What Makes Nursing School Challenging?

No matter the field of study, all undergraduate degree programs present their own set of challenges. Going back to school is a big decision, and becoming a nurse is a calling that requires specialized knowledge and expertise.

For some, nursing school may be hard to pass because pursuing your nursing degree involves studying complex nursing topics for exams, completing assignments, preparing for skills and simulation labs, and participating in clinical rotations. While challenging, this rigorous academic and practical preparation is for a good reason. After all, nurses save lives and are on the front lines of patient care.

So while earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing is challenging, with the right level of dedication and support, it is possible to complete it in as few as 12 months through Mercer University’s Accelerated BSN track.

For a look into what challenges to expect in nursing school, we will outline all the facets of Mercer’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) track and offer tips and insights for success from Mercer ABSN alumni. We will also share advice on how to prepare for nursing school, starting with what is required for admission.

Getting into Nursing School

The first step toward becoming a nurse starts with getting into nursing school. Nurses need to be able to think on their feet in fast-paced, high-pressure situations, so nursing school is designed to prepare you for the profession.

It is for similar reasons that getting into nursing school can be challenging. Each nursing school has different requirements for admissions, though most tend to look for similar characteristics in applicants, like a minimum GPA, completion of prerequisites, and a minimum passing score on an entrance exam.

To give you an idea of what to expect when it comes to getting into nursing school, we will cover what is required for admission to Mercer’s ABSN track. Keep in mind that simply meeting these requirements does not guarantee admission.

Mercer ABSN student in simulation lab

Meet Minimum GPA Requirement

Because nursing is an in-demand profession, nursing school admissions can be competitive. Having a higher than average GPA is one way to put together a strong application.

While GPA requirements vary from school to school, on average, many BSN programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0. 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.

Complete Prerequisite Courses

Many BSN programs will also have a prerequisite requirement to ensure prospective students have a solid background in nursing-related courses. Some of the specific prerequisite courses you can expect to have completed to get into nursing school may include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, psychology, chemistry, sociology, statistics, and others.

These required courses are generally not part of the accelerated nursing curriculum because you may have already taken some or all of these courses depending on your previous bachelor’s degree. A student with a Bachelor of Science degree may not need to take as many prerequisite courses as a student with a Bachelor of Arts degree, for example.

For Mercer’s ABSN track, you will need to complete the following courses (34 credit hours) with a 3.0 GPA or higher:

  • Anatomy & Physiology I
  • Anatomy & Physiology II
  • Microbiology
  • Abnormal Psychology/Psychopathology
  • Statistics
  • Pathophysiology
  • Nutrition
  • Human Growth and Development Across the Lifespan
  • Religion (may be waived in lieu of another course)

It is also important to keep in mind that Mercer University requires nursing students to have completed any science prerequisites within the past five years.

No matter your situation, your enrollment counselor will help you identify which prerequisite courses you may need to complete prior to enrolling in the accelerated nursing track at Mercer.

This blog post has even more details about completing prerequisites to be eligible for admission to Mercer’s ABSN track.

Prepare for and Take the TEAS

In addition to meeting the minimum GPA requirement many nursing programs will also require prospective students to pass a standardized entrance exam, such as the HESI Admission Assessment Exam or ATI Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) test, to demonstrate they have the skills or potential to complete a nursing program. Mercer’s ABSN track requires prospective students to take the TEAS and earn a minimum composite score of 76% to be considered for admission.

The TEAS exam is designed to assess your readiness for entering nursing school and the profession. Because a breadth of content is covered on the exam, it is important to prepare by studying. There are several free preparation resources available to help you study.

Write a Personal Essay

Academic and aptitude assessments aside, many nursing schools will also want to get to know the person behind the nursing school application. Before they select you for enrollment, they want to know if you have the drive and desire to become a nurse. Many schools, including Mercer’s ABSN track, require a personal essay as part of the application process.

What you write in this essay can help demonstrate to the admissions team that you have what it takes to be successful in nursing school. There are no set requirements in what you write about, but sharing why nursing school is the path you want to pursue, including any personal reasons behind your decision and what you wish to contribute to the nursing field, are great points to include. You should also include why you selected the school you are applying to and why you feel you are a good fit for the program.

What Makes Nursing School Challenging?

When considering the next step in your education, you might ask yourself, “What should I expect in nursing school?” The answer depends on whom you ask. To give you multiple perspectives, we asked Mercer ABSN graduates how they worked through some of the more challenging aspects of accelerated nursing school, including the course material, the accelerated nature of the program, and studying for nursing school exams.

