My Five-Step Guide for Selecting & Taking Nursing PreRequisites

When I decided to become a nurse, I researched various nursing schools and programs and quickly discovered before I could even apply or be eligible to attend a program, I needed to complete pre-requisites (classes required BEFORE Nursing school entry).  The nursing programs I considered required anywhere from 7-12 pre-requisites.  Common pre-requisite courses include Anatomy and Physiology (with lab), Microbiology (with lab), and Chemistry.  However, some schools require Public Speaking, Ethics, Religion, or other courses unique to their program. 

While some schools take into consideration courses completed as part of a bachelor’s degree, other nursing schools do not accept any courses if they were not completed within the last 5 or 7 years.  So even though I took numerous chemistry classes as part of my Chemical Engineering degree, since it was greater than 5-7 years ago, I had to retake chemistry!  Overall, while I was annoyed at first, (re-)taking chemistry was helpful because it introduced me to some cool classmates and teachers and provided a nice review to help prepare me for the TEAS (more on that in another post!).

It is CRITICAL for applicants to know what schools and specific programs they wish to attend because pre-requisites vary – even within the same school – across different programs.  As I shared, I took Chemistry with Lab at my local community college to satisfy a pre-requisite requirement for a state university.  However, the community college offered two different Introductory/General Chemistry courses and some nursing programs require the Introduction to General Chemistry course instead of the Introductory Chemistry course.  After spending an entire summer in Introductory Chemistry lecture and lab, my lab partner discovered the course we completed was not eligible as a pre-requisite to her desired nursing program.  The community college guidance counselor had told her that the course was accepted at her school of choice.  Even the course description for our chemistry class stated “This course is designed for Nursing and other Allied Health majors”.  Unfortunately, when the class ended, my friend discovered that her program did not accept the chemistry class we worked hard to complete. 

She called me in a panic when she learned of the news because I planned to apply to the same school.  My heart stopped when she told me – I had spent so much time researching the classes I was taking and ensuring they counted as pre-requisites – could I have been mistaken?  My ability to apply to nursing programs in the Fall was contingent upon the completion of my carefully scheduled pre-requisites.  After some back and forth, we discovered the accelerated BSN program at the state university accepted the chemistry course we completed, while the traditional BSN program (at the same school!) did not.  I felt terrible for her.  Fortunately, she did well in our class, so her GPA was not adversely affected, and I’m sure the knowledge she gained will only help her when she takes the other General Chemistry course.  She shared she was in no rush to apply to nursing programs, so having to take an extra chemistry class did not affect her plans too much. 

Unlike my friend, I couldn’t afford taking classes that did not count as pre-requisites.  I was working hard to complete as many pre-requisites as possible in order to apply to Nursing programs by Fall 2018.  It was tricky and definitely not easy, but I completed thirteen pre-requisites within a year while either working or volunteering.  I got accepted into three different accelerated Nursing programs, so my hard work and meticulous planning paid off.  Below are some steps that I recommend and used myself to navigate what pre-requisites to take for nursing:

Step 1:  Identify the specific nursing programs in which you are interested in applying. 

Knowing where you plan to apply dictates which pre-requisites to take and possibly when to take them.  Many programs will not allow you to apply unless you complete all science pre-requisites.  Some programs will allow you to apply without completing pre-requisites so long as you show progress that you will complete the rest of the pre-requisites before the program begins.  However, even if you can apply to programs without completing all pre-requisites, having more pre-requisites completed (and obviously doing well in them) makes you a more attractive applicant than others who have not completed their pre-requisites.

Step 2: Understand the pre-requisites for each nursing program and list them in a spreadsheet

I listed all the programs in which I was interested and listed all the pre-requisites required for each program.  Like a typical nerd-engineer, I created a spreadsheet with this information.  By doing this I was able to quickly identify which program had the least or most requirements and which programs had overlapping pre-requisites. I also used the same spreadsheet to compare program costs, duration, and other entrance requirements.  It gave me a good overview that I could reference periodically.

a snapshot of my pre-requisites spreadsheet

Step 3: Before taking a class, check with your prospective program if they accept the class as a pre-requisite

Of course you can take pre-requisites from the college or university which offers your prospective nursing program.  Doing so guarantees that your program will accept your pre-requisites.  To save money, however, many opt to take their pre-requisites elsewhere, such as a community college.  Or, some students, like myself, may need to take pre-requisites at a college that offers evening and weekend classes to accommodate work or family schedules.  If you take a class offered elsewhere than the college where your nursing program belongs, ensure the classes transfer and can count as pre-requisites for your program.  

Some colleges have links or list what classes they accept to fulfill pre-Nursing requirements.  Others will allow you to specifically contact them to ask if a class meets their requirements.  Contact the program administrator or director to inquire if they accept a class as a pre-requisite.  Be prepared to share the accredited school’s name where the class is offered, the course name and number, the number of units, and course description.  You can also follow this process to verify if any previous course you completed counts as a pre-requisite.

