Nursing Prerequisites Explained: Preparing for Nursing School

Nursing Prerequisites Explained: Preparing for Nursing School

Think of fresh-faced you immediately following your high school graduation. Now, imagine Future Nurse You, ready to deliver efficient care to a critically-ill patient. Is there a vast knowledge gap between both personas? Of course! Much of the distance you’ll need to cover in your path to an R.N. will happen before you ever take your first nursing class – as nursing prerequisites.
Preparing for Nursing School Nursing Prerequisites Explained
Ximena Lama-Rondon

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February 14, 2023

Table of Contents

Nursing school admission is often lengthy and intimidating, and nursing prerequisites are often the lengthiest part. You’ll come across them on every “minimum entrance requirements” list. Are they mandatory? Yes. Are they useful? Definitely! Are they impossible? Absolutely not.

What Are the Prerequisites for Nursing?

Depending on who you ask, nursing prerequisites are the last trial you will need to surpass before being accepted into the Olympus – or they’re meant to provide you the basic knowledge needed to understand nursing core classes.

Either way, think of nursing prereqs as a mandatory requirement before you can truly tackle nursing. Granted, the definition of “before” will change depending on your school and the type of program. These are the three most common approaches:

  1. A traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a 4-year university will bundle all these courses together throughout your first two years of study. This bundle is often known as the “pre-nursing track,” which you may do exclusively or alongside another major. 
  2. On the other hand, some “integrated” programs will let you take certain nursing courses – such as Nursing Fundamentals or Patient Communication – alongside your prerequisites.
  3. Meanwhile, many “Accelerated BSN” programs, which can be completed in a year and a half or two years, will assume you’ve already taken all these courses. You can often do them at an affiliated community college or while pursuing another major at a different university and then requesting a credit transfer.

Either way, you’ll need to pass your prerequisites before beginning your actual nursing courses or starting your first clinical – but not too long before. These classes are all about the knowledge that needs to be fresh in your mind before you can understand diseases or how to counter them.

Typical Prerequisites for Nursing School

There is no standardized list of nursing prerequisites across the country, so the exact list will depend on the program. However, nursing school syllabi are pretty consistent – so you can expect many near-universal requirements, especially where science classes are concerned.

Most prerequisites are the same for all healthcare careers: from foundational chemistry and college-level biology to anatomy, physiology, and statistics. Most schools will be stricter with their science prereqs, too: they will likely ask for a minimum grade and may require you to take them within a specific time frame.

Naturally, nursing isn’t just about hard sciences – otherwise, we would do most of our jobs with lab equipment rather than people. As a result, expect a few courses in the social sciences category and even a few humanities or art credits.

Table: Common nursing prerequisites by category
Category Subject(s) Why?
Chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Chemistry lab
  • Biochemistry
The human body is full of chemical reactions, so these courses will feed directly into your Human Body courses.
Biology
  • Biology
  • Biology lab
  • Microbiology
College-level biology is the foundation of all life – your patients and the pathogens that will attack them.
Human Body
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Lifespan growth and development
These courses focus on the human body’s structure, function, and development when healthy, so you can then learn how they’re altered when sick.
Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Algebra
Often required for any B.Sc. degree, these courses may repeat some of your high school algebra – but they will help you deal with dosage calculations and research.
Social Studies or Behavioral Sciences
  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Public policy or government
Sociology and psychology will help you understand your future patients, their cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Although less common, many nursing schools with a strong focus on public health now list public policy or government as a prerequisite or an elective.
Humanities
  • Communication
  • Ethics
Ethical quandaries in healthcare are very common, especially as we grow more independent as a profession. Many schools now replace this prerequisite with a core “Nursing ethics” course.

This list is by no means exhaustive. You may also find that many universities list these courses under slightly different names. For example, Anatomy and Physiology are sometimes combined and split between two semesters. 

If you’re pursuing nursing as your first degree, you will most likely complete all prerequisites at the same university. This will take much of the guesswork out of the equation: your academic advisor will simply tell you what you need and are missing. If you have a previous degree, you may be able to get transfer credits or “test out” of some courses – especially those in the Humanities or Social Studies Categories. Expect to retake most science classes, though, especially if you graduated over five years ago.

FAQs about Nursing Prerequisites

Prerequisites are never easy, but they can get incredibly messy during accelerated or transfer programs. With the current cost of higher education, we all want to graduate as quickly as we can! Here are a few common questions for returning students or those pursuing an accelerated BSN.

Can I get into nursing school without prerequisites?

In general, no. A few universities around the country run “integrated programs.” These spread your nursing courses throughout your four years and combine them with your general education courses and various prerequisites. You can apply to these programs directly out of high school, and you’ll need to be accepted by the university and their nursing school simultaneously.

In most universities, however, you will first be admitted into the university’s general education program. After completing your “pre-nursing” courses, you will move to the nursing program and begin taking nursing classes.

You can sometimes use high school credits to cross off some of the early prerequisites, such as Organic Chemistry or Biology. This will depend on the school, and it will typically require you to have taken college-level or Advanced Placement classes.

Do I need to take prerequisites in a specific place?

Usually, yes. If you take them at the same university where you’ll be attending nursing school, you can pretty much take for granted that they’ll be accepted.

If you’re transferring or taking them at a community college, it’s best if you check with your desired school first. Check with the Registrar’s office of your desired school: they may have pre-established affiliations with nearby community colleges or even a list of approved classes and equivalent courses. This can be critical, especially if the class has a different name!

How long do I have to complete my prerequisites?

Most science-based courses (biology, chemistry, mathematics, and the human body) will expire in three or five years – so don’t take them one at a time!

Tips to Ace your Prerequisites

As they make up nearly half of your nursing degree, prerequisites will play a significant role in your final G.P.A. They’re also generally less directly connected to nursing, which makes them feel less exciting. Here are four tips to help you finish them with as little trouble as possible.

Plan your schedule from the start

Before you enroll in anything, sit down and look through the complete list of requirements. Then, draft a plan that allows a well-balanced workload and spread the “hard” courses across the next four semesters.

For example, if you’ve never been good with Humanities or Social Studies, try to take only one of these classes each semester. If math was never your forte, make sure you don’t take statistics and algebra together. Some courses, such as Anatomy and Physiology or Microbiology, tend to be more demanding and require more reading and lab time – so if you must take them together, balance them with an “easy” course or an elective.

The goal is to have a complete but manageable schedule every semester. This will minimize your chances of your early science classes expiring or of having to delay your nursing program for another semester due to one class you “left behind.” And this happens more often than you’d think because…

Remember your prerequisites can have prereqs

For example, Biology and Organic Chemistry Labs are usually necessary before they let you take Biochemistry. In turn, Biochemistry is often a requirement for any of the “Human Body” classes. So don’t leave these foundational sciences for the end just because it sounds scary!

Consider community college

If finances or student loans are stressing you out, try to take a few of your prerequisites in a nearby community college – especially if they don’t require a lab. Community colleges are more likely to offer hybrid or fully-online classes or even “schedules for working people” (such as nights or weekends). This means you may be able to take them even while you’re living on campus already. 

Each credit at a community college can mean over a thousand dollars in savings!

Can I Do my Prerequisites for Nursing Online?

The short answer: yes, you can.

Getting your prerequisite courses done online can save you a lot of time. Make sure you choose a program that offers the level of guidance you need to not get lost. Lecturio’s nursing prerequisite course teaches Anatomy, Chemistry, Microbiology, Molecular and Cell Biology, Psychology, and Sociology with a combination of video lectures, exam prep quizzes, and downloadable cheat sheets.

Try out Lecturio’s Prerequisite series

The knowledge acquired during your nursing prerequisites will come in handy throughout nursing school – and even years after graduation. This is why passing and getting all the concepts right is vital. This course offers an all-in-one approach to studying with a wide array of learning tools: well-designed video lessons, downloadable cheat sheets, exam prep questions and study guides.

So why not give it a try?

Nursing prerequisites

Take the Course: Nursing Prerequisites

Reinforce your foundational science knowledge.

Final Thoughts

When you first look at a list of admission requirements, it’s easy to feel scared or overwhelmed. Once you figure out the best path to meeting every item on the list, the journey ahead will begin to feel doable. And eventually, your NCLEX (and the finish line!) will be approaching – and by then, all of these subjects will be second nature.

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