Typical Nursing Program Prerequisites

Getting into nursing school requires more than filing an application. Nursing schools look for applicants that have fulfilled prerequisites that show a potential student has a well-rounded background. By completing various fundamentals before starting, student candidates can develop the necessary aptitudes to prepare for the rigors of nursing school and the characteristics of a nurse.

Depending on the school, prerequisites may vary, although most schools require coursework in basic sciences, reading and social studies. Because nursing school is at the college level, students should have graduated from high school as a basic form of education. If you do not have a high school education, consider taking the general educational development (GED) test. The GED qualifies as an equivalent to a high school education and tests your abilities in writing, mathematics, science, social studies, and reading, all at the high school level.

Along with a high school education or GED, most nursing applicants must have an understanding of math concepts, including algebra. A passing grade in algebra class shows that you understand its concepts and you are able to complete the course. Nursing requires mathematics concepts in such areas as pharmaceutical dosages and calculating fluid rates, among many other matters, and a grasp of this type of math is essential.


Nursing students should demonstrate an ability to read at a 10th grade level or higher; typically, this is manifested through graduating from high school or testing through the GED. Reading is required to understand the college textbooks and assignments that are necessary for nursing classes. Additionally, nurses must be able to read documentation and understand job descriptions, read journal articles, and maintain licensure by continuing education, all of which require reading skills. The ability to read and write English is also necessary to perform during nursing school and as a graduate nurse. Potential nursing students who speak English as a second language may need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) before admission to demonstrate an ability to read and write in the English language.

An understanding of scientific concepts is often required to enter nursing school. Science classes may be expected at the high school level as well as college level courses. Classes in microbiology give nursing students a background to understand the pathology of microorganisms, while chemistry classes teach nursing students about the interactions of chemical elements within the human body. Courses in anatomy and physiology are important to learn the different parts of the body and their functions, so that once nursing school starts, you will better understand how illness affects the human body.

A background in social studies is often required as part of nursing school prerequisites, and these courses are usually done at the college level before entering the nursing program. In some nursing schools, such as those that offer a four-year degree in nursing, social sciences may be part of the curriculum, and the course is completed in the first year of college. Social sciences such as psychology and sociology prepare students to work with patients of many different backgrounds and to understand some of the social differences among people. Additionally, psychology courses can prepare students to study mental health nursing and to understand the intellectual aspects of caring for patients.

Some nursing schools look for students who have experience working as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), which shows that the student has some practice working with patients and helping nurses. Students who have worked as CNAs may have a better understanding of the health care system. Some schools like to see potential students who have volunteer backgrounds as caregivers because it shows the student has practiced caring for others and has taken the time to learn the necessary steps to become certified, which shows confidence.

College preparatory tests may be required before starting nursing school, which are typically some of the same exams required to be admitted to a university. These may include the American College Testing exam (ACT ), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT ), and the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS®). These types of tests show that students understand college level concepts and can take a test, which may be stressful.

Some nursing schools may expect nursing students to work as CNAs while studying nursing at the same time.

Students who work in settings similar to those that nurses work in can take many of the applications they are learning in the classroom and in clinical practice and apply them to their jobs to better care for patients. Although they cannot perform the same duties as nurses, working as CNAs provides an experience that teaches students how to better prepare for school and provides some financial assistance along the way. Many nursing schools recommend that nursing students practice their skills by working as nursing assistants.