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Applying for nursing school and just a bit lost
January 29, 2013 10:32 AM   Subscribe

I may be able to apply for nursing school as early as this fall. Yay! Can you help me come up with some resources to help guide me through the application process and assess the merits of different programs?

I've done some serious thinking and research since asking this question a couple months back, and decided to apply for nursing school. I'm currently taking the science pre-requisites at my local community college. I sat down with the pre-requisite list for some programs yesterday and realized that, if I keep taking classes through the summer, I could be ready to do at least some applications this fall. I will be applying for accelerated second-degree BSN programs; ideally, I'd also like to have the option of combining that with a master's in public health or public health nursing.

Only problem is, I have no clue how to navigate the applications process. The health professions adviser at my community college basically told me she doesn't know much about the programs I'm looking at because so few people there apply for them. The last career services person I talked to at my alma mater tried to talk me out of pursuing nursing entirely. (I do, however, have access to an alumni database; I plan to look around through there for grads in the field.) I have no sense at all of how competitive the programs are, how competitive an applicant I am, and what makes a good application. I suspect that the type of programs I'm applying for are especially competitive, but I don't know for sure.

So I guess my questions are:

-Are there good online resources for nurses or potential nursing students that I should know about? Places where I could ask questions about the application process or about jobs, and have them answered by people with a clue?
-Are there any kinds of program ranking lists other than US News and World Report that I should know about? How important is the ranking of a nursing program anyway? Would it be worth moving out of my city, where rent is cheap, I'm super-proud of the life I've built for myself, and there are lots of health care opportunities, to go to a "better" program? (I am entirely prepared to move for jobs when the time comes, but I was hoping to stay here for school; there are three programs in my city, and at least one more in the suburbs.)
-What kinds of questions should I be asking as I talk to admissions people at different schools and look at program web sites? NCLEX pass rates, job placement rates, graduation rates, where you do clinicals? What's most important to know?

Thanks in advance, hivemind!
posted by ActionPopulated to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
These programs aren't terribly competitive unless you're applying at an otherwise competitive school. My best friend did one of these, and the application was process amounted to not that much more than "Oh, you want to enroll in the program? You got money? Okay, when can you start?"

But he had been working as an emergency medicine tech for about a year before he applied. Many of these programs require that you be involved in some kind of health care environment. You'll definitely want to look into this.

Beyond that. . . more than a lot of other programs, nursing programs are more-or-less created equal. The demand for nurses is high. It's taken something of a hit since the recession hit, but there are still nursing positions available in almost every community in the country. They may not be exactly what you're looking for, but they're out there. The most significant feature of these programs is thus their location. The nursing market is not a national market the way the market for physicians is. If you graduate from a nursing program in town [x], odds are very good you'll wind up working within a few hours of town [x], and very good that you'll wind up practicing in that state.

The other thing you should probably think about is cost. Unlike say, law school, where you go to nursing school doesn't have a whole lot to do with how much you're going to make afterwards. Hospitals tend to have pretty fixed pay scales for their nurses, and there's not a whole lot of negotiation that goes on (other than perhaps collective bargaining, where applicable). So how much your degree is going to cost you is going to be really, really important. It's not like going to a more expensive, "better" school is going to let you earn more money afterwards.

Along with that, know that a lot of hospitals have programs where they will pay people's nursing school tuition in exchange for a multi-year commitment after graduation. Generally one year of service for each year of school, but that varies a bit. Definitely look into these.
posted by valkyryn at 10:47 AM on January 29, 2013

I suspect that the type of programs I'm applying for are especially competitive, but I don't know for sure.

This is the one spot where I disagree with what valkyryn said above. Second-degree nursing programs tend to be extremely competitive. There is a shortage of faculty (because RNs can make so much more working in healthcare than in teaching), so the programs have to turn away lots of qualified applicants. Things that seem to make people more appealing candidates are a clear vision of what nursing is really like (generally demonstrated by having some kind of healthcare experience, even if just volunteering), an ability to articulate how the skills from your previous schooling/career would apply to nursing, and a desire to care for people (compared to a generalized desire for a stable job with a decent paycheck).

How important is the ranking of a nursing program anyway?

Pretty minimal in terms of getting a job. As long as it's an accredited school of nursing, the name of the school on your resume is unlikely to affect your chances of getting hired when you graduate. And if you decide to move to a new nursing job after your first one, it'll pretty much not matter at all. It won't affect your pay rate. The only reason I can think of to pay attention to the rankings is if they do a good job of distilling all the other information you're looking for: do most of the entering students graduate and get jobs, are the instructors good at teaching, are the clinical experiences thorough, are the students happy with the program? I do not know whether the rankings consider these things.

Would it be worth moving out of my city, where rent is cheap, I'm super-proud of the life I've built for myself, and there are lots of health care opportunities, to go to a "better" program?

No way.

The contacts you make and experiences you get while doing clinical rotations are a big source of jobs when you graduate. You might meet a manager who will be looking to hire when you graduate, which is a great contact to have. If you apply for a job in a hospital where you've done clinicals, you'll be able to say on your resume and in your interview that you have experience with using their electronic medical record system and the brands of equipment they use (IV pumps/blood pressure machines/glucometers), and you'll even be able to say that you have some familiarity with that hospital's policies and procedures. These are all things that help a new grad get up and running sooner, and managers know it.

In clinicals you'll also get to experience the culture on a bunch of different hospital units. If you have clinicals somewhere where the nurses are friendly to students and seem to help each other out a lot, do whatever you can to get hired there. If you go to clinicals and the nurses are rude to the students and each other, if call lights go unanswered for long stretches (either because everyone is too busy or because nobody wants to help a patient who is assigned to someone else), avoid applying for a job on that unit if you can help it.

All that is to say, go to nursing school in the city where you want to work. It'll help you get your foot in the door looking for jobs, and also help you get your foot in a good door where you'll want to stay.

-What kinds of questions should I be asking as I talk to admissions people at different schools and look at program web sites? NCLEX pass rates, job placement rates, graduation rates, where you do clinicals?

NCLEX pass rates, where they do clinicals, and I'd say maybe most importantly, how many hours of clinicals. Hiring managers may or may not care about how many hours of clinicals you've done, but you totally will. Nursing is a combination of intellectual knowledge and technical skills (with hefty doses of art and judgment). Every nurse I know, myself included, was terrified upon graduation that they didn't have enough technical skills. There's a lot of on-the-job learning, but you can decrease your stress level over that first year considerably if you get lots of opportunities to care for patients as a student, when you have more supervision and support.

Good luck with your applications! Feel free to MeMail me if you have any more questions, too. I graduated from an accelerated 2nd-degree nursing program (Masters degree, but for RN licensure) 2 years ago.
posted by vytae at 12:15 PM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Valkyryn is a lawyer, I think, and his one friend probably either went awhile ago or was an exceptional candidate and Valkyryn doesn't give him credit for it.

These programs are extremely competitive. The person I know who got into an accelerated program at a private school had a bachelor's degree and a 4.0 in her prereqs. She spent 2 years being a volunteer medic every weekend. And she was a part time nanny.

I decided on pharmacy school but considered nursing briefly. No entrance exam (had to do PCAT for pharmacy school) and the promise of a stable profession with lots of opportunities equals a ton of ppl flocking to it. There aren't enough professors, and every school with a name is trying to open an ABSN program.

Go to the AllNurses forum for more info. Talk to actual people who are applying.
posted by discopolo at 12:30 PM on January 29, 2013

In no particular order, thoughts from a nurse who did an ABSN program:

know that a lot of hospitals have programs where they will pay people's nursing school tuition in exchange for a multi-year commitment after graduation -- Eh, not so much anymore if you don't already work for them in some capacity. Definitely check the hospitals in your city to see if this is available, but don't be surprised if it's not.

On relocating, I agree with vytae completely. I would also add that nursing school is tough, and being in a brand-new environment would make it tougher.

