Tips for Grad School Applications

Maybe this isn’t the same for everyone, but I felt immobilized when applying to grad school. I knew I wanted to become a Nurse Practitioner. I knew the school I wanted to attend. I knew all the reasons why I wanted to transition into this role and was filled with that adorable “I’m going to change the world” pre-grad school energy. But I was unsure how to get my application to stand out to get my foot in the door and tell the admissions board all about my plan to recreate primary care as we know it—shocking spoiler—I didn’t recreate primary care. It turns out it’s a little bit more complicated than pre-grad school Liz thought. But I was able to get that interview! And so can you. And here’s how.

Step One. Do some research.
If you were applying for a job, what would be one of the first things you would do? Likely you’d glance at the requirements and job description and see if you had the qualifications. And if you didn’t have what they wanted, you could pass, or you could go out and learn those skills so you can get your dream job.

This application is no different. You just need to do a little bit more research than with a traditional job application. All nursing schools have mission statements. Find the ones for the schools you are looking to attend. What do they have in common? In all likelihood, they will mention things like leadership skills, the benefits of being a good communicator, and a vision for how you will change the world by going to this school. Whatever the mission statement is highlighting, it is now your job to gain the skills that will speak to those characteristics via your resume.

Here are a few ways to gain those skills, and make sure that your resume reflects those passions that so conveniently align with what the school is looking for. Fortunately, there are many leadership opportunities for nurses, and you may already be filling some of these roles!

Are you a charge nurse? This is a phenomenal thing to add to your resume. You are quite literally the leader of the unit in this role. Make sure to explain how this role also helped you with your communication and problem-solving skills!

Maybe you’re a preceptor? Again, an excellent leadership role also gives you bonus points in education. Learning how to communicate and educate new staff effectively is a skill that directly translates into communicating well in whatever your new role will be after attending grad school.

Join a unit-based committee. I know. I fully admit I didn’t absolutely adore being on one of these. But from my school’s mission statement, I learned they were all about research life. So I signed up to be on the unit’s evidence-based committee. Did my night shift body love waking up for those day shift meetings on my day off? No. Did the woman interviewing me for my MSN program bring up how this was a huge bonus on my application? Yes. Yes, she did. Joining a committee shows you are committed to your job and willing to go the extra mile. You don’t need to love it. But it can definitely help! And you may end up being able to make some positive changes on your unit while you are at it!

Start a club. One of the units I worked on had a small book club where the participants met after work one day a month and discussed a book/journal article related to healthcare to make us better healthcare providers. It doesn’t have to be that, but if you are not a committee human, maybe you could start an after-work social club. This still shows leadership skills, as long as you can tie it back into personal development in some way.

And finally, volunteering. I didn’t personally do this, but I did have a friend who volunteered at a free clinic, and admissions heavily praised her for this during her interview. Our school had a huge emphasis on providing care to underserved populations, so this was, again, right in line with the program’s ideals. Is there an organization that provides volunteer opportunities in something that would align with your prospective program’s values? Check it out! You will be making the world and your resume a better place. Win-win.

The bonus to all of these experiences is connecting you to other leaders in the field. And this is a wonderful place to get to know some individuals you can later ask for recommendation letters from. Also, you may find a new passion or interest that surprises you. I discovered that I absolutely loved being the problem solver of the unit in my role as a charge nurse and have continued to use those skills I learned back then to this day.

I hope this gave you some ideas for tackling that application, so you too can gush about your own “change the world” goals to an admissions faculty. We need more people like you in the world!

And if grad school isn’t on your mind yet, consider doing one or two of these because they introduce you to some cool people and look great on that resume!

You got this!

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