7 Tips to Gain an Edge When Applying to Nursing School

Whatever group you fall into, here are some tips and strategies to boost your chances of getting an acceptance letter or a generous nursing school scholarship offer. Most of this advice works whether you’re applying to an undergraduate or graduate nursing program.

1. Start the Application Process as Early as Possible

You want to submit your nursing school application on time. It sounds obvious, but life can often get in the way. Unexpected surprises are a part of life, so to help mitigate their effects on your nursing school application, begin working on the application as soon as possible. Besides making it less likely your application will be late, starting early has several other benefits.

First, it gives you more time to gather your recommendation letters. Your recommenders will appreciate having more time; after all, they’re busy people with their own deadlines, too.

Second, you’ll have more time to write your personal statement or essay. This extra time can be helpful when figuring out what to write, as well putting it through a few more edits. As a general rule, the more times you (and anyone else) can read and edit your essay, the better it will become. Ideas become sharper, sentences become easier to read, and the flow of the essay becomes more natural.

Third, starting early gives you more time to plan for unexpected requirements. For example, if you need to take a particular entrance exam or obtain additional documents you weren’t expecting, having an extra few weeks or months will be much appreciated.

2. Take the Essay Seriously

The essay (or personal statement) is your biggest chance to show the admissions committee who you are beyond your academic record and employment history. Therefore, you should spend plenty of time and effort on it. Here are some do’s and don’ts for taking the essay as seriously as possible.

  • Do tell a compelling and/or memorable story about yourself. This can make your application more memorable and more effectively demonstrate why a particular school should admit you for your uniqueness.
  • Do start writing your essay as soon as possible. See above.
  • Do use your essay to demonstrate your writing ability. Nursing is a technical profession, but good writing skills are invaluable.
  • Do take advantage of a writing center if you’re still in school. This is a free way to get feedback and edits to your essay. It will also help improve your writing skills.
  • Don’t use AI, ChatGPT, or anything (or anyone) to write your essay for you. You can use these to brainstorm ideas, but when it comes to writing the words of your essay, it should be all you.
  • Don’t turn in an essay without having at least two other people read it and give you their thoughts and opinions. While their feelings aren’t necessarily gospel, if they both have the same critique of your essay, that’s probably a good sign you need to make a change.
  • Don’t rely solely on online editing tools like Hemingway and Grammarly. These are very useful to help tweak and polish an essay, but they’re not perfect and should complement, not replace, your proofreading of the essay.

3. Practice for the Interview

Not all nursing schools require applicants to appear for an interview, but it’s still a relatively common application requirement. Even if it’s optional, it may be a good idea to schedule an interview as it offers you another opportunity to stand out from the hundreds if not thousands of other applicants.

There’s no way to know exactly how the interview will go, but a quick search online will give you a general idea of what kind of interview questions you can expect during your nursing school admission interview.

It also helps to practice one or more mock interviews with someone else. A friend or family member is a good place to start, but if you’re still a student, your school’s career services office will likely offer mock interview sessions where you can get extra practice.

4. Find a Program that Meets Your Needs and Explain That to the School

You can increase your chances of getting accepted to a particular program by explaining why that program is right for you. This can be done in a variety of contexts, such as a personal statement or interview. You can note how a nursing program’s degree and concentration options fit into your career goals. You can also talk about why that particular program’s curriculum format offers a learning experience that meshes well with your learning style and schedule.

5. Make Sure You Have All Necessary Prerequisites

Figuring out a particular nursing program’s prerequisites can be difficult. There are so many nursing programs available at so many levels, with each level having a different set of prerequisites. Then there are unique ways each school will have structured their programs, which will also affect the prerequisites.

All of this to say that when applying to a particular program, double-check to confirm you currently meet (or will meet) the prerequisites. There’s no point in wasting your time, money, and emotional energy on programs you can’t get accepted to because you didn’t take a certain class or don’t have the minimum GPA.

6. Contact the Admissions Office

You can submit most applications for nursing school online, and if there’s no interview requirement, you may never make direct contact with anyone from the admissions office unless you have a question or get accepted. To boost your chances of getting accepted, be proactive in reaching out to the admissions office.

It can be a simple follow up telephone call or request for a tour when you visit the school. Either way, you want to use this contact as a chance to help the admissions committee put a face and personality to your application. It will also show your genuine and continued interest in the program.

7. Have Plenty of Applicable Experience

If you’re currently in high school or your first year of college, you probably won’t have nursing experience to reference in your application. Yet you can find extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences that will reflect your interest in the nursing field. These will also help show that you’re a well-rounded person and provide a glimpse to who you are beyond a GPA or entrance exam score.

If you’re applying to a graduate nursing program, you’ve probably got at least several years of working experience. If this experience isn’t in the healthcare or nursing field, you can still find a way to show how it can help you contribute to the on-campus or online classroom. Graduate nursing programs like to accept students with real-world experience as it can help provide a perspective that other students can benefit from.