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What should I keep in mind when choosing a nursing school?

I am a 17-year-old heading into my senior year of high school and plan to go into nursing in the future. I live in Washington State and have been looking at colleges for a while now. I've noticed they all seem to say very similar things. What should I be looking for when determining a school's viability? I've seen things such as lots of in-hospital training with schools like UW or hi-tech mannequins as with Gonzaga, but I am unsure if these things are actually important for my career

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Elizabeth’s Answer

Hello, Thomas!

Nursing needs more men, so you are asking both a timely and important question for both yourself and others. The most important factor when choosing a Nursing Program (RN) for anyone is if it is a good fit for you- for your time, available money, future goals, and personal preferences.

Time- how soon do you want to begin working as a registered nurse? Two year ADN programs at community colleges are the quickest route to practice, then you can complete a BSN online within a year while you earn a good income and gain work experience. If online learning is not for you, consider completing lower-division requirements (2 years) at a community college, then transfer to an upper-division (2 years) RN Program for a BSN at a university without losing any momentum. Traditional BSN Programs are 4 years (UW, PLU, Seattle U, Gonzaga).

Money- what can you afford? Two year ADN programs at community colleges are overall the least expensive route to become a registered nurse (RN), however, there are many scholarships, grants, etc available to get more men to enter Nursing. Private universities are the most expensive. Check with your guidance counselor or at https://www.aamn.org/scholarships

Goals- what do you want to do in Nursing? Most employers prefer entry-level nurses with undergraduate degrees (BSN) but will hire you with an ADN if you complete your BSN within a year or so. Many men want to enter advanced practice as nurse practitioners (anesthetists, family practice, pediatric practitioners, behavioral health practitioners, etc). In Washington, nurse practitioners (APRN) are independent practitioners who can write prescriptions and manage their own practices. This is a graduate-level degree (MSN or higher) but there are "bridge programs" (RN to MSN) that you can complete straight out of an ADN Program without stopping to get a BSN.

Personal preference- perhaps most important, this means the program appeals to your learning needs and feels like a good "fit" for you. Schedule an in-person tour to view the classrooms, skills labs, and meet instructors. Ask a lot of questions about curriculum, clinical sites, student resources, post-graduation services and, especially, their students' pass rate on the NCLEX (registered nurse licensure exam). Pick the program that "speaks to you".

And here is something else: once you have decided on a Nursing Program, consider becoming a Nursing Assistant (CNA) prior to applying. Becoming a CNA gives your application an advantage, as the course is essentially the first term of an RN Program. Nursing Programs are very competitive with many more applicants than placements. Completing a CNA Program and passing the certification exam shows your committment to Nursing with valuable patient care training and experience. In fact, many Nursing programs are giving admission preference or requiring applicants to have attended a Nursing Assistant Program.

Nursing Assistant (CNA, NAC) courses are offered at many high schools as elective courses, at community colleges, by long-term care facilities (who will often pay tuition), and through small businesses.

Best of luck on your journey!

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Kylie’s Answer

Hey! I am in nursing school right now and something that a lot of the students decided to come to ASU for is direct admission, which basically means that if you have certain test scores on your SAT and ACT classes, or a 3.5 GPA you automatically get a seat in the nursing program, and don’t have to compete for it. This is really useful for a few reasons, it is much less stressful, you get done with your degree faster because you start the program earlier, and you don’t have to worry about there not being enough seats in the program, because yours is guaranteed! The only thing is that you must maintain a 3.5 GPA while in college or you will be dropped and then have to fight for a seat in the program.

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J.’s Answer

Hi Thomas, there’s a few things I will help you determine which school is for you. First, you want to think about what kind of nursing you want to be in so that might help you determine whether in hospital rotations are more valuable to you than other programs with less hospital rotations. There are some fields that are not hands-on patient care so that will play a factor in your decision. You also want to look at NCLEX pass rates and school resources to help you pass the NCLEX. You might also be interested to Learn about the faculty and their experience teaching, Just as much as looking into the student experience, perhaps talking With students who attended the program you’re interested in. It might also want to learn about the schools’ Participation in and/or partnerships in workplace entry placement, if any. You might also be interested to learn from the financial aid department what opportunities exist, specific to school. I hope this helps you make your decision. Good luck!

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Kerrie’s Answer

I have been an RN for 25+ years and even to this day, it seems like when choosing a nursing school the same questions come to mind. I would say to make a list of the top five things that are most important to you so that when looking at schools, you can check them on your list as you check out the schools, as I know there are many options. I would say things such as accreditation, NCLEX pass rate, cost, location, curriculum, time commitment, degree programs available, hands-on experiences, etc... are important to look at when choosing a nursing program. I also "googled" these questions and here are the questions to ask when meeting with the nursing school advisor once you decide on a handful of schools:

The Top 5 Questions to Ask your Nursing School Adviser
Is the program accredited?
What is the NCLEX pass rate?
What are the prerequisites for the program?
How much of the program is online versus hands-on?
How many total clinical hours do students attend and how does this compare to other similar programs?

In the end, it is ultimately up to you about the type of degree you want to have (ADN, BSN, MSN) and the amount of money and time you want o put into it upfront before starting to work as an RN. For example, I had already decided I wanted a BSN degree so I found a local community college to do my first 2 years of prerequisites at (cost is cheaper), and while I was finishing my prerequisites I applied to nursing school and found a job as a CNA to start getting my feet "wet". I finished my last 2 years at a specialty nursing school and graduated with my BSN while working FT, and then started my career in a hospital. Then 15 years later I went back from my MSN with a CNS specialty.

Just a note about the degree types: in 2008 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) came out with a report that stated that nurses should be working at the top of their licensure, then that report re-surfaced again in 2014-2015, so most acute care facilities phased out ADN nurses or requested them to go back and get their BSN degree. The acute care hospitals in most states will not hire a new graduate nurse without a BSN degree. With that said, there are still ADN programs in which a nurse can work in nursing homes, children's homes, home care, and other non-acute settings. I would suggest doing some research for Washington state with the local hospital with their open nursing positions to see what kind of degree they require for new grads, as this may help you decided on a college.

I would also look into the prerequisites for the nursing schools at the top of your list to see what they require to get in, such as GPA, prerequisites, volunteer work, CNA work, etc...My niece graduated from nursing school in WI about 2 years ago and it was very competitive so they all had to work as a CNA and have volunteer activities on their resumes when applying for nursing school. Getting a CNA certificate and work experience is very beneficial prior to becoming an RN and may help you get your foot in the door into some hospitals.

Kerrie recommends the following next steps:

Make a list of the top 5 things that are important to you about a school.
Narrow down the list of schools and talk to the nursing school advisors-ask detailed questions about the program.
Decide on a school.
While still in high school, complete a CNA certificate and work PT to gain work and life experience.
If don't want to do CNA, find volunteer opportunities in community to gain life experiences.