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8 Questions to Help You Choose a Quality Nursing Program

Choosing the right nursing school is important for many reasons. The quality of your education and the support you receive make all the difference toward your success after graduation. Nursing programs require financial commitment and dedication, so it’s a good idea to explore your options so you can maximize your educational experience.

Read on to learn more about how to choose a nursing school and what to look for in a nursing program when comparing your potential paths forward. The nursing program that is right for you is ultimately one with program features that align most closely with your goals and values.

How to Research Nursing Schools

You want to begin your research of available nursing schools by thinking about factors that are important in your life. Starting questions you might ask yourself include:

  • Do you need an efficient timeline for degree completion? 
  • Are you more interested in online coursework or in-person learning? 
  • What financial commitment are you able and willing to make?
  • Why are you considering a career in nursing?
  • Are you able to commit to full-time education or do you need a part-time schedule?

Your drive and personal reasons to answer the call to nursing can also be bolstered by supportive faculty and classmates in a quality nursing program.

Let’s look at eight specific factors you can evaluate to find the right nursing program for you.

#1 - What Types of Nursing Programs and Completion Timelines are Available?

An initial factor to consider when reviewing nursing school rankings and deciding on a nursing program is to understand that there are several types of programs available. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the preferred degree for a registered nurse (RN) by employers who value the level of education and nursing competencies that are refined in this rigorous program. This degree is preferred because BSN nurses are known for critical thinking, case management, leadership skills, and the ability to practice across a variety of settings. 

BSN degrees can be obtained in two primary ways. New nursing students entering school without any prior education may complete a traditional four-year BSN program at a college or university. These programs typically require in-person coursework and are completed with longer course timelines when compared to other options like accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs.

ABSN programs are uniquely designed for students who want to transition into a nursing career and who have a prior bachelor’s degree in a non-related field. The framework of an ABSN education makes it possible for students to graduate in as little as 15 months with the preferred BSN degree.

Benefits of an ABSN program include:

  • Online coursework with some hybrid learning options for in-person support
  • Access to a network of faculty and peers from different locations in the country
  • In-person simulation and hands-on clinical rotations for personalized skill development
  • Support in sourcing and finalizing clinical placements so you can focus on your studies

#2 - Has Programmatic Accreditation Been Achieved?

Accreditation is a process where nearly all aspects of an educational program are evaluated. Standards for governance, curriculum, faculty, student support, learning process, and program outcomes are all part of an accreditation review. When a college or university achieves programmatic accreditation, the accredited program has been thoroughly reviewed and determined to meet or exceed the standards of the certifying organization. 

There are key differences between regional and national accreditation, and each organization has distinct standards for awarding their approval of a nursing program. For prospective students, there are many reasons for making sure your program of choice is accredited, including: 

  • Concern for ensuring the nursing program meets requirements for nursing licensure
  • Ability to transfer earned credits from one accredited program to another
  • Graduate nursing schools typically admit students who have attained undergraduate education from an accredited program
  • Accredited programs can offer students federal financial aid

Accreditation and recognition are extremely important aspects for evaluating a nursing program, but recognition is separate from accreditation. When a program is recognized for student success, this is a validation of performance in teaching and learning. Programmatic recognition happens when faculty are invested in maintaining a high level of quality for continued growth and achievement. 

#3 - Is Complimentary Placement Support Offered for Clinical Placements?

Clinical placements are your in-person field experiences where you will work as a student nurse in a supervised, direct patient care role within a clinical setting. Clinicals are an essential component of your education when you take the skills and knowledge learned in your coursework and through simulation and apply it as you gain real-world experience.

Throughout a nursing program, you may have several clinical placements where you are required to have a mentorship agreement with a preceptor. Nursing clinical rotations may take place in settings such as:

  • Hospitals including exposure to a variety of units
  • Outpatient or ambulatory care clinics
  • Community and public health organizations
  • Mental health and other nursing specialty areas

Not all schools offer clinical placement support, and some provide clinical placements with an associated monetary fee to the student. Complimentary placement support is a major benefit to students because a dedicated placement coordinator or team will work to source and finalize clinical placement details. Clinical placement logistics involve many important steps, including: 

  • Completion of student health requirements and a background check
  • Onboarding paperwork and orientation processes for individual facilities
  • Legal agreements between the college and clinical sites
  • Vetting of preceptor background and credentials to ensure quality education
  • Review of clinical details to confirm the planned rotation will meet course outcomes

The process of nursing clinical placement can be complex, but students can potentially save time and energy when a university provides support and collaboration during placement. This helps students tremendously because the focus can remain on studies while mandatory clinical rotations are planned and finalized. 

