Seven Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Nursing School Admission Interview
All month we’ve been talking about getting over the first major hurdle of advancing your nursing career – the logistics of applying for nursing school. Once you’ve applied, if you make the top rung of consideration, you may be asked to schedule a personal interview. In this post, I’ll share my expertise to help you prepare for that face-to-face admission interview.
Not Every School Interviews
Whether or not you get asked to interview at the school of your choice is dependent on whether the school uses a personal interview as a data point for admission. Many nursing schools do admission interviews and others do not. There are a lot of reasons for why schools may not interview potential students.
The decision to do admission interviews is usually up to the faculty. In a perfect world, we would always say “Yes!” to interviewing potential students because you can get a better feel about someone when you are sitting face-to-face with them. So ideally, every nursing school would interview their candidates for admission. However, interviewing takes a lot of time and faculty don’t always have room in their schedules to volunteer to participate in admission interviews. Depending on the number of applicants — interviews could last all week!
Associate degree and baccalaureate in nursing programs can have hundreds of applicants for each admission cycle. If you are asked to interview with the admissions team – that’s a good sign! Here are some tips to get you through the process.
Tip #1: Prepare for the Admission Interview
Prepare by doing your homework. Wolff (2017) has some great tips to get you ready for your admission interview. First, review the school’s website and their programs and understand what they are proud of. What is the expertise and skills they want their students to graduate with? Who are their leading researchers and scholars? Do they produce leaders? innovators? evidence-based practice experts? Note those characteristics and use them in your interview responses.
If you can find out the names of the interviewers, read their faculty bio or information page. Write down questions that you will want to get answered during the interview.
Get your clothes ready the day before. Grooming is important — hair, beards/mustaches, and nails should be trimmed and clean (Wolff, 2017). Map out your route to the campus or interview site and build in time for contingencies (traffic, weather, etc.)
Decide if you need to bring any other documents or materials to the admission interview. Perhaps they’ve asked for a portfolio or samples of your previous work. Wolff (2017) suggested designating a folder in which you can collect and keep these materials. Place this folder with your keys or purse or by the front door so that you don’t forget to take it with you when you leave for your interview.
Tip #2: Keep Calm and Portray Confidence!
Getting asked to interview for a nursing school spot is an important hurdle to get over in your quest to get your basic or advanced nursing degree. Will you be nervous? Of course! But you can mitigate some of those nerves by being prepared for the admission interview and practicing a little positive self-talk.
Preparing for the admission interview itself is fairly simple – it usually doesn’t last over 30 minutes and may be shorter. Anticipate the types of questions you will be asked and practice your responses – always thinking about how you can integrate your academic and personal strengths into the response. I have some common admission interview questions listed in Tip #5 below.
Positive self-talk is just that — say nice things to yourself! Silently or aloud, whatever works for you. Remind yourself that you have gotten to this point because you have met the school’s criteria, so you are qualified. In some schools, getting an interview is a sign that you’ve already jumped the “qualified” hurdle and are in the “consideration” queue!
You might want to do a breathing exercise or short meditation to quiet your mind (and lower your blood pressure at the same time) a few minutes before your appointment time. See my suggestions for my favorite apps for mindfulness that may help you keep calm and stay composed.
Before you are called in for your interview, finish your coffee or beverage (don’t take these in with you) and turn off your cell phone.
Also, you might want to visit the restroom. Do a last check of your hair, clothing, teeth, take care of physical needs, etc.
And then strike a Power Pose, AKA the Victory pose or the Wonder Woman or Superman pose for about two minutes. Yeah, you heard me. Research has shown that people feel more confident and powerful going into an interview or high-stress evaluative event if they take a couple of minutes to hold a high-power pose (Cuddy et al., 2012). Stand up straight, take a slightly wide stance, place your hands or fists on your hips (or up in the air in a “V” for the Victory pose), stick your chest out, and take some deep breaths, all the while telling yourself you are capable and strong. It’s all about “Presence” according to social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
When you meet the interviewers, shake their hands confidently (not wimpy or limp) and make eye contact throughout the interview. Smile. Be Positive.
Keep telling yourself you deserve to be admitted. You are determined. You are hardworking. You are worthy. You will be an asset to the nursing profession. You CAN do this!
Tip #3: Dress the Part
Dress like a student? NO. Dress like a nurse? NO. Dress like a professional nurse. YES! Business casual will work.
When you don’t pay attention to how you are dressed, it sends a message – a wrong message. Nursing is a profession. Promoting a professional image is important to the profession as a whole and to you as a nursing school candidate.
People form impressions in a short amount of time. Your interviewers will take in information about you even before you say anything. Is your hair combed/styled, are your clothes appropriate, do you wear too much perfume or jewelry, does your underwear show through your clothes? Do you have visible tattoos? Are you chewing gum? etc. Like it or not, the interviewers will make assumptions based on these first inklings of your personality and values. Once we start talking with you those initial impressions may change, of course, but they could work against you when we are making admission decisions.
Like it or not, the interviewers will make assumptions based on these first inklings of your personality and values. Once we start talking with you those initial impressions may change, of course, but they could work against you when we are making admission decisions.
You’ve heard the adage, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Take that to heart.
Tip #4: Get to Your Admission Interview on Time
You will be given a set time to meet with members of the admissions committee. Usually, two faculty or one faculty and an admissions counselor will make up the interview team. Depending on how many applicants, there may be multiple interview teams.
Make sure you are at the interview site (usually at the nursing school) on time! In fact, I’d be at least 15 minutes early. If you live in a big city, assume traffic will be congested and leave earlier than you normally would. If you are not familiar with the campus, build in extra time to find the visitor’s parking area, the right building, and the right room.
If the interviews are going faster than usual, you may get to do your interview earlier than your scheduled time. In that case, you can be on your way sooner than expected. If you will be late, call the nursing or admission office and let them know!
If the admission interviews are running long, someone should let you know how long you’ll have to wait. Of course, you can’t be angry or indignant at having to wait — that will send up major red flags to the interviewers! So be gracious – most likely you will only have to wait a few minutes extra. You can take that time to do a short relaxing meditation or mindfulness break.
Tip #5: Answer the Questions Thoughtfully
The interview team will have a set question list that they will ask every candidate — these questions are to help us understand how you may handle common stressful situations in nursing school, how you will juggle multiple responsibilities, what your short-term and long-term goals are, etc. Other questions will be triggered from the answers you give and are for the purpose of getting to know you a little better. Some questions will be straightforward and others may be more reflective. Take your time and think about what is being asked.
So first, be prepared for common nursing school admission questions. They may be similar to ones you’ve already answered on your application or in your essay.
If you are applying for a basic nursing program, Why do you want to be a nurse? could be a question. Or the interviewers may say, “Can you elaborate more on your essay about wanting to be a nurse?” As I mentioned in the post on writing your admission essay, don’t say “because you want to help people.” That’s too vague, too general, and too cliché. Be specific and give examples. Tell your story.
If you are already a nurse and applying for an advanced practice nursing (APN) program be prepared to answer “Why do you want to be a nurse practitioner (NP) (or certified nurse midwife [CNM], certified nurse anesthetist [CRNA], or clinical nurse specialist [CNS])?” Talk about the colleague or family member who is an NP and inspired you or that you’ve done research into the CNS role and feel like the role is a good fit for you because…, etc.
If you are applying to a doctoral program, then you HAVE to understand the difference between a Ph.D.-prepared nurse and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) nurse. The Ph.D. program will take you heavy into research courses and the DNP program is more about evidence-based practice and quality/process improvement courses. See my earlier post on how these doctorates are different.
The interviewers will make an assumption that you chose their program based on your understanding of the degrees, so their questions (and the language they use) will be focused on the purpose of the degree and how you see your long-term goals related to the degree.
Be prepared for questions about your research interests and how you think you could impact a particular area (Ph.D.) or about how your expertise as a DNP would positively impact patients, nurses, and organizations.
Your answers and questions to the interviewers will make it clear whether you have researched their doctoral program before applying. Be able to talk about which area of doctoral concentration you think you’ll be interested in pursuing. You might also be able to give the interviewers suggestions about which faculty you might want to be paired up with as a faculty research mentor.
Other common question stems include:
- How has your schooling/training/experience prepared you for … a career in nursing? working as an APN? a career as a nurse researcher? nurse faculty?
- How do you handle … stress? getting a poor grade on a test? juggling multiple classes or multiple patients? a rude physician or patient’s family member?
