15 Expert Tips To Get Into Community College Nursing Programs


Written By: Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA

Are you interested in becoming a registered nurse but feel like you want to pursue something other than a four-year degree at a university? If you could earn your degree in two years or less, would that make the dream of becoming a registered nurse more conceivable to you? Community college nursing programs are a terrific option, but may you wonder, “How hard is it to get into community college nursing programs?

In this article, I will share information with you about community college registered nursing programs. I will explain what these programs are, provide program information, and offer 15 tips to help you get into community college nursing programs.



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WHAT IS A COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAM?


Community college nursing programs are two-year registered nurse degrees. These programs are taught by professional registered nurses and offer students affordable, high-quality education with the ability to reach the goal of becoming a registered nurse in a shorter time than a four-year university program.



WHAT NURSING PROGRAMS ARE OFFERED BY COMMUNITY COLLEGES?


Community colleges offer licensed practical nursing (LPN) and associate degree registered nursing programs (ADN). For the purposes of this article, all information presented is focused on associate degree registered nursing programs.



ARE COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS GOOD?


If you are contemplating your options for getting into community college nursing programs, you may wonder if the programs are good or as good as university programs. Yes! They are!

Accredited community college nursing programs are an excellent option to get you to the level of a registered nurse in less time while spending less money on your degree. One thing that is so great about these programs is that many graduates later transfer to RN to BSN or RN to MSN programs, completing higher levels of nursing education and receiving credit for content already learned.



HOW LONG DO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS TAKE?


Community college nursing programs offering an RN degree are typically designed in a two-year format. If you enroll full-time, you should graduate with an associate degree in nursing in two years. However, if you decide to pursue your degree part-time, it could take three years to complete the program.



HOW MUCH DO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS COST?


One of the things to consider when trying to get into community college nursing programs is the cost. Some factors that determine the cost are location and whether the school is a public or private institution.

For example, at Santa Monica City College, tuition is based on a per-credit rate of $46 per unit for in-state students and $316 per unit for out-of-state students. Students at Chabot College in Hayward, California pay $7,000 for the community college nursing program. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College charges state residents $1,216 per academic year and non-residents $4,288 per academic year. The program is a two-year program, which means tuition ranges between $2,432 and $8,576.



WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS TO GET INTO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS?


The admission requirements to get into community college nursing programs are determined by the school offering the programs. Each school aligns with state, federal, and accrediting guidelines. The following are the typical criteria applicants must meet to be considered for admission.

• Have a minimum high school diploma or GED
• Submit official transcripts

o Applicants with a high school diploma or GED must submit high school transcripts
o Applicants with any college experience may need to submit both high school and college transcripts based on the school’s guidelines.

• Take the TEAS and/or COMPASS test
• Complete required prerequisites
• Complete a criminal background check
• Pass a drug screening test
• Provide two to three letters of recommendation
• Provide a Statement of Intent




5 MAIN THINGS COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS LOOK FOR IN POTENTIAL APPLICANTS


Applicants who truly desire to get into community college nursing programs should prepare carefully to improve their chances of admission. The following are five main things community college nursing programs look for in potential applicants.

THING #1: A History of Academic Success

Whether you are a new high school graduate or if you have some college experience, getting into community college nursing programs requires a history of academic success. One of the criteria admission faculty review is your grade point average. If you are a high school graduate with no college experience, they will review your high school transcripts. If you have a college degree or any college credits, your college GPA will be considered. Depending on the number of college credits you have, you may need to submit both high school and college transcripts for review.


THING #2: Relevant Volunteer or Work Experience

Some of the criteria you must meet make it hard to get into community college nursing programs. However, if you have healthcare related volunteer or work experience, you increase your chance of becoming a more viable candidate for admission.


THING #3: Excellent Letters of Recommendation

Most nursing schools require applicants to submit at least two or three letters of professional recommendation along with their program application and supplemental documents. Admissions look for candidates whose recommendations come from professionals such as registered nurses, doctors, supervisors, or previous educators. The letters should speak to your character and integrity and should suggest you have a strong likelihood of success in the program.


THING #4: Candidates with Goals They Can Clearly Articulate

Registered nurse is a professional role that requires goal setting, prioritization, and the ability to communicate well. While each of these is a skill you will develop on a deeper level in your nursing program, admission faculty seek candidates who demonstrate the ability to set professional goals and articulate their goals and ambitions. An understanding of the role of a professional nurse is essential, as this will help you direct goals toward what is appropriate for the RN role.


THING #5: Excellent Organizational Skills

One of the most important skills a nurse can develop is organizational skills. However, you do not need to wait until you are in a nursing program to become organized. In fact, if you want to get into community college nursing programs, demonstrating the ability to be organized is essential. One way to show good organizational skills is to turn in a complete application, including providing all essential supplemental materials such as letters of recommendation, proof of your TEAS score, and academic transcripts. Make sure your application is submitted in a timely manner and follow-up.



IS IT HARD TO GET INTO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS?


It can be hard to get into community college nursing programs. You must meet strict academic standards, pass admissions tests, and participate in an interview. The number of applicants compared to the availability of faculty, clinical sites, and preceptors may add to the challenge of getting into a program, as well.



5 REASONS WHY IT IS HARD TO GET INTO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS


No matter how great your application is or what kind of experience you have, you may find it is hard to get into community college nursing programs. The reason for the difficulty may vary from one school to another, but across the board, some of the main reasons are similar and include the following.

REASON #1: There is a nationwide shortage of nursing instructors.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there remains a nationwide shortage of qualified nursing instructors. The AACN reports that in the 2021-2022 academic year, nearly 92,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools due to the lack of enough faculty to teach the programs.


REASON #2: Competitive Applicant Pool

The shortage of nursing instructors coupled with a competitive applicant pool makes it even more challenging to get into community college nursing programs. Most candidates understand the importance of not only meeting, but exceeding minimum admission requirements, and when they do, it makes the applicant pool all the more competitive.


REASON #3: Many applicants fail to meet health requirements.

Nursing programs require applicants to meet specific health standards and criteria, including having current immunization records. This requirement is to ensure the health and safety of patients, students, and healthcare professionals employed at clinical sites. Although some decisions about healthcare are entirely personal and of no relevance when it comes to getting into community college nursing programs, other criteria are not negotiable. For example, students must have a record of current immunizations before they can participate in the clinical component of the program. Even if a school admits a student who opts out of immunizations, they cannot force a clinical site to accept that student. For that reason, many schools reject applicants who refuse to take immunizations, including the COVID-19 vaccine.


REASON #4: Community colleges have high admissions standards.

Community colleges are highly selective when it comes to choosing candidates for their programs. To get into community college nursing programs, you must meet specific admission criteria. It has been my experience that applicants who exceed minimum admission requirements have a better chance of being accepted into the best programs.


REASON #5: Many community college nursing programs require candidates to complete all prerequisites before applying.

Unlike practical nursing programs, which begin students with little or no college experience, many community college nursing programs require candidates to complete all the required prerequisites before applying. If you apply and have not completed the necessary prerequisites, you may be denied admission until you complete the required courses.



HOW TO GET INTO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS?

(The following are the 15 expert tips to help you get into community college nursing programs.)


TIP #1: Make sure your GPA exceeds minimum admissions requirements.


About the Tip:

All nursing programs require a minimum grade point average that applicants must meet for admission. When schools set admission criteria, the GPA needed is usually the minimum the school will consider for an applicant to get into its program.

Why This Tip is Important:

The admission process for getting into community college nursing programs can be competitive. Therefore, it is important that you try to exceed any "minimum requirements" set by the school. The higher your GPA, the more competitive an applicant you become.


TIP #2: Get involved in healthcare-relevant volunteer activities.


About the Tip:

When you get involved in extracurricular activities related to nursing or healthcare, it shows a genuine interest in the field. You could consider volunteering at a senior citizen center, nursing homes, or hospices. Community health fairs are also excellent places to get volunteer experience.

Why This Tip is Important:

Volunteer activities are unpaid work. When you volunteer in health-related activities, it shows you have a genuine interest in the field and what is going on in healthcare. Admission teams like to see applicants willing to take the initiative to get involved in healthcare-related activities, as this is a strong indication that you will be self-motivated as a student.


TIP #3: Apply early!


About the Tip:

Applying early to get into community college nursing programs means your application is one of the first admission teams receive and review. Once you identify programs that interest you, verify the application deadlines and do your best to get your application and supplemental documents turned in ahead of time.

Why This Tip is Important:

Community college nursing programs usually have large numbers of applicants. They also may have limited class space, which means when enough qualified applicants are reviewed and admitted, you could be waitlisted. Applying early gives you an edge over other applicants because admission faculty have access to your application early on and can determine if you meet eligibility for admission.


TIP #4: Meet with an admissions counselor face-to-face.


About the Tip:

If you truly want to get into a nursing program at a community college, make it a priority to go to the school and meet with an admissions counselor in person. Ask questions about the program, what the school looks for in candidates, and what you can do to secure a spot in the program.

Why This Tip is Important:

My experience in dealing with prospective nursing students taught me that candidates who are willing to show up, introduce themselves, and ask questions are truly vested in their education. Admission faculty are typically of the opinion that if you are interested enough to come to the school to meet, despite being nervous, you are serious about getting into the program, which is favorable for you.


TIP #5: Get work experience in a healthcare setting.


About the Tip:

One of the best things you can do to show your interest and determination in community college nursing programs is to get experience in the healthcare field. A few things you can do are work as a ward clerk in a hospital or nursing home, become a Certified Nursing Assistant, or work in a physician’s office.

Why This Tip is Important:

Getting into community college nursing programs is often a competitive process. If you have experience in a healthcare setting, admissions teams know you are familiar with healthcare settings and important issues, such as patient privacy, which is crucial. Having experience in healthcare gives you the potential to become a more viable candidate.


TIP #6: Talk about your “Why.”


About the Tip:

When you apply to get into community college nursing programs, part of the admissions process is participating in an admissions interview. As a nursing instructor and someone who was part of admissions interviews, I can tell you someone will ask you to explain your “Why.” Your “why” is the reason you want to become a nurse.

Why This Tip is Important:

Being a nurse comes with a great deal of responsibility. The job can be stressful and, sometimes, overwhelming. Although you can earn a good income as a nurse, there will be days when you feel you do not get paid enough for the job you perform. Admission teams want to know if you have a genuine desire to help and serve others. Your ability to articulate why becoming a nurse is important to you and what you hope to accomplish in the program is an excellent way to improve your chance of admission.


TIP #7: Prepare for and take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS).


About the Tip:

Many community college nursing programs use the Test of Essential Academic Skills, also known as the TEAS test, to verify a candidate’s likelihood of success in their programs. The TEAS test is an online proctored exam that measures a candidate’s entry-level abilities and likelihood of success in nursing programs. The test is used to measure your knowledge and skills as they relate to English, science, reading, and math.

Why This Tip is Important:

The tip to prepare for and take the TEAS test is important because community college nursing programs use this test to determine a candidate's academic potential. Studies have shown that people who score well on the TEAS test usually demonstrate good academic performance in nursing programs.


TIP #8: Prepare a well-written Statement of Intent.


About the Tip:

Another important component of the nursing school application required to get into community college nursing programs is the Statement of Intent. This statement is your opportunity to expound in detail about your “why” and to defend why you believe you are a good candidate for the program to which you are applying.

Why This Tip is Important:

Before you get to the admission interview step in your application process, you will submit an application to the community college nursing program, which includes providing supplemental documents like the Statement of Intent. Admission faculty will read your Statement before deciding whether to extend an invitation to interview. Preparing a well-written Statement of Intent is an excellent way to demonstrate professionalism and your ability to articulate thoughts and allow faculty the opportunity to decide if you are the type of candidate they want to meet in person.


TIP #9: Visit the schools that interest you.


About the Tip:

Another excellent way to get the attention of faculty, staff, and admissions coordinators if you want to get into community college nursing programs is to visit the schools that interest you. It is a good idea to call the school to find out if you need an appointment to visit the school instead of showing up unannounced.

Why This Tip is Important:

If you want the attention of decision-makers when it comes to getting a spot in a community college nursing program, the best way to do so is by showing up in person. Visiting the school gives you the chance to meet with faculty and admission staff. You may be able to schedule a tour of the nursing department, as well. This step shows admission counselors and program faculty you are truly interested in their program, which could bode well for you when it comes to them making final decisions about who to admit.


TIP #10: Complete all prerequisites before applying.


About the Tip:

Before entering the nursing component of community college nursing programs, you must complete specific prerequisite courses. For example, you need classes, including English Composition, Introduction to Psychology, Sociology, Chemistry, and Anatomy & Physiology.

Why This Tip is Important:

The curriculum for community college nursing programs includes these prerequisites. However, you are not limited to taking them only when enrolled. The more prerequisites you complete prior to applying, the more dedicated you appear to the admission faculty. Also, if you take prerequisites and do well in the classes, you can boost your grade point average, which is an important factor admission faculty consider when reviewing applicants for admission.


