Nursing Colleges: The Admissions Process

College admission requirements will differ depending on whether you apply to an undergraduate or graduate degree. Top colleges at the undergraduate level generally require you to have satisfactory exam scores on tests like the ACT or SAT as well as high school credits for classes like math, chemistry and biology. Undergraduate programs like the RN to BSN may also require you to have a current registered nurse (RN) license.

If you want to enroll in a graduate program at an accredited university, you will need to submit a copy of your current RN license, your undergraduate in nursing or a related field, letters of recommendation from previous instructors or employers and documentation of your clinical experience. Some of the best graduate programs will also look for evidence of academic research and writing abilities and might request a copy of your masters thesis or an undergraduate research paper.

All brick-and-mortar schools as well as the best online colleges will have more specific requirements at each degree level. These requirements will depend on each school’s specific curriculum and the type of clinical work that they require.


Nursing diploma programs are not usually offered by universities, although the institution that offers the degree often has a partnership with a local community college or technical school. These degrees are typically earned at hospitals and hospital learning centers where you will have direct contact with patients. Therefore, most diploma programs will require you to pass a physical examination as well as a drug and alcohol test. Most schools will also ask you to submit a copy of your immunization records and undergo a criminal background check before you can enroll.

Additionally, nursing diploma programs also have several basic academic requirements. Most programs will ask you to submit a statement of purpose and official transcripts from any colleges that you have attended, although they do not usually require you to have any prior college experience. However, some programs do require you to pass prerequisite courses like college-level algebra and chemistry. This can usually be done before you enroll or during your first semester.


An associates program at a college will share many of the same admissions requirements as a nursing diploma program. Additionally, most associates programs will also require you to take a general college placement test as well as complete several classes such as medical terminology and anatomy and physiology before you begin their program. In some rare cases, your program may even require you to have and maintain a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license during your studies.


Universities that offer bachelors degree programs usually have tougher admissions requirements than nursing diploma or associates degree programs. For instance, in addition to a copy of your high school diploma, you may also have to show proof that you have successfully completed high school courses like chemistry, physics and English. Many of the best universities will also require you to have a specific minimum score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or a similar exam before you can enroll in their bachelors program.

In general, it is important to remember that the admissions process for most bachelors programs (BSN) is usually much more competitive than it is for associates degrees and nursing diplomas. If you do not get accepted to a BSN program the first time you apply, consider enrolling in a local community college to take some of your prerequisite courses. You can always reapply to the BSN program 1 or 2 semesters later, and if you earn good grades in your prerequisite classes you will improve your chances of being admitted.


Before you can apply to a standard masters program (MSN) you must already have your bachelors in nursing or a related field. Additionally, most masters programs will ask you to submit a copy of your current registered license as well as letters of recommendation from faculty and clinical supervisors. Some MSN programs will also request a copy of your resume and will look for evidence of extensive clinical experience.

Finally, many of the best MSN programs will also require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before you enroll. The GRE is a challenging exam that tests your critical thinking skills in both language and math. Your GRE score will often be a very important factor in the admissions panel’s decision, so be sure that you are prepared to take the exam. Although you can buy test preparation materials online or in bookstores, a number of respected, for-profit educational companies offer excellent test preparation courses specifically for the GRE.


The only universal admission requirement for certificate programs is that you must have a current RN license. If it is a graduate certificate program, then you must also provide documentation that you have or are working toward a graduate-level degree. Each certificate program has unique requirements that are directly related to its specialized focus. Generally, graduate-level certificate programs will require you to satisfy hundreds of hours of supervised clinical work in your specialty field as well as earn a certain number of continuing education credits.


PhD programs usually only admit students with accredited masters in nursing and a current RN license. In some cases, PhD programs will directly admit students with a BSN. However, direct-entry BSN students must still fulfill most masters-level requirements before they can start their actual PhD coursework. Some PhD programs prefer you to have an RN license in the same state where the institution is located. However, most programs will recognize an RN license from any state in the U.S.

Some top PhD programs will also ask you to submit an academic portfolio that includes your masters thesis and any published academic articles or research papers that you have written. Finally, almost all PhD programs will request official results from your GRE or Miller Analogies Test (MAT).


If you decide to apply to traditional or online DNP programs, you will generally have to submit official copies of your masters in nursing as well as your current advanced practice registered nurse license. Otherwise, the application requirements for DNP programs are usually very similar to those for the PhD.


You can find accredited online colleges for every degree level just mentioned. Additionally, the majority of online programs are now offered by traditional universities that make sure that their online programs have the same accreditations as their brick-and-mortar programs. Therefore, almost every top online college will be accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Accredited online schools at every level will usually have the same admissions requirements as traditional programs. The main difference between online and on-campus programs will usually have to do with how you fulfill your coursework and clinical requirements.

If you plan to be an online learner, you should consult each school’s website or information office to find out about their specific clinical requirements. Some online programs will ask you to provide proof of auto insurance to ensure that you will be able to make it to your clinical practice site. Otherwise, you will probably have to fulfill the exact same admissions requirements as students who apply to traditional programs.