There are many variables when it comes to selecting a nursing school. Some programs take four years to complete. Others can be completed in five and come with a built-in graduate degree.
You also need to think about price, class size, school reputation, remote or in-person.
The list of considerations goes on and on. While it may feel overwhelming, there are ways to simplify your school search. In this article, we take a look at key considerations before selecting a nursing program.
Key Considerations for Selecting a Nursing Program
While everyone will prioritise what is most important to them when selecting an educational program, certain considerations are almost universal. These include:
Remote or in-person?
All nursing degrees will require elements of coursework to be completed in person. Usually, this occurs in the form of clinical work, which must be completed in a hospital setting. Remote students can complete this requirement at participating hospital locations within their community.
All of the desk work associated with nursing school can be completed either at home or at university. While remote learning used to be stigmatised, it is now mainstream, and even advantageous for some students. Remote learning allows you the flexibility to complete your work from locations that are most comfortable for you. If you are working or raising a family, the thirty minutes to an hour you might save on your commute is enormously helpful.
Is the School You are Choosing Known for its Nursing Programs?
All licensed nursing schools will teach approximately the same things. However, some schools are specifically known for producing highly capable RNs. Holding a degree from one of these schools may open more doors for you when it comes time to look for a job. It can also just help ensure that you are well-prepared for the responsibilities of working as a nurse.
NCLEX Pass Rate
The NCLEX is a test that all nurses must pass before they can become fully certified. Taken after graduation, it is your final barrier to working in a hospital setting. Infamously hard, the test features a pass rate of around 85% (the number fluctuates year to year). Some schools are known for producing a very high pass rate. Others are not. While passing the test is ultimately the student’s responsibility, schools with an exceptional pass rate are clearly doing something right.
There are many ways to determine the quality of a nursing education program. With a few internet searches, you should be able to learn lots about student success stories. You can also find accounts online from people who have gone through the program. Even websites like RateMyProfessor can be useful in giving you a sense of what it is like to be enrolled in nursing school.
How Much Does the Price Matter?
Many financial experts advise people not to borrow more money for their degree than they can reasonably expect to make in their first five years after graduation. That does not mean you need to be able to repay all of your loans within five years. It just means that the cost of your education should correlate comfortably with your expected income.
Nurses make a good living, but they ultimately receive incomes that are squarely within the middle class. That being the case, people who want to become nurses may find it advisable to look for moderately priced universities.
There are many state schools with well-established nursing programs. You can certainly find a high-quality education at a school that aligns with your future income projections.
What is a Direct-Entry Program?
Direct-entry programs combine undergraduate and graduate degrees into a more streamlined program. The average person takes between 4-6 years to complete their undergraduate degree. Then it might take them another three years to get their graduate degree.
A direct-entry program combines both, allowing you to complete them in five years total. This is a great way to jump-start your career with a high-paying job right out of the gate. However, there are some pros and cons that should be considered.
- You save money: The longer you spend working on your degree, the more money you will ultimately spend on room, board, and so on. You can save thousands of dollars by shortening the amount of time you spend in school.
- You start earning sooner: Let’s say you hit the ground running with a $60K salary. If you finish your degree three years sooner than your peers, that’s almost $200K you wouldn’t have otherwise earned. That can make a major difference for significant life milestones like loan repayment, home ownership, and even retirement.
- You’re eligible for higher-paying work: People with graduate degrees make about 20% more than people with only undergraduate degrees. Getting yours right out of the gate will open a lot of doors and allow you to start earning a high salary at a young age.
- It’s fast-paced: Cutting down the time you spend in school by that much comes at a cost. You’ll need to be able to devote yourself completely to your studies to make life as a direct-entry student work.
- Small mistakes have big consequences: If you fail a class or decide to tweak your major, the direct-entry model falls apart. To graduate in five years, you need to hit all of the program’s milestones on time.
Direct-entry programs favor bright, driven students who know exactly what they want. If you can devote yourself entirely to your studies and know beyond doubt that you want to become a nurse, this is a great way to get your degree.
What If I Want to Specialise?
Nurses can specialise, focusing their efforts on very specific aspects of human health. There are hospice nurses, neo-natal nurses, diabetes nurses, home health nurses, and so on. The list goes on and on. While some programs will allow you to specialize by coupling your studies with another degree, the start of your educational journey is usually the same.
All nurses have to complete a certain number of clinical hours. They need to take all of the required pre-requisite classes and pass the NCLEX. Once they have done all of that, they can specialize further with certifications and training programs.
Sometimes, this will just require them to go through a few onboarding classes. Other times, it may mean going back to school. If you want to become a nurse practitioner, for example, you will need to get your master’s degree and satisfy all of your state requirements before starting your own practice.
It’s still a good idea to start thinking about specialising even at the earliest stages of your education. However, keep in mind that the first steps to becoming a nurse look pretty much the same for everyone.