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A complete guide to nursing degrees

Discover everything you need to know about nursing degrees, from what to study to career options.

Nurse at work

Are you looking for a hands-on career that matters? Or perhaps you’ve already been curious about entering the healthcare profession but aren’t quite sure what steps to take?

Navigating your career, especially within an industry as vast as healthcare, can feel overwhelming. But we’re here to help. Here’s your go-to guide to everything you need to know about entering one of the most essential roles in healthcare: nursing. 

The best place to start? Check out one of FutureLearn’s online nursing degrees

What is a nursing degree?

A nursing degree is an academic program that provides comprehensive training and education in the field of nursing. It equips individuals with the knowledge, skills, and competencies necessary to work as registered nurses or advance in various healthcare roles. The curriculum typically covers subjects such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, healthcare ethics, and clinical practice, preparing students to deliver quality patient care in diverse healthcare settings.

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What are the different types of nursing degrees?

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSc Nursing) is often the first step for those just starting their journey to become a nurse. Within this undergraduate program, students can often specialise in various areas, including: 

  • BSc Nursing (Adult)
  • BSc Nursing (Children)
  • BSc Nursing (Mental Health)
  • BSc Nursing Studies (Learning Disabilities)

If you’re already a qualified nurse or healthcare professional, there are several postgraduate degree options you can take to further your expertise:

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSc Nursing)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Nursing (PGDip Nursing)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Nursing (PGCert Nursing)
  • Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)

How long does it take to get a nursing degree?

The duration of a nursing degree program varies depending on the level of the degree, with an Associate Degree typically taking two to three years, a Bachelor’s Degree usually requiring four years, and advanced degrees such as a Master’s or Doctorate potentially taking an additional two to four years or more.

  • Bachelor’s degree: 3-4 years
  • Master’s degree: 1-2 years 
  • Postgraduate Diploma: 8-16 months
  • Postgraduate Certificate: 4-8 months

What are the entry requirements for a nursing degree?

You can expect each nursing programme to have its own entry requirements. Most, however, require the following to enrol:

  • A-levels: BBB
  • Scottish Highers: ABBB
  • BTEC/Diploma: DDM

Additionally, candidates must hold GCSEs in English, Maths, and Science at grade C or above, with A-levels or equivalent qualifications incorporating one or two sciences, including Biology.


  • Relevant academic qualifications
  • Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check
  • Completion of health checkups and immunizations
  • Genuine desire to help others
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Resilience


  • Prior work experience or volunteering in a healthcare setting
  • Shadowing or interactions with professional nurses
  • Knowledge of nursing and healthcare policies
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Proficiency in IT

These criteria ensure nursing students are not only academically prepared but also equipped with the necessary qualities and experiences to excel in a demanding yet rewarding field.

How much does a nursing degree cost?

The cost of a nursing degree varies depending on factors such as the type of degree, the institution, and whether you’re studying full-time or part-time. In the UK, undergraduate degrees typically cost around £9,250 per year for domestic students, with most Scottish students studying for free. International students may face higher fees. 

For master’s degrees, costs range from £12,000 to £25,000, depending on the program’s duration and whether it’s full-time or part-time. Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) programs, offering shorter study periods, average around £5,000, while Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert) are generally the most affordable option, ranging from £2,000 to £12,000. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for students to receive funding and scholarship support to cover tuition fees. And UK healthcare students may even qualify for an NHS bursary. This means you can get financial support provided by the National Health Service, making it easier for you to reach your career goals and help others.

How to get into a degree in nursing

In the UK, applying for an online nursing degree is pretty much the same as any other subject. That means you’ll need to apply for an undergraduate programme through the UCAS system or a university website.

Part of that application will likely involve writing a personal statement that summarises why you’re the perfect candidate for that degree, including details about your qualifications, passion, experience, and aspirations. Here are some tips when filling out your personal statement:

  • Demonstrate your passion for nursing: Explain why you’re interested in this field, your motivation for helping people, and your suitability.
  • Highlight your relevant experience: Give details about any work experience, volunteering, care, or relevant personal experiences, and discuss what you learned from them.
  • Show understanding. Working in healthcare isn’t a piece of cake, so you should demonstrate that you understand the challenges that come with working as a nurse and how you’ll navigate them.
  • Be specific: Demonstrate that you’ve done your research on the specific course that you’re applying to, and explain why you want to specialise in your chosen field.

What skills do you gain in earning a nursing degree?

There are so many fascinating skills to learn when it comes to nursing. Many of them are physical skills to help you carry out patient care, but you’ll also develop essential soft skills.

Hard skills:

  • Checking vitals
  • Administering medication
  • Patient assessment
  • Wound care
  • Medical documentation

Soft skills:

  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking

How difficult is a nursing degree?

Embarking on a nursing degree demands resilience and dedication, reflecting the challenges of the healthcare profession. Despite the steep learning curve, the journey is rewarding for those passionate about nursing. Students find support in peers and faculty, fostering a collaborative learning environment essential for success in professional practice.

What job can I get with a nursing degree?

As a recent nursing graduate, your career options are diverse. You can choose to work in various settings, such as public hospitals, private clinics, communities, or individual homes. Additionally, your nursing degree opens doors to numerous career paths, including roles as an adult nurse, children’s nurse, mental health nurse, midwife, paramedic, social worker, counsellor, nurse educator, researcher, advanced practitioner, or health service manager.

How much do nursing graduates earn?

As much as your passion for nursing may be about your desire to help others, money is still important. Salaries for nursing graduates depend on factors such as location, level of experience, and specialisation. 

However, newly qualified nurses in the UK are paid at NHS band 4 level, which means you’ll be earning between £28,407 and £30,639. As you gain experience and new specialisms, you can work your way up to NHS band 7, and be paid as much as £54,011.

Consider an online nursing degree as your next step

Need a more flexible study schedule so you can work around your long list of commitments? Or feel more comfortable studying in a virtual environment? Online nursing degrees offer a perfect alternative and often help you save on costs.

FutureLearn’s fully online MSc Nursing takes between 1-2 years to complete, and our MSc Nursing: Postgraduate Certificate in Nursing offers a cheaper alternative for those looking to try an online postgraduate qualification. Online degrees are a great way to earn your degree at your own pace, around other commitments.

>> Explore our range of online degrees and transform your career today

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