How Hard Is Nursing School?

Each nursing degree type has its own challenges. Learn what to look for and get answers to commonly asked questions.
portrait of Meg Lambrych, RN-BC
Meg Lambrych, RN-BC
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Meg Lambrych has a wide range of nursing experience, including critical care, occupational medicine, and public health. She received her first BS in health and exercise science from Syracuse University and later her BS in nursing from the University ...
Published on July 27, 2023
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Scott Harris
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Editor & Writer

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...
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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  • Nursing school is tough, with graduation rates for bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs averaging 50%.
  • The science-and-math-heavy coursework and additional requirements like clinical placements and hands-on lab work make for a challenging program.
  • The culture of nursing school is also very different from other college programs, and professionalism and ethics are strongly emphasized.

I remember the first day of lab in nursing school vividly. There was buzzing energy in the hallway as we waited outside the doors to the lab.

We all wore our clinical uniforms — white scrub tops with the school logo sewn on, navy scrub pants, and all-white shoes — and fidgeted nervously.

From Day 1, our instructors made it clear that the task in front of us was not for the weak and that rule-breaking, unprofessional behavior, and uniform deviations of any kind would not be tolerated.

When the lab started, the instructor called out one of my peers for having dirty sneakers. The student was asked to leave and return with shoes that met the standard.

While this may seem excessive, this is a typical day in nursing school. The coursework and clinical skills are challenging, but one of the biggest hurdles nursing students face is adjusting to the culture.

Nursing school has science and math courses, clinical skills, and critical thinking development. With dropout rates approaching 40% by some estimates, it's clear not everyone will be successful. But if I made it, so can you.

Follow these tips on evaluating nursing programs, and check out our frequently asked questions.

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Is Nursing School Hard?

While nursing school has a well-founded reputation for being difficult, it's important to remember that everyone has a different experience. That said, there are a few factors to consider when discussing the difficulty of a nursing program:

  • Length
  • Program type
  • Support services offered
  • Nursing culture

There are four main program tracks to become a nurse:

  • Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN)
  • Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN)
  • Traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

While there are few differences in the LPN scope of practice, LPNs are nurses and share many duties with registered nurses (RNs).

Which program you choose and how long it is will help determine how difficult nursing school will be for you, especially if you need to hold a job or have childcare or family obligations.

Another critical feature of nursing programs that will significantly impact your experience is what kind of support services they offer. Because while all programs are challenging, the presence of additional support like mental health counseling, tutoring, mentorship, and 1-to-1 time with faculty can make all the difference if you start to struggle in your nursing education journey.

Lastly, adjusting to the high expectations of the nursing culture can be the most difficult part of nursing school. Because I've done a traditional undergraduate degree and a nursing degree, I can tell you that the expectations of your faculty are much different.

As mentioned in the shoe example, nursing students are held to much higher conduct and professionalism standards than most traditional college students — and they should be.

Nursing school prepares you to hold patients' lives in your hands, and your day-to-day work tasks can have serious consequences for your patients.

Because of this, some students have a difficult time meeting those expectations.

  • One study that looked at survey data from 8,918 nursing students around the world found that 34% of them reported depression, and mental health was the worst for students in the beginning of the program.
  • Another study reported that nursing school instructors admit they struggle to meet the mental health needs of their students.
  • Factors such as clinical placement and instructor personalities can present additional challenges for nursing students compared with their peers in traditional undergraduate programs.

Time Management

Time management is easily one of the most crucial skills nursing students have to develop quickly. Whether you choose a traditional or accelerated nursing program, you must manage many hours spent in lectures, doing homework, studying for exams, clinical, and practicing lab skills.

Some tips for time management include timing your study sessions and including breaks regularly, using an individualized organization system, and managing your stress.

Paying for Nursing School

Worrying about how you'll pay for school can be a massive distraction as a nursing student — it certainly was for me. While sick relatives and unexpected emergencies can't be avoided, understanding your total costs, financial aid, and scholarship options will help.

Some nursing schools also have crisis funds for students in need, so be sure to speak to your administration if you get in trouble.

Adjusting to Nursing Culture

Lastly, in order to adjust to the high standards and expectations of nursing school, remember your responsibility to your future patients. The truth is our jobs as nurses are high-stakes. And because of that, we are held to high ethical and professional standards.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing School

Is nursing school hard?

Yes, nursing is one of the more demanding courses of study one can undertake! Though the experience will differ for everyone, make sure you understand the process, know what nursing entails, and the financial requirements.

What are the prerequisites for nursing school?

LPN programs typically require a high school diploma or GED certificate and a few high school-level science courses such as chemistry and biology before admission.

ADN programs often require a high school diploma or GED certificate, high school chemistry and biology, SAT scores, an essay, and some require a nursing admission exam called the HESI exam.

BSN programs often require courses in biology, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, chemistry, English, growth and development, nutrition, psychology, and statistics.

Which nursing degree is better?

LPNs, associate-prepared nurses, and bachelor's-prepared nurses are all critical to the care of patients and are great career options. In fact, associate-prepared RNs and bachelor's-prepared RNs hold the same jobs and usually receive the same pay.

However, you may want to consider that many states are encouraging nurses to get their BSN. In New York, for example, nurses are required to obtain their BSN within 10 years of initial licensure.

How can I prepare for nursing school?

Before you sign up for prerequisites, many alums and experts (myself included) strongly recommend working in a clinical role, including as a certified nursing assistant, patient care technician, or medical assistant.

By working in these types of positions, you will get a feel for the nursing role and know if it's right for you before you spend money on prerequisites or school applications.

So while nursing school certainly can be difficult, and my own nursing education was full of late nights, early mornings, and hours spent in the library — I am proud to be a nurse and so glad I didn't give up. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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