Getting into Nursing Schools: A Comprehensive Guide

Registered nursing has soared in demand over recent years. It is a profession that provides numerous avenues for personal growth, career advancement, and greater earning potential. With all this in mind, it is easy to see why interest in nursing schools and training programs has risen in recent years. However, a rise in interest has directly resulted in a rise in competition. More and more applicants are competing over a limited number of slots, at the best nursing programs in the country. Getting into a nursing school is a costly process that students invest a great deal of time, effort, and money towards. Fulfilling the bare minimum requirements will not do. To ensure that you get into the nursing school of your choice, you must be ready to go above and beyond.

Fulfill Base Educational Requirements

 Before sending any applications, hopeful nursing students have to complete the bare minimum educational requirements for nursing programs. Most entry-level programs require students to present either a General Education Degree (GED) or a high school diploma. Most nursing programs also have a minimum GPA (Grade Point Average) requirement, so you want to make sure you excel in your studies, even at an early age. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) classes typically have a 3.0 GPA minimum, while ADN lessons sit at around 2.0 to 2.75.

Some nursing schools will require you to take prerequisite high school classes, before they consider your application. High grades in Chemistry, English, Biology, Anatomy/Physiology, and Geometry will open a number of opportunities for you. Good grades in Advanced Placement (AP) classes will also catch the eye of college admissions offices. In a field like nursing, every advantage matters.

Ask Yourself Difficult Questions

As was mentioned earlier, nursing is not a profession that you enter at a whim. Attempting to enter nursing school requires much investment, preparation, and commitment. You need to be sure that this is the right path for you before you dive headfirst into submitting your university applications. At this stage, you must be ready to look within and ask difficult questions such as:

On multiple levels, pursuing a BSN is a huge investment. You should only commit to this path if you are 100% sure that you are absolutely ready. Before you put pen to paper, here are a couple of things to ponder on:

  • Are you alright with the monetary cost?
    • From CNA to BSN, nursing programs are incredibly costly. Very few people can pay for the tuition fees upfront. To cover the costs, you may have to apply for financial aid, like a scholarship or loan. In theory, the high salaries of registered nursing work will allow you to cover these expenses over time. This only works if you are able to complete your nursing training, however.
  • Can you handle the competition?
    • Each nursing program only has so many slots available for students. To maximize your career and enter the best schools, you have to devote time and effort to study for entrance exams and gather optional requirements that will help you stand out from the crowd.
  • Are you prepared for the time commitment?
    • Most nursing programs will take two to four years, in order to complete. You have to be prepared to dedicate that time towards building the knowledge and developing the clinical skills necessary to excel in a healthcare setting.
Choose your Nursing Career Path

Once you have decided that nursing is the profession for you, you want to consider the career path you want to take. Nursing student hopefuls have a number of degree options available to them, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The best choice for you will depend on your short-term plans and long-term career goals. High school graduates can typically choose from four different options:

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Licensed Practical Nursing/Licensed Vocational Nursing (LPN/LVN) degrees are popular options for entry-level nursing. These HCPs are typically entrusted with direct patient care duties under the supervision of Registered Nurses (RNs), which includes bathing and dressing patients, moving them from room to room, and assisting with other basic daily tasks. Although these programs are less expensive and quicker to finish (four to twelve weeks for the former, and one year for the latter.) Be aware that they are not as well compensated as their other counterparts. CNAs make $36,220 annually, on average, while LPNs will earn $55,860 within the same time span. Students must also be prepared for very physically demanding work.

In comparison, RNs take on more complex, clinical responsibilities. They assist with the creation and implementation of care plans, prepare patients for diagnostic tests, help with medical procedures in a more involved capacity, and more. This greater role is reflected by their compensation, as RNs earn $89,010 every year, on average. To become an RN, you have two degree options available to you: a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). ADN degrees will take just two years to complete, while BSN programs are traditionally four years long. The shortened length also makes the Associate’s Degree a more affordable option, with regard to tuition. On the other hand, the BSN provides a number of key advantages over the ADN.

Healthcare facilities will prioritize BSN applicants over Associate’s Degree RNs, because of their more advanced training and education. There is proof that BSN nurses ensure better failure-to-rescue ratios and lower mortality rates, compared to ADN RNs.For this same reason, BSN RNs are compensated better in comparison. Finally, a BSN degree is the minimum educational requirement for Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Nurse Practitioner (NP) courses. If you plan to advance your career in the future, a BSN is far preferable.

Research, Research, Research

Once you have a clear understanding of your HCP career path, you can start looking for the best programs for you. You want to send multiple applications but do not do so indiscriminately. Do a sufficient amount of research, to ensure that the programs you are applying for are the right fit for you. Consider your location and budget constraints, while you are browsing through nursing program options. Keep them in mind when you look at a program’s length, tuition fee, and address. Be sure that the programs you choose are accredited by the State Board of Nursing, to make sure that any certification you acquire is officially recognized. Bodies like the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) are also reliable accrediting bodies, in most circumstances.

Finally, you want to make sure that the program will prepare you for success in the healthcare world. Look at the specializations they offer, the number of clinical rotations you will be asked to carry out, the reputation and success rate of former graduates, and the course material covered. Write a shortlist of programs that perfectly line up with your future plans and career goals. From there, you can look at application requirements, deadlines, and step-by-step instructions.

Prepare your Requirements

 When you apply for a nursing program, you must prepare to submit the required documentation. What is asked of you will depend on the school you apply to. For reference, most BSNs will ask you to present the following:

  • High school or GED diploma
    • You will also be asked to provide official transcripts. If your program has a GPA requirement, this proves that you have met it.
  • Letter of recommendation
    • Universities will typically ask for a faculty recommendation from at least two of your former teachers. Ask well in advance (about six weeks) of your application, so that you have your letter of recommendation on time.
  • Prerequisite courses
    • The required classes you will be asked to take, before applying to nursing school, will depend on the level of your class. For lower-level programs, you will be asked to finish subjects like English, Math, Anatomy and more. Advanced programs could ask you to take Physiology or Microbiology. Be sure you meet the requirements of your desired program before you send any applications.
  • Entrance test results
    • Nursing students will be asked to submit the results of their entrance exams before they are admitted. This can come in a myriad of formats: From the Standardized Admissions Test (SAT), to the ATI Test of Academic Skills (TEAS), and Kaplan Admissions Test. Research the scoring, content, and format of your test, to ensure that you are sufficiently prepared.
  • Supplemental Essay
    • In some cases, you will be required to write an entrance essay or a documented statement of intent. Here, you will explain in written form why you have chosen healthcare as a profession and what drew you to the profession in the first place. Answer these essay questions with honesty.

Though technically optional, consider submitting proof of volunteer work if applicable. Volunteering in healthcare facilities lets you gain valuable work experience that shines in any nursing school application. It also demonstrates your commitment to helping and serving patients in need.

Once you have prepared all the necessary requirements and documentation, you can send your application to your universities or colleges of choice. Feel free to check through everything, to make sure that you are presenting accurate information.

Ace the Interview

Last but not least, you can expect a final admissions interview. This allows nursing programs to see if you are a fit with their organization’s standards, culture, and mission statement. To ensure a smooth interview process, you want to do a great deal of preparation beforehand. Research on the school, so you have a better idea of what they look for in students. With that knowledge, sell yourself confidently but honestly. Highlight the skills and qualities that you know you possess, and why they would be a good fit for what the school has to offer. Finally, you want to do research on common interview questions. This lets you practice and create responses in advance that are well-reasoned yet concise.

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