Are you wondering the kind of SAT scores you need to get into nursing schools? Applying for undergraduate nursing programs is simpler than you might think, but it's important to make sure you understand exactly what's expected of you.
This article will explain everything you need to know about applying to nursing school, including the different types of nursing programs that are available, the current average SAT/ACT scores for nursing school students, and what you need to do to make your application stand out. We'll also go through some examples of great nursing schools so you can see their SAT requirements.
Read on to find out the SAT nursing scores you need and to get tips for a successful nursing school application!
Feature Image: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr
What Are the Differences Between Associate, Bachelor's, and Graduate Nursing Programs?
Before we dive into the specifics, let's go over the types of nursing programs we'll be covering. You can apply for either an associate degree, a bachelor's degree, or a graduate degree in nursing.
Although both the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can help you become an RN, getting a BSN opens you up for more opportunities down the line. For example, you could become a nurse manager or apply to an advanced degree program so you can become a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist.
The main drawback to the BSN is that it takes more time to complete—four years as opposed to two. But if you're planning on going to a four-year college anyway, the BSN will be a good choice.
If you're applying to nursing graduate programs or for licensing to practice as a nurse, you could be required to take many exams, including the GRE, the Test of Essential Academic Skills, and the National Council Licensure Examination. However, your undergrad GPA will by far be the most important factor—especially your performance in pre-nursing classes.
Applying for a BSN is very similar to applying to any other undergraduate program. You'll submit an application, likely through the Common Application, Universal College App, or Coalition App, and send your transcript and SAT/ACT scores. Your high school GPA and SAT/ACT score will be the most influential parts of your nursing application, just like they are for any undergraduate program.
Your performance in math/science classes as well as on the Math section of the SAT/ACT and the Science section of the ACT will be especially important, though your overall performance matters as well, since you need to be in line with the school's SAT/ACT score and GPA ranges.
Get ready to hit the books. (Steven S/Flickr)
Undergraduate Nursing Requirements for the BSN
If you're aiming to be competitive for a BSN, you mainly need to pay attention to each school's general admission requirements.
In some cases, you'll just get into the school like any other undergraduate and then declare the nursing major once you're there—so all you need to do is focus on being able to get into the school.
In other cases, you'll need to apply specifically to the nursing program or school, which often has slightly higher GPA and SAT/ACT averages than the general undergraduate population does.
And in other cases, you'll apply to the school and then apply to the nursing program after three or four semesters there. This is common at larger schools, where more students want to get into the program than there are available spots.
To account for the fact that nursing programs are more competitive, you should aim for SAT/ACT scores at the top of a school's middle 50% range. What does this mean? For example, if your desired school's average (middle 50%) SAT score range is 1300-1400 (in which 1300 is the 25th percentile and 1400 is the 75th percentile), you should try to aim for a 1400 or higher—this would put you at the top of that school's applicant pool and guarantee you'll be competitive for the nursing program.
To find a school's GPA and ACT/SAT average score range, search for "[School Name] PrepScholar" or "[School Name] PrepScholar SAT/ACT." We've put together pages that detail the score ranges of all major US colleges and universities.
For this article, we'll highlight some popular nursing programs in the US and include their average SAT score ranges. But if you want to look up any other school's nursing program, you can use this search process.
The BSN Application Processes at Popular Nursing Schools
In this section, we'll go through some of the top undergraduate nursing programs in the US and explore what their admission requirements and average SAT/ACT score ranges are.
In addition, we'll highlight several schools that allow you to start the BSN partway through college, which is a great way to get into nursing if your high school record and SAT scores are so-so.
We'll also go over nursing-specific application procedures and advice for the schools we highlight. As you'll see, there are many school-specific procedures for nursing applicants. This means it'll be important for you to carefully research the nursing programs you're interested in so you can make sure you're aware of any nursing-specific requirements (such as taking the SAT Subject Tests or submitting an extra essay).
Petersen Events Center at the University of Pittsburgh (Ronald Woan/Flickr)
Applying for nursing at the University of Pittsburgh means you basically have to follow the general admission guidelines for undergraduate applicants.
All applicants need four years each of English and math, three years of social studies and science (including chemistry), and five years of academic electives.
In addition to these basic undergraduate requirements, the nursing school suggests you take the following classes:
"Two units of foreign language as an elective are highly recommended. School of Nursing faculty recommends that students consider taking any of the following courses if offered: Statistics, Anatomy and Physiology, Genetics, or any Computer Class."
When you click on the "Additional Admission Information" link, you'll be taken to the general application requirements page for all prospective freshmen, which explains that all applications should have a challenging mix of classes, including a tough senior year schedule.
Pitt's middle 50% scores are 1250-1440 for the SAT and 28-33 for the ACT. Remember that you need scores at the upper bound or higher to ensure you're competitive, so try to aim for around a 1440 on the SAT or a 33 composite ACT score at the lowest. In 2021, 180 first-year applicants were admitted directly into Pitt’s School of Nursing.