TIP #11: Become a Certified Nursing Assistant or Licensed Practical Nurse.


About the Tip:

If you truly want to become an RN and show your interest in getting into community college nursing programs, consider becoming a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) or LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse). Becoming a CNA or LPN puts you a step ahead of other applicants with no healthcare education.

Why This Tip is Important:

Although most community college nursing programs do not require previous education related to healthcare, it is certainly a plus when admission faculty see it on your application! Knowing that you have already worked to obtain a certification or diploma relevant to nursing shows your dedication to the profession. To me, one of the most promising things to see on a nursing student’s application was that they achieved becoming a CNA or LPN because it demonstrated dedication to nursing before beginning the program. Let us not forget becoming a CNA or LPN also gives you clinical experience and the opportunity to work and earn money while obtaining your RN degree at the community college!


TIP #12: Know what you bring to the table and be willing to discuss it!


About the Tip:

One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to realize your worth. Think about your knowledge, experiences, and values. What is there about you that makes you a good candidate to get into community college nursing programs? Are you a hard worker, goal-oriented, compassionate, or someone who wants to make a difference in others’ lives?

Why This Tip is Important:

One of my favorite questions to ask nursing applicants is, “In what ways can you add value to our program?” To some people, that may seem like a trick question, but it is anything but a trick question. It is important to understand your strengths and values and to be confident enough that you can advocate for yourself in the admissions process.

You can be confident in your ability to be a team player, a compassionate and empathetic caregiver, and someone who wants to see the nursing program thrive. You can help make that possible by studying hard, graduating from the program, and passing your licensure exam. This is important because when colleges have high retention and NCLEX pass rates, their overall ratings improve, and schools look for candidates who can help make that happen.


TIP #13: Be honest and forthcoming about important information.


About the Tip:

When applying to community college nursing programs, it is important that you are honest about everything. Your application may ask about previous work or criminal history. As a nursing instructor, I can tell you that if I cannot trust you to be honest with me on an application, I cannot trust you to be honest with me when we are in a clinical setting. If I cannot trust you, I do not want to work with you. I can guarantee you that this is the consensus of any good nursing instructor or school of nursing.

Why This Tip is Important:

First, being honest is just the right thing to do. Second, when you apply to get into community college nursing programs, there will be a point at which you must pass a criminal background check. Also, if you attended another college or university, official transcripts would reflect the truth about your academic performance. If you are honest about past experiences (academic, personal, or criminal), you will have opportunities to discuss the issues with program coordinators and admissions faculty. Granted, some situations or previous experiences may limit your ability to get into programs, but being dishonest can have even more severe consequences.


TIP #14: Apply to several schools.


About the Tip:

If getting into community college nursing programs is important to you, do not limit yourself to one school. Instead, apply to several schools. There is no limit to the number of schools to which you may apply. I suggest applying to at least four or five.

Why This Tip is Important:

The average admission rate for nursing schools in the United States is 66%. Although this is a good average, if you fall in the lower 34%, you could be waitlisted. Applying to several schools improves your chance of being admitted to at least one program.


TIP #15: Prepare and do well in your admissions interview.


About the Tip:

Your admission interview is the final step in the application process and is your opportunity to let program faculty and coordinators get to know you on a more personal level. You should prepare for your interview by going over practice questions and being prepared to answer them. Additionally, think of a few questions you would like to ask the program or admission faculty during the interview.

Why This Tip is Important:

Doing well in your admissions interview is a key part of the final admission process and being offered the opportunity to get into community college nursing programs. Your interview could be the step in your application process that determines the outcome of whether you are admitted to the program. Not only is preparing to answer questions important but having a few questions prepared to ask admission faculty and program coordinators demonstrates genuine interest in the program, which is something they look for in candidates.



BONUS! 5 MUST AVOID MISTAKES THAT MIGHT RUIN YOUR CHANCES OF GETTING INTO COMMUNITY COLLEGE NURSING PROGRAMS


There are several things you can do to help improve your chance of getting into community college nursing programs. If you are not careful, though, there are also some mistakes that could ruin your chances of admission. The following are five must-avoid mistakes that could cause your application to be rejected.

MISTAKE #1: Turning in a Sloppy or Incomplete Application

One of the most crucial things you can do when applying to get into community college nursing programs is to prepare a complete, error-free, and professional application. As someone who reviewed program applications previously, I can tell you that one of the fastest ways to have your application rejected is for you to turn in an application that is sloppy or incomplete.

