15 Steps to Choosing the Right Nursing School
Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Are you considering a career as a nurse? Perhaps you have thought about registering for nursing school but found yourself asking how to choose the right nursing school. It can feel difficult to know what questions to ask or what things to look for when you get ready to go to college. If this sounds like you, keep reading! In this article, you will find things to consider and learn 15 steps to choosing the right nursing school.
Does It Matter Which School You Get Your Nursing Degree From?
I have been a nurse and nurse educator for nearly twenty-eight years. With all my years of nursing experience, I can tell you it does matter where you go to school. Some people think going to a popular school means you will have the best education. While some well-known schools offer amazing nursing programs, a school’s name does not always make it the best choice. There are, however, other important factors to consider to help ensure you choose the right nursing school.
RECOMMENDED ONLINE NURSING SCHOOLS
10 Reasons Why Choosing the Right Nursing School Matters
There are thousands of nursing schools nationwide. Some are easier to get into than others, but that does not mean you should enroll in a school just because you can. Choosing the right nursing school can impact your life on many levels. Here are ten reasons why the nursing school you choose does matter.
1. The right nursing school will prepare you for success on the NCLEX.
Graduating from nursing school is a significant accomplishment, but your nursing school diploma is not a license to practice nursing. Choosing the right nursing school is essential if you want to pass the NCLEX
and become a licensed nurse.
2. The right nursing school will prepare you to perform as a registered nurse with confidence.
When you choose the right nursing school, you will learn from experienced instructors who strive to provide academic and clinical experiences to prepare you for your role as a registered nurse.
3. Clinical experiences matter and choosing the right nursing school means finding a school that offers a variety of them.
The right nursing school will provide opportunities to experience hands-on clinicals in diverse settings where you can care for patients of all ages across the health spectrum. The NCLEX can present questions on several topics, and your clinical experiences prepare you to answer the questions correctly. When you are in clinicals in nursing school, you learn and hone the skills necessary to provide quality patient care, which is a must for nurses working independently.
4. A good nursing school will be accredited, which is significant on many levels.
Accreditation ensures nursing programs nationwide are held to common standards of quality. While your state Board of Nursing may allow you to take the NCLEX if you graduate from a nursing program that is not accredited, potential employers tend to favor applicants who are graduates of accredited programs (ACEN
5. Your financial aid may depend on it.
If you plan to apply for government assistance to cover the cost of nursing school, choosing the right nursing school is a must. Students who attend non-accredited nursing programs cannot receive federal grants or loans
6. You can transfer credits if you later decide to return to school.
If you choose to earn a higher degree, you will want to transfer any applicable credits toward your next degree. If you choose the right nursing school that is accredited, you will find it is easier for your previously earned credits to be accepted into a new institution.
7. Nursing school is hard.
If there were no other reason to argue the importance of choosing a good nursing school, the fact that nursing school is hard should be enough. As you research your options, you want to find a school that is well staffed and offers student advisors who are available when needed.
8. Nursing school can be expensive; so, choosing the right one is important.
The cost associated with earning a nursing degree can add up quickly. You will be responsible for tuition, fees, books, uniforms, and supplies. If you live on campus, there will be housing and food expenses. Choosing the right nursing school means considering all your options and weighing factors such as the cost of the program.
9. Choosing the right nursing school can help prepare you for good job opportunities after graduation.
When you finish nursing school and become a licensed nurse, the next step is to find your dream job, right? An important factor in finding the job you want, or any job, is which school you attend. In your quest to choose the right nursing school, ask what percentage of graduates are employed in nursing within the first six months to one year from graduation.
10. Employers will ask where you went to nursing school.
Graduating from nursing school and passing the NCLEX are important, exciting steps in your nursing career. Even with a diploma and proof of licensure in hand, prospective employers will want to know where you were educated. A school's reputation for producing well-trained nurses is important for employers who wish to hire nurses capable of providing high-quality care to patients.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT NURSING SCHOOL?
