How to Choose a Nursing Program: 4 Steps for Making the Decision

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Does it matter where you get your nursing degree? Choosing a nursing school should include thorough research into each school’s curriculum and instructional quality, accreditation, student support, waitlists, degree requirement courses, and first-time NCLEX pass rates.

nurse looking at laptop

Does it matter where you get your nursing degree? The right nursing school can make an impactful difference in your career trajectory and preparation. If you’re wondering how to choose a nursing school, you’ll want to consider factors like the type of learning environment, waitlists and the degree requirement courses. Within these criteria, you can find the ideal fit for your education.

Suppose you have a passion for caring for others and know career opportunities abound for highly skilled nurses; you’re sure you want to change careers to nursing — the sooner, the better. But the question remains: How do you sift through all the nursing schools to find a quality program that best meets your needs?

Make choosing a nursing school easier by looking at Utica University’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program and Advanced Standing BS in Nursing program. As a 16-month advanced standing bachelor’s degree program offered through a hybrid learning format, we understand that if you’re pursuing a degree, you want a program that can quickly set you up to pursue competitive job opportunities within your desired field.

Read on to discover four important steps you should take when choosing a nursing school and gain the insight you need to make an informed choice. You’ll also get the answer to common questions, such as “How many nursing schools should I apply to?”

Does It Matter Where You Get Your Nursing Degree?

Utica nurse

Nurses are responsible for the safety and well-being of their patients. This significant responsibility means that it’s essential for new nurses to enter the field fully prepared, highly competent, and capable of tackling a range of challenges.

This is the top reason why it truly does matter where you earn your nursing degree. You’ll want to ensure you choose a nursing school that offers high-quality, rigorous academics. Your nursing school should feature highly experienced and well-credentialed faculty committed to supporting your success.

Other factors to consider when choosing a nursing program include:

  • Hybrid learning model: Online coursework paired with in-person experiential learning can be more convenient.
  • Extensive labs: Utica University ABSN and Advanced Standing BS in Nursing students complete about 225 hours in the lab to develop and learn how to apply clinical skills.
  • Clinical partnerships: You’ll want to complete clinicals at top local healthcare facilities, such as those partnered with Utica University.

How Many Nursing Schools Should I Apply To?

There is no universal recommendation regarding the number of nursing schools an aspiring nurse should apply to. If you’re confident about your past academic record (and, therefore, your admission chances), you may wish to apply to two or three schools. If you don’t have as strong an academic record, you may wish to apply to a handful of schools.

Another consideration is that ABSN programs usually offer three start dates per year rather than two and tend to have rolling admissions policies. If your heart is set on attending a particular nursing school, you may only want to submit one application. If you don’t get in, you can quickly pivot and apply to a different school without imposing an excessive delay on your plans.

nurse sitting in interview with resume

Are you wondering how to apply to nursing school? Discover 7 application tips for success to boost your application.

1. Research How Long It Will Take to Earn Your Degree

Completing a new degree in nursing can pose a significant time obligation, with traditional nursing programs requiring a four-year, full-time commitment. If this seems too long of a timeframe to fit in your professional or life goals, an ABSN program could offer a more direct route to your nursing degree, provided you meet program admissions requirements.

This accelerated nursing program has a condensed academic format, allowing students to earn a nursing degree in as few as 16 months. However, in this accelerated yet rigorous path to becoming a registered nurse, quality is not compromised for speed. While the ABSN program at Utica University is like a traditional program in that it offers high academic quality and clinical preparation, students can begin their nursing careers in about half the time it would take in a conventional program.

This timeline represents the duration of nursing programs once you’re enrolled. Still, factors like degree requirement courses and waitlists can delay the point at which you can fully start your nursing education. Programs that allow you to begin sooner can help you reach your goals sooner.

two students studying

How to Choose a Nursing School: Degree Requirement Courses

Degree requirement courses (formerly called prerequisites) are meant to instill an academic foundation for success in the nursing program. Because nursing programs, especially ABSN programs, move so quickly, you need to be prepared to take on the coursework as it comes without getting caught up on more foundational elements. Research each program’s degree requirement courses to determine how quickly you can start. Remember, it could be a red flag if a program has no degree requirement courses.

Before enrolling as a Utica University ABSN student, for example, you must pass six degree requirement courses that can be completed at any accredited higher learning institution or online through Utica University.

Find Out If Your Nursing School Has a Waitlist

Traditional nursing schools with no waitlist can be rare, and many university nursing programs can only start students once (maybe twice) a year. In some cases, you could even earn a traditional bachelor’s degree in the time it’d take you to start classes in some nursing schools with a waitlist.

That’s not the case at Utica University. We can enroll a high number of qualified students because we offer three start dates (January, May, and August) every year. If you meet the qualifications to enroll, you can start classes practically as soon as you’re ready — not just when there’s an opening.

Explore 7 ways to increase your chances of getting into nursing school before starting your Utica ABSN application.

nursing students sitting in class

2. Evaluate the Culture of Each Nursing School

In a challenging field like nursing, a supportive learning environment is paramount to ensuring that you succeed in the program and graduate ready to treat actual patients confidently. Pay careful attention during your discussions with nursing school admissions representatives (and follow up with research) to ensure that their culture feels like the right fit.

Research the School’s Academic and Personal Support

Academic and personal support in a challenging program can make the difference between graduation and failure. This means accessible instructors and staff, a culture of collaboration with your cohort and individualized attention in an environment where you’re more than just a number.

Utica University ABSN’s main priority is to help you complete your degree and achieve your goal of becoming a nurse. Even before you apply, our dedicated team of admissions representatives can help you navigate every step of the application process, from gathering transcripts to completing certification requirements.

Once you enroll as a Utica University ABSN student, you can expect the same level of personalized support from everyone you interact with through our program—from fellow members of your nursing school cohort to your lab and clinical instructors.

3. Determine How Each Program Approaches Their Curriculum

utica nursing student smiling folding arms

Nursing is a demanding profession that requires knowledge, aptitude, and the ability to react rapidly to various patient care situations. Especially if you’re pursuing a degree through an accelerated nursing program, you should look for a curriculum that does as much as possible to acclimate you to practical patient care. With as little as 16 months to prepare for an entirely new career, you’ll want every bit of experience you can get.

See How the Curriculum Helps Build Hands-On Nursing Skills

A nursing school curriculum should, in addition to meeting all accreditation requirements, provide a solid foundation on which to base a nursing career. Utica University is a nonprofit school that offers the best education and learning environment to help students achieve their career goals. If flexibility is what you need, this nursing program has it. Students have the convenience of completing courses online, allowing them to customize their schedules.

Although Utica University offers online courses, students aren’t expected to figure it all out independently. They can communicate with instructors and other students anytime through an online platform called Canvas.

Online courses, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Students must complete online courses and hands-on simulation labs under academic instruction. While coursework is valuable, classroom or online learning alone doesn’t provide the necessary experience to treat real-world patients. Look for a nursing program emphasizing lab and clinical experience, and you’ll know you’ll be prepared for your future role as an RN.

We designed the Utica University ABSN curriculum to meet New York State licensure and accreditation requirements and equip students with the essential skills that today’s healthcare employers demand.

You’ll work through three primary components:

  • Online courses feature interactive media and animations to help you memorize material and understand how nursing theory concepts affect patient care.
  • Hands-on patient simulations and skills labs occur at our program sites and serve as the perfect experiential learning components for creating confident, practice-ready nurses.
  • Students complete clinical rotations at leading healthcare facilities in central New York under the watchful eye of experienced instructors and preceptors.

4. Ask About the Program’s NCLEX-RN Exam Pass Rates

Another factor to consider when choosing a nursing school is the school’s first-time NCLEX pass rates. As the professional licensure exam all nurses must pass before they can practice, the NCLEX-RN exam is one of the most critical elements of pursuing a career in nursing.

utica student studying

While NCLEX pass rates are not a direct indicator of job placement after graduation, they are a testament to a nursing program’s quality. In fact, many past students at Utica University have reported feeling more than prepared to take the exam and enter the field as practice-ready nurses upon graduation. You should ensure you know the pass rates for any nursing school you’re considering.

Are you wondering how to assess a school’s pass rate? Consider if it’s above the national average. For example, in 2022, the national first-time pass rate for baccalaureate nursing students was 82.32%. At Utica University, our 2022 pass rate was 88.9%--well above the national average.

How Can a Program Prepare You for the NCLEX-RN?

The best preparation for the NCLEX-RN is participating in a quality nursing program while staying connected to your instructors and fellow cohort members as you study for the exam. If a program has imparted proper knowledge of nursing skills, techniques, and theory, the NCLEX should not contain much material you aren’t familiar with.

As an accredited university, we are driven to prepare our students to take the NCLEX, so we format the tests throughout our ABSN program to familiarize students with the structure of the NCLEX. In addition, our ABSN program specifically prepares students for the newest version of the NCLEX—the Next Generation NCLEX. The Next Gen NCLEX tests nursing candidates on their nursing knowledge and ability to exercise solid clinical judgment and decision-making by following the nursing process. With thorough nursing simulation labs, our students have plenty of opportunities to develop these crucial skills.

Choose the Right Nursing Program Today

Students choose Utica University because they want a top-notch nursing education without the wait for admission like a traditional nursing degree program. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to earn a B.S. in Nursing in as few as 16 months and confidently sit for the NCLEX.

Now that you’ve learned how to choose a nursing school that works for you, consider this: Our students are bright, motivated and eager for a meaningful career change. If that sounds like you, contact one of our admission representatives.

We’d love to help you navigate your path to your nursing future.

The Ultimate Nursing School Admissions Checklist

Ready for nursing school but stressed about applying? We recommend downloading our free admissions checklist to learn the important ins and outs of applying to accelerated nursing school.

The ultimate nursing school admissions checklist