An Expert’s Guide to Crushing the NP School Admissions Interview
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“Our goal is to better understand how the applicant acted in specific situations. These questions allow the applicant to reflect on their approach in the past, what they might have learned from that situation, and how this might inform their actions in the future. We look for applicants who can provide specific examples and thoughtful reflection.”
Dr. Heather Shlosser, Associate Dean of the Graduate School Of Nursing@Simmons
The job market for nurse practitioners is booming and the trend is projected to continue over the next decade. With the number of NP jobs expected to swell 52 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030, this is an excellent time for registered nurses to consider an advanced practice degree in one of the diverse specialty areas. Aspiring NPs may choose to focus their preparation within a specific medical area, such as primary or acute care, cardiology or oncology; or by population, like family, women’s health, neonatal, or geriatric care.
Nurses seeking to advance their careers as NPs naturally want to maximize their chances of being accepted into the advanced practice nursing program of their choice. Programs exist for registered nurses with preparation at the associate and bachelor’s degree levels. Admissions requirements generally include a current RN license; official transcripts from a diploma, certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree program; a current resume; a personal statement; letters of recommendation; GRE and/or TOEFL scores (if applicable); and clinical nursing experience.
In addition to these application materials, some nurse practitioner (NP) programs require an interview. Even the most stellar NP candidate may be deterred from programs with this requirement. However, with thoughtful preparation, the interview can provide NP faculty with valuable insights into the strengths of an applicant’s candidacy.
Tips on Acing the NP School Interview
USA Today offers some general tips to all graduate school interviewees that can be applied to NP candidates as well.
First, be familiar with the interview structure and what information interviewers may already know about you. This will ensure that the interview time is spent on providing new information that strengthens your candidacy and sheds light on aspects of your background and experience not already documented in your application materials.
As some schools require interviews of all applicants and others just in certain cases, it’s also important to understand the purpose of the interview and be comfortable and familiar with the format. It’s natural to be somewhat daunted if asked to interview for a program that does not require one of all applicants. However, this can be an advantage for experienced nurses able to elaborate on their nursing expertise and professional accomplishments, especially for those whose education credentials are not recent or not indicative of their competency and potential as other aspects of their candidacy.
Other things to consider when preparing for a graduate school interview include timing, pre-interview research, and self-reflection.
- Choose an optimal time of day, one in which you will be at your cognitive best. Ask how long the interview will be so that your responses are well-timed.
- Be familiar with the school and the program to which you’re applying. Know something about the interviewers, professors, and coursework. Be able to explain why the program is a good fit for you and you for it.
- Think about your background, skills, and experiences. Be ready to talk about how they have prepared you for your chosen career path and demonstrate your commitment and readiness for the pursuit of an advanced degree.
Perhaps the most important way to prepare for the NP school interview is to practice. Anticipate the questions typically asked and prepare your responses. Write them down. Speak them into your phone. Record a video of yourself.
Then, review your responses, and (if you can bear it) listen to your recording or watch your video. Note any changes needed to the content or delivery and revise your answers. Then try again! Maybe even enlist a friend to be your audience.
However you choose to prepare, be sure that you find a way to practice that doesn’t add to your anxiety but actually helps alleviate it. You want to cultivate a sense of empowerment. You want to harness your potential and demonstrate why you are an exceptional candidate for a specific NP school.
In the following interview, Dr. Heather Schlossberg, associate dean of the graduate school of Nursing@Simmons, graciously shares some insight on how to best prepare for this component of the application process.
Advice from an Expert: Dr. Heather Shlosser, Associate Dean of Nursing at Simmons University
Dr. Heather Shlosser is the associate dean of the graduate school of nursing at Simmons University. Prior to her role at Simmons, Dr. Shlosser was an associate professor and program director at Frontier Nursing University (FNU). She played a key role in the development of the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) program at FNU.
In addition to her leadership and academic appointments at Simmons, Dean Shlosser continues to work as a certified FNP and PMHNP in full-spectrum clinical practice. Among her professional areas of focus are the integration of behavioral health programs within primary care and mindfulness therapy.
Dr. Shlosser holds a BSN from Our Lady of the Elms, an MSN (family nurse practitioner) from Frontