How to Apply to Nursing School: 5 Steps You Should Know

Applying to nursing school is a multi-step process that begins by reaching out to an admissions adviser and discovering whether you are (or can take steps toward being) eligible for admission. Following their advice and committing to the process can put you on the right track.

woman working at desk with a laptop

You’re passionate about becoming a nurse, and you’ve found the perfect nursing program for you — one that will instill in you the knowledge, skills and values needed to be a leader in today’s complex healthcare environment.

However, as enthusiastic as you may be to answer your calling of a nursing career, you might not be familiar with how to apply to nursing school. The application process for nursing school can be challenging even when pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree — but especially so when vying for a spot in a highly competitive, top-tier program like Marquette University’s Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

To help you get into your dream school, we’ll be looking at what you need to do before you can begin the formal application process, as well as what makes a strong nursing school application.

1. Research Which Nursing Program is Best for You

Before you find a nursing school and apply, you should first determine which type of nursing program is going to be best suited to meet your educational and career goals. For many, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree can allow them to access their nursing career ambitions and this type of degree can be taken on a traditional or accelerated timescale. For others who are looking for more advanced nursing roles and are willing to take on the additional academic challenge, a Master of Science in Nursing program might be the right choice for them. Once you choose the program you want to pursue, the next step is to get in contact with an admissions adviser.

Marquette University nursing students in a clinical

2. Talk to an Admissions Adviser

What you do before you apply is as important as the application when it comes to your nursing school application. The admissions process begins with talking to an admissions adviser to determine a good fit and to find out what, if anything, you need to do to meet the program requirements.

When you call to learn more about Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program, for instance, you’ll be assigned an adviser, who will be in close contact with you throughout the nursing school admissions process.

During your initial call, your adviser will take time to get to know you and learn about your previous education, your reasons for wanting to become a nurse and your interest in the program. They will also want to know that you understand the commitment required, in terms of both time and effort.

3. Fulfill School Admissions Requirements

Assuming you are a good fit, your adviser will ask you to send copies of your unofficial transcripts. During a follow-up call, you’ll determine whether you meet all program admissions requirements. If you do, you can work together to create a plan for getting into the program. Depending on your previous degree and GPA, this could mean retaking certain courses and completing any unmet prerequisite courses.

Prerequisite courses are necessary due to the advanced and accelerated nature of the program, ensuring that students have the foundation of knowledge they will need to hit the ground running and succeed.

MSN student smiling at camera with text: what you need for a masters degree in nursing

See the admissions requirements you’ll need to meet to earn a master’s degree in nursing.

4. Prepare a Strong Nursing School Application

Once you’ve talked to an admissions adviser, created an academic plan and fulfilled any unmet requirements, it’s time to begin the formal application process. Your application will be made up of several elements, each an important step toward your admittance into nursing school.

Create Your NursingCAS Profile

To streamline the nursing school application process, Marquette University uses NursingCAS, an online portal that allows prospective students to apply to multiple schools using the same user profile. While your admissions adviser will provide you guidance on when and how to apply for the Direct Entry MSN program in Pleasant Prairie or Milwaukee, it doesn’t hurt to get a head start by creating an account and familiarizing yourself with the system and requirements.

In addition to creating a detailed profile, you will use the NursingCAS portal to submit your official transcripts, resume, statement of goals and GRE General Test results, as well as to request references and more.

Request Your Official Transcripts

Early in the admissions process, you sent your adviser your unofficial transcripts. Now you’ll need to gather your official school transcripts. To ensure you submit your application in time for your desired program start, NursingCAS recommends that you request your official transcripts no later than five weeks prior to the application deadline. For further instructions on this crucial step, review the guidelines for Sending Official Transcripts to NursingCAS.

Craft a Compelling Resume and Statement of Professional Goals

Your resume and statement of goals say a lot about you. It goes without saying that these documents should be free of any typos or grammatical and punctuation errors; however, a strong nursing application requires more than just attention to detail. Nursing schools want to know that you are serious about the profession.

Kathleen Muglia, DNP, APRN, Clinical Associate Professor and Program Director for Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program, shares several tips that can help students craft an effective and compelling resume and statement of professional goals.

Showcase Clear Goals for Your Nursing Career

Dr. Muglia shares the importance of clearly communicating your goals and the impact they can have on admissions decisions, stating “We are looking to see if the applicant understands what nursing is about. Why does the applicant want to go into nursing? Many students describe wanting to care for patients as the reason for their choice. Being compassionate is very important, but nursing is an art and a science that requires high levels of critical thinking. Applicants should have clear goals which demonstrate they understand the role of nurses and advanced practice nurses.”

These goals might include becoming a nurse leader or manager, or continuing to earn a PhD, DNP or nurse practitioner certification. “In other words,” she asks, “why a master’s program and not a bachelor’s nursing program?”

ACNP clinical

Communicate How Your Values Align

Dr. Muglia also recommends that students explain how their values align with those of Marquette. “Do they understand the mission and values of our university and how it is different from other universities?” Touching on this point can both prove that you have done your research into Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program, and give you an opportunity to speak more in-depth about the values and motivations that will see you through to a successful nursing career.

Explain Weak Spots in Your Transcript

As one final tip, she notes that this is an applicant’s opportunity to explain any aspects of their transcript that aren’t where they would like them to be. “If there are any areas in the transcript that show a weakness, the applicant should describe the situation. For example, ‘I struggled in the first semester of my bachelor’s program due to an illness, but then improved my next three years.’”

stand out from the crowd

Discover some of the key factors that nursing schools look for in applicants.

Request at Least Three Letters of Recommendation

Not just anyone can be a Marquette Nurse. We want to know you have what it takes to succeed in our Direct Entry MSN program, which is why we require at least three (and up to five) professional referrals. These should be either current or former coworkers, or teachers, who can vouch for your character, integrity and work ethic. Before identifying referrers, make sure they’d be willing to refer you, and then follow up to let them know when they should expect an email from NursingCAS.

5. Submit Your Nursing School Application

Once you have completed the online application and uploaded your resume and statement of goals, and NursingCAS has received your official transcripts and references, it’s time to submit your application. However, before doing so, it’s a good idea to do one last review to make sure everything is correct.

Once you submit your application, the decision will be in the hands of whichever nursing school you apply to. However, if you have worked closely with an admissions adviser and followed their advice throughout the process, you can feel hopeful about your chances of admission. No application is ever a guarantee of admittance, but following every step and piece of advice you receive can maximize your odds of becoming a nursing student.

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Marquette Nurse?

Now that you’ve learned how to apply to nursing school and the steps you can take to be successful, do you want to learn more about how you can leverage your non-nursing bachelor’s degree to earn an MSN in as few as 21 months through Marquette University’s Direct Entry MSN program?

Contact an admissions adviser today and begin the conversation. You’ll be glad you took this step toward a new career and a bright future in nursing.

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