Once you have defined your career goals and the level of nursing education they will require, the next step is matching your needs with the offerings and characteristics of specific nursing schools and nursing programs.
Some of the criteria you may want to consider in evaluating a potential school of nursing include:
- The types of nursing programs offered by a nursing school
- The length of the nursing program and its specific requirements
- The availability of full- and part-time study and number of credits required for part-time study
- The flexibility of the nursing program
- Whether distance education courses are available at the nursing school
- The days, times, and sites at which classes and clinical experiences are offered as they relate to your work schedule
Take into consideration the nursing program’s accreditation status; nursing college's faculty qualifications in terms of research, teaching, and practice; and the resources of the school of nursing and of the nursing college/university, such as library holdings, computer services, and statistical consultants. You should also consider the clinical settings used in the curriculum and their relationship to your career goals, as well as the availability of financial aid for nursing students.
Carefully review the admission criteria of nursing schools, including minimum grade point average requirements; scores required on any admission tests, such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) for master’s and doctoral programs; and any requirements in terms of work experience. For students returning for a baccalaureate degree, prior nursing knowledge may be validated through testing, transfer of courses, and other mechanisms. Review these options prior to applying to a nursing program.
Don't forget your needs from a nursing school
While the intrinsic quality and characteristics of the nursing program are important, your own personal goals and needs have to be included in your decision. Consider commuting distance; whether courses are offered online; costs in relation to your financial resources; program design; and flexibility of the curriculum in relation to your work, family, and personal responsibilities. While the majority of nursing programs offer part-time study, many programs also schedule classes to accommodate work situations.
Many schools offer nursing courses online, and in some places, the entire baccalaureate and master’s programs are available through distance learning. The largest enrollment in nursing distance learning is in baccalaureate programs for RNs. Distance learning allows RNs to further their education no matter where they live. Many nurses prefer online courses because they can learn at times convenient for them, especially considering competing demands associated with their jobs, families, and other commitments.
Ensure your success in the nursing program
Once you have made the decision to return to school and have chosen the nursing program that best meets your needs, take an additional step to ensure your success. Identify the support you will need, both academic and personal, to be successful in the nursing program. Academic support is provided by the institution and may include tutoring services, learning resource centers, computer facilities, and other resources to support your learning. You should take advantage of available support services and seek out resources for areas in which you are weak or need review.
Academic support services, however, need to be complemented by personal support through family, friends, and peers. With a firm commitment to pursuing advanced education, a clear choice of a nursing program to meet your goals, and support from others, you are certain to find success in returning to school.
by Marilyn Oermann, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Professor, College of Nursing, Wayne State University