Undergrad Application & Transfer Guide

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of nursing is projected to grow at a rate of 15% over the next decade, much faster than the national career growth average of 7%. Nurses participate in all areas of medicine by working with patients, focus groups, doctors, and administrators to provide the best care possible. Nursing also opens up a variety of career opportunities, including management and specialized care for those who obtain a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN).

According to the National Student Clearinghouse research center (NSC), nearly 10% of U.S. students attend multiple colleges during a single academic year. College transfers are becoming increasingly common, especially among students moving from community colleges to four-year institutions. Many registered nurses begin their education in two- to three-year associate programs and are well prepared to transition between schools.

The college application process is more complicated for transfers than for first-time college students. The following resource will help aspiring transfers search for the best programs to meet their personal and professional needs, and equip them with the tools to create a competitive application.

How to Choose an Online Nursing Program

Consider carefully how your lifestyle will affect your educational program. Will you have to juggle part- or full-time employment as you pursue your degree? Will family responsibilities impact your schedule? Frankly assess your resources and availability before choosing prospective BSN programs.

For those at the beginning of a nursing career, the diploma in nursing (DN) offers entry into the field after as little as two years. This program trains you to take the NCLEX-RN exam. On the other hand, a BSN takes about four years to complete and combines training for the registered nurse (RN) exam with exposure to various specializations in the field, such as neonatology nursing and rehabilitation. Those with RN certification can choose from a variety of BSN transfer programs that will allow them to complete their bachelor’s in only two additional years. Transferring lets you complete a BSN economically and expediently and enter the workforce as a specialist or manager.

No matter which school you choose, be sure to check that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), which certifies every program in the U.S. You can check out their school search engine here.

Type of Nursing Degrees

DN programs are typically two or three years long and offered directly from healthcare institutions, such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers. DN programs prioritize hands-on, supervised training, and prepare you to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Given the interactive curriculum, online DN programs are rare. For a 100% online or hybrid program, check out an associate degree. Like the DN, an associate of science in nursing (ASN) offers two- or three- year training, oriented around the sciences. ASN programs start with introductory coursework in subjects like anatomy, chemistry, and psychology. By contrast, the associate degree in nursing combines science-based coursework with additional humanities curricula, fostering communication skills in a two- to three-year format. The BSN requires the most time, usually taking four years, but also affords increased specialization. BSN degrees open the door to becoming a pediatrics or operating room nurse, or a manager or administrative director.

The following table details average salary expectations for various educational levels, including entry-level DN salary of $46,979, to the established salary of a BSN graduate at $84,090.

Average Salary by Degree and Years of Experience

Degree 1-4 Years 5-9 Years 10-19 Years 20+ Years
Diploma of Nursing (DN) $46,979 $56,712 $65,539 $68,886
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) $59,695 $64,109 $70,053 $70,955
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) $60,733 $65,684 $69,503 $71,853
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) $70,172 $74,801 $80,841 $84,090

Source: PayScale

Typical Nursing School Entry Requirements

Potential employers in the nursing field seek competent nurses with strong educational backgrounds. Many nursing schools expect the same. Nursing programs require applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED, and typically a minimum GPA of 3.0, though GPA standards may vary. Certain course prerequisites may also apply in subjects including physiology, biology, statistics, and nutrition. Usually, prerequisites must be completed with a grade of C or higher. If you are transferring nursing schools, make sure to check that your prerequisite courses will count towards your new program.

Most nursing programs require applicants to pass the Test of Essential Academic Skills exam prior to admission. This exam gauges your critical analysis and communication skills, plus knowledge of human anatomy, data analysis, and algebra. Bachelor’s programs typically require applicants to take either the SAT or ACT, both of which which test analytical skills in math and literature and personal composition. However, four-year institutions are starting to make these exams optional instead of required, and most two-year programs do not require them at all. Check out the entry requirements of your potential school before committing to any qualifying exams.

Applying to Nursing School

Application Materials

Application requirements vary between programs, but many require the same basic materials. Check out the following list of typical application criteria to make sure you are prepared to transfer into your chosen nursing program:

  • College Application: Each institution, whether a degree program, community college, or university, requires a complete application form. This form provides clear information about you, including your address and contact information, previous education, and reasons for applying.
  • High School Transcript: Transcripts detail your educational performance, including completed coursework and final grades. This document proves your educational background and clearly details previous coursework and prerequisites.
  • Letters of Recommendation: A letter of recommendation is a statement of character, filling in the human story behind the dry numbers on a transcript. Students typically ask previous teachers or counselors to vouch for their educational background and their passion for future career paths. Community leaders and coaches may also provide a sense of your personality to your prospective school.
  • SAT or ACT Scores: These exams measure your education level. The SAT focuses on analytical and interpretive skills in math and literature, while the ACT focuses more on memorization.
  • College Transcript: Like high school transcripts, college transcripts detail your education to date at a post-secondary institution. Use this to prove completed prerequisites, or apply for course transfers between schools.
  • Application Fees: Many schools require an application fee to cover the cost of reviewing your application. In rare cases, schools can provide assistance to students in financial hardship. Check out your potential school’s financial aid office website for details.

When Should I Begin the Application Process?

Application deadlines vary between schools, but application cycles typically begin one year before you plan to enroll. If you want to enter school in September, you should begin looking at potential programs and starting the application process in September or October one year in advance. Either way, it is important to start your application early to make sure you fully qualify for financial aid opportunities.

How to Transfer Colleges

Transferring applications can entail more work than first-time college applications because two post-secondary institutions are involved, each with its own set of nursing major requirements. Below is a brief checklist of the materials typically required for transfers between programs. Take the time to accomplish all components on this list well in advance of your move, to make sure everything runs like clockwork.

  1. Research Your Prospective Transfer Schools
  2. Check Accreditation Status and Articulation Agreements
  3. Contact School Advisors
  4. Confirm That Your Credits Will Be Transferred Over
  5. Research Financial Aid Options
  6. Begin Application Process

What Are Nursing School Transfer Requirements?

Transferring often requires a strong educational record at both the high school and college level. Schools often mandate at least a 3.0 GPA and expect demonstrated commitment to nursing through previous coursework in areas such as biology, anatomy, and algebra, all of which may count towards your nursing major requirements.

General or entry-level course credits usually transfer easily to other schools, while upper-level and specialized courses may not. However, as more and more students choose to transfer between schools, more schools are providing course equivalency databases. Check your preferred school’s website to see if they provide this resource and whether your prior coursework has equivalency at your prospective program.

Types of Transfer Students

Students transfer schools for all sorts of reasons, including changes in specialization, family or professional relocations, and continuing education. The following list summarizes some of the typical reasons for transferring schools:

  • Community College to Four-year College Transfer: Students pursuing a BSN with an associate in hand may transfer from a community college to a four-year school. This allows you to continue your education to become a nursing specialist or a manager of nurses.
  • Four-year College to Four-year College Transfer: It is not uncommon to find yourself in a nursing program, only to realize that the specialization you wish to pursue is offered at another school. By laterally transferring between institutions, you can follow the career path you truly desire.
  • Military Transfer: Specializations across all four military branches may qualify you for transfer credits into a nursing program. Complement your military experience with training as a health services technician in the Coast Guard, hospital corpsman in the Navy, trauma sergeant in the Army, or pararescue specialist in the Air Force and transfer that training directly into course credit.
  • International Transfer: For those living or moving internationally, completely online nursing programs are a perfect fit. Continue your education uninterrupted while living abroad by accessing and submitting course materials at your own pace.

Transferrable Credits

Transferring schools always carries some risk, because some prior coursework may not count toward your program. Moving between public schools, particularly those in the same state or system, is the simplest way to ensure successful credit transfer. Transferring between states, or between private or for-profit institutions will be trickier, and may result in credit loss and having to retake courses at your new school. The following list explains some typical issues in credit transfers:

  • Course Equivalency: It’s simplest to transfer credits from entry-level courses, standard prerequisites, and easily identifiable classes. For example, an introduction to chemistry course at one school will most likely count as your 100-level chemistry class at your next institution. More specialized coursework, like life drawing or intensive writing composition, may only count as general electives rather than specific course criteria, depending on the institution.
  • Course Level: Entry-level courses usually transfer more easily than upper-level classes because most schools expect general education classes to cover similar coursework. Upper-level classes such as 300-level biology, or classes with a special focus like physiology of interpersonal relations, may not be admissible because the school cannot guarantee the course curricula or does not have a course equivalent in their own system.
  • Quarter vs. Semester Transfers: Even if you are transferring between online programs, bear in mind the on-campus educational system calendar. Generally, courses taught on the quarter system count for fewer credits in the semester system. If you have two three-credit courses in microbiology on your transcript from a quarter-system institution, this may only count as one four-credit course in the same subject at a semester-system college. Semester-system coursework often qualifies students for more credits on the quarter system: one four-credit semester of microbiology counts as two three-credit quarter classes. Check out the credit breakdown on this website.

What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), transfer students lost on average 43% of their credits between the academic years of 2004 and 2009. Students transferring between public schools lost on average 37% of previous credits, while students transferring from or between for-profit private institutions lost an estimated 94% of previous work. Transfer students who lose credits often end up taking the same classes again at their new institution, costing them both time and money.

Many community colleges have articulation agreements with in-state colleges to curb credit losses. By following the rules of an articulation agreement, you can guarantee that most (if not all) of your community college course credits will apply to your final degree. Talk to a counselor at your current institution to find out what ongoing educational relationships your program maintains, and contact your potential transfer school directly for information on which of your previous coursework will make the cut.

If some classes are not accepted for credit, students have the right to appeal. Appeal processes vary by school but typically involve filling out a form like this, or filing a written request as detailed in this template. Please note that most schools require a minimum C grade for all transfer credits.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers

Beyond counting credits, transfer students should also consider the differences in cost between potential institutions. Overall, transferring to an in-state four-year institution will be the most economic option. This type of transfer is also particularly beneficial in terms of course transfer, because public schools within the same state tend to offer and recognize comparable classes. Transferring out of state between public institutions is more costly and may jeopardize some transfer coursework. Check out your potential institution for specific details. Transferring into a private institution will be the most costly, because they tend to offer specialized education and therefore accept the fewest transfer credits.

The following table spells out the differences in average tuition costs. Private four-year institutions are on average more than three times more expensive than in-state colleges.

College Tuition Prices

  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 4-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970
Public 4-Year Out-of-State College $24,820 $25,620
Private 4-Year Nonprofit College $33,520 $34,740

Source: CollegeBoard

Benefits of Transferring From a Community College to a Four-Year School

By transferring from a two-year institution to a four-year program, you can earn a bachelor’s degree on a budget. Most community colleges and two-year programs provide the same foundational education as bachelor’s programs do, but cost on average a third as much as their four-year counterparts. Attending a community college for two years before transferring to a BSN program could therefore save you thousands of dollars.

The table below spells out the difference in costs between two- and four-year colleges. Four-year institutions are more expensive generally due to larger administrative support and more student benefits.

Two-Year and Four-Year College Tuition Prices

  2016-2017 2017-2018
Public 2-Year In-State College $3,470 $3,570
Public 4-year In-State College $9,670 $9,970

Source: CollegeBoard

Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

Two-year programs are money-savers, but they also come with drawbacks worth considering. Community colleges tend to have less administrative assistance and fewer curriculum counselors to help you plan out your degree. Also, the flexibility and freedom of a two-year program is not for everyone: Some students suffer from a lack of accountability and structure. The first two years at a four-year institution are often the most formative of a student’s education, because they often make many of their friends during their freshman and sophomore years. Transfer students might therefore struggle socially after switching to a four-year institution.


University accreditation acts as a seal of approval; future employers and colleagues may base your competence and preparedness on your school’s recognized status as a strong educating body. Lack of accreditation can jeopardize your qualification and render you ineligible for financial aid. Moreover, most programs cannot accept transfer credits from courses at unaccredited institutions.

ACEN accredits all nursing programs nationwide. Check your school’s accreditation status on the ACEN search engine. Furthermore, all higher education institutions are monitored by the U.S. Department of Education through six regional governing bodies, including the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission. You can also check your school’s accreditation status directly on the Council for Higher Education Accreditation website.

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Nursing is a booming industry. As such, many institutions offer support for aspiring nurses and for RNs eager to continue their education. The following list details 10 scholarships available to nursing transfer students. Check out your future program for direct funding opportunities. Also, remember to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

NURSE Corps Loan Repayment Program
Who Can Apply: For RNs and advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), this program offers to pay back up to 85% of student loans in education debt. Applicants must commit to working for two years in underserved areas of the U.S. for 60% repayment and can earn up to 85% repayment with a third year extension. Applicants must have attended an accredited nursing program, be a registered nurse, and be willing to relocate.
Amount: 60-85% of student loan debt repayment over two to three years

AAOHN Liberty Mutual Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Provided by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, and funded by Liberty Mutual Insurance, this scholarship funds AAOHN members and current RNs to continue their education.
Amount: $2,500

AAOHN UPS Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Funded by the UPS Foundation, this scholarship also funds AAOHN members and current RNs to complete their education by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
Amount: $2,500

Josh Gottheil Memorial Bone Marrow Transplant Career Development Award
Who Can Apply: RNs interested in continuing their education with a focus on bone marrow research should apply for the Josh Gottheil Memorial Award. Applicants must be registered nurses working at least 75% full time with at least two years of experience.
Amount: $2,000

Oncology Nursing Society Foundation Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship is designed to support students pursuing a BSN with a focus on oncology. Applicants must be enrolled in their senior year of a bachelor’s program at the time of application.
Amount: $3,000-5,000

American Indian Nurse Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Designed to meet a key demographic, this scholarship is for U.S. citizens of Native American descent who intend to return to serve the healthcare needs of Native American communities after graduation. This scholarship is supported by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.
Amount: $1,500

ENA Foundation Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Supported by the Emergency Nurses Association, this scholarship is specifically for current emergency care RNs interested in continuing their education. Applicants must be registered nurses and meet other standard ENA requirements.
Amount: $3,000

ANNA Career Mobility Scholarship
Who Can Apply: For members of the American Nephrology Nursing Association, this scholarship supports RNs going back to school for their BSN. Applicants must be active members of ANNA for a minimum of two years before applying, be accepted to an accredited bachelor’s program, and demonstrate active history in the field of pediatrics and/or nephrology.
Amount: $2,000

AAC Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Intended for nursing students focusing on psychology, counseling, mental health, or substance abuse, this scholarship supports students enrolled in bachelor’s programs. Students must have and maintain at least a 3.2 GPA. Both part-time and full-time student applicants are welcome to apply.
Amount: $2,500-5,000

Specialized Training Assistance Program (Army Reserve) Who Can Apply: Make the transition from RN to BSN in the U.S. Army specialized training assistance program. Applicants must be a U.S. citizens, registered nurses, and enrolled in a four-year, accredited bachelor’s program. Those accepted will undergo officer training and become an officer in the Army Reserves for two years, with an optional third year extension.
Amount: $2,200 plus a monthly stipend (up to 24 months)