The nursing school application process decoded 

6 Min Read

Applying to nursing school can be a complex process requiring organization and attention to detail. In this article, Nurse Mo from Straight A Nursing simplifies the application process and provides tips for managing it like a pro.

Overview of the application process 

Applying to nursing school typically involves satisfying prerequisite requirements in advance, though some schools may build these into the curriculum. In most cases, however, you’ll need to determine the specific prerequisite classes for each program in which you are interested and fulfill those obligations before submitting your application. Some schools may require:

  • an interview
  • an entrance exam
  • an essay.

The key is to carefully research each school you’re considering. Doing so will ensure you understand and adhere to the application requirements.  

Understanding admission criteria

Admission criteria can vary widely from one institution to the next, and because many schools receive far more applicants than they can admit, the competition for acceptance can be fierce.  

Most schools use one of 3 general types of admission selection criteria:

  • merit-based. This type of system scores applicants on various criteria, including GPA, admission exam scores, and whether they have healthcare experience.
  • the lottery system. Lottery systems randomly select students who meet basic criteria, which can lead to long waits for many students.
  • first-come, first-served. The first-come, first-served system enrolls students who meet basic criteria on an ongoing basis until all the seats are filled.  

It’s also important to understand how often a school enrolls new students. A school that enrolls students once per year will likely have longer wait times than a school that enrolls students multiple times per year. 

If you are applying to merit-based programs, it’s vital you understand the scoring criteria from the very beginning, so that you can do everything possible to increase your score. These actions may include obtaining healthcare experience while taking your prerequisite classes, earning a high GPA, or scoring high on admission exams such as the ATI Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). Speaking of the TEAS … 

What is the TEAS?

<img src="teasscreen.jpg" alt="">
The TEAS is an admissions exam that provides a way for nursing schools to determine who should be accepted into nursing programs.

Many schools use the TEAS to ensure they admit qualified applicants. The TEAS covers reading, science, English and language usage, and math. This 170-question exam helps nursing programs identify students who have the essential academic skills to be successful in nursing school.  

Each school sets its own criteria for TEAS scoring. It’s important that you thoroughly prepare for the exam so that you can earn your highest possible score because some programs rank students based on entrance exam scores. 

In addition, each school sets its own guidelines for TEAS attempts. Some allow multiple attempts, while others do not. When multiple attempts are accepted, schools may have differing criteria for how long you must wait between each attempt. Some institutions administer the TEAS at the school campus, while others require you to take the exam at an off-site testing center. And, lastly, schools have differing application deadlines, so you must take this into account when scheduling your TEAS. 

You may be wondering why schools use an entrance exam in the first place. Research shows that students who score “proficient” or higher on the TEAS exam generally do well in their first year of nursing school, whereas students who score below “proficient” struggle more. So, preparing and doing well on the TEAS not only helps you get into nursing school but also sets you up for success in that crucial first year! 

Preparing for the TEAS

At first glance, it may seem like the TEAS covers academic subjects that are quite basic. This does not mean you don’t have to prepare! To earn your highest possible score, it’s imperative that you study for this exam as you would any other. In fact, about 40% of students retake the exam because they didn’t earn the score they needed the first time around. Not prepping for the TEAS is a common mistake a lot of students make. (But not you!) 

ATI recommends giving yourself about 6 weeks to study at a comfortable pace so that you’re not cramming for the exam. This should also provide enough time to go through some practice assessments. The absolute best way to prepare for this exam is to use the prep materials available on the ATI website, which are created by the same people who created the exam. These resources include:  

  • The practice assessment package: This package includes 2 full practice assessments, an A&P practice test, and 90-day access to the TEAS mobile app. 
  • The basic study package: This package includes everything in the practice assessment package, plus a comprehensive study manual that includes test-taking strategies and key content to know for the exam. The study manual also includes an additional full-length practice exam that gives you a scorecard with direct links to the material you need to review the most. When you take the practice exam early, you can focus on the material you need to learn and maximize your study time! 
  • The comprehensive study package: This package includes everything in the basic package, plus the SmartPrep tutorial. The SmartPrep tutorial accelerates your prep by creating a study plan customized to the things you need to study most.

Get an overview of TEAS prep materials here

Nursing school admission interviews

<img src="proctored-exam-tips.jpg" alt="">
Practice answering commonly asked questions to prepare for an admissions interview.

Some schools want to meet you face-to-face (in person or virtually) or on the phone before accepting you into their program. In that case, you will need to prepare for an admissions interview. Following are a few tips to help you feel more confident in presenting yourself as an exceptional candidate: 

  • Practice answering these 2 questions in a succinct manner: “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why do you want to be a nurse?” As you prepare what you will say in answer to these questions, incorporate the strengths and qualities of a successful student into your answers. An eagerness to learn, the fact that you enjoy problem-solving, your compassion, your willingness to advocate or speak up, your ability to collaborate with others, and your drive to succeed are all qualities of a strong nursing student (and nurse!). 
  • Practice answering common interview questions, which are often scenario-based. Interviewers may ask about a time you resolved a conflict, how you handled a situation where you made a mistake, or how you overcame a challenge. You should also be prepared to share your greatest strength and your greatest weakness. The latter can often be difficult to talk about. When discussing your greatest weakness, do so within the framework of what you are doing to overcome it. For example, if your greatest weakness is that you have difficulty accepting feedback without taking it personally, you can speak to the steps you are taking to view feedback as productive and beneficial rather than something that lowers your confidence. 
  • Dress professionally, even if the interview takes place over a video call. Good options for business casual attire include a blouse or collared shirt with a skirt or pants. Is your interview over the phone? Dress as though the interview were in person. The confidence this gives you will come through in your voice.  
  • Be prepared to ask questions during the interview. As you research the nursing program online, make a list of questions about the curriculum or other details. Asking questions shows you did some research and that you are interested in the program. 

Tips for writing your entrance essay 

Some programs require an admissions essay or a “statement of purpose” as part of the selection process. Take your time with this important component of your application and work to craft an essay that makes you stand out. Some general tips include:  

  • Share your “why.” Why do you want to become a nurse?  
  • Write about the qualifications that make you a good candidate. These could include aspects such as a strong science background, experience in healthcare, or a strong academic record.  
  • Include past work experience that demonstrates your ability to manage multiple activities at once and prioritize your actions. If you’ve worked in retail, waited tables, or clocked-in at a fast-food restaurant, you have a lot of applicable experience! 
  • Briefly explain why you want to attend that specific nursing program. 
  • Incorporate the “6 Cs” as they apply to you and sprinkle these throughout your essay. The 6 Cs are: care, compassion, communication, courage, commitment, and competence. 
  • Ask someone you trust to proofread and edit your work. Typos and grammatical errors happen to the best of us, so let’s catch those before you submit your essay! 

Don’t get discouraged 

If you don’t get accepted the first time you apply, don’t let this discourage you or keep you from pursuing your dream. Many students apply more than once, so stay confident! The key is to look objectively at the strength of your application, identify any areas that you can improve, and then come up with a plan to make the necessary improvements. Maybe you need to retake a class to earn a higher grade, or perhaps you didn’t get a competitive score on the TEAS. Review this article for tips on improving your TEAS score and remember why you started this journey in the first place.

Remember: The nursing school application process can seem overwhelming at first, but with these tips, you’ll be ready to put your best self forward. Click here for more information about ATI and the resources it provides to help students succeed.  

Scroll to Top