What should you do before nursing school?

As pre-nursing students, we often get caught up in thinking about nursing school– about its curriculum and overall environment…so much so that we lose sight of the steps directly in front of us–the ones leading up to that grand yet daunting temple of nursing knowledge and practicum. But it’s key that we take note of those steps as well. If we skip one, we may slip back down the staircase and away from the very thing that we’re taking those steps for in the first place.

So, do you know the individual steps (both mandatory and optional) that are laid out for you as a pre-nursing student? Let’s find out.

Of course, the most apparent steps are the pre-nursing, or prerequisite, courses. If you are a traditional pre-bachelor student, you must pass a variety of general courses along with those that are specific to your major. In the case of pre-nursing, your major-specific courses are largely science-related: Survey of Chemistry I with lab, Survey of Chemistry II with lab, Human Anatomy and Physiology I with lab, Human Anatomy and Physiology II with lab, Microbiology with lab, Introduction to General Psychology, and Introductory Statistics. Now, as difficult as some of these courses (and even some of your others) may be, you must keep in mind that CSU’s nursing school requires a minimum of a 2.75 GPA, and in general, according to allnursingschools.com, while most nursing schools only require a 2.5 or higher, others may expect a 3.0 to be the lowest. This means that while a couple of B’s and C’s won’t shut down your chances of acceptance to nursing school, you should aim to score a B or higher in the majority of your classes. (And if you have the time, patience, and determination, aiming for A’s in all classes isn’t impossible and will make you more competitive later on!) 

Now, along with passing your pre-nursing courses and maintaining an appropriate GPA–which is already a lot ( I get it)–don’t forget to form good connections with some of your professors. With CSU’s nursing school’s requirements for acceptance are professional/academic recommendations. Although this implies that you could use job references for your application, it couldn’t hurt to include a professor or two, and since you’ll be in contact with them for extended periods of time, it only makes sense to reach out to them through attention and high performance in class as well as through simply treating them as any other human being. It can be intimidating to engage a professor in conversation, but you’d be surprised at how gratifying it can be to learn about the person behind the subject matter. At the very least, you’ll gain a reference for your application to nursing school; at the best, you’ll also gain a mentor and friend. 

Now, the last major precondition for nursing school is in the category of students’ favorite things: testing. The HESI, or, as CSU refers to it, the RN Admission Assessment (A2), is the last step you’ll take before applying to nursing school. However, for CSU’s version, you will gladdened (or if you enjoy a challenge like I do, a bit disappointed as well) to find that CSU’s School of Nursing’s A2 only covers three graded sections: reading, grammar, and mathematics. In general, the HESI/A2 includes vocabulary, biology, chemistry, physics, and anatomy and physiology along with the other three subjects. However, for CSU, you only have to study for the three mentioned before, which means that with refreshing yourself on basic mathematical operations, reading analysis, and grammar rules, your preparation should be relatively short. (But don’t be discouraged if it takes a bit longer for you! We’re all different in our learning and testing abilities as well as our overall backgrounds.) And if you feel confident enough (though you should still practice with a book), you may decide that you only need a week or two to prepare for the exam. However, regardless of your level of comprehension, I don’t recommend taking it without any practice or studying. In terms of crossing this step to nursing school, the lower threshold for passing is 75%, with a 70% or higher scored in each graded section. 

At this point, we’ve gone through all of the necessary steps. But there are a few other steps that you could include to make the journey more worthwhile or to simply add to your resume for job applications. 

If you are interested in another subject or if you plan to combine another career or a specialty with nursing, you could double-major or pursue a minor. However, for this, you will likely need to take an extra year or two before nursing school to finish your courses. In my case, I am interested in psychology and would like to specialize in psychiatric mental health, which is why I’m taking upper-level psychology courses along with my pre-nursing and core ones. If you don’t mind adding a bit more time to your degree and are passionate about another subject, I definitely encourage this! But if you simply want to work toward your BSN, that’s fine too!

