Georgia Baptist College of Nursing

Nurses truly are everyday heroes. Unfortunately, despite the obvious need, getting into nursing school can be very competitive. That makes it important for you to understand the requirements for getting into nursing school, and know what nursing schools look for in applicants and what you can do to make your nursing school application stand out.

How to Successfully Apply and Get Into Nursing School

Going Back to School to Become a Nurse

So you have decided you want to go back to school to become a nurse. That is great. Nurses truly are heroes among us. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the critical need for nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers nationwide, the United States was dealing with a decades-long shortage of registered nurses.

You should feel proud knowing the field you hope to enter needs you, and that by becoming a BSN-educated nurse, you will be a part of the solution to some of the biggest challenges facing healthcare. Not to mention that as a nurse, you will undoubtedly have an impact on more lives than you could ever imagine.

However, while envisioning the end goal is a great motivator, you still need to take the steps necessary to become a nurse, and that means first getting into nursing school. Depending on the school, this could involve fulfilling outstanding admissions requirements, preparing a winning nursing school application, taking the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), and successfully interviewing with nursing school faculty. Despite all of this, it does not need to take you four years to become a nurse.

A Quicker, Equally Comprehensive Path to Becoming a Nurse

If you already hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and now realize nursing is your life’s calling, an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track is most likely your best and quickest path toward this life-changing profession.

Typically, accelerated nursing tracks take about 16–18 months to complete, plus any time needed to meet the admissions requirements, such as taking prerequisite courses you did not take while earning your previous degree. Mercer University’s Accelerated BSN track in Atlanta, Georgia, however, allows highly motivated individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in as few as 12 months after fulfilling the admissions requirements.

Is an Accelerated BSN Track for You? If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, an accelerated nursing track may be your fastest path to a rewarding new career. We take a deep dive to help you determine whether one is a good fit for you.

A leader in nursing education for more than a century, Mercer’s second-degree ABSN track offers the convenience and flexibility of online coursework without sacrificing the hands-on experience that is essential to becoming a nurse. For this, Mercer ABSN students attend skills and simulation labs several times a week at our ABSN learning site, where they will also take exams and practice tests. Additionally, students will participate in a wealth of clinical experiences at healthcare facilities around the Atlanta metro area, beginning the very first semester.

The result is a nursing education every bit as academically thorough as one would receive from a traditional, four-year program, only in significantly less time. How is this possible? In traditional programs, the first two years typically focus on basic education courses, electives, and prerequisites that provide essential background for your nursing coursework. Then, the nursing-specific coursework begins in earnest during year three and continues through to graduation.

With Mercer’s ABSN, your previous degree is like the first two years of a four-year nursing program, and you complete all of your nursing coursework in just one year instead of two. As mentioned previously, you may still need to take prerequisite courses; however, that depends on your previous degree.

If you took all of the prerequisite courses while earning your previous degree — including anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and pathophysiology within the last five years — and meet the GPA and other requirements, you can likely start as soon as there’s an opening. If you do still need to take a prerequisite course, or need to retake a previous course to because you took a science course more than five years ago or need to improve your GPA, your ABSN enrollment counselor will help you map out a plan.

Increasing Your Chances of Getting Into Nursing School with an Accelerated BSN: ABSN tracks do not just provide a faster path to earning your nursing degree. Thanks to their hybrid online format, these programs are able to offer multiple start dates and cohorts each year. That way, they are able to accept considerably more applicants a year than many traditional BSN offerings, which tend to offer a single start date each year — a contributing factor to the nationwide nursing shortage. As a result of the limited spots offered by traditional BSN tracks, many well-qualified nursing school applicants are turned away every year.

Understanding the Basic Requirements for Getting Into Nursing School

Every nursing school has different requirements for acceptance, though most tend to be looking for similar characteristics, like a GPA that shows you are serious about your education. Most nursing schools also require students to pass criminal background checks and submit admissions essays, too. Before you apply to any nursing track, you should be well aware of the admissions requirements — because while accelerated nursing tracks are able to accept more students than traditional, campus-based BSN programs, getting into nursing school is still very competitive.

For example, to be admitted into Mercer University’s 12-month Accelerated BSN track, you must:

  • Hold a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, including a 3.0 GPA or higher in all science courses
  • Submit your professional resume
  • Write an admissions essay
  • Achieve a 76% minimum composite score on the Test of Essential Skills (TEAS)
  • Take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), if applicable
  • Complete the Accelerated BSN prerequisites:
    • Anatomy & Physiology I*
    • Anatomy & Physiology II*
    • Microbiology*
    • Abnormal Psychology/Psychopathology
    • Statistics
    • Pathophysiology*
    • Nutrition
    • Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan
    • Religion (may be waived for another applicable course)

*Must be completed within five years of beginning the ABSN track.

Keep in mind that simply meeting these requirements does not guarantee admittance. While our accelerated track allows us to accept more students per start, we still set caps on the size of each cohort. That way we are able to ensure you receive the one-on-one attention you need via small lab and clinical class sizes.

