There’s no denying that applying to a nurse practitioner degree program is challenging at times. Firstly, you choose the right option for you from hundreds of different programs, and secondly, you also need to contend with the demanding application requirements for the program of your choice. In order to be in with a chance of success, you will need to request letters of recommendation, pen admissions essays, and prepare for coming under scrutiny in an interview. The good news is that investing a lot of time and energy into a nurse practitioner application will be worth the effort.
If you are a nurse who has decided that it’s time to take the next step in your career and get onto a nurse practitioner program, the following steps will help you become the ideal applicant and stand out from the crowd. It’s important to know which parts of the application process will matter the most to the admissions faculty so that you know where to prioritize and direct your efforts the most.
Which Qualities Will Make You Stand Out?
It’s important to understand that admissions faculty don’t just rely on one attribute; they will specifically focus on a range of qualities such as your GPA, performance in the sciences, and any letters of reference when going over your application. This will determine whether or not you are invited for an interview. Your overall GPA is not the only academic factor that weighs into the admissions decision; faculty will also look at your specific coursework, particularly when it comes to your performance in any past nursing courses. In addition, your performance in nursing school clinical courses and programs will be taken into account and weighed against your academic grades.
What if You Have a Low GPA?
If your GPA isn’t where you’d hoped it would be, then don’t worry – previous poor academic performance doesn’t always need to stand in your way of getting onto a nurse practitioner program. Admissions faculty will usually look at the whole individual and what they can bring to the program, so if your GPA isn’t the best, but you have a strong track record of high performance in your career and glowing letters of recommendation, then you may still be in with a chance. If your GPA is lacking, some strategies to use in order to improve your chances of being accepted include:
- Take an additional advanced program to prove yourself and your willingness to learn
- Ask for letters of recommendation
- Mention your low GPA in your admissions essays and demonstrate what you have done so far and will do in the future to overcome it
- Meet with admissions advisors and discuss your situation
What Mistakes Should You Avoid?
Some of the most common mistakes made in the admissions process are made with letters of reference and during the admissions interview. Failing to give thoughtful consideration to the individuals that you choose to ask to be your references could come back to bite you later on. The letters of reference are extremely important, so make sure that you ask somebody whose opinions will hold some weight, such as a current or previous employer or a professor from your nursing school.
Some schools will require you to provide three letters of reference when applying for family NP online programs, two of which must be from individuals who hold a doctorate degree. It’s important to carefully select the people who you ask to write your letter of recommendation – if you’re struggling, then it may be worth doing the following:
- Expanding your network to include professionals who meet the criteria
- Speaking to professors or employers and asking to be put in touch with individuals who meet the criteria
- Building good working relationships with these individuals before asking them to write a letter; bear in mind that somebody who knows you well and can vouch for your professional or academic performance will be able to produce a better letter
In interviews, a common mistake to avoid is not doing your research about the program you are applying to. Interviews can be quite rigorous, so it’s important to spend some time thoroughly researching the program and gaining a solid understanding of exactly what it entails. Visit the website, read about the program from other students if possible, and read through the curriculum so that you can confidently answer any questions. Admissions faculty are looking for prospective students who have made a thoughtful decision as to why they want to study that particular program.
How Important is Experience?
Most nurse practitioner programs will require at least one year of nursing experience in order to be accepted. Experience is important in admissions to nurse practitioner programs; the type of experience will vary depending on the specialization that you hope to pursue. Students who have experience with dependents such as ER or intensive care, where there is a significant amount of knowledge required in terms of pharmacology, health assessment, and pathophysiology, tend to make the best clinicians – but even if your particular nursing experience is elsewhere, you will still be able to use it to demonstrate why and how you are a good fit for the program.
Applicants are, however, encouraged to have gained experience in the specialty to which they are applying, so it may cause an issue if your experience is mainly in pediatrics, for example, you are applying for an adult/gerontology nurse practitioner program. Before applying, it is advised to gain further experience working in your chosen area of specialty in order to be in with a better chance of acceptance.
What About Extracurricular Involvement?
Extracurricular activities are often considered when evaluating nurse practitioner program applicants. You may be able to strengthen your application by becoming a member of nursing organizations, obtaining further certificates and proactively doing more in terms of leadership. Military nurses, for example, are often given as an example of how proactively seeking unique experiences and extracurricular involvement can make a stronger nurse practitioner program applicant – military nurses have expanded their experience by working in different parts of the world, working in various healthcare settings and gaining exposure to a variety of cultures and populations.
The Interview Process
If you make the first cut after applying to a nurse practitioner program, then it’s likely that you will be invited for a face-to-face interview with admissions staff. The interview is taken extremely seriously when it comes to evaluating prospective nurse practitioner students and is one of the most important parts of the application process. You can expect to be asked questions that are designed to help you demonstrate important skills such as critical thinking, in addition to evaluating your awareness and knowledge of the healthcare environment on both a national and global scale.
If you have been invited for an interview then along with doing your homework on the school and the program, it’s a wise idea to prepare yourself for answering complex questions, for example:
“What are some of the healthcare challenges on a national and global level that are affecting you or you expect to affect you as a nurse practitioner student and in your future role as a nurse practitioner?”
Making sure that you put in the required work to prepare to answer this type of complex question well will help you stand out from the other applicants during the interview process. Admissions faculty are generally looking for students who are able to present themselves professionally and demonstrate strong communication skills. The interview process is your chance to demonstrate your commitment to nursing and advanced nursing practice.
The Bottom Line
Getting onto a nurse practitioner program is no easy task, whether you’re a newly qualified nurse with some experience or have been working as a registered nurse for many years. The bottom line is; you get out what you put in when it comes to applying to study a nurse practitioner program. In order to stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to be prepared to put a lot of time and effort into researching and doing your homework.
In addition, don’t feel that you have to put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to the program that you choose. There are hundreds of different nurse practitioner programs out there, so explore different ones and compare them before you make a final decision. Don’t just look at the school or program website – get in touch with current students and alumni to find out more about the program before you apply; not only will this enable you to make a more informed decision about the program that you want to study, but it will also help you learn more about it for the application process. And, think about how you’d like to study – many nurse practitioner programs today are available online, which is ideal for current full-time nurses who wish to pursue the next step in their career while they continue to work.
Applying to – and getting accepted onto – a nurse practitioner program is a lot of hard work, but investing time and effort into thoroughly researching each step is certainly worth it.
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