Given the nursing shortage, it's unfortunate that nursing schools reject many eager prospective nurses each year. In 2008, nearly 28,000 qualified applicants were turned away due to a shortage of faculty and resources, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
In Maryland, nursing schools are "bursting at the seams," says Tracy Jamison, director of admissions at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore. At her school, the BSN program typically receives eight to nine applications for every one it can accept.
Even with this stiff competition, applicants can learn how to stand out with these tips from nursing-school admissions officers:
High Schoolers: Performance and Passion
High school applicants need to demonstrate strong academic performance. Grade point average (GPA) is more important than class rank, the significance of which varies depending on a school's class size. Holding a leadership position in a student organization, such as student government or band, makes a positive impression.
Some nursing schools also scrutinize attendance records. Too many tardies and absences raise a red flag. "We want students dedicated to coming here prepared to study," says Ann Schiele, PhD, RN, president and dean of Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio. "Nursing is a difficult curriculum built on the sciences."
Mount Carmel admissions officers also look for prospective students to show altruism. "It's part of our mission statement that every graduate must complete a minimum of 20 hours of community service," Schiele says. "We believe that every educated person should give back to the community they live in."
Community-service experience, such as candy striping or volunteering at a nursing home, also demonstrates that you have some knowledge of healthcare and a passion for nursing. You can also convey that passion (and showcase your writing ability) when answering the application essay on why you're interested in nursing.
Tip: Making positive, strong connections with your supervisor during volunteer work, especially in a healthcare setting, can yield a recommendation that carries more weight than one from a teacher.
LPNs: Show Patient-Care Skills
LPN applicants should demonstrate a solid foundation in nursing that's equally balanced between care and knowledge. "They have to be compassionate, and they have to be smart," says Maureen Creegan, EdD, RN, director and professor with the Division of Nursing at Dominican College in Orangeburg, New York, which has an advanced-standing program for LPNs.
Solid nursing skills are more important today than ever, with patients being discharged earlier and spending more time in home care. Candidates must demonstrate the communication skills needed to prepare patients for discharge and the managerial skills needed to coordinate aftercare with community nurses. Once admissions officers have screened a candidate's academic qualifications, they consider the caliber of his clinical experience; those with medical-surgical or experience in other hospital units have an edge.
Tip: Taking the National League for Nursing's Acceleration Challenge Exams (formerly the Mobility Profile II) can help LPNs receive advanced placement in RN or BSN programs. In New York state, LPNs can take the New York State LPN-to-RN Transition Course to validate their knowledge and help determine advanced placement.
Career Changers: Communication and Teamwork
For career changers, accelerated nursing programs offer quick entry into nursing. Because these programs are brief -- often 12 to 18 months -- and intense, admission tends to be ultra-competitive. Accelerated programs often look for at least a 2.7 or 3.0 undergraduate GPA, Creegan says.
But the admissions process "is not simply number crunching," she adds. Dominican's accelerated BSN program is a second baccalaureate program that attracts professionals with degrees in economics, biomedical engineering and other sciences. In addition to good grades and the required science courses, these nontraditional candidates must demonstrate strong communication skills and the ability to interact effectively with others.
At Mount Carmel, admissions officers look for leadership experience in college or community organizations. And admissions officers for four-year nursing programs look for candidates with analytical skills and the ability to think on their feet.
Tip: Start a dialogue with the accelerated-program admissions officer or advisor at the school you're considering. Learn what they're looking for and what you may need to do to obtain any missing qualifications.