Consider this; nursing notes are legal documents that must be professionally written, legible, and complete. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a world of trouble if your notes are reviewed or, worse, used in a legal case. To an admissions counselor, a sloppy or incomplete application suggests you will show as little regard for your work as your application.


MISTAKE #2: Trying to Rush Through the Admissions Interview

An admission interview is an important part of the process of getting into community college nursing programs. It is understandable that you may be nervous but try to relax and not rush through the process. Instead, take advantage of the opportunity to meet program faculty and let your personality shine.

A few tips to succeed in your admission interview include showing up early, dressing professionally, avoiding heavy make-up and perfumes, taking something to write with/on so you can take notes, and being prepared to ask questions when given the opportunity.


MISTAKE #3: Not Being Honest About Having a Criminal Conviction

If you have a criminal conviction or arrest, it is natural to want to keep that part of your life private. However, when trying to get into community college nursing programs, it is imperative to be honest about everything. What some people do not realize is that it may be possible to get into some programs even if you have a conviction. Colleges and state boards of nursing review information about criminal convictions on a case-by-case basis. So, even if it is an embarrassing part of your life that you prefer to forget, be honest anyway. It is better that admission teams find out the truth of a situation from you than to discover facts you tried to hide when they conduct background checks or find information by other means.


MISTAKE #4: Turning in a Late Application

Nurses are responsible for showing up for work on time, getting work done in a timely manner, and being professional in all matters of the job. As a nursing instructor and admissions advisor, one of the main issues I dealt with was prospective students showing up with applications or supplemental materials after the application deadline. From my experience, I can tell you no matter how neat or complete your application for getting into community college nursing programs, if you turn it in after the deadline, you can almost guarantee your application will be rejected.


MISTAKE #5: Having Poorly Written Letters of Recommendation

Another thing admission teams look for is letters of recommendation. These letters should come from people who know you professionally, such as former college instructors, supervisors, or administrators. Do not use personal friends or family to write recommendations, even if they worked with you, as they may appear biased. All letters should include the writer's current contact information and credentials.



MY FINAL THOUGHTS


If you want to become a registered nurse in a short time, you may have considered a community college nursing program. It is possible that you wondered, “How hard is it to get into community college nursing programs?” In this article, I addressed that question and offered some insight and tips for getting into these programs. By following the 15 tips to help you get into community college nursing programs mentioned in this article, you can improve your chances of getting into a top program and achieving the goal of becoming a registered nurse.



FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY OUR EXPERT


1. When Is The Typical Application Deadline For Community College Nursing Programs?

The deadline for applying to get into community college nursing programs varies among schools. Some schools offer only one program a year that begins in the spring or fall, which means applications must be turned in by the semester before the start date. Larger schools may offer more than one start date, which means additional application deadlines may be available.


2. What Is The Minimum Required GPA To Get Into Community College Nursing Programs?

Typically, the minimum GPA required to get into community college nursing programs is 3.0. This requirement may vary among schools and may depend on whether you are entering with a high school diploma or GED or if you have previous college credits.


3. Can I Get Into Community College Nursing Programs With A Low GPA?

Some community college nursing programs accept applicants whose GPA is lower than the required minimum. This is often referred to as conditional admission. However, it is important to remember that competition to get into community college nursing programs is fierce, so you should aim for a higher GPA, if possible.


4. How Important Is Experience When Trying To Get Into Community College Nursing Programs?

Although volunteer or work experience is a plus when applying to get into community college nursing programs, it is possible to be admitted with little or no experience.


5. Can I Get Into Community College Nursing Programs Without Extracurriculars?

Yes, getting into community college nursing programs without extracurriculars is possible. However, if you have the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, it is good to do so.


6. Is There An Interview For Admission Into Community College Nursing Programs?

Most community college nursing programs require an admission interview as part of the application process.


7. What Is The Admission Rate For Community College Nursing Programs?

On average, the admission rate for applicants attempting to get into community college nursing programs is 66%.


8. Is There A Waiting List For Community College Nursing Programs?

While each school is different, it is common for there to be a waiting list for getting into community college nursing programs.


9. Will Applying Early Increase My Chances Of Admission Into Community College Nursing Programs?

Yes, it is possible that applying early can increase your chance of getting into community college nursing programs.


Darby Faubion, RN, BSN, MBA
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).