Mercer nursing students in lab

Challenging Course Material

The main reason why nursing school is challenging is because it involves learning about complicated nursing concepts and practical skills, then applying that information into diverse patient care scenarios — going well beyond memorizing facts.

While it is challenging, nursing school is not impossible. Nursing school is challenging because it is intended to prepare you for the profession's rigors and deliver the best possible care to your future patients.

For Taylor, a Mercer ABSN graduate, excelling in understanding complex nursing topics meant adjusting how she studied.

“I had to learn to recognize what is most important, what is going to help with the framework of the entire system, whether it is a drug interaction or a disease process, and really hone in on those key details, rather than focus on the entire picture,” she says. “I found that focusing on those key details actually helped me understand the picture better than trying to memorize everything as a whole.”

Accelerated Nature of ABSN Program

As mentioned above, nursing school involves complex concepts that can be challenging to learn, synthesize, and apply to real-world situations. Even in traditional nursing school programs, which generally take 36 months to complete, processing that much information can seem like a lot to take on.

But add in the fact that in an accelerated nursing program like Mercer’s ABSN you will be studying that same amount of material in a 12-month online-based curriculum, and it seems especially difficult.

Taylor says while she chose the Mercer ABSN program due to its accelerated nature, she underestimated how quickly her studies would progress once she started.

“You truly hit the ground running. That being said, the faculty were so excellent at communicating and making things clear that even though you felt like you started at a sprint, you had such clear guidance and structure on what was going to happen, that I never really felt like I was getting out of breath or it was unmanageable."

Preparing for Nursing School Labs

As a Mercer ABSN student, you can expect to complete skills practice and participate in simulated patient care scenarios in our ABSN learning site labs, which are designed to mimic a real-world clinical setting.

This portion of Mercer’s accelerated nursing school curriculum requires you to demonstrate mastery of nursing skills, then apply those skills and nursing concepts alongside your peers as your instructors evaluate you.

After each simulated clinical scenario, you will debrief with your instructors and classmates on your performance. While this experience is a great way to hone key nursing skills without putting patients at risk, many students say these simulations often emulate the high stakes of real-life clinical situations.

Mercer ABSN graduate Taylor says while performing the skills came more naturally to her at the beginning of the program, applying them with a “non-robotic” bedside manner was something her instructors helped her with.

“I gained competence quickly in this program because the staff was wonderful at constructive criticism. Sometimes they would even film you so you can see how you were acting. I learned very quickly how to manage at the same time how to be safe and how to be personable with your patients,” she says.

Nursing School Clinical Rotations

Mercer ABSN student standing outside

Especially for students who have never worked in a healthcare setting, clinical rotations can seem stressful. Unlike the simulated patient care scenarios you participate in during labs, clinical rotations will have you working with clinical instructors and working nurses to learn about caring for patients facing real medical issues. In Mercer’s ABSN program, you can expect to complete clinical rotation hours at top healthcare facilities throughout the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Due to the nature of working in healthcare, we cannot guarantee the exact clinical scenarios you will face, but you can expect to learn about various specialty areas including pediatrics, intensive care, and mental health. The level of clinical practice you experience will gradually increase as you progress through the program.

For Mercer ABSN alumnus Nicholas, while clinical rotations seemed intimidating at first, “What you get out of them is what you put in.”

“I made it a point to seek out experiences I wanted to learn about. I did not wait for people to come to me and offer something. I would ask physicians when they would come into the room what they were doing and if I could watch. Many said, ‘of course.’”

Nursing School Exams and Passing the NCLEX

Nursing school exams are likely different from any others you have sat for in prior fields of study, which many students say takes some getting used to.

Rather than asking you to select a correct answer based on a set of memorized facts, nursing school exam questions test whether you can apply the material you have learned. This questioning style is not meant to trick you. In fact, it is by design — as a nurse, you must think critically and apply what you know to deliver the most appropriate patient care.

Nursing school exams in Mercer’s ABSN track are also written this way to ready you for passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) — the exam all nursing students must pass before they are allowed to practice the profession.

“I felt that a lot of our test questions were also very similar in content or in purpose to the NCLEX,” says Nicholas, who passed the NCLEX on his first attempt.

Nicholas also says the nature of Mercer’s ABSN track also readied him for studying for the NCLEX once he graduated.

“With the online coursework, you are responsible for setting your own study schedule for the given area of information your instructors want you to focus on. So, when I graduated, that made studying for the NCLEX a little bit easier for me than some of my other friends who did traditional undergraduate programs, because I was used to setting my own goals.”

How to Prepare for Nursing School

Now that you have a better idea of some of the challenges you can expect in Mercer’s ABSN program, there are several things you can do to prepare for them to help you transition into nursing school.

1. Establish a Strong Support System

As you begin nursing school, it is important to have people in your life who understand the dedication and time commitment involved. Whether it be family members, friends, or your enrollment counselor, you will need a core group of supporters to motivate and encourage you along the journey ahead.

It will also help to communicate with your support network that nursing school will be your top priority for the next 12 months, so routines and social expectations will likely change during this time. Just keep reminding yourself and them that you are making sacrifices now so you can achieve your ultimate goal of becoming a nurse sooner.

“If you do not have that motivation and that support pushing you through, nursing school can be very daunting. Make sure that everyone in your life knows that this is your dream,” Nicholas says. “They would be the ones in those moments when my own motivation could not carry me through reminding me of it and telling me, ‘Keep studying. You are going to pass and you are going to do great. Just keep going.’”

2. Invest in the Right Supplies

You will receive guidance on the specific scrubs and nursing tools you will need once you are accepted into the program, and it is never too early to invest in the supplies that keep you organized and on-task, such as a student planner. Whether paper or digital, a planner can help you stay focused on the multiple priorities you will have as a nursing student. Visualizing your learning activities on a calendar also makes it easier to stick to a nursing school routine. Before your first day of classes, take time to review your course syllabi and note due dates in your planner so you can continue on the path toward success.

3. Identify Efficient Study Habits

As mentioned earlier, you will learn much information in a short period of time as an accelerated nursing student. That is why it is a good idea to identify the most efficient study habits that coincide with how you learn best before you start in the program.

It helps to think about how you process and comprehend complex concepts. Is it through studying diagrams, listening to video demonstrations, explaining a complicated process to a study partner, or a combination of some or all of those?

If you are not sure how you learn best, the VARK, a questionnaire that helps recommend study strategies based on your learning style(s) may offer you some guidance.

Nursing School Tips

Mercer’s ABSN track offers several support resources to help you succeed, but your success in nursing school ultimately depends on how much effort you put in. Here are a few recommendations you to help make the most of your nursing school experience.

1. Form a Study Group

Given the accelerated nature of the program, it is important to make studying a daily habit. While independent study sessions work well for some, many students find it helpful to meet up with members of their cohort to review course materials.

“The No. 1 thing to get you through this program successfully is to communicate with your classmates and to form a camaraderie. My cohort was phenomenal. We were all friends and had our own study groups, but for test days and on finals, the entire cohort came together to support each other,” Taylor says. “That was so necessary, especially in this 12-month program.”

two ABSN students sitting in lab

2. Ask Questions

Because concepts in nursing school build upon each other, do not hesitate to reach out if you need help or do not understand something. As a nurse, staying curious and taking the initiative will also help you succeed in better caring for patients.

Students in Mercer’s ABSN track complete coursework online, and the same level of in-person support and resources are available to stay connected.

Through Mercer’s online learning management system discussion forums and chat features, you can contact your instructors and classmates. They are also accessible through email, phone, or in-person via office hours at our ABSN learning site. Remember, your nursing school instructors are here to help you succeed.

“Mercer’s ABSN instructors do such a great job in helping students. They are so approachable and so helpful, and truly go out of their way to make sure that you understand what’s going on and to help you,” Taylor says.

3. Maintain a Positive Attitude

Never underestimate the power of positive thinking. If you walk into a test believing you will fail you may very well second-guess yourself or be less motivated to try as hard with the mindset of “There is no way I am going to pass this exam, so why even bother trying?” On the other hand, a test-taker with a more positive outlook is more likely to go into the exam with confidence.

According to Taylor, the recipe for success in the Mercer ABSN program is positivity plus commitment and determination.

“Maintain that optimism and work hard and you will be successful. You can do this program, you just have to be passionate, and you have to put in the time and do the work. With that, you should pass and get through with flying colors,” Taylor says.

Mercer ABSN student standing in hallway

These are just a few tips we have for being successful in nursing school.

Nursing School Offers Immense Opportunity

Accelerated nursing school is challenging, but it offers a tremendous payoff. After successfully completing all the online coursework, skills and simulation labs, and clinical rotations, you will be more than prepared to become a BSN-educated nurse.

Says Mercer ABSN graduate Nicholas: “It is an amazing program with an amazing opportunity, and it gets you into what you want to do so much faster.”