When I decided that I wanted to take on a second career as a nurse, the most common thing I heard from people was, “Good luck!” But, they didn’t strictly mean it as, “You’ll do great!” They meant that it was going to be a challenge getting into nursing school.
Here in Southern California, nursing schools are extremely impacted and are very competitive. In the past, there were qualified students that were waitlisted for a year or more just to start their program. These days, at least from what I have researched, most schools no longer have waitlists – if you don’t get in, you have to reapply for the next admission period. That can be tough when there are as many as a 20 to 1 ratio (sometimes more) of students applying for a limited number of seats at each school.
How I Started
I started my path into nursing school by doing some simple research. I visited the California Board of Registered Nursing website and found that they have an education section with information on Pre-Licensure RN Programs. I looked for schools that looked like they would be within a reasonable distance from my home and starting mapping out the drive times on Google Maps.
(Because I am a homeowner, have a family, and have other family obligations – I was landlocked. If you are younger or have the ability/flexibility to move, you should include programs outside of your locality and perhaps in other states. Program impaction and cost are big issues that could possibly be addressed by attending a nursing school elsewhere.)
There are many pathways to getting the education needed to become an RN, especially for a career changer who already has a bachelor’s degree. You can get an Associate’s Degree (ADN) at a community or private college, You can get a second (accelerated) Bachelor’s Degree (BSN) at a public or private school, or attend a school that offers an Entry Level Master’s Degree (ELM/MSN).
At this point, I didn’t leave out any options. I mapped all the possible locations where I could go to school. At the end of my search, I ended up with a list of 4 ADN programs at nearby community colleges, 5 Accelerated BSN programs at various Cal State Universities and a private school, and 4 ELM programs at University of California and private schools.
Getting to Know the Requirements/Prerequisites of Nursing School
One of the biggest lessons I learned during this process was that all nursing schools are not made the same. They have different application periods (some have more than one application with different deadlines), some have multiple admit periods/start dates, and all of them have different prerequisites for entry. Keep this in mind while you are planning when to start, when you will be applying, and when you may be starting nursing school.
I visited all of the websites of the schools I was interested in applying in. Using Google Sheets, I created a spreadsheet and listed all the application periods, interview dates, minimum GPA, TEAS requirements, which schools wanted letters of recommendations and essays, science prerequisites, non-science prerequisites, additional courses, and volunteer requirements.
Using the spreadsheet, I was able to find out which courses that I already took during my undergraduate studies I could immediately eliminate from my to-do list. Most importantly, I was able to plan how to take the minimum number of courses for a maximum impact – allowing me to apply to as many schools as possible by taking the fewest number of prerequisite classes possible.
The most common prerequisite classes required for nursing schools are:
- Human Anatomy + Lab
- Human Physiology + Lab
- Microbiology + Lab
- Chemistry + Lab (sometimes you will need Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry or a combination of both)
- English (Reading & Writing)
- Oral Communication (Speech)
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Sociology
Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list and may vary per school. Some have more prerequisites than others, and some have less.
Going Back to School
I took all of my prerequisite classes that I did not already have from my BA at various community colleges. I am a veteran, so I am often able to get priority registration benefits at most schools I attend. Many community colleges now offer some sort of priority registration to new students (as long as they maintain a good GPA).
If you are not able to get priority registration (prerequisite classes, such as the ones listed above for nursing, mirror the prerequisites needed in many other health oriented careers), you may see that classes fill up fast and you may not even be able to register for a needed class. You should highly consider applying to more than one community college, even if it means a commute. Certain classes are not offered every school, or every semester, even if you can get a seat. I attended four different community colleges and enrolled in a few online courses in order to get the classes I needed done on time.
I started school in January 2016 by taking a four-week introductory chemistry course during the winter session. In the spring, I took anatomy + lab, microbiology + lab, and an online psychology class. In the summer, I took a three-week combined biochemistry/organic chemistry + lab and started volunteering at the hospital. In the fall, I took physiology + lab, statistics, took the TEAS, and applied for schools. In the winter of 2017 I took human growth and development, and in the spring, I took research methods online – which completed the list of classes I needed.
Going back to school was a little strange, but I was surprised by the amount of older adults who were back in school for various reasons as well. I did deal with the, “what the hell am I getting myself into?” feelings at times, but somehow I managed to handle school while managing my business, raising two young kids, helping care for my elderly parents, and volunteering at the hospital. I got straight A’s, so I think I handled things pretty well; at least in school.
Applying to Nursing School
There is no easy way to handle this part. The best thing I did for myself was to use Google Calendar to map out application periods and deadlines. Some schools had the same deadlines, but many did not. Some required the TEAS exam, while many do not require any standardized testing. Some wanted essays and letters of recommendation, while others work purely off of a point scale. Most schools require interviews with their final list of candidates.
After figuring out that I was competitive enough and considering the time it would take me to become a nurse practitioner, I decided to forgo applying to any ADN programs. Here is the list of schools I applied to or started an application to (in alphabetical order):
- Azusa Pacific University
- California State University, Fullerton
- California State University, Los Angeles
- California State University, Long Beach
- University of California, Irvine
- University of California, Los Angeles
- Western University of Health Sciences
Luckily, most application processes for schools are online now. I remember applying to college when I was a senior in high school and having to go to the post office with the completed application packet just for a postmark.
