Helping patients and their families, when they need it most.

What is nursing?

Nurses are the indispensable frontline of healthcare, the world over.

Taking on the primary care of patients and their families, nurses are the most important part of our health services. Combining their medical expertise with an attentive and supporting nature, a nurse’s job is to look after the physical, psychological, and social needs of every patient.

With a shortage of nurses in the UK, and in many other countries, a nursing degree will offer you fantastic employment options, both in public and private healthcare.

Nursing course entry requirements

You'll need to demonstrate a high level of technical ability and the right soft skills for the job. The most important A level is normally biology. Other subjects to help your application include another science (chemistry), or a social science (psychology, sociology).

Many universities will take nursing students who show an aptitude and passion for care, even if they don’t have a relevant academic record. Always check with the universities that you’re applying to, to know what to aim for.

Chances are, you’ll need to attend an interview to get onto a nursing degree, particularly if your offer is conditional. In your interview, you should demonstrate why you have the right character for care: resilience, attention to detail, timekeeping, communication, empathy, and compassion.

What you will need to do
  • Apply by 15 January
  • Attend an interview
  • Submit a personal statement
  • Show work experience
What you won't need to do
  • Submit a portfolio
  • Audition for a place
  • Take an entry test

Why study nursing at university?

Nursing is well known for being a challenging job that requires long hours and hard work. But playing a role in saving lives, and caring for the wellbeing of patients and their families, offers an outstanding level of job satisfaction.

No two days are ever the same. If you thrive on pressure, variety, and being kept on your toes, nursing is a career that will suit you to the core. You’ll learn all about health science, social science, technology, theory, care, support, and everything in between. You can specialise in particular disciplines, but whichever route you choose, you’ll leave university with the ability to make a positive impact on people’s lives.

From a practical point of view, the NHS is the biggest employer in the country, and nursing is also the most popular degree, yet there is still a need for more nurses each year. The opportunity to have your study funded or part funded, along with great employment prospects and good progression, makes nursing an extremely attractive career.

99% of nursing graduates are employed or studying within six months of completing their course, with most earning around £22k in the beginning. This can eventually rise to £70k, for those who go on to become consultants.

Some modules you may study are:

  • Introduction to clinical care
  • Physiology for health
  • Therapeutic approach and practice
  • Epidemiology
  • Complex care
  • Critical care
  • Public health
  • Planning patient care

Almost all graduates will start their careers as entry-level nurses, particularly in the NHS, but there are many routes and specialisms to follow afterwards. These include children’s health, mental health, and community health.

Finance and bursaries

A new grant has been announced for nursing, midwifery, and some allied health professional students from August 2020 – offering students between £5,000 and £8,000, and which doesn’t need to be paid back.

All new and continuing degree-level students enrolled on a course in September 2020 will receive at least £5,000 a year. 

Some students will be eligible for an additional £3,000, creating a total grant of £8,000 per year. Further details of eligibility will be confirmed by the government in early 2020.

Students will still be able to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company.

Find out more about the new grant here.

Am I guaranteed a job after my degree?

A degree in nursing will put you in high demand, but it won’t guarantee you a job. You’ll still need to apply, attend an interview, and impress your potential employer. Your prospects are much greater than many degrees, but don’t take it for granted.

Entry requirements

A levels – Entry requirements range from CCC to ABB, with the universities and colleges most commonly asking for BBB.

Scottish Highers – Entry requirements for Highers (the most common qualification) range from BBCC to AABBB, with universities or colleges most frequently requiring BBBB. Occasionally, universities ask for Advanced Highers to supplement Highers. If Advanced Highers are requested, universities or colleges typically ask for BB.

Vocational courses – Other Level 3/Level 6 qualifications (e.g. Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Extended Diploma, or an SCQF Level 6) may be accepted as an alternative to A levels/Highers by some providers. It’s essential that you check alternative entry requirements with universities or colleges.

What can you do with a nursing degree?

Whether in the NHS or private, a vocational nursing degree will see most graduates start their careers as a nurse.

Many will go on to specialise or progress, while some will immediately enter related jobs, including:

What’s it like to study nursing?

There’s no denying that studying nursing is challenging. You will need to take in lots of information, while developing the resilience for long hours and high pressure situations. You’ll learn a lot of theory in the classroom, then put it into practise and test on clinical placement. You’ll generally split your time 50:50 between the two.

As with many degrees, you will spend your first year studying a number of core modules. In your second and third year, you’ll be able to specialise and branch into specific areas of nursing which interest you the most. The most common fields are adult, child, mental health, and learning disabilities.

On clinical placement, you will observe qualified nurses carrying out their duties, and have the opportunity to learn directly from them. As your course progresses, you will assist nurses, and eventually treat your own patients under supervision. You can expect to be working long hours during your placements, which is good preparation for the shift work you’re likely to enter into once you graduate.

During your degree, you can expect the following:

  • writing reports and essays
  • carrying out research projects
  • lectures and seminars
  • practical demonstrations
  • observing professional nursing
  • supervised practical nursing

You won’t be getting as much free time as some students do, as you’ll be spending upwards of 20 hours in the classroom, in addition to your clinical placement shifts.

Are you considering an accelerated degree? Click here to read more about the possibility of completing your undergraduate course on a shorter timescale. 


If you want to combine work and study while earning a salary, you could consider an apprenticeship. Which apprenticeships are available, and how you apply, depends on where you live.

Find out more about apprenticeships across the UK.

There are over 60 apprenticeships in the health and science sector available in England, with more in development.

Each apprenticeship sets out occupational standards for specific job roles, designed by employers. The standards outline the skills, knowledge, and behaviours required to demonstrate that an apprentice is fully competent in the job role.

Degree apprenticeships (Levels 5 — 7)

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