I recommend verifying pre-requisite equivalency and printing out proof of this for each class taken as a pre-requisite.  Sometimes  equivalencies change, but at least you’ll have evidence that the class you took was considered equivalent when you took it.  Plus, doing this for myself gave me a quick reference and peace of mind in moments of doubt and panic (like when my friend contacted me about our chemistry class).

TIP: Keep your pre-requisite syllabi.  My Anatomy & Physiology II professor recommended keeping syllabi from all my pre-requisites.  Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to using any past syllabi, but having syllabi is helpful to have on-hand in case your prospective school wants to review a class you took and needs more than the general catalog description.

TIP for Californians: Use http://www.assist.org . It’s a helpful website “that shows how course credits earned at one public California college or university can be applied when transferred to another”.  If you plan to apply to public college or university in California for your nursing program, you can verify if the pre-requisites you are taking at a California public college/university are accepted by your program.

Step 4: Determine where and when the classes are offered, and create a corresponding class schedule

I created a GANTT chart outlining when certain classes were offered and the schools that offered them.  This was important in realistically understanding the earliest I could apply to nursing programs and how much it might cost me to complete all the pre-requisites.  I knew I wanted to complete 13 pre-requisites in one year, but not all classes are offered throughout the year nor do they perfectly stagger with one another.  I had to figure out if I could take classes online (some nursing programs do NOT accept online courses for certain pre-requisites), which schools offered the courses I needed, and when my schedule would allow me to take in-person classes.

After considering my budget and schedule, I limited myself to taking pre-requisites at my local community college and at National University.  Both are great options that I recommend to others.  At the community college, I appreciated knowing exactly what courses transferred from the college to other state schools via assist.org and the extremely affordable tuition.  Some community college courses even used free online textbooks! At National University, I liked the small class size, that each course was only 1-2 months, the evening and weekend schedules for in-person classes, and the fact that most all my classmates were pre-Nursing.  In addition, most of the National University students had worked before or were currently working, so could appreciate pursuing Nursing as a second-career. 

I evaluated each of my pre-requisites and figured out when they would be offered at either the community college (preferred, cheaper choice) or National University (approximately 10 times the cost of community college courses).  Some classes offered at the community college (Anatomy & Physiology) required pre-requisites (Biology), so it was easy to choose National University for such classes.   Using the GANTT chart, I calendarized each pre-requisite class I planned to take, the school offering the class, and the specific discussion section(s) I wanted, once the class schedule became available. 

My GANTT chart for Nursing Pre-Requisites

Step 5: Execute according to your planned schedule, and adjust as needed.

As soon as I was able to register for classes, I immediately enrolled prior to the semester, quarter, and/or month.  I never had a problem getting into the classes I needed.  (Although, a friend shared whenever she had the issue of being wait listed at her community college, she would still attend class and eventually get enrolled).  I also captured the anticipated nursing school application deadlines in the GANTT chart, so it would be clear which pre-requisites would be completed before applications were due. 

By creating my GANTT chart, I could get a sense of my anticipated course load throughout the year and see where my classes overlapped. I was able to see that I had the opportunity to take the Chemistry class earlier than I originally planned as well as some Philosophy courses (pre-requisites unique to one program).  Instead of taking Chemistry in the Fall semester, I took it in Summer. This allowed me to squeeze in an extra Philosophy class in the Fall and gave me a good review of Chemistry before taking the TEAS in November. (TEAS TIP: Completing your pre-requisites before the TEAS makes TEAS preparation easier)!

Due to work and my overall schedule, more often than not, I ended up taking condensed courses.  Even though National University offers classes that are only 1-2 months in duration, the community college also condensed classes.  Classes normally a semester long were only 4-6 weeks when I took it.  I would not have purposely scheduled my pre-requisites this way, but 1) it allowed me to complete thirteen pre-requisites in only one year, and 2) this prepared me for the rigor I will likely experience in my accelerated Nursing program.

While my schedule was rigorous, I had the full emotional and financial support of my family. With their support and understanding, I was able to study enough to get A’s on my pre-requisites while either working or volunteering in a hospital. My undergraduate GPA barely met minimum Nursing school requirements, so I knew I had to do well in my pre-requisites to stand a chance in getting accepted into any prospective programs. With God’s grace and a lot of hard work and effort, I was able to excel in my pre-requisite courses which helped me get into several accelerated Nursing programs.

Overall, you will need to decide what you can or cannot handle and what resources you need to stick to your schedule. Keep in mind that many nursing programs will not consider applicants with C-grades for their science pre-requisites. Additionally, accelerated nursing programs are extremely competitive, so having a good GPA on pre-requisite courses is advantageous. Maybe you’ll need to cut back on work hours or find childcare to give you time to study. If neither is possible and you’re drowning in schoolwork and unable to do well, perhaps consider a lighter course load. Not only do you want to complete the correct pre-requisites, you want to do well in them, so adjust your schedule accordingly!

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