This national study compares the social and demographic characteristics of direct and delay entry nursing students in a earlier group of 1551 students in higher education programs (1987‐1990) with the national study group of 2295 students sampled in 1995. Using a specially constructed socio‐economic variable for comparison the analyses demonstrated a significant difference in the socio‐economic level of the household for the direct entry group but not for the delay entry group. There was also a significant difference between males and females in their direct and delay entry patterns. Further, there was a significant difference in the location of school attended for most of their secondary education for the direct entry group but not for the delay entry group. For both direct and delay entry students there was a significant difference in the number of siblings, the level of education attained by the mother and the income received by the mother in the households of the earlier and latter study groups. Copyright © 1996 HERDSA.