So, You’ve Decided to Apply to Grad School… What Now?

By: Julie Siegel

Congratulations! You’ve decided to take the next step in your nursing career by seeking an advanced degree. While applications to specific schools may vary, there are certain elements that are required across the board. Let’s review:

1. Resume/CV: Almost every school will ask applicants to upload a copy of their resume, or will have a section where applicants can enter their experiences, skills, and related experiences. When preparing your resume, the following sections should be included:

  • Your name: This should be at the top of the page, generally in a larger font so it stands out. Underneath your name should be your address, e-mail, and phone number, so the school easily knows how to contact you.
  • Education: This should be the first section of your resume. All post-secondary institutes should be listed in reverse chronological order (most recent to least recent), and should include the dates you attended the school(s). Below the institution should be the degree you have or expect to earn. You may wish to include your cumulative and/or major GPA if either is above a 3.0.
  • Clinical Experience: This is a unique section to nursing resumes. Schools may be wary of accepting a new grad with no work experience, so it is important to showcase what you have learned in clinical to prove you are ready for graduate study. This section should include every clinical rotation you have completed or that is in progress along with the facility where the clinical took place, the location of the facility, and when the clinical was. Here’s an example:
    • Pediatrics, UF Health Shands Hospital, Gainesville, FL Fall 2014
    • To highlight the skills you learned in each clinical, include a few bullet points under each rotation or include a summary of your skills after listing all clinical sites.
  • Community Involvement and/or Research: Graduate programs want to see that applicants are participating in a variety of service or research opportunities. This section allows you to highlight your involvement since the start of college. Experiences should be listed in reverse chronological order. You may include a brief summary of your position, if desired.
  • Work Experience/Related Experience: If you have held any jobs – nursing related or not – list them here with a short summary of your responsibilities. Graduate schools like to see applicants with work experience. You can also list any certifications (CPR, CNA) in this section.
  • Honors/Achievements: If honored for your achievements with a scholarship or invitation to an honor society, this is the place to list it. You may want to explain the award/honor if it is not well-known or is specific to your school.

2. Letters of Recommendation: These letters are crucial to any application, and can be the deciding factor for a school.

  • Clinical Professors: Clinical instructors are the bread and butter of recommendations. Graduate programs want to hear from someone who can speak to your clinical and professional capabilities, and who can do this better than the professors who have helped you grow during clinical? If a school requires a minimum of three recommendations, generally, a new grad should have two of the three from clinical instructors.
  • Academic Professors: While transcripts speak to one’s general academic capability, a letter of recommendation from a “traditional” professor is important. For a new grad applicant, this is usually one of the three recs.
  • Work supervisors/professors who know you: If you have worked as a CNA, tech, or other health -related job, getting a letter of recommendation from your supervisor is great. They can speak to your professional ability and your work ethic. Professors who have gotten to know you also may be a good recommendation, as they can speak to your personal attributes and how you stand out from other applicants. For a new grad, these recommendations can serve as an “extra” or fourth letter.

3. Statement of Purpose: On an application, the SOP is invaluable real estate. This is where your personality gets to shine and the admissions committee’s best chance at getting to know you. While some schools have quite specific prompts for their SOP, some are more general, and may ask, “Why are you applying to this specific tract at our school? Discuss any experiences that have influenced your decision.” A broad prompt can often intimidate applicants, but a few key things to include in a prompt like this are:

  • Why nursing? Out of all the health professions, what motivates you to pursue nursing, specifically?
  • Why this tract? (Peds, family, acute care). If you have had any experiences that have influenced your decision, make sure to touch on them
  • Why this school? Graduate schools want to know that applicants are interested in their program and aren’t just applying because they think it’s a safety school or the best program around. Does the school have unique opportunities like research or community involvement? Do they find clinical placements for their students? Make sure to research the school and find aspects unique to them that you can highlight
  • What are your career goals? Be sure to talk about your immediate goals (upon graduation) and your long-term goals. Graduate programs like to see applicants who are thinking about goals that may be five, 10, even 20 years down the road.