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Mapping out a path to becoming a nurse practitioner can be confusing.  A profession popular with individuals looking for a career change, many different educational options are available to prospective NP’s.  But what if you know early on that you want to become a nurse practitioner?

Recently I have received a lot of e-mails from high school students wondering what steps they need to take to become NP’s.  It’s easy to see why they aren’t quite sure what next steps to take after graduation.  With so many different types of nurse practitioner programs out there, it’s difficult to sort through them, especially for those who are still unfamiliar with the medical field.  So, If you are a high school student, here is the most practical path to becoming a nurse practitioner:

  1. Graduate High School…With Style– Finishing high school is the obvious first step to becoming an NP.  Don’t just graduate however, put in a little effort.  Striving for excellence, getting good grades, taking AP classes and becoming involved in extracurricular activities will set a good foundation for your education and help you get into college.  Taking a few courses in science will also help in your future nursing education.  Don’t shy away from the tough stuff, the harder you work in school now the easier it will be later.
  2. Apply to an Undergraduate Nursing (BSN) Program– In your junior year, begin looking at colleges.  The most efficient path to becoming a nurse practitioner is to major in nursing.  So, make a list of colleges offering Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) programs that you think you might want to attend.  Decide if you want to go to school in-state or out-of-state.  Consider the cost of college.  Does it matter how expensive it will be to get your degree?  Are there any schools that offer scholarships to nursing students?  Think about the school environment where you would best fit in.  Do you want a small, private school or a large, public university?  As you hone your criteria, make a list of four to six schools you think are a good fit for your needs.  Check application deadlines and begin working on your applications months before they are due, submitting them on time.
  3. Complete Your Undergraduate Nursing Program– College is awesome!  But, don’t  let fun times distract you from your goals.  Yes, make friends, go to parties, take a road trip for spring break, but study hard.  When you graduate, you will be a nurse.  It’s important that you focus and learn as much as you can so you are comfortable working as a nurse when you graduate.
  4. Work One to Two Years…Maybe– Many aspiring NP’s don’t continue their education right after becoming nurses.  They take one or two years to get some experience working as a nurse.  In fact, some nurse practitioner programs require that students have nursing experience before applying.  Other nurse practitioner programs do not require work experience.  If you don’t want to take time out of school to work before becoming an NP you will be a bit more limited in where you can apply.
  5. Apply to a Nurse Practitioner Program– Finally!  You are ready to become a nurse practitioner.  There are many options for your NP education at this point and you don’t need to decide which you will choose right now.  You may attend an NP program part-time, full-time, online or on campus.  You can also elect to specialize in a certain area such as pediatrics or acute care.  Wait until you are ready to apply to an NP program to make these decisions.
  6. Complete Your Nurse Practitioner Program-In your NP program you will learn all about diagnosing and treating patients, prescribing medications and much more.  When you graduate, you will have finally become a nurse practitioner.

If you’re in high school and you already know that you want to become a nurse practitioner, I applaud your foresight and enthusiasm.  You have made an excellent career choice and early enough that you can become an NP in the most efficient manner.

Still have questions about the path to becoming an NP from high school?  Comment below to get advice from readers. 

You Might Also Like: MD or NP? 5 Things to Consider

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24 thoughts on “Path to Becoming an NP for High School Students”

  • Sara Jayne Chestnut says:

    Approximately how long does it take to become a nurse practitioner including the two years sent as a registered nurse for experience ?

  • Hi Sara,

    It takes 4 years to get a BSN degree and then about 2 years depending on the program you attend and if you go to school full-time or part time to become a nurse practitioner.  So, a total of 6 years after high school.  If you want to work as an RN before going to school for your NP degree, then it is a total of 7-8 years out of high school.

  • At this point, does it still look like soon nurses will have to get a master’s AND a doctorate to become a nurse practitioner? What are the current chances of that happening? Also, how long does a doctorate in nursing take if doing it full time? Thanks!