#4 - What Facilities and Resources Does the Nursing School Offer? 

Another important factor to evaluate when you are researching potential nursing schools is the availability of facilities and resources. Will the areas that you use in-person offer state-of-the-art technology? Are the classrooms set up to provide a comfortable space for you to engage directly with your faculty and peers?

Other student services and support include personalized attention during the enrollment process where you will have some questions answered about admission, placement services, tuition costs, and financial aid so you can move forward with confidence.

#5 - What is the Financial Commitment?

Education comes with a financial cost, and it is beneficial to find a nursing program that offers affordable and competitive tuition rates. You will want to request information about payment plans, financial aid eligibility, and any additional fees that may be required as part of the nursing curriculum other than the advertised tuition so that you can accurately assess and plan for the financial piece of your decision before moving forward. 

#6 - Will You Have Access to Supportive Faculty and Staff?

Nursing students need access to supportive faculty and staff to thrive during their education. Having a close community of mentors and peers not only helps you learn but makes all the difference in encouraging you to work through challenges.

Some questions you can ask to determine the level of support you will receive include:

  • How quickly can I expect a response to communication?
  • Are instructors available by phone, email, and other types of virtual office hours?
  • What type of feedback can I expect to receive on my assigned coursework?
  • Should an unexpected personal situation arise, are there staff available to help navigate any questions or concerns not directly related to the course material?

When you feel a supportive connection with a college during the research process, this is a good indicator that students also experience the same type of accessible school culture.

nurse helping a patient

#7 - What are the NCLEX Pass Rates?

Did you know that you can access publicly available data on the performance of nursing candidates who take the NCLEX examination? The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) publishes the national annual NCLEX pass rates that you can use as a benchmark to compare the pass rates of a potential nursing program that you are considering for enrollment as a student.

After graduation, you are required to pass the NCLEX exam to be eligible for nursing licensure in all states, so it’s a good idea to know the pass rate of a nursing school before you choose to become a student. Many factors contribute to exam outcomes, but the NCLEX pass rate is one measure you can use to gauge the effectiveness of a nursing curriculum and its faculty.

#8 - What are the Employment Rates of the Nursing School’s Graduates?

Another piece of data to leverage when evaluating a nursing school is the percentage of graduates who are employed as nurses within six months of program completion. Newer nursing programs may still need this data as their first few cohorts enter the workforce. However, you can ask questions about the support you will receive in finding and securing a job as a nurse such as:

  • Will my faculty serve as a professional reference for future employment opportunities?
  • What kinds of work will I complete in the nursing curriculum that I can share with potential employers as a portfolio of my experience? 
  • Could clinical agencies contracted with the nursing program for clinical placements hire new nursing graduates?
  • Do faculty guide students on how to complete the nursing licensure process?

It is a privilege to stay connected as an alumnus of your chosen college after graduation. An excellent nursing program will encourage this ongoing professional relationship.

Earn Your BSN Degree at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine

Now that you've read tips on how to choose a nursing school, it’s time to explore the Hybrid Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine (SJC). For those with an existing bachelor’s degree in any non-nursing field, your prior education is a prerequisite for enrollment in this quality online nursing program. Nursing experience is not required for admission.

Saint Joe’s is more than a college – it’s a caring community and a competitive option for earning a BSN degree in less time than a traditional four-year nursing program. Some features of the Hybrid ABSN program include:

  • Completion in just 15 months of full-time study
  • Nationally accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • 100% online coursework with clinical placement services
  • Two on-campus immersion experiences with high and low-fidelity nursing simulation in the brand-new Center for Nursing Innovation
  • BSN graduates have a first-time NCLEX pass rate of over 90%

With a BSN from SJC, you can enter the nursing workforce equipped and ready to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients and families. For more information, get your program guide today.

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