Your Questions About Nursing School, Answered
Wondering about the difference between an ADN and a BSN and what it could mean for your nursing career? We answer that question—and many more.
Deciding where, if, when, and how to pursue a career in nursing is no easy feat. Whether you’ve spent years contemplating the profession or are just getting started in your research, we know it can be confusing to navigate the back-to-school experience.
We gathered your questions shared on social media and in our surveys, and here, we present answers to some of the questions prospective nursing school students most commonly ask.
Can I apply my previous nursing or healthcare experience toward becoming an RN and/or earning a higher degree?
Registered nurses (RNs) must have at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), but some students decide to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you’re already working in the medical field, there are multiple pathways to work toward becoming an RN.
Here are two examples:
How much math and science do I have to take to become a nurse?
These subjects appear to be a common fear among prospective students, and the answer depends on the type of nursing you pursue. If you’re interested in the LPN/LVN route, your training program will likely include science courses like anatomy, physiology, human growth and development, and basic nutrition. You may need to meet a math requirement to get into an LPN program.
Whether in an ADN or BSN degree program, a prospective registered nurse will likely need to take health-related science courses, as well as meet math requirements (and liberal arts, too).
Don’t let math anxiety keep you from pursuing your career goals. Revisit the basics—fractions are your friends!—if you feel like you’ve forgotten them since school. And don’t be afraid to hire a tutor to help you navigate college-level coursework that seems daunting.
I am a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a certified medical assistant, and I have practiced in both fields. Do I have to go back to school to become an LPN, or can I just take the LPN exam, get licensed, and start work?
Having experience as a CNA is valuable in terms of knowing that nursing is the right field for you but, unfortunately, most CNA programs don’t apply toward course requirements to become an LPN. To become an LPN, you’ll still have to complete an approximately yearlong training program and then take the NCLEX-LPN exam to qualify for a license.
Can I really get a nursing degree online?
Since nursing is a hands-on profession, even online nursing programs require in-person clinical training with real patients. Programs that combine online learning with real-world practice are called hybrids.
If you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree and already have a combination of clinical hours and a current RN license, you may be able to find a program that is exclusively online.
Do schools help students find placements to meet clinical training hours, or do I have to do that?
Most schools have faculty advisors who will help find students placements for their clinical training hours. This is definitely something you should ask about, though, as you look at nursing programs.
What degree do I need to become an RN?
To become an RN, you’ll need either an ADN or a BSN. There are pros and cons to each, of course: An ADN can be less of a time and monetary commitment, making it a good jumping-off point for prospective students with financial concerns, another job, or family to take care of.
A BSN, on the other hand, can lead to a job with more responsibility and higher pay.
If you choose the ADN route now, you can always go after that BSN later. You can even pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing.
What’s the best way to become an RN?
“One of the things I love about nursing is that there are so many doors to get into the nursing profession,” says Beverly Malone, CEO of the National League for Nursing, a membership organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education.
Where to start “depends on your situation,” she says. “Match who you are with what you need,” meaning look for a program that suits your personal and family situation but also helps you achieve the nursing goal you’ve set.
If your goal is to be an RN, you’ll have to complete an ADN or BSN nursing program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and earn a state license.
An LPN-to-RN program allows LPNs to use their experience and prior coursework toward earning an ADN or BSN. The LPN-to-BSN route will take longer but can pay off better in terms of salary and job opportunities.
If I’ve already worked as a nurse in another country, what do I need to do to work in the U.S.?
You’ll need to meet several requirements to work in the U.S., a process that can take several years. Before you apply, you’ll need:
If you meet these requirements, you can start the application process for a visa. This will involve an English-language test, a review of your credentials, a qualifying exam, and more.
What should I look for in a school?
Picking a school is not a decision to rush—you’ll want to feel welcomed, inspired, and that you’ve gotten the most for your effort and money. Here are a few things to consider:
Malone says, besides these factors, “look at the faculty. Examine and investigate what you’re buying. Look to see what kind of relationships (the program) has with the community—that’s even bigger than career placement.
“If you’re looking for a school that recognizes the community and believes in it, you’ll find those kind of relationships (with churches, community centers, and the like.”)
Is there a nurse’s oath like the one for physicians?
Yes—while doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, nurses take the Nightingale Pledge, named for Florence Nightingale, who is considered the founder of modern nursing. The pledge calls on nurses to elevate the standard of their profession.
Who grants nursing licensure and who can take it away?
After you complete your training, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for a nursing license in the state in which you plan to work. You’ll send your transcripts, application, and fee to the state board that handles licensing. Each state has its own requirements.
If your nursing license is revoked due to violations of your state’s Nurse Practice Act, you might be able to petition the state board to reinstate it
What if I let my license lapse? What do I need to do to start working again?
If you let your license lapse for just a short time, you can generally renew it—perhaps by paying a late fee—without much trouble. But an extended inactive license could require refresher courses. Check your individual state requirements.
Can an LPN with an expired license become a CNA without further training?
While a CNA is a level down from an LPN, you might still be required to take CNA training, which is set by federal law, and a certification exam to be placed on your state’s CNA registry.
If you aren’t on the registry, nursing homes and Medicare and Medicaid facilities can’t hire you, according to Genevieve Gipson, RN, MEd, RNC, and director of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and Career Nurse Assistants Programs Inc.
Your state may have a waiver program or make exceptions, however, so check with your board of nursing or state health department to see if it has special requirements for trained LPNs who want to be CNAs.
How much is tuition for nursing programs?
Tuition costs vary widely depending on the type of program you choose—private university versus community college, for example. Another factor is what kind of nurse you want to be.
For example, if you want to be an RN, you can choose a two-year ADN program or a four-year BSN program. Your best bet is to reach out directly to the schools you’re interested in and get the most up-to-date costs.
Are there additional costs to nursing school?
Yes—tuition isn’t the only cost you’re looking at. Here are a few others:
How do I get financial aid?
To qualify for financial assistance, including grants and loans, your school must be accredited, and you’ll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But that’s not the only avenue to financial aid.
Look into scholarships that you may qualify for—there are many options out there, including scholarships specifically for nursing students, single parents, first-generation college students, and more.
Can I go to school for free? I’ve heard about loan forgiveness—how does that work?
“Free” may be a stretch, but there are programs out there, like Nurse Corps, that will pay your tuition, fees, and other educational costs. In return, you must commit to working in an area where there’s a critical shortage of nurses for a set period of time, once you graduate.
Another government program, the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program, has similar terms. It requires nurses to work for up to three years in an area with an underserved population and, in return, it’ll pay off up to 85% of your loan balance.
How do I get tuition reimbursement from my employer?
If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, talk with your benefits representative about the organization’s reimbursement policy. It might have very specific terms for reimbursement, including the types of classes you take and whether you complete a program. Your employer also might require documentation from the school you attend.
Will earning a BSN make a difference in my RN salary versus whether I just have an associate degree?
Earning a BSN can definitely have a positive impact on your salary: It can make you more desirable to employers, qualify you for a wider variety of jobs, and open doors to leadership opportunities.
What’s the role of a CNA, and can the job vary by state?
Educational and licensing requirements for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) do vary by state, but the role is generally the same everywhere: helping patients with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, grooming, toileting, and moving around. It can be a physically demanding, though rewarding, profession.
What’s the difference between the roles of an LPN and RN?
The differences are distinct. LPNs provide basic medical care for patients, like checking their vitals, ensuring their comfort, and discussing healthcare issues with them. RNs, on the other hand, may perform diagnostic tests, administer medications, put together treatment plans, and supervise other medical workers, including LPNs.
Can travel nurses work with an associate degree, or is a bachelor’s required? Do they need a specialty?
Travel nurses, who work temporary positions in areas with shortages, must have an RN license, which means an ADN is fine. Having a specialty is not necessary, though it may lead to more destination options and higher pay.
I’ve requested information from some schools but haven’t heard back. Who do I contact?
Reach out directly to the nursing programs, if that’s an option. A quick phone call usually will yield better results than an email, especially if you’re following up with specific questions.
Otherwise, contact the program’s admissions department—and remember, staff is there to help sell you on the school, so get your questions answered!