Nursing Admissions: A Frustrated Student's Manifesto

A personal narrative of my experiences with applying to nursing school. Admission into nursing school sometimes has less to do with grades than with other factors, such as politics. Nurses General Nursing Article


  1. What should admissions into nursing school be based on?

    • Academic criteria only (I.e. GPA in core prerequisites)
    • TEAS score
    • Having prior clinical experience (I.e. CNA, EMT, Respiratory therapist, etc)
    • Other non-academic factors (I.e. ethnicity, languages spoken, volunteer hours, social justice, affirmative action, etc)

27 members have participated

Nursing Admissions: A Frustrated Student's Manifesto

When it comes to anything having to do with scholastic endeavors, I have always taken pleasure and excelled. As I would tell my professors when they asked me how I did so well, the realm of academia has always been my happy place; I have some modicum of control when it comes to bringing to fruition desired outcomes (I.e. studying and hard work lead to good grades). Applying to nursing school, however, felt a lot like an exercise in futility. Some might say that I should have taken the rejection letters as a humbling experience; I would have taken the rejection in stride and learned something from it, except for the fact that I have spoken with faculty members from various nursing schools and have witnessed practices that I do not consider ethical at all. Furthermore, speaking with peers, while anecdotal, revealed a lot as well. There is a dark underbelly to the admissions process and I would even hazard to say that applying to medical school would have been a more streamlined, less harrowing experience. What follows is my own personal experience with the admissions process and what has led me to believe that nursing school admissions is murky, clandestine bog of uncertainties and questionable practices.

Prior to applying to nursing school for the first time, I conferred with a member of the college's faculty (who was close friends with someone on the nursing admissions committee), asking if I should try out for sponsorship since my grades were so good. Having insider knowledge, he advised me not to because they preferred to grant sponsorship to hospital employees, applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, or relatives/favorites. He also mentioned that sponsorship applicants who were rejected were not then put back into the general pool of applicants for nursing school; essentially, the coveted six sponsored seats were chosen and the remainder of sponsorship applications were thrown in the garbage. Nobody knew of this practice, including one of my good friends with a stellar GPA, who had repeatedly applied for sponsorship but had been rejected for the past three years (only when she threatened with a lawsuit was she suddenly accepted). When I finally applied for nursing school in 2015, I heeded the faculty member's advice and would not touch sponsorship with a ten foot pole, even though I had the grades for it.

The following Spring, I received my first rejection letter, which cited that there were far too many qualified applicants, blah, blah, blah. Fine. I was well aware of the fact that hardly anyone I knew was accepted the first time, so I decided to patiently bide my time until the next application period, enrolling in an EMT course in order to have clinical experience. I knew many friends and acquaintances who had gotten in on the second try.

The second time that I applied for nursing school in 2016, I decided to turn in my application in person. The administrators took my new application, but then proclaimed that they could not find my initial application. The dean of the nursing school came forward and asked me what my rejection letter had said and I informed her of its contents. She personally looked me up in their system and found my application under the category of applicants scoring below eligibility requirements (pre-requisite validation cut-score of 75% and/or composite score of 62% on the assessment test). Frowning, I informed her that that simply could not be possible since a counselor had calculated that my GPA placed me at 89%. This was no mistake or error in calculation, as the faculty knows me well (the dean herself knows that I have a bachelors degree from the same school that she attended for her MSN). The dean calculated my percentage herself on the spot and corrected the "error," assuring me that I would get in on the second try. Which brings me to where I am today: holding a letter informing me that I am an alternate so far down on the waiting list that I wasn't even invited to their in-take meeting (code for surprise drug test). Once again, as told by a member of the admissions committee over the phone today, I have to bide my time until the next application period.

Many nursing programs openly state that their programs are impacted and that waiting to get into a program can take as long as three years to finally be accepted. At least such programs are being honest and while I think it somewhat preposterous, I respect their candor. The two schools that I have had dealings with, however, have no such officially impacted statuses, instead opting to artificially impact their programs with, for lack of a better word, shady practices. For example, the Microbiology professor at one school informed me that the nursing department actually frowns on him awarding A's to students, encouraging him to give B's even if the students rightfully earned A's. Why are nursing schools trying to lower students' scores? To stem the flow of applicants? I was under the impression that there was a nursing shortage.

Another equally troubling practice is when nursing schools give deference to applicants based on factors not having to do anything with academics. From whether the applicant was a CNA first to what ethnicity box the applicant places a check mark in, there are numerous unofficial factors that influence admission into a program. I cannot tell you the number of times that I have congratulated friends who were accepted with C averages or had to go through remediation programs but also happened to speak a foreign language predominantly spoken in the state that I live in. While I am happy for my friends, I also think that politics have no place in nursing. If a nursing school wanted for students to be able to speak that foreign language, why wasn't it indicated on the application? I would have gladly learned the language instead of squandering three years of my life waiting to hear if I was accepted into the program.

As much as I love the field of healthcare and very much enjoyed patient interaction during clinicals, I do not love the hoops that nursing schools ask students to jump through. I'm not talking about the prerequisite courses (I actually really liked taking those). I'm talking about the unofficial profiling that admissions committees inevitably take part in when they consider applicants for admission into their program. One faculty member told me that I was not getting in because I already have a bachelors degree in another discipline, stating that I was already equipped to get a job and that the school's vetting process was a form of social justice. What does that have to do with anything? Medical and law schools accept people with diverse majors, so why is nursing school holding my possession of a prior degree against me? Yes, I do have a degree, but I also have $50,000 in student loans that accrue interest on a quarterly basis and my unemployed status only exacerbates the debt.

I don't mean to sound bitter or disgruntled, but I originally decided to pursue nursing for all the right reasons (I like helping humanity, I enjoy interacting with patients, and I like medicine). After being rejected multiple times from nursing school, however, I feel like all my original zeal has been wrung from me and I am now simply left as a husk of regret and frustration. I almost feel like my time would have been better spent pursuing another degree in healthcare and maybe that is something else to consider for the future. My final thought on this matter is that I think many qualified potential future nurses are being sieved out for the wrong reasons and doing so is a disservice to patients. As one patient told me at his bedside when I was completing clinical hours, he preferred a nurse who earned A's in her courses over a nurse with C's and D's. I couldn't agree more.

Pre-nursing student with a love for all things medicine and writing.

1 Article   3 Posts

Share this post

Share on other sites
Specializes in ICU.

What area of the country do you live? What kind of schools are you applying to?

Does your 89% calculated GPA mean you are a B average student? I'm confused about that part. My GPA entrance was always calculated on 4 point scale.

Some of these professors seem to be saying some pretty crazy things to you. That's why I wonder what schools you have been applying to. Have you tried applying to ABSN programs since you already have a degree?

You have a lot going on in your rant/post, but I'd like to address a few of your complaints and also point out to you that your experience is not universal.

First, there is no nursing shortage, so schools have the luxury of making up any arbitrary rules they choose in their decision making regarding admissions. Next, whether or not you have a previous degree doesn't necessarily bar you from a program; I had a previous BA and was admitted to the one and only program to which I'd applied (the first time). Last, I (and many others here) can assure you that many patients could not give a hoot what your GPA was in nursing school; they simply want a nurse caring for (and sometimes catering to) them. I see over and over again that many patients often prefer a dim-witted but customer service oriented, personable, friendly, happy-go-lucky nurse to those that are all business with the chops and clinical skills to keep them safe and avoid disasterous outcomes.

Specializes in Critical Care, Education.

What's "sponsorship"? It's not a term with which I'm familiar. Is this a scholarship?

Admission to any school is affected by the school's overall mission. Private (not tax supported) schools may be selecting students to fulfill a mission of ensuring diversity, increased opportunity to disadvantaged students, specific focus areas (e.g., cultural competency) or whatever. This is perfectly legal. Public (tax supported) schools generally use very objective criteria that have been determined to be highly correlated with successful outcomes. Commercial (investor owned, for-profit) schools are focused on profit and/or return for their investors.

A schools' graduates MUST achieve at least 80% success on first NCLEX attempt or their accreditation is jeopardized. Therefore, they take appropriate measures to ensure that this goal is met. They analyze data to determine the criteria that are most highly correlated with success; these criteria are then used to make admission decisions. It's not based on opinion or 'hope for the best'. There's too much at stake. If OP believes that there is unlawful discrimination, then there is legal recourse.

