Going to Nursing School? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Published on: June 7, 2023

Going to nursing school can open the door to a wide range of career opportunities and make you a professional that is in high demand. By 2030, the healthcare industry will need 3.6 million new nurses. By entering the career now, you will position yourself to take advantage of this demand. To do that, you must go to nursing school. Here’s what you can expect from this process.

What to Expect From a Nursing Degree

A nursing degree focuses on providing students with the opportunity to hone the critical thinking and clinical judgment skills they will need to practice as nurses. These programs give students an education in medical terminology and equipment, with many also including hands-on clinicals that prepare students for their future careers.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Program

How can you choose a nursing school? Here are some factors to consider:

  • Length: Typically, you can get a licensed practical nursing credential in one year. For an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing, you will spend 18-24 months in your program and graduate as a registered nurse. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing typically takes four years, though accelerated programs do exist.
  • Classroom structure: Do you want to study online, in a lecture-based classroom, with large or small classes? Find a classroom structure that fits your ideal learning format.
  • Specialties: If you know what specialty you want to focus on in your nursing career, such as pediatrics or surgical nursing, make sure the school can support you.
  • Location: Consider where the school is located and what opportunities, including job opportunities, are nearby.
  • Accreditation: Make sure the school is approved by the Board of Nursing in the state where you want to work and ensure the program’s accredited, which can impact your financial aid options.
  • NCLEX first-time pass rate: Find out the school’s first-time pass rate for the NCLEX. A high number will show that they prepare their students well.
  • Rankings: You shouldn’t choose a nursing school based on rankings alone, but you can use this factor to help you make your final decision if all other factors are equal.

What to Expect in Nursing School

Once you choose a school, what should you expect once you start? First, you may have to do a nursing school interview, where the school will ask you several questions about your goals. These questions help them determine if you are a good fit for their nursing program. Come into the interview prepared but not scared.

Next, you can expect quite a bit of reading. In addition to the textbooks for your program, you’ll need to read research papers and articles to help you learn all you can about nursing and healthcare. You’ll practice reading patient charts during your clinicals as well.

Finally, be prepared to study hard. Many nurses find they must learn a new way to study once they enter nursing school because of the rigorous nature of these programs, so be ready to work as you pursue your goals.

Going Into Your First Year

As you head into that first year, be prepared for orientation and the need to learn quite a bit of new vocabulary in the medical field. Each teacher will provide a curriculum, including books you need to purchase and a syllabus of your assignments. Learn these well.

Your first year will be mentally and physically challenging. Try to be as healthy as possible before you head to school to give yourself the best chance of success.

Each year of nursing school will include research, memorization, group projects and examinations, all preparing you for your clinicals and taking the NCLEX exam. Apply yourself well in each of these areas, and you’ll set the stage for success.


Clinicals are the hands-on training you get under the watchful eye of experienced medical professionals. You’ll do clinicals in several settings to get a feel for different types of nursing and a chance to practice your nursing skills. Clinicals don’t start at the beginning of your nursing degree but rather about halfway through your first semester or at the start of your second semester, depending on the structure of your chosen program. You need a little bit of book learning first, but you will jump in with the hands-on portion of your training fairly quickly.

General Nurse Degree Expectations

What should you expect before heading off to nursing school? While everyone’s experience is unique, a few tips can make it easier to be prepared.

You Will Not Always Enjoy It

Nursing school can be a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. There are high-stress levels that come along with nursing school, especially on weeks when you have a heavy workload to get through. You will find there are times when you don’t enjoy the process. Keep your eyes on the prize, which is your degree and future career, on those hard days and look for small wins in terms of your progress, grades, or fellow students.

Hard Work and Dedication, But You Can Do It

You will be working hard every day. You will need to study whenever possible. It is hard work, and there’s no getting around that. You will need to be dedicated to that work. However, don’t let that dissuade you. You can do it! And the confidence you will gain after overcoming the challenge will assure you that you’re ready to take on a career as a nurse.

Early Mornings and Late Nights

While you might have classes later in the day, you may want to make a habit of getting up to study in the mornings before you get ready for class. When you get into your clinicals, you may have to report early in the morning, which requires you to get up even earlier. Yet you also will find yourself working late for some shifts, and you may have to study late into the night. Learn to plan your schedule so you get enough sleep, but be prepared for early mornings and late nights.

