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Applying to Nursing School

Pre-licensure nursing programs are highly selective. What are some proactive steps a potential nursing school applicant can take to help set themselves apart from other candidates?

The first thing to think about is if nursing really is the right career path. Speak to nurses practicing in different fields and see what they like and do not like about their chosen profession. Good places to find a nurse willing to talk about their profession include a primary care provider office or a hospital's nursing department. Let the office or department know you have an interest in pursuing a career in nursing and if it would be possible to speak with one of their nurses to learn more about the field. Nursing forums can also be a useful tool for learning about what is currently going on in the field of nursing and what nurses are saying about the profession. Evaluate what you learn from these sources and see if it falls in line with your personality and career path goals.

“Nursing school is very difficult it's not just about memorizing information.” - Cheryl Perna, MSN, RN

Cheryl Perna, MSN, RN, Lecturer and Clinical Instructor, BSN Coordinator at the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Nursing, notes that potential nursing students need to “learn about the realities of the profession. It’s amazing helping others but there is not a lot of glamour. Long shifts and stressful work can be physically exhausting.”

Once it has been determined that nursing is the right path, the next step is to figure out how to be most competitive for a spot in a nursing program. No matter whom you speak with or what you do, there are no guarantees that anyone will be accepted to a nursing program. Cheryl Perna shares what she feels are the most important items for an nursing school applicant to understand:

  • Make sure you have strong grades in Anatomy and Physiology (Cheryl shares that "we have found a link with higher grades and success in the program.".)
  • Prepare for standardized tests (most programs use them).
  • Look carefully at admission requirements as schools are very different so that you know what you need to do.
  • Look for a program that meets your needs (an accelerated program may not work for a single parent who has to work, where as a traditional program may be too slow for others).
  • Research the school's NCLEX pass rates. This will let you know about the quality of their preparation. Ideal is above 90% (NCLEX is the exam that graduates take to become licensed as a RN) This can be found on the state's Board of Nursing website.

Realize that even by following these recommendations, acceptance to a nursing school is not guaranteed. Work experience, volunteering, essays, and letters of recommendation also play key roles in the admissions process. Nursing schools want to make sure the applicant wants to be there just as much as the school wants them to be there. It’s not just the applicant who will be investing money and time. The school also invests in the student and wants that student to be successful.

The hard work does not stop after admission. Cheryl Perna stresses that, “nursing school is very difficult it's not just about memorizing information.” Do your research and mentally prepare for the very challenging, yet very exciting road ahead.

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