How to Survive Nursing School: Everything You Need to Know

First aid bag: The Ultimate Nursing School Survival Guide

If the events of this past year have taught us anything, it’s that nurses do amazing, rewarding work. It’s also shown us that, maybe more than any other profession in healthcare, nurses are hardworking, dedicated professionals who have a passion for improving the lives of their patients.

It should come as no surprise, then, that nurses got to be the way they are through the rigorous educational experiences they encountered in nursing school. There’s no getting around it — it’s one of the toughest academic experiences out there, and for good reason. This may leave you wondering, though, how to survive nursing school — and how intimidated you should be by the prospect.

In this post, we delve into what you can expect as a nursing school student and what makes nursing school so hard, as well as survival tips, specifically with regard to Utica College’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. With all the support resources available and the prospect of a rewarding career path on the other side, you’ll see that making it through the challenges of nursing school is a worthy pursuit.

What Do You Do in Nursing School?

The Utica ABSN program’s hybrid curriculum comprises three components:

  • Online coursework sets the foundation for your nursing education through a dynamic e-Learning platform.
  • Skills and simulation labs at our ABSN program site offer hands-on learning opportunities with faculty in a risk-free mock clinical environment.
  • Clinical rotations at top area healthcare facilities local to our ABSN sites offer diverse real-world patient care experiences.

While all Utica ABSN students complete the same comprehensive curriculum, each has their own take on the learning experience. To help give you an idea of what to expect in nursing school, we went straight to the source. Below, we share the perspectives of recent graduates from our ABSN program on what the accelerated learning experience was like for them.

Online Coursework

Dominique Banks, ABSN Class of December 2017: “I like the online portion because it makes it more toward your schedule. The lectures are online, and as long as you get them done before the tests, you will succeed. It’s all about time management with the online programs. You can’t save everything for the last minute.”

Skills and Simulation Labs

Jill Kirchner: “The simulation labs help you translate the book knowledge into clinical practice. Simulation then leads into clinical, where we are caring for real, live patients and we’re doing patient care in the hospital.”

Dominique Banks: “In the simulation lab, our instructors direct us to have conversations with the manikin, which helps because you do have patients who have no idea what you’re doing. You have to be able to explain to them, in words they understand, what’s going on. It definitely all ties together and is very beneficial in the clinical setting.”


Sandra Aponte, ABSN Class of December 2019: “Clinicals help us put all our learning into practice and have been a great experience for me. Not that we are practicing on patients, but every time I step into a patient’s room, I become more comfortable. That’s necessary to build the confidence, to feel like you’re competent. Because it’s hard as a new nurse. You’re going to feel like ‘I don’t know anything,’ but you do know because you’ve been putting in the work.”

What Makes Nursing School Hard

There’s no one part of nursing school that makes it a stressful experience; rather, it’s the culmination of multiple components that can cause anxiety among even the most hard-working and dedicated students. Below, we examine reasons and gain insights from Utica ABSN alumni on why nursing school is such a challenging endeavor.

Learning Challenging Course Material Online

No matter your previous educational background, nursing school covers a lot of material in a semester. Even in traditional programs, learning about physiological and biological concepts can be a challenge — and if you come from a non-science background, making sense of all the medical jargon in your nursing textbooks can be like attempting to learn a new language!

As an accelerated nursing student, it becomes even more important to stay on top of your nursing coursework since you’re condensing 36 months’ worth of material into 16 months. Throw in the fact that you’ll be responsible for keeping up with your studies online — not in a classroom setting — and it can all start to seem like an insurmountable task.

Catalina Echeverri Castano
Catalina Echeverri Castano

“A lot of the classes at Utica are online, which made me really nervous when I first started. I was lost. You’re not familiar with anything that you find in there, but slowly you get accustomed to where to find the information,” says Catalina Echeverri Castano, ABSN Class of December 2019.

If you ever catch yourself struggling with a challenging concept, it’s wise to ask for help right away so you don’t fall behind. What you learn in your science-based courses sets the foundation for the rest of your accelerated nursing education — and career. You’ll draw from this knowledge base daily while on the job.

