Getting into nursing school can be pretty competitive, so you might be wondering how your ACT score will affect your chances of getting accepted into your dream school. The answer to this question can vary depending on what kind of nursing program you choose, what schools you apply to, and how your other application materials look.
Different nursing programs handle ACT scores differently, so it’s important to find out as much information as possible about the significance of ACT scores in nursing school admissions.
In this article, we’ll help you understand how ACT scores affect your nursing school admissions chances by covering the following:
- The different types of nursing programs you can apply to
- The general application process for four-year bachelors of nursing programs
- How your ACT score factors into your nursing school application, and what a "good" ACT score is for nursing school admission
- Explaining how ACT scores fit into the admissions process at six of the best nursing programs in the United States
- Giving you five expert tips for achieving an ACT score that will help you stand out in the nursing school admissions process
So keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the ACT score needed for nursing school!
What Are the Differences Between Associate, Bachelor's, and Graduate Nursing Programs?
There are three different nursing degrees that you can earn: an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN), and a graduate nursing degree. Each of these types of nursing degrees can lead to licensure as a Practical Nurse or a Registered Nurse, but have different completion requirements.
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is a two-year degree in nursing. When a student graduates with an ADN, they are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN, which is the licensing exam you have to take to become a registered nurse, or RN. The two-year Associate Degree in Nursing is the minimum education required to become an RN, and it’s one of the most affordable ways to get a nursing degree.
Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN)
A Bachelors of Science in Nursing (or BSN) is probably the most well-known educational route to becoming a nurse. Students can earn a BSN at an accredited four-year college or university that has a nursing program.
Students who complete a BSN must also take and pass the NCLEX-RN in order to become an RN. Instead of completing the nursing degree in two years, though, BSN students will complete the degree in four years.
Graduate Nursing Programs
For advanced study in the field of nursing, there are also graduate nursing programs. Both masters and doctoral programs in nursing build on the knowledge and skills that students acquired while completing an undergraduate degree in nursing. There are different types of master’s and doctoral programs for nursing. Depending on the type of graduate program they choose to enroll in, students may have the opportunity to move into management positions, become a nurse educator, or an advanced practitioner.
Learning how to take a person's vitals is one of the first things you'll learn when you enroll in a nursing program.
How Do You Get Accepted to a BSN Program?
The process of getting accepted to a BSN program varies between universities. However, there are two main approaches that schools will use to accept students to nursing programs: applying through undergraduate admissions, or completing a separate application for nursing school toward the end of sophomore year.
Concurrent Admission Into Nursing School
At some universities, you're accepted into your nursing program at the same time you're admitted into the university. These types of nursing programs will typically instruct applicants to select nursing as their intended major on the application. Also, you'll likely have to write additional essays or submit additional application materials that are nursing specific.
Applying to Nursing School After Sophomore Year
Then there’s the other type of nursing program that doesn’t admit students until the end of students' sophomore year. At this type of school, if you selected “nursing” as your major on your undergraduate application, you’ll be classified as a “pre-nursing” major during your freshman and sophomore year. During these two initial years, you’ll take general education and prerequisite courses that you must pass before you are admitted to the nursing school.
Around the middle of your sophomore year, you’ll have to submit a separate application directly to the school of nursing in order to continue to the upper-division BSN program at your university. In order to be considered for admission to the upper-division BSN program at most schools, you’ll have to have completed the required prerequisite courses and have maintained a specific GPA. Competitive programs may require you to submit additional application materials, including a statement of purpose or letters of recommendation.
On top of these general requirements, some nursing programs require applicants to take the HESI A2 exam as a part of the application process. The HESI A2 exam is a test that nursing schools use to screen program applicants. The exam is comprised of eight subtests that are divided up into two sections: the academic section and the personality section. Most nursing schools have a set minimum score applicants must achieve on the exam (75 is common) in order to be considered for admission to the program.
Next, if you look good on paper (your coursework, GPA, and HESI A2 exam score are all excellent), the final step in the nursing school applications process is sometimes a formal, in-person interview. Once the interview process is completed, most schools will look at each applicant and evaluate them holistically based on criteria like leadership experience, scholarship, volunteer work, service, and healthcare experience.
So how many of these hurdles will you have to jump to be admitted into your nursing program? Generally speaking, the more competitive the nursing program, the more requirements you'll have to meet in order to be considered for admission.
What ACT Score Do You Need for Nursing School?
Many students who are interested in applying to nursing schools may wonder how their ACT scores will affect their eligibility for nursing programs.
At schools that admit students straight into the nursing program as freshman, the ACT is pretty important. In contrast, schools that have a separate nursing school application process during the sophomore year don’t really factor ACT scores into their admissions decisions.
So, the ACT score needed for nursing school will depend on the school and program you apply to. Let's take a closer look at how your ACT score plays into the two types of nursing school admission processes.
If your school admits you to nursing school at the same time you're admitted to college, then your ACT score will definitely be important. That's because your ACT score plays a significant role in getting admitted into a university…and since you're admitted into nursing school simultaneously, it's a key part of getting into nursing school, too.
In this situation, you should check with your potential nursing program to see if the ACT score of incoming nursing students is higher than the average ACT score of incoming freshmen. If that information isn't available, then you should look at the ACT score statistics for the university in general. Our advice is to make sure your score falls in the top 50% of all ACT scores for your school to give yourself a decent shot at admission.
Having said that, the more competitive your school is, the higher your ACT score will need to be. For more information about what constitutes a "good" ACT score for college admission, be sure to check out this expert guide.
If you apply to a university with a nursing program that has a separate application process during the sophomore year, there will be other information about you as a student that the nursing school will be more interested in than your ACT score. By the middle of your sophomore year, you’ll already have completed most of the prerequisite courses for the nursing school. Admissions committees consider your grades in those classes—especially the science ones—as much better predictors of your performance in nursing school than your high school ACT score.
Regardless of what kind of nursing program you want to enroll in, you still have to get accepted to college first, and your ACT scores play a significant role in that. If you make it past that hurdle at a school that has a separate nursing school application process, maintaining a good GPA will ultimately be more important to your nursing school application than whatever you scored on the ACT.
The University of Pennsylvania's School of Nursing takes the top spot on our list of best nursing programs in the United States. (Bryan Y.W. Shin/Wikimedia)
The Average ACT Score for Nursing Students at 6 Top BSN Programs
Since the admissions criteria for BSN programs can vary, looking at some real-life examples of the admissions and ACT score requirements at top nursing schools can help you get an idea of the average ACT score for nursing students at different types of schools.
Check out our description of the admissions process and the ACT score needed for nursing school at six of the best BSN programs below!
The University of Pennsylvania’s BSN program begins during the freshman year, with students taking a combination of general education, prerequisites, and nursing courses right out of the gate. Students begin clinicals in the spring of the sophomore year. These clinicals will include experiences in primary care, acute care, women’s health, and mental health settings. During clinicals, BSN students will get the chance to work with patients ranging in age from newborns to older adults.
To apply to UPenn’s BSN, high school students must apply for the UPenn undergraduate degree through the university’s central admissions office. The School of Nursing at UPenn also accepts transfer students, who complete a separate application process.
The application process for first year applicants to UPenn includes the completed Common Application, an official high school transcript, a school report, a counselor recommendation, two academic teacher evaluations, and SAT or ACT scores. Since BSN students at UPenn start in the program from the beginning of their freshman year, the ACT is taken into consideration as a part of their application for acceptance to the UPenn BSN.
While the School of Nursing doesn’t provide info about the ACT scores of its admitted students, UPenn Admissions notes that the middle 50 percent of the admitted UPenn class of 2023 scored in the 33-35 range on the ACT. In other words, if you want to attend the #1 nursing school in the U.S., you’re going to want to shoot for an ACT score that’s close to that range...which is pretty close to perfect!
So what is the UPenn School of Nursing looking for in great applicants? Admissions committee members are looking for applicants who show a commitment to patient care, a desire to explore issues in healthcare, and a strong preparation in the sciences (particularly in chemistry). UPenn BSN graduates have passed the NCLEX exam at a 92% rate since 2009, showing that this nursing school provides students with rigorous preparation for a future in nursing.
As a nursing student at Villanova, you'll participate in a rigorous, four-year nursing curriculum that gives you many opportunities to tailor your learning experience. Nursing students can participate in Villanova's University Honors Program, an educational learning community that focuses on holistic education, or choose a nursing specialty like the global health minor.
In other words, Villanova's nursing program offers undergraduate students the unique opportunity to tailor their nursing education to fit their individual interests and their future career paths!
Students apply to Villanova's nursing program at the same time as they apply for admission to the university. The nursing school does factor ACT scores into its admissions criteria, though it doesn't disclose average test scores or GPAs for currently enrolled students. That means nursing school hopefuls will have to make sure their ACT scores are above average for all Villanova students to give themselves the best shot at nursing school.
Luckily, Villanova does release the average ACT scores for its student population. For the class of 2023, the middle 50% of admitted students earned between a 32-34 on the ACT and had between a 4.13-4.47 on a weighted 4.0 scale. So in order to be as competitive an application as possible, students should aim for their ACT score to be at least a 32 or higher.
To apply to Emory for undergraduate admission, first-year applicants must submit the Common Application, an official high school transcript, official or self-reported ACT scores, a secondary school report, a counselor’s recommendation, and two letters of recommendation.
Once accepted to Emory, students then complete the first two years of general education courses. While completing these prerequisites, potential nursing students also apply for admission to the school of nursing at Emory. The prerequisites must be completed before students can enroll in the BSN program during the fall of the junior year. Students then complete their nursing degree during their final four semesters.
So what is a good ACT score for admission into Emory? According to the profile for the admitted class of 2023 at Emory, the middle 50% of admitted students scored in the 32-35 range on the ACT and have an unweighted GPA in the 3.79-4.00 range. Emory’s school of nursing doesn’t provide stats on its students’ ACT scores or GPA, but instead evaluates nursing school applicants based on their academic performance and involvement as a student during the first two years of college.
The University of Texas at Austin's nursing program is a great choice for students whose ACT scores aren't quite as high but still want an excellent nursing education! (Nick Amoscato/Flickr)
Freshman applicants to the nursing program at the University of Texas at Austin must apply through the UT Office of Undergraduate Admissions and select “nursing” as their first choice major on the application. UT Admissions accepts applicants directly into specific majors. This means that when you apply for undergraduate admission to UT and select nursing as your first choice major, you’re also applying to the nursing school.
What this also means is that your ACT scores will definitely factor into your application package to UT nursing. At UT, the middle 50% of admitted students scored in the 27-33 range, which gives applicants a decent range of scores to shoot for and still be a competitive applicant to the nursing school.
To apply to UT, applicants must complete an application through ApplyTexas, an essay and short answer responses, official transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores.
The traditional BSN at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is a two-year course sequence built upon a two-year pre-nursing course sequence that is completed during the freshman and sophomore years. After completing the required prerequisite courses and hours, pre-nursing students then apply to the school of nursing separately during their sophomore year.
Students must be on-track to have completed 54 credit hours before enrolling in the two-year BSN program at UW-Madison. On top of that, applicants to the nursing program must have a minimum 2.75 GPA on all prerequisite courses and achieve a grade of C in all prerequisite courses. In the most recent application cycle, the UW-Madison School of Nursing received 400 applications for 160 seats, and the average GPA for admitted students was 3.5.
In other words, to get into nursing school at UW-Madison, you'll have to make sure you're not just meeting the program requirements. You'll need to exceed them!
Speaking of requirements, there isn’t a minimum GPA, class rank, or ACT score requirement to get into the university. In fact, UW-Madison doesn’t even publicize the average ACT score range for its admitted students. The admissions page simply encourages applicants to take heart in the fact that many aspects of an applicant’s profile are taken into consideration!
The BSN program at the University of California, Los Angeles is a four-year nursing program that students start at the beginning of their freshman year. To get admitted to the School of Nursing at UCLA, prospective nursing students must complete the UC undergraduate application for admission and complete the UCLA School of Nursing Supplemental Application.
The online UCLA School of Nursing Supplemental Application includes a Statement of Purpose, Resume, and two Recommendation Forms. The supplemental application is due during mid-January each year, which means that prospective freshman applicants to both UCLA and the School of Nursing must complete the School of Nursing Supplemental Application by mid-January prior to the fall semester of their freshman year at UCLA.
Students who apply to UCLA must submit either SAT or ACT scores. The middle 50% of students admitted to UCLA in 2019 scored in the 30-35 range on the ACT and had an unweighted GPA ranging from 3.92-4.00.
While these stats should give you a sense of how competitive your GPA and ACT scores might be as an applicant to UCLA and the School of Nursing, UCLA doesn’t have a minimum GPA or ACT score requirement for freshman admission. Something else helpful to know about the UCLA School of Nursing is that it has a set number of students it admits each year: 50 first-year students, and 10 transfer students.
5 Tips for Achieving the Best ACT Score for Nursing School Admissions
Now that you’ve set your sights on the ACT score you’ll need to achieve in order to get accepted to your dream school, keep reading to find out our top five tips for achieving the best ACT score for nursing school!
#1: Research BSN Programs’ Admissions Requirements
In order to achieve the ACT score needed for nursing school, you have to know what score you should aim for. The best way to know what ACT score to shoot for is to research the ACT score needed for nursing students at the specific colleges you want to apply to. Having a goal score in mind can help you take concrete steps toward achieving it!
It’s also worth finding out what the average ACT score for nursing students is at the schools you’re applying to (if possible). Since nursing school admissions is so competitive, knowing what the average ACT score for nursing students is at a specific school can help you tailor your ACT prep toward scoring in or above that range.
#2: Brush up on Your Math and Science
Nurses have to take a lot of science and math courses in college, which you should take into consideration as you think about achieving a competitive ACT score for nursing school. Admissions committees want to know that you can hang tough in those difficult math and science courses, and they might view your math and science ACT scores as predictors of your potential.
This means that it’s especially important to prepare well for the math and science sections of the ACT. You can do this by working hard in your high school and/or prerequisite college math and science courses. Taking advantage of any math and science study group or tutoring opportunities can help you work on the skills you need to score above the average ACT score for nursing students on the math and science sections as well.
PrepScholar offers a wide variety of ACT prep courses that can help you raise your ACT score and get into the nursing program of your dreams.
#3: Take an ACT Prep Course
For many students, taking the ACT can be an anxiety-inducing experience. The pressure of trying to get a "good" score can make students second guess themselves, which in turn can make their scores worse, not better!
If you're a nervous test taker, then taking an ACT prep course might be a worthy way to spend your ACT prep time. Getting to know the ins and outs of the test before you take it can ease any anxiety you might feel by removing some of the unknowns about the test. Plus, getting familiar with the format and wording of the ACT can save you valuable time when you take the actual test—time that you can spend making sure you answer as many questions correctly as possible!
#4: Study Your Weak Areas
If taking an entire ACT course doesn’t sound like your scene but you want a little extra ACT prep, try taking a practice ACT to get an idea of how you might score on the real deal. Getting a sense of what your scores might look like before you take the actual ACT can help you make a solid study plan that targets your weaker areas too.
When you know what your areas for improvement are on the ACT, you can spend your prep time tackling those areas! If you take a practice ACT and find that you breeze through the reading and science sections, but really struggle through the math, it makes sense to channel your efforts into extra study time for the ACT math.
Since your scores on the individual sections of the ACT all affect your composite score, it’s worth it to find out where your lower scores might be so you can work on bringing those up. The higher your overall ACT score, the better your chances of getting into your #1 nursing school.
#5: Take the ACT Early
If you know for sure that you’re trying to score higher than the average ACT score for nursing students, it’s important to plan ahead. That means taking the ACT early, so you can make plans to continue studying and re-take it if you don’t get the score you’re hoping for the first time.
Plus, many nursing schools encourage applicants to submit their applications early, since there are limited spaces in nursing programs. The earlier you take the ACT, the earlier you can submit your nursing school application...and the earlier you can get accepted!
Now that you know the ACT score you need for nursing school, it's time to start studying so you can get into the school of your dreams! You can start by reading our comprehensive guide to the ACT, then learn how a real-life test taker earned a perfect score on their ACT exam.
Keep in mind that ACT scores are just one portion of your college and/or nursing school application. You'll also need to write killer application essays, too. This guide gives you a step-by-step method to writing a perfect application essay. We also have amazing resources that can help you with your letters of recommendation and college interviews, too!
Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.