Definitely look at where the programs do their clinicals. I went to University of Mystate, and could have done every one of my clinicals at their hospital (huge academic research facility, state flagship level), but chose to spread my clinicals out. In this way I got some experience not only at U Mystate, but also at the local Catholic hospital, a VA hospital, a community hospital in Nearby Smaller City, and a state psychiatric facility. This was helpful in thinking about what kind of environment I wanted to work in. (Which became kind of a moot point when I ended up moving out of state for my first nursing job [which was 99% because it turned out one of my references was fucking me over, but that is A Story For Another Time]).

As discopolo says, AllNurses is a decent place to ask questions like this. There are state-specific subforums where you should be able to find people who are currently in the programs you're considering - ask them about their application experience, and about their current school experience. How many people started in their class, and how many are finishing? In my cohort, we started with 64, finished with 63. There was a strong sense from the administration of "if you got this far, you WILL finish". To put it mildly, this is not true for all programs.

Feel free to memail me if you have any questions!
posted by shiny blue object at 3:33 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work with a lot of nursing students and their professors. Getting admitted to the program is extremely competitive, even here at a small college in the rural south. Virtually all of the admitted students have some kind of experience in health care. In fact, the only one I can think of who doesn't have that kind of experience has a degree in biochemistry. So if you're set on nursing be sure to do some volunteering at a local hospital, or become an EMT, or something similar.

If you really want to do public health why not just get a masters in it now?
posted by mareli at 4:54 PM on January 29, 2013

I'm a current (ADN) nursing student graduating in May. I'm attending a local community college who has high NLCEX pass rates, tons of clinical sites, and community college tuition rates. It was an extremely competitive program to get into: not sure of the exact numbers, but for my year it was something like 400 applicants, 100 interviews, 65 accepted with a waitlist.

Nthing AllNurses.
posted by RainyJay at 5:53 PM on January 29, 2013

As an RN and nurse educator, I want to encourage you and offer some thoughts.

Your area of the country may be different, but all over the west coast, nursing schools are very competitive because of the number of interested students and the shortage of nursing faculty. Nursing attracts lots of people because of the high wage to schooling ratio. With the economic downturn, the number of applicants continues to be high, even with some of the job market getting tighter (RNs projected to retire are staying in their jobs).

This leads me to suggest that you get some advising as soon as possible. If your community college can't advise you, I am guessing that is because they don't have a nursing program. Maybe you can ask them if they can refer you to the advising at another community college where there is a nursing program. This isn't saying you need to apply to them, but they may have knowledge of your area that could be helpful. You can also talk with the admissions departments at some of the places you are interested in. They can give you a rough idea of how many applicants they have, a successful applicant profile, their class size, information sessions for prospective applicants, etc. Think of every contact with them, though, as an interview. Applicants may not realize that these points of contact can follow them through the admissions process.

A few more thoughts:
- AllNurses is a good site, and usually has good information
- The most important factors in choosing a nursing school (for most people) are 1) where you can get in, 2) how much it will cost and 3) what degree you want (ADN vs BSN). Less cost is better because there is a tight job market now and nursing salaries are set based on the local market and wages will go up with experience and specialization, but max out pretty quickly. Public health/community health nursing is paid at the low end of the nursing wage spectrum, so you really want to watch your debt if this is your interest.
- Look into volunteering opportunities and meeting RNs who you can shadow because this will be an important part of your application. If you check in with the public health department and free clinics, they may have these opportunities.
- Persistence is important in the application process. You want to show them that you WANT to be a nurse and will do what it takes. Because nursing schools have choices, they will weed out applicants who they think are looking for easy money or who would rather be a doctor (or something else), but will settle for nursing.
- Feel empowered to stay local. The second degree thing is a little unique in nursing in that it has a pre-med-ish element that applicants apply outside of their local areas. But realistically, most nurses train in the area that they are from or currently living. Nursing is also very locally biased in terms of hiring practices, so go to school where you want to live and work.

Good luck with your application. If you can, try to make local contacts (this will be helped by shadowing and volunteering if you can get that going) because they will give you much better advice for the specifics in your area.
posted by artdesk at 8:09 PM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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