Graduate entry into nursing: your training options

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Get in-the-know with nursing degrees, explore the routes you can take if you studied a different degree and find out about funding.

Five colorful icons representing nursing activities: a syringe, patient care, heart with heartbeat, IV drip, and medication capsules.

New entrants to the nursing profession are now expected to have studied for a nursing degree. If you are keen to train as a nurse but have already done a degree in another subject, read on to find out what your training options are.

Nursing degrees are also referred to as 'pre-registration' courses because, after completing them, nursing graduates can register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You have to register with the NMC before you can practise as a nurse.

What you learn on a nursing degree course

Full-time nursing degree courses are run at the approved educational institutions (AEIs), as decided upon by the NMC and are available in all four main branches of nursing:

  • adult
  • child
  • mental health
  • learning disabilities.

These courses generally take a minimum of three years to complete, although you may be able to take a shorter course if you have prior learning (see the section below). You usually need to decide which of the four branches you wish to train for before applying for a course. There are also ‘dual field’ degrees, which enable you to study two of the branches.

Half of your time will be spent in direct contact with patients and families. This clinical practice element could take place at a hospital or an independent or voluntary sector organisation. Alternatively, you may work in the home or in the community.

The other half of the programme will involve academic learning. Among other things, you will learn to understand, promote and provide effective care for patients, as well as to advocate (in an unbiased way) for choices that are positive for health and wellbeing.

Alternatives to an undergraduate degree in nursing

Start as a nursing degree apprentice

Nursing degree apprenticeships usually last for four years. As part of the course, you would be released by your employer to study at an approved education institution and to get experience in different practice settings. Apprentices are expected to have knowledge and skills to the same standard as those taking the traditional degree route in order to gain registration. Applicants to an apprenticeship course will also have to meet similar entry requirements.

Start as a nursing associate

Although a nursing associate is not a registered nurse, some people take on this role as a step towards becoming one. You’d help nursing care support workers and registered nurses – for example, by performing and recording clinical observations, as well as supporting those faced with bad news.

From here, you could take a shortened nursing degree (as you will have gained relevant previous learning – see below) or complete an apprenticeship in nursing. The experience will stand you in good stead to do well, particularly during the clinical practice element, and may help you to be sure that this is the right career for you.

Accreditation of prior learning

Your previous learning may meet some of the requirements of the nursing degree programme and allow you to complete it more quickly. Up to a third of a three-year programme can be accredited in this way, so you could potentially complete your nursing degree in two years.

Universities and colleges offer shortened nursing degree courses for candidates with relevant previous learning. These are sometimes known as accelerated programmes.

Examples of previous learning could include a health-based or biology-based degree. Degrees in social sciences, psychology or behavioural sciences could also be considered relevant. It’s down to the higher education institution offering your nursing programme to decide what counts as relevant and how much accreditation to award for it, so it’s important to get in touch with the admissions tutor to discuss your situation.

Entry requirements vary, so it could be worth contacting a number of different course providers for advice. You certainly shouldn't assume that your degree course is irrelevant. In the past, graduates of subjects as diverse as music and geography have been able to earn places on accelerated nursing programmes because they were able to show that their degree course had prepared them in some way for the nursing course.

For example, a geography graduate could highlight the social dimension of their degree, while a music graduate could show that the performance element of their degree (where they had to receive criticism, reflect on performance and develop practice) was very similar to the style of learning they would experience in a clinical setting.

Funding for nursing degree courses

Student nurses now need to apply for loans in the same way as students on other undergraduate courses. Like other students, they will be able to apply for non-repayable grants to cover additional childcare, adult dependants, parent learning costs and some costs towards travel to placements. Students with a disability can also apply for additional grant funding through the Disabled Students' Allowance.

From September 2020, student nurses on undergraduate and postgraduate courses will be provided with between £5,000 and £8,000 to fund their studies. This will not have to be repaid.

Visit the NHS website to find out more about your financial support during university .

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