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Getting into a Nursing Program

In the coming years, there is expected to be high demand for registered nurses. Still, programs are competitive. The real obstacle to increasing the workforce is often at the educational level: having enough classes, enough locations for clinical training and enough nursing instructors. Meanwhile, nursing programs screen their applicants carefully: Who has what it takes to be successful? Who is a little more likely to complete the program, pass the licensing exam, and build a career?

student pondering getting into a nursing program

There are admission standards at both the associate degree (ADN) and baccalaureate (BSN) levels. BSN programs are often more academically competitive. Higher level nursing programs are also more likely to ask for a resume, personal statement, and references. BSN programs include additional coursework in areas like nursing research, leadership, and public health. As a BSN student, you’ll be doing more advanced college level reading and writing; they want to make sure you have the skills.

However, ADN programs typically do have admission standards that go beyond those of the school they’re housed in.

Tips and Advice for getting into nursing school...

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Academic Requirements for Nursing Programs

Expect some prerequisites at either level, but more for BSN programs. Common prerequisites at the ADN level include anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and developmental psychology; there will likely be some science courses required. At the baccalaureate level, statistics is a common prerequisite. Science requirements may include anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and biology. Chemistry sometimes makes the list.

What about grades? BSN programs often set the minimum GPA at 3.0. ADN programs are more likely to set the minimum somewhere in the 2.0 to 2.75 range. Grades in prerequisite courses may be considered separately. *These are minimum requirements and to be competitive you should aim much higher.

When interest exceeds available spots, grades are often an important factor. This can happen at both levels. It’s not uncommon for students with GPAs far above 3.5 to be turned away from BSN programs. Still, nursing admission is like college admission: Different programs put weight on different things. Exceptional students are sometimes admitted to bachelor’s programs with less than a 3.0. Community colleges, meanwhile, do sometimes give priority to students who live in their service area.

Tests are generally required at some point – sometimes at the school stage, sometimes at the program stage. At the ADN level, the focus is often on having general academic aptitude: for example, reading at the 12th grade level. But again, if slots are limited, the TEAS may help you make the cut.

Tips for Getting into Nursing School: The Experience Factor and Such

If you’re planning to apply to nursing programs, start with the basics: Learn CPR. This may be among the admission criteria. It also demonstrates a commitment to learning.

Community service and volunteer work can look good to the admission committee, particularly at the BSN level. Rebecca Gary, PhD, RN, FAAN and Admissions Committee Chair at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University notes that community service involvement is positively reviewed by the committee in their selection process. Hospitals often have one or more volunteer coordinators. If you’re looking at a competitive program, try to stick with the same position for a length of time. That’s because your references need to be people who have known you for a while. Another option – a paid one – is to become a Certified Nursing Assistant. If your grades aren’t top notch, these experiences can make you more competitive.

"We look at leadership qualities and prior life experiences." ~ Rebecca Gary, PhD, RN, FAAN and Admissions Committee Chair

The school will want to know, at the minimum, that you know the expectations and are committed to the field. According to the Tulane University pre-health advising center, competitive programs tend to ask for 100 – 400 hours of job shadowing. There are several sources to turn to find job shadowing opportunities. One is your local AHEC (Area Health Education Center). You might also look on the website of your nursing workforce center. (A starting place is the site of the Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers.)

If you’re still in high school, you can opt for nursing camp – some are absolutely free. There are also HOSA chapters in high schools and colleges; the organization develops skills and leadership ability in future health practitioners and giving them opportunities to network.

Visit the nursing school or schools you are planning on applying to. Sit in on classes to get a feel for what it is all about. Talk to students to learn their perspectives. They may even share some of their own tips on getting into a nursing program. Talk to the professors. Talk to the nursing school advisors. The advisors can give a a much more clear picture as to the competitiveness of the program, what the admissions committee may be looking for and where they place the most weight.

Your essay can go a long way in convincing the admissions committee that you have the academic ability to meet the demands of the nursing program. Share the path you took to deciding that nursing school was the journey you want to pursue. Make the essay unique. Write about what has motivated you to pursue this path. Describe what you will be contributing to the nursing field. Make sure to include why you have selected the school you are applying to including what makes it a good fit for you and them. Make sure the essay is well organized. Proof read your essay many times and have others you respect read it and make suggestions.

Supportive recommendation letters can carry significant weight during consideration by the admissions committee. Make sure they count. Just as you do with your essay, make sure to proof read and spell check the letters written on your behalf. Volunteering and community service can also be a great place to make connections and impress supervisors who may be able to provide the recommendation letter that sways the admissions committee in your favor.

Neatly package and organize your application and make sure it arrives prior to the deadline, preferably quite a bit prior. Make sure all of the answers are answered. Check, double check and triple check your application packet to make sure it is complete. You may even want to quadruple check it.

Be resilient. There are many qualified applicants who are not admitted on the first attempt, second attempt, third attempt, and so on. Hang in there and it can work out. It can be very discouraging, but know that you are not the only one going through the process. Stay positive. This is a good all around life skill as well.

*Make sure you speak with the nursing program advisor at the nursing school you are interested in, if possible, regarding what specifically the admissions committee wants to see in an applicant, what sets applicants apart from the rest and how the criteria are weighted in their decision process. You may get lucky and learn more than you expected. Good luck!

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