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Private Nursing Schools: Why do prospective nurses choose private schools?

Nursing school: Public or private. It makes no difference to the state licensing board. What does matter is that the school is approved. Career goals also depend on program accreditation.

Public schools are generally cheaper. So why do prospective nurses choose private schools? Often it’s about lifestyle and timelines.

Types of Private Nursing School

Private colleges come in many varieties. Some private nursing schools, for example, are housed in faith-based institutions, and add their own perspectives to the curricula.

Among the most fundamental differences between private nursing schools: Some are for-profit (proprietary) while others are nonprofit. A proprietary school is being run as a business. Ideally, it's a fine-tuned one. The best schools find ways to personalize the experience and to meet the learning needs of their students, even if they enter with minor gaps. On the other hand, some schools do fail to prepare their students adequately for graduation, licensing examinations, and lifelong careers. It's important to do one's research.

Nursing School Admission: A Port in a Storm

Some students select proprietary schools because they want flexibility -- and they want to begin now and not in the distant future. RN programs at community colleges can be particularly hard to get into. Colleges have been moving away from wait lists, but those lists do still exist. Schools that have moved away have found methods to determine who receives their often limited seats and resources. Tacoma Community College notes that they now use a computer program to run their lottery; it is weighted so that the highest ranking students have a greater chance of getting in. However, there are no guarantees. Those whose lottery IDs aren’t drawn have to reapply (or turn elsewhere).

Public schools may admit just one or two cohorts a year, and the application process can belong. Giving oneself the best shot can mean signing up for prerequisites long in advance. Proprietary schools, on the other hand, may allow more prerequisites to be completed as co-requisites – and may guarantee a spot before demanding any ‘pre-nursing’ coursework at all.

Private, for-profit colleges tend to have more seats available. They do have admission standards in place – they have to – but it can be about determining who has a likelihood of success, not who is in the top centiles. The process may be less formal when there is not a pre-determined number of slots. The school may require explanation of any poor academic performance at the post-secondary level.

Students who are considering for-profit schools because of frustration with timelines and admission processes will want to balance the costs of education against the costs of waiting to begin their careers. They will want to figure in a number of factors, from available financial aid to the chances of actually being successful in the academic environment they choose. Schools that accept financial aid publish gainful employment data.

Flexible Options

Flexibility continues to be a priority after admission. They may organize their programs to accommodate different schedules and learning preferences. It is likely that the school will not operate on a traditional schedule and that the student will not be required to progress through the program with a cohort. Options include distance learning, one-class-at-a-time continuous enrollment, self-pacing, and the opportunity to adjust pacing as one goes. Advisors may be available at one’s fingertips – and on one’s own time. Proprietary schools have traditionally been designed for working professions; they are innovators.

Some private schools are of course housed in physical buildings. They can still feel smaller. Some students feel less lost than a large state school – both literally and figuratively.

Notably, though, there has been some blending of roles and options between private and public schools. Many state schools do offer online coursework.

Quality Standards

Nursing schools must meet quality standards, whether public or private, proprietary or nonprofit. In almost all states, pre-licensure programs are approved by the Board of Nursing. Most states include pass rates on the licensing examination among their requirements; repeated failure to meet standards can result in loss of approval. States do vary, however, in the level of oversight they provide. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing is a resource with regard to standards.

Accreditation is an added level of protection. Program-level accreditation and regional accreditation can be important for those who want to transfer credits, further their educations, and make it to the highest levels of practice. Nursing schools may hold program-level accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Both public and private schools are eligible for regional accreditation at the institutional level. Private schools that accept students too freely and don’t guarantee their success ultimately lose status. However, the process is not immediate. Students need to be savvy. Nurses are in high demand, but school reputation still matters.

Ultimately, individual circumstances will determine the appropriateness of a particular program. How well are schools – private and public – doing at facilitating clinical experiences? What resources and facilities do they provide? What populations do they cater to? Some proprietary schools specialize in career mobility programs. Some organizations partner with proprietary schools to make advancement a reality for their students. In these instances, the choice may be clear.

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