A career in nursing involves providing care and support to individuals and communities in various healthcare settings. Nurses work closely with doctors, other healthcare professionals, and patients to assess and manage their health needs, administer medication, and coordinate treatments. They also provide emotional support and guidance to patients and their families. Nursing requires a high level of critical thinking, empathy, and communication skills, as well as the ability to work in a fast-paced and often stressful environment. There are many different paths to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) and specialties within nursing.
A student can become an RN through a community college by getting an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), a four-year college for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or through a Direct-Entry Master for Non-Nursing program. These Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs are designed for someone who earned a degree in another field and now seeks to become an RN. There are also advanced doctorate nurse practitioner programs (DNP) for someone who already has an RN to enter into a specialization.
Registered nurses must have a nursing license issued by the state in which they work. To become licensed, nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Other requirements for licensing, such as passing a criminal background check, vary by state. Each state’s board of nursing provides specific requirements. For more information on the NCLEX-RN and a list of state boards of nursing, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Note: It is not recommended to self-advise. There are many things to consider besides the required courses such as prerequisites and course sequencing, balancing your schedule, building in time for volunteering, shadowing, research, entrance exam preparation, and planning for the application cycle. See the Director of Pre-professional Advising for individualized long-term planning.
Students who are planning to apply to nursing programs will need the following:
- Bachelor’s degree with a competitive cumulative and science GPA
- Required prerequisite coursework which can vary from school to school
- Research experience
- Clinical experience and service
- Communication and leadership skills
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
- Entrance exams
- Understand the application timeline
- Illinois undergraduate nursing programs
- Illinois graduate nursing programs
- Pre-Nursing resources
A baccalaureate degree is required in any field as long as the prerequisites are met. Biology and Biochemistry majors can meet all prerequisites within their programs. Other majors will still need to take the prerequisite courses in addition to their major and degree requirements.
To be a competitive applicant students must have a strong grade point average (GPA). Professional programs will look at several GPAs:
- Cumulative GPA: all courses and from all schools attended including repeats, remedial courses, and possibly graduate-level courses
- Science GPA: includes biology, chemistry physics, and often math (or BCP/BCPM)
- Prerequisite GPA: calculated only on the prerequisites necessary for that particular professional school program.
- All other GPA: calculated on all courses except your science courses
Professional schools do not honor “grade forgiveness” or “grade replacement” for repeated courses. All grades count and repeats are averaged together. There is also no expiration date on courses taken many years ago.
The following list indicates the most common classes required or highly recommended by most nursing programs. Applicants should always check directly with each program they are applying to and see the Preprofessional Advisor for more information.
Required for Transferring to a BSN Program
|Writing I & II
|ENG 101 & 102
|PSY 100 or 200
|Life Span Development
|Biology I & II
|BIO 201 & 202
|General Chemistry I & I
|CHEM 211 & 212
|Organic Chemistry I
|Anatomy & Physiology I & II
|BIO 318 & 319
|MATH 112 or 275
Highly Recommended or Required
Additional courses to consider
Cell Biology, other advanced Biology, Computer Science, Basic Life Support or CPR Certification
Required for Direct-Entry MSN Programs
|Biology I and II
|BIO 201 and 202
|Anatomy and Physiology I amd II
|BIO 318 & 319
|MATH 112, 275, or PSY 202
Additional courses to consider
Cell Biology, Organic Chemistry, Psychology, Sociology, and Nutrition
- AP and IB credits are generally not accepted toward prerequisites.
- Community college credits can be viewed differently by each program. Check before applying.
- Some programs do not accept international courses to meet prerequisites. Check before applying.
- Online lab courses are not accepted toward prerequisites. Some programs will not allow any online coursework. There may be some exceptions for courses taken at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check before applying.
- Too many withdrawals (W's) on your transcripts can reflect negatively on your application.
- Some programs have expiration dates on their prerequisites. Make sure you have taken them within the program's time requirements.
- Anatomy and Physiology course requirements often expire. Most nursing programs prefer them to be taken within five years but some will still accept them up to 10 years. Please check this expiration date with your desired program.
Research is not required but is always recommended and can make an applicant stand out. Always check with the schools you are planning to apply to. Subjects can include basic science, biomedical, and clinical research, as well as social science and health systems research. You can reach out to the Student Center for Science Engagement for help finding research opportunities.
Applicants are expected to have a good understanding of their future profession and are strongly encouraged to shadow and observe a number of professionals in the clinical setting. Experiences should be meaningful to you on a personal level and reflect your professional goals. Remember that you will be expected to write thoughtful descriptions of your experiences in the application process. Quality over quantity is most important. Programs would rather see commitment and dedication over time than hopping from one short-term experience to the other. Keep a journal not just to document your hours, but to express how various interactions impacted you and your long-term goals.
Ask a practitioner to observe their work. This will give you a glimpse into their daily routine and allow you to see if you’re really a good fit for the profession. Shadowing opportunities are notoriously hard to find, so start looking as soon as possible. The most common way to find shadowing opportunities is through networking: ask family, friends, and colleagues if they know a professional that would allow you to shadow them. The more they know about your aspirations as a future health professional, the more likely they are to take you on for shadowing or refer you to a colleague who will.
Professional schools like to see as much hands-on, direct patient care as possible. Becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) is a great way to gain exposure in the field as well as direct patient care experience. CNA programs are available at community colleges or small private schools for about the same cost and within about 5-8 weeks.
You are preparing for a "helping" profession and it is assumed that you care about those you are planning to serve. Therefore, it is important to have volunteer experiences demonstrating a commitment to service. This should be ongoing throughout your college years. Medical professions often play a big role in the community. Getting involved in your community is a great way to experience this. You can volunteer at a church or other religious facility, community centers, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, etc.
Volunteering in a health setting will give you exposure to various practitioners working with patients. Look for opportunities to assist, be part of a team, make decisions, and lead others. There are many ways to volunteer in the health setting such as hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing/retirement homes, doctors’ offices, public clinics, suicide hotlines, hospice centers, crisis centers, or study abroad experiences like medical mission trips.
Get involved on campus through student government, honors programs, or student organizations that are related to your major or future profession such as the Future Health Professionals Club. Get involved by participating in their events. They often conduct enrichment programming and even community service. Try to become an officer in an organization to gain leadership experience. You must take this role seriously though and live up to the commitment you make. You can search all of NEIU's Student Organizations to find others that are a good fit for you.
As a health professional, you will be a leader and team member with your patients, staff, colleagues, and in your community. Other ways to gain leadership experience include offices held in organizations, committee work, leadership in religious activities, coordinating a project; managing, training, and supervising at work, teaching or training experience of any kind, tutoring, as well as peer counseling or mentoring.
You will need at least two strong letters of recommendation ideally from science faculty and relevant professionals that have supervised you in a work, shadowing, or volunteer setting. You will need to give them at least two months’ notice so be sure to research the letter of recommendation requirements for each program you're planning to apply.
Get to know people from these categories so you will feel comfortable asking them to write excellent letters for you.
- Registered Nurse or Nurse Practitioner
- Professor (Science or non-science)
- Pre-Health Advisor
Learn more on how to request letters of recommendation. Please note that Northeastern does not offer a committee or composite letter.
You will have to write a personal statement/essay as part of your application. It should be about two pages double-spaced and discuss how your life has led you to your desired career. While most personal statements are general in nature and can be used for multiple applications, some programs want applicants to follow specific guidelines and answer prompts that they will provide. Check with the schools you’re applying to and make sure you’re following directions. Look up examples of personal statements and have several people read yours before submitting it. If you would like to talk about why you’re interested in a particular program you can write several statements and customize them as needed.
This is also your opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are beyond your GPA, test scores, and experiences. It communicates what is important to you and explains in-depth your reasons and motivations for pursuing professional school. Additionally, a personal statement can help explain any gaps in education or experiences, as well as any weaknesses in an application.
Learn more about how to write Personal Statements.
Some nursing schools will require an entrance exam to rate your abilities in areas such as comprehension, communication, and critical thinking, as well as your knowledge of the core subjects involved in the healthcare field. Which test is required will depend on which nursing schools you plan on applying to. The most common are the “HESI”, the “TEAS” or “PAX”.
The Health Education Systems, Inc. Admissions Assessment (HESI A2) exam has nine sections that cover biology, chemistry, grammar, reading, and math. This exam also draws on high school-level knowledge, as many of the entrance exams do.
Another common nursing entrance exam is the Test of Essential Academic Skills Exam (TEAS). This test has four sections including reading, math, language use, and science. Test-takers are given 209 minutes to complete this 170-question exam, which covers high school-level knowledge such as algebra, vocabulary, and physical sciences.
The National League for Nursing Pre-Admission Exam (PAX) is one of the most common nursing school entrance exams. This exam is split into three parts — reading comprehension, math, and science — and consists of 160 multiple-choice questions. Test takers have 125 minutes to complete the test.
While many graduate entry nursing programs no longer require the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), some still do for those who have a cumulative GPA of less than 3.25. Be sure to check with each program you're planning to apply to. The GRE is administered throughout the year. It may be repeated, but the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly and take it once. Taking the exam by the spring of the year before you wish to enter PA school will enable you to apply earlier.
- Two (2) multiple choice sections which are scored on a scale of 130-170
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
- One (1) Analytical Writing essay that is scored on a 6-point scale.
GRE Preparation Resources
The application cycle for nursing school begins about 9-12 months before you intend on enrolling, in the summer of the year prior to enrollment. However, the exact timing depends on when you will take the entrance exam (if needed), complete prerequisites, etc. Meet with your pre-professional advisor to develop a long-term plan for applying. Keep in mind that course scheduling, extracurricular activities, exam preparation, and even your personal and family life can all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.
The Centralized Application Service for Nursing Programs (Nursing CAS), is primarily used for graduate programs and the school deadlines can vary depending on which term you are applying for. Undergraduate and graduate programs usually start in the fall but some graduate programs have winter and spring entry options. Typically, deadlines for fall end around Jan. 15 of the same year. You should have selected the programs you plan to apply to, have contacted those who will write letters of recommendation for you, ordered official transcripts from all colleges attended, and completed your personal statement long before this time. Make sure you pay attention to specific deadlines for the schools to which you are applying. Application services verify primary applications and notify applicants of verification or problems.
- Aurora University
- Bradley University (ABSN - 2nd Degree)
- Chicago State University
- Dominican University
- Elmhurst University
- Lewis University
- Loyola University (ABSN - 2nd Degree)
- Methodist College (Transfer or 2nd Degree)
- Millikin University
- North Park University
- Northern Illinois University
- Oak Point University (formerly Resurrection)
- Saint Xavier University
- Trinity Christian College
- University of Illinois (Chicago, Urbana, Springfield)
- University of Saint Francis
- Aurora University
- DePaul University
- Elmhurst University
- Methodist College (Peoria)
- Millikin University (Decatur)
- North Park University
- Rosalind Franklin University
- Rush University (NEIU Affiliation Agreement)
- Trinity College of Nursing & Health Sciences (Rock Island)
- University of Illinois (Chicago)
- National Council of State Boards of Nursing
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- American Nurses Association
- Occupational Outlook Handbook - Registered Nurses