Most of my time for nursing school applications were used for writing (and rewriting) personal statements and essays, following up on letters of recommendation, and ensuring that transcripts were sent correctly.
Like others, I was very nervous about the interview when I received my invitations, but they are really nothing to be worried about. To me, they felt like informal discussions and were more to see if the potential candidate would be a right fit for the school. I’ll most likely talk more about this topic at a later time.
Getting Accepted Into Nursing School
Because of the way the application periods worked out, I ended up receiving offers of admission prior to some of the deadlines at other schools. I cancelled my applications to CSULA (although this school would have been among one of my top choices if I lived closer – more on this later) and UCI. I was denied admission/rejected from UCLA. I received an invitation to the Early Acceptance Opportunity Day at Western University, but withdrew my application. And finally, I was offered admission at APU, CSUF, and CSULB.
I accepted the admission offer at APU. It was a tough decision for various reasons, but I am happy to have had the opportunity to choose among the best nursing programs in Southern California.
APU emailed and called me with their decision before their holiday break, essentially giving me the one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received. I applied to start in the Fall of 2017, but was admitted to the Spring of 2018, one semester later. In a sense I was waitlisted, but it was a blessing in disguise. I was able to complete the two prerequisites unique to their program with no particular rush (even though I ended up knocking them out quickly) and have had extra time to get things in order before starting the program.
So, that’s pretty much how I got accepted into a nursing school within one year of starting. When I actually start nursing school, it will be two years from the time that I decided to start this adventure – but I don’t think that was too bad of an effort at all.
Stick around if you’re thinking about transitioning into a career as a nurse because I’ll be expanding on a lot of these topics that I summarized here today. And as long as you’re willing to put in the hard work, I’ll be adding some pointers that will should help you along the way. If you have any questions, add them to the comments below and I’ll try to get them answered or included in a future post.
Thanks for taking the time to write this! I am currently shifting careers at the moment too so this was very encouraging to read. What hospital did you volunteer at? And also what made you choose APU over Fullerton?
Long Pham says
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Been real busy in school!
I volunteered at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange. Why I chose APU over Fullerton is complicated. Some of my personal reasons: The program is very organized and has a good reputation. My end goal is advanced practice, so APU will get me there faster without sacrificing a good education and adequate work experience. The facilities and professors at APU are second to none and the reputation of the school at clinical sites is excellent. You can’t go wrong with CSULB or CSUF, but if you can get into APU…I would highly encourage it. The commute is hard and the cost of the BSN portion of program is more than public school. but much less than the UC programs. Additionally, the class sizes are small at APU and Fullerton, 20 and 24 respectively. I really like the cohort model. Your classmates become like family and it really does help to develop friends who can help each other along the way.
Hey man, thanks so much for this write up, it’s pretty inspiring for those considering a career change to nursing. I have a degree in Film Production but have been recently thinking about going the ABSN route through one of the Southern California public schools or maybe a private school like Concordia or Mount Saint Mary’s. Would you mind posting a link to your Google spreadsheet you made that listed the schools, pre-reqs, etc? Just trying to get an idea of how to format mine, thanks!
Long Pham says
My pleasure! Glad I could be helpful. Let me see about the best way to show you what I did.
Anissa Gonzales says
I am planning to apply to ABSN/ Entry-Level MSN programs at the same schools you listed, and I am worried I will not look like a competitive candidate due to my lack of experience and volunteer hours. I am currently volunteering at a hospital, but I know most candidates have 300+ hours, and I won’t have that many completed by the time I apply to school.
Thanks for this post and the advice you gave, it was really helpful.
Long Pham says
I wouldn’t worry so much about the amount of hours over the minimum required by the school. What do you mean by lack of experience? Medical experience? The students that attend the ELM program at APU have a wide variety of backgrounds and many don’t have their previous bachelor’s degrees in the sciences. I believe schools are looking for well rounded candidates and grades, volunteer hours, and experience in health care are not necessarily drivers of success. I would put forth some effort into making sure you can communicate why you want to be a nurse and why you want to attend the particular school you are applying to.
Hi, this was a great post and extremely informative. I’m also interested in applying to APU’s ELM program among others you mentioned, and I was wondering at what school you took your online research methods class at?
Long Pham says
I took it at Coastline.
Hello, I have recently been admitted to the APU ELM program. I am wondering if you can please tell me a little about your experience there and how everything is going for you? Thank you so much!
Long Pham says
Congratulations! I really enjoyed my experience at APU. I haven’t been able to update here in a long time, and hope to write about my experience in further detail soon. Just a quick update, I recently finished and was awarded my BSN. I also took and passed NCLEX and am now an RN waiting to start my first job as an ICU nurse.
Annie Briggs says
Thank you for taking the time to detail your personal journey! I’m getting ready to apply to the ELM program at APU for the Fall 2020 cohort. Wanted to know a little your essay and what you included?
Long Pham says
My essay included elements of why I wanted to be a nurse and what my long-term goals were. There were some other personal elements to it as well. I suggest that you personalize it and include what you think is important. Good luck!