What To Expect in Nursing School

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Marquette nursing student sitting at desk using laptop

If you are thinking about applying to nursing school, you’re probably also wondering what to expect in nursing school. While some factors remain constant across many nursing programs, your overall experience will vary depending on which type of nursing program you are enrolled in.

For example, you could enroll in a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Or, if you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and want to access a wider range of career opportunities, you’ll have the option of enrolling in an MSN program like Marquette University’s Second Degree Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing program. Many programs will be entirely in-person, but Marquette offers the option of in-person or online didactic nursing theory lectures and coursework (depending on which of our locations you enroll in). Regardless of whether you are enrolled at our main Milwaukee campus or our Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin learning site, you will need to be located nearby in order to participate in in-person skills labs, simulations and clinical courses.

An MSN degree from Marquette accelerates the path into a nursing career, qualifies you for future certification opportunities, and opens the door to future advanced practice nursing careers. Join us as we highlight what you can expect in a program like ours.


One of the most significant factors that will influence your experience in nursing school will be the curriculum administered by the program you are enrolled in. Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program is a challenging curriculum with the same rigorous standards as a traditional MSN program and is comprised of three components: in-person or online didactic coursework, skills lab and clinical simulation, and clinical courses.

In-Person or Online Coursework

When choosing our Direct Entry MSN program, you can choose from two separate format options, differentiated by the ability to complete your coursework either online or in person. Our main campus in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers a Direct Entry MSN program with in-person coursework, whereas our other learning site, based in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, provides a program format including online coursework.

While you will be learning the same information, in-person and online learning can look very different. So, how do you choose which one is right for you? Consider your preferred learning style and desired schedule. You might want to choose in-person learning if you would like a more traditional classroom experience and want a structured schedule. However, if your schedule is a little more varied and you think you would learn better from online engaged activities such as asynchronous virtual simulations and synchronous exam reviews with professors, the Pleasant Prairie Direct Entry MSN Learning Site program might be your best option.

two marquette students studying on their computers

On-Site Skills Lab and Clinical Simulation

No matter if you are enrolled at the Milwaukee or Pleasant Prairie location, you will attend your skills lab and clinical simulation in person. These labs will offer a chance for you to apply what you’ve been learning in a supervised and safe environment. In our skills labs, you will learn important nursing skills such as IV insertion, physical assessments, monitoring vital signs and beyond. During our clinical simulation, you’ll be able to apply those skills in simulated care scenarios like reacting in real time to a sudden cardiac arrest. The student experience in clinical simulations is based on cutting edge educational aides like high-tech medical manikins, as well as virtual and mixed reality scenarios.

Clinical Courses

Your clinical courses will be an opportunity to apply everything you’ve been learning in action. Depending on your program location, you will have the opportunity to learn in many of the top healthcare facilities in the Milwaukee metropolitan area, southern Wisconsin, and northern Illinois. You’ll be under the eye of Marquette’s excellent practicing clinicians, specialists in a wide array of practice areas, while you administer care to real patients in a real healthcare environment.

While there are no guarantees, it is common for a Marquette student to be offered a position at one of their clinical sites after graduating due to the network and connections they made during rotations. It is always important to put your best foot forward during your time in clinicals so that you can build your professional network and make an excellent first impression.

Study Routine

Another aspect of the nursing school experience is the intensity of your coursework. Because of this intensity, you will likely have to rethink and prioritize some of your study habits, as nursing school will be very different from your previous educational experiences. It will be imperative that you spend time studying each day, as catching up on material right before an exam won’t be a realistic option.

A good rule of thumb is to treat nursing school as your full-time job. Set up a daily routine for yourself to hold yourself accountable for your study time, even if you are completing your coursework online. Also, staying organized and keeping track of assignment deadlines and exam dates will help to ensure you stay ahead and give yourself the best chances of success.

marquette student studying

Student Support

While nursing school can be very challenging, at Marquette University, you won’t be alone when taking on the program. We offer a plethora of resources that our students can take advantage of throughout their time in the Direct Entry MSN program.

First, your professors will always be willing to help you when you have questions. Because of our small class sizes, you’ll have the chance to personally connect with your professors, and they’ll be willing to work with you one-on-one to help you work through anything you might be struggling with. Additionally, you can always speak with your academic advisor. They will be available to help you figure out how to get the most out of your nursing school experience. All our faculty want to see you succeed, so be sure to reach out if you need help.

You’ll also have the option of reaching out to our tutors, who can help you if you struggle to understand a topic. Our tutors are Direct Entry MSN graduates, so they are very familiar with the material you will be covering and may have even had some of the same professors as you.


Another critical aspect of the nursing school experience at Marquette University is the NCLEX-RN® prep that is present throughout the entirety of the program. The NCLEX-RN® is the exam you will take after you graduate, and passing it means that you can officially become a registered nurse, so it is not to be taken lightly. Because we are invested in your success on this exam at Marquette University, you’ll have plenty of tools and practice available during your time in the program.

During our Direct Entry MSN program, NCLEX-RN® prep starts in the first semester and is woven through until the very end. This consistency may be part of why Marquette has consistently higher than average first time NCLEX-RN® pass rates.

Nursing School Community

Aside from the material you’ll be learning, you might wonder: what is nursing school like in terms of your social life? While you may not have as much free time during nursing school, you’ll still have the opportunity to make lifelong friends in your cohort. You will find that you all will spend a lot of time together in classes and labs, forming study groups and experiencing clinicals together. Your fellow classmates can be great potential resources when you want help understanding a topic, or if you just need to talk to someone who understands what it’s like to be a nursing student.

Common Misconceptions

When it comes to some of the common misconceptions that students have before completing the Direct Entry MSN program, some have highlighted the generally unexpected level of intensity and the way that the curriculum focuses on the nursing model, clinical judgement, and critical thinking. Learning more about these aspects, and how to work with them, can help you succeed as a student while preparing for what the program will have to offer.

person in scrubs in front of wall with images of nurses

Level of Intensity

One of the biggest misconceptions about nursing school is that it will not be more difficult than other educational experiences. Even students who recognize that it will be challenging are surprised at the level of intensity, especially in their first semester, as it can be a big adjustment. While it will be challenging, as mentioned before, plenty of resources are available to you as a Marquette University student, including tutoring, faculty support, top-notch facilities and coordination among your cohort.

Because students can misjudge the intensity of the program, some expect that they will still be able to work a full-time job while pursuing a Direct Entry MSN degree. We highly recommend not working more than 16 hours per week during your time in the program, as you will need to dedicate a significant amount of time to your schoolwork.

While it is important to prepare yourself for the challenges of nursing school, don’t let it intimidate you. By understanding their intensity, you can better prepare yourself for a nursing program. Plus, spending this amount of time and attention toward your studies will help you become the best nurse you can be.

Focus on the Nursing Model, Clinical Judgement and Critical Thinking

Another common misconception is that many students initially begin the program thinking that most of their time will be spent learning hands-on nursing skills. While this is undoubtedly an important topic that is covered, much of your learning goes far beyond hands-on nursing skills. Instead, you will learn how to think like a nurse, how to assess your patients, and how to identify small changes in patient status. In-depth information on pathophysiology, pharmacology, and physical assessments, and the connection between these, is the key element of your education through the program. Marquette University nurses will graduate with the values of caring for the whole person, courageous leadership, engaged critical thinking, becoming a champion of social justice, and advocating for the vulnerable.

Ready To Get Started?

Now that you know what to expect in nursing school, it’s time to set yourself up for success. If you are interested in Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program, which can be completed in 19 to 21 months, contact our admissions advisers today to get more information. They are available to answer any questions you may have about our program so that you can take the first step toward your dream career as a nurse.