Learning, Education and Schoolwork

The learning and education process for a nursing student is slightly different than for students in other fields. Here’s what you can expect from your schoolwork.

Course Load and Volume

If you plan to finish your nursing degree on a typical timetable, such as two to four years, depending on your chosen degree, you’ll need to plan for the course load and volume. You must learn all of the medical terminology and ethical and legal concerns quickly, so there is a lot of work.

Schoolwork and Labs

Not only will you have a high course load, but you may find that the schoolwork itself is more challenging than you are used to. In addition, many of your courses will include required labs that teach you how to perform your various responsibilities when you start practicing. This is a science-heavy degree field.

Study Hours

Study, study and study some more will be the mantra of your life as a nursing student. Many nursing students take note cards with the medical terminology they’re learning everywhere they go. Get used to studying on a regular basis in this field.


Your nursing degree prepares you to take your nursing examinations, and that means you’ll have tests throughout your time in school. Sometimes, you may have multiple exams to study for at the same time. Be prepared to put in the study hours.

Learn Beyond the Textbook

Learning in nursing school takes place in many settings. In addition to textbook and lecture-based learning, you will have labs and clinical hours. You will likely have group projects and papers to write as well. Your program will likely include simulations using realistic dummies, allowing you to get hands-on practice before you work with living, breathing patients. You may even get to work on cadavers. This can make the degree easier for people with varied learning styles but be prepared to learn outside of the traditional textbook-based learning model.

Prioritizing Your Health

Ongoing exposure to stress combined with the exposure to germs you may have in your clinicals can jeopardize your health. You will need to take steps to prioritize your health in order to fight off infection. Your mental health will also need to be addressed – you won’t be able to help anyone else as a nurse if you aren’t at your best. Taking care of yourself mentally and physically is paramount.

Develop a Sleep Schedule

Getting enough sleep is essential to your health, but it’s not always easy with the late nights and early mornings of nursing school. Prioritize sleep and set up a schedule that ensures you get a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night as often as possible. If you can’t do this, structure your schedule so you have time for napping.

Stress Management

Stress management is vital in nursing school. The National Institutes of Health indicates nursing students should have effective coping strategies to manage the stress of the process of getting their degree. Some strategies you can use to reduce your stress include:

  • Sticking to a routine as much as possible
  • Finding places where you can reduce your workload without sacrificing your grades
  • Avoiding too much screen time in the evening before bed
  • Choosing low-stress exercise to boost your mood without adding to your overflowing plate
  • Spending time outdoors when possible
  • Surrounding yourself with supportive people who will help
  • Devoting yourself to learning effective time management
  • Learn to set boundaries and say “no” when necessary

Try to Maintain a Healthy Diet

Another way to manage the requirements of nursing school on your body and mind is to keep a healthy diet. This isn’t always easy while under stress and managing a busy schedule, but it will significantly help you. Some tips to help you avoid the fast food or snack food trap include:

  • Keeping healthy snacks on hand, like fresh fruit or nuts, for when hunger strikes
  • Meal planning to get you through the week
  • Prepping several fast meals, like salads, early in the week that you can grab for lunch
  • If eating on campus at your school, opting for protein, veggies and fruit and avoiding processed foods

You will have to rely on convenience on occasion but choose healthy whenever possible for your overall well-being.

Work Your Body, Not Just Your Brain

Your brain is getting a workout during nursing school, but is your body? Work your body with exercise when possible. This may not be the time for intense exercise, but you can do low-impact activities like walking and swimming. If your school has a workout facility available to students, take advantage of it.

Take Your Mental Health Seriously

Mental health has an impact on your physical health, so keep an eye on how you are feeling. If you find yourself struggling with negative moods, anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns, get help. Your school may have a mental health department that can steer you toward the right professional assistance.

Know Your Emotional Needs

Finally, make sure you understand your emotional needs. These are different for every individual, but you must know what you need to feel emotionally strong. Do you need strong connections with other people, or do you need alone time on occasion? Figure out what helps you feel emotionally stable and make room for that in your life while you are in nursing school.

Your Nursing Story Starts Here

Nursing school is a challenge, but it can pay off in the long-run with a rewarding career. If you are ready to jump on board, Park University has a program for you. Our Department of Nursing has a range of programs that will teach you excellence in healthcare and professionalism in everything you do. Learn more about our Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program, and then reach out to start your nursing journey at Park University.

Park University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Park University is a private, non-profit, institution of higher learning since 1875.