- What do you do to … keep up to date with medical knowledge? stay involved in professional issues? live healthier? maintain family relationships and juggle obligations?
- Why are you interested in … attending this university/college/nursing program? (make sure you tell them what was specifically interesting/unique about their school/program that caught your eye – be specific)? becoming an RN/APN/nurse researcher/nurse faculty/nurse administrator?
- How do you … prioritize? organize? plan? handle disappointment?
- What will you do if you don’t get admitted to the program? How you answer this question will tell us a lot about your determination and desire. Will you give up or persevere?
Second, employ a positive spin on any questions that might be difficult to answer or put you in a bad light. For example, questions about a less than desirable GPA or grade in a previous course or a question asking you to identify your weaknesses. No one is perfect! But it is how you deal with your weaknesses, that matters.
Consider weaknesses as challenges to overcome or areas of growth opportunities. How has overcoming these challenges or dealing with the consequences made you a better student, spouse, parent, leader, nurse? Do NOT blame former teachers or anyone else for your failings – that is a kiss of death (KOD; Appleby & Appleby, 2006).
Instead, highlight your strengths and personal values when answering these type of questions. Didn’t do well in your earlier course work because you partied too much? Admit it, but talk about how you have grown up, taken responsibility, and worked hard to get where you are now. Find dealing with difficult people a challenge? Talk about how you have learned (or have worked on) not to respond too fast and to think about where the other person is coming from before you answer. Make sure any “shortcoming” you admit to — that you also talk about how you are overcoming it. Be optimistic.
Third, be careful about giving short or flip answers. Think about your answers before you speak. Use the language and terminology of the profession. Bottom line: Nursing is ultimately about patients and their families. Nurses talk about the best way to care for and communicate with a patient and the family, improving systems to benefit patients, providing education to prevent hospital readmissions, conducting research into new interventions, promoting positive health outcomes, etc. Read some nursing journals to help you out.
Tip #6: Sharing Too Much Information is a Red Flag!
During your admission interview, you will get asked questions about you. We are trying to get to know you better and see if you’ll be a good fit for the role you are seeking and for our nursing program. I’m going to reiterate what I mentioned in my post on writing the admission essay – DON’T give a kiss of death (KOD) answer. KODs are answers that will decrease your chances of getting admitted (Appleby & Appleby, 2006).
I already talked about lack of program knowledge or poor fit with program faculty or emphases in Tip #5. The KOD that makes interviewers very uncomfortable during the interview is when you share too much information, such as “personal mental health problems, excessive altruism or self-disclosure, professionally inappropriate stories, inappropriate humor or “cutesy/clever stuff,” or excessive religious references.” OUCH. And, DO NOT ADMIT.
Tip #7: Ask Questions
You will be given an opportunity to ask the interviewers questions at the end of your interview. You may have had most of your questions from your list (Tip #1) answered during the interview. Use this time to show your interest and to get clarification about anything the interviewers shared with you.
But don’t ask questions that are clearly answered on the school’s web pages, such as what is the typical program plan for X degree? But you could clarify whether you can go part-time and what that might look like or whether the nursing theory course you took at Y College would transfer in, etc. They should have already told you about when to expect admission results, but if not you can ask them.
When the admission interview is completed, be sure to shake the interviewers’ hands and thank them for their time. Sending a thank-you note is not expected, but would make you stand out – just sayin’.
Book Suggestion! For those of you considering returning to school, I want to highly recommend Dr. Debra Wolff’s new book, Advancing Your Nursing Degree: The Experienced Nurse’s Guide to Returning to School. This book is a goldmine because it covers everything you have to think about when deciding to return to school, how to prepare for success, and what to do once you are in school. Every chapter offers practical suggestions and strategies for making the transition back to “school mode” and being successful in your scholarly pursuits. I highly recommend this text!
Appleby, D. C., & Appleby, K. M. (2006). Kisses of death in the graduate school application process. Teaching of Psychology, 33(1), 19-24.
Cuddy, A. J. C., Wilmuth, C. A., & Carney, D. R. (2012, September). The benefit of power posing before a high-stakes social evaluation. Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-027. Retrieved from http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:9547823
Wolff, D. A. (2017). Advancing your nursing degree: The experienced nurse’s guide to returning to school. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.