  • Hi Shannon,

    It’s hard to say exactly when the DNP will be required.  I have heard it will be more like 2020, or maybe even later.  No one is certain.  If the requirement does take place, you would enter a BSN-DNP program.  This means that after you graduate college with an undergraduate degree in nursing you would enter a Doctorate in Nursing program rather than a Master’s in Nursing program.  

    BSN-DNP programs take about 3 years full time depending on the program.  This is about one year longer than it takes to get an MSN.

  • Can I get a BS instead of a BSN in my undergraduate degree? What’s the difference? I know some of the best nursing schools only offer BS’s while others offer BSN’s….. this will really affect where I choose to lay the path for my education

  • Hi Mary,

    Yes, you can get either.

    There is not a significant difference between a BS with a major in Nursing and a BSN degree.  From what I understand, there are a few technical reasons schools call their programs one over the other but both will prepare you for a career as a nurse and allow you to continue on to become a nurse practitioner.  After you complete one of these programs you can get your Masters degree in Nursing (MSN) to become a nurse practitioner.  

  • Hi Olivia,

    I would do some volunteering at a hospital or other medical facility. The closer you can get to caring for actual patients, the better! Also, job shadow various medical providers. This shows a dedication to the profession and gives you material to write about in your upcoming college and NP program application essays. 

  • I am only a sophmore but I was wondering what classes I should take if I want to be an NP and what my grade should be in those specific classes? I know the higher the better but what’s the lowest? Also any recommendations on the best school for this career?

  • Hi Kendra,

    As far as classes to take in high school, science classes are a good start. That way you can get a background for your health/medical education. Also, make sure to take a challenging English class. There is a lot of writing in college and grad school!

    The grades you will need depend on where you apply for nursing school. There are many nursing schools to choose from. In what location are you looking?

  • Hi Nicole,

    The first step for you in becoming a nurse practitioner after high school is to get your RN or BSN (Bachelors of Science in Nursing) degree. Then, you will complete a nurse practitioner program. 

    The timeframe depends on if you work between getting your undergraduate and graduate degree which most NPs do. If you get a BSN then go directly into an NP program you can expect about 6 years post-high school. 

  • Hi Kendra,

    The University of Illinois Chicago has a great nursing school. Loyola University, the University of St .Francis, Southern Illinois University, DePaul University, St. Xavier University, Millikin University, and Lewis University are all excellent options as well. 

  • Can I go straight into a college of nursing? I’m im high school and graduate in two years. Do I have to go to a college that has many options or can I go straight into a nursing college?

  • Hi Lynn,

    Yes, you can enter a nursing program directly from high school. Apply to a college that offers a major in nursing. Some colleges have additional application requirements or may require a separate applicaiton for nursing programs so make sure you read the requirements carefully. 

  • Is there any nursing programs that a high school student can attend while in high school? If so where are the best programs in the state of California. If not, then are there any programs to becoming a NP without going to college? Just going straight to a nursing program directly out of high school.

  • Hi Yasmine, 

    You cannot become a nurse practitioner without going to college. From high school, you can enroll in an RN program. Then, you could attend an RN-MSN program to become a nurse practitioner. 

  • Hi Amanda, 

    This depends greatly on the school. Colleges all differ in the level of competition related to nursing school admission. I recommend asking admissions faculty at your colleges of interest about the average GPA for nursing applicants to get a better idea as to how you compare. 

  • At this current time, I am taking physics. It’s my senior year, and I dislike the class. I have been wanting to drop it, but I am afraid it’ll hurt my chances in getting into good nursing program. Do you think it will be a better decision to stay in physics?

    Also what schools do you recommend if I live in California? I like Sonoma state university so far, but I would like to know more.
    Thank-you

  • Hi Victoria, 

    Most nursing programs do not require physics as a prerequisite. Many do, however, require a certain number of science credits for admission. Before you drop the course, I would check to make sure you have enough credits to satisfy admissions requirements for schools where you plan to apply. 

    This post shows many good nurse practitioner programs on the West Coast. Most of these schools have excellent nursing programs as well and could be an option for you moving forward. 

    Good luck! 

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