What Do Nursing Schools Look for in Applicants?

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What do nursing schools look for in applicants? Nursing schools typically prefer to enroll students who are academically competitive, demonstrate strong core values, and are genuinely passionate about becoming a nurse in order to help others. You’ll also need good letters of recommendation and a compelling personal statement.

person's hands holding pen at desk

So, you’ve decided to switch careers to nursing. Congratulations! You can look forward to an exciting, meaningful career you can be proud of. When you’re ready to take that first step, you’ll assemble an application package to be a competitive candidate for nursing school admission.

What do nursing schools look for in applicants, exactly? A few key factors are strong academics, essential personal traits, and a passion for helping others. Completing a nursing school application package can take a lot of work. Still, if you apply to Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Accelerated 2nd Degree ABSN program, you’ll receive personalized assistance from your dedicated admissions counselor at every step.

Every nursing school is a little different. They each have their own priorities, admissions requirements, and overall mission. In addition, there can be differences among schools based on the types of nursing programs they offer. For instance, if you’re a high school graduate without prior college education, you would apply to a four-year nursing school to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

On the other hand, if you already completed a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, applying to a four-year school isn’t necessary. Instead, you can complete an accelerated nursing program, such as the ABSN program at Notre Dame, where you can graduate in as few as 15 months. This program also confers a BSN.

Here, we’ll focus on nursing school tips for admission into an ABSN program. We’ll also discuss some questions to ask nursing school admissions committees.

students in scrubs in class setting

Wondering what to look for in a nursing program? Explore tips on how to choose a school here.

1. Strong Academic Record

Nursing school can be academically challenging, particularly if you’re taking coursework at an accelerated pace. Nursing school admissions committees must trust that the students they admit can keep up with the course material and master essential nursing skills. For that reason, a solid academic record is vital for nursing student candidates.

Does this mean you must be a straight-A student who aces every exam? Not at all! You just need a track record of academic success. At Notre Dame, our admissions requirements include a non-nursing bachelor’s degree with a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher (on a four-point scale).

You may also need to earn a minimum composite score of 65% on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) and complete one or more prerequisites with a minimum grade of C. When you call our ABSN program, an admissions counselor will review your academic history to determine if you need to take the TEAS and complete any prerequisites.

NDMU ABSN student sitting at desk studying

Want to learn more about Notre Dame’s admissions requirements? Check out this blog on why nursing school requirements are essential for success.

2. Passion for Nursing

What do nursing schools look for in applicants besides academic accomplishments? One of the most critical factors in an enrollment decision is whether the candidate displays a passion for nursing. Passion is essential because nursing school and nursing careers can sometimes be challenging. Nursing students must study for long hours, and working nurses often cope with long shifts on their feet, emotionally difficult cases, and considerable professional responsibility.

Because of this, aspiring nurses must be genuinely passionate about the opportunity to help others. In your application, you should demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are sincerely dedicated to making it your life’s work to help those in need. You could share a personal story about a nurse who helped you or a loved one or by explaining previous volunteer work in the health care field.

3. Solid Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a common nursing school admissions requirement. At Notre Dame, we require two letters of recommendation. Think carefully about whom to ask for a letter. It shouldn’t be a friend or family member but someone who knows you well enough to vouch for you.

Instead, you might ask a former supervisor or college professor. If you’ve previously worked at a health care-related job or volunteer position, the supervisor for that position could be a good choice.

4. Core Values

What do nursing schools look for in applicants with regard to core values? Again, it depends on the institution. In general, it’s safe to assume that nursing schools want applicants who are empathetic, care about the welfare and well-being of others, and wish to contribute to positive change in their community.

NDMU student in blue scrubs working on manikin

Before compiling your application, research the school’s website to find its mission statement, which typically conveys information about its core values. For example, at Notre Dame, we have a longstanding tradition of valuing academic excellence, commitment to the underserved, social equity, and human rights.

5. Personal Characteristics Important for Nursing

No list of nursing school tips for admission would be complete without including the personal characteristics that are important for nursing. Some personal traits and qualities can help you become an effective nursing professional, including:

  • Commitment to lifelong learning: All nurses are lifelong learners, as continuous advancements are made in the health care field. Throughout your career, you’ll learn about new treatments and research-based improvements in patient care.
  • Communication skills: Nurses are both advocates and educators, working to empower their patients and family caregivers. To accomplish these dual missions, nurses must be strong communicators with written and verbal communication skills.
  • Time management: Nursing students and working nurses need excellent time management skills to keep up with their busy schedules. Similarly, the ability to multi-task is a must-have.
  • Organization: Both nursing students and working nurses need to know how to keep everything organized — whether it’s schoolwork or patient paperwork.

Nursing School Tips: How to Be a Competitive Applicant

Now that you know what nursing schools look for in applicants, let’s review some actionable nursing school tips for standing out as a competitive candidate.

nurse using laptop

You can prepare for success as soon as you’re accepted to nursing school. Get 8 tips for how to prepare for nursing school here.

Gain Health Care-Related Experience

ABSN programs do not require prior health care experience or education for admission. However, gaining some relevant experience may help your application stand out from the crowd. It demonstrates your commitment to pursuing a health care-related career and that you’ve got an inside glimpse at the field.

Of course, it’s impossible to work as a nurse before you go to nursing school and obtain licensure. However, there are other entry-level positions you can apply for, and you should also keep an eye out for volunteer positions in local hospitals or nursing homes. Some entry-level positions include:

  • Hospital desk receptionist
  • Phlebotomist
  • Medical administrative assistant
  • Home health aide
  • Emergency dispatch worker
  • Dialysis technician

Some positions may require a brief training course and/or certification. Requirements vary by state and employer.

NDMU student in blue scrubs working on manikin

Write a Compelling Personal Statement

Crafting a compelling personal statement or essay is another way to make your application stand out. What do nursing schools look for in applicants’ essays? Different schools have varying requirements, and many provide required essay prompts. In general, however, you should view the essay as a way to show who you are beyond what’s already covered in your application information.

What do you care about? What are your core values? What motivates you? Why did you choose nursing? These are all questions you could address in your essay.

Making a Good Impression: Questions to Ask Nursing School Admissions

Aside from putting together a competitive application package, it’s a good idea to consider what you might ask the nursing school admissions counselor. Some sample questions to ask nursing school admissions counselors include:

  • Is the program accredited?
  • What’s the first-time NCLEX pass rate?
  • What sort of academic support is available?
  • How accessible are the instructors?
  • Is the coursework available online?
  • Where are clinical placements located?

Build a Foundation for the Future at Notre Dame

At Notre Dame, you can develop a firm foundation of nursing competencies that will allow you to pursue a rewarding and meaningful career in nursing. Our School of Nursing provides extensive student support resources to facilitate your academic achievements, including Academic Success Coaches, available from enrollment through sitting for the NCLEX-RN.

Contact our friendly admissions counselors to learn how you can earn your nursing degree in as few as 15 months!