Ask CJN: Nursing school admission woes (2023)

In summary

In our new ‘Ask CJN’ feature, student reporters with the CalMatters College Journalism Network answer readers’ questions about college in California. This week: At a time when California desperately needs nurses, why is it so hard to get into nursing school?

Why is it so hard to get into nursing school in California?

Zuleika Dixon, a student at Rio Hondo College, asked the question in response to the CalMatters College Journalism Network’s call for questions about college in California.

Dixon hopes to transfer to another community college or a California State University next fall to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing — prerequisites to become a registered nurse. But after hearing stories of students applying to programs year after year with no success, Dixon said she’s worried about her prospects.

Dixon’s concerns aren’t unfounded. The waitlist for Ventura College’s nursing program sits at four-and-a-half years, according to Sandra Melton, the director of the school of nursing and allied health. The nursing school at Cal State Fullerton had to decide which of 8,000 applicants would take 100 available spots in its fall 2023 entering class, said its director, Penny Weismuller.

The scarcity of nursing program seats comes as California faces adire nursing shortage. A 2022studyfrom UCSF estimated the state would fall short by almost 19,000 full-time nurses by the end of the year, with the shortage continuing until 2029.

So why isn’t the state preparing more nursing students? Professors and program directors at Cal State and the California Community Colleges say there are two major forces limiting the capacity of nursing programs: poor pay for instructors and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t have enough faculty, we don’t have enough clinical sites, and those who might have come into our system to teach just left the industry altogether.”

Sandra Sanchez, interim vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the California Community Colleges

Andrea Muir, president of the Sharp Professional Nurses Network, a San Diego-based nurses’ union, and a registered nurse at Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, knew she wanted to teach nursing from her first semester in nursing school. But when she became an adjunct instructor at the University of San Diego and National University, she said, she faced unreliable employment and received no benefits as a part-time employee. Muir said she needed to split her time between teaching and working as a full-time nurse to remain financially afloat.

“The only nurses that are teaching are typically working another full-time job,” Muir said.

“So just to be able to teach, you have to be able to work 50 to 60 hours a week. Is that who we want teaching our nurses, people who are burned out?”

Nurses may halve their pay when moving from a hospital to the classroom, said Monika Eckfield, chair of the nursing department at Cal State East Bay.

“People come and teach nursing because they love working with the students, they care about the profession and they really want to help develop the next generation of nurses,” she said. “They don’t come into nursing education for the money.”

Angela Vogel, the assistant director of nursing at San Bernardino Valley College, added that pay disparities may be especially pronounced in California because the state’s salary for bedside nurses isone of the highest in the nation.

At the same time, the pool of nurses who are qualified to become instructors is limited. At Ventura College, Melton said, nursing faculty must have at least a master’s of science in nursing. At Cal State Fullerton, the bar is even higher: Applicants must have a doctoral degree related to nursing, Weismuller said.

“That’s also another reason why it’s tough, because you might have student loan debt from your doctoral degree, and you’re going to make less money than you’re used to,” Weismuller said.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated colleges’ struggle to teach more students as clinical sites closed across the state to protect patients and students.

Over the past three years, Ventura College has decreased its admissions by half, Melton said. As hospitals closed their doors to nursing students, she added, it became harder to provide students the clinical experience required by the California Board of Registered Nursing. At the same time, the college continued to face the primary challenge of filling faculty positions.

Some nursing schools were unable to graduate students on time during the pandemic, said Sandra Sanchez, the interim vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the California Community Colleges, further creating a backlog that prevented campuses from expanding their programs. At the same time, she added, many nursing faculty members retired or left the field.

“It all layered on top of each other to create this perfect storm of, now we don’t have enough faculty, we don’t have enough clinical sites, and those who might have come into our system to teach just left the industry altogether,” Sanchez said.

These challenges come at a time when turnover in nursing ison the rise.

Benson Yeung, regional director for patient care services at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, said Kaiser’s hospitals regularly partner with Cal State and community college campuses to train and hire new nurses. Before the pandemic, Kaiser’s 21 Northern California hospitals typically hired up to 100 new graduates each year, said Ryan Fuller, the hospital chain’s regional director for workforce strategy. But that number has tripled since the pandemic in order to keep up with turnover and retirements.

“The only nurses that are teaching are typically working another full-time job.”

Andrea Muir, President, sharp professional nurses network

While the pandemic exacerbated California’s demand for nurses, Yeung noted, more Californians have gained health insurance over the past 10 years, driving the need for healthcare workers overall. But California may be losing some of its future nurses to out-of-state schools, which tend to be less competitive than nursing admissions to California public universities and colleges, said Weismuller, the Cal State Fullerton nursing director.

Students locked out of public colleges can also more easily gain admission to for-profit nursing programs, but those come with a large price tag. While the cheapest community college program Dixon considered cost around $6,000, the private programs she looked at would have cost around $120,000, she said.

For Weismuller, costly programs and limited nursing school spots raise concerns about equity. She said that all students, regardless of their financial means, should have the opportunity to train and learn in their own communities. At the same time, patients should have access to a diversity of healthcare providers who understand cultural norms and local needs, she added.

“It is a social justice issue,” Weismuller said. “If we want to educate more diverse students, we need to be prepared to support people that are maybe first-generation in college or who see this as an important career that’s going to benefit their family, but also benefit society.”

Do you have a question about college in California? Use the form below to send it to the CalMatters College Journalism Network, and one of our student reporters might answer it in a future column.

Tagami is a fellow with theCalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists from across California. This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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Ask CJN: Nursing school admission woes? ›

Professors and program directors at Cal State and the California Community Colleges say there are two major forces limiting the capacity of nursing programs: poor pay for instructors and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is it so hard to get into a nursing program in California? ›

Professors and program directors at Cal State and the California Community Colleges say there are two major forces limiting the capacity of nursing programs: poor pay for instructors and the COVID-19 pandemic.

What to do if you get rejected from nursing school? ›

In Summary:

Complete all the prerequisite classes for the program and raise your GPA by retaking classes you got below a B. Prepare for and take the TEAS. Apply to several programs in the area and the surrounding states to raise your chance of admission. Consider applying to both ADN and BSN programs.

Do you get a rejection letter from nursing school? ›

Nursing school rejection letters are more common than you might think. Many wonderful nursing students and nurses have had to apply 2, 3, even 4 or 5 times before they were accepted into a nursing program.

What is the biggest challenge for nursing school? ›

NCLEX. The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) is one of the most important and difficult milestones for a nursing student. Passing this exam requires a lot of preparation and it is different from other tests you take as a nursing student.

What is the easiest nursing school to get into in California? ›

Easiest nursing degree program to get into in California

Cal Poly Humboldt has an acceptance rate of 85%, with an SAT range of 970-1190, making it the least exclusive college with a nursing program on our list.

What state is the easiest to become a nurse? ›

Easiest states to become a nurse – Length of licensing process
  • Maine: 1-2 weeks.
  • Maryland: 2-3 days.
  • Missouri: 2 weeks.
  • Nevada: 1-2 weeks.
  • North Carolina: 1-2 weeks.
  • North Dakota: 1-2 weeks.
  • Texas: 2 weeks.
  • Vermont: 3-5 business days.

Why are nursing schools rejecting thousands of applicants? ›

Why nursing schools reject 56,000 applicants a year—despite the worsening nurse shortage. Despite the worsening U.S. nursing shortage, nursing schools are rejecting thousands of qualified applicants each year because they can't accommodate more students, Parija Kavilanz writes for CNN Money.

Why are thousands of nursing applicants denied admission yearly? ›

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 80,521 qualified applications were not accepted at nursing schools due to a shortage of clinical sites, resource constraints, and faculty in 2020.

What is the rejection rate for nursing school? ›

The average acceptance rate of nursing school programs in the US in recent years has been around 66%. Keep in mind that there are over 3,000 nursing school programs in the US offering various degrees and education opportunities for nursing.

Will nursing school ever get easier? ›

Nursing school will have semesters that are easier than others. The good news is that the longer you are in nursing school, the easier it gets. The coursework may remain about the same, but it will get easier due to: The fact that you'll be used to it after a semester or two and you'll know what it takes to succeed.

Has nursing school gotten harder? ›

During the last few years, it's gotten more and more difficult to be accepted into nursing school. As you've already seen, there are many requirements, and none of them are easy. And the admissions processes aren't getting any easier even though we desperately need RNs.

Why is nursing school so overwhelming? ›

Juggling so much at one time: Nursing school requires a lot of effort. Every week you will have either an exam, quiz, clinicals, and projects due. Then managing your everyday life which includes working, taking care of children, doing chores, family obligation etc., you can become very overwhelmed.

Has anyone failed out of nursing school? ›

Students may fail nursing school for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's a personal reason, and other times, the individual is going through some kind of health issue.

Why do students drop out of nursing school? ›

Some of the common reasons nurses drop out of nursing school include poor time management skills, overwhelming stress, bad study habits, and difficulty taking the new NCLEX-style questions on exams.

How do I fight being kicked out of nursing school? ›

You can talk with the dean or a counselor at the school to see if there is any way to get back into the program. Maybe you can retake a class over the break, file an academic appeal, or take some other action to get reinstated in the program. Many failed nursing students have done this successfully.

