Applying to Graduate or Professional School

For many people, their bachelor’s in nursing is one stop on a longer academic and professional journey. If you plan on continuing your studies at a graduate or professional school, this guide will help you find your footing:


Deciding when to attend further schooling is a personal decision involving a number of factors:

  • Commitment: Are you committed to a specific nursing field/specialty? If not, take the time to determine your goals before applying to graduate school.
  • Impact on Long-Term Goals: If you can’t pursue your long-term goals without a graduate degree, what time frame would you like to achieve this goal in? Would you have to attend school immediately to fulfill your goal?
  • Engagement in Field: Graduate programs involve active discussion and engagement. Are you ready to add to discussions? Would you feel better prepared if you worked in the field and/or with your population of interest before attending graduate school?
  • Impact on Personal Finances: Many graduate students find it challenging to give up the security of a full-time job. Attending school before starting full-time work would eliminate the financial adjustment.
  • Funding Options: If you plan on working while attending school, does your employer offer a tuition reimbursement program? Does this program require a period of preliminary service before you can access it? If so, consider whether you want to wait until that benefit is active if waiting will not adversely impact your personal goals.
  • Impact on Work Adjustment: The first year of nursing is a period of intense growth and adjustment. If you plan on working while attending school, are you prepared to take on this adjustment while acclimating to your studies? Does it make sense to adjust to one prior to balancing both? How will this impact the timing of your graduate study?

Admission Criteria

Check the specific requirements of the program(s) that you’re interested in.

Admission Exams

Nursing graduate schools do not require admission exams like the GRE. However, if you want to pursue an associated field like a master’s in public heath, the GRE is required:

  • Confirm what your program’s admission criteria are.
  • If scores are required, keep in mind that your GRE score is valid for five years and your MCAT score for three years.
  • Consider taking the exam now if you plan to apply and begin school within five (or three) years.

If you were educated outside of the U.S., confirm whether the TOEFL exam is required.

Minimum GPA

This will vary from school to school. Rutgers School of Nursing programs typically require a GPA of 3.2 or higher on a 4.0 scale.

Personal Statement/Graduate School Essay

Some schools will ask you to respond to a specific topic or issue, while 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 with the degree you are seeking after you graduate.
  • What you feel you would uniquely bring to the program.
  • An honest explanation of any negatives to your candidacy, such as situational context, along with what you’ve learned from the experience that might alleviate the school’s concerns moving forward.

Whether it’s a personal statement/essay or a response to a question or situational prompt, be sure to edit your document, making sure it’s error-free and cohesive. Avoid writing in the passive voice.

Reference Letters

Programs typically require two to five letters — Rutgers School of Nursing requires two for most programs. Check individual program requirements to confirm how many you should have.

Keep in mind that a vague reference is perceived as a negative reference, so follow these tips on whom, how, and when to ask:

Whom to Ask

Most programs will require at least one faculty reference. Additional references can come from faculty, advisors, clinical supervisors, work supervisors, or coaches — anyone who can attest to the skills and character that you’ll bring to the program.

How to Ask

When possible, meet with your potential reference in person. If they can’t, ask to meet by phone or video conference. When you meet, ask if they can write a strong, positive letter for you.

  • If they seem reluctant, don’t take offense — having them express concern is better than receiving a negative or vague reference.
  • If they agree, provide them with your resume or CV and discuss your goals and why this program appeals to you.

Give them an opportunity to ask you any questions that would help them write their reference better.

When to Ask

People who write reference letters typically have the best intentions, but your letter may not be their priority, especially if they have a busy schedule. To avoid late letters, ask early and follow up.

Choosing a School/Program

There are numerous programs available for what you want to study. To choose a school, you’ll need to identify the programs that interest you and determine what you’re looking for in a program.

Identifying Programs

Look into schools with faculty who are actively engaged in research areas that align with your interest(s). Start by looking into research studies that interest you. Who conducted the research? Where are they teaching?

If you use this method, include your interest in that faculty’s work (with citation) in your graduate essay/personal statement.

Find programs in your interest areas using these sites:

Evaluating Programs

Once you’ve found programs you’d like to apply to, assess which one is right for you:

  • Faculty Strength and Interest: Do they have faculty with strong reputations and interest in the work you’d like to conduct?
  • Location: Will you have to relocate? If so, how does this fit with your personal circumstances?
  • Cost
  • Admission Standards: Are you likely to be admitted? (Consider a stretch school as well as a realistic option.)

Financing Your Degree

Use any and all means available to finance your education. You may need multiple sources like assistantships, employer tuition remission, scholarships, and/or loans. Though you might think that your options are limited, there are funding sources that support nurses who pursue further study. Plus, as the nursing shortage grows, even more resources may become available.


Institutions utilize graduate students functionally for wages, tuition, and/or housing. Look into assistantships when applying. Some will require a second application process, while others will include them in the overall application.

  • Graduate Assistantships: Student work can be in an area related to your program, but it doesn’t have to be. The largest number of assistantships are often 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. Tasks may include grading, leading discussion groups, and setting up laboratories or simulations.
  • Research Assistantships: Students work directly with faculty on a research project. Tasks may include searching literature, conducting experiments, and/or assisting with data collection or interpretation.

Tuition Remission

Assistantships vary greatly in their renumeration levels from school to school. Consider the value as you weigh the 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: This may not be available until you’ve been employed a certain amount of time. It may also be contingent on your grade, that is, it may require a minimum grade and/or pay at different levels based on your grade.


A considerable amount of scholarships is available for nursing programs. Typically, graduate scholarships are funded through private foundations and require individual applications. View our scholarship page to access internal (that is, Rutgers School of Nursing) and external (non-Rutgers School of Nursing) scholarships, along with sources that will provide you with mass listings.


You can also explore educational loans to finance your graduate degree. Explore these resources to understand your options: