How To Get Into Nursing School
I wrote this in 2015, a couple weeks after being accepted to a top nursing school. I found the draft buried in my blog archives and, since I recently graduated, thought it might be a nice to finally publish this. Hope it helps!
As you may or may now know, depending on whether you follow me on Instagram -- I was recently accepted into my #1 choice nursing school. ~200 applicants, 60 interviewees, 24 admits. A program that been in the community for a number of decades, with a solid reputation, newly renovated nursing buildings and a LOVELY location to boot. Oh, and the sweetest and most respected faculty ever.
How'd I do it? Well, first of all, if I can do it I truly believe anyone can. I'll discuss 3 elements: grades, application, and interview. Keep reading...
I started with absolutely no knowledge of nursing or healthcare -- I have a background in Philosophy. This was my first leg up. If you didn't know, Philosophy students are some of the smartest. Our minds are flexible, analytical, sharp and we can learn ANYTHING -- and as a result we can standardized-test with the best of them. (Fact: When comparing performance by majors on various standardized tests e.g. MCAT, GRE ... Philosophy majors perform very, very well.)
But Philosophy aside, I was still new to the science game. More or less all nursing programs require a handful of prerequisites -- anatomy, physiology, microbiology, a couple chemistry classes, statistics, etc. (I will only discuss the STEM prerequisites. Re: communication, sociology, etc... If you can't get through those on your own, I CAN'T HELP YOU.)
Rule #1: By hook or by crook, make sure you get straight As. I'm not even using any hyperbole. You truly have the power to ace this part of your application -- get a 4.0.
If you have to take 1 class per semester for 6 semesters to make sure you get an A, DO IT. If you have to withdraw from that Microbiology class twice because you didn't want to get a B -- DO IT.
I don't care if you're 40 years old and have never had a real job, and your entire family is pressuring you to start being an adult already, and in a few months you'll be 41 and you want to get your career started before you have kids -- and thus, you're planning to mash all 6 of your prerequisites into 2 semesters and then apply to nursing school during your last semester...
... Sound familiar? I have heard this story from SO many people, and not just in pre-nursing. Everyone feels "old" and "in a rush" whether they are 22 or 42.
Seriously, STFU. (1) Delaying your application/nursing career by ONE YEAR is seriously not going to make any difference once you're in the field. You need to realize that NOW. (2) Never rush anything that matters. Your grades matter -- a lot. And your application should be done carefully, not in a rush.
I had a 3.9 in my undergraduate GPA, and a 4.0 in my nursing prerequisites when I applied. I truly, truly have always been served well by having impressive grades. No matter what program you're applying to, they need at least 2 kinds of students: (1) People with impressive work experience and (2) People with impressive GPAs to raise their "average GPA of accepted students" when they do their annual "student body profile." It helps raise their reputation and get grants, etc etc.
I'm sure your target school goes by some kind of points system. Even if they don't, they probably value and reward applicants who have worked in a capacity with patient interaction / done community service / served as a CNA or EMT. Assess whether you're a strong candidate. If you disobeyed my above instructions to get a 4.0, you might want to boost your application by doing a some hospital community service. I didn't do any formal program (like Clinical Care Extender), but I did a little bit -- just enough hours to gain a few extra points.
As I mentioned above, do not rush your application. You might have to write a personal statement, get letters of recommendation, and have multiple applications to fill out. Why would you go through all the hard work of earning good grades, only to rush through this crucial part where you present yourself?
Rule #2: Consider waiting until you're done with all your classes (or at least the STEM ones) before preparing your application.
I.e., wait until the next application cycle. At the very least, start early enough to work hard on your application -- let it marinate in your brain for a few weeks -- work on it again -- let it marinate more -- and then finish it. You will have a very refined, polished application this way. Doing it all in 2 weeks will never produce as good a product as one that has been refined over 2 months.
Time to close the deal. Healthcare is conservative so now is not the time to deviate. Seriously why even risk it. Just do what I say lol.
Buy a decent suit. Mine was from Banana Republic, I waited for a sale and got it for 40% off.
- Wear a navy suit. Navy signals trustworthiness, young and eager to work. Ever heard of "IBM Blue"? It's the best color for a "first suit," for people who are interviewing or meeting with clients for the first time. Black is too bitchy. Grey is... okay... I guess... but why can't you just wear navy like I said?? Lol
- Women: I'd recommend a skirt suit over a pantsuit. A skirt suit is considered slightly more formal and conservative. Besides, I think it's more flattering on women no matter what your body shape is.
- Have your suit tailored (~$30). C'mon, you don't want to look like some dopey teenager in an ill-fitting suit. Jesus christ! You need to look sharp. You need to look like you understand what it means to be a working professional. Google and learn how a skirt should fit. NOT TOO TIGHT! No smiley lines across your hips, and the skirt should hit near your knee. Test to see how high it rides up when you sit down in a chair. I had my skirt hemmed 0.5" higher than my knee for a subtly more flattering look.
- Women, wear a slinky button down blouse. Cream or light blue. Silk if you can afford it but polyester works just fine as long as it's sewn nicely and fits right. I had both but in the end went with the polyester because my silk was of such a thin weight (... cheap) that the polyester actually looked better. Men should stick with white shirts.
- Wear the matching blazer. I know it might seem stuffy, but you'll look sharper than everyone else. It's more formal.
- Your hair shouldn't be past your boobs. This is healthcare, not coachella. No mermaid hair. Personally I had a haircut specifically for the interview. It's more professional and clean than long hair. (But note that long hair is more flattering, which makes people prefer you subconsciously. Pick your battles.) I also dyed my Asian hair a teeeensy touch lighter -- slightly brown -- for a more feminine, softer look. NOTE: I did this all 3 weeks before my interview date. Don't do it 1 week before! You need a little bit of wiggle room in case anything goes wrong.
- I didn't wear pantyhose. Your call.
- Wear low heels, but bring flats in your purse. Sometimes after the interview portion, there is a long walking tour of the school.
- No jingling or flashy brand name jewelry. It's distracting. I wore simple diamond stud earrings only. My Cartier love bracelet was hidden underneath my sleeves (though I probably should have just taken it off.)
THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW
- Google around and create a list of questions you think you will be asked. Trust me, you'll find at least 10 common interview questions.
- Come up with a list of highlights about yourself -- your achievements, important things about your background... Basically, your selling points.
- Prepare answers to your list of questions, making sure to weave in your personal highlights into your answers. By hook or by crook, make sure every personal highlight of yours has been mentioned. This takes some time and revision. E.g., I work as a Microbiology TA. Should I mention that when they ask me "Tell me about yourself," or is it better suited for "What work experience do you have that relates to health and science?"
- Ahead of time, research and read books on interviewing for healthcare school programs. The bulk of them are for med school. That's alright, whether you're pre-med or pre-PA or pre-nursing it's pretty much the same. I highly recommend "The Medical School Interview: Secrets & the System for Success." You'll learn what the motives of the admissions committee are. Basically, they're worried a little bit about funding... and a lot about student attrition. Now that you know what they're worried about, you can reassure them. Know that every question they ask is related to these two worries. They want to know, you're not going to get halfway through this program and drop out, are you? Do you know what you're getting in to? What makes you think you can handle an accelerated program? Are you going to leave us as soon as things get tough?
- Mock interview with people who you respect, but are not 100% comfortable with. Perhaps a teacher who you're on friendly terms with. Or a supervisor at work. Not your sister. Do it in a public place like a cafe or library. Suit up for it, shake hands, really go through the whole thing.
Good luck! Because luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity!