What is Nursing School Like? A Utica ABSN Semester-by-Semester Guide

Summary: To understand what nursing school is like in the Utica College Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program, it’s helpful to know that it compresses the traditional nursing school experience into 16 months and combines online and hands-on learning components. While challenging, semester-by-semester advice from former students can also help you know what to expect — and ultimately succeed — as a Utica ABSN student.

what is nursing school like? Utica ABSN has 4 semesters with 4 unique learning experiences.

Ask the question, “What is nursing school like?” to working nurses and they will likely tell you it to you straight — it’s tough. You’ll learn quickly during your first semester that it requires you to work hard and study even harder, leaving you little time for much else.

While it can get intense, the whole experience can seem much more manageable if you know what to expect in nursing school. The Utica College Accelerated B.S. in Nursing program compresses the traditional nursing school experience into 16 months using a blended curriculum model. That means you’ll complete the didactic portion online, skills and simulation labs virtually, then at our ABSN program site, and begin your clinical rotations at area hospitals starting your first semester.

If you think that sounds like a lot to do in a short time frame, you’re right — it is. But with hard work and dedication, it is possible to succeed. It also becomes much more manageable when you hear what nursing school is like from others who’ve been there before. That’s why, in addition to telling you what to expect in nursing school, we’ve also asked Utica ABSN alumni to share their advice on how to survive each semester of nursing school.

What nursing school is like at Utica

Before we take a deep dive into what you can expect each semester in the Utica ABSN program, it’s helpful to have a high-level concept of how it works, as well as what nursing school is like in general and how challenging you can realistically expect nursing school to be.

When researching which program is the best fit for you, you may first want to know how long is nursing school. While it varies from program to program, Utica College’s ABSN program takes place over 16 months and is comprised of four semesters. It is made up of three key components: online coursework, hands-on labs, and clinical rotations. Each plays an important role in your nursing education.

Online Coursework

In the online coursework portion of the Utica ABSN program, you will learn essential nursing theory concepts, from clinical research to leadership. You will do so through myriad instructional methods, ranging from assigned textbook readings and written assignments to interactive case studies, audio-visual lessons and discussion forums with fellow students and instructors.

nursing student using laptop

Hands-on Labs

Our skills and simulation labs take place at one of our Utica ABSN program sites in either St. Petersburg or Miramar, Florida, or Syracuse, New York. During this component of your accelerated nursing education, you’ll work alongside highly experienced lab instructors — virtually for the first 10 weeks of each semester, then via an in-person lab immersion for the remainder of each semester at one of our program sites — to practice key nursing skills. In skills labs, you’ll learn everything from proper hand washing and bed change protocols to how to conduct nursing assessments. For practicing nursing skills like intubations and injections, you’ll use medical manikins.

Simulation labs take place at the program site location in which you’re enrolled. They are designed to hone your critical-thinking skills in a realistic hospital-like setting without putting anyone at risk. In simulation labs, you will interact with medical manikins that can display a variety of behaviors and symptoms. These experiences also offer you the opportunity to encounter medical situations you might not during your clinical rotations.

nursing students working with sim manikin

Clinical Rotations

Finally, clinical rotations allow you to apply nursing theory to the practice setting, where you will observe patient care in a variety of healthcare settings and learn the ins and outs of delivering patient care, all under the guidance of experienced clinical instructors. Clinical rotations take place the last six weeks of each semester.

What to Expect in Nursing School
This video explains more about what nursing school is like in the Utica ABSN program.

How hard is nursing school?

If you’ve done any amount of research into nursing school, you likely have heard that nursing school is not easy—that’s as it should be. After all, nurses need to be able to apply critical thinking skills quickly in high-pressure situations.

What makes nursing school so difficult? Especially in an accelerated nursing program such as Utica ABSN, nursing school is a major time commitment. Many have even likened the experience to holding a full-time job, simply for the fact that you’ll need to spend that much time studying and participating in labs and clinical rotations to expect to succeed.

Nursing school also requires a different way of retaining and applying information. In addition to memorizing and synthesizing course material, you must also master critical hands-on skills and hone your ability to think analytically and often under pressure — weighing all you know about medicine with everything you can uncover about a patient’s condition.

While many will tell you that nursing school is hard, it’s not to say that succeeding is impossible. As you’ll read about below, you’ll have plenty of resources to help you make it through, including supportive instructors and fellow classmates.

Nursing School Survival Guide
For even more tips on how to survive nursing school and about the support resources available to Utica ABSN students, don’t miss our Ultimate Nursing School Survival Guide.

Before you begin nursing school

One of the great things about the Utica ABSN program is that it allows you to complete your nursing theory coursework from anywhere thanks to our intuitive e-Learning platform. To set yourself up for meeting the challenge of nursing school, before you begin it’d be a good idea to identify the best learning environment for you and your situation. Some can focus in their living room or kitchen; others need a dedicated space, such as an office. Wherever you learn best, now is the time to situate yourself so it’s not something you have to think about the first week of nursing school (as you’ll read about below, you’ll see you’ll jump right in starting Day 1 of our program).

Now is also a good time to stock up on any study supplies you will need, such as notebooks and binders, and double check that your desktop computer or laptop meets the system requirements of our online coursework.

Luckily, you’ll always have someone in your corner to help you through the entire process. Your admissions representative will stay in touch with you regularly until you begin to make sure you have everything you need to succeed.

Utica ABSN Semester-by-Semester Breakdown

You now have a general sense of what to expect as a Utica ABSN student and how to set yourself up for success before you begin. But to give you more personalized and detailed insight into what nursing school is like, we assembled this semester-by-semester guide. Below, you’ll see what courses you’ll be taking when and how the three components of the program — online coursework, labs and clinicals — are split up each semester.

No matter what semester of nursing school you’re in, one fact remains the same: Your success ultimately depends on the effort you put in. That said, success IS possible, as you’ll also see the Utica ABSN alumni mention below. Read on for their nursing school advice, as well a high-level overview of each semester.

*Note: It’s important to keep in mind that in light of and during the COVID-19 pandemic, some in-person components of the Utica ABSN program have been modified for the safety of students, instructors, health care providers and patients. As mentioned earlier, for the first 10 weeks of each semester, students will participate in virtual labs. Curriculum is subject to change.

Even More Utica ABSN Student Insight
See how a day in the life of a nursing student can vary based on the individual.

First Semester of Nursing School

Your first semester of accelerated nursing school will involve adjusting the way you think and retain course material as well as acclimating yourself to the fast pace of the program. For this reason, it’s important to understand your instructors’ expectations and make yourself aware of any student support resources.

Nursing student advice

“Set time throughout your day to sign in and get your work done. If you let it slide, you’re going to be really behind. In this program, it’s easy to get behind because it’s a shorter program. We cover a lot of content in a week.” —Jill, ABSN Class of December 2017

“You can’t just cram the night before an exam. You have to make sure you’re on top of your stuff. Do something little every day. You can’t take a full day off.” —Lester, ABSN Class of August 2017

“If you think you’re organized and want to go back to get your second degree, this is the program for you. It’s just more directed. You have to step up your game with time management and organization. … It’s on you to stay on top of things. Study groups are my lifesavers to stay on top of assignments.” —Terence, ABSN Class of December 2017

Nursing school tips: First semester

  • Focus on your education >> While it may be possible to work while you’re an ABSN student, we typically recommend students treat their participation in our program as a full-time job.
  • Get organized >> Strike a balance between school, family and work. Once you find out what method of studying works best for you, stick to it. We recommend blocking out time in your schedule every day for online coursework and keeping a weekly planner to manage assignment deadlines, test dates, lab days and clinical hours.
  • Use on-site resources >> These include our computer labs, the student lounge, lab simulation classroom during open hours and visiting instructors and success coaches during their office hours. They all exist to help you succeed!
  • Make friends with fellow members of your cohort >> Set up study groups and take mental breaks together. Having the support of your family and friends certainly helps as well, but no one else will know better the stress of nursing school than your peers.

Second Semester of Nursing School

By the second semester of nursing school, you will likely have established a study routine that accommodates your preferred learning style. This will come in handy once you start delving into more advanced nursing skills and concepts this semester. You’ll also have more face-time with patients during clinical shifts — and more of it as the weeks progress.

