How Hard Is Nursing School?

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Are you wondering: How hard is nursing school? It’s no surprise that nursing school is a challenge. Reasons for that start with a competitive admissions process and difficult prerequisites. Plus, the nursing school curriculum is rigorous, requiring lots of time and prioritization, and it stretches you outside your comfort zone.

Northeastern ABSN student working in sim lab

Whether earning an undergraduate degree in accounting, teaching, or urban planning, every college major presents its students with a unique set of challenges. But the area of study that requires students to really throw down the gauntlet is nursing, especially when it’s taught at an accelerated pace. But just how hard is nursing school, really?

The students at Northeastern University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program understand that earning a nursing degree in 16 months is no easy feat. It takes hard work and dedication to master the knowledge and skills needed to care for people’s lives.

In this blog, we’ll answer the question, “How hard is nursing school?” and give strategies for how to survive nursing school.

Why Is Nursing School Hard?

Here are a few things to know about nursing school that make it a tough endeavor:

1. Competitive Admissions Process

The challenges of nursing school start even before you’re accepted into a program. Due to a lack of enrollment capacity and the cost and complexity of educating a nurse, schools are turning down or wait-listing qualified students in droves, creating a competitive situation where even the best applicants risk rejection.

You’ll find that student competition is less fierce when you apply to an accelerated nursing program with multiple start dates a year. Take, for example, the admissions process for our accredited 16-month ABSN program.

With campus locations near Boston, Massachusetts, and in Charlotte, North Carolina, our ABSN program has three start dates per year (January, May, and September), allowing for more total spots for qualified students. Not to mention, our online accelerated nursing coursework enables us to accommodate a greater number of students without costly additions to classroom space.

2. Challenging Prerequisite Courses

Another challenge before nursing school even starts is completion of ABSN prerequisites. These set the foundation for professional nursing study, while also being key to your nursing career preparedness. At Northeastern, we require our prospective ABSN students to earn a grade of “C” or better in the following courses:

Microbiology + Lab4
Human Anatomy & Physiology I + Lab4
Human Anatomy & Physiology II + Lab4
Introduction to Chemistry + Lab4
Statistics (inferential stats and hypothesis testing)3
Social/Behavioral Science (100-level or above)3
Developmental Psychology (lifespan)3
Charlotte ABSN students with 62+ non-nursing college credits will also need to take Intro to Psychology, Intro to Sociology, College Composition, Mathematical Thinking or Calculus, and an additional elective.

More times than not, microbiology, human anatomy, human physiology, and chemistry prove to be the most challenging for prospective ABSN students, especially for those who don’t come from a science background. Generally speaking, if you’re able to excel in the anatomy and physiology prerequisites, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to handle the rigors of our accelerated nursing program.

Outdoor photo of school campus

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3. Nursing School Requires a Lot of Time

Nursing school is a full-time commitment, and students in the accelerated nursing program spend between 40 and 60 hours each week doing schoolwork and studying. Spending this much time on school can be challenging because it means you have less time for other interests and areas of your life.

You’ll need to be hyper-focused and diligent with your time to ensure you stay on track and don’t fall behind because accelerated programs move quickly, and you need to put in the time every day to succeed.

4. Nursing School Takes Priority

Because nursing school requires such a major time commitment, you’ll need to make it a priority in your life. It’ll take precedence over spending time with friends, traveling, doing hobbies, and working. Putting nursing school at the top of your list can be hard because it requires sacrifice. Some things will need to go to the back burner, and you’ll have to say no to social activities because studying comes first. But remember that with an accelerated nursing program, you’ll get through the program quickly, so the sacrifices will be short-lived.

5. Challenging Curriculum

Nurses have a great responsibility in caring for people’s lives, and they need to learn a lot to become proficient nurses. As such, you’ll complete a rigorous curriculum during your time in nursing school at Northeastern. Ranging from pathophysiology and pharmacology to research and healthcare ethics, you’ll cover a broad spectrum of complex topics. The ABSN courses are equivalent to those taken in a traditional four-year nursing program, but you’ll need to complete them in less time.

Two ABSN students studying online together

6. It Requires You to Go Outside Your Comfort Zone

Another reason why nursing school is hard is that you’ll need to venture outside your comfort zone during hands-on experiences. During in-person skills and simulation labs, you’ll practice new skills and provide care during mock healthcare situations. These labs are meant to challenge you and expose what you don’t know, which can be vulnerable.

Additionally, some students feel stretched by clinical rotations, as working with real patients can add pressure. Remember that your clinical instructors are always there to support you. And although labs and clinicals may cause some anxiety at the beginning, with time and practice, you’ll become more comfortable in the learning zone.

How to Survive Nursing School: 4 Tips

As you consider the challenges of nursing school, here are a few strategies to help you conquer them and come out on top:

1. Adapt to the Situation

Successful accelerated nursing students need to be able to adapt to new information quickly. Given the fast-paced nature of our ABSN program, you need to consider how you best learn and retain information, and then adapt accordingly.

Do you comprehend information better when it’s demonstrated, spoken, written, or practiced? Perhaps it’s a combination of these delivery methods. You’ll find that knowing the answer to this question will come in handy when trying to develop efficient study habits that boost your learning capacity.

Types of learning styles:

  • Visual learners best absorb information through diagrams, graphs, pictures, and videos.
  • Aural learners best absorb information through listening and participating in group discussions.
  • Read/write learners best absorb information through lists, handouts, notes, and textbooks.
  • Kinesthetic learners best absorb information through hands-on practice or trial and error.

Not exactly sure how you best learn? Consider taking the VARK, a questionnaire that recommends study strategies based on your learning style(s).

ABSN students working on nursing skills

2. Master Your Time Management

If you’re going to survive nursing school, you need to have good time management skills because you’ll be juggling a fast-paced sequence of online nursing coursework, hands-on nursing skills labs, and in-person clinical rotations.

Being proactive is key because cramming, which may have worked well for you in the past, is not a sustainable strategy for the ABSN program.

Not to mention, good time management skills will come in handy for you when working in the nursing profession. Imagine if you had to care for a dozen patients during a 12-hour shift. How would you prioritize your time so that every person received the best possible care for their needs?

3. Start a Study Group

One of the most valuable study resources available to you during nursing school is your peers. Many students in Northeastern’s ABSN program find it helpful to meet on a weekly basis with other students in their cohort. Not only can you teach each other challenging topics and go through practice questions together, but you can also keep each other accountable for staying on track. Group studying can help you succeed academically and at the same time form strong friendships with your classmates.

4. Prioritize NCLEX Preparation

The last checkpoint before you become a registered nurse is passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX). Vastly different from any exam you’ve taken before, the NCLEX features complex multiple-choice questions where every answer may be correct, and your job is to identify the most correct one. These questions serve to evaluate how well you can analyze and apply your nursing knowledge when making a patient care decision. Therefore, it’s not the type of exam you start studying for a few weeks in advance.

To feel confident when sitting for the NCLEX, it’s important to develop test-taking strategies that allow you to break down these questions to get to the correct answer. Thankfully the ABSN program at Northeastern is focused on preparing you for the exam from the first semester. However, we also recommend as exam day approaches that you prioritize independent NCLEX studying.

Northeastern ABSN student reading textbook

Want more study strategies? Here are 11 nursing school study tips to give you an edge.

Is Accelerated Nursing School Worth It?

Now you know how to answer, “How hard is nursing school?” But even amid the challenges, an accelerated program means you can get through school in as few as 16 months. And remember, it’s a journey that will be well worth it in the end when you get to start a meaningful nursing career.

Additionally, nurses are in high demand all over the country, which means high job security and good pay for those entering the profession. It’s also a highly flexible occupation that enables you to work in various capacities and deliver patient care in all types of settings, including helicopters, cruise ships, hospitals, military bases, private practices, schools, and urgent care clinics.

Northeastern ABSN student in white scrubs smiling

Need more reassurance about the value of nursing school? Here are seven reasons why nursing school is worth it.

Start the Journey at Northeastern

Ready to take on the challenge and begin the path to becoming a nurse? Northeastern’s Accelerated BSN program can get you to your goal faster. If you have at least 62 non-nursing college credits or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible. We offer three start dates each year at each of our locations, near Boston, Massachusetts, and in Charlotte, North Carolina. With our intuitive mix of online and in-person learning experiences, a Northeastern nursing education will launch you into a fulfilling career.

Reach out to our highly supportive admissions team to learn more about the ins and outs of our 16-month ABSN program.

Get Your Free ABSN Program Guide

Our ABSN program guide includes everything you need to know about the accelerated path to nursing.

Northeastern University ABSN program guide