Nursing is an extremely rewarding career, so it's not hard to see why it's one of the most popular degree courses in the UK.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, nursing has become even more championed, with UCAS applications soaring by almost a third (32%) in 2021.

69% of these applicants said they were inspired to apply by the pandemic, with 99% saying they were confident that they had made the right career choice.

If you think you could be a nurse of the future, our guide to becoming a nurse will help you on your way.

1. Check the entry requirements

Most nursing degrees will normally ask for at least two A levels as part of their entry requirements, although many request three. Take a look at the individual entry requirements for each university you are considering apply to and check exactly what they expect you to have.

Some institutions, such as the University of Edinburgh, are fairly specific about their entry requirements for programmes.

For their adult nursing programme, they currently ask for a minimum of ABB at A level, plus GCSEs in Mathematics and English at grade C or 4.

Other places, such as the University of Leeds, only ask for BBB at A level (including at least one of the following subjects: Applied Science, Biology, Chemistry, Human Biology, Physics, Psychology, Sociology) and anything above a grade C or 4 for your 5 GCSEs, which must include Maths, English and a Science subject.

So if you’re looking to apply to a particular university, find out if you need to take certain subjects at A level to be considered. However, a science subject such as Biology or Chemistry will be an extremely useful foundation for your nursing studies, so it’s worth considering taking one of these.

For those not following an A level route, find out what other qualifications are accepted for entry on to nursing courses by going to the individual university websites that you're interested in applying to.

These days, many institutions will happily offer places to candidates with an International Baccalaureate, BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma, Access to Higher Education Diploma, or Foundation Programme.

If you’re planning on doing one of these instead of A levels, make sure you apply to study the correct subjects/topics that will allow you to submit a UCAS application for a nursing degree.

2. Apply for work experience

Nursing is not an easy profession, so it’s important to get some experience under your belt as soon as possible to help you decide whether nursing is really the right career path for you.

It’s important to realise that nursing is a huge responsibility, with patients placing their care completely in your hands.

Work experience also shows you are enthusiastic about nursing and committed to a career in the field. You can use examples of what you learn to back up your university application, but we’ll talk about this more later on.

At some of the UK’s top universities, work experience in a caring environment for over one week is mandatory to be considered for a place on the course.

You can apply for nursing work experience in a number of ways, although a good place to start looking is your local NHS Trust, hospital or health centre.

Ask them to put you in touch with their human resources, voluntary or training department, and enquire about applying for work experience.

It’s important to note here that there are several different branches of nursing: Adult, Children, Learning Disability and Mental Health. The NHS explains what each one involves in more detail.

Once you’ve done some investigation and decided which area(s) appeal to you most, then you can try to obtain experience in something you’ll enjoy.

If you’re not sure which branch you might want to go into, then apply for experience in different areas.

Whatever experience you end up completing, it will help you convey to universities in your application that you understand what a nurse’s role involves, and that you are well suited to this particular career.

3. Study for your degree or apprenticeship

For those students currently studying for their GCSEs, you’ll need at least five passes at grade C or above to be considered for a nursing course at university. These grades are crucial, as all nurses must now hold a degree to enter the profession.

While effective revision sessions are key during exam time, try not to overdo it and remember to take breaks in-between.

We have some useful tips on revising for your GCSEs to ensure this stage of getting to a career in nursing goes as smoothly as possible.

As mentioned earlier, some universities ask for specific grades in GCSE subjects (usually Science and Maths), so it's always worth checking you have the correct qualifications to be considered.

Other ways to become a nurse include a Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship (RNDA) or becoming an Associate Nurse.

A registered nurse degree apprenticeship (RNDA) offers a flexible route to becoming a nurse that doesn’t require full-time study at university.

You will need to secure a position as an RNDA and your employer will release you to study at university part time.  You will train in a range of practice placements, for example hospitals, GP practices, people’s homes and mental health facilities.

Most RNDAs take four years, but possibly less if APEL (accreditation of prior experience and learning) recognises your previous learning and experience. For example, if you have a relevant level 5 qualification, the length of your apprenticeship could be reduced to two years rather than four.

You will usually need level 3 and Maths and English qualification/s to start an RNDA. If you have a level 5 qualification as a nursing associate or assistant practitioner,  your apprenticeship might be called a 'top up' RNDA or ‘conversion’ to registered nurse course.

Vacancies for RNDA are advertised at NHS Jobs and the Government's Find an apprenticeship site.

Alternatively, the role of a nursing associate sits alongside existing nursing care support workers and fully-qualified registered nurses in both health and social care.

