How to Make Your Nursing School Application Stand Out

What do nursing schools look for in applicants? The answers vary depending on the program you choose, but here are the top qualities most schools seek.

January 2024

The career outlook for nurses continues to be promising. In fact, employment for RNs is projected to rise by 6 percent through 2032, with 177,400 jobs added. Still, nursing programs are notoriously competitive to get into. You can expect rigorous admission standards at both the associate degree (ADN) and baccalaureate (BSN) levels. So, how do you stand out as a nursing student in a sea of other applicants? The answers will vary depending on the program you choose, but there are some qualities almost all nursing schools look for in prospective students.

What nursing schools look for in applicants

Nursing schools look for applicants who exhibit key qualities for both their program and also the nursing profession as a whole. Your application needs to reflect why you’ll be an excellent fit, which means a mix of professional, personal, and academic accomplishments. While it's important to meet the minimum nursing school requirements, it’s also important to illustrate who you are and why you dream of becoming a nurse.

Things that look good on a nursing application include: 

Prior educational success

No matter what nursing school you apply to, you will need to meet specific academic requirements to qualify. Prerequisites are required at both the ADN and BSN level, but more so for BSN programs.

Some common prerequisites at the ADN level include:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Developmental Psychology

In addition, there will likely be some science courses required.

Common prerequisites at the BSN level include:

  • Statistics
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Biology

Beyond just prerequisites, some nursing schools require a minimum GPA. Some BSN programs require a 3.0 GPA for undergraduate coursework. In comparison, ADN programs require a minimum GPA of around 2.0 - 2.75. Your school may also require entrance exams, like the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), to judge your ability to succeed in the program.

A slightly lower GPA will not automatically disqualify you from enrolling in nursing school, and prior work experience can help you accelerate your degree. There are many educational options available for working professionals looking to go back to school for nursing. 


More than just being a good student on paper, nursing schools look for students with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence allows you to read people and situations appropriately, which is critical for a nurse. Nurses need compassion and empathy to connect with patients and families from different backgrounds and do their work well.

What does this mean for your nursing school application? Community service and volunteer work look great to admission committees. Demonstrate your compassion by emphasizing your volunteer or community work on your application. If you're interested in volunteering but don't know where to start, reach out to your local hospital's volunteer coordinator.

Another option is to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). CNA work experience can make you more competitive as a nursing school applicant, plus you get to earn money while studying. Not only that, you have the opportunity to build a network of people who can give you references.

Communication skills

Good communication skills are critical for getting into nursing school. For one, if you're required to write an admissions essay, being able to communicate is crucial.

To demonstrate good communication skills, be sure to describe what you hope to contribute to the nursing field in your essay. Explain why you selected your particular school and how the fit is mutually beneficial. Keep your essay well-organized, and be sure you proofread your essay multiple times.

Communication skills are essential because knowing when to ask for assistance is vital for your success as a nurse. As a nurse, you'll be working with people from different backgrounds who have different life experiences. Good communication skills will help you do your job well.


Nursing school is one of the toughest challenges you'll take on. To make yourself a competitive student, you'll need to spend a significant amount of time each week on studying. Getting into nursing school requires a lot of self-discipline and focus. On your nursing application, show you have what it takes to succeed in the field.

Find out the criteria for acceptance into your nursing program. In many cases, success will depend on your GPA in many science courses. Excel as much as you can in any science prerequisites you have to take. Usually, nursing schools require that you attend regular science courses, but some schools may accept test-out credits for those courses. Check to see if your school's policy accepts credit by exam for the sciences.

Passion for nursing

More than anything, it's essential to demonstrate your motivations for getting into the field. Your passion for nursing shows admissions that you have the commitment needed for nursing school.

The reasons you have for wanting to become a nurse are personal, and a sincere answer is what admissions counselors hope to hear when they ask you this question. What made you interested in nursing? Was it a trying time where a nurse made a difference in your life? Did volunteer work inspire your interest in the medical field? How about current events, like the coronavirus pandemic? Remember, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Show your true passion and motivation to become a nurse to leave a lasting impression on admissions counselors.

Organizational skills

It goes without saying that to have a successful nursing application, you have to be well-organized. Nursing school applications have many requirements and deadlines. Make sure you stay on top of them all. When you meet with your admissions counselor, be sure to write notes that include deadlines and other important information.

Keep track of all of the materials needed for your nursing school application. Organize all needed material into a physical folder, including any information related to your school's financial aid, school brochures, and program flyers.

What do you need to apply to nursing school?

  • A copy or proof of your TEAS score
  • Academic transcripts for all attended schools
  • Proof of completion of all prerequisite courses
  • Completion of the Acknowledgement of Legal Requirement for RN Licensure document for the criminal background check
  • Nursing school application letter 

While collecting your transcripts and filling out an application may seem straightforward, you may be asking, “How do I write a nursing school application letter?” Just like when writing a cover letter for a job, your nursing school application letter should be tailored to the specific program, mentioning what drew you to the school and why you are a good fit. 

Your letter should also detail any healthcare experience and what drew you to nursing. Personal stories that convey passion and drive work well here. 

It’s also helpful to highlight any past academic achievements; these accomplishments showcase how past progress will lead to future success.

Nursing school acceptance stats

The top nursing schools in the United States show nursing school acceptance stats ranging anywhere from 10-80% depending on need, geographic location, and prestige. Ivy League schools have dramatically more competitive acceptance rates, but many others report accepting 66% or more of applicants. 

Nursing schools have seen a dramatic increase in annual admissions, with recent reports showing over 250,000 students currently enrolled in entry-level nursing programs. 

If you’re worried about getting into nursing school, finding a program with high acceptance rates will help. Schools with higher acceptance rates admit more students, bettering your chances.

Best ways to get into nursing school

Nursing school requirements can feel overwhelming, but the main points for your nursing program admission checklist are:

  • Finish your nursing prerequisites: Completing your prerequisite credits puts you in the best position to start your core nursing program. Not only will you have these general education requirements out of the way, but you'll have the solid knowledge base needed for more challenging topics. 
  • Find the right program for you: Every nursing school is different, so researching what each program offers is important. Be sure to consider the school's schedule and pace (accelerated; full time vs. part time) to ensure you can fit classes and clinicals into your work/life balance. 
  • Write a strong application letter: Your essay for your nursing school application letter allows you to showcase who you are as a person. Even if you don't have the highest GPA, you can still get into nursing school by communicating your passion and personal commitment.

Start your nursing school requirements with Achieve Test Prep

Achieve Test Prep can help you test out of nursing prerequisites to help you stand out on your nursing school application. Our flexible, supportive program is 100% online, allowing you to learn and make progress from the comfort of home. We've helped thousands of CNAs and LPNs advanced towards their RN and we can do the same for you. Connect with our knowledgeable Advisor team to get a customized plan just for you.

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