So with the competitive nature of nursing school admissions in mind and a basic understanding of what kind of requirements you will need to meet to be eligible, we need to discuss what schools look for in nursing applicants.

What Do Nursing Schools Look for In Applicants?

Infographic showing the 6 traits of a great nurse and nursing student

Before you talk to an enrollment counselor, write an admissions essay, or fill out your nursing school application, you need to understand what nursing schools look for in prospective students. That way you tailor interactions with your nursing school of choice to demonstrate that you have the makings of a great student and nurse.

1. Compassion

You often hear about nursing less in terms of it being a job and more of it being a calling, and there is a lot of truth in that. Quite honestly, there are easier jobs than being a nurse. The work can be physically demanding, the hours can be long, not everything you do will seem so glamorous, and some days will be emotionally taxing. All of this makes it essential that you are a genuinely compassionate person who thrives on helping others, because if you are not, the work will get old quickly.

For this reason, nursing school enrollment counselors and other decision makers are very interested in your personal story. They want to know why you want to become a nurse, and compassion for others needs to be at the heart of your story. Not only that, no one wants to be in the care of a nurse who shows little compassion. In fact, compassion is increasingly considered an integral component of quality care.

2. Dedication

Any nurse will tell you … nursing school takes a lot of hard work. Many consider it among the most difficult things they have done. This is especially true of an accelerated nursing track, such as Mercer University’s 12-month, Atlanta-based Accelerated BSN track.

Over the course of three, full-time semesters, you will receive a comprehensive nursing education rooted in the art and science of nursing, holistic and evidence-based practices, and the values of Christian caring and social responsibility, among others. During this time, you will complete weekly assigned readings and discussions assignments, engage with interactive online learning elements, participate in hands-on skills and simulation labs, and attend clinical rotations around the Atlanta area.

That is a lot by any standards. As a result, we want to know that you will put in the hard work necessary to succeed in our accredited, accelerated nursing track.

3. Good Communication Skills

Nurses spend a great deal of their time on the job communicating with others, whether talking to patients and their family members, charting information for reference by other medical professionals, or coordinating patients’ care with other members of the care team. This makes strong written and verbal communication skills two must-haves.

Keep this in mind as you conduct check-ins with your enrollment counselor throughout the application process, being sure to clearly communicate any concerns you have. Remember that while he or she will not make the ultimate decision as to whether you are accepted to nursing school, he or she does have the ear of those who do, making it important that you demonstrate the kind of communication skills you will need as a nurse.

Mercer nurse with patient in a hospital bed

4. Being a Lifelong Learner

Regardless of the type of nursing degree you earn or the practice area you gravitate toward, as a nurse, you must be a committed lifelong learner. Healthcare is in a constant state of flux. New treatments come along, electronic records management systems change, protocols evolve, new regulations take effect … and nurses have to stay up on all of these changes. In fact, many hospitals and even some state nursing boards require RNs to take continuing education (CE) courses each year.

Because of this, nursing school faculty want to know that you are intellectually curious — that you are driven to learn as much as you can. This trait is especially important for accelerated nursing school students, because not only is there a lot to learn, there is not a lot of time to learn it in, which brings us to the next trait …

5. Being Organized

Learning something as complex as modern nursing practice in 12 months necessitates excellent organizational skills. Successful ABSN students set schedules and stick to them (including when they intend to study, complete assignments, etc.), are good note-takers (and keep their notes organized), retain all of their old assignments, and always show up for clinicals, labs, and exams on time.

If you do not consider yourself to be a very organized person, it may be worthwhile to look into some of the many books, articles, podcasts, and other resources available on how to become a more organized person. Not only will it help you as a nursing student, it is essential that nurses are organized. After all, they must take excellent notes on patients, as well as manage the care of many different people at the same time.

Need More Tips on Getting Organized? In our November 2019 blog post, 8 Tips for Success in Nursing School, we discussed some ways to stay organized in nursing school, the importance of setting a schedule, and other valuable advice.

6. Preparation

Accelerated nursing school is a big time commitment, which is why we recommend students view Mercer’s ABSN track as a full-time job. It is also why your enrollment counselor will likely ask you a little about your personal life. He or she knows what it takes to be successful in our track and wants to ensure your lifestyle, commitments, and schedule will be conducive to this.

Likewise, well-prepared students know that it is important to manage expectations with friends and family. They need to know that you may not be as present at social outings or that you may need some extra help — for example, with watching your kids, if you are a parent — while you are studying to become a nurse.

However, do not wait to get into nursing school to make important arrangements, such as arranging for childcare or determining how you will pay your bills while not working. It is best to have a plan for how you will deal with such matters in advance of applying — and being able to discuss your plans with your enrollment counselor will show her or him that you will approach nursing school with a similar level of preparation, and that is important.

In nursing school, you cannot wait until the day assignments are due to start on them or the night before a test to study, you have to take a proactive mindset toward your coursework so you show up prepared. Not only that, the nursing students who show up for every lab and clinical session ready to work and learn are the students who often end up getting offered a job via the connections they form during clinicals.

