Applying to Graduate or Professional School
For most of you we anticipate that your BSN is only one stop on your academic and your career journeys. Most of you will continue on to graduate or professional school at some time. This guide is intended to help you on that journey.
The decision regarding when to attend graduate school is a personal decision. Factors you may want to consider include:
- Commitment: Are you committed to a specific field of study? If not, take the time to determine your goals before continuing on to graduate school.
- Impact on Long Term Goals: If you cannot pursue your long-term goals without the graduate degree, do you have a time frame in mind for when you would like to have achieved this goal? Does that timeline require immediate attendance?
- Engagement in Field? Graduate programs incorporate active discussion and engagement. Do you feel prepared to add to discussions? Would you feel more able to participate if you worked in the field and or with your population of interest prior to attending graduate school?
- Impact on Personal Finances: If you decide to attend full time and work no more than part time, historically graduate students find it challenging to give up the security of a full-time job. Attending graduate school prior to starting work full time would eliminate the financial adjustment.
- Impact on Work Adjustment: The first year of nursing is a period of intense growth and adjustment. Are you prepared to take on this adjustment while adjusting to graduate school? Does it make sense to adjust to one prior to balancing both? How will this impact the timing of your graduate study
- Funding Options: If you plan to work and go to school, does your employer offer a tuition reimbursement program. Does that program require a period of service prior to being available to you? If it does, do you want to wait until that benefit is active? Or, does the time span that you would have to wait adversely impact your personal goals and do you want to start sooner.
Check the specific requirements of the program(s) in which you have an interest.
- Admissions Exams.
- If you are planning to attend a nursing graduate program, you will not be required to take an admission examination (e.g., GRE).
- If you want to pursue an associated field, such as a Masters of Public Health, a GRE general exam is required. Confirm the admissions’ requirements of the program(s) in which you are interested prior to applying.
- If scores are required, consider that your scores are good for 5-years (3 for MCAT). You may want to take the exam now if you expect seek admission within five years.
- If you were educated outside of the US, determine if a TOEFL will be required.
- GPA minimums. These will vary from school to school – Rutgers School of Nursing programs typically require a 3.2 or better.
- Personal Statement/Graduate School Essay. Read the application materials thoroughly. Some schools will ask you to respond to a specific topic or issue, others will ask for a general essay/personal statement. If general, be sure to include:
- Your interest in the program and how that interest developed.
- What you would like to do after graduation with the degree you are seeking.
- What you feel you would uniquely bring to the program.
- A factual based explanation of any negatives to your candidacy, such as situational context; what you’ve learned from the experience that might alleviate their concerns moving forward.
Whether it is a general essay/personal statement or in response to a specific question or situation, be sure to edit the document. The essay will serve as a writing sample; therefore, it should be error-free and cohesive. Avoid writing in the passive voice.
- Letters of Reference
- Programs typically require 2-5 letters (Rutgers requires 2 for most programs). Check individual program requirements. Keep in mind that a vague reference is perceived as a negative reference, so follow these tips:
- Whom to ask:
- Most programs require at least one faculty reference
- Additional references can come from faculty, advisors, clinical supervisors, work supervisors or coaches – anyone that can speak to the skills and characteristics you’ll bring to the program.
- How to ask
- When possible meet with the person from whom you are requesting the reference. If you cannot meet with him/her, ask to speak by phone or skype.
- Ask the person if s/he feels they can write a strong, positive letter of reference. If they are reluctant, do not take offense – having them express concern is better than a negative or vague reference.
- Provide the person with your resume or CV, discuss your goals and why this program appeals to you.
- Give the person the opportunity to ask you any question
- When to ask – References typically have the best of intentions, but your reference is typically not their priority. Ask early and follow up.
Choosing a School/Program
There are numerous programs available for whatever you want to study. Choosing a school requires identifying the programs of interest to you and determining the factors that you are looking for in a program.
- Identifying programs.
- Identify schools with faculty performing research in areas of interest to you. Start with research studies that interest you.
- Who conducted the research?
- Where is s/he teaching?
If you apply this method for identifying a program, be sure to include your interest in that faculty members work (with citation) in your graduate essay/personal statement.
- Evaluating Programs
- Strength/Interests of Faculty- do they have faculty with strong reputations and interest in the work you wish to do
- Geography – Will you have to relocate (how does this fit your personal circumstances)?
- Admissions Standards – are you likely to be admitted (consider a stretch school as well as one that is a realistic option
Financing Your Degree
Use any and all means available to you. You may need to use multiple sources, loans, assistantships, multiple scholarships, and/or employer tuition remission. Though many assume there is nothing available, there are funding sources to support nurses in pursuing further study and as the nursing shortage grows, even more resources may become available.
- Assistantships – Institutions utilize graduate students functionally for wages, tuition and/or housing. Investigate assistantships when applying – some will require a second application process, others will include them in overall application.
- Graduate Assistantships –Students work can be in an area related to your program but does not have to be – the largest number of assistantships are frequently in student affairs/student services areas.
- Teaching Assistantships – Students either teach a course, under the guidance of a professor, or assist a teacher in teaching (grading, leading discussion groups, setting up laboratories or simulations).
- Research Assistantships – Students work directly with a faculty member or members on a research project. Tasks may include literature searches, conducting experiments, and/or assisting with data collection or interpretation
Assistantships vary greatly in their remuneration levels from school to school. Consider the value as you weigh cost of institution.
- Employer Tuition Remission – many employers offer partial tuition remission/reimbursement or full tuition remission in return for additional years of service. Explore this benefit with your human resources office
- Tuition remission/reimbursement may not be available until you have been employed a certain amount of time.
- Tuition remission/reimbursement may be contingent upon grade received (may require a minimum grade and/or pay at different levels based on grade received.
- Scholarships – there is a considerable amount of scholarship available for nursing programs.
- Typically, graduate scholarships are funded through private foundations and require individual applications
- Application deadlines vary, but can be one-year in advance of study.
- Verified listing of scholarships (active as of August 2017)
- Additional sources are available to provide you with mass listings
- Loans: Additionally, students can explore educational loans to finance their graduate degrees. Explore these resources to understand your options: