How Hard Is It to Get Into Nursing School?

Acceptance rates vary for nursing schools. Here are some of the easiest and hardest nursing programs to get into.
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Matthew Arrojas
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on July 26, 2023
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Scott Harris has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 25 years, including more than 15 years covering healthcare and higher education. As a senior editor with Red Ventures, Scott currently is a contributing editor at BestColleges and edits the "N...
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All registered nurses (RNs) need a college degree, leaving aspiring nurses wondering how difficult it'll be to get into the nursing program of their choice.

In short: It varies.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, "Is it hard to get into nursing school?" Much like other career paths that require a degree, it often depends on the selectivity of the institution, the degree level being pursued, and whether the institution is a community college or four-year university.

It may be comforting for many to hear that some nursing schools have a 100% acceptance rate.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some nursing programs with an acceptance rate of less than 10%. This is often found at prestigious private universities but includes some public institutions, too.

Acceptance Rates Vary Wildly

The two leading accreditors for nursing programs — the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) — oversee more than 1,000 nursing schools in the U.S.

There are many nursing programs, in other words, and these programs run the gamut in terms of how difficult they are to get into.

For nursing schools connected to many of the nation's more prestigious universities, for example, acceptance can be challenging and requires superb applications. Generally speaking, students coming from high school typically need to have SAT scores above 1300 to be accepted into a highly selective program.

Meanwhile, community colleges often have an acceptance rate above 80% for aspiring nurses pursuing an associate degree in nursing.

For-profit colleges and universities also tend to have high acceptance rates, but these institutions come with other risks, as some for-profit institutions have been found to award low-value degrees or to close unexpectedly.

Public universities vary in their acceptance rates for nursing students. Flagship universities with prestigious research arms can be difficult to get into, while other public, four-year institutions may have more favorable acceptance rates.

Nursing Schools With Low Acceptance Rates

Unsurprisingly, nursing schools within Ivy League universities have some of the lowest acceptance rates.

The acceptance rate for the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, for example, is 25%, according to Ivy Scholars. While that is significantly higher than the school's overall 9% acceptance rate, it still makes it one of the more difficult nursing programs in the U.S. to get into.

It's not just Ivy League schools with nursing programs that are challenging to be accepted into.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Nursing usually receives more than 5,000 applications for its bachelor's in nursing program each year, but it has just 50 open slots, according to UCLA. That's an acceptance rate of just 1%.

UCLA's master's program is slightly easier to get into, but only just. The institution says it has 70 open slots each year from among approximately 600 applicants for an 11.7% acceptance rate.

Nursing Schools With High Acceptance Rates

It may be difficult to gain entry into a prestigious college or university, but there are many options for students searching for a lower barrier to entry.

U.S. News & World Report lists nearly two dozen institutions that have nursing schools with an acceptance rate of 100%. That includes flagship state schools like the universities of Iowa and Utah.

Community colleges tend to have a lower threshold of acceptance for students looking to break into the nursing profession, particularly in cases where applicants have less experience in related fields. People can become RNs with an associate degree.

According to Community College Review, the national average community college acceptance rate was 80% in 2023. It's slightly higher for public community colleges (88%) and lower for private, two-year colleges (74%).

Aspiring nurses may even be able to obtain a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from a community college, as is the case with Miami Dade College's Benjamin Leon School of Nursing.

Students can earn a bachelor's degree from a community college in nearly half the states in the U.S.

Necessary Qualifications for Nursing School

There are many commonalities in what it takes to get into a nursing program in the U.S.

To get into any college program, students must have a high school diploma or equivalent, such as a GED certificate.

Students looking to enter a post-baccalaureate program — including a master's or doctoral program — must first attain a bachelor's degree. Some high-level programs may also require some healthcare work experience to apply.

Associate and bachelor's degrees help prepare aspiring nurses for the NCLEX licensing exam, so many programs offer mainly the same courses. In many cases, some or all of these courses may be required prerequisites for applicants:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Biology
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • English composition
  • Lifespan growth and development
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

Admission into a master's or doctoral degree program may require an entrance exam.

Different degree levels may also have higher GPA standards, depending on the type of institution. For example, an applicant to the Marquette University College of Nursing must have a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA.