Pursuing Nursing with a Low GPA

This is a topic that’s fairly difficult for me to discuss, but I wanted to go over it anyways.

Low GPAs aren’t something that are commonly discussed in regards to nursing applications. And, I think it’s a topic where a lot of transparency and honesty can go a long way for people who are in the same situation and looking for other’s experiences. A lot of people assume that a low GPA is an automatic barrier to entry into nursing school and that’s not the case at all.

To preface this post, I graduated high school in 2011 with a 3.7GPA with an ACT of 33. I wasn’t a bad student by any means, but I was also definitely not the most academically competitive in my class either. I started attending a 4 year university and after 3 years, I failed out with a ~1.2GPA. That’s pretty abysmal by anyone’s standards. I actually think I went on probation twice before finally being kicked out, and the university offered me a lot of resources and help to get back on track. At the time, I was just too immature to really utilize them in the manner that I should have.

After failing out of my university, I spent 3 years working full time in a retail setting. And, in Fall of 2017, I finally enrolled in Baton Rouge Community College (BRCC) to begin taking my prerequisite classes for their nursing program. By this point, I’d already researched 4-5 different nursing programs around me and decided it was the best fit for me as far as getting to start and graduating earliest at an affordable tuition.

Here’s where I lucked out. Nursing programs can vary in how they calculate applicant GPAs, but some schools will only calculate the application GPA using the prerequisite courses. BRCC nursing is one of these programs, and it was a major factor in my decision to pursue their school for my education. Because this meant that in a way, I was already starting with a semi-blank slate as far as my application GPA went.

My ACT score automatically tested me out of several basic math and english courses at my original institution, and those credits carried over to BRCC. Out of the 5 required prerequisite courses to apply into the BRCC nursing program, I really only needed to 3 classes in order to apply into the program because I was already credited the basic english and math courses. In my classes, I finished with 2 As and a B, and my application GPA ended up being a 3.6GPA. Which is vastly different compared to my overall GPA which at that point had just barely crossed the 2.0 line, but I was still considered a very competitive applicant into the nursing program I applied.

So, for my people who’ve been out of school due to life events or previous academic failure are work, you can still get into nursing school and you can still be a competitive applicant. I know I was very lucky in how things worked out for me, but I also researched in advance to find the programs that would work around my previous academic failures.

So, here are some of my tips when looking into nursing programs as a student with a poor academic history:

  1. Find a program that calculates the application GPA using only the prerequisite courses.
  2. Find a program that does not penalize you for previous W/D/F grades (especially relevant in points based profile admission systems).
  3. Find a program that takes the most recent grade without averaging all previous attempts.
  4. Partner with the nursing program advising/admissions counselor or dean at schools to see which credits will carry over or can be tested out of.
  5. Retake all classes that are a C or lower, if they’re a prerequisite.

Additionally, if you’re already enrolled in prerequisites courses, drop the class if you’re struggling before you get a W/C/D/F. See if you can audit the class, which will let you sit in lecture but not be graded on tests or assignments. Set your self up for success, don’t create a bigger mess for yourself to clean up.

For me, I found 3 programs that only calculated your application GPA based on your prerequisite classes. But, one of them penalized you for having W/D/F grades in the last 5 years and the other averaged all graded attempts. While the last one did not particularly work against me, I also had many more prerequisites to take compared to BRCC. It was not the best option for me.

When you have a terrible academic history like mine, you can’t be picky about your schools. You need to be realistic about your prospects and understand that even if you follow these tips, you may still not be a competitive applicant. There are some schools that have applicants who are applying for their 2nd or 3rd attempt. And understand that sometimes, even if you do everything the right way, that the system can still work against you. There are schools that pick their students based on a lottery system, I also avoided these schools.

In the end, having a low GPA or terrible academic history doesn’t bar you from getting into nursing school. If you’re smart in the way you pick schools and handle your courses, you can still get in. It just makes the prenursing journey more difficult. But, you will feel accomplished when you do get into the program.

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