Graduate Application Guide for Nurses

Attending graduate school can help professionals advance their career and increase their earning potential. However, applying to graduate school requires significant time and energy. A nursing graduate school application comprises several parts, and students can sometimes feel overwhelmed. Applying to nursing grad school generally requires several elements, including a cover letter, statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, transcripts from previous schools, and standardized test scores.

Before beginning applications, candidates should research the process for applying to nursing grad school and the schools to which they intend to apply. Students should understand each institution’s application requirements, including test scores, minimum GPAs, and application fees. This research helps applicants make informed decisions about which schools fit their needs and prepares candidates for the application process.

Nursing Graduate Program Prerequisites

Do I Need a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing to Earn a Nursing Graduate Degree?

Each school has specific admissions requirements. However, graduate programs typically require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. Many students applying to nursing grad school hold a bachelor’s in nursing, but an undergraduate degree in the field is not always a requirement. Students who hold a nursing license and a bachelor’s degree in another field can often apply to graduate nursing programs. Applicants without a bachelor’s degree in nursing must typically provide evidence of nursing licensure.

Regardless of discipline, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Applicants with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree must often complete supplemental courses prior to admission. Students sometimes complete these courses through the institution at which they are pursuing their graduate degree; in other cases, they will need to take these courses elsewhere. Candidates typically complete most requirements for the nursing graduate school application before applying. However, students sometimes apply during their final undergraduate semester and send official transcripts after graduating.

Is Work Experience a Prerequisite to a Nursing Graduate Program?

Depending on the program, work experience may be a prerequisite for candidates applying to nursing grad school. Nursing graduate school requirements vary, but many programs prefer applicants with three to five years of professional experience in the field. The knowledge and training acquired during work experience prepares them for advanced studies in the field. Even programs that do not typically require work experience may require it of applicants with a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated discipline.

Do I Have to Take the GRE or the MAT to Apply to Nursing School?

Candidates submitting nursing graduate school applications must typically provide official standardized test scores. The specific test required varies by school, but the two most common test requirements are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). These exams measure skills and knowledge and gauge the test taker’s readiness for graduate coursework.

The GRE general test measures skills in mathematics, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing, whereas each GRE subject test evaluates knowledge in a specific subject area, such as biology or chemistry. The MAT emphasizes problem-solving skills. The general GRE costs $160, and the costs of subject tests vary. The cost of the MAT varies by testing center. While most schools require at least one of these tests, some institutions offer test waivers.

MAT/GRE Waiver

In some cases, candidates can apply without providing standardized test scores. Students may need to submit alternatives, such as proof of work experience, transcripts from continuing education courses, or a sufficient undergraduate GPA. Students who do not test well or who have significant nursing experience can contact their prospective institution to learn whether test waivers are available. The process for obtaining a waiver varies by program, but candidates must typically provide alternative documentation and supplemental paperwork.

Breakdown of MAT Scores

Graduate school requirements often include official standardized test scores. Candidates submitting a nursing graduate school application must typically include GRE or MAT scores. The MAT comprises questions formatted as analogies, which evaluate problem-solving skills. The cost of taking the MAT varies by testing facility. Each test taker receives a raw score based on the number of questions answered correctly. The scaled score accounts for differences between versions of the test, and the percentile indicates the percentage of test takers a candidate scored as well as or better than.

Official scores include raw and scaled scores, along with percentiles. The score document also includes brief instructions for interpreting scores and the list of schools the test taker selected to receive their scores. Institutions typically receive scores by mail 10 to 15 days after the exam. Generally, nursing graduate programs that require the MAT for admission prefer applicants who score in at least the 50th percentile, which is typically a score of at least 400.

MAT Scores and Percentiles

Score Percentile
400–404 50th percentile
405–409 60th percentile
410–415 70th percentile
416–420 80th percentile
421–425 90th percentile
430–440 95th percentile
450–600 99th percentile

Source: Pearson Assessments

Breakdown of GRE Scores

Many graduate school programs require applicants to submit GRE scores. The GRE comprises quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing sections. When applying to nursing grad school, candidates may also need to take a GRE subject test in an area such as biology or chemistry. GRE scores are calculated based on the number of questions answered correctly, with each question weighted based on difficulty. The analytical writing section is scored zero to six, and the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are scored 130 to 170. Official scores include raw scores and percentiles, and they take about six weeks to arrive by mail or online.

Like MAT scores, GRE scores in at least the 50th percentile are generally competitive for students applying to graduate school. However, score requirements vary by school. Some institutions may waive GRE requirements, or consider applicants with lower scores, based on the student’s undergraduate GPA. Applicants should contact prospective schools for minimum score requirements. Generally, applicants to graduate nursing programs should have a combined verbal and quantitative score of at least 300.

GRE Score Percentiles for 2017–2018

Scaled Score Verbal Reasoning Percentile Rank Quantitative Reasoning Percentile Rank
170 99 97
160 85 76
150 47 39
140 11 8

Source: ETS

Nursing School Application Requirements


When applying to graduate school, candidates must supply official transcripts from all previous postsecondary institutions. Transcripts provide schools with important information regarding completed courses, cumulative GPA, and earned degrees. Admissions committees use this academic history to determine whether the applicant would be successful in the graduate program. Nursing graduate schools typically require a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, though applicants with higher GPAs are more competitive.

Most schools charge a fee to send official transcripts. The process for ordering and sending official transcripts can take weeks, so students should begin gathering materials and determining the procedure for sending transcripts early in the application process.

Test Scores

On testing day, students can select up to four schools to receive official GRE scores for free. For a fee, candidates can use the online portal to send official scores to additional institutions anytime after completing the exam. Pearson, the organization that administers the GRE, sends official scores directly to schools. MAT scores are available by mail and, for a fee, students can request additional reports through an online form.


A nursing graduate school application resume should look different than a resume written for a job application. In their resume, nursing school applicants should include their educational background, academic honors, and professional experience. For those submitting a nursing graduate school application, resumes should highlight strengths and use a format that conceals weaknesses, such as gaps in employment history.

A resume should include volunteer experience, awards or accolades, and extra training or continuing education. It should emphasize the candidate’s strengths and experience in the field. A resume should also highlight postsecondary academic achievements to demonstrate the candidate’s ability to thrive in an academic setting.

Essays and Personal Statements

Many nursing graduate school applications require a personal statement or essay. These written components help admissions committees get to know applicants on a personal level. An admissions essay typically requires applicants to respond to a prompt, while a statement of purpose is more open-ended. A statement of purpose, or personal statement, should generally include information about the applicant’s history and future goals.

When writing a personal statement for a nursing graduate school application, emphasize personal strengths and nursing experience. Applicants should discuss their professional motivations and ambitions and how a graduate degree will advance the pursuit of their goals. The best personal statements, such as this example essay, typically offer personal anecdotes and specific details. Emphasize the role nursing plays in your life and how working and learning in the field has shaped you personally and professionally, as this RN does in her essay.

Letters of Recommendation

Applying to graduate school often requires more work than an undergraduate application. Most graduate programs require applicants to submit letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, or supervisors. When choosing recommenders, candidates should select individuals with whom they have worked closely in an academic or professional setting. Applicants should choose people in positions of authority who can speak to their work ethic and performance in the field.

Some schools provide recommenders with forms, including specific questions or topics, while others allow recommenders to choose the format and content of the letter. Recommenders should emphasize the applicant’s skills in nursing-related areas. Applicants should approach potential recommenders as soon as possible, ideally at least six weeks before the deadline, to ensure they have sufficient time to complete the letters.

English Proficiency Tests

When applying to graduate school, students whose first language is not English must typically submit English proficiency test scores. These scores demonstrate a learner’s ability to understand and communicate with English-speaking professors and peers. Students should contact their prospective institution to determine which tests it accepts, but the most common English proficiency tests are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). Each test measures the student’s ability to communicate verbally and orally in English.

Background Check and Drug Screening

Some nursing grad programs require applicants to submit to a background check and/or drug screening prior to attending clinical labs, which typically involve working directly with patients. Background checks and drug screenings may require additional fees. Contact prospective institutions to learn about background check and drug screening requirements.

How Do You Apply to Nursing Graduate School?

Applying to graduate school requires organization. Applicants should keep a checklist of requirements for each school to which they plan to apply. Crucial information for each school includes application requirements, deadlines, application fees, and the program’s contact information. Graduate schools generally do not accept a common application, as each graduate program has unique departmental requirements. Most application deadlines for fall admission are in the spring prior to enrollment, or even as early as December, so applicants should plan ahead and begin gathering materials as soon as possible. Some programs offer application fee waivers to candidates who demonstrate financial need; applicants should contact each program directly for information about fee waivers.

Rolling Admissions

Some graduate programs admit applicants on a rolling basis. Rather than having set application deadlines, these programs accept applications during a large window. Admitted students begin courses at the next available start date. These programs are ideal for students who need a flexible start date, and they help eliminate the pressure of a firm deadline. Typically a feature of programs with multiple start dates, rolling admissions are less common than the traditional, semester-based admissions process.

Rounds Admissions

Unlike rolling admissions which often has many deadlines throughout the year or no deadlines at all, rounds admissions function on a semester schedule with admission deadlines in the fall, spring, and summer. All schools and programs are different and admissions statistics will likely vary. In general, students should try to apply in the first round (fall semester). Schools may admit the most applicants during this time, and there might even be more funding available than for applicants in later rounds.

Waiting for Acceptance Letters

Feeling anxious after applying to nursing grad school is completely normal. Students may feel excited at the prospect of an acceptance and scared of potential rejection. The uncertainty can cause discomfort and anxiety, and waiting for decisions can be difficult. Response times vary, but most programs take at least six weeks to give their verdict. However, many schools now offer online portals that allow applicants to check the status of their application, and students can always call the admissions office for an update.

Students who receive acceptances from multiple schools must decide which program best fits their academic and professional goals. Prospective students should compare tuition costs, commute times, and living expenses when choosing between schools. Applicants who do not receive an acceptance can use reasons provided in rejection letters to strengthen their application before trying again. Students can also use the time between application rounds to improve their application materials by consulting mentors or professional services or by retaking exams. Even though rejection can sting, students can use it as a learning experience to improve their chances of acceptance in the future.