So, you have given your future some thought, and you have decided that you want to be a nurse. That is awesome! Now you need to decide where you're going to get your education! There are tons of nursing schools out there, some good and some not-so-good, so how do you decide which one is best for you? Here are our best tips for choosing the perfect nursing school for you!
Check the NCLEX pass rate
You will save yourself a lot of headache later on if you select a nursing school that has a high NCLEX pass rate. The NCLEX pass rate is the percentage of students who pass the NCLEX (typically on their first try). Honestly, you will want to go to an institution whose pass rate is at least 90%. I know that seems high, but you want to go to a high quality nursing school. If you select a school with a pass rate that isn't high, you will likely attend a program that isn't as rigorous as programs with that 90% pass rate.
Some students can succeed in programs with a low pass rate and perform well on NCLEX because they already possess solid critical thinking skills, which are absolutely essential for nursing. All of us aren't blessed with that capability naturally, and that's ok, because if you attend a rigorous nursing program, you WILL develop critical thinking skills since you'll be challenged with NCLEX-style testing throughout your entire education. If you look ahead to your ultimate goal of passing the NCLEX now, you will set yourself up for success later!
Check your credits/course requirements
You want to make sure that before you submit your application, you have successfully completed all of the prereqs for your desired program. If the nursing school that you are applying to is not the same school where you completed your prereqs, then this is especially important, and you will also need to make sure that your credits will actually transfer. Many people "complete prereqs" thinking that they will transfer to their new institution only to find that the nursing school of their dreams does not accept those credits. You don't want to delay your entry into nursing school any longer than necessary! Having to retake courses will only burn you out before you can even begin your program. This is a problem that not only happens more often than you would think, but is also highly preventable. After you've narrowed down the nursing schools that you are interested in applying to, please give the registrar a call and ensure that your credits will transfer!
Evaluate your chances of getting accepted
You will want to apply to a program that you have a fighting chance of getting accepted into! Seriously, applying to a program in which you don't meet all the requirements will only make you feel horrible when you aren't accepted, and this too can be prevented! So let's address the most common (but by no means the only) aspect of the nursing application that gets people rejected: the GPA. You cannot rely on the minimum GPA for acceptance. In fact, if your GPA mirrors the minimum GPA requirement, it is highly likely that you will not be accepted, and here's why: many of the applicants will have a much higher GPA than the minimum requirement. However, there are instances in which a person with a high GPA is not accepted into a nursing program, and this can have a lot to do with where they completed their prerequisites. Let's consider this example:
Kendra and I attended a traditional, 4-year university for nursing school, and this was the same school where we completed our prereqs. Our nursing school is one of the top ranked schools in the nation, and it is also extremely competitive. There were some applicants who had outstanding GPAs who were denied acceptance into the program. Our school actually "reserved" about half of its available seats for students who completed their required courses there instead of transferring in, and this is because our school was more confident that its native students would succeed in the program rather than students from other traditional universities and community colleges. The bottom line is this: you can easily acquire a high GPA by taking classes at a school where the courses are not as hard, but this still may not help you stand out, especially if you plan on transferring to a nursing school that is known for being challenging.
Visit the campus
I know this may seem obvious, but it is crucial that you visit the school(s) you are interested in attending. It would be perfect if you could attend any open houses specifically for the nursing program, but if not, you should do an un-official visit of your own! It's important to set foot on the campus and ask yourself "Can I see myself going here?" In addition to taking note of the vibe and the feelings you get from being on campus, you should definitely seek out some nursing students and ask them a few questions. That may seem a little intimidating, especially if you are more of an introvert like Kendra and myself, but you don't want to select a nursing school without having any information aside from the facts published on the school's website. If you run into some nursing students with a little down time, be sure to ask them some of the following questions:
Why did you choose this nursing program? (This question allows you to get inside their head! A good sign is if students are saying they chose the program because of its reputation, it is their dream school, etc. They should be passionate with their response!)
Where have you had clinicals? (This question will give you a preview regarding where you can expect to have clinicals if you attend this school. If your dream is to work in the large metro hospital in the area and you find out that the school you are visiting does not have clinicals there, you may want to consider finding another school that does!)
Do you feel supported by your faculty? (If you only ask one question, make sure it's this one! You want to be in a nursing program where the faculty are invested in their student's success. So, you'll want to hear students saying that they can ask their faculty anything, tests are fair, they feel supported in clinical, and anything else along those lines!)
How are you being prepared for NCLEX? (Most nursing schools, in addition to their core curriculum, also have a NCLEX prep program that you must complete throughout your training. Our school utilized ATI preparation, but some schools use HESI).
The good thing about attending an open house is that there will usually be a panel of students who will address questions like these and many more so if your circumstances allow it, definitely attend the open house! You will leave with so much insight into the program!
If you are beginning your nursing journey and are wondering which school you should attend, the action steps you can take today are: checking the NCLEX pass rate, ensuring that your credits will transfer (if applicable), realistically evaluating your chances of getting accepted, and visiting the campus. Kendra and I wish you the best of luck during this exciting time!
Are there any other action tips that you are using to help you choose a nursing program? Have any questions about this article? Just want to say "Hi?" Comment below! :)