The Process of Applying to a DNP Program

Applying to a graduate program can be daunting. Use this guide and my personal experience to help you through that process. :) Nursing Students NP Students Knowledge


The Process of Applying to a DNP Program

When I graduated from nursing school, I was so relieved. I had been in school year-round since I graduated high school. I was burned out, my anxiety was at an all-time high, and I had this weird ball of pain between my shoulder blades that randomly appeared when I would be studying or dealing with school and then disappear on breaks...?

As soon as I passed my NCLEX, I told myself, "There's no way you're ever going back." The joke's on me.

So, why in the world am I going back? Well, it's simple, really. I wanted to start my own practice and, ironically, learn more. I worked in the hospital, in a doctor's office, and surgical center, but I was never going to be content until I could be my own boss. Now, I'm not saying that is the only reason. That is just my reason.

I started researching my options in late July 2022. Please, please, please, research your options. Look at their program ranking in the state and/or the nation. Compare costs. Are they only online or hybrid, or on-campus? Some programs have resources to talk to current or past students. Look up their program on social media platforms. Mine had an Instagram with story highlights featuring current students who answered applicant FAQs.

Okay, so you've done your research and found the program of your dreams. Then you realize you have to complete the application, which includes an essay, AND you have to interview?!

*slight panic*

Most programs ~should~ give you a guide or document that tells you the steps of applying. All my steps were merged into one application. If I had started it and needed to come back later, I could have. But once I had everything I needed, I completed the application and submitted it, so it was out of sight and out of mind.

What Do I Need to Apply to a DNP?

There are BSN-DNP and MSN-DNP routes. You just have to find the schools that offer them. BSN-DNP route is fairly new, so you may have a harder time finding that route if you're wanting an in-person experience.

Some programs require you to have experience as a nurse to apply. Mine required 1 year.

Deadlines. Ah, yes. Woe the days when deadlines and due dates ruled your life. Well, it's back. Triple-circle your application due date on every calendar or planner you have. Put it in your phone. Tell a trusted person to remind you.

But most importantly, recheck the due date on the website. My school had extended the due date the previous school year due to COVID. So I circled Feb. 2023. Unbeknownst to me, the original due date was Dec. 2022, which was this cycle's not updated application due date. Luckily, I did enough digging on the website, I found the actual due date.

**PAS: You have to apply not only and be accepted into the DNP program but also the school's graduate program. Two separate entities. **

Related: 10 Best DNP Programs in 2023

Alright, now we gather all the things. I needed all my transcripts (yay), my completed application, and three or more references with a master's degree or higher. One had to be a school professor. One had to be a professional reference. And the other was my choice.

But, of course, writing a letter wasn't enough. They had to go to a secure link emailed to them by the graduate department, fill out a form with short paragraph answers, and attach a letter. It was the most stressful part for me. Life happens, and we get busy. I checked the link every day to see if they submitted their form every day. Oh well. It worked out.

A resume. If you need help, you can always find resume templates or free services like
No, I did not need to do the GRE. It has been waived till 2024 for my school.

I don't know if it's necessary to say, but obviously, you need a valid nursing license.

Oh yeah! And my essay. Luckily (I think), they gave me guidelines and pre-written questions to answer during my essay.

Was it hard? No. Was it time-consuming? Also, no. But I jumped on it. As soon as I found the guidelines, I was jotting down the thoughts that came into my head when I read the questions.

The only thing I wish they were clearer on was the formatting. I had APA 7th edition, Times New Roman font size 12 shoved down my throat for a year, and now you're telling me I don't need it for my application essay for a graduate degree in nursing? Suspicious.

I heard through the grapevine it didn't have to be in APA formatting. But I went ahead and did it. Worst case scenario, you didn't need it and wasted some time. In the best-case scenario, you just showed off a skill, and it sets you apart from the other applicants.

So You've Applied

The dreaded wait to see if you're even contacted. If you are, congrats! If you are not, please do not give up. Apply to other colleges or take more time off to gain experience and save up money and apply again next cycle.

Now the admissions committee is contacting you for an interview. If you're like me, I immediately felt the anxiety in my stomach and my throat. I started googling possible questions. I slapped down the most common ones on a Word document and typed out my answers. Then I had my husband interview me. Once we stopped laughing, it was actually really helpful. I felt prepared for the interview. Confidence sells. And if all else fails, fake it till you make it.


My interview was on Zoom in December 2022, but I still dressed professionally. It was scheduled for 30-60 minutes, and it was over in 15 minutes. Yes, I did overthink this. But I tend to talk faster when I'm nervous.

Frequently Asked Questions

1- How do your values and nursing motto align with our nursing philosophy and values?

Usually, somewhere on the website, there is a mission statement or vision, mission, and values section. Read it. Familiarize yourself with it. Relate with it. Write it down.

2- Why our school/program?

This is where all that research comes into play. "Your program allows me to go to school online while providing for my family," or "Your program is ranked 28th in the nation," or "Your curriculum provides the educational standards I am looking for." Whichever the case may be, make it good and juice. They love statistics. Write it down.

3- Why did you choose that concentration?

Quick reminder: Want to work in a doctor's office? Concentrate on FNP. Do you want to teach or be management? It says the leadership concentration is the best fit, but I'm sure you could still do it with the other concentrations. Want to stay at the bedside? Acute concentration. There's also a CRNA concentration, but they have different guidelines and requirements.

This question shadows why you're wanting to go back to school in the first place. I wanted to open my own practice, so I chose the FNP concentration. Make the answer your own, and you will be fine. Write it down.

4- Give us an example of when you were a leader.

Now this one was hard for me. I wracked my brain for weeks trying to come up with something. But honestly, you probably have more instances than you know. I ended up messaging my previous charge nurse for inspiration which was a tremendous help. Whatever you come up with... write it down.

5- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Teaching? Going back to school again? Having a family? They ask because they want to know you're actually going to put yourself through this for a purpose. Write it down.

6- Support system?

Your family, friends, significant other, roommates, co-workers, animals, etc. They just want to know you have someone, something, or a stress reliever to help you get through this. Write it down.

7- Financial situation?

Loans? Scholarships (!)? Consider work studies, fellowships, and/or assistantships through the school. This lets them know you've thought about the financial repercussions of this graduate program. Write it down.

8- Work

Now I'm not saying don't tell them you're going to work 4 jobs to put yourself through school. But this was a big playing factor for my school, at least. They literally told me they wanted to make sure I would have enough dedicated time to focus on my studies. And also, write this answer down too.

9- The dreaded "What sets yourself apart?”

APA formatting? Volunteer experience (not required for my program)? Outpatient/acute care/teaching/ leadership experience? Certifications? Awards? Skills? Research? Personal blog? Whatever it is, write it down.

10- What is an NP? What is the difference between an NP, MD, and PA?

Do a little research and put your answers with the rest.

11- Are DNP real doctors?

Yes or no? But write it down.

12- Practicing guidelines in your state. Which can be found here.

Write down your state's guidelines.

Now that you've written all these answers down, it's time to study. Or at least review your answers. Doesn't have to be exact, but hopefully, when they ask you a question, your brain won't be scrambling around trying to find an answer; you'll already have an answer formed.

Anyway, the two lovely ladies interviewing me told me they didn't make the final decision. They make a recommendation to another committee who does make the final decision. Unfortunately, I wouldn't have a definitive answer till late February to early March 2023.

I religiously checked my application status. A day slowly killed me, let alone a couple of months?! I got my acceptance email a week later.

If you have any feedback, questions, or comments or want to hear more about my DNP journey, please let me know in the comments below.

Madison T has 5 years of experience as a BSN and specializes in Emergency Room, GI, Surgery, and Podiatry.

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