How to Get into Nursing School MSN Programs

With baby boomers getting older and entering retirement, the need for a new generation of health care workers will continue to rise through the decade, especially in nursing. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, will increase by 26 percent between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. According to the BLS, these positions also command higher than average wages, with median pay being $113,930 in 2018.

While the opportunities are there, and the compensation great, aspiring advanced practice registered nurses will need the appropriate education to make the most of their careers. As noted by the BLS, APRNs must hold a master’s degree in their nursing specialty. A Master’s in Nursing (MSN) program is an ideal way to fulfill that qualification, but applying to a nursing school may seem difficult or complicated. Below, we break down the steps necessary to enroll in a Master’s in Nursing school program, how to prepare for MSN program entrance exams, other nursing school master’s admissions requirements, and more.

4 Steps to a Master’s in Nursing School Program

1. Decide on a Nursing Specialty

The first step in applying to a Master’s in Nursing school program is selecting a nursing specialty to pursue. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, there are four types of advanced practice registered nurse: certified nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and certified nurse-midwife. Within these four types, APRNs can specialize further. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), for example, offers four different certifications for nurse practitioners—adult-gerontology acute care, adult-gerontology primary care, family, and psychiatric-mental health—and one for nurse specialists—adult-gerontology clinical.

To determine the nursing specialty you want to pursue, consider:

  • Where you want to work: This can include environments such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, or people’s homes.
  • What type of practice interests you: For instance, maybe there is a particular part of the body, an aspect of physical or mental health, or specific disease that you want to focus on.
  • Who you want to work with: Maybe you want to work with a certain age group, such as infants, versus all ages.
  • Your overall professional goals: If you are committed to furthering your education to advance your nursing career , determine the hours you’re willing to work, the work-life balance you require, and so on.

Once you know the qualities you want from a nursing job, you can select a specialty that aligns with them accordingly.

2. Attend MSN Degree Program Information Sessions

The second step in applying to a Master’s in Nursing school program is attending MSN degree program information sessions. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, advanced practice registered nurse education programs must be accredited by an organization recognized by the US Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education is one such accreditor and it maintains a list of accredited programs, including MSNs. Many of these MSN programs offer information sessions, where prospective students can learn more about the school, faculty, courses, and other relevant details.

Information sessions will help you compare MSN degree programs so that you can understand how you’ll benefit from the particular curriculum, professors, and hands-on learning opportunities. The sessions allow you to talk with admissions counselors, ask questions, and even tour facilities. It helps to participate in an information session at each school you’re considering—that way you can be confident in your ultimate decision of which MSN degree program to attend.

3. Complete MSN Prerequisites

The third step in applying to a Master’s in Nursing school program is completing MSN prerequisites. While specific requirements will differ from one MSN degree program to the next, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing identifies three general types of programs with their own prerequisites:

  1. Entry-Level Master’s: Bachelor’s or other graduate degree in a field other than nursing;
  2. Registered Nurse (RN) to Master’s: Associate’s degree in nursing or a related field and RN’s license;
  3. Bachelor’s to Master’s: Bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field.

In addition to those Master’s in Nursing prerequisites, MSN degree programs may also have additional requirements regarding coursework, GPA, and test scores (see next section). Before you apply to an MSN program, make sure that you both understand and meet these qualifications.

4. Study for the Master of Nursing School Entrance Exams

The fourth step in applying to a Master’s in Nursing school program is studying for the Master of Nursing school entrance exams. Like other MSN prerequisites, the specific requirements regarding tests will differ from one MSN degree program to the next. That said, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that some applicants may be required to pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Examination (NCLEX). Two versions of the NCLEX are available—one for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN), the other for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN)—both of which test entry-level nursing competency. To study for the NCLEX, test-takers can turn to the NCLEX Practice Exam offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Besides the NCLEX, Master of Nursing schools may require other entrance exams, such as the Test of Essential Academic Skills. Check with the MSN degree programs you’re applying to for more information.

How to Prepare for MSN Program Entrance Exams

Testing can be one of the most stressful parts of getting into a Master’s in Nursing school program. Prepare as much as possible so that you can be sure you will pass your MSN program entrance exams with flying colors. Consider the following test plan:

  • Learn what you’ll be tested on. Each exam will focus on different skill sets. Research the test and purchase a practice test if possible. Take it early on so you’ll know what to focus on when studying. You can retake practice tests as you study to gauge your progress.
  • Discuss the test with an admissions counselor. An admissions counselor should be able to point you in the right direction for study guides and other resources.
  • Talk with other nurses. Join an online community, such as a LinkedIn group for nurses, to talk with members about their recommendations for how to study. They’ve been in your shoes and can give you solid advice!
  • Create a study group. Find other people who are studying for the same test. Form in-person study groups in your local area or create an online study group for remote study sessions.
  • Study early, study often. Avoid cramming for a test. The earlier you can begin studying, and the more often you study, the more effective your absorption of the material will be.
  • Use flashcards and chunking. Flashcards and chunking are two study tools you can use to prepare for your MSN program entrance exams. Flashcards are useful because they involve studying as you write down the information, then again as you practice with them. You can also carry flashcards with you and study on the go.

When scheduling your nursing exam, choose a time you’ll be alert and focused. Also make sure to clear your calendar the evening before so you can get a good night’s rest.

Other Nursing School Master’s Admissions Requirements

Besides the Master’s in Nursing program entrance exams, nursing school master’s admissions requirements may also include other necessities. These can include essays, letters of intent, career statements, letters of recommendation, and interviews (see next section). Master’s in Nursing programs may also stipulate specific health care requirements, such as up-to-date immunizations and certification in basic techniques like CPR.

When completing such requirements, it’s important to thoroughly understand all instructions before submitting the requested information. For written materials, such as essays, you’ll want to adhere to word count and subject. For letters of recommendation, it’s advisable to ask multiple instructors and managers from either academic or professional settings, ideally in health care. Along with the full instructions, be sure to give them ample time to complete your letters of recommendation.

Typical MSN Nursing School Entrance Interview Questions

As mentioned above, one of the admissions requirements of a Master’s in Nursing program may be the MSN nursing school entrance interview. These entrance interviews are sometimes required to judge candidates based on their ethics, professionalism, and nursing priorities. In the course of the interview, you may be asked a variety of questions related to policies, attitudes, and hypothetical situations.

Typical MSN nursing school entrance interview questions include:

  • Traditional interview questions:
    • Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
    • What are your career goals?
    • Why do you want to go to nursing school?
    • What makes you stand out among applicants?
  • Personality questions:
    • How would those closest to you describe you?
    • What’s your biggest strength and biggest weakness?
    • What’s an example of you demonstrating your listening abilities?
    • How do you work with teams?
  • Behavior questions:
    • How do you handle pressure?
    • What leadership qualities do you have and how have you demonstrated them?
    • Can you give an example of a stressful situation you’ve experienced and how you reacted?
  • Ethics questions:
    • If you saw a coworker not employing the best health and safety practices, what would you do?
    • If you knew how long a patient had to live, would you tell them?
    • Should there be a mandatory vaccination policy?
  • General health care questions:
    • How do you think health care in rural areas could be improved upon, given statistics that show deaths as a result of common diseases are higher there?
    • What are the most important issues nurses face today?
    • What is one thing you’d improve about the current health care system?

During a typical MSN nursing school entrance interview, you may be asked questions by multiple people. The interviews may run over an hour or even be broken up into more than one session. Be sure to prepare thoroughly (see next section).

3 Tips for your Master’s in Nursing School Interview

Acing the Master’s in Nursing school interview can be challenging, even for the most seasoned professionals. Just like with MSN program entrance exams, the key to success lies in preparation. To feel more confident and less stressed, consider these tips:

  1. Write out your responses. Read through typical MSN nursing school interview questions above and think about how you would respond. It can help to type out your responses, so as to hone in on the message you aim to communicate. When answering, you’ll want to be ready, succinct, and confident—not stuck thinking about the best way to respond. Drafting and revising your talking points ahead of time will help on that front.
  2. Study your responses. Just like you would study for a test, you can study for an interview too. Rereading your written responses will prevent you from being at a loss for words during the interview. But remember: You don’t need to recite your answers word for word. Stay natural and aim for the general points, rather than the specific details.
  3. Practice your answers out loud. Enlist the help of a friend to practice. Give them sample questions like those above, but ask them to create variations so you can practice responding to new inquiries. Run through a mock interview, then ask for feedback. You want your answers to be clear and confident.

At the end of the day, you don’t want to come across as overly rehearsed for your interview. It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked the exact questions you’ve prepared for, but practicing ensures you’re reading with the information you want to share and able to share it naturally. Like any interview, it’s important to be yourself and let your professional personality shine through as well. After completing your nursing school applications, learn more about nursing school scholarships.