How to Rebound from Nursing School Rejection

From dealing with the news to reapplying with stronger materials and more determination than ever.

Last Updated: 08/07/2020
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It’s the letter every aspiring nurse dreads:

“Dear Hard-Working Hopeful Nurse,

After careful review of your application, we regret to inform you that you were not selected as a student for our nursing program…”

To say that those words sting is an understatement. You worked hard. You poured your heart and soul into your application. You were so hopeful! What now?

Getting turned away from your dream nursing program can hit hard for even the toughest students. Whether you only applied to your top program or you were rejected from every school on your shortlist, facing that rejection can become a valuable life lesson. With the right tools and attitude, this painful bump in the road can mark the beginning of a new, joyful start. 

From surviving the initial sting of not getting accepted to strengthening your application and reapplying, this guide provides tips for success after rejection.

Dealing with the News

No matter how well-prepared you might have been, not getting into the nursing program you’ve had your heart set on can be painful. Not only are you feeling shock and disappointment, you’re now forced to begin envisioning what life might look like now that your educational plans have taken a sudden turn.

While it’s perfectly okay to take a bit of time to deal with the emotional letdown and the stress of not knowing what your next move will be, don’t sit idle for too long. Dwelling on the rejection can impede your journey to your career as a nurse. Let’s take a look at how you can acknowledge what has happened, take a deep breath, and eventually move forward.

Feel the Feelings

Allow yourself time to feel the grief, to take the time to hide away from the world for a bit, to shed a few tears, and to regroup. Ignoring the pain and pushing through only means the emotions will come back when least expected, which is never a good thing. Take the time to deal with it, but keep in mind that there are other opportunities waiting, so don’t get lost the depression in the wake of a rejection.

Practice Self-Care

Now is the time to indulge in some self-care. Try to keep to a normal routine while doing little things that make you feel better. Give it a few days, or perhaps a few weeks, to feel better about the situation. Then it’s time to take a deep breath and channel those emotions into something more productive. But until you’re ready to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get back in the game, we’ve compiled a few self-care ideas that are sure to make you feel better.

10 Self-Care Ideas for the Win

1. Take a hot bath

Sometimes you just need to soak, close your eyes, and clear your head.

2. Go out to dinner

Whether it’s your favorite place or someplace entirely new, a good dinner can change your outlook.

3. Binge watch a new series

Use that extra time on your hands to catch up on the show everyone is talking about and let your mind wander away from your disappointment.

4. Go catch a movie

Take your mind off your troubles by diving into a fantasy world where you don’t need to think about the real world.

5. Get out in nature

A leisurely hike among the birds can help reset your internal thought meter and ready you to regroup.

6. Spend time with friends

Let the balm of good conversation with your favorite people soothe your soul.

7. Catch up on sleep

Let the worry go and sink into the pillow for a bit – and don’t set the alarm.

8. Do something entirely new

Go to an indoor skydiving park, join friends in an escape room, or otherwise find a new adventure. Doing something brand new will instantly take your mind to a more exciting place.

9. Treat yourself

A dish of ice cream or a nice little trinket you’ve been eyeing can work wonders to boost your mood after nursing school rejection.

10. Engage your brain

Work a puzzle, tackle Sudoku, or build a model, all in the pursuit of meditation and letting your subconscious work.

Don’t Take it Personally

It can be easy to let that rejection letter sound like a bullhorn saying, “You’re not good enough!” But nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t take rejection from nursing school as a direct indication of your worth as a student, or worse, as a person. Remember that nursing school admissions decisions are complicated, that the competition is fierce, and that there are only so many spots in any given program. Being rejected doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, it just means it’s not quite your time yet.

Focus on the Future

It can be easy to let that rejection letter sound like a bullhorn saying, “You’re not good enough!” But nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t take rejection from nursing school as a direct indication of your worth as a student, or worse, as a person. Remember that nursing school admissions decisions are complicated, that the competition is fierce, and that there are only so many spots in any given program. Being rejected doesn’t mean you’re not good enough, it just means it’s not quite your time yet.

Evaluating Your Application

Now it’s time to take a deep breath and go back to the nursing school application. One of the most important steps you can take after nursing school rejection is to conduct a self-evaluation. The goal of an application evaluation is to identify what went wrong the first time around. Some reasons students are rejected from nursing programs include the following:

  • Inadequate academic achievement
  • Late or incomplete application
  • Poor interview performance
  • Insufficient personal statement or essay
  • Minimal volunteer experience

Take the time to honestly evaluate your unsuccessful application so you have a better understanding of what went wrong. However, if you feel that you had a strong application and don’t understand why you were rejected, you can attempt to contact the admissions department of the nursing school you weren’t admitted to and politely ask the reasons why you were not accepted. This can provide insight into what went wrong and what to do next.

Strengthen Your Application

Take a serious look at your rejected application. This is not the time to be kind to yourself, but rather the time to use a very critical eye. Where are the weak areas? What are you lacking? Once you’ve identified the weak areas, you can begin working on strengthening them. Perhaps it was a low GPA, below-average test scores, not enough experience, no volunteer work, or a personal essay that just wasn’t right. There might be just one thing you can pinpoint, but often, there is more than one aspect that can be improved upon. Let’s take a look at the major ways you can strengthen the application before applying again, and this time, tip the acceptance scale in your favor.

Meet with an Admissions Advisor

Meeting with an admissions advisor, especially an advisor from the nursing department, is one of the most beneficial steps students can take before re-applying to their nursing programs of choice. An admissions advisor has seen thousands of applications, and can often tell at a glance which areas of an application need more work. They can assess your first application and work with you to make the second application a true standout. Whether you need to improve your grades or gain more clinical experience, your advisor can point you in the right direction.

5 Questions to Ask Your Advisor

Go into the advisor meeting prepared with specific questions to ask about your rejection and how to lessen the odds of it happening again in the future. Here are a few options:

1. What areas of my application need the most work?

2. Could you provide a few ideas on how to strengthen those areas?

3. What do admissions committees look for that boosts certain applications to the top of the pack?

4. If there is something I can’t fix, like my GPA at a previous school, what is something I can do to make up for that issue?

5. What volunteer work or experience would you suggest to get the most attention from a future admissions committee?

Apply for an Internship

In a highly competitive admissions race, experience can make the difference between a rejection and an enthusiastic yes. Working in an internship can give you more confidence, help you practice interpersonal communication and collaboration skills, and give you the opportunity to network with nursing professionals. You can learn about all sorts of important parts of the nursing world through an internship, and it will look fantastic on a nursing school application. In fact, an internship might even count toward future college credit in a nursing program.

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Plan a Gap Year

Taking a gap year can be an excellent way to boost your chances of getting into your ideal program, but it really depends on how you spend that gap year. While taking a year off to backpack around Europe might feel rewarding, it’s not what an admissions officer is looking for. To make yourself look more appealing to nursing schools, take that gap year to boost experience by working in a position that relates to nursing, or pursuing a program that will help underscore your desire to work in the medical field, such as becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or getting certifications in CPR or medical assisting. An admissions officer will take this as proof that you’re serious about your future in nursing.

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Volunteer

In addition to working in the medical world and gaining more experience, supplementing that with volunteer hours can definitely raise eyebrows in all the right ways. Donating your time and effort to hospitals, clinics, and healthcare organizations can get your application plenty of positive attention. The volunteer hours show you are committed to the field even if you aren’t getting paid for the work you’re providing and showing up to volunteer hours speaks volumes about your work ethic. Be ready to talk about your volunteer work when you do get through the next application process and are asked for an interview with the admissions committee.

Volunteer Opportunities to Help Boost Your Nursing School Application  

Not sure where to find nursing-related volunteer positions? Here are a few great options.

1. The American Red Cross

In addition to the popular blood drives, the American Red Cross offers assistance to millions across the nation. Get in touch and ask about ways you can volunteer in your local area.  

2. Nursing home & senior care facilities

Nursing homes are always looking for volunteers to sit with patients or residents who might not have many family or friends. Joining in with a volunteer group to visit once a week is a perfect way to get started.

3. Your local hospital

Local hospitals are always in need of volunteers to help guide visitors to the proper areas, use wheelchairs to escort patients to testing areas, greet those who come through the doors seeking assistance, and bring a spot of joy to those who are stuck in the hospital for long periods of time.

4. Medical Reserve Corps

This network of community volunteers stands ready to help others in the event of a national emergency. Training can include basic medical and nursing care.

take-prerequisite-courses

Take Prerequisite Courses

If your nursing school ambitions need to be placed on the backburner temporarily, why not get some prerequisite classes out of the way in the meantime? Look into what prerequisites the school requires of for aspiring nurses and take a few of them at a local community college. Things like Anatomy and Physiology or Introduction to Psychology are often available to all majors, so you don’t have to be enrolled in a nursing program to take one of them. The next time you apply, you can not only show that you have taken those courses, but that you got good grades in them – both of which will look quite appealing to the admissions committee.

realated-position

Work in a Related Position

Finding work in a related position proves that you are ambitious, determined to work in the nursing field, and more than ready to improve the application that will get you into nursing school. Working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, Medical Assistant, Phlebotomist and the like can get attention from nursing schools and push your application to the top of the next batch of hopefuls. It also opens the door to bridge programs, which allow students to leverage their current experience and certification in order to fast-track their education.

improve-number

Improve Your Numbers

Sometimes the big issue will turn out to be a low GPA or low scores on the TEAS test. It might even be an issue with the ACT, SAT, or graduate tests. Improving the GPA might mean going back to the previous school and asking to retake some courses in order to bring those grades up. For the placement tests, taking them again is usually possible. Yes, it costs some money and time to study, but it might be worth it to boost the score a bit – that might be enough to meet a cut-off point for the particular nursing school you’re interested in. Simply taking the test again, or retaking the courses, can prove to the admissions committee that you’re serious about getting into the program.

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Make Sure You’re Interview Ready

Sometimes it wasn’t the nitty-gritty details of the application that led to the rejection, but perhaps what was said in the interview stage that led to the denial. Regardless, the interview is the school’s opportunity to really get to know you and decide if they want to take a chance on you, so get ready to brush up on your interview skills. Ask your friends, family, or fellow students to help you practice by setting up a mock interview. You can find all kinds of interview questions online and then figure out how you’d answer them. You need to be able to back up the skills on your application by impressing with your interview.

5 Most Common Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

1. Why do you want to be a nurse?

Try to avoid general statements like “I’ve wanted to help people since I was a little kid.” Instead, go for an anecdote that made you love the idea of caring for others, or talk about what it is that makes you desire to comfort and protect others.

2. Why do you want to attend this specific nursing program?

Research the program thoroughly so you can answer this question with confidence. Is it the best in the state? In the country? Does it provide certain internships? Does it offer strong networking? Find the reasons why this program matters so much to you and let them know.

3. There are 1,000 applicants as qualified as you are, why should we select you for our class?

Perhaps mention that though there are 1,000 applicants, there are not a thousand interviews – so you’re already ahead of the game. Mention your work ethic, ability to work well with others, your attention to detail, and other points that can’t be explained in an application. Take this opportunity to express any attributes or skills that you think make you unique and different from the other candidates.

4. What is your opinion on euthanasia?

This is a rather loaded question and one to handle with care in an interview. In some states, death with dignity laws allow for this route; but even in those states, there might be areas where those laws are met with skepticism or outright disdain. Use your best judgment – and your honest opinion – in answering this question, and other tough questions, to the best of your ability.

5. What is the most pressing issue in healthcare today?

There are obviously many concerns in healthcare, so choose a few that are most important to you. Take your time in figuring this out, as you want to provide the interviewers with something that shows your passion in helping change that problem, whatever it might be.

