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The SAT Scores You Need for Nursing Programs

Posted by Halle Edwards | Aug 4, 2018 9:00:00 AM

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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 expect, but it's important to understand what is expected of you.

This article will explain everything you need to know about applying to nursing school, including the different types of nursing programs, what the average SAT and ACT scores for nursing school students are, 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 what their SAT requirements are.

Find out here the SAT nursing scores you need, and other tips for a successful nursing school application!

Feature Image: Walt Stoneburner/Flickr


Difference Between Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Graduate Nursing Programs

Before we dive into the specifics, it's important to know which type of nursing programs we'll be covering.

You can apply for either an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a graduate degree in Nursing. While both the associate’s degree (ADN) and bachelor’s degree (BSN) can lead you to becoming an RN, getting the BSN opens you up for more opportunities down the line – like becoming a nurse manager or being prepared to enter an advanced degree program, like to be a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist. The main drawback to a BSN is that it takes more time to complete—four years as opposed to two. But if you’re planning on going to four-year college anyway, the BSN is a good way to go.

If you’re applying to nursing graduate programs or for licensing to practice as a nurse, you could be required take many exams including the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) and the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). However, your college GPA will be the most important factor, and especially your performance in Pre-Nursing classes.

This article focuses on undergraduate applications for the BSN, but you can read more about graduate nursing programs here.

Applying for a Bachelors of Science in Nursing is very similar to applying to any other undergraduate program. You’ll submit an application, likely through the Common Application or Universal College App, and also send your transcript and SAT/ACT scores. Your high school GPA/transcript 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 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 (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 will just get into the school like any other undergraduate and then declare the nursing major once you're there—so you just need to focus on being able to get into the school.

In other cases, you’ll apply specifically to the nursing program or school, which often has slightly higher GPA/SAT averages than the general undergraduate population.

In still other cases, you'll apply to the school and then apply into the nursing program after three or four semesters there. This is common at larger schools when more people want to get into the program than there are places for them.

To account for the fact nursing programs are more competitive, you should aim for SAT/ACT scores at the top of a school’s middle-50% range. This means that if your desired school’s middle 50% SAT range is 1300-1400, you should aim for a 1400 or higher, which would put you at the top of their applicant pool and guarantee you’ll be competitive for the nursing program.

To find a school’s GPA and ACT/SAT ranges, search “[Name of College/University] gpa act prepscholar” or [Name of College/University] gpa sat prepscholar.” We have put together pages about the score ranges of all major colleges and universities.

For this article, we will highlight some popular nursing programs nationwide and include their 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

We’ll go through some of the top undergraduate nursing programs in the country, and explore what their admission requirements and SAT/ACT ranges are. We will also highlight a couple of 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 any nursing-specific application procedures or advice for the schools we highlight. As you’ll see, there are many school-specific procedures for nursing applicants. This means it will be important for you to carefully research any nursing programs you’re applying to make sure you catch any nursing-specific requirements (say, taking the SAT Subject Tests or submitting an extra essay).


University of Pittsburgh

(Ronald Woan/Flickr)


Applying for nursing at 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, and five years of academic electives. In addition to the basic undergraduate requirements, the nursing school suggests you also 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 “more information about admissions” link, you’re linked to the general application requirements page for all new students, which notes all applications should have a challenging mix of classes, including a tough senior year schedule.

Pitt’s middle 50% SAT scores are 1240-1420. Their middle 50% ACT scores are 27-32. Remember, you need scores at the upper bound or higher to ensure you’re competitive, so you'd aim for a 1420 on the SAT or a 32 composite ACT score at the lowest.


University of Pennsylvania

Want to attend the nursing school at the University of Pennsylvania? 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 (no easy feat, given that Penn is an Ivy League college!).

There is one application detail to note for Penn. The admissions page about testing says Nursing applicants should probably take the SAT Subject Test in Chemistry or another science subject.

Penn's composite score range is from 1420-1560 on the SAT and from 32-35 on the ACT. So aim for a 1560 on the SAT or a 35 on the ACT to be competitive. 

You can read more about Penn’s GPA and SAT/ACT averages here to see if you’d be competitive.


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 indicate that you’re applying to the School of Nursing on your application. The School of Nursing is one of four undergraduate divisions at BC.

It’s possible to later on transfer into the nursing school from a different undrgraduate division, but potentially difficult: “Students applying to transfer into Carroll School of Management, Connell School of Nursing, or Lynch School of Education should note that enrollment is limited in the professional schools and internal transfer may or may not be possible in any given year.”

In short, should you apply for admission to nursing at BC, you have to be competitive for BC and then some—you should aim to be at the top of their SAT range (1490) as opposed to the middle. BC's middle 50% SAT range is 1320-1490 and their middle 50% ACT range is 31-33. You can read more about BC's SAT and ACT ranges here.


New York University

Nursing applicants follow standard undergraduate admissions protocol, which means submitting the Common App, your transcript, letters of recommendation, and essays.

NYU has a testing-flexible admissions program, meaning you can submit the SAT or ACT if you want, but you can also substitute AP or IB scores, SAT Subject Tests, or another national test.