What is the hardest nursing prerequisite? ›

The Hardest Classes in Nursing School

Here are the prerequisite courses in which students tend to struggle: Anatomy and Physiology (1 & 2) Probability and Statistics. Organic (or regular) Chemistry.

Can I get into nursing school with a 2.75 GPA? ›

While most nursing schools set their minimum GPA requirements at 3.0, there are accelerated nursing programs out there that accept students with 2.7 and 2.8 GPAs. Keep in mind that this doesn't mean you'd receive a lesser nursing education with these programs.

What state has the lowest RN salary? ›

As of 2021, Hawaii tops the list at 119.3, while Mississippi comes in lowest, at 87.8. Adjusting each state's average RN salary by its cost of living index gives us a potentially more accurate means of comparing where nurses get paid the most.

What state pays the most as an RN? ›

Top 10 Best Paying States for RNs
  1. 1. California. With an average salary of $124,000 annually, the Golden State takes the prize for being the highest-paying state for registered nurses. ...
  2. Hawaii. ...
  3. Oregon. ...
  4. District of Columbia. ...
  5. Alaska. ...
  6. Massachusetts. ...
  7. Washington. ...
  8. New York.
Mar 13, 2023

What state pays more for RN? ›

The more education, job responsibilities a nursing professional has, the higher pay they may earn. Alaska, California, Florida, and Oregon are the four highest paying states for nurses and certified nursing assistants.

Why is it hard to recruit nurses? ›

Every year, nursing schools turn away tens of thousands of qualified applicants due to insufficient faculty, classrooms, clinical programs, and money according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Why is it so hard to become a nurse? ›

Nursing is hard work and it requires a high level of dedication to helping people, excellent communication skills, and the right emotional temperament. On top of this, nursing requires extensive education and there is a steep learning curve for the clinical knowledge and skills needed to help patients.

What are some weaknesses in nursing school? ›

Examples of common nursing weaknesses our experts say they hear include:
  • Paying too much attention to detail.
  • Wanting to do everything at once.
  • Spending too long on paperwork.
  • Having a lack of clinical experience (for new grads)

What percent of nursing students never pass the NCLEX? ›

All nursing students dream of graduating and passing the NCLEX. Unfortunately, more than thirteen percent of NCLEX-RN candidates fail the exam on their first attempt.

How many times can you fail nursing? ›

If they fail, they'll need to wait 45 days before retesting. After failing three times, though, they'll need to complete a board-approved remediation program before the next retake. test-takers have six attempts to pass in total.

How many times can you attempt nursing school? ›

California: Every 45 days as many times as you want. Florida: 3 attempts then you have to go back to school. Pennsylvania: Unlimited attempts. Ohio: Unlimited attempts.

What level of nursing school is the hardest? ›

Hardest Nursing School Classes
  • Pathophysiology. In this course, students learn how different anatomical systems work and how diseases or injuries affect these systems. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Medical Surgical 1 (also known as Adult Health 1) ...
  • Evidence-Based Practice.

What is the lowest GPA accepted to nursing school? ›

Yes, it is possible to get into a nursing program with a 2.5 GPA. Many programs accept students with a lower GPA. It may take some extra work from you, though, especially if you are applying to a school that typically requires a higher GPA.

Do most people pass nursing school? ›

Falling Pass Rates

Pass rates continued to decline in 2022, with an average pass rate of 80.9% opens in a new tab or windowfor all first-time U.S.-educated candidates, and a rate of 66.6% for all candidates, based on a dataset that excludes the fourth quarter of the year.

Which year of nursing is the hardest? ›

Nursing is a complex profession. KNOW this: the first year is the toughest. It takes time to develop good clinical judgment and quality time management.

Why is the first year of nursing school so hard? ›

For some, nursing school may be hard to pass because pursuing your nursing degree involves studying complex nursing topics for exams, completing assignments, preparing for skills and simulation labs, and participating in clinical rotations.

Is nursing school harder than doctor? ›

Academically, yes, medical school is harder, and by a mile (I have both degrees - Nursing and Medicine) but the workload of doctors does not compare to what nurses do. Medical school is much harder than nursing school. I have seen the textbooks. I am not saying that nursing school is walk in the park.

What is harder nursing school or being a nurse? ›

Being a Nurse is better than being in Nursing School

In nursing school, it's about 90% theory and lectures, and 10% skills and application. In the nursing profession, it's flipped: its 90% application and 10% theory and learning. In fact, you apply theory and think critically as you're working.

Is nursing school harder than stem? ›

While other STEM majors, such as engineering and biology, may rank higher in difficulty level and student GPA averages than nursing does, this does not mean that nursing school is a walk in the park. Nursing is a highly competitive field to which many are currently flocking.

Which is harder nursing or sonography? ›

Yes, sonography school is harder than nursing school because it requires more clinical hours, is more difficult to be accepted into, and has more testing to be completed before graduation.

Is crying in nursing school normal? ›

You're not alone. In fact, it's pretty common for nursing students to cry at some point during the whole nursing school experience. Few people like to admit that they have cried because it makes them feel weak or overly sensitive.

How do you mentally get through nursing school? ›

9 Ways To Be Mentally Prepare For Nursing School
  1. Research and visualize the steps you need to take as nursing student.
  2. Be proactive for thing you will need to do.
  3. Find good study materials (ex. ...
  4. Look into an nursing externship program before you graduate.
  5. Have a study schedule for upcoming exams.

Do you need to be smart for nursing? ›

Nursing requires a variety of skills, including empathy, critical thinking, communication, and more. You do have to be smart for nursing school, but “smarts” aren't limited to just getting good grades. There are different types of intelligence that play an important role in getting through nursing school.

What GPA do you need to get into nursing school in California? ›

Applicants must have at least a 3.25 cumulative GPA in all of their transferable college-level coursework. Transferable coursework is college-level coursework that comes from a regionally accredited institution.

What is the acceptance rate for Cal State nursing Program? ›

With an acceptance rate of 76%, Cal State LA may not be as selective as some schools, but you should not take admittance for granted. Be sure to submit the best application you can. Approximately 38% of accepted students are men and 62% are women.

How do I get into nursing school in California? ›

Steps to Become a California Registered Nurse
  1. Take college prep classes in high school.
  2. Choose the type of nursing school you want to attend.
  3. Select a college and apply for admission.
  4. Apply for financial aid.
  5. Obtain an RN license.

Is nursing in high demand in California? ›

A shortage of RNs is estimated to exist in 2022. RN education enrollments are projected to surpass pre-pandemic levels within the next two years, which will lead to a closing of the shortage by 2029.

Is a 3.3 GPA bad for nursing school? ›

GPA requirements vary from school to school, and some early admission nursing programs require an even higher GPA of at least 3.8 or higher (weighted or unweighted). In general, you can expect that any highly competitive nursing program will have a high GPA requirement for applicants.

What is the fastest way to become a nurse in California? ›

Those interested in becoming a nurse in California in the shortest amount of time should pursue an associate degree in nursing, as this can be completed within a two-year timeframe. Upon completion of the program, passing the NCLEX-RN and applying for a license can take an additional 10-12 weeks.

Which CSU has the best nursing program? ›

California's top nursing program:

San Diego State University. California State University, Stanislaus. California State University, San Marcos.

What is the average RN in California? ›

Rn Salary in California
Annual SalaryMonthly Pay
Top Earners$104,777$8,731
75th Percentile$84,703$7,058
25th Percentile$59,243$4,936

What is the quickest RN program? ›

You can fast-track your journey to become an RN and knock two years off your study. An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) are the two most common fast-track options. Both ways do require you to pass the NCLEX-RN licensure examination post your degree.

What kind of nurses get paid most? ›

Highest Paid Nursing Jobs:
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist – $202,000.
  • Nursing Administrator – $120,000.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse – $120,000.
  • General Nurse Practitioner – $118,000.
  • Critical Care Nurse – $118,000.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife – $114,000.
  • Informatics Nurse – $102,000.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist – $95,000.
Dec 5, 2022

Why is nursing so competitive? ›

There are not enough nursing schools to meet the demand for nurses and nursing programs are limited to the number of students they can accommodate. Nursing schools receive thousands of applications from qualified applicants, but can only accept a fraction of as many students.

What city in California pays nurses the most? ›

San Jose, CA and the surrounding area has average RN salaries of $155,230. This makes San Jose the highest-paying city for nurses as of May 2021 (according to the BLS). In the United States, the average salary for RNs is $82,750. Additionally, the median (50th percentile) is $77,600.

What is hardest field of nursing to get into? ›

Here are just a few of the specialties our readers mentioned — along with a little insight into what makes these nursing jobs so difficult.
  • Oncology. There's no surprise that this specialty is near the top of the list. ...
  • Hospice. ...
  • Medical-Surgical. ...
  • Geriatric Care. ...
  • Emergency Room. ...
  • Psychiatry. ...
  • Correctional Nursing.

What state has the highest shortage of nurses? ›

California has the worst nursing shortage in the United States. It's predicted that by 2030, California will be in need of over 44,000 nurses.


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