Consider Appealing

Students who don’t get accepted into their top nursing program may have the option to appeal the college’s decision. It might be tempting to jump into an appeal right away, as soon as the shock and sadness have worn off. But remember, although this option may exist, students should know that nursing school decisions are almost always final and appeals don’t typically result in acceptance.

Before deciding to appeal, make sure you have a legitimate reason to appeal a rejection. Being upset or frustrated or feeling as though you were treated unfairly are not reasons to appeal (though they certainly might feel like it!). However, if you’ve forgotten to include significant information that would strengthen your application, or you believe there may have been some sort of clerical error, an appeal might be appropriate.

Students who decide to appeal a rejection should keep the following in mind:

Find out why you were rejected

Get the clear reasons for the rejection by getting in contact with the admissions office at the school that rejected you. If you can speak with someone in person, that’s great – if not, over the phone will have to suffice. Introduce yourself and explain that you were surprised by the rejection, and wondered if there was any particular reason why your application came up short. Remember, there are many others who were rejected, so it might be tough to get someone to talk to you about specific reasons for your particular application.

Don’t appeal the decision if nothing has changed

If you do get an answer that focuses on your grades, GPA, test scores, lack of volunteer work, not the right kind of experience, or something along those lines, simply say “thank you” to the admissions officer for the information and move on. Rejections based on things like this will not be reversed on appeal.

Check if there was an administration or clerical error

What if the admissions officer says you had a 2.0 GPA when you know you had a 3.0? What if there were no letters of recommendation in the packet, but you know you sent them in? These are appealable issues that could make a difference. Alert the admissions counselor to the issue and figure out what to do, such as having your school send another transcript (a correct one this time) or asking if you can get new copies of those letters of recommendation.

Present new information

If there has been a big change since you sent in your application, let the admissions officer know. For example, perhaps you took the SAT again and your score went way up. Or perhaps you’ve just completed a prerequisite course that you didn’t have at the time of application. Though these things might not sway the committee, it’s worth mentioning, just in case.

Always be polite and grateful

College acceptance is very competitive, so the admissions officers have a tough job – especially in the aftermath of decisions, when they must field questions like the ones you’re asking. Always express gratitude for their time and be unfailingly polite. But at the same time, reaffirm your interest in the program and make it clear that you really want in.

Keep it simple

If an appeal is possible, remember again how busy admissions officers are, and keep the letter short and sweet. Simply state your case, include new information, explain it briefly, and tell them why you believe their initial rejection should be reconsidered. The supporting documentation is the key, but the letter can go a long way toward showing how professional you are.

Be realistic

Approach your appeal with a realistic eye. Remember, most schools will not accept an appeal unless there is substantial reason to reconsider, such as a clerical error. Some schools don’t entertain appeals at all, as their classes are entirely full. Other schools might put you on a waitlist, but that is no guarantee of acceptance. In short, it’s okay to be hopeful, but don’t have unrealistic expectations.

Apply Again

Now that you’ve worked out what went wrong with your first application and strengthened all the weak spots, you’re ready to reapply. Your application should be strong, so now focus on the things that can be changed beyond that – the personal statement or essay, and the letters of recommendation. Let’s take a look at how to strengthen those.

New Personal Statements & Essays

The original personal statement you wrote for the first application likely outlined your hopes and goals. Now you have something more to add to it – the sting of rejection, and how that helped you improve. Talking about what you did over the past semester or year since the rejection can help paint you as a person who can turn lemons into lemonade. Point out how you became a much stronger candidate through overcoming that hurdle, how it brought a firmer realization that nursing is where you need to be, and what about the school interests you enough that you want to apply there again. Present the best version of yourself and show them why you will make a great nurse.

Letters of Recommendation

A fresh application will need fresh letters of recommendation to accompany it. Think about the relationships you’ve built with professionals over this past year, especially those who can speak to your skills in the medical field. Look to internships, employment, and volunteer work to find those who would be more than happy to speak on your behalf. Explain to them that this is your second application, so a letter that helps show your growth during that time would be greatly appreciated.