It offers a career path in nursing to people from all walks of life, as well as the opportunity to become a fully qualified, registered nurse.

Trainee roles are available in a variety of health and care settings, which means nursing associates often have wider opportunities and more flexibility to move between acute, social and community and primary care.

A nursing associate is not a registered nurse, but with further training, it can be possible to 'top up' your training to become one.

4. Write a great personal statement for university

To secure your place at university, you'll need to wow the admissions tutors via a brilliant UCAS personal statement that will make you stand out from the huge pile of application forms.

Nursing is a very competitive degree course, with over 41,000 people applying for undergraduate spaces in 2022, so you’ll have to pull something amazing out of the hat to give yourself the best chance of getting in.

How successful your personal statement will be depends heavily on step number two. This is because experience is vital for providing specific examples that back up your claims of being a caring, motivated, communicative, etc. individual.

Admissions tutors often talk about the large number of applications they receive that fail to relate enough about their previous experience. However, this is not the only thing they are looking for.

As well as talking about your experience, you’ll need to demonstrate your knowledge and skills through your current studies, and delegate a small section of the end of your statement to what you plan to do in the future (hopefully work somewhere as a nurse!).

Again, we have some fantastic resources to help you put together a spell-binding statement, including:

5. Prepare for your nursing interview

By preparing as much as possible, you'll have no problem passing your university interview with flying colours.

While interviews are often dreaded by many prospective nursing students, preparation is the only key to making sure you give your best performance on the day.

Part of this involves reading your personal statement again thoroughly, as you need to be able to answer any question you might be asked about it.

Jotting down the following will also be extremely helpful:

  • Examples that demonstrate your relevant skills, knowledge and experience
  • What you enjoy in particular about your current studies and the field of nursing
  • Your plans once you leave university.

We have also helped nursing applicants prepare by providing some example nursing interview questions for you to practice with, including:

  • Why do you want to become a Child/Adult/Mental Health nurse?
  • What do you know about the Nursing and Midwifery Council?
  • What qualities do you think make a good nurse?
  • Why is teamwork important?
  • How would you handle challenging patients?

At the end of the day, admissions tutors want to see that you are passionate about becoming a nurse, are committed to the field, and can demonstrate you have all the correct attributes to do well on their course.

If you do your preparation with this in mind, you’ll have a decent chance at being offered a place.

6. Complete your training

Applying for jobs once you graduate is the next hurdle in your nursing career path.

Nursing job applications can usually be broken down into three parts as follows:

1. Application form

If the post asks you to fill one of these out, make sure you read any instructions carefully before you start, and check carefully once you’ve completed it for spelling, punctuation and grammar errors, or any information you may have entered incorrectly.

Overall, it needs to be clear, concise and legible, otherwise it might end up in the rejection pile straight away if the employer cannot even read or understand what you have written.

2. CV

A targeted CV will help persuade an employer that you are the right candidate for the job.

It should be put together in a professional manner using a word processing programme, be no more than two A4 pages in length, and include the following sections:

  • Personal details
  • Professional education (i.e. your professional Nurse practitioner training)
  • Education
  • Professional/practice experience
  • Other work experience
  • Interests and hobbies
  • References

3. Covering letter

If you’re asked to write a cover letter to support your application, use these points as a guide to setting it out and making sure it’s likely to have a positive impact:

Address your letter to a named person. Email or call the employer to find out this information if necessary.

If there is no designated section on an application form to put your supporting information, you will have to include it as an entirely separate cover letter. This is important, as a CV on its own only provides people with facts about you, and nothing else.

Remember you are a nurse – this means you are a medical professional, and the way you write your letter to market yourself should reflect this accordingly.

Read the job description and person specification carefully, and make sure your letter revolves around this information. Give specific examples of your skills, knowledge and abilities that clearly demonstrate you have everything required to successfully perform the role being advertised.

Once you have addressed all the points outlined in the person specification and job description, talk about any other relevant skills or experience that will help you stand out as a great candidate.

State clearly why you are applying for the post, and why you want to work in this particular environment. If it is a new setting you are applying to, explain how your skills are transferable. Again, make sure you back up everything you say with examples.

Make yourself a friendly, approachable, yet interesting applicant – try not to sound arrogant or overly-ambitious in your letter, and remember that you are a caring professional that can bring value to the employer’s organisation.

Some good places to start looking for nursing vacancies if you’re in the final year of your degree include:

The following websites also have a wealth of information about a career in nursing that can help you with your UCAS application, work experience and looking for a job: