I’ve receive a lot of e-mails about the NP program admissions process from eager readers. Do experience or grades matter most? Why was I not admitted to my top program? What can I do to increase my chances of acceptance? I try my best to field these questions based on personal experience. But, I’m happy to say that yesterday morning over a fresh cup of coffee I had these questions and more answered by an NP program admissions expert.
Yesterday morning I nestled into my favorite chair at our kitchen table I called up Clay Hysell, Assistant Dean for Admissions at University of Virginia School of Nursing. Mr. Hysell boasts 13 years of nursing admissions experience and had graciously offered to answer ThriveAP reader’s most pressing admissions questions. Laptop in hand, I typed away as he spilled valuable advice for prospective NP’s. Here’s what he had to say.
How heavily do you weigh clinical experience in admissions to your NP program? Are candidates with little or no RN experience given much consideration?
Mr. Hysell immediately emphasizes that clinical experience is of utmost importance in UVA’s admissions decisions. Furthermore, admissions staff look for clinical experience in the area where the prospective NP wants to practice. For example, if you are applying to a psychiatric nurse practitioner program, RN experience in the psychiatric/ mental health field will significantly improve your chances of admission.
Mr. Hysell states that NP program faculty want to make sure candidates have their “training wheels off”. Nurse practitioner students are expected to transition from a novice phase to gaining a high level of independence throughout their NP program with the ultimate goal of preparedness for practice. UVA faculty feel this transition is smoother and that students learn better with some specialized experience under their belt.
What things make an NP program application stand out above others?
“Nursing is a profession, not a job” says Mr. Hysell. Admissions staff seek candidates who exhibit professional behaviors mirroring this sentiment. Students who have progressed in their careers moving toward becoming experts in their field make well qualified NP program candidates. Examples of these professional behaviors include joining professional nursing organizations, mentoring newer nurses, joining practice counsels and specialized training such as CCRN certification.
Do you recommend that students make an effort to contact admissions staff in person (i.e phone interviews or in-person campus visits)? Is this personal contact important in admissions decisions?
Mr. Hysell is quick to point out that while he enjoys meeting NP program candidates in person and these interactions are certainly taken into account in the admissions process they aren’t your ticket to an acceptance letter. Your real world professional experience and application as a whole are much more important than the effort to interview with admissions staff.
Again, emphasizing that students must have an accurate perception of the nurse practitioner role to make qualified candidates for admission, Mr. Hysell recommends prospective NP students job shadow multiple NP’s. He recommends shadowing more than one nurse practitioner to ensure you love the NP profession itself rather than just the specific individual practicing in the profession. Admissions staff are seeking “informed consumers”, students who have researched and prepared for the nurse practitioner role.
How much are grades and test scores taken into account in the NP program application process? Do numbers weigh as heavily as experience in the application process?
“Grades do matter” emphasizes Mr. Hysell. So, I follow up with the question “What about students who may not have competitive undergraduate GPA’s but have been working for a number of years and are now more serious about their education?”. Fortunately, Mr. Hysell says prospective students have a second chance. He recommends taking a graduate level nursing course as a non-degree student, nursing theory for example, to demonstrate your renewed commitment to learning. This is also an excellent way to get a reference from a nursing faculty member for your application packet. Creating a new record of academic performance can help outshine old blunders.
What are the most common reasons applicants are not offered admission to your NP programs?
Mr. Hysell offers three common reasons NP program applicants receive rejection notices:
- Not understanding the role of the program for which you are applying. Admissions faculty want to know that you have an accurate perception of the nurse practitioner profession, in particular for your specialty of interest. Writing in your admissions essay that you want to become a Family Nurse Practitioner so you can “do anything”, for example, does not demonstrate understanding of the role of an FNP.
- Poorly Written Essays. Graduate school requires an extensive amount of reading and writing. You writing skills must be at a high level. If your admissions essays are poorly written, NP admissions faculty will doubt your chances for success in an NP program.
- Letters of Recommendation. The University of Virginia requires a letter of recommendation from an advanced practice nurse. This weighs heavily in the admissions decision. Faculty feel that other APN’s will have an accurate idea of your level of preparedness for a nurse practitioner program. Similarly, many other universities require a reference from a practicing healthcare provider. These recommendations must be taken seriously and obtained from someone who can speak highly of your abilities.
Tell us about the DNP transition. Will MSN programs end in 2015? Or, is this still being decided?
When I ask this question, Mr. Hysell chuckles. I can tell he has received more than one frantic call from an aspiring nurse practitioner student concerned about their future in relation to the DNP. He quickly reviews how we arrived in our current state of confusion over the issue. In 2006, he states, the American College of Nursing, a congress of nursing school deans, recommended the DNP as the terminal degree for nurse practitioners. Now, this is being called an “aspirational goal”. At this point only CRNA’s have embraced the DNP as a requirement and don’t plan to finalize this transition until 2025. Concerning nurse practitioners, all 50 state boards of nursing are still discussing the issue and have yet to arrive at a conclusion.
Mr. Hysell notes that some specialized groups have transitioned to requiring the DNP for NP’s. For example, the U.S. Army requires that all Acute Care Nurse Practitioners are doctorally prepared. However, it seems for the foreseeable future the MSN route will remain a viable path to the NP profession for most.
Overall, I the most important thing I learned from speaking with Mr. Hysell is that you can’t “fake” your way into a nurse practitioner program. Becoming a nurse practitioner is a serious professional step and admissions decisions are made accordingly. Joining fifteen nursing clubs and showing up to volunteer at a clinic three times the month before submitting your NP program app just isn’t going to cut it. Before applying to a nurse practitioner program you must explore your areas of interest and take steps toward pursuing the area in which you are most passionate. You must actively seek to understand the role of the nurse practitioner and demonstrate your understanding in the application process.
A big “Thank You” to Mr. Hysell for being open and honest in sharing his thoughts about the NP program application process. I think we’ve all gained some valuable insight into becoming better NP applicants.
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