Another optional step that you may consider is adding experience to your journey. This appears in the form of non-paid service (volunteering at a hospital or shadowing a physician or nurse, usually a nurse practitioner) and paid service (working in a health-related profession part-time, including as a certified nursing assistant). If you need the money–and I mean, who doesn’t?–and don’t mind sacrificing a couple hundred dollars and a few weeks of a summer for training, becoming a certified nursing assistant can be extensively rewarding. In addition to earning money for school or living expenses, you’ll be exposing yourself to information and tasks that will ease you into the content found in the nursing program. However, depending on where you work, you may find yourself saddled with the duties that RN’s find distasteful, which could make the field less appealing to you. But at the end of the day, each person’s experience is different, so you may find that it’s a perfect fit. On the other hand, if you have the spare time and don’t mind going unpaid, volunteering and shadowing are also great ways to discover firsthand what the field of nursing (or even healthcare in general) is like. And regardless of which you choose–if any–each will make you a more competitive applicant to both nursing school and any job positions you may desire.

Along the lines of sprucing up your resume or filling your time with things that give you a break from nursing, research and organizational involvement are two other steps you may choose. Through CSU’s list at https://columbusstate.campuslabs.com/engage/Organizations, you can find an organization that you find interesting, and if you’re committed to it, you may even take on a leadership position within it. For me, The Saber, Momentum, Science Journal Club, and Honoris Causa have all been organizations that I have tried and thoroughly enjoyed. And that’s the fun part about organizations: You don’t necessarily have to stick with them for your entire time in college. In fact, it’s okay to spend only a few weeks or months in one before deciding it isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to appeal more to employers, you should try to find at least one organization that you spend a year or more in and secure a leadership position within it. And even if most organizations do not interest you, I still suggest that you join the Student Nurses Association, even as a pre-nursing student. Granted, there currently isn’t a lot you can do within the organization as pre-nursing. But you can still network with students who are in the nursing school, ask questions, tour the school, attend meetings, and possibly even apply for an officer position after a semester of involvement. (However, for an officer position, it may be best to wait until you’re in nursing school.) 

As for research, though you will perform it nursing school, you may also start your own project before then or help with someone else’s in order to form an opinion about it, dip your feet in the water, or check another box off your resume. Again, however, this is not mandatory, so if you find research deterrent–and trust me: you’re not the only one–you do not have to do any until nursing school. But if you are a member of the Honors College, express a passion for research, or are simply willing, setting some time aside for it is certainly worth it. Just be sure to start or join a project that you find fascinating. Otherwise, the process can become dull and cumbersome rather quickly. And don’t worry if you don’t develop a natural liking for it: I’ve helped with a few projects already and even started my own, and I still find it to be the most aggravating, stressful, and miserable part of academia. But it teaches you to appreciate the people who do it each day and the evolvement of human understanding. And though it is still important to try it, like most other things, research isn’t for everyone.

And of course, the grand finale of this stairwell is one that we all wish we had more of: money. If you’ve already taken out loans–or if you have to–don’t fret.With a career like nursing, it will still take time to responsibly pay back your loans, but if you plan your future wisely, it will be less painless than you expect. (Remember: the average annual salary of an RN is between $40,000 and $69,000, according to glassdoor.com.) However, there is an abundance of scholarships available online, through CSU, and through the nursing school itself, so even if you hate filling out the applications, try for at least a few of them, especially ones that are renewable each year. And if you can save more money by living at home, even if you desperately want your own place– and I can wholeheartedly relate–it will often save you thousands of dollars in the end and will thus limit the number of scholarships you have to apply for or loans you have to take out. And if you can handle the extra stress and time commitment, part-time jobs, particularly ones with flexible schedules like babysitting or tutoring, are great for earning a couple hundred or thousand dollars a year. And trust me: with the extra fees of nursing school (almost an additional $4,800 for the four semesters) and textbooks (up to $1,200 for all of the full-priced textbooks), saving up or working throughout your time in college is something you should strongly consider if you don’t have enough support from grants, scholarships, or family. 

Hopefully, you feel at least slightly more prepared for reaching the top of your staircase and entering nursing school. But if not, you can always research through the Internet or find someone in nursing school to ask what they did to ready themselves. 

And if you’re interested in learning more about CSU’s BSN program, you can access the webpage for it here: http://nursing.columbusstate.edu/ 


I wish you all a splendid rest of the week!

Nursing students unite!