Nursing student advice

“The skills lab solidifies what you’re learning online, but to actually be in skills lab and do it hands-on really solidifies it and brings it all together.” —Dia, ABSN class of August 2017

“In clinicals, I like that you get to focus on one patient. In real-life situations, the ratios aren’t often one-to-one. Even though we’re shadowing a nurse, I’m focusing on one patient. I get to know that patient on a personal level and let them know that even though I may not be as knowledgeable as their actual nurse, I’m really there to help them and make their experience, condition and overall health better.” —Terence, ABSN class of December 2017

“Second semester, you start to understand what nursing school is like and what instructors are asking of you. …now we’re putting all these puzzle pieces together and they’re starting to make sense.” —Denise, ABSN class of December 2016

Nursing school tips: Second semester

  • Learn the ins and outs of patient care >> Take notes on how staff nurses interact with various patient populations. For example, you’ll talk differently to an elderly patient than you would a new mom.
  • Schedule time for self-care >> You’re in nursing school to learn how to take care of people, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect yourself, either. Try to do something for yourself to get through the intensities of studying and clinicals, even if it’s just making time to watch a favorite TV show.
  • Treat clinicals like a 16-month job interview >> Act professional and be proactive — you could someday end up working in the same hospital as one of your clinical rotations.

Third Semester of Nursing School

What is your nursing school schedule like during your third as a student in our accelerated nursing program? To get through everything you need to learn and master to become a nurse in 16 months, expect the fast pace to continue.

You are deep in the program now, with a keen understanding of nursing skills and concepts. This semester is when you take an even deeper dive. In addition to working on more specialized clinical rotations, you will also delve into research methods employed in clinical settings.

Nursing student advice

“It was nerve-wracking to start administering medications to patients, or even for a lot of people, just talking to patients, but our instructor helped us to transition into that role and was willing to help us get to that level of comfort and confidence.” —Alexandra, ABSN Class of December 2016

“The specialties have been my favorite clinicals because I enjoy seeing the different things you can do. Knowing that most of my clinicals would be at hospitals was very helpful to me because that is where most nurses work and where you are going to get a lot of experience and see first-hand the things that you are learning. That is the environment where there is a large variety of the patients you get to see and work with.” —Dia, ABSN Class of August 2017

Nursing school tips: Third semester

  • Understand expectations >> Part of what sets a B.S. in Nursing program apart from an associate’s degree program is the research component, which involves writing cited papers and completing patient care plans. Make sure you know what instructors expect to avoid any surprises in your project grades.
  • Prepare for working in specialized units >> In your role as a nurse, you will not only need to know theory and skills, you will also provide support and empathy for patients going through a tough time. As you head into your Obstetric and Pediatric clinicals this semester, be ready to help patients in emotionally trying situations.

Fourth Semester of Nursing School

Your main challenge during your fourth semester of accelerated nursing school is that you still will likely be racing the clock constantly to stay on top of balancing assignments for your online didactic courses, clinical rotations and scheduled on-site lab appointments. The first 10 weeks of this semester you will complete clinicals, labs and online courses; the last six weeks you will work with a preceptor to hone your clinical skills.

You can also take comfort in knowing you will be graduating soon and nearing the end of your journey to become a nurse. Your work is not done after graduation, though. After your pinning ceremony, set your sights on passing the NCLEX, receiving your nursing license and applying for jobs.

Nursing student advice

“You have to be prepared for whatever they throw at you, which is why I went into nursing. Not everyone is going to be the exact same and you get to see and do the interactions with even the little things, which makes it worth it.” —Stacy, ABSN Class of December 2017

“From Day 1, our tests were in the NCLEX style. Every semester, we have a Kaplan test we have to take for each course that is part of our grade. It is just another way for us to practice and see how we are doing. I am so thankful, because I knew how to answer those questions on the exam.” —Jill, ABSN Class of April 2017

Nursing school tips: Fourth semester

  • Network, network, network >> Your first post-graduation nursing job may very well end up being at the hospital where you complete clinicals, so now is the time to fine-tune your floor skills to impress your supervisors. Even if you end up working somewhere else, keep in mind your instructors are also happy to serve as references for you if you have been putting in the work the past 16 months.
  • Prepare for the NCLEX >> You are gearing up for graduation and the start of your nursing career, so now is definitely not the time to develop senioritis. Take time not only to study for the NCLEX, but also to prepare yourself for test taking. If you utilize the Kaplan tools provided to you and the study strategies that have worked best for you throughout the program, come exam day you will feel confident and ready to take the test.

Ready to accelerate in nursing?

Now that you have learned about what to expect in nursing school as a Utica ABSN student each semester, take the next step to start planning your accelerated nursing school journey. Contact one of our admissions representatives today to get started!

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