Considering the prevailing shortage of nurses, it’s surprising that nursing schools reject more than 55 percent of eager candidates each year. According to the results of an American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) survey, more than 75,000 qualified applicants to professional nursing programs were turned away in 2011. As the profession attracts more hopefuls with no corresponding growth in qualified faculty, classroom space, and clinical teaching sites, enrollment in a nursing program is still a very competitive process.
Although nursing schools across the nation are packed to capacity and turning way eight out of every ten applicants, gaining a coveted slot is still possible. Following are six tips for applying to nursing school.
Do your homework
Nursing is a diverse profession. It offers several career paths that you can follow. Even if you’re just looking to obtain a license to practice as a registered nurse, consider the various career paths and plan your education accordingly. Determine what pre-requisite courses you must complete to qualify for admission and earn better than average scores on all courses. Try to pass the classes on your first attempt as the repeating courses can be ominous. One of the best ways to research a school is to attend an information session. Dress professionally in comfortable clothing, arrive on time, and ask questions. Make the most of your one-on-one time with a school advisor to clear up any cloudy issues on the application packet.
Compare nursing schools in your area (or in another state if you need to)
Choosing a college starts with an evaluation of your goals and current resources. Each state has a minimum of 15 accredited nursing schools offering ADN and BSN degrees. The admission requirements, environment, tuition costs, and offerings come in all shapes and sizes. Your goal is to compare the programs to arrive at a shortlist for sending out your applications. Arrange visits and interviews for each school and reach out to admissions personnel who will help you along the way. If you’re stuck for some reason, you can develop a shortlist by identifying 3 to 5 reasons for applying to the schools on the shortlist. Don’t’ get so caught up in the outward trappings that you fail to consider if the school fits your current needs, future goals, and learning style.
After confirming your shortlist, submit your applications early as seats are always limited. The school may begin accepting students well before the deadline date, so the earlier you submit your application, the better your chances of acceptance. While many schools make allowances for late submissions, an application turned in after the deadline looks unprofessional and paints you in a bad light. Check the application thoroughly for misspelled words, incomplete responses, and legibility. Respond to all questions or use (N/A) for not applicable where appropriate. A poorly filled out application may do more damage than a late submission. So put your best foot forward to avoid being placed on a dreaded wait list.
Use the interview to make a good impression
Your nursing student interview can make or break your chances of enrollment in the school of your choice. After showcasing your academic record on the application and presenting your glowing references, the admissions interview may be the final piece of the application puzzle. It is important that you look and act professionally during the process. Dress appropriately – if you don’t know what to wear, ask. Take along any requested documents, making sure they’re crisp and clean. Arrive on time, introduce yourself with a firm handshake, and speak clearly. Be courteous, make eye contact, and listen carefully to provide appropriate answers to each question. Have a few questions on hand to show that you’ve done your research. Most important is to relax and be yourself. A hand-written follow-up thank you provides a pleasant and surprising conclusion to the interview. Send a succinct thank you card or email immediately following the interview.
Flaunt your patient-care skills
Your nursing application should demonstrate an equal balance of knowledge and patient care skills. Nursing schools want students who are equally compassionate as they are smart. A strong foundation in patient care is more important than ever today, as many nurses work outside the traditional hospital environment. Demonstrate your communication skills during the interview and provide detailed information on your responsibilities and achievements as a CNA on your essay or application. After reviewing your academic qualifications, admissions officers will weigh in your clinical experience and your commitment to the profession. During your stint as a CNA, it is important that you make strong connections with influential healthcare professionals (your supervisor for example) to obtain a recommendation that will carry more weight than one obtained from a former teacher.
Get back up after a rejection
As you set out the make your dream to become a nurse a reality, it may be shocking and disappointing if the school rejects your application. But don’t despair. Call the admissions department to learn the reason(s) for the rejection and implement a plan of action to succeed if you apply again. Remember, enrolling in a nursing program is a competitive process as thousands of other hopefuls are trying to make an impression on the admissions officer. Take the opportunity to improve your grades, gain more experience in the field, and study for success on the admissions exam. Do what it takes to stand out from the rest, even it if means pleading for face time with the decision makers. If all else fails, consider relocating to an area where enrollment is less competitive. One rejection or even ten of them is no reason to give up. If nursing is your calling, the hard work, rejection, and wait lists will be worth it in the end.