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Seven Tips to Ace Your Nursing School Interview

Seven Tips to Ace Your Nursing School Interview

Are you a prospective nursing student with a nursing school admissions interview coming up? Three nursing educators who’ve interviewed many student nurse hopefuls over the years offer seven tips to help you beat your pre-interview jitters and ace your interview.

1. Consider the Interview an Opportunity

It’s normal to be nervous, but take heart: The purpose of most nursing school interviews (whether they’re a required or optional part of the admissions process) is generally not to weed out applicants, but to provide for a face-to-face, two-way exchange of information about the particular program and how an applicant would fit in. “The interview process itself doesn’t usually make or break our [admission] decision,” says Nan Ketcham, MSN, RN, FastBacc program coordinator at Baylor University’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing in Dallas.

2. Sell Yourself

The interview is a golden opportunity to shine, especially if your GPA and test scores don’t. Admissions committee members remember applicants’ stories more than their statistics, says Genevieve Chandler, RN, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of The Ultimate Guide to Getting into Nursing School.“It’s your opportunity to let people know who you are, to convince them this is the right fit and to say, ‘I am the person you want to be a nurse,’” she says.

3. Know the School

Arm yourself with facts about the program to which you are applying. Prospective students should do some homework before the interview, says Patricia Peerman, RN, MS, assistant dean for enrollment management at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing. At the very least, “they shouldn’t expect to come in and be told all the information about the program that’s readily available through the Web site,” she says. According to Chandler, all nursing schools have different missions, such as diversity and community at UMass, acute care or health policy. Before your interview, “find what that school is interested in and match your story to the mission,” she says.

4. Know Nursing

Review nursing journals and health-related news so you’re conversant in timely health-related topics (diabetes and obesity, for example). “You should become articulate in health issues, because you are trying to convince [your interviewers] that in two or four years you are going to be able to manage these important subjects with patients,” Chandler says.

5. Prepare and Practice

Some nursing school interview questions are pretty standard like, “Why do you want to be a nurse?” (Hint: Don’t say, “Because my mother wants me to.”) Formulate and practice responses to such common questions in advance.

Be reflective and offer examples in your answers. “People will say they’re attracted to nursing because it’s a caring profession,” Chandler says. “That’s a fine place to start, but give an example of how you’ve been caring or been an advocate or a leader in some way. Those are all transferable skills.” Ketcham, who uses behavioral interviewing techniques for Baylor’s FastBacc applicants (a typical question is, “Tell us an example of a problem you’ve had in your life and how you came to a resolution”) notes: “A lot of people forget there is no right or wrong answer. Everybody doesn’t want to be a nurse for the same reason, and everybody doesn’t solve problems the same way. We’re looking for the ability to [think critically].”

6. Don’t Pass the Buck

Don’t lie, evade or embellish during an interview. In addition, Peerman says prospective students should be forthright about their academic record. “If there’s a little hiccup in your academic background, you don’t need to overexplain it, but you shouldn’t overlook it either," she says, as faculty members will carefully pour over your test scores, grades in specific courses and GPA. "If something is irregular, the applicant should mention it and take responsibility." Equally important: Avoid braggadocio in all forms, like exhibiting a “this program needs me” attitude.

7. Be Professional

Treat your nursing school interview just like a job interview. If you've never been on such an interview, read up on basic job interviewing etiquette about what to wear and how to groom yourself (no visible tattoos, please), as well as the importance of a firm handshake and good eye contact.

On interview day, plan ahead to avoid anxiety:
  • Arrive early.
  • Budget extra time for finding a parking spot, since university or college parking is often problematic.
  • Bring the phone number of the interviewer and call immediately if extraordinary circumstances -- like a delayed flight or a huge traffic jam -- delay you.
During the interview:
  • Turn off your cellphone.
  • Leave your coffee in the car.
  • Leave family members at home and never, ever expect the receptionist to babysit your kids. (Yes, that has really happened.)
And after the interview -- to really knock your interviewers’ socks off -- send an old-fashioned, handwritten thank-you note.

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