Choosing the right nursing school takes effort. Following these 15 steps when researching nursing schools can help make the decision easier.
1. Decide which nursing degree you want to pursue.
Some nursing schools offer associate degrees in nursing but not bachelor's programs. Others offer both options. Once you decide which degree you wish to pursue, you can focus on the nursing schools that offer that program. If you know you want to become a registered nurse, but you cannot commit to a four-year degree at this time, an associate degree program would be an excellent option.
2. Set short-term and long-term goals.
Where do you see yourself in two years, five years, ten years, or longer? Make a list of things you would like to accomplish, and besides each goal, write an estimated amount of time you think it will take you to reach it. Goal setting is one of the best ways to keep yourself on track and hold yourself accountable. When choosing the right nursing school, it is necessary to determine where you want to be in short-term and long-term increments.
3. Decide how long you want to go to school.
If you want to become a registered nurse but are limited on the amount of time you can devote to study or need to go to work as soon as possible, a nursing school that offers the option of an associate degree in nursing could be a better choice for you. On the other hand, if you feel like you can commit to four years of study and would like to pursue a management or administrative position in nursing, a bachelor’s degree in nursing may be the better choice.
4. Determine what you want and need from a nursing school.
Nursing schools and the faculty who teach at them differ as much as the nursing students they teach. Think about the things you feel will help you be successful in a nursing program. For instance, is it easier for you to learn when you have more one-on-one attention or smaller classes? Is it important to you to be involved in extracurricular activities? Consider your wants and needs and ask lots of questions.
5. Check out school social media pages.
You can find out a lot about a school, its programs, students, and teachers by visiting its social media page. Look for links on their pages that lead you to the nursing department. Pay attention to posts about student activities and learning opportunities. A promising sign is when you see students actively posting positive comments about their school, program, or instructors.
6. Decide how much you are willing to spend on your education.
A nursing degree can cost anywhere from $20,000 to more than $100,000, depending on whether you pursue an associate or baccalaureate degree. Public colleges and universities typically cost less than privately owned schools offering the same degree options.
7. Determine if you need financial assistance and compare available options at the schools which interest you.
Most college students find they need some type of financial aid to help cover school costs. There are several options, such as federal grants and loans, private loans, and work-study programs. If you need help but do not qualify for government assistance, you may be interested in a work-study program at your school. Find out if you are eligible for grants or loans by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
. As you visit schools and talk to staff, be sure to stop by the financial aid office and speak with an advisor about options. Taking this step now will help reduce your stress later.
8. Find out how the classroom is structured.
Some students prefer learning in smaller classes where they can have more individualized attention, while others like large classes. You may prefer online classes instead of face-to-face classes. Ask about the average class size and the options for class attendance (online, on-campus, hybrid).
9. Ask to visit with the nursing director.
Many times, prospective nursing students are nervous about scheduling a meeting with the nursing director... Don't be! The program director's job is to ensure faculty and students have everything they need to have a successful nursing program. Meeting with the director will give you the chance to ask questions specifically related to the nursing department and program. If the program director is not approachable or seems unwilling to visit with you, this could indicate it will be difficult to ask for help as a student.
10. Find out how the nursing school is ranked.
Nursing school rankings may not be a deal-breaker, but they can be informative. School rankings are not based on student experiences, but are guidelines based on statistics and data. Although school rankings are not based on factors like teaching style or campus life, you may find them helpful if you find it difficult to decide between a few schools.
11. Verify faculty experience.
Unfortunately, there is a nationwide shortage of nurse educators, which has resulted in thousands of nursing school applicants being turned away. While schools could change the criteria for employment and hire less experienced instructors, it is not always in the best interest of students or their patients. When you find a nursing school that interests you, check out their website and read instructor profiles. You want to look for a variety of academic and clinical experiences. Don't be afraid to check out the instructor's social media profiles, especially on platforms like LinkedIn
, which is a professional networking platform. Remember, this is your education and future career, and choosing the right nursing school with experienced instructors is crucial.
