Surviving Nursing School: A Guide for Student Nurses

nursing student holding her books to her chest confident with survival guide
Written by
Jacky Habib
Reviewed by
Miranda Kay, RN
October 30, 2023

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your nursing school schedule? Let us help you out.

Table of Contents

If you’re a student nurse, amid the highly-anticipated fall season comes the start of a new school year. Whether you’re a returning nursing student or entering nursing school for the first time this year, getting tips and tricks to support your journey to becoming a nurse is always helpful. You’ll likely have a mix of taught classes and independent study during the academic year, and you may participate in clinical placements to get hands-on experience in various nursing settings. 

Starting nursing school may feel intimidating, so we have created this ultimate survival guide for you. It contains information on the best nursing programs, student resources, and nursing school tips—including decompression tips for student nurses. Continue reading to learn more about what to expect as you embark on this new journey and to boost your confidence about navigating the coming school year. 

Making the Decision: How to Select a Nursing School 

nursing student holding hands together thinking about her program
Choosing the right nursing program is a big deal when it comes to success.

Based on your goals, you can research various college or university programs that cater to your preferred nursing educational path, then narrow down your options by considering costs or scholarship opportunities, location, and program length, among other factors. 

Type of Nursing Program

There are different nursing education career paths to choose from. To work as a registered nurse (RN), you can pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or even a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Learning about these various options is essential to help you determine your career goals and shape how you envision working as a nurse. 

Duration of Studies

Considering your ideal time frame for your nursing education is essential when deciding on which nursing school to attend. Typically, you can earn a practical nurse license in one year. To become a registered nurse, an ADN takes approximately two years, and a BSN takes about four years to complete, although some schools offer accelerated programs. Individuals can complete an MSN in two to three years once they complete a BSN.

Location of Nursing School

When choosing a nursing school, it’s essential to consider the location. Do you want to attend a nursing school near your home so you can commute, or will you take this opportunity to relocate to another state? Would you like to live on campus? These considerations can help you create a short list of schools to investigate further. 

Accreditation

As an essential step, you’ll want to ensure that the nursing school you’re considering is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the National League for Nursing Accreditation (NLNAC). Accreditation ensures that the nursing school meets the minimum requirements set by the state for nursing licensure, which is essential as only graduates of state-approved nursing programs can sit for the state licensure examination. To avoid scams or disappointments, refer to the accredited list of nursing schools early during your research. At this step, it’s also crucial to ensure you’re familiar with the prerequisites for nursing school

NCLEX Pass Rates

To become licensed nurses, nursing graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, commonly called the NCLEX-RN for registered nurses or the NCLEX-PN for practical nurses. These exams cover knowledge in nursing and readiness in practice. Looking at a nursing school’s NCLEX pass rate is essential when choosing a nursing program, as pass rates are generally a translation of the quality of education the school provides and, in turn, how ready students are to become licensed nurses. 

Chasing the Dream: Top Nursing Schools in the US

Across the country, nursing school rankings consider various factors, including NCLEX student success rates and academic value. The following universities are consistently among those top-ranked nationally and are worth looking into, particularly if you’re open to relocating. 

Duke University

Duke University, located in Durham, North Carolina, boasts various educational programs and is widely recognized as one of the best research schools. Undergraduate nurses can pursue an accelerated BSN. Duke University has a six-to-one student-teacher ratio, a 95 percent graduation rate, and a 9 percent college acceptance rate. The university sets itself apart by focusing on often overlooked community healthcare resources, such as partnering with TROSA, a substance abuse program.

University of Pennsylvania

Nursingeducation.org ranked the University of Pennsylvania as the best nursing program in the US. The university has a six-to-one student-teacher ratio, a 96 percent graduation rate, and an eight percent college acceptance rate. Plus, it has a 94.6 percent NCLEX pass rate for nursing students.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., has a well-respected and established nursing program offering a direct-entry BSN program. Students receive over 850 hours of experience in clinical settings across Washington. It has a 96 to 100 percent NCLEX-RN pass rate. Georgetown University has an 11-to-one student-teacher ratio, a 95 percent graduation rate, and a 15 percent college acceptance rate.

Johns Hopkins University

The U.S. News & World Report ranks Johns Hopkins University as the number two graduate nursing school in the country. While the university does not offer undergraduate nursing programs, it provides MSN and DNP nursing programs. Nursing graduates have a 95 percent NCLEX pass rate. 

New York University

New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing has an 89.8 percent NCLEX-RN pass rate and a 13 percent acceptance rate. The university offers BSN, MSN, DNP, and PhD nursing programs.

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

UCLA School of Nursing is known for producing high-quality graduates. It is one of the top-ranked higher education institutions in the US. It offers a BSN degree program that lays the way for other educational opportunities the university offers, such as the MSN, APRN, DNP, and Ph.D. nursing programs. It has an 84 percent NCLEX pass rate.  

New Nursing Students: What to Expect 

As a new nursing student, you may be anxious about being in a new setting and unsure of what to expect. Throughout your journey, you can expect rigorous academic activities alongside practical exercises, tests, and clinical rotations. Keep reading to learn more about each. 

  • Reading: You will spend much of your time as a new nursing student reading textbooks and articles. You’ll also read many patient charts in clinicals. 
  • Studying: Alongside your reading, you’ll spend a lot of time studying. You’ll need to learn a lot of material quickly to set yourself up for working in the many nursing specialties available to you. 
  • Group projects: Group projects are key aspects of most nursing curriculums. These projects aim to teach students communication and teamwork. Through group work, you’ll support and help fellow nursing students who may end up being your lifelong friends.
  • Tests: Exams assess your competency and knowledge and are central to the nursing school curriculum. Throughout the school year, expect to do many tests that assess your skills and knowledge and prepare you for the ultimate test in nursing: the NCLEX. 
  • Clinical rotations: Nursing schools involve clinical rotations for practical, hands-on learning. However, in most programs, the first semester involves solely in-classroom instruction. 

Discover Nursa’s Top Tips on How to Maximize Clinical Placements

Top Tips: How to Survive Nursing School 

Whether you’re a new or returning student, these nursing school life hacks can help carry you through, particularly during overwhelming or stressful periods in your educational journey. 

  • Get organized: Finding an organization system for your time, books, and nursing materials is essential. Using tools like calendars and planners can help you keep on top of readings, classes, assignments, exams, and projects. 
  • Create a support system: Connecting with fellow nursing students can be a source of support as they will likely experience the same ups and downs during the academic year. Be sure to seek help, advice, and guidance from academic advisors, professors, or mentors. 
  • Schedule time for self-care: Nursing school is very demanding, and you can easily forget to care for your physical and mental health. Eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, working out, and scheduling time with your support system are essential to maintaining good health during nursing school, which, in turn, helps you perform at your best. 
  • Determine your learning style: Knowing how you study and take in information best can save you time and frustration and help you excel as you focus on what works for you, whether studying in groups, rewriting notes, memorizing, or applying other study methods. Please be aware that if you have any special needs, most programs offer services and accommodations through accessibility or disability services.   

Decompression Tips for Student Nurses

For many students, nursing school can be stressful—especially for those balancing study with work, parenting, or other responsibilities. It’s crucial to ensure you take care of yourself first. If you are dealing with feelings of inadequacy and burnout, the tips below can help you practice self-care and decompress during stressful times. 

  • Get quality sleep: Getting sufficient sleep as a nursing student is critical to preventing fatigue and stress. Rest is also essential to improved learning and memory.
  • Listen to music: Listening to your favorite music can calm you after a long day. Studies have shown that music reduces stress, lowers heart rate, and releases endorphins. Dancing to music helps release tension and anxiety as well.
  • Keep a journal: Journaling before bed or after waking up is vital for clearing your mind. A study of undergraduate nursing students found that students who journaled had reduced anxiety.
  • Sit in silence: As a nursing student, you experience a lot of noise, whether at school or in a hospital setting. This noise can lead to overstimulation and increased stress levels. Stepping away for some quiet time or using noise-canceling headphones can be beneficial for winding down and decompressing.

While a healthy self-care regimen is critical, those who use “retail therapy” to de-stress can benefit from taking advantage of the many discounts for nursing students.

confident nursing student standing in a class
When properly equipped with this survival guide, nursing school is a lot easier to conquer.

Educational Resources for Nursing Students

One of your top concerns as a nursing student may be passing the NCLEX. The following resources can help you prepare for this exam and boost your confidence, as you’ll know what to expect. 

Strengthening your nursing skills comes with time and experience. Your clinical placements, mentorship, and the number of hours you spend in nursing settings will boost your knowledge, skills, and confidence in navigating various situations as a nursing student. In addition to learning from classroom and clinical experience, you can boost your nursing skills by checking out the following resources: 

  • Practical Clinical Skills: This resource provides reference and training guides with simulation-based lessons covering murmurs, heart sounds, EKG training, and many more health issues and nursing skills.
  • Straight A Nursing Student: This online resource for nursing students provides lecture notes, study aids, and additional information to help you succeed in nursing school.

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Jacky Habib
Blog published on:
October 30, 2023

Meet Jacky, a contributing copywriter at Nursa who specializes in writing about nursing specialties, FAQs, and career advice.

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