Failing Nursing School? Realistic Advice to Turn Things Around

Hopeless young man with adhesive note on his forehead leaning at the desk and keeping eyes closed

Nursing school is difficult. Every semester, some students fail. There are many reasons for this. Ask yourself some serious questions. Were you overwhelmed with balancing school with work? Were you also taking care of your family in addition to school? Maybe you were struggling with all three: work, school, and taking care of your children.

Maybe, the classes were just not what you expected, and you had trouble understanding the material. Perhaps being a nurse is just not for you. No matter what the reason was for your failure, you are likely feeling distraught and upset. You do not know what to do next. You may feel hopeless and like you have no options for your future. It would likely be abnormal if you did not think like this, but all is not lost.

Give yourself some time to grieve over your loss—the loss of your dream of being a nurse. Cry if you feel like it. Then pull yourself together and decide what to do next. Do some soul-searching. Do you still want to be a nurse? Maybe a different career in the healthcare industry would be a better fit. Still, a career in a healthcare field unrelated to patient care may suit you better. 

All are possibilities.

Career Options if You Still Want to Pursue Nursing

After you have carefully analyzed what went wrong, and decided you still want to pursue nursing, some approaches you may take include:

Repeat Classes 

Talk to the instructor of the class you failed. Determine what happened and why you did not pass. Ask if you can retake the course if there is only one class you failed. Accept responsibility for your failure.


Talk to a counselor, or maybe even the dean. Find out the policy of retaking a class or an appeal process you can pursue to get reinstated in the program. You may be asked to wait a year before you can repeat the course. This may seem unfair, but if you sincerely want to pursue your goal of becoming a registered nurse, this may be the best option for you.

Be prepared for the reapplication process: here are some questions you shouldn’t miss to ask:

  • How long before you can reapply?

As mentioned above, some schools require you to wait a specific time (up to a year) until you can apply again. Make sure that you use that time wisely. You could sign up for classes and improve your grade point average. 

Good to know: If you took out student loans, be sure to see how long your grace period is. Grace period is the time after graduation or enrollment before you have to make payments. 

  • What are your options if you fail again?  

Ask how many times you can repeat a class before starting over with the entire program. Also, you might want to know how often you can apply at your school. Most schools have limits on how many times you can repeat the whole program.

  • How can you prevent yourself from failing again?  

Think about what kept you back and why you end up failing nursing school. 

Once you know your weaknesses, you can put a plan in place to be less likely to fail again. 

Ask about tutor programs or other resources the program might offer. 

There can be so many reasons for not making it to the next semester. First, determine if the reason for failing was under your control. Could you have studied more or prepared better for your clinical rotation? Or maybe you had car troubles and missed the last makeup day for clinicals because of it? 

Either way, you should expect the unexpected at all times in nursing school. 

Find out about all the resources that your school can offer you to help you move forward.

  • Are you going to be placed on a waiting list? If yes, what is the average wait time?

Once you start over the entire application process, you might lose your seat in the program and have to wait a particular time to apply again. Make sure you know the rules and policies about this process at your school. 

Determine if it is worth the wait or if you should try another school. 

Related: What to Do When You Are Waitlisted for Nursing School?

  • Do you have to start from the beginning or only repeat the classes that you failed? 

This varies significantly among nursing schools. Some schools will let you repeat from a certain point of the program; others will have you repeat the entire curriculum. 

  • Is there a probation period? If yes, how long is it?  

You might want to know the exact criteria to be placed on probation and your next steps to improve your academic or clinical performance.

  • Do you have to repeat your entrance test?

If bad grades are the reason for failure, you might be placed on academic or clinical probation. Some schools implement this process to make sure that you work to keep your grades up. Be sure to find out the details of this probation period. 

If you have to repeat your entrance test, make sure to find out if there are any changes from the last time you took the test. 

Apply to a Different School

If getting reinstated in your program turns out not to be an option, then check on the possibility of applying to a different nursing school with a different type of nursing program. Be honest on your application. This has worked for some. It likely means you will have to start over again since credits you have earned may not transfer. If this is really your life’s goal, this may just be one more road you have to travel to reach it.

When applying to a different nursing program, consider the following questions: 

  • How often a year does the school accept students? 

This information would be nice to know. Waiting a whole year or only a few months until the new semester starts can make a big difference and potentially decide whether you want to attend that school or a different one. 

Some schools admit new students only once a year in the spring semester, while others admit twice a year, spring and fall. 

  • Is there a waiting list?

Some nursing schools do not have a waiting list, and admission depends on your entrance exam scores, grade point average, and maybe other factors. If there is a waiting list, always ask about the average time you will have to wait. 

Good to know: know the ranking factors of that waiting list. Some programs go by first come, first serve, and others will look at your GPA and other factors before putting you on the list. 

  • What credits will you be able to transfer? Do you have to repeat prerequisites? Are there additional courses you have to complete? 

You might want to find out which credits you can transfer. Most likely, you can transfer your prerequisites. 

The prerequisite courses may vary as well. You might have to take additional ones.

You most likely will not be able to transfer nursing credits. The curriculum among nursing schools varies. To ensure that your education is according to their standards, they have you study their curriculum.  

  • How often can you repeat a semester/ course? What are your options in case you fail?

This is important to know so you can plan ahead and don’t make the same mistake twice. Each school’s policies differ. Find out about their repeat process right away. 

  • Will grade point average (GPA) matter? 

It depends on the way your GPA will be calculated. Some schools will only look at your GPA of your prerequisites. Other schools will look at the GPA of all your grades that you have so far. 

Ask about the minimum GPA requirement, so you know what to work toward.

Also, see about the school’s policy about retaking any of the courses to improve your GPA.

  • What should you study for the entrance test? Do you have to write an admission paper/ essay?

Find out which entrance test (Kaplan, TEAS, ati etc.) to prepare for and make sure you have very recent materials.

Related: How to Write an Essay on Nursing Career Goals

  • Does the school offer an LPN program?

Some LPN programs are integrated into RN programs. If you reached a specific semester in the RN program, you may sit for the PN – exam. This is a great back up plan. If you were to fail in the last semester of nursing school, you have at least your LPN license. 

You could even start working as an LPN while finishing up your RN program. 

On that note, you might want to consider a different type of nursing degree. For example, if you were enrolled in a BSN program, perhaps try a program for an LPN.

This is a shorter program and, after spending some successful time working as an LPN, you could reapply to a nursing program to pursue your RN. This is not ideal, but it is a way to accept what happened and still work in nursing while pursuing your goal of becoming a registered nurse.

Before you decide to do that, talk to your financial aid office. Your qualifications and eligibility for student loans may change since your future RN degree could be recognized as a second carrier now. 

Alternate Careers After Failing Nursing School

Options after failing nursing school

There are many other healthcare career options you may not even have thought of or even knew they existed until your unfortunate nursing school failure.

That failure may turn out to be a gift as you discover other options available to you in the healthcare field. Some possibilities that involve direct patient care include, but are not limited to:

  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or paramedic. First responders provide immediate medical care to those who need emergency care before or during transport to a hospital. They are the ones who respond to 911 calls by those suffering a medical emergency or to the need for help during a significant event such as fires, tornados, hurricanes, etc.
  • Medical assistant. This person works under the supervision of a physician. Generally, the assistant is the first contact a patient has when visiting for an appointment with the doctor. The assistant begins by taking the patient’s medical history and vital signs. The assistant discusses with the patient the reasons for the current visit. The assistant then documents these in the patient’s medical record. The assistant explains upcoming tests and procedures to the patient at the end of the visit.
  • Nursing assistant. These are in high demand. They work in hospitals under the registered nurse’s direction but generally have a closer patient interaction than registered nurses and perform direct patient care. They essentially perform all nursing duties but cannot administer medication. Most hospitals require nursing assistants to be certified. Nursing assistants are in great demand for both hospital care and working in long term care facilities.
  • Respiratory therapist. The therapist treats those with respiratory ailments like emphysema and asthma, and even cystic fibrosis. They may work in a hospital and respond to patients who are having trouble breathing. They are often needed for emergencies such as for patients who are in the throes of a heart attack or to treat drowning victims. They may work in neonatal units to treat newborns who have breathing issues.
  • Phlebotomist. Works in a medical laboratory and has the job of drawing blood for testing. They also are the ones who draw blood at blood banks or plasma donation centers.
  • Physical therapist. They work with patients who have mobility issues to help them regain movement after an injury or surgery, such as a joint replacement operation. They may work with patients with neurological problems, such as balance problems, or teach patients how to relearn certain daily living tasks after catastrophic accidents that have damaged their ability to take care of themselves. The physical therapist helps people learn how to walk after paralysis or adjust to life in a wheelchair. The therapist helps people learn how to use a prosthesis. Patients who have been in a coma often need to relearn skills such as walking. The physical therapist usually works with occupational therapists to help patients relearn how to walk, feed themselves, comb their hair, brush their teeth, and more.
  • Occupational therapist. They help people recover from illnesses or accidents that need to relearn skills of daily living so they can regain their independent life.   

Related: Can You Get Into Nursing School With C’s?

  • Speech therapist. This may require a four-year degree. Speech therapists often work in the school system to help children with speech impediments. They may help children with autism improve their speech skills. They work in hospitals to help those who have been injured in ways that affect their speech to relearn their skills.
  • Radiology technician. They administer x-rays and other imaging exams. They can specialize in certain radiology technology types, like administering ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRI exams. They may specialize in body parts such as imaging of certain bones, joints, or mammograms. They may also specialize in treating diseases and perform radiology treatments for cancer patients under a radiologist’s direction.
  • Surgical technologist. They assist surgeons in operating rooms using robotic surgical tools and other cutting-edge technological processes. They help with using fiber optics and laser technology.
  • Nutritionist. They work with patients whose health depends on proper nutrition, such as diabetics, obese patients, those with bulimia or anorexia, and others. They may work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, or have their own practice. They assist patients in making diet plans, learning portion control, and how to eat according to the demands of their health condition.
  • Cardiovascular technician. They test patients’ cardiovascular systems by using imaging, administering stress tests, and other tasks under a physician’s direction. They may also work in emergency departments to treat patients admitted for chest pain to diagnose and treat.

You can enter many of these professions with a certification training program. Some require a two-year degree or a training program specifically for the career path you choose. Some require a four-year degree.

Other Healthcare Career Paths 

Nursing Home Administrator. One possible career that does not involve direct patient care is a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Administrator. With baby boomers now facing the need for extended medical care or assisted living, the demand for administrators and assisted administrators is growing.

Administrators are responsible for making sure the residents receive quality care and have a quality of life no matter their health needs. They make sure care plans for each resident are appropriate for their health and personal needs. They are accountable for maintaining the home in keeping with state and federal laws and regulations.

Health Educator. This often requires a four-year degree. Educators work in communities to help people learn behaviors that promote health. Among their many tasks are to find the health care and social services needed.

Whatever you do, do not give up. Failing nursing school is not the end of the world for you. Now, you know you have options for still pursuing a career in healthcare. Remember the encouraging words of Thomas Edison, who said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” You may now be very close to success.

Images: serenzuiy/123RF; gstockstudio/123RF

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