12 Questions to Ask When Choosing A Nursing Program
Published on May 9, 2021. Updated on May 7, 2021.
The first step on your nursing journey is choosing the right program—and aspiring nurses in the US have plenty of options! With so many choices, it’s important to make sure you know the right questions to ask when choosing a nursing program, so you find one that aligns perfectly with your professional goals.
Did you know there are over 2,000 accredited nursing programs in the US? With so many options, the process of choosing a nursing program that will help you meet your career goals can be… intimidating!
Although every nursing student has different aspirations, all have one thing in common: the desire to complete nursing school, pass the NCLEX exam, and land their first nursing job.
So how do you choose the right program that will empower you to enjoy a thriving nursing career?
The best way to get started is by asking all the right questions before enrolling in a nursing program. While it’s a process, it’s one that will give you clarity and ultimately lead you towards the best program for you.
Ready to get started? Here are questions to ask when choosing a nursing program.
1. What type of degree do I want?
It’s important to figure out what kind of nursing you ultimately want to practice so you can choose a program that best aligns with these goals. Though you may not know exactly what your end goals are, no matter where you start, the nursing profession is designed for you to obtain more education to go in the direction of your goals!
So, do you want to become a nursing assistant? You will need a high school diploma to take the certification test. This is an option for students who like to provide bedside care to clients and is a great option to gain experience if you intend on pursuing an RN. If you are hoping to become a registered nurse, then you need to choose a program that offers at least an associate’s degree in nursing or higher.
If you want to pursue an advanced nursing specialty—like becoming a nurse practitioner—then you’ll want a bachelor’s degree in nursing so you can more easily go on to get your master’s.
Learn more about choosing a nursing specialty here.
2. Is the nursing school approved or accredited?
Now that you’ve chosen to obtain a nursing degree, which program is the right one? This is a big one, especially if you want to continue with your education in the future. Let’s start with some definitions:
Accredited: programs selected by the US Department of Education for the purpose of maintaining high standards of nursing education Accreditation looks at the quality of the program and how the program is carried out to see whether it meets the standards of the profession.
Approved: programs evaluated by a state Board of Nursing (BON) to ensure that the laws of the state are met. Approval is based on the specifications of the state’s Nursing Practice Act for the purpose of protecting both students and the public.
While you can still qualify to take the National Council Licensure Examination-RN (NCLEX-RN) if you attend an approved program, accredited programs hold the advantage of higher quality programs with known legitimacy and high standards. So, it’s wise to select an accredited nursing program.
3. Can I get financial aid to fund my nursing program?
Weighing your options in terms of tuition cost, scholarship opportunities, and financial aid will help you make the most of your nursing program.
Ideally, you don’t want to pay for everything out of pocket (and not many people can). Attending an approved or accredited institution will increase your chances of receiving financial aid as they offer student assistance, unlike their unapproved counterparts.
Once you’ve narrowed down a few nursing programs you’re interested in, request a meeting with their financial aid office. This is where you can determine approximately how much aid you may receive and can start planning what program aligns with your professional goals and financial needs.
The last thing you want is to enroll in a nursing program and run out of money!
4. What’s the application process?
Once you choose your nursing program, the admissions department or admissions counselor will guide you through the application process and notify you of the deadline date.
Booking an admissions session can help you determine what’s required for a successful application process. For instance, you may need copies of your original transcripts. Knowing this means you’ll have plenty of time to acquire those beforehand. Do not procrastinate the application process! This is where you are able to show your potential program your ability to meet deadlines professionally.
Some institutions will require a second application process just to be accepted into the nursing program. When considering a program, make sure to ask if there is a specific process to apply to the nursing program as well. For some institutions this includes taking specific courses, maintaining a certain GPA, and providing an application. So, remember, just because you were accepted into an institution, does not mean you’re automatically accepted into the nursing program!
5. How many students apply and what is the acceptance rate?
The student acceptance rate will let you know your chances of getting into the institution.
If the nursing school accepts only 30 students out of every 100 who apply, that should motivate you to send a highly outstanding application. (Of course, you should give your all when it comes to every application you send!)
Also, determine whether there’s a waiting list for students who don’t meet the current eligibility standards so that if you aren't accepted on your first application, you can strive to meet the qualifications before the next application round.
6. How long does the program take to complete?
How soon do you want to become an RN? This is extremely important to think about, as it’ll help you go about your studies and plan your finances in the right way.
Depending on the degree and program, it can take anywhere from 18 months to 4 years to complete a program. Diploma and associate degree programs typically take closer to 2 years to complete, while bachelor degree programs take 4 years.
The shorter your course, the more you will have to pay upfront and the more time you will need (only a daily basis) to dedicate towards completion.
7. What are the program’s eligibility requirements?
When it comes to your application, you want to put your best foot forward. So, when you decide to go into nursing school, ensure you understand the eligibility criteria. Getting everything right and nailing every step will skyrocket your chances of getting approved.
Some nursing programs have eligibility requirements that take time to meet. The last thing you want is an unexpected last-minute scramble and panic to retrieve your education records from a slow-moving transcript office!
By giving yourself enough time to complete your application and checking off each eligibility requirement, you can ensure you stay on schedule, and spend more time crafting the perfect application.
8. Where are the program’s clinical sites located?
Location, location, location!
Nursing students are required to attend clinicals in a medical setting to gain hands-on experience before they actually start working. Ideally, you want to make sure your clinical site is easily accessible. Things to consider when selecting a program include accessibility to clinical sites from campus or your housing as well as what kind of transportation you would require.
9. What are the pass rates for the program?
If you’re enrolling in a pre-licensure nursing program, you should know what the passing grades are so you know what to expect.
Are the pass rates above or below national standards (below 85%)? Ideally, you can log into your state board of nursing website to find out information on pass rates and everything else that goes with it.
You should also try to identify how many students are graduating each year—if only a small percentage of students are actually finishing the program, that can be a red flag that students aren’t supported as well as they could be.
10. What are the current students saying about the nursing program?
Having real-life interactions with the students who are currently in your potential nursing program will let you know their quality of education and first-hand experiences in theoretical and practical settings alike. See if you can shadow a student for a day or even grab a coffee with one to discuss their program!
11. Does the nursing program offer student support?
There’s nothing more important than receiving support when you need it. Will you receive assistance when you have difficulty getting through the course work? You want to enroll in a nursing school or program that offers a helping hand to all of its students and gives you an extra boost when you need it the most. This may include accessible professors willing to help during office hours or even students further along in the program that may act like mentors.
12. Does the nursing program offer work placement?
It goes without saying that once you complete your nursing studies, you will want to immediately get to work. As such, you should find out whether the nursing school has a job placement department. This can facilitate a transition into a job that you perhaps did your clinicals at while in the program. Some sites also work with certain programs to hire nursing students once they’ve graduated.
You also want to know whether the department has successfully placed past graduates into their current job positions.
Important things to remember when choosing a nursing program:
Learning about your nursing program and nursing school, in general, is extremely helpful for your long-term career goals.
Asking the right questions will not only streamline your conversations with the school faculty but also help you make an informed decision on choosing the best nursing program for you.
Remember, your education and your future career are at stake. Without due diligence, you will be doing yourself a disservice. The sooner you ask, the sooner you will receive the answers that you need and start your journey towards a successful nursing path.
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