18 Expert Tips to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Nursing School
Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Are you considering a career as a nurse? Perhaps you want to apply but find yourself wondering how to improve your chances of getting into nursing school? If this sounds like you, you are not alone. Several hundred thousand applicants apply to nursing programs nationwide each year. In this article, I will share 18 expert tips to improve your chances of getting into nursing school, offer insight on things that may impact your chances of acceptance, and answer some frequently asked questions.
What Percentage of Students Get into Nursing School?
Each year, approximately 82% of nursing school applicants are accepted into nursing programs at colleges and universities in the United States. These numbers vary based on need, geographic location, and the ratio of available nurse educators to prospective students. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports enrollment in baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral nursing programs increased by 5.6%
in 2020, with more than 250,000 students studying nationwide.
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Is Nursing School Really That Hard to Get Into?
In addition to competitive nursing admission criteria, there is a disproportionate number of nurse educators compared to the number of nursing school applicants. These factors alone indicate getting into nursing school can be difficult. If you know a program's admission requirements and work to meet its criteria, you can increase your chances of getting into nursing school.
9 Ways of Evaluating Your Chances of Getting into Nursing School
The idea of getting into nursing school can be exciting but also stressful. Do you find yourself asking, "What are my chances of getting into nursing school?” Here are a few things to consider to help evaluate your chances of admission.
1. What is the school’s acceptance rate?
Some nursing schools have higher acceptance rates than others. If you want to improve your chances of getting into nursing school, schools with higher acceptance rates should be on your list of possibilities. Keep in mind you do not have to sacrifice a quality education simply because a school has a high acceptance rate. Look for accredited nursing programs that fit your personal and academic needs.
2. Find out the average GPA of admitted students.
In 2019, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling
reported three out of four colleges surveyed considered student grades an essential factor when making admissions decisions. College counselors and admission coaches look at your high school grade point average and class rank, at least in the first round of application reviews.
3. Ask if standardized tests are required and know where you stand.
Many colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies, especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, standardized test scores are valuable when it comes down to admissions choosing between candidates. Find out if the nursing schools that interest you require test scores, the minimum score preferred, and compare it to your current score. If you have not tested, do so as soon as possible. If you have tested and time allows, retest and try to improve your score.
4. What was your class rank when you graduated high school?
Although college applications may not ask where you ranked compared to your high school classmates, knowing your status can help you gauge your chances of getting into nursing school. High class rank is associated with your grade point average, which is used to determine eligibility.
5. Did you take honors classes, and if so, did you pass them?
Nursing colleges that are selective look at not only your grades but also the type of academic program you completed in high school. If you took advantage of opportunities to challenge yourself academically and were successful, this could be a favorable sign.
6. Talk with program alumni.
Graduates of a nursing program can give you valuable information to help determine your chances of admission. Alumni can tell you what type of competition you can expect and what the admission process is like. Additionally, previous students can give you tips on what the program looks for in applicants.
7. Consider admission criteria and determine if you measure up.
If you know the admission requirements for a nursing program, it is not difficult to evaluate where you stand. Get admissions checklists from the schools that interest you to see if you have met their requirements. If you meet the criteria, your chances of admission are higher.
8. Do you have relevant extracurricular activities and experiences?
Colleges and universities are interested in how students spend time outside the classroom. Admission teams look for students who have taken the initiative to pursue their interests in depth. Perhaps you have volunteered at a senior center or daycare. Maybe you have been involved with organizing a local health fair. Anything you do to show your interest in health, wellness, and nursing will make your application more appealing to nursing programs and improve your chances of getting into nursing school.
9. Ask nursing faculty what they look for in applicants.
Have you heard the old saying, “It came straight from the horse’s mouth?” Basically, it means if you want to know something, go right to the source. If you want to evaluate your chances of getting into a nursing program, one of the easiest things you can do is ask program faculty what they want in an applicant.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING INTO NURSING SCHOOL?
(Here are the 18 expert tips to improve your chances of getting into nursing school.)
1. Have a strong “Why,” and be prepared to defend it.
You will be asked why you want to become a nurse, and “making good money” is not the answer your future instructors want. If you want to increase your chances of getting into nursing school, understand the role of a nurse and be prepared to explain why becoming a nurse is important to you.
2. Choose a program that fits your goals.
Where you choose to get your nursing degree is important. While factors such as accreditation, NCLEX pass rate, and school reputation are important, they are not the only things you should think about when choosing a school. Self-evaluation will help you determine which nursing schools are a better fit for you and your goals. For example, do you prefer online learning or classroom instruction? If you want to graduate in as little time as possible, an associate degree program may be the better option for you. Keep in mind a nursing program may have excellent reviews and high NCLEX pass rates, but if it does not offer an environment and learning options that fit your needs, you should choose another option.
3. Apply to several schools.
When you apply to more than one nursing program, you improve your chances of getting into nursing school. If you find several schools you feel will be a good fit for your academic and professional goals, apply to each of them. It is always good to have options and be the one with choices.
