What To Expect in Nursing School

By Traci Williams

Nursing student with tablet

A career in nursing can be both rewarding and challenging. Nurses have the privilege of making a meaningful impact in people’s lives every day by delivering high-quality care, education and advocacy for their patients. Nursing careers are also in high demand, and this expanding field will continue to need nurses who are intelligent, trustworthy and resilient.

Although it has many benefits, nursing — like all professions — has its challenges as well. If you are considering a career in nursing, but have felt overwhelmed by the thought of nursing school, or if you want to learn more about what to expect in nursing school, explore this guide we have created to help answer common questions and set you on the right path.

The Goals of Nursing School

As we learned during the recent global COVID-19 pandemic, the nursing profession is rigorous and can be exhausting during emergencies and times of crisis. Thankfully, pandemics don’t happen often — but nurses are still expected to handle the unexpected and deliver quality care to every single patient, no matter the circumstances.

Due to the rigors of the nursing profession, nursing school is intentionally challenging in order to prepare students for success on the national licensure exam (NCLEX) as well as prepare graduates for success in their future career. Nursing school teaches students how to balance high-quality, compassionate service with precision science — referred to as the “Art and Science” of nursing. This is learned through hard work, hands-on training, real-world practice, and asking questions along the way.

What Do You Learn in Nursing School?

There are several ways to become a registered nurse (RN), but it’s important to know that not all paths are created equal. Some choose to earn an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which is a two-year program. However, in today’s market, many healthcare employers prefer to hire graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or higher. This is due to growing evidence showing that the more BSN-prepared nurses there are on staff, the better the patient outcomes.1

In a BSN degree program, nursing school students can expect to be prepared in the following key areas:

  • Community/population health education
  • Nurse management and leadership
  • Nursing theory
  • Nursing research
  • Nursing informatics
  • Foundations of nursing practice
  • Nursing skills
  • Clinical reasoning and decision making
  • Ethics and healthcare policy

The exact curriculum for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing program will vary depending on the nursing school. To get an idea of what to expect in nursing school, here is a common traditional BSN degree program format:

  • First and Second Years: Pre-nursing students will take general education requirements, participate in didactic learning (lectures and classwork), and take prerequisite science classes and labs.
  • Third Year: Secondary acceptance required for the clinical portion of the nursing program. Students will begin core fundamental nursing courses and participate in skills labs, immersive simulations, and begin clinical rotations.
  • Fourth Year: Students complete additional advanced nursing courses and Transition to Practice clinical rotations under the supervision of nurse professionals in various healthcare settings. Nursing students will also prepare for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).2
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What BSN Courses Can You Expect To Take?

Similar to the degree program format, the BSN courses will vary by program and nursing school. However, you can expect to take some version of the following courses/clinical rotations:

  • Foundations of Nursing
  • Health Assessment
  • Introduction to Pharmacology
  • Behavioral Health Nursing
  • Research and Evidence-Based Practice
  • Adult Health Nursing
  • Pediatrics
  • Nursing Care of Childbearing (OB) Family
  • Leadership, Ethics and Policy in Healthcare
  • Population Health
  • Transition to Practice

Clinical Placements for Nursing School Students

As a nursing school student, you can expect to participate in many supervised clinical placements (or “clinicals”), which are designed to introduce you to different patient populations and healthcare settings. You will actively participate by performing tasks a nurse will typically handle in various situations.

The goal of these diverse clinicals is to give you real-world experience in a variety of healthcare specialties, including adult care, family care, population/community health and behavioral health. These clinicals will allow you to apply your learned skills while building your confidence in providing high-quality patient care.

5 Additional Things to Expect in Nursing School

In addition to the curriculum and clinicals, here is a list of five common things you can expect in nursing school. These are general and may not apply to every nursing student.

1. Qualifying for Nursing School

As mentioned, nursing school is challenging, so programs often have multiple requirements, including a minimum GPA, satisfactory scores on entrance exams and passage of a background check. Some nursing schools also require an interview and essay submission.

2. Reading and Studying, Reading and Studying

Nursing school requires a lot of reading, which includes assigned reading in textbooks, supporting research papers, articles and documents, and patient charts. There is also a lot of required studying in order to be prepared for classes, tests, labs and clinicals. However, although you may feel overwhelmed at times, it is important to remember that it all serves a purpose. Nursing school is designed to create qualified, competent nurses, and all the tests are intended to prepare graduates for the NCLEX licensing exam.2

3. Constant Conversations About the NCLEX Exam

In nursing school, you’ll hear a lot about the NCLEX exam — and for good reason. Often cited as the ultimate test for nurses, this is a national exam that graduates must pass before obtaining their nursing license. One of the primary objectives of your nursing school is for its students to pass the NCLEX exam. It is a challenging exam, but it is passable. You’ll also have support from your nursing faculty and fellow students throughout the nursing program.

4. Immersive Simulation Exercises

Many nursing schools use simulation practices to supplement, enhance or replace the clinical experience. Simulation exercises allow you to develop critical thinking and clinical judgment through realistic patient care scenarios.

5. Medical Terminology in Daily Vocabulary

Medical terminology will quickly become part of your regular conversations with other nursing students, friends and family. You’ll often find yourself using nursing acronyms, abbreviations or other terms that many people don’t know. However, your keen knowledge of these terms will only help you to grow in your nursing career, so it’s okay to allow them into your daily vocabulary.

Why Earn an Accelerated BS in Nursing (ABSN) at Grand Canyon University?

At Grand Canyon University (GCU), eligible students have an opportunity to earn an ABSN in as few as 16 months.4 The ABSN degree program is designed for those who have a non-nursing college education and want to transfer to a nursing career. To apply for the ABSN program, students must meet certain prerequisites and general education requirements.

GCU’s accelerated nursing program is available in Arizona, Utah and Nevada. The programs enroll students three times a year, so you can get started quickly. As an ABSN student at GCU, you can expect a rigorous online and in-person curriculum requiring dedication and a full-time commitment over the four program semesters. With the support of dedicated faculty and staff, graduates of the ABSN program will enter the nursing field as:

  • Global citizens
  • Critical thinkers
  • Effective communicators
  • Compassionate and responsible leaders

We hope you are now more familiar with what to expect in nursing school. It is tough, and it can be stressful and overwhelming at times. However, becoming a nurse is a uniquely rewarding experience that provides many opportunities to specialize, grow, lead, teach, serve and advocate for others.

For more than 70 years, Grand Canyon University (GCU) has provided students with a transformative education rooted in strong Christian values. As an ABSN student, we’ll prepare you to succeed in the nursing profession as well as contribute to the greater good of society through servant leadership. Get started on your Bachelor of Nursing degree today by clicking on the Request More Info at the top of your screen.

Retrieved from:

1 American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Impact of Education on Nursing Practice in April 2022.

2 NCSBN, NCLEX & Other Exams in April 2022.

3 Cannot be used in conjunction with other GCU scholarships or awards.

4 Based on location, applicants must transfer a minimum of 60 of the required 123 credits, or have completed a baccalaureate degree, and complete nine prerequisite courses/labs and 10 general education courses prior to starting the core nursing courses which can be completed in 16 months. An additional prerequisite course is required for students enrolled in Grand Canyon University’s ABSN program in Nevada. For more information on the accreditation of nursing programs and other university licensures, please visit our University Accreditation and Regulations page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.