Want to attend the nursing school at Penn? Applicants to the School of Nursing have to apply the same way regular undergraduates do. This means you need to be competitive for Penn to get into Penn Nursing (which is no easy feat, given that Penn is an Ivy League college!).
Penn's nursing program is also ranked #1 in the nation currently, so expect a lot of other well-qualified applicants. You definitely want to aim for the top of their exam score ranges.
Penn's average score range is 1490-1560 on the SAT and 35-36 on the ACT, so aim for a 1560 on the SAT or a 36 on the ACT to be competitive.
O'Neill Library at Boston College (Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism/Flickr)
For Boston College, you can apply to the nursing school through the normal undergraduate admission process—you just have to indicate that you are applying to the School of Nursing on your application. The School of Nursing is one of four undergraduate divisions at BC.
While it's possible to transfer later on into the nursing school from a different undergrad division, this can be difficult:
"As Boston College regulations specify, on a limited basis, it is possible for undergraduate students to transfer across schools at BC subject to the availability of space. Because the BS (nursing) program requires skills laboratories and clinical placements in which there is limited space, slots in any given year/class are capped and vary from year to year. Transfer is NOT guaranteed."
In short, should you apply for admission to nursing at BC, you have to be competitive for BC and then some. Aim to be at the top of BC's average SAT range (1540) as opposed to the middle. BC's middle 50% SAT range is 1460-1540 and their middle 50% ACT range is 33-35.
Nursing applicants follow standard undergraduate admissions protocol, which means submitting the Common App, your transcript, letters of recommendation, and essays.
NYU has a test-flexible admissions program, meaning you can submit the SAT or ACT if you want or substitute AP scores, IB scores, SAT Subject Tests, or another national test.
Since NYU is test-flexible, you can still go by their published SAT/ACT middle 50% ranges, but bear in mind that not all applicants are submitting these tests. You should, as the testing page advises, submit the tests that make you the most competitive. For example, if you took AP Biology and got a 5 on it, you should submit that score since that would look great on a nursing application.
Furthermore, you're encouraged to take the following courses while in high school:
- Four years of English with a heavy emphasis on writing
- Three or four years of mathematics
- Three or four years of laboratory sciences
- Three or four years of history/social studies
- Three or four years of a foreign language
In order to be eligible for admission to the nursing program at NYU, you have to meet something called the "Technical Standards," but all this means is that you have to sign a form certifying that you meet these standards after you're admitted.
In terms of additional requirements for nursing, there aren't that many:
"Applications to the Bachelor of Science at NYU College of Nursing consider the strengths of the applicant's academic history and performance, letter(s) of recommendation, work or volunteer experience in the healthcare field, full-length essay, and personal statements" (bold emphasis mine).
In short, you should absolutely emphasize any past experience you have in health care, even if it's just volunteering. Nevertheless, there are not dramatically different application requirements to get into NYU Nursing.
NYU's average test scores are 1350-1530 on the SAT and 31-35 on the ACT, so aim for at least a 1530 on the SAT or a 35 on the ACT. And remember: NYU superscores the SAT and ACT, so you can send in multiple score reports and expect admissions to consider your highest section scores!
To get into the nursing program at UCLA, you must meet the freshman admission requirements for the UC system and complete a supplemental application for nursing. The supplemental application gives "potential students the opportunity to provide additional information about their preparation for entry into the nursing profession."
There's a similar application process for nursing at UC Irvine (other UC schools such as UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego don't offer undergraduate nursing programs).
You can read the full application requirements for the University of California here (the reqs are the same for all UC schools, including UCLA).
UCLA's middle 50% test scores are 1290-1510 on the SAT and 29-34 on the ACT, so aim to have a 1510/34 or higher to be competitive for nursing.
UW has a BSN program, but you start the program two years into college and complete the BSN your junior/senior year. This means that you don't apply for UW's BSN until your sophomore year of college.
Furthermore, Washington's BSN application doesn't require the SAT/ACT. Instead, the program is basically looking at your grades from the first two years of college. You don't have to be a current UW student to apply either: you could start college somewhere else, take some prerequisite courses for nursing, and then apply for UW's BSN as a sophomore.
To apply, you need to have a minimum of 100 hours of volunteer or paid healthcare experience and have completed all the necessary prerequisite courses (approximately 90 quarter hour credits).
You also need to have a minimum of 100 hours of volunteer or paid health care experience in one setting within a period of three months, completed within 12 months prior to applying to the BSN program.
In short, UW's BSN program is a great opportunity if your high school GPA or SAT/ACT scores aren't so great and you want the chance to prove yourself in college.
If you decide to apply to UW anyway (even though you won't start the BSN until your third year of college), you'll still want to get decent test scores: at present, the middle 50% test scores are 980-1175 on the SAT and 16-24 on the ACT. Aim for the higher end on these to raise your chances of getting into UW as a whole.
Campbell Hall at Michigan State University (Alex/Flickr)
Similar to UW, you don't apply to MSU's nursing program until you've already started college. Then, while taking prerequisite nursing classes, you can apply for the BSN program at MSU. (Like UW, it's also possible to transfer to MSU nursing from another college or university.)
Although you have to do well in the nursing pre-requisite classes, for this application, your high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores don't matter. So if you're worried that your grades aren't high enough for a super-competitive BSN program, programs such as those at MSU and UW give you the chance to reset in college and work on doing well in prerequisite nursing classes.
If you choose to apply to MSU—even if you're not sure whether you'll end up eventually applying to the BSN program—you should try to get good SAT/ACT scores. MSU's middle 50% scores are 1110-1280 for the SAT and 23-29 for the ACT. Get at least 1280 or 29 to give yourself a stronger chance of gaining admission to MSU.
How to Get Into a Nursing Program: 4 Steps to Take
In the majority of cases, if you're going into a nursing BSN program right out of high school, you'll follow standard college admission procedures. The only main difference is that the admission criteria might be slightly higher if the school's BSN program begins right away.
There will not only be greater emphasis on your science and math grades but also higher ACT/SAT score ranges for nursing applicants. Additionally, you might be expected to have some previous work or volunteer experience in the health care field.
To make sure you put together the best BSN application possible, follow these four steps.
Step 1: Check Admission Requirements at Your Desired Schools
The schools you're applying to will probably require the Common Application or other universal application form, SAT/ACT scores, high school transcripts, and letters of recommendation. An application supplement for nursing might be required as well, so make sure to read schools' official websites carefully!
Step 2: Look Up Schools' Average GPAs and ACT/SAT Score Ranges
If you haven't taken either test yet, set your target SAT/ACT score around the upper bounds of your school's SAT/ACT middle 50% score range. If you have already taken either the SAT or ACT but your score falls short of this range, consider retaking the test to ensure you'll be competitive.
While it’s important to take the SAT or ACT (and take them seriously!) to enhance your applicant profile, also keep in mind that many schools have adopted test-optional or test-blind admissions policies. For instance, all seven of the schools in the list above are currently test-optional through the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, with some extending their test-optional policies even longer than that!
So what do test-optional policies mean for your nursing school applications? Essentially, you should still take the SAT or ACT and do your best to achieve a top score, as submitting your scores to test-optional schools won’t hurt your chances of getting admitted. At the same time, make sure the other aspects of your application are really strong, including your GPA, personal essays, and any other supplemental materials.
To learn more about test-optional and test-blind admissions, check out this article.
Step 3: Learn About Each School's Nursing Program
Before you apply to your nursing programs, be sure you know the ins and outs of each program you've chosen.
Figure out the following: do you just need to get into the undergrad program there and then declare your major, or do you apply specifically to a nursing division? (If this isn't made clear on the admissions website, feel free to call or email the admissions office.)
Or will you apply for the nursing major after you get into the school, such as what students must do at UW and MSU?
The difference is that nursing divisions are slightly more competitive to get into, whereas for schools where you declare your major once you're there, you just need to worry about getting in, period.
Step 4: Note Any Nursing-Specific Requirements or Suggestions
Take note of any requirements or recommendations for each nursing program specifically. As an example, recall how University of Pittsburgh maintains a list of recommended elective courses for future nurses and NYU recommends real-world experience.
The Bottom Line: What SAT Scores Do You Need for Nursing?
Getting into nursing programs as an undergraduate is basically the same as getting accepted to undergraduate programs in general—just slightly more competitive.
To give yourself the best chance at your top schools and nursing programs, focus on maintaining strong grades, particularly in math and science, and studying so you can get a high SAT/ACT score.
As we advise with any student, you want to apply to a wide range of nursing schools—safeties (schools you're very sure you'll get into based on your test scores and GPA), targets or matches (schools you're likely to get into), and reaches.
Also, keep in mind that there are BSN programs like those offered at UW and MSU that allow you to apply once you've already started college. This gives you the chance to reset and prove yourself in college if you don't have a stellar high school GPA.
Finally, remember that if for some reason undergraduate nursing doesn't pan out for you, you can always instead focus on excelling in your undergrad and then applying for a graduate-entry degree in nursing.
If you want to learn more about what it takes to become a nurse after you’ve actually gotten accepted into nursing school, check out this website that overviews the exams you’ll have to pass to get your licensure. We also give you the low-down on the NCLEX Exam in this article to get you one step closer to your dream of becoming a nurse!
If you want to become a nurse, you'll eventually need to take the NCLEX exam. Our in-depth guide to the NCLEX goes over everything you need to know about this test, including when to take it and how to get a great score.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.