12. Visit several schools.
To choose the right nursing school, you need to know what different schools offer. There is no better way to get a feel for a school than to make an on-campus visit. Ask to see the nursing lab and classrooms. Inquire about the staff-to-student ratio in the nursing program. Make a list of questions about everything you can think of pertaining to nursing school and go on a quest to find answers. Please don't limit yourself to one school because it is closer to home or someone else said it is a good option. Visit as many schools as possible. While there, ask to see classrooms, libraries, and nursing labs. Some nursing schools offer designated times for prospective students to visit the campus and meet faculty, staff, and students.
According to the United States Department of Education, accreditation is the process by which the quality of academic programs at higher education institutions is assessed. Accreditation ensures nursing programs are meeting state and national standards. When you choose an accredited nursing school, you can feel assured you will graduate prepared to pass the NCLEX-RN and begin practice as an entry-level registered nurse.
13. Check for accredited schools in the geographical area where you would like to study.
If you don't take anything else from this article, I hope you understand the importance of attending a nursing school that is accredited. The benefits of choosing an accredited nursing school far outweigh the disadvantages. Even if the accredited schools you find cost a little more, you will find that it pays off later.
14. Verify if the nursing program is accredited.
It is important to note that program accreditation and school accreditation are different. While a school may be accredited, the nursing program may not be. You should choose a nursing school whose nursing program is accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
, the Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education
, or both.
15. Compare NCLEX Pass Rates.
The NCLEX pass rate says a lot about a nursing school’s program. As you research nursing schools, ask for information about the pass rate for first-time NLCEX testing. Because the NCLEX tests your ability to apply the knowledge and skills you learned as a nursing student, schools with low NCLEX pass rates should never be your first choice.
5 Factors to Consider When Choosing Between Online And On-Campus Nursing School
One of the most important things to consider when choosing the right nursing school is whether you want to go to school on-campus or online.
1. How disciplined are you?
Whether you choose to enroll in traditional classes on-campus or register for online classes, you need to practice self-discipline in nursing school. If you are confident in your ability to create a schedule and stick with it, you could succeed in taking online classes. However, if you struggle to stick with preset plans or remain focused on a task, you may benefit from the structure offered in on-campus learning. Be honest with yourself so you can choose the right nursing school option.
2. How will you earn the required clinical hours?
Nursing students must participate in clinical hours to be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The state Board of Nursing determines the minimum number of clinical hours students must complete. As you research programs that interest you, ask how clinical arrangements are assigned. Remember, nursing school clinicals prepare you to practice as a licensed nurse. Choosing a school that offers a variety of clinical locations and experiences is vital to your success.
3. What kind of technical support do students have?
If you are considering online vs. On-campus learning, the amount of technical support offered to students is an essential factor. Ask about the school's IT department and find out the protocol for after-hours assistance. It is impossible to know when an issue with a program or school website can occur. If the school you want to attend does not have sufficient support to accommodate online learners, an on-campus option may be better.
4. Are nursing faculty easily accessible?
Nursing instructors offer a wealth of information and guidance to help students succeed. One of the drawbacks of online learning is the imposition that can occur when communicating with teachers. Before you commit to any program, ask how students at the school contact instructors and the turnaround time for teachers' responses.
5. What type of learning best suits you?
Knowing the type of learning environment and style that works best for you makes it easier to decide between online and on-campus nursing schools. For example, I am a visual learner. When I study, I read content and highlight my books. I make notecards and study them. My best friend is an auditory learner. She excels when she listens to prerecorded lectures or watches videos. Think about your past experiences in school and how you studied, then choose the learning option that is best suited for your style.
My Final Thoughts
If you are contemplating a career as a nurse, it is wise to be concerned about how to choose the right nursing school? You can use the 15 steps to choosing the right nursing school featured in this article, to help determine which school will be best for you.
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).