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How to Pick the Best Nursing Program for You

How to Pick the Best Nursing Program for You

By: American Nurses Association

Once you’ve decided to go to nursing school, selecting a program that meets your needs is critically important. Many factors play a part in your decision. Tammy O’Neill, MSN, MHHS, RN, NPD-BC, Education Program Specialist at the American Nurses Association, shares the driving forces behind her choice of a nursing school, how her education impacted her career, and what she recommends when selecting a nursing program today.

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. In high school, I volunteered at my local hospital, moving from candy striper to dietary aide to hospital operator. It gave me an inside look at how hospitals work and I learned so much from the nurses there.

When it came time to choose a nursing school, location, ranking, NCLEX-RN pass rates, and cost were all important to me. I knew I wanted somewhere close to home, but far enough away so I could live on campus. I also sought a public versus private program. I ended up selecting a state school with a vigorous curriculum and a 99.1% NCLEX pass rate.

An unexpected bonus was the opportunity to train in a diverse array of clinical settings – everywhere from urban hospitals to rural organizations. Working with so many different patient populations was the best possible preparation for a successful career in nursing. I was also fortunate to have amazing instructors who encouraged us to “think big” and never stop searching for our true niche.

After graduation, I joined the Air Force, serving as a labor & delivery nurse in Texas, Iraq, and Germany. Later, I worked as a Wounded Warrior nurse case manager for the Army and an inpatient nurse educator at a community hospital. Eventually I landed in my current position as an education program specialist at the ANA. My education and training prepared me well for every role.

For anyone looking for an undergraduate nursing program today, here are some additional things to consider:

  • ADN or BSN? I recommend a four-year program. Most nurses will need a bachelor’s degree in the years to come. BSN programs typically offer more diverse clinical opportunities, and job opportunities are better, too.
  • Online vs. classroom learning. How much of the program is simulation, and how much is in-person experience? Which format best fits your learning style?
  • What support systems are in place? Does the school offer guidance counseling and can you meet regularly with your counselor? Mine was invaluable and kept me on track throughout my student days.
  • Student-to-faculty ratios. What is the average number of students per faculty member, especially in hands-on programs?

If the answers to these questions aren’t readily available on the school’s website, call the program office and ask. I can’t stress this enough. Nursing schools want the best students. They are happy to share this information with you. Another good idea is to seek out alumni. They can provide a first-hand assessment of what to expect.   

With a little investigative work and careful consideration, you can feel confident you’re choosing a school that meets your needs. Good luck!


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