How hard is nursing school? It will be hard, but you can get through it. But which nursing school are we talking about? Are we talking about LPN programs that last only two years? Or are we talking about nurse practitioner programs that are graduate-level and can also last for two years? For this article we’ll talk about the most common type of nursing degree, the bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), which is the route most people take to becoming nurses, nurse practitioners, or a registered nurse, or, often, all three. This article will talk about what you need to get into nursing school in the US and Canada, what a typical day is like in most nursing schools, and what you need to focus on in your nursing school application to stand out and get in. 

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10 min read

How Hard is it to Get into Nursing School? How Hard is Nursing School? Nursing School Admissions Stats (Canada) How Hard is Nursing School? Getting In How Hard is Nursing School? Tips on Surviving Nursing School Conclusion FAQs

How Hard is it to Get into Nursing School?

It has always been hard to get into nursing school. The pandemic made it even harder, but there are many factors at play. Nursing school acceptance rates in the US have not changed that much. The number of overall applications has decreased only slightly, but programs have not made getting into nursing school tougher. You often do not need to take any entrance exams at most of the programs we listed here, and their minimum GPA requirements are not as high as programs in Canada. There are obviously more spaces and more programs to apply to in the US, so they have more of a balance between supply and demand.

However, getting into nursing school in Canada has become more difficult. Despite a need for new nurses in Canada, getting into nursing school has been made even more competitive precisely because of this shortage. Nursing students learn from and are typically supervised by more experienced nurses. But as these nurse educators have left the profession, there are few remaining with enough experience to train the next generation of nursing students.

Want to learn tips and expert responses to 10 common and challenging nursing school interview questions? Watch this video:

Couple the lack of nurse educators with a shortage of available seats and funding shortfalls, and the situation seems intractable. All these changes have had a ripple effect on the admissions process. Because they don’t have enough nurse educators or resources, nursing schools have had to reject even exceptional applicants and have had to become very strict about who they do admit.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), last year, in the US, 11% of all applications were rejected. In Canada, students with 94% grade averages have been turned away due to the limited space and lack of qualified faculty. But even with all these disruptions, it is still possible to get into nursing school, albeit with a stellar application.

In Canada, many nursing schools have not only increased their GPA requirements, but have also made CASPer scores more important to admissions. Nearly all nursing schools in Canada have made CASPer a deciding factor (25-30%) in their admissions decisions, so you should focus as much as you can on the right CASPer test prep and keep up with the issues surrounding nursing and healthcare.

1. Duke University

Acceptance Rate: 33%

Average GPA: 3.5

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Entrance Exams: not required

2. Case Western Reserve University

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Average GPA: 3.5

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Entrance Exams: not required

3. University of Washington

Acceptance Rate: 48%

Minimum GPA: 2.0

Average GPA: 2.4-4.0

Entrance Exams: not required

4. Oregon Health and Science University

Acceptance Rate: 2.28%

Minimum GPA: 2.0

Entrance Exams: not required

5. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Acceptance Rate: 26%

Minimum GPA: 2.8

Entrance Exam: not required

6. Emory University

Acceptance Rate: 26%

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Entrance Exams: TEAS, SAT, ACT, or GRE

7. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Acceptance Rate: 26%

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Entrance Exams: SAT or ACT (optional)

8. New York University

Acceptance Rate: 59%

Average GPA: 3.92

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Entrance Exams: SAT or ACT required

9. Ohio State University

Acceptance Rate: 43%

Average GPA: 3.8

Minimum GPA: 3.2

Entrance Exams: not required

10. University of Pennsylvania

Acceptance Rate: 25%

Average GPA: 3.5

Entrance Exams: not required

How Hard is Nursing School? Nursing School Admissions Stats (Canada)

1. University of Saskatchewan, Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 60%

Entrance Exams: CASPer scores

2. University of Prince Edward Island

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 65% (high school applicant); 60% (university applicant) 

Entrance Exams: CASPer scores

3. McGill University

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum Overall R-Score (Quebec students): 28.0 - 28.5

Minimum GPA (Canadian students): 80%

Entrance Exams: not required

4. University of Toronto

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 70%/3.0 GPA

Entrance Exams: not required

5. Queen’s University

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 75%

Entrance Exams: not required

6. Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), Centennial College or George Brown College

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 70%

Average GPA: 65-75%

Entrance Exams: not required

7. Thompson Rivers University School of Nursing

Acceptance Rate: 16%

Minimum GPA: 73%

Average GPA: 94%/3.33

Entrance Exams: CASPer scores

8. University of British Columbia

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 65%

Entrance Exams: CASPer scores

9. Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 70%

Entrance Exams: CASPer scores

10. Dalhousie University

Acceptance Rate: n/a

Minimum GPA: 75%

Entrance Exams: CASPer scores

How Hard is Nursing School? Getting In

Pre-Baccalaureate Degrees (APN/LPN)

There are many ways for how to get into nursing school for all the different degrees and credentials available to people interested in a nursing career. The easiest paths to take to becoming a nurse is by either getting an:

  • Associate degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

These are two undergraduate, pre-baccalaureate programs that usually take between one and a half to two years, instead of the four-year BSN. The ADN is mostly an option in the US, while several nursing schools in Canada offer the LPN credential that can also act as a bridge to get into a BSN program, depending on the school.

You can enter either of these programs as a high-school graduate, as they are direct-entry, meaning you don’t have to have any nursing training or education prior to applying. After you graduate, you’ll be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN to become a registered nurse. Getting into these programs requires only:

The exact requirements vary between schools and community colleges, where you would typically apply. These programs are not easy. Despite their length, you should expect to do a lot of reading, as this will be your introduction to the foundations of nursing, where you’ll be presented with new subjects such as:

  • Pharmacology
  • Behavioral Health
  • Nursing for Seniors
  • Maternal and Child Nursing Care

However, as difficult as these programs may be, they do not have the same workload, curriculum and subject matter as a full, four-year bachelor of science in nursing program offered at most of nursing schools in the US or Canada. Your clinical rotations, or clinicals, are also shortened to fit into the two-year timeline of most of these programs.

But, again, they do not last for as long as the clinical section of your BSN degree. In the US, some states require a certain amount of direct-patient experience to be able to take the national and state licensing exam. You can either get those hours through your ASN or LPN program or find other clinical opportunities in healthcare settings such as assisted living centers, hospitals, or as a private support worker for individuals who need home or palliative care.

Undergraduate Degree (BSN)

The bachelor of science in nursing is the most popular route to becoming either a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner but it is also the most difficult. To be clear, you don’t have to have a BSN to become a registered nurse, but there are advantages to getting your BSN, as many healthcare organizations, public and private, will require one, meaning you’ll have more career opportunities with a BSN than without.

You’ll have to spend as much time in nursing school getting your bachelor’s as you would for any other four-year degree, except the content, workload and course requirements will be as intensive as it would be for any other health profession, such as medical school, dental school or PA schools.

However, some programs in the US and Canada are not always direct-entry, meaning that you may need to:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in any field
  • Have an APN, LPN, or be a registered nurse
  • Have a requisite number of hours working in healthcare

For example, the best nursing schools in the US or Canada, such as Duke University or University of British Columbia require you to have at least a bachelor’s degree to apply to their BSN programs. However, in the case of Duke University, which has one of the best accelerated nursing programs, it is because the program is intensive and focused that makes it harder than other, four-year programs.

But another reason that many nursing schools, including the ones we listed here, have accelerated programs is precisely because they are not direct-entry; because it is presumed that you have had some preliminary training in nursing and are ready to tackle more practical and hands-on learning through clinical rotations or simulated labs rather than having to go over the basics of biology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology. Using Duke University as an example, the focus is more on nursing practice, rather than theory, as your first year's courses include:

  • Professional Nursing: Past, Present & Future
  • Professional Nursing: Evolution as an Evidence-Based Clinician
  • Health Promotion Across the Lifespan

But a direct-entry program covers everything from theory to practice, and you’ll find that you have to take more introductory courses during a four-year program than you would an accelerated three-year program. In fact, some direct-entry, four-year programs start their first year with the most basic science courses, basically, the prerequisites you’d have to complete to get into an accelerated, three-year program, such as:

  • English Composition
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Introduction to Chemistry
  • Intermediate Algebra or Calculus

These prerequisite or introductory courses will take up your first year at most direct-entry programs, but the remaining years will get into more advanced subjects that are typical for most nursing school curriculums, including:

  • Application of Growth and Development to Health Care
  • Principles of Nursing Practice
  • Pathophysiology
  • Nursing Pharmacology

But in your final two years is where you’ll be introduced to direct-patient experience through your clinicals. The rotation schedule at each nursing school is different. But they usually involve a full day split between didactic lessons during the morning, and then doing your rotations in various settings and in various departments, such as:

  • Community or urgent care clinics
  • Mental health hospitals
  • Assisted living centers
  • Hospital or surgery clinics
  • Emergency rooms
  • Inpatient or outpatient facilities

The clinical phase of your accelerated or direct-entry BSN degree program is often the hardest part of nursing school. The conditions and schedule are supposed to mimic the real-life conditions of doing a ten- or twelve-hour shift where you’ll be responsible for everything nurses do daily, including:

  • Triaging patients 
  • Checking their vital signs
  • Taking patient samples
  • Helping patients move or walk around
  • Helping patients dress, eat or bathe

What makes these rotations even more difficult is the fact that you’ll be assessed and graded on your performance, which can only add to the pressure. You also won’t be alone during this time, as you’ll be closely monitored to see how you interact with patients and whether you display the qualities of qualified nurse, such as patience, resilience, compassion and your ability to practice holistic healthcare.