Preparing for Skills and Simulation Labs

Skills and simulation labs are another vital part of your BSN education because they allow you to practice and apply basic nursing skills in the context of a mock clinical scenario before you attempt them in a real-world clinical environment. At one of our ABSN program sites, you’ll “treat” medical manikins in a controlled, risk-free setting in front of your instructors and peers — which can be nerve-wracking in itself.

It’s normal to feel anxious and eager during these simulated scenarios — in fact, they were developed for you to hone your decision-making and problem-solving skills before you experience the real thing in clinical rotations.

The good news for you: You’ll get a heads-up on what your upcoming simulation scenario will be the week before you go into the ABSN program site for lab, so you’ll have time to mentally prepare yourself. (Just keep in mind that you won’t often have this luxury in the real-world or nursing.)

Adapting to the Fast Pace of the Utica ABSN Program

In addition to the continuous cycle of studying, skills and simulation lab check-offs and clinical shifts, the extra element of condensing what is traditionally a 36-month academic experience into 16 months adds in a whole new level to the accelerated nursing school experience.

Adapting to keep pace with such a rigorous schedule is no doubt overwhelming. Not only does it require such a concentrated effort, it likely means sacrificing time spent with family and friends — which may be your usual mode of decompression during stressful times.

That’s not to say accelerated nursing school is impossible. In fact, many Utica ABSN students say your survival in the program relies on you remaining focused, self-disciplined — and asking for help when you need it.

Interacting with Patients during Clinical Rotations

Since clinical rotations involve interacting with patients — and having a role, however small, in their well-being and care — it’s common to feel anxious or stressed about making a good impression (and not making any life-threatening mistakes) during this portion of your accelerated nursing education. You not only want to put your best foot forward toward your clinical instructor, but you also want to make sure your patients are well taken care of.

“When I first went to see a patient face to face in the room, it was nerve-wracking. You make all the mistakes and say all the things you shouldn’t say but it just gets better,” Catalina says. “Every day you feel more comfortable and more confident, and you are able to provide better care every day.”

If the facts above sound like a large mental load to carry, know they are. But in addition to being your chance to apply what you learned in your nursing theory courses and skills and simulation labs, clinical rotations will sometimes expose you to mature subjects, so it’s in your best interest to prepare yourself emotionally as well.

Passing the NCLEX

Once you graduate from accelerated nursing school, you have one more step you must complete before you can practice as a registered nurse: Passing the National Council Licensure Exam, or NCLEX. Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX is designed to ensure nursing school graduates have the basic skills and knowledge to provide safe, effective nursing care at the entry level.

Besides your performance on this exam determining your ability to pursue your new nursing career, what else makes this exam stressful is the fact that, much like the exams you take throughout accelerated nursing school, the questions on the NCLEX aren’t straightforward. That’s by design. The exam is written to gauge your ability to think critically — that is to say, each answer could technically be considered correct. It’s up to you to determine the “most correct” response.

Tips for Surviving Nursing School

As mentioned above, there are definitely things about nursing school that make it stressful. Add in the fact that you’re compressing 36 months’ worth of material into a 16-month accelerated program and the overwhelm of all there is to do and know can make nursing school seem like an impossible feat.

To help ease your anxiety about how you’ll manage to survive nursing school, we compiled these tips, complete with advice from Utica ABSN students who’ve been in your shoes before.

Know Your Learning Style

The very nature of nursing school involves learning about complex biological and physiological processes. As an accelerated nursing student, you’ll be tasked with not only demonstrating your understanding of complex medical jargon in your proctored exams and writing assignments. You’ll also need to be able to show that you can apply this knowledge on your feet in simulated patient care scenarios and clinical experiences.

Utica ABSN students studying together

It goes without saying: Knowing how to study in an accelerated nursing program can go a long way toward ensuring your success. It’s important to note, though, that this may not look the same for everyone. Some learn best by doing while others retain information better aurally or visually.

Our ABSN program caters to all types of learners, which is why our instructional designers aimed to develop a variety of learning materials. If you’re an aural learner, video lectures may help you understand a challenging concept best, while someone who learns best by doing may grasp a complex theory through an interactive case study.

There is no one right way to learn, but there is a right way that will work for you, so experiment to find out what works best for you (and if you need some extra assistance with making this determination, our dedicated success coaches can point you to resources that can help).

What’s Your Learning Style?

If you’re curious about what type of learner you are, you may be interested in taking a VARK learning model assessment. VARK stands for “Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing and Kinesthetic,” or all the different “preferential ways in which students absorb, process, comprehend and retain information.”

Utica ABSN's online coursework caters to all types of learners

Utica ABSN’s instructional designers and nursing faculty takes the VARK learning model to heart, which is why you’ll find all sorts of learning objects in the online coursework component of our curriculum.

infographic: Utica ABSN online learning objects

Set a Study Schedule (and Stick to It)

Time management and prioritizing are everything when it comes to succeeding in accelerated nursing school. You may have been able to “wing it” in some of your undergraduate courses, but such a study strategy will only set you up for failure in nursing school. Because nursing concepts build upon one another and you’ll need to pull from a wide base of knowledge during clinicals and simulation labs, it’s imperative you schedule a time to study — don’t just leave it until you feel like it.

Inputting your exam and deadline schedule and clinical shifts into a planner can help you stay on track and enable you to see what lies ahead in the coming weeks and months (and remember you don’t have to do everything all in one day). Some students even suggest color-coding classes and topics to help you wrap your head around all your nursing school responsibilities.

“On the e-Learning platform is a pre-made calendar for assignments, so I add to that,” says Chelsea Egwim, ABSN Class of May 2020. “For exams, I know the majority of that week will be spent studying for the exam and getting your assignments done for the week. I get super overwhelmed looking at the calendar sometimes, but you want to take it step-by-step by looking at the calendar for the whole semester. Just know it’s doable and you don’t have to do it on your own.”

Make Study Buddies

Nursing is a rigorous yet rewarding profession, one that’s all but impossible to survive on your own. Just as nurses working in the field depend on their coworkers to make it through each shift, so too, do accelerated nursing students.

Two ABSN students studying together at desk with their laptops

That’s why it’s important to start forging relationships with other members of your cohort as soon as you begin our program. While leaning on your family and friends will help curtail some of your school-related stress, no one else will quite relate to the unique challenges involved with nursing school as your classmates.

It’s important to bond with this group for support, encouragement and accountability, Sandra says.

Find Time for Self-Care

With everything we’ve mentioned above about the importance of sticking to a study schedule so you don’t fall behind, it’s just as imperative (perhaps even more) to remember that if you feel like you need a break from studying, you should take one!

Powering through and cramming will not serve you well in the end in accelerated nursing program. On the contrary, studies point to taking breaks actually making you more productive. So go ahead and pencil some “you” time into your planner to help you unwind and stay balanced.

Remember Your “Why”

Everyone who enrolls in nursing school has a reason for being there, whether it’s inspiration from a nurse who helped care for a loved one in a time of need or your deep desire to make a difference in today’s ever-evolving healthcare landscape.

Especially during those tough all-nighters or a rough clinical rotation shift, it’s important to remember why you chose to become a nurse in the first place. Use your reason for wanting to enter the profession as fuel to help you power through those trying moments.

Utica nursing students in skills lab

With previous experience working in community outreach and homeless populations, Sandra decided to enroll in accelerated nursing school because she wanted to make a difference.

“We have a big underserved population who have all these conditions that could be avoided if they were managed by healthcare providers who were really interested in their care,” she says. “So being able to step in and be that person they can relate to just really resonated with me, and it’s the reason I want to do nursing.”

Not to mention, while nursing school is challenging, just think of how satisfying it will be when you graduate and your first patient thanks you for making an impact on her life — that moment alone will be confirmation that your effort was worth it!

Accelerated Nursing School Support Resources

In addition to the nursing school survival tips mentioned above, another surefire way to help you succeed in the Utica ABSN program is to rely on the myriad support resources available to you. From academic assistance to backing you up with your adjustment to life as an accelerated nursing student, Utica ABSN is here to help students not just survive nursing school, but thrive.

“Whenever they provide you with resources, take advantage of them,” Jessica says. “Utica College has all the resources and the available staff for you to succeed.”

infographic: Utica ABSN student support resources

e-Learning Platform

Our blended hybrid curriculum allows you to study and complete your coursework whenever and wherever is most convenient for you. But because our accelerated program happens synchronously — that is, in real-time — you must still adhere to instructors’ deadlines and exam schedules.

There’s no doubt our program is fast-paced, but Canvas, the e-Learning platform you’ll use to submit assignments and review course materials, has interactive resources to streamline your accelerated nursing school experience.

Utica Canvas Demo
Screen shot from the online learning demo.

For starters, you’ll have unlimited access to course materials whenever you need it, meaning you can always revisit any areas where you may need clarification. The platform’s discussion forum feature also makes it easy for you to contact classmates and instructors if you’re struggling with an especially challenging concept.

Additionally, the interactive content on our e-Learning platform is designed to cater to all types of learners, so you can benefit from absorbing content presented in a variety of methods. For example, if you’re a visual learner, you can watch and listen to videos and virtual lectures that you can pause and rewind as many times as you want. Or, if you learn better by doing, you can interact with case studies or animated learning objects that simulate physiological processes.

Synchronous Sessions

Another great resource Utica ABSN offers to bridges the gap between the classroom and the computer is synchronous sessions. During these online review sessions, students log on to a virtual meeting with their instructor to review and answer practice questions.

“It is a very valuable part of the program because as you are reviewing the content in your book, you can go to these meetings to ask your questions to your instructor as if you were at school,” Catalina says.

Faculty and Instructor Support

UticaABSN has a supportive learning environment

Because nursing is such a hands-on profession, it only makes sense that a significant portion of your nursing education involves hands-on experiences. The Utica ABSN program’s skills and simulation lab component will prepare you for real-world clinical scenarios in top area healthcare facilities local to the ABSN program site you choose.

If you clam up in interactions with new people or have no prior healthcare experience, the proposition of communicating with patients (in both simulated and real-world environments) for the first time can seem daunting. But before you stress out too much about excelling in this portion of our program, keep in mind that we won’t throw you into the deep end on your first day.

We sequence nursing simulations and clinical experiences to follow a natural learning progression; as the ABSN curriculum advances, so do the scenarios and the amount of responsibility your clinical instructor expects from you. Your first day of clinicals, you’ll likely start by observing other nurses and getting the basics of interacting with patients, making beds and charting.

Besides, you won’t be going through your shift alone — you’ll have a clinical instructor to consult your entire shift. That was hugely reassuring to Jessica.

Success Coach

No matter how you slice it, accelerated nursing school is a stress-inducing time. Understanding complex concepts in an abbreviated timeframe, turning in assignments on tight deadlines and studying for exams aside, you also have to contend with the fact that you simply have less time to spend with family and friends or otherwise decompress.

That’s where your Utica ABSN success coach comes in. He or she is there to chat, listen to you vent or help offer tips and strategies for overcoming whatever has you on edge about nursing school.

NCLEX Test Prep

In addition to the nursing theory knowledge and patient care know-how you’ll be equipped with upon accelerated nursing school graduation, you’ll also leave our ABSN program feeling prepared to sit for the NCLEX with confidence. That’s because as a Utica ABSN student, you’ll have access to Kaplan Test Prep. In fact, it’s actually a key component of our curriculum.

Throughout the nursing program, you can also expect to take timed, proctored NCLEX-style tests, so you can begin to familiarize yourself with the types of questions, format and timing of the actual test. Post-graduation, you’ll return to take a four-day review course so you know exactly the kinds of strategies that will help you analyze and answer NCLEX-style questions with relative ease.

Nursing student studying

Are You Ready for the Challenge of Accelerated Nursing School?

As you can see, accelerated nursing school is challenging, but it’s a challenge worth pursuing. And with all the advice from former students and support resources available to you as a Utica ABSN student outlined here, you’ll find that it’s not only possible to survive accelerated nursing school, but to thrive.

Are you ready to take on the challenge? Start by reaching out to one of our admissions representatives by completing this form — he or she will follow up with you soon to see if you qualify for our program.

The Ultimate Nursing School Admissions Checklist

Ready for nursing school but stressed about applying? We recommend downloading our free admissions checklist to learn the important ins and outs of applying to accelerated nursing school.

The ultimate nursing school admissions checklist