High school graduates considering entering college-level programs who are looking for a secure career and who care for the health of others find themselves asking, “How hard is it to get into nursing school?” There are three ways of looking at this question. The first viewpoint is that of the community. Within that view is criteria that either directly answers the question or implies the answer. Another point of view comes from the school. Is the school more concerned about making money off its nursing school or about the quality of their program? Then, there is the most critical viewpoint that of the student. Can the motivation of the student see them into and through an intense and expensive program that calls for continuous concentration, repeated testing, and incredible physical endurance?
The Community View
The community that asks, “how hard is it to get into nursing school,” involves everyone inside healthcare, everyone who may require quality healthcare in the future, and those planning to enter the field of nursing. With baby-boomers entering retirement age and requiring more healthcare in the latter part of their lives, the demand for well-educated nurses is growing by leaps and bounds. Unfilled nursing positions increases pressure on nursing schools to fill a supply line that is impossible to meet. Hospitals, clinics, and elder-care facilities are diligently looking for qualified nurses. The pressure on the market demands that nursing schools turn out graduates that are immediately available for work upon graduation and licensure.
One would think that this would increase the likelihood of acceptance by nursing schools of applicants, but the result is quite the opposite. The demand for instantly qualified nurses creates a situation where schools raise their expectations of applicants. Nursing students who are prone to dropping out of school are unwelcome in this intense and demanding field.
The School Viewpoint
Existing faculty members are reaching retirement age, and the schools are having problems refilling the positions. According to the publication from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away 75,029 applicants in 2018-2019 that were considered highly qualified in earlier years, principally due to the retirement of a significant amount of nursing faculty. The current reduction in faculty is small when compared to future expectations. With 1/3 of nursing school faculty expected to retire by 2025, the drive to replace them with qualified instructors is failing. The crux involves financial compensation as the pay rate for an assistant professor in nursing averages $20,000 less than active nursing practitioners of the same age. Ironically, the baby-boomer generation that supplied so many nurses and nursing instructors is leaving just when the need for them is rising.
Another factor in the pressures to lower the number of successful applicants to nursing schools is the increasing need for nursing specialists. To obtain a certification in a specialty, established nurses return to school to take courses. These applicants receive priority over new applicants and reduce the spots available for new students fresh out of high school.
Though the forces that demand more nurses and those that are lowering the availability of positions within nursing schools are tangentially opposed, they are not solving the issue. Community activists are searching for ways to increase the number of students accepted into nursing schools. Still, with the combination of the retirement of qualified faculty and the reduced number of nurses spending time and money to achieve a master’s or doctorate, it appears that there is little relief in sight for the erstwhile nursing school applicant.
The Student Viewpoint
From the viewpoint of a prospective nursing school student, the perspective is considerably different. It takes a dedicated student to endure the full force of nursing school education. In many schools, the student is expected to rise from bed at 4:00 am and work a few hours, then attend classes, and work some more and get back to bed at midnight only to get up at 4:00 am and start a new day. The stress of nursing school is legendary and causes many students to drop out.
Nursing school students also expected to build significant student debt through the Federal Student Loan Program unless they come from a family with the wealth available to finance the student’s nursing education. Some students will pile up $200,000 in debt in the most elite nursing schools to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing with a certification in the area of their interest. Other applicants seeking an LPN, RN, or the associates degree in nursing may accumulate $40,000 in student debt. Attending an accredited community college relieves some of the student debt, but those schools are also beginning to accept fewer applicants.
Somewhere along the line, the squeeze of demand and opportunity must find a solution. When highly qualified applicants are turned away from nursing schools in the thousands, and when they need to fill existing positions is dire, a compromise will surface allowing more nursing students into the system. The question is when it will come.
Minimum Qualifications a Nursing School Applicant Must Meet
Understanding the difficulty in getting into a nursing school program and the reducing likeliness of future entrance, a student who still wishes to enter such a program must work on their grades and extracurricular activities early. It is crucial to make the largest positive impression possible on the school’s entrance board. The minimum qualifications to gain admittance to any accredited nursing school in the U.S, are:
- Finish your high school or GED with a GPA of 3.00 or better. The higher the GPA, the more notice you will receive from the entrance board.
- Commit to either pursue a four-year degree to obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or a community college to obtain a one-year program to gain a Licensed Practical Nurse degree or a two-year associate degree in nursing.
- Take the Test of Essential Academic Skill (TEAS). Though the TEAS is not required by all nursing schools, the test results are always a plus when making an application for entrance to a nursing school. Make sure to obtain a test copy and go over it at least five times before taking the test. Preparing yourself will ensure that you receive the highest test score possible.
- Research your favorite nursing school to find any other entrance requirements. Some schools require a higher GPA, others may require work experience in the field, either as an employee or a volunteer.
- Each nursing school has prerequisites that must be fulfilled before you apply for entrance. Most nursing schools require the completion of courses in microbiology, chemistry, and anatomy & physiology. If you are entering a four-year program, these courses are included. If you are attending a community college, find these courses in your school.
- For most students, it will be necessary to find financial aid to attend nursing school. Research any scholarships, grants, or philanthropic financing first as these are free of charge, then look into the Federal Student Loan program. Knowing the financial burden, you must carry yourself, let’s you know how much you should have on hand before you apply for school. Nursing school is different than other schools. Your focus must be on your classes and practicum; there is no time to work on the side.
- Apply to several nursing schools. Choose the ideal school for you first, then look at the more practical nursing schools for your purposes. Remember, out-of-state tuition is much higher than that in your home state.
- Prepare for the interview. Make sure you are prepared to shine for your interviewers. The interview is where you make your impression on those who will be instructing you.
- Do not be disappointed if you are not selected among the limited students allowed to enroll in any nursing school—keep trying.
What to Do If Your Application is Not Approved
Do not worry if your first attempts at entering nursing school are not approved. There is a growing need for qualified nurses and you can still realize your dream. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses is increasing at an incredible level, making nursing among the ten fastest-growing occupations in the country. After you receive your notice, prepare to reapply the next year by increasing your portfolio. Here are some easy hints to follow:
- Keep a positive outlook
- Continue to improve your application by taking prerequisite courses.
- Seek out more volunteer opportunities in the healthcare industry. Working without pay in a rest home, clinic, or hospital shows nursing school entrance boards know that you are serious about seeking a nursing degree.
- If you are looking to enter a four-year school to seek a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, attend the local community college and pursue an LPN or ADN degree. Many of the courses involved with these degrees serve as prerequisites for BSN programs.
- Work on an essay about why you want to attend a nursing school and become a nurse. Go back to it and revise as you learn more. Most nursing schools require an essay along these lines during the application process. Having the essay immediately at hand and fine-tuned over a year of editing ensures that you have presented the best case possible for the school to allow you into their limited program.
How to Select a Nursing School
There are famous nursing schools across the country. Some schools are not famous. The difference in the quality of nursing education delivered by these schools is minimal. The process of accreditation ensures that all nursing programs deliver an education that meets standards set by professional organizations. Watch out for those schools that are unaccredited. Healthcare employers are extremely conscientious about hiring properly trained nurses. Unaccredited nursing schools do not meet the standards these employers demand. To find out if your intended school is accredited, search the Department of Education accreditation site. If the school is not on their list, then the school and the nursing program are not accredited, and you are wasting your time and money.
State Board of Nursing Approval
Another issue to look into before you apply to a nursing school is to see if they are state-approved. Each state recognizes the importance of healthcare and maintains a Board of Nursing that regulates the quality of the education nursing students receive in the state. If the school does not have state approval of its nursing program, then the student will not be allowed to apply for licensure. A nursing license is required to be employed as a nurse.
Getting into Nursing School is Hard
There are issues in the nation’s healthcare system, and the growing lack of qualified nurses is one of them. The community needs nurses now more than ever. There is a striking need for qualified faculty at nursing schools to train incoming students in the art of nursing. For students and prospective students, the issue is the availability of nursing school spots. The problems related to the reduced number of nursing school graduates entering the healthcare system will plague us for years. If you are a student desperately wanting to enter a nursing school, quit asking, “how hard is it to get into nursing school?” and start preparing yourself and your resume for entry to the position where your drive and desire are needed.
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