How Hard is Nursing School? Tips on Surviving Nursing School

1. Use Learning Methods that Work for You

Regardless of whether you have a natural affinity for math or science, the challenge in nursing school is handling the volume of information, not necessarily the content itself. If you have a particular mode of learning that works for you, whether its visual learning, repetition, memorization or reading/writing, you should use it to help you absorb all this new knowledge. If you are more an asynchronous learning, meaning you learn better on your own watching a lecture or reading a textbook, try recording your lectures or playing them back afterward. If you prefer synchronous learning, meaning you prefer to learn in real-time, during a lecture or class, you should try to take as many notes as possible, engage with your professors by asking questions, and participating in class when possible.

2. Create a Study Schedule and Stick to It

Whether you’re in a two-year ADN, LPN, accelerated BSN, or four-year BSN, your daily schedule may differ between the various programs and schools. But whatever program you’re in, you should structure your week and days as you would any course or program, meaning including time to read up on the week’s assigned readings, study for any upcoming exams including practice NCLEX tests, or participate in any extracurriculars for nursing school. You don’t only have to schedule time for studying or your academic commitments. You should also make time to do something you enjoy, or anything that is unrelated to your studies, such as visiting and spending time with family or friends, playing sports or getting some exercise, or even just taking a break.

3. Get Help When You Need It

This applies to any nursing degree or program you enter, but you should not think that you are alone when faced with something challenging or overwhelming. Similar to any health professions program, a nursing school is full of experienced faculty and mentors who are more than willing to provide a helping hand when needed. Aside from your faculty, professors and prorectors, you should also build relationships with your fellow students. You all have the same goals and passion and you should take advantage of that camaraderie to help you study, master basic nursing skills, or practice for nursing school interviews if you plan on going into a nurse practitioner program.

4. Finding the Right Motivation

When you’re in the middle of all-nighter or only halfway through a twelve-hour clinical rotation, it’s important to have a reason or motivation for why you want to be a nurse. When you applied to nursing school, you had to articulate why you wanted to be a nurse and reflect on “what nursing means to me” either in an essay or your interview; you can use that answer to power you through the toughest moments. If you’ve already done a ASN or an LPN, you’ve probably already had a lot of experience with patients, which may be when you encountered the case that defined you as a nurse, and is something you should remember when you feel like giving up.


How hard is nursing school? It’s hard. But with the right amount of preparation, motivation, and discipline you’ll be able to not only survive, but excel. The path that you take to nursing school and to the nursing profession depends on what you want to achieve as a nurse. You can decide to take the fastest route by getting pre-baccalaureate degrees and then getting your license. But, if you want to be a specialist in a particular field or specialty, you should take a BSN, which will open more doors for you, even though it is more challenging, and might take longer to get your license and start practicing.


1. How hard is nursing school?

Nursing school is not easy, but neither is it very hard. Whether nursing school is hard, or not, depends on the program you are in and the degree you are working toward. A two-year ASN or LPN program may take less time, but they are not easy. The same goes for an accelerated BSN or four-year BSN program that may take more time and be just as challenging. 

2. How do you become a nurse?

There are many different ways to become a nurse, along with different credentials you can earn to qualify for a nursing license. You can take either an ASN or LPN program and then take your licensing exam, or you can apply for a direct-entry BSN program and then take your licensing exam. After you graduate from either of these programs you can also enter the nursing version of residency and take a nurse practitioner program to gain a certificate in a specific field of nursing. 

3. What’s the hardest thing about nursing school?

Nursing students cite many things that are difficult about nursing school including the amount of new information you have to learn, the amount of reading, and the pressure of clinicals. 

4. Why is nursing school hard?

Nursing is a multi-disciplinary, high-stakes profession so it requires that you have a large skill-set and knowledge base to be able to take care of your patients. Learning how to be a nurse requires learning the same science and medicine foundations as a doctor, physician assistant or dentist, which are also difficult professions to enter. 

5. How can I make nursing school easier?

You can make nursing school easier for you by identifying the best way that you learn new information, and applying it to absorbing all your medical and nursing texts. You can also ask for help from your nursing school in the form of extra tutoring, practice tests and exams, or learning resources available to nursing students, such as medical histories, recorded lectures, and other materials. 

6. What do I need to get into nursing school?

The admission requirements for every nursing school and degree program are different. For the entry-level degrees – ASN or LPN – you have to have at least a high school diploma, a minimum GPA and complete a few science prerequisites. For the more advanced degrees, you need to have either a bachelor’s degree, direct work experience, be a registered nurse, and complete a nursing conflict scenario interview.

7. What are the different types of nursing degrees?

You can apply to three main nursing degrees for high-school students and undergraduates, which are an ASN (associate of science in nursing) – more common in the US – or an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse), more common in Canada. You can also apply for a bachelor’s of science in Nursing degree, while a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) are the two graduate-level degrees you can get. 

8. What are the career paths you can take after nursing school?

You can follow various paths after you graduate from nursing school, which can range from entering a position right away, or taking graduate-level courses so you can work in specific fields of medicine such as emergency medicine, acute care, or mental health nursing. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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