Students trying to gain entrance into a nursing program have a lot of questions, but sometimes they overlook the most important criteria when selecting a nursing program. Cost, location, and how often the football team wins are not as important as knowing the following information about a nursing program.
1. Is the University Regionally Accredited?
While most schools will claim to have accreditation, please check this yourself. Be aware that National Accreditation is not a substitute for regional accreditation. A university has to be regionally accredited or the credits from courses you take will most likely not transfer to another accredited school or university. You may think you will never transfer, but most students at the start of their careers just don’t know what they will need to do in the future. Don’t waste your time and money on courses from a university or college that is not regionally accredited. Click to see list of Council for Higher Education Accreditation approved Regional Accrediting Organizations.
2. Is the Program of Nursing Accredited by a Nursing Accreditation Body?
Again, this is something you should check yourself. Look for evidence that the program is accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Students graduating from non-nursing accredited programs may find they are not qualified to continue their education at an accredited school (can’t enter an RN to BSN program or a graduate nursing program). While you may think right now you never want to go on to higher levels of nursing, after a few years working nightshift and weekends, you may change your mind.
3. What is the program NCLEX passrate?
You are not a nurse just because you graduate from a nursing program. You only become a nurse after you successfully pass the NCLEX licensure exam. The best way to make sure your program will help you obtain your ultimate goal is to check their passrates. This information is posted on the state board of nursing website in most states. In general you should be looking at programs that have pass rates over 85%.
4. Does the program have full approval from the State Board of Nursing?
Is your selected program on probation or conditional approval or monitoring status or some other status from the State Board of Nursing? Ideally the program you select will have full approval from the appropriate board of nursing. You can find this information on the Board of Nursing website for your State.
5. Does this program lead to the degree you want?
There are several types of nursing program which can all qualify an applicant to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Graduates from Diploma Programs (not available in all states), Associate Degree Programs (mostly at community colleges) BSN programs (traditional college entry programs) and even MSN (graduate level nursing programs) can provide the required basic information to qualify you to apply to take the NCLEX. However, in some areas of the country, graduates from the lower level programs (Diploma, ASN) may not be able to get a job in a hospital setting. Check with hospitals were you plan to work and find out if they will hire an ASN graduate, and if so, do they require the ASN graduate to obtain a BSN within a certain period of time. In general, if you are going to be required to obtain a BSN anyway, it is faster and cheaper to just go for the BSN from the very start, rather than obtain an ASN then have to go back for the BSN later.
6. What is the acceptance rate?
This information will have to be obtained from the program of nursing. They should be able to tell you that in any given admission cycle they have x number of qualified students apply and from this group they can accept y number. For instance, most programs that meet the above criteria have many more qualified students apply than they can accept, and it is not unusual to have 100 qualified students apply for a program that only has 50 seats. Be very suspicious if the program tells you they accept 90-100% of the students who apply. But you also need to know if only 20% of the qualified applicants get in. Are you willing to take the chance you will be in the top 20% of applicants?
7. What is the program graduation rate?
This information will also have to be obtained from the program of nursing. They should be able to tell you than in any given admission cycle they admit 40 students and they usually graduate 34 of these students. 34/40 = 85% graduation rate. Be warry of a program that has a low graduation rate (below 60 or 70%). This means that a lot of students are dropping or failing out of the program.
8. Does the program have some type of early acceptance program?
This is not an essential, but if you program has something like this it is a great bonus for you if you can meet the criteria for early acceptance. Ask the program if they have any type of early acceptance program, where the program holds you a “seat” in the nursing program based on your high school GPA and ACT or SAT scores. This takes the guess work of the nursing admissions process.
9. Does the program have scholarships? How many students in the program are getting scholarships? Do local hospitals offer scholarships?
This is also not an essential, but if you program has something like this it is a great bonus for you if you can meet the criteria for obtaining a scholarship. Most programs will only offer scholarships to students who are accepted into the actual nursing program. The same also applies to most hospital based scholarships. Hospital based scholarships tend to pay more of the tuition (maybe all of it, including books and fees), but also tend to be linked to employment contracts, where you promise to work for the hospital after you graduate for a period of time, in exchange for your scholarship. The bonus for this type of scholarship is you are guaranteed a job at the hospital you get the scholarship from. This takes the pressure off you after graduation, you already have a job waiting for you. Your nursing program should be able to tell you where to look for scholarships.
10. In addition to tuition, are there any fees, and how much are the fees?
Most programs of nursing have fees in addition to the regular tuition and university based fees (athletics fee, library fee, IT fee, etc.). Find out about this up front. Too many students have made a choice for their nursing program based on what looks like a low tuition rate, then later found out that their bargain school is not as much of a bargain as they first thought.
Bottom line, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Be wary of programs that make a lot of promises, seems to be relatively low cost, have very small class sizes or that admit nearly everyone who applies. Check to make sure the program meets the accreditation standards and is fully approved before you spend your money and time.