Nine Tips for Successful Nursing Program Application & Graduation

Research Based Tips for Successful Nursing Program Application & Graduation

blue image with text about nursing qualitiesEvery semester, future nurses face one question as they fill out applications: what can I do to get into this program? It’s a hard question to answer, even with all of the nursing school tips available. Every program seems to want something different from it’s potential students. There are a few key qualities that application committees see in successful applicants. These qualities don’t guarantee entry, but they are what most great nursing schools look for in their applicants. Why? Because they have been proven to predict success in a nursing school program. These key factors are…

  1. A consistently high GPA.
  2. High amounts of internal motivation to obtain a degree.
  3. Strong support systems (family, friends, etc).
  4. Active participation in related student activities.

You Can Address Gaps in Your Nursing School Application

It is important to note here that not all these qualities are necessary to get into a great nursing program. If you don’t meet all four, or even more than one of these qualities, there are still options and application strategies for you. Read on for our 9 nursing school tips on how to approach each of these key factors.

A High GPA IS Great, But What Do You Do If Yours Isn’t So Great

image with information on graduation rates from nursing programsThe first student success factor (GPA) has been proven time and time again in a multitude of studies. There are two studies in particular that really show that a high GPA can predict success in a nursing program. The first study was published in March of 2012 in the Nursing Education Perspectives journal, published by the National League for Nursing. The study is titled “Bilingual Nurse Education Program: Applicant Characteristics that Predict Success”. The second study was published the same year in September, titled “Predictors of Students’ Success in Community College Nursing Programs”. It was published in the highly esteemed Journal of Nursing Education.

The first study measured success by “program persistence” (whether or not students completed the program), and NCLEX-RN scores. It’s important to note that this study was conducted on a special bilingual nursing program, that didn’t include a minimum GPA requirement. This means that many incoming students were allowed to enter with a lower GPA than normal. It was shown that…

“Incoming students with relatively high GPAs (M = 3.2) were significantly more likely to persist through the entire nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam (p < .05) than those with lower GPAs (M = 2.5).”

Thus, incoming students with a high GPA were more successful in the program and in getting licensure than students who had entered with a low GPA.

The second study was performed on 12 California schools. The first six schools were intervention colleges, and the second six were matched-pair control colleges. The two research questions sought to find predictors of graduation, and predictors of graduating on time. It was shown that…

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“Results of the logistic regressions indicated on time and any-time graduations were predicted by higher grade point averages in pre nursing and science. Higher pre nursing grades are positive predictors of graduation; improvements in performance prior to commencing nursing education should improve student success.”

Students that scored well and had a high GPA in classes before entry into their nursing program were more likely to graduate according to this study.

So what can you do if you have a less than stellar GPA?

Tip 1: Raise Your GPA

Raising a GPA is always easier said than done, but it will pay off in the end. There are a two steps to this plan.

Figure out where you are struggling. Talk to school counselors, get tutoring, create new study plans, and eliminate personal distractions.
Re-take classes strategically. Sometimes a school will agree to replace your grades if you retake a class. This means retaking pre-nursing courses for a higher science GPA, if that is where you are struggling.

Tip 2: Explain Your Situation

Sometimes students simply get into bad situations. Chronic illness, a death in the family, and job loss are just a few examples of the many situations that can lead to a low GPA. Nursing school applications committees will understand if there is just one or two “off” semesters on your record, as long as as you are able to explain the extenuating circumstances. Sometimes it is okay to include this in your application essay, and other times it’s more appropriate to send a separate letter. You will need to discuss this with your potential program’s admissions counselor or recruiter.

Support and Motivation During Your Nursing Program

quote image with blue background and textThe last three student success factors were published in a major dissertation, written by Sherry T. Taylor for Liberty University in March of 2012. Taylor’s paper, “A Case Study of Factors Leading to Student Success in an Accelerated Licensed Practical Nurse to Associate Degree Nursing Program”, focused on an LPN to RN (ADN) program specifically. She interviewed new graduates and program faculty to find common themes. Her research question, “Which personal factors, reported by graduates and nursing faculty may help students be successful in the LPN to ADN program?” brought up three major themes. Each of these themes is a key factor.

The first two factors (motivation, support) are reported on pages 141 and 142 of the dissertation…

“The graduates recognized that their own internal motivation to obtain a college degree and having a strong support system were the two main personal factors that contributed to their success. Graduates mentioned their sense of pride at being the first in their family to graduate from college and to advance their education. Graduates desired to receive the applause of their family and friends for their commitment to further their education. In addition to their own internal motivation, having a strong support system was also influential in their success. Graduates identified members of their family and their spouse as key components of their support system.”

To put it simply, a successful nursing student needs internal motivation, and external motivation. The successful nursing student applicant will have a very strong drive to succeed, and a sense of pride for their education and achievement. The successful nursing student applicant will also have family, friends, and possibly a spouse that all want to see them succeed in their education and career.

So what if you don’t always feel motivated to become a nurse?

Tip 3: Learn to Deal With the Unexpected

How can a student plan for the unplanned challenges a nursing program presents? By keeping an open mind. Nursing students should always remember that nursing programs are very difficult. There will be many times where a student is presented with a problem that they’ve simply never seen before. Through striving to be open minded and flexible throughout the program, “unexpected” challenges create less stress. Future nursing students should expect to be overwhelmed, and prepare themselves mentally to handle it.

Tip 4: Create a Support Network With Other Students

It is vitally important to a nursing student’s success to network with fellow students and professors. For example, study groups, tutoring sessions, and review meetings with professors are all great ways to network outside of a team project. This is a unique challenge for nursing students who are introverted or independently minded. Even extroverted students may find this a challenge in a difficult program where so much of their time is taken up by homework and studying. However, creating a support network is absolutely necessary for success, so make sure you look for one.

Tip 5: Overcome Barriers to Success and Access

Every nursing student has unique challenges in their life that create barriers to graduation and licensure. It is absolutely crucial that students recognize and overcome these challenges. Prior to entry into the program, students should identify and create lists of personal challenges they will face that create barriers to success and access. For example, an LPN entering into a bridge program will need to make the decision to work part time, full time, or not at all during their degree and then plan appropriately.

The Importance of Participation During Your Nursing Program

blue image with info on preparing to succeed in nursing schoolThe third factor (participation) is reported on page 142 of the dissertation…

“During the observation of the classroom and clinical experiences, the student’s level of motivation was measured by their initiative to increase their nursing knowledge, and the student’s percentage of attendance in lecture and clinical rotations. The students were seen to be actively participating in classroom discussions, broadening their knowledge by looking up content items online for further information, and replying to critical thinking questions posed by the nursing faculty. The graduates also agreed, on the survey, that it was beneficial for their learning to attend classroom lectures. The document analysis revealed that current students and graduates had absences that remained well below the established program limit.”

This success factor was established through reporting done by Taylor, rather than through interviews. It was shown that successful graduates actively participated in class discussions, took initiative in their learning, and were almost never absent. In a pre-nursing program environment, this success factor would translate into the applicant showing initiative through volunteer activities, and a low absence rate in their pre-nursing program classes.

So what if you’re shy?

Tip 6: Post on Forums

Create and participate in discussion posts on forums like This takes away the “face to face” factor, which is great for a shy student. It also creates a 24/7 support network – nurses from all over the world contribute and help!

Tip 7: Meet With Professors

Talk to your professors after class, or during office hours. If you’re too shy to ask your questions in class when everyone else is watching, write them down. Find the professor’s office hours listed in the syllabus. Arrange an appointment if possible. Any good professor will be happy to help answer your questions. Depending on the professor, you may also want to explain that you are too shy to talk during class – but truly do have a desire to participate. Often times professors will understand, and offer different ways that you can participate in class.

Tip 8: Talk to Group Leaders

Find one person in your group projects who you are comfortable talking with. This is a good start to getting to know the whole group. Ideally, this would be the “group leader”. After you’ve gotten used to talking to them, you’ll often feel more comfortable talking and participating with the rest of the group as well.

Tip 9: Join Student Clubs

Sign up for student clubs and activities you wouldn’t normally participate in. Sometimes the only way to get out of your shell is to jump right into social activities where people expect you to show up a lot.

Future nurses should keep each of these factors in mind when applying to nursing programs. Through establishing all of the above key factors, an applicant will not only look great on their application, they will be prepared to succeed in their nursing program. It’s important that a nursing application shows that the applicant is prepared to succeed in nursing school. This point should be the primary objective of every nursing school application: to show that the student is adequately prepared to succeed and graduate the nursing school program.