General Nursing School Prerequisite Courses

Nursing School Prerequisites

What are nursing school prerequisites? Which classes do you take in pre-nursing? What are the courses you need to take before you can be accepted into a nursing program?

Prerequisites in nursing are the classes you need to take before your nursing classes.

You need to know and understand Anatomy & Physiology before you can take Pathophysiology and Pharmacology.

You need to take a basic English Composition and Writing course to prepare you for writing nursing papers.

Prerequisites are the classes that give you a basic educational foundation so you can better understand the material in the nursing curriculum.

Different programs will have their own prerequisite lists. Prospective students will want to research the specific prerequisite requirements for the school of nursing they plan to attend.

The following are typical prerequisites required for nursing students in the United States.

The specific classes can vary depending on the nursing school to which you’re applying. The following courses are some common prerequisites.

High school diploma or GED

You’ll need a minimum of a high school diploma or GED to apply for admission to nursing school.

High school students planning for a nursing career should take science and math classes. These classes will give students a good background for the science prerequisites they will need for nursing school.

Some high schools offer dual enrollment, in which students fulfill high school requirements while also earning college credit hours.

Whether you earn college credit or not, taking all the high school science classes you can will give you a head start and a strong science background.

You’ll want to maintain a high GPA because nursing school admission can be quite competitive.

General education courses

You will need basic core curriculum college classes such as English composition, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, public speaking and science courses.

These are the classes required for all college students.

English Composition

In English comp, you’ll review English grammar, and learn to write research papers on a college level. And there will be many nursing papers for you to write in the next few years!

Algebra

Algebra will prepare you for the math you need for medication dosage calculations.

Your program may require Elementary Algebra, College Algebra or Intermediate Algebra.

Public Speaking

This class may also be called Communications. You’ll learn to give speeches and presentations.

Science

You may have basic science requirements like General Biology or Cell Biology or Chemistry as prerequisites to Anatomy & Physiology. These classes will provide you with science content that you need to understand A&P. You will also learn scientific method which will help you to understand research papers and evidence based practice.

CLEP Testing

College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) allows you to “test out” of some of the basic required college classes.

For example, if you did well in your high school English classes, you might be able to take the CLEP test for English composition. You will earn the credits, and not have to take the class at your college.

This can save you money and time.

CLEP tests are $89 plus whatever fees the testing center you go to charges. Many colleges have a CLEP testing center right on campus and charge a $25 fee to proctor your CLEP test.

For $114 you can get 3 college credits and get that class out of the way.

Here are the 34 subjects CLEP covers.

Check with your college to see what courses you can earn CLEP credits for. https://clep.collegeboard.org/colleges-that-recognize-clep/how-find-colleges-clep-policy

Nursing School Specific Prerequisites

Anatomy & Physiology

Human Anatomy and Physiology courses (A&P) taken within last 7 years. (Or within 5 years if that’s your school’s requirement).

If you took A&P over 5-7 years ago, you will have to take it again. Human anatomy doesn’t really change, but the assumption is that after several years, you might have forgotten a lot of the content and need a refresher.

You’ll need 2 semesters or 3 quarters/terms of Anatomy & Physiology. In A&P you will learn extensively about the human body. You’ll learn the body’s structures and functions.

A&P will be required no matter what nursing school you attend.

Many nursing students find the Anatomy and Physiology classes to be the most challenging of the prerequisites. There is a lot of material to learn, from naming bones to learning how each organ works.

A grueling, complicated, time-consuming class like A&P is good practice for the nursing courses ahead.

Nursing student at desk with books studying human anatomy.
Nursing student studying human anatomy.

Anatomy & Physiology Lab

A&P Lab is required as well. Lab activities usually include dissecting animals and organs, identifying bones, and possibly examining cadavers.

Microbiology

In microbiology, you’ll study microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses. You’ll learn about infectious disease transmission, how pathogens live and reproduce, and immunology.

Microbiology Lab

Most microbiology courses will come with a lab component. You’ll learn to use a microscope and perform basic bacterial tests such as a gram stain.

Chemistry

Nursing schools have widely different requirements for chemistry courses. You may have to take General Chemistry as a prerequisite for A&P.

Some colleges have a special combination chemistry course for their nursing students which includes general chemistry, biochemistry, and basic organic chemistry.

Chemistry Lab

Many chemistry courses include a lab component where you’ll test chemical reactions.

Statistics

A statistics course is more often required in a bachelor of science nursing degree, but may be offered in an ADN program as well. Statistics is especially helpful in understanding scientific research study design and results.

Psychology

Most nursing programs require one or more psychology classes. They may include Developmental Psychology, Lifespan Psychology, Human Growth and Development, or similar. You may also be required to take an Ethics course. Your school may also require a sociology course.

Psychology helps nurses understand why people behave the way they do. It also helps us understand how we interact with others.

Nutrition

Not all programs will require a nutrition course, but proper nutrition is an important nursing concept. If you don’t take a specific nutrition course, be assured that you will be learning about nutrition throughout your nursing classes. Nutrition is an important component of health promotion.

Prerequisite differences in ADN and BSN degrees

Nursing degree prerequisites are similar whether you are pursuing an ADN (associate’s degree in nursing) at a community college or a BSN (bachelor’s degree in Nursing) at a four-year college or university.

An ADN program is considered to be a 2-year program, but can take 3-4 years with prerequisites.

A BSN program covers the prerequisites in the first years of the program and usually takes 4 years altogether.

Either nursing degree program will prepare you with the nursing education and clinical experiences to take the NCLEX (national council licensure examination).

You can then apply for your RN license and become a registered nurse.

More comparisons between ADN and BSN Registered Nurse degrees.

When do I take my nursing school prerequisites?

Whether you’re pursuing an associate’s or baccalaureate degree, the prerequisites generally must be completed before you can be admitted to the nursing program.

Check the website of the nursing program you’re interested in attending to learn which classes you’ll take and how the academic year is laid out.

Associate Degree programs

It takes 1-2 years to complete general education requirements and nursing-specific prerequisite coursework. Then you apply for the nursing program.

The length of time required to complete prerequisites can vary from student to student.

Some students may repeat prerequisite classes if they don’t achieve high enough grades in those courses. Of course, re-taking a class you already passed is expensive and time-consuming. It’s definitely worth it to try your very hardest the first time through a class.

Bachelor’s degree programs

You’ll spend the first year or two taking general education courses and prerequisites.

If you do well in these courses, you can apply for the nursing program. Even if you are enrolled in pre-nursing at your college or university, you still have to apply to be accepted into the nursing program for your upper division nursing classes.

Students not accepted to nursing may choose to proceed to earn a bachelor’s of science in another health science field.

Some colleges offer direct entry BSN programs. If you have extremely high GPA in high school and an equally impressive SAT score, you could qualify for direct entry.

Direct entry means that your position in the nursing program is already secured when you start prerequisites as a freshman at that college.

It’s highly competitive to be admitted, but you have peace of mind. As long as you complete the required coursework, and achieve the required grades, you are already in your nursing program.

Corequisites

Some schools of nursing may allow select prerequisites to be taken as corequisites.

For example, a program may admit a student who has completed A&P, and allow them to take Microbiology at the same time as the first nursing course, Nursing Fundamentals.

Although this is a possibility in some programs, remember nursing courses are intensive and time consuming. It may be difficult to still be taking nursing school prerequisites and nursing courses in the same term. For this reason, many people choose to complete every single prerequisite before starting nursing courses.

Can you take your nursing school prerequisites online?

Many of your nursing prerequisite courses can be taken online. This may be desirable for the working adult who is trying to maintain a job or care for children at home.

Or you might choose to do this to save money and time. Online classes may be less expensive than in-person classes at your local college.

Since many online courses are self-paced, you can complete the classes on your own timeline.

The best plan is to take the online courses offered through a distance learning program at the college you plan to attend. That’s the best way to ensure your credits will apply to your nursing program.

Online lab courses

Lab courses may be more of a challenge to find online. It may be difficult to complete A&P or Microbiology online because of the lab components.

If you do find an online school that offers A&P or Microbiology (with virtual labs), they may not transfer.

You may find an anatomy and physiology online accredited college course, but WITHOUT the lab required for the nursing school prerequisite. Or the lab is offered, but you have to visit the campus in person to complete the lab hours.

Two online programs that offer A&P, microbiology (and of course the regular prerequisites like psychology) are Portage Learning and Straighterline.

Many nursing programs will not accept transfer credits from Straighterline because it is not an accredited program. Here is a list of colleges that will accept transfer credits from Straighterline.

Straighterline partner colleges.

Portage Learning (through Geneva College) is more expensive than Straighterline, but it is regionally accredited, so you have a better chance of your nursing program accepting the transfer credits.

As of April 2022, classes are $198 per credit.

Here are the online science classes at Portage.

A&P is $792 for each of the 2 classes and Microbiology is $792.

Psychology is a 3-credit class, so costs $594. You might be better off taking the Psychology CLEP. See above.

The A&P lab course from Portage has an online lab only. Check that your school will accept this.

Home lab courses

Very few colleges offer completely online A&P classes with actual labs. (Materials to dissect and study are sent to your home so you can follow along with the online instruction). Mayville State University in North Dakota offers such a class.

Mayville State University anatomy and physiology classes.

Straighterline offers home lab kits too, but as mentioned above, make sure your school will accept this course from Straighterline.

Transfer credits

If you’re taking online classes from a different college than the one you expect to attend for nursing school, you want to check with your school’s admission counselor and make sure these credits will transfer.

Whether online or in person, many community colleges offer programs to take nursing school prerequisites and then transfer to a bachelor’s degree program at a university or college in that state. Check your university’s website for a course equivalency chart that tells you what classes from what community colleges will transfer.

Be aware that many community college pre-nursing credits won’t be accepted at a college in another state.

Make sure you find out in advance that the class you’re taking will transfer. (I know I keep saying this, but you don’t want to spend your time and money on a class you will just have to retake).

Other eligibility requirements for Nursing School

Nursing schools typically require a grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. Some schools may have even higher requirements, like 3.0 or 3.2 GPA.

The cumulative GPA requirement stated by your school is the bare minimum requirement to qualify for the program. But because nursing school admission is so competitive, you’ll want to have a much higher GPA in your required courses.

Your nursing program may require SAT scores, TEAS scores, a criminal background check and possibly a drug screen.

Some nursing schools require you to have a CNA (certified nursing assistant) license before admission.

There’s definitely more to applying to nursing school than signing up, writing a tuition check, and taking the classes.

Make sure you understand the admission process and requirements at your nursing school of choice before you start taking nursing prerequisites. 

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