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Inside Best Direct Entry BSN Nursing Programs in 2023

Direct entry BSN programs give you the opportunity to hit the ground running and gain hands-on training and experience from your first semester. This guide will help you find the best direct entry nursing programs for you.

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WRITTEN BY: Marcella Ellsworth
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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 08/17/2023

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You’re graduating from high school with a stellar GPA, and you’ve decided you want to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. The only problem: You don’t want to wait two more years before you can begin your nursing coursework or even apply to a nursing program.

Sound familiar? Then maybe it’s time to consider applying to a direct entry BSN nursing program. If accepted, you could enroll in a nursing program upon graduation from high school and immediately register in nursing courses within the first two years of study.

This guide can help you embark on your degree journey preparing you for a fulfilling career in nursing and answer any questions you may have regarding the application process, any admission requirements, and tuition costs. We’ll also provide you with advice on what you can do to increase your chances of being accepted into the best direct-entry BSN nursing programs and how you can retain your spot.

Ready to take the next step? Keep reading.

Spotlight Schools: Explore Top Direct Entry BSN Programs

Your first step is likely to be a quick survey of the direct entry BSN nursing program landscape. Many programs offer students support and guidance, financial aid, and a mix of in-person and online courses. High quality nursing programs are also accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) — ensuring it meets certain standards set by state nursing boards.

We’ve spotlighted three universities below that offer the best direct-entry BSN nursing programs, all of which are CCNE-accredited.

California State University, Fullerton

Our first spotlight is the traditional BSN direct-entry pathway offered by California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), which only accepts 40 applicants each year. The program prepares students to pursue their California Registered Nurse (RN) licenses.

Applicants will need to write an essay, submit two letters of recommendation, and conduct an interview with nursing school faculty. Once admitted, you’ll need to complete prerequisite and general education coursework during your first year or first two years — depending on whether you choose the four- or five-year, full-time study plan.

Nursing courses at CSUF are held in-person and on campus, and you’ll conclude the program with a nursing capstone and a clinical. CSUF has many clinical partners, giving students access to placement sites within a 50-mile radius from campus.

Tuition varies per student and changes each year. You can calculate tuition costs using the school’s calculator on the CSUF website.

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Next up: This four-year direct entry BSN nursing program that prepares graduates to meet licensure requisites set forth by the Hawaii Board of Nursing.

Students are required to apply to both the university and the nursing program in a two-step process. As part of your application, you’ll need to include a personal statement and a resume. You’ll also need to show you earned a 3.0 GPA by the end of your junior year of high school.

Students will also be expected to continuously meet certain criteria to retain their place within the nursing program. That includes:

  • Maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA every semester
  • Earning a minimum B grade in certain science classes
  • Obtaining a C or better in all other prerequisite courses

To help them achieve these goals, students will also have access to individual academic advising and support throughout their enrollment.

The school charges $706.50 per credit. For a more detailed breakdown of tuition costs, visit the school’s office of the registrar.

University of New Mexico

The final spotlight on our list of best direct-entry BSN nursing programs is the University of New Mexico’s (UNM) College of Nursing, which offers motivated high school seniors who meet certain criteria guaranteed admission into its freshman direct-entry BSN program.

Students will receive support and guidance from advisors and school staff and have the option to participate in research projects. The program will also prepare you for possible graduate study. You’ll attend classes on campus in Albuquerque, but UNM’s virtual campus experience may allow you to complete some coursework online.

To apply, you’ll need to answer three short essay questions, send two letters of recommendation, and submit a transcript showing you completed high school math, biology, and chemistry. You’ll also need at least a 3.5 cumulative GPA.

You can apply for financial aid through the school, which offers grants, loans, work studies, and scholarships. You can access a tuition calculator through the bursar’s office.

Pros and Cons of Direct Entry Nursing Programs

If you know you want to be a nurse, then why waste time waiting to take classes that’ll prepare you for your future? The best direct-entry BSN nursing programs are competitive and demanding, but they also offer students a chance to immediately enroll in nursing school upon graduating high school. Here are a few tidbits to consider before applying.

Pro: Save Time and Money

Direct entry BSN nursing programs are for high school graduates who are driven and ready to start their careers in nursing. Once admitted, students are enrolled in a mix of general education and introductory nursing courses.

This means students can complete what’s required for the program, all while retaining their place within the nursing program. They won’t need to wait until their sophomore or junior year of college to apply to a nursing program — ultimately saving them on tuition costs.

Pro: Receive Hands-On Training Right Away

Enrolling in a direct entry BSN program will allow you to start receiving hands-on training sooner in your four- or five-year degree journey. Students enrolled in these accelerated programs are required to complete clinical hours as part of the curriculum, and many programs offer placement at various locations around campus.

Some educational institutions, such as the College of Nursing at the University of New Mexico, even have dedicated spaces for simulations and skills labs — separate from the hospital, so there’s no need to compete for resources.

Pro: Graduate and Start Working Sooner

Direct entry BSN nursing programs allow you to enroll in nursing courses within the first few semesters, therefore earning you your degree and getting you into the workforce sooner.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses are one of the most in-demand professions in the country. That demand is fueled by an aging American population and a rising number of retiring healthcare workers. And earning your bachelor’s degree can make a significant difference in your earning potential; according to Northeastern State University, hourly RN pay rates range from $22-$52, but nurses often need a BSN to reach the higher end of that scale.

Con: Competitive Entry Requirements

Nursing is a really competitive field, and not everyone can get into a direct-entry program. The best direct-entry BSN nursing programs will limit the number of students they admit and often won’t allow students to defer their admission. For example, CSUF’s traditional BSN program only admits 40 students in the fall semester each year.

Furthermore, most programs require high school graduates to show proof they completed certain science classes and earned at least a 3.0 GPA.

Con: Less Time to Explore Other Interests

As the name suggests, direct admission programs allow high school graduates to directly enroll in a nursing program straight out of high school. That means they’ll solely focus on taking classes required for that field of study.

Students are typically enrolled in a mix of general study and nursing classes for the first two years of college — about 14 to 17 credits per semester. This means you’ll spend less time exploring other fields of study outside of nursing.

Con: Rigorous Coursework

Pursuing a nursing degree takes time and dedication, particularly if you’re accepted into a direct entry BSN nursing program. Not only will you have a full schedule, but you’ll also need to continuously meet certain criteria to keep your place within the nursing program.

Most programs require students to earn a grade of B or better in their science classes and a C or better in their general education courses. Students are also often required to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. So be sure you can fully commit to your studies before you decide to apply to a direct admission program.

Program Admission Requirements

Most admission committees look for certain attributes among students who apply to direct entry BSN nursing programs, such as an individual’s academic track record and volunteer experience related to nursing or healthcare. Moreover, you’ll need to apply to the university itself, which may have different admission requirements.

We’ve detailed some of the most common requirements you’ll need to meet to get accepted into the best direct-entry BSN nursing programs.

Class Rank or GPA

Most programs accept high school students who are highly motivated and in good academic standing. This is typically reflected through a student’s transcripts, showing you’ve earned a grade of B or better in your science classes such as in math, biology, and chemistry. Admissions committees also look for students who’ve maintained a minimum high school GPA — usually 3.0 or 3.5.

Letters of Recommendation

You’ll likely need to submit at least two letters of recommendation to apply to a direct entry BSN program. Some programs specifically list science teachers and counselors or administrators as sources for recommendation letters.

You might want to consider finding someone who knows you on a more personal level and can attest to your academic accomplishments, along with any after-school activities or volunteer work you may be involved in.

Prerequisite Courses

As part of the application process, you’ll need to submit transcripts showing you completed certain science courses such as math, biology, and chemistry. You may also be asked to submit official transcripts for any college-level coursework you’ve completed.

The University of Cincinnati’s (UC) College of Nursing, for example, mandates students complete 19 college-preparatory units. That includes:

  • English (4 units)
  • Math (4 units)
  • Science (3 units including 1 biology and 1 chemistry unit)
  • Social studies (3 units)
  • 5 elective units (such as foreign language, anatomy, or physiology)

Vaccinations

Vaccination requirements will depend on the school to which you’re applying. The University of Cincinnati, for example, requires all students, regardless of intended major, to show proof they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine.

The school also lists other required immunizations, including vaccines against Hepatitis B; Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR); Meningitis A; Varicella; and Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Acellular Pertussis (Tdap).

Before you apply to a direct entry program, check on the school’s website or contact the admissions office for details on any vaccination requirements.

Admission interviews

Students may also be required to participate in an interview with members of the admissions committee. This is a great opportunity to talk about awards you’ve earned, volunteering activities you’ve participated in, and your motivation for pursuing a nursing career. Admission committees from the best direct-entry BSN programs want to know that the students they’re admitting are committed to their studies.

Personal statements and/or essays

Most direct entry programs require applicants to submit a personal statement and/or an essay explaining why they’re pursuing a career in nursing and why they want to apply for that specific program.

Consider explaining any life experiences that have ultimately shaped your motivations behind your career choice. And don’t forget to ask at least two people (outside of family and close friends) to proofread your work.

Preparing for a Direct Entry BSN Program

Completing a direct entry BSN program takes time, dedication, and discipline. Most programs require students to embark on a rigorous curriculum, full-time.

For this reason, you’ll need to sharpen your studying skills and develop a strict schedule that allows you time to study and to practice self-care. You’ll also need to evaluate your resources, gain volunteer experience, and learn to ask for help when you need it.

Develop Strong Study Habits

Try creating a schedule and setting time aside for your assignments. You should also carve out some extra study time to prepare for any upcoming exams.

Consider attending or organizing study groups, if possible. A study buddy might prompt you to bounce ideas around or even help you catch details within your lectures you may have missed.

Do Your Research

Take some time to reflect on the direction you want your nursing career to go. Choosing the right direct entry BSN program can prepare you for graduate school and, ultimately, for any specializations you want to pursue.

Consider your location and where you want to work. Completing a nursing program within a particular state will ensure you meet licensure standards set by the state nursing board.

Practice Self-Care

Although it’s important to stick to your study schedule, it’s equally important to dedicate time for exercise, meditation, family bonding, or even outings with friends. This will help you avoid burnout, which could affect your grades, and, ultimately, your academic standing within the nursing program. Making time to disconnect can help reset your mind.

Seek Mentorship/Guidance

Finding a good mentor can help you gain insight into the ins and outs of the healthcare system and mentally prepare you for the demands that come with being a nurse.

Check with your school or local nonprofit organizations to see if they know of or offer mentorship programs for future nursing students. You may also consider shadowing a working nurse, which could provide you with invaluable experience you won’t obtain from books or lectures.

Volunteer in the Healthcare Field

Imagine this scenario: You’ve gained admission into a direct entry BSN program, and you’re taking all the classes you need and paying thousands of dollars in tuition — only to realize that a nursing career is not for you.

Before you apply, think about volunteering in after-school programs designed for high school students who are interested in pursuing a nursing career. These types of programs could allow you to volunteer at hospitals and interact with patients, giving you insight into the real-world nursing experience.

FAQs About Direct Entry BSN Programs

Need more time to mull it over? To help you decide, we’ve answered a few more additional questions you might have regarding specific nursing courses you’ll take, how much it all costs, and what you need to do to stay within the program.

Are there any special requirements to stay in the program once I’ve been accepted?

To keep your place within a direct entry nursing program, you’ll likely need a GPA of 3.0 or higher, a grade of B or better in your nursing courses, and at least a C in your general education classes.

However, each program varies, and some have specific requirements. For example, the direct-entry nursing program at Florida Southern College requires students to pass a final exit exam to meet the BSN major graduation requirements.

How long will it take me to complete my BSN?

Most direct entry BSN programs require students to complete about 120 credits to graduate (give or take a few units). That means it will take you eight semesters or four years of full-time study to earn your bachelor’s in nursing.

Some programs, such as the one offered at California State University, Fullerton, takes four or five years to complete, depending on which track you choose.

What courses will I be taking?

Students are required to register in a mix of general education and prerequisite nursing classes (at least for the first two years of study). That might include courses in writing, history, statistics, chemistry, microbiology, and anatomy.

As you progress through the program, you’ll be required to take more nursing-focused courses, such as:

  • Foundations of Clinical Practice in Nursing
  • Pathophysiology
  • Foundations of Pharmacology
  • Clinical Nutrition
  • Nursing Research
  • Nursing Ethics

Some direct entry BSN programs, like the one offered at Loyola University Chicago, require students to take specific nursing courses that focus on key areas of study. Those key areas include courses in general nursing; medical and surgical practices; maternal and child healthcare; and community/mental health and administration.

Many of the more advanced nursing courses include a lab or clinical.

What if I’m not accepted into the direct entry program?

You can still apply to a pre-licensure nursing program or take a different route to earn your BSN. You might want to consider completing your general education courses and nursing prerequisites for the first few years of study and then applying to the nursing program later on. A solid alternative might be applying to an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program — if you’re accepted and earn your associate degree, you can work as a nurse and attend an RN-to-BSN or RN to master’s bridge program, depending on your career goals.

Just remember that nursing programs are very competitive, and you’ll need to remain in good standing — whichever pathway you choose.

What is the average cost of a direct entry program?

Tuition costs usually range from $350 to more than $500 per credit hour. It might sound pricey, but you’ll save money in the long run. These types of accelerated programs allow you to enroll in nursing courses within your first year of study. And the faster you can complete your nursing courses, the sooner you can earn your bachelor’s degree — generally within four years.

What is the difference between a direct entry/admit BSN and a pre-licensure BSN?

Direct entry BSN programs allow high school seniors who already know they want to pursue a nursing career to directly enroll in a nursing program immediately after they’ve graduated. Students admitted into these accelerated programs, also known as direct admission programs, are then enrolled in a blend of general education and prerequisite nursing courses within the first two years of college. This means they won’t need to wait until their sophomore or junior year of college to apply to a nursing program.

Pre-licensure BSN programs are designed for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field outside of nursing. These accelerated programs allow students to earn their BSN degree while also working toward obtaining a master’s degree.