Before you decide to enroll in nursing school, it can help to have a good idea of what to expect from your education. Your exact curriculum will depend on factors like how advanced your degree program is, your starting level of education, your areas of specialization and the nursing school you choose. However, some coursework is common across all approved and accredited nursing degree programs.

College-Level Science Classes

Whatever level of nursing degree you pursue, a good chunk of your coursework will be in the fields of natural sciences. Biology is an important subject of study, especially microbiology. Chemistry classes are required for registered nurse (RN) degree programs. On the other hand, licensed practical nurse (LPN) and licensed vocational nurse (LVN) programs focus more on basic pharmacology, and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) programs include studies in advanced pharmacology. Anatomy and physiology courses at increasingly advanced levels are important for nursing students in any degree program.

RNs need to complete the same core science classes regardless of whether they pursue an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Nursing Courses

It should come as no surprise that nursing programs include coursework in the field of nursing. How else would students learn how to actually care for patients?

Which nursing courses you take depends a lot on your level of study. Aspiring LPNs and LVNs will primarily study the fundamentals of nursing and basic courses in nursing care for adult, pediatric and geriatric patients.

RN programs differ depending on whether they culminate in an ADN or a BSN degree. Both levels of degree programs will include coursework in the foundations of nursing, health assessment and introductory through intermediate nursing theory and practice. One of the biggest differences between ADN and BSN degree programs is the opportunity for BSN students to gain more extensive knowledge of subjects such as public health, nursing research and management and leadership in the field of nursing.

Graduate and doctoral degree programs like the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) include advanced coursework in nursing. High-level coursework in nursing theory, pathophysiology, nursing research and nursing education are a part of most master’s level nursing degree programs, according to U.S. News & World Report. Beyond these core subjects, students preparing for an APRN role will devote much of their studies to their chosen specialty. The most commonly recognized specialties of APRNs are nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife and nurse practitioner. Aspiring nurse anesthetists will study how to safely and effectively administer anesthesia, while nurse midwives develop the skills to provide prenatal care, deliver babies and care for mothers after birth. Nurse practitioners train to provide direct patient care, including ordering tests, diagnosing diseases and writing prescriptions. They may further specialize in fields such as family medicine, pediatrics, mental health or geriatrics.

Nursing isn’t a field of study you can learn solely through lectures in a classroom. At every level of nursing degree, students will be required to gain hands-on experience working with patients though a supervised clinical practicum, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because clinical work is so important to learn the career field of nursing, you can expect to spend hundreds of hours during your education working in a clinical setting. 

Other specializations in advanced nursing degree programs include forensic nursing, nurse informatics, nursing education and nursing leadership.  

General Education Requirements

In addition to the science and nursing courses that are most closely related to your degree, you will also have to complete other nursing school requirements. These requirements vary from one school to another, but usually they include studies in mathematics, English, social science and humanities.

Why does a nurse need to study these subjects? You might be surprised how valuable they can be. Nurses use math on a daily basis in their work, so it’s important that they have strong skills in basic math and medical math. Statistics courses are also common in nursing degree programs, so that nurses can understand and interpret health data. Studying subjects such as English and the humanities help students develop their communication and critical-thinking skills, both of which are essential for success in the field of nursing.

In order to graduate, nursing students will have to fulfill any schoolwide liberal arts or general education requirements as well as their major course requirements.