Your Guide to Applying for an Advanced Nursing Degree

Your Guide to Applying for an Advanced Nursing Degree

Attending graduate school is definitely not an easy decision, particularly if you are a nurse looking to progress into one of the countless opportunities available for advanced nursing. More and more nurses are deciding to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner; a position that is in high demand right now, pays exceptionally well, and allows you to practice with independence and autonomy in the majority of states. 

However, choosing an advanced degree program to support your journey towards becoming a nurse practitioner is not always easy. There are various different pathways to this career position and hundreds of different program options to choose from. The degree program that you select will play a significant role in shaping your future career as a nurse practitioner. Before applying to graduate school, it’s important to carefully research the options available, be clear about your needs and wants, and ask a range of searching questions to make sure that you’re making the right choice for your future career path. Before making one of the most important decisions in your life, here are some important questions to ask yourself. 

Where Do You Want to Work?

As a nurse practitioner, you will have a wide range of different setting options when it comes to where you work. Consider whether you would prefer to work in a hospital, clinic, out-patient facility, retail clinic, running your own practice, or in other settings such as research facilities. Where you want your career to take you will help you decide whether primary care or an acute care program is the best option. An advanced degree with a focus on primary care is the best option for those who want to run their own independent clinic or work alongside a primary care physician. On the other hand, if you see yourself working in a hospital setting, for example in the ICU, an acute care focused program might be a better choice. 

Which Patients Do You Want to Treat?

The patients that you’ll be working with as a nurse practitioner will be decided by the program that you decide to study. For example, if you’d rather work with children, you may consider a pediatric nurse practitioner program. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to work with older adults, an adult/gerontology nurse practitioner course could be better for you. Those who want to work with babies and infants should choose a program focused on becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner, while family nurse practitioner programs are the ideal choice for nurses who are happy to work with patients of all ages. 

Of course, these are just the general categories of the career, and nurse practitioners are able to further specialize and focus on an area of healthcare that interests them. For example, many family nurse practitioners will focus on women’s health, while adult/gerontology nurse practitioners might work with patients who are suffering from certain diseases such as cancer or dementia. 

How Do You Want to Study?

Becoming a nurse practitioner takes a lot of hard work and dedication, especially if you plan to continue working full-time as a registered nurse throughout the process of getting your advanced degree. There are several study options available to registered nurses who want to work as a nurse practitioner. One good choice is an online BSN to DNP from a school like Marymount, which allows registered nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree to quickly upgrade their knowledge and skills to get a doctor of nursing practice degree, qualifying them to work as a nurse practitioner in less time than would be traditionally expected. 

You can also take advantage of FNP degrees that are designed to qualify you to work as a family nurse practitioner immediately. Consider whether you want to study full- or part-time when getting your advanced degree. Studying full-time can be very demanding if you’re continuing your usual nursing shifts, so it might be worth considering a part-time program that can easily be managed around your working hours. 

Do You Want to Study Online or On-Campus?

Another major consideration to make when deciding which advanced nursing degree program to choose from is whether you want to study online or on-campus. Online degree programs are a popular choice with nurses who are advancing their careers since they are more flexible and don’t require you to attend lectures and classes at a college campus. You can choose from both online and on-campus nursing programs or opt for a hybrid program that offers you the best of both worlds. 

When deciding whether to study online or on-campus, ask some questions to help you figure out which is the best choice for you. Consider your work situation and how easy it might be for you to commute to campus. Would it be easier for you to study online if you need to juggle your studies with other commitments like family? Would you rather be in charge of when you study and have a flexible, tailored, and self-led approach? Would you prefer to be able to interact with your professors and peers in person, or are you happy to do most of your interacting online?

How Likely Is It That You’ll Be Accepted?

The entry requirements into an advanced nursing degree should also be something that you consider carefully before you send your application in. Consider how strong of an applicant you really are and whether there is anything extra that you can do in order to improve your chance of being offered a place in the program. Various factors will be taken into consideration when you apply for an advanced nursing degree. Not only will your GPA and final results from your BSN and other nursing qualifications be taken into account, but you’ll also need to write an admissions essay, provide letters of reference from employers, and demonstrate your experience and dedication to being a good nurse. 

Consider whether the experience you have gained so far is relevant to the pathway that you want to pursue as a nurse practitioner. For example, if you’ve mainly worked with older adults so far, this might create a roadblock when it comes to getting onto a neonatal nurse practitioner program, for example. If you’re interested in working as a nurse practitioner in an area that you have little experience in so far, it might be worth getting more relevant experience as a registered nurse before applying. 

Other Admissions Requirements to Consider

Once you’ve collected a list of nurse practitioner or advanced degree programs that interest you, it’s a good idea to research the admissions requirements for each one and make sure that you meet or exceed them. Admissions requirements for advanced nursing degrees can be quite high, so you might find that you need to put in some extra work to ensure that you meet them before you are able to apply. Some of the main things that are taken into account by admissions tutors are:

Your Previous Experience

As mentioned above, your previous experience as a nurse is going to hold a lot of weight when it comes to your application. Look for advanced nursing degrees that are either general nursing or focused on a specialty that you already have a lot of experience in. If you want to move to a different area of nursing as a nurse practitioner, it might be worth getting some more nursing experience in that specific area to make sure that your application is more relevant. 

Your GPA

If your GPA isn’t great, that won’t always hold you back from becoming a registered nurse – but it could affect the decisions made by admissions tutors when you apply for an advanced nursing degree or nurse practitioner program. If you are worried that a low GPA might hold you back from pursuing the career that you want, the good news is that you can do something about it. Demonstrate your commitment to learning and show admissions tutors that you are committed to improving your results by pursuing various professional training programs for nurses and getting additional qualifications in your chosen area of specialty. 

Your Admissions Essay

You may be required to write one or more admissions essays as part of your application to an advanced nursing degree program. These essays are designed to help admissions tutors learn more about you and who you are, why you want to study this particular program, and what kind of nurse practitioner you hold to be. The admissions essays are some of the most important parts of the entire application, so give yourself plenty of time to complete them and really think about how you are putting yourself across. It might be worth asking your employer or a more experienced colleague to go over your essays and give you some pointers for improvement if needed. 


Demonstrating a keen interest in and a dedication to nursing often means that you need to be proactive in finding an experience that is relevant to your field. When you are taking part in activities that are not required in your job, admissions offers will find it difficult to deny that you really love what you do – enough to do it in your spare time. Becoming a member of professional nursing organizations, teaching first-aid classes, working as travel or a military nurse, or even starting a healthcare blog where you use your nursing knowledge and experience to educate the public are all great ways to demonstrate your passion for the profession on your application. 

The Interview

If your application catches the eye of the admissions tutors, you will be invited to interview with them. When it comes to this interview, it’s impossible to be too prepared. Spend plenty of time beforehand getting ready for this interview as it’s going to be one of the most important ones in your life. You’ll be asked a lot of questions designed to demonstrate your previous experience and skills, so be sure that you’re ready with example situations that you’ve dealt with in your career to show admissions tutors what you can do. Research the program that you are applying for, and have a solid answer to what you plan to bring to the table. 

What Makes Advanced Nursing Degree Applicants Stand Out?

What will make you stand out from the crowd when applying for a nurse practitioner or advanced nursing degree program? Admissions tutors won’t just focus on one thing, but rather they will look at the whole picture and take a range of qualities into account. Mention anything that you have done on your application that sets you apart from the crowd. Perhaps you ran a marathon for a nursing charity or advocated for a patient to get a certain policy changed at a previous workplace. 

What Mistakes Should Be Avoided When Applying?

During the admissions process, some of the most common mistakes are made with letters of reference and when attending an interview. When getting letters of reference, it’s important to choose who you ask to write them carefully, since these references are extremely important. Wherever possible, ask people whose opinions of you are going to hold some weight with the admissions tutors, such as an executive at your last place of work or a respected professor from the school where you got your BSN. 

Typically, you will be required to provide 2-3 letters of reference. There may also be further requirements for who you should get your references from, such as asking somebody who holds a doctorate degree in a relevant subject. If you are struggling to find somebody in your network who fits the requirements, consider expanding your network to include professionals who meet the given criteria, asking in your network to be introduced to people who can provide a suitable reference, and building strong working relationships with new people before asking them to write the letter. 

During the interview, some of the most common mistakes involve not doing enough research when it comes to what to expect and failing to conduct thorough enough research about the program you’re applying to and the school that offers it. 

As a nurse, getting an advanced degree is one of the best ways to become a nurse practitioner or enjoy another advanced career. But before you apply, there are several important things to take into consideration to help you make the right choice and improve your chance of getting in.