Since NYU is testing flexible, you can still go by their published SAT/ACT middle 50% ranges, but bear in mind not all applicants are submitting these tests. You should, as their testing page advises you, submit the tests that make you the most competitive. For example, if you took AP Biology and got a 5, 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 heavy emphasis on writing
  • Three or four years of mathematics
  • Three or four years of laboratory sciences
  • Three or four years of social studies
  • Three or four years of foreign language

In order to be eligible for admission to the nursing program at NYU, you have to meet something called the “technical standards requirements,” but all this means is that you have to sign a form certifying you meet these standards after you’re admitted.

In terms of additional requirements for nursing, there isn’t much: “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 health care field, full-length essay, and personal statements.”

So you should absolutely emphasize any past experience in health care, even if it’s just volunteering, but there are not dramatically different application requirements to get into NYU Nursing.

Their SAT range is 1290-1490, so aim for 1490 or higher if you submit SAT scores.



(Chris Radcliff/Flickr)


To get into the nursing program at UCLA, you have to meet the freshman admission requirements for the University of California 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 as well (other UC schools like Davis, Berkeley, and San Diego don't offer nursing programs).

You can read the full application requirements for the University of California here (the requirements are the same for all UC schools, including UCLA).

UCLA's SAT range is 1240-1490, so you should aim to have a 1490 or higher on the SAT to be competitive for nursing.  You can read more about UCLA's GPA, SAT, and ACT ranges here.


University of Washington

UW has a BSN program, but you start their BSN two years into college, and complete the BSN your junior/senior year. This means 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, they’re basically looking at your grades from the first two years of college. And you don't have to be a current UW student to apply. You could start college somewhere else, take pre-requisite courses for nursing, and then apply for Washington's BSN as a sophomore.

To apply, you need a minimum college-level cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0, and classes in all the necessary prerequisite courses.

You also have to have a minimum of 100 hours of volunteer or paid health care experience in one setting within a period of 3 months, completed within 12 months prior to applying to the BSN program.

In short, the University of Washington's BSN program is a great opportunity if your high school grades or SAT score aren't so great, but you want the chance to prove yourself in college.


Michigan State University



Similar to the University of Washington, you don't apply to MSU's nursing program until you have already started college. Then, while taking pre-requisite nursing classes, you can apply for the BSN program at MSU. (Like UW, it's also possible to transfer to MSU nursing from another school, so you can start your undergraduate degree wherever.)

You have to do well in the nursing pre-requisite classes, but for this application, your high school GPA and SAT/ACT score doesn’t matter. So if you’re worried that your grades aren’t high enough for a super-competitive BSN program, programs like MSU and UW give you the chance to reset in college and work on doing well in pre-requisite nursing classes.


Next Steps

In the majority of cases, if you’re going into a nursing BSN program right out of high school, you will follow standard college admission procedures. The only main difference is that the admissions criteria may be slightly higher if the school's BSN program begins right away. There will be greater emphasis on your science and math grades and higher ACT/SAT score ranges for the nursing applicants. Additionally, you may be expected to have some previous experience working or volunteering in the health care field.

To make sure you put together the best application possible, follow these four steps.

#1: If you’re going for a BSN, check on admission requirements at your desired schools—they probably will require the Common Application or other basic application form, the SAT or ACT, your high school transcript, and letters of recommendation. The SAT Subject Tests or an additional application supplement for nursing may be required as well, so read the websites carefully!

#2: Next, look up your desired schools’ GPA and ACT/SAT ranges. If you haven’t tested yet, set your target score around the upper bounds of your school’s SAT/ACT ranges. If you have already taken the SAT/ACT but your score falls short, consider re-taking the exam to ensure you'll be competitive.

#3: Find out how the nursing program works at the school you’re applying to—do you just need to get into the undergrad program there and then declare your major, or are you applying 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 major after you get into the school? 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.

#4: Also note any Nursing-specific requirements or suggestions, like how Penn suggests the SAT Subject Test in chemistry and Pittsburgh lists recommended elective courses for future nurses.


Bottom Line

Getting into nursing programs as an undergraduate is basically the same as getting accepted to undergraduate programs, but slightly more competitive.

Focus on maintaining strong grades, particularly in math and science, and studying for a high SAT/ACT score to give yourself the best chance at your top schools. And as we advise with any student, you want to apply to a range of nursing schools—safeties (schools you’re very sure you’ll get into based on your scores and GPA), targets or matches (schools you are likely to get into), and reaches.

Also, keep in mind that there are BSN programs like UW's and MSU's that allow you to apply once you've already started college. This gives you a 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 focus on excelling in your undergrad and then applying for a graduate-entry degree in nursing.


What’s Next?

Learn more about SAT Subject Tests. Taking (and acing!) Chemistry or Biology would look great on a nursing application...and in some cases may be required.

Learn how to come up with a target SAT/ACT score based on your top schools.

Struggling with ACT/SAT Math? Learn how to stop running out of time on ACT Math and SAT Math. Acing the math section will be an important component of your standardized testing, whether you take the ACT or the SAT.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Halle Edwards
About the Author

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.

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