How to Increase Your Chances of Getting Into Nursing School

At this point, you have a good understanding of the personality and character traits nursing faculty look for in prospective students. Now, we will turn our focus to the actual admissions and application process. Though this varies from school to school, we will again use Mercer University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing track as our example.

Infographic showing the 5 steps in Mercer's ABSN Admissions Process

The first step of Mercer Accelerated BSN’s admissions process is to talk to an enrollment counselor for the program. These counselors are specialists in helping students apply for our accelerated nursing track. In fact, they only work with ABSN students — so you can rest assured that when you call, you will speak to someone who knows the ins and outs of the track.

During your initial call, your assigned enrollment counselor will discuss your reasons for wanting to become a nurse, ask probing questions to determine whether the ABSN track is a good fit, and talk over the details of the track, including the requirements, expectations, and so on. He or she will also go over your previous college education with you, making it worthwhile to be a step ahead of the game by obtaining copies of your unofficial transcript to send over.

In a subsequent call, your counselor will lay out a plan and timeline for completing any outstanding courses, retaking certain courses to raise your GPA, and submitting your application, which includes a professional resume and admissions essay.

Remember that this is your opportunity to shine. Regardless of what step of the process you are at, these five tips will help increase your chances of getting into nursing school.

Have a Story to Tell

One thing you will find yourself talking about over and over again — first with your enrollment counselor, then in your admissions essay and, depending on the school, interviews with nursing faculty — is why you want to become a nurse. Keep in mind what we touched on earlier: show how passionate you are about making a difference in people’s lives. Clearly spell out the emotional reasons for your desire to become a nurse — as well as why you know you would make a good nurse. If you can, frame your decision to go back to school as a story … your personal story.

Be Honest

When you talk to your enrollment counselor, you will be asked about previous grades and will discuss the legal requirements of the nursing track, such as submitting to a criminal background check. If you did poorly one semester or got in trouble, you need to be forthcoming with your counselor. Not only will he or she find out eventually, but it would also be a big waste of your time to find out late in the process that you are ineligible.

Accept Advice

While much of your academic plan will center around fulfilling any outstanding requirements, your counselor might also advise you to retake a course or two if, say, your grades hover right around the 3.0 minimum GPA requirement. While this may not be preferable, it is worth noting that the minimum is just that. If there are ample applicants with higher GPAs than you, it is possible you still will not get in despite meeting the requirement. For this reason, your counselor may recommend retaking a certain course to bring up your average.

Keep in mind that college enrollment counselors are not incentivized. By law, they cannot receive a bonus for the number of students they enroll. So if your counselor makes a recommendation to improve your chances of getting into nursing school, know that he or she really does want the best for you.

Take TEAS Preparation Seriously

You may exceed the GPA requirements, have all of the prerequisite credits, and be an otherwise perfect fit, but if you do not achieve the required minimum composite score of 76% on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), you will need to retake it no sooner than 30–45 days later (depending on the school) to become eligible.

Unfortunately, if there is one area that trips up many qualified applicants, it is the TEAS. Often, applicants assume that because they have the GPA needed to get into nursing school, they will be able to pass the TEAS without studying. However, that is a big mistake.

By all accounts, the TEAS is no easy test. Consisting of 170 multiple-choice questions, this exam covers English and language usage, math, reading and science — all skill areas you will need in nursing school. That makes ample studying essential, which is good. As a nursing student, you are going to spend a lot of your time studying, so you might as well start now.

It is recommended that you spend several weeks preparing for the TEAS. Luckily, there are a number of resources available, both online and in print. Additionally, the exam’s creator, Assessment Technologies Institute, offers a number of study packages, as do some third parties. Just remember that in dealing with third-party resources, and especially free resources, you need to do your homework to make sure they are high quality.

Mercer ABSN - Students working on laptop

Double-Check Your Work

The best way to disqualify yourself from a job or university program alike is to submit a resume, cover letter, admissions essay, or application riddled with careless mistakes. No matter how compelling your content, typos show a lack of attention to detail and — even worse — may give the impression that you are not dedicated or a hard worker. Nursing faculty may also see this type of behavior as a sign of things to come with written assignments.

Not to mention, nurses must possess a strong sense of attention to detail. After all, in the nursing world, missing a small-but-critical detail can result in a life-threatening mistake.

Before you even think about submitting your admissions essay, ask a trusted friend or family member to read over it, making sure to let him or her know that you want brutally honest feedback. You need to know that the person reading your essay will say if he or she thinks your essay needs improvement.

Make Your Nursing Dream a Reality in as Few as 12 Months with Mercer ABSN

Hopefully these tips help you in getting into nursing school. If you already hold a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, the Mercer ABSN program in Atlanta, Georgia, could be your quickest path to a rewarding new life. Our Accelerated BSN track makes it possible to earn your nursing degree in as few as 12 months, so you graduate ready to sit for the NCLEX and to make a difference in whatever healthcare setting you find yourself in. Fill out this brief form to get started.

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