Rather than going this route, I would advise OP to broaden the field and apply to more schools. PP is correct - there is certainly NO SHORTAGE of people trying to get into nursing school these days, but some schools have a much easier selection ratio (# applying : # accepted) than others.

In the meantime, it may be a good idea to get a job and begin to paying down that whopping student loan debt.

That's a lot of ranting and somewhat difficult to make sense of for purposes of formulating a response ...but the overall "feeling" I get from it is that you believe yourself to be a superior applicant to those actually selected. Understand that everyone who applies thinks that what they're bringing to the table is important and what the admissions department of the program should be seeking.

As a side note, nursing is not "medicine".

Have you asked the nursing department how best to improve your future chances? What did they say?

I also find myself wondering about your prior degree which you're in a good amount of debt for. There is no nursing shortage in most places and it sounds like you may already have one "unusable" degree. Proceed with caution- especially if you're unable to move to a different city/state to find work.

Prior to becoming a RN I worked in college admissions and I will tell you that most college admissions, not just nursing, is a game of sorts. Schools have an idea of the class they want to "create" so they accept and reject students based on this image. Maybe they want to increase their rating on a particular published list, make themselves appear more selective or be able to boast about "X% of minority students" or some other fact about diversity. I hate to call it a game but it is :-(

I'm sorry you're having a tough time. Have you considered moving to a different area to go to school?

Specializes in NICU, ICU, PICU, Academia.

Status dramaticus. As a PP stated; Get a job and work on paying down that debt while applying to other programs.

PS: Manifestos are reserved for your Unabomber types, not pre-nursing students.

Wow, that was a lot to wade through. A few thoughts:

A) As already noted, there is no nursing shortage.

B) The faculty people who have been giving you "helpful" insider info and tips are not doing you any favors, and it would be nice if they understood the concept of professional boundaries.

C) You may believe firmly that "politics" and "social justice" should have no place in nursing school admissions, but not everyone agrees with you about that. There is a lot more to success in nursing than just academic ability. I have taught in nursing programs, including one which based admissions solely on academics, and I had as students in that program a few people that all the faculty agreed were the "poster children" for why basing nursing school admissions strictly on grades is a bad idea. In fact, the school administrators changed the admissions process, to incorporate other factors besides just academics, during the time I was teaching there.

D) It would be nice if your poll offered an "all of the above" option.

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

You seem to be generalizing your personal of this one school to "nursing school in general." If you are half as smart as you seem to think you are, you should know better than to do that. Not every school is the same. Even if there are some unsavory practices going on at this one school, that says nothing about other nursing programs.

Also, you seem attracted to rumor, innuendo, conspiracy theories, etc. You're getting information from a friend of someone on the nursing faculty ... you believe that grades are artificially manipulated ... etc. All of that is rumor and you have not heard/presented the other side of the story. Maybe that microbiology teacher was told his grades were too high because he was contributing to grade inflation -- handing out A's to half the class when it is supposed to be reserved for only those students whose work is considerably better than average. His feelings were hurt by the accusation of being too easy a grader, so he trashes the nursing school that is trying to maintain high standards. You see? There could be an entirely different side to that story that you never considered. Maybe the nursing school is trying to do the right thing and your friend the micro teacher needs to grow a pair and give some students grades below an A. Maybe not ... but maybe. I don't know and I'll be you don't know either.

If you don't like that one school, don't go there. Go to another school, but don't blame the whole nursing educational system because you didn't get accepted.

And you survey needs to include an "all of the above" choice. Most of the good quality schools look at the student's entire portfolio, not just one item.

Sorry you've been having trouble. I have to say though, of all the aspects of the nursing career that seem unfair, arbitrary, callous, or otherwised thoroughly f***ed, the school admissions process would be quite low on my list. In many ways, it only gets less fair from here. You may want to adjust your expectations accordingly.

I've known MANY second degree nurses. There were at least ten in my nursing class, including me. I find it very hard to believe that already having a BS in a non nursing field is keeping applicants out of nursing school.

OP, have you looked into direct entry MSN programs? You could take your BS degree and parlay that into a Master's of Nursing, and bypass this excruciating process you've experienced so far.

That really may be your best bet.