4. Apply early.
Submitting your application late pretty much guarantees rejection. Please start your application early and submit it before the deadline, preferably with time to spare. If you do this, you will have time to submit any additional documents if necessary.
5. Make sure you meet all program requirements for admission.
When you find a nursing school that interests you, find out the admission criteria for the program and be sure you meet the requirements. For instance, some schools have removed the requirement for standardized test scores like the ACT
, while others still require them. If you are interested in a school that asks for test scores, be sure to test early and have official scores sent to the school. While some nursing schools will offer admission to applicants with no previous college credit, others require candidates to complete some prerequisite coursework before applying. Familiarize yourself with admission criteria and do what you must to accomplish those requirements before applying.
6. Gather all necessary documents and submit them with your application.
Nothing says "Pick me" better than a complete application packet. If you want to increase your chances of getting into a nursing program, preparing a complete application with all the required documents will help.
7. Be “active” with volunteer activities relevant to nursing
. Most nursing schools require candidates to have volunteer experience in some healthcare capacity. The number of hours each school requires varies, so be sure to check out the websites of schools that interest you and work to get at least the minimum required hours.
8. Schedule an appointment with an admissions counselor.
Anyone can fill out an online application for nursing school, but when you take the initiative to schedule an appointment to discuss your options, you get others' attention. Once you find nursing schools that interest you, ask for an appointment to meet with an admissions advisor. Prepare for the meeting like you would for a job interview by dressing professionally and arriving on time. Make a list of questions you have and ask them in person instead of via email or phone. Nursing schools receive hundreds of applications each year. When you put forth the effort to have an in-person interview, you give the admissions team a face to remember instead of just a pile of papers in an application packet.
9. Follow through with your pre-admission academic plan.
When you meet with an admissions counselor, chances are they will help you create an academic plan including prerequisite classes necessary for admission to the nursing program. As soon as possible, begin taking any pre-nursing classes, standardized tests, or TEAS, as required.
10. Get a job in healthcare.
Although previous healthcare experience may not be a requirement for admission, it certainly doesn't hurt. Some typical jobs for nursing students or student candidates include medical receptionist, ward clerk, and nursing assistant.
11. Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).
While being a CNA is not necessarily an admission requirement for nursing school, being certified looks good on your resume, which you will submit with your application. In addition to the perk of looking good on your application, becoming a nursing assistant will give you experience with direct patient interaction and hands-on care.
12. Get glowing letters of recommendation.
You will likely be asked to submit letters of professional recommendation with your application. These letters are crucial parts of the application process. The best letters of recommendation come from former employers, teachers, or college instructors. Whenever possible, ask for letters from nurses who have, at minimum, the same degree for which you are applying. For example, if you plan to apply to a BSN program, ask a registered nurse with a baccalaureate degree or higher in nursing. If you have any previous college experience, a college professor can offer a letter that speaks to the likelihood of your success in the program. Be sure each letter has the author's correct contact information and credentials.
13. Prepare a stand-out Statement of Intent.
A Statement of Intent is your opportunity to tell the nursing and admissions faculty about you, discuss your personal and professional goals, and give a compelling statement of why you are a good fit for their program. Nursing programs want students who are confident in their decision to become a nurse and able to express why they are good candidates. A good Statement of Intent can significantly impact your chances of getting into nursing school.
14. Take the TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills).
The TEAS examination
assesses and measures a candidate’s potential to succeed in nursing school. Although some nursing schools do not require applicants to take the exam, candidates who test and score well are often preferred over candidates who do not take the test or who score poorly.
15. Prepare a professional resume.
Most nursing schools request a resume to accompany your application. Even if you do not have extensive work experience or previous healthcare experience, you can still prepare a resume that is professional. It would be best to type your resume on white or off-white colored paper. Avoid fancy fonts which can make the resume look chaotic or messy. According to Indeed
, the best fonts for resumes include Arial, Cambria, Calibri, and Times New Roman. Be sure to highlight successes such as certifications, honors, awards, and professional affiliations, as these demonstrate a willingness to learn.
16. Be prepared for the admissions interview.
Many nursing schools require candidates to participate in an interview with nursing faculty before offering admission to their program. The interview is all about making a great first impression. If asked to interview, treat it like a job interview. Dress professionally, show up early, and be prepared with great answers to potential interview questions.
17. Be honest about any concerns or issues you have that may affect your chances of success in the program.
Let's face it, we all have problems. While it is necessary to be positive when meeting with admissions counselors or nursing faculty, honesty is equally important. For example, if you have areas of academic concern that you feel may affect your chances of success in the program, discuss options for helping you improve. As a nursing instructor, I can honestly tell you, it is easier to work with students who understand their problem areas and want to improve than to work with students who would instead try and impress me.
18. Be persistent.
If you want to improve your chances of getting into nursing school, don't give up. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a nationwide shortage of nursing faculty has limited student capacity at nursing schools nationwide. This shortage, coupled with the growing numbers of applicants, makes the admission more competitive than ever. Whatever you do, do not give up! Remember why you want to become a nurse and apply until you are accepted.
5 Things That Can Ruin Your Chances of Getting into Nursing School
If you want to improve your chances of getting into nursing school, the best thing to do is know what NOT to do. College and university admissions departments are tasked with vetting applicants and approving those they believe have a good chance of success and represent the school's values. The following are examples of some things that can hinder your chances of acceptance.
1. Trying to hide criminal history:
Because of the nature of the job, nursing students must provide criminal background checks. Nursing schools and the State Board of Nursing determine what criminal history excludes applicants from their schools or becoming licensed. The worst thing you can do is try to hide any legal or criminal issues. Instead, if you genuinely desire to become a nurse, address any previous problems with your State Board of Nursing first, then with admissions and nursing faculty.
2. Academic dishonesty:
Students with a history of cheating in high school may face difficulty when seeking admission to a nursing program. Allegations of academic dishonesty can become part of a student’s permanent record, which is passed along to colleges and can impact the chances of getting into nursing school.
3. Previous dismissal from a nursing program:
Depending on the reason, if you were previously dismissed from a nursing program, it could impede your likelihood of admission to another nursing program. Some schools limit the length of time a previous expulsion or dismissal is relevant. However, to transfer prior credits, most schools require you to be in "good standing" with the schools you last attended. If you were dismissed from a nursing program in the past, be honest about it. Try writing an addendum to your application with a detailed explanation of the circumstances and a formal request to interview nursing faculty to discuss options.
4. Failing a drug test.
Nursing students are held to the same high standards of personal conduct as licensed nurses. Because patient safety is at the foundation of nursing care, the use of recreational drugs or abuse of prescription drugs can ruin your chances of getting into nursing school.
5. Refusing to be immunized.
There has been some disagreement about whether any person should be forced to receive immunizations for years. In some cases, religious or cultural beliefs make one eligible for an immunization waiver. Although some colleges or universities may extend offers of admission to applicants who remain unvaccinated, healthcare facilities reserve the right to deny access to clinical sites. Because student nurses must complete hands-on clinicals to graduate, unvaccinated applicants may be denied admission.
My Final Thoughts
If you have dreams of becoming a nurse, you have probably asked how to improve your chances of getting into nursing school? While each school determines admission criteria for their programs, the 18 expert tips to improve your chances of getting into nursing school can help make your application more appealing to the ones making admission offers. Don’t be afraid to apply to several schools and never give up!
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT
1. What Is the Average GPA Of Students Who Get into Nursing School?
Most colleges and universities require a minimum 3.0-grade point average on a 4.0 scale for all nursing school applicants. While some schools may allow lower GPAs, the higher your average, the better your chances of getting into nursing school.
2. What Are My Chances of Getting into Nursing School with A GPA Of 2.5?
There is always a chance of getting into nursing school with a 2.5-grade point average. Keep in mind admissions faculty review all aspects of the admission applications, which means if you have a lower GPA, but high standardized test scores, your chances of acceptance may be better. Each school determines admission criteria for their programs, so it is recommended that you speak with a counselor at the schools which are of interest to you. In some cases, a school may extend an offer of admission contingent upon an applicant earning and maintaining a minimum GPA throughout the program.
3. Do Males Have a Better Chance of Getting into Nursing School?
In some cases, males do have better chances of getting into nursing school. Men must meet the same admission criteria as female applicants. However, if a school has a quota for the number of males they want in their programs, a male applicant may have a better chance of acceptance.
4. What Are My Chances of Getting into Nursing School Right After High School Without Having Any Work Experience?
Nursing schools look for candidates who meet admission criteria and have a likelihood of success in their programs. Admission criteria typically include demonstrating academic ability by achieving a minimum grade point average in high school. While work experience in the healthcare field may benefit you while in school, it is typically only relevant for applicants who wish to enroll in a graduate program. Therefore, your chances of getting into nursing school right after high school are favorable.
5. What Are My Chances of Getting into Nursing School with a Criminal Record?
Part of the admission process for nursing school is to have a criminal background check. Each state has regulations regarding what crimes may restrict an applicant for admission to their program. You can check your state's Nurse Practice Act
to find rules and regulations and contact your State Board of Nursing to determine your chances of getting into nursing school with a criminal record.
6. What To Do If I Have Already Ruined My Chances of Getting into Nursing School?
First, why do you think you ruined your chances of getting into nursing school? If you haven't met admission criteria, take the time to complete all admission requirements, then reapply. If you are worried your background check may reveal something that will prevent you from being admitted, talk to the school and your state board of nursing for clarification and find out if there are any measures to help remedy the situation. Whatever you do, do not give up!
Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years of experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels. Because of her love of nursing education, Darby became a test-taking strategist and NCLEX prep coach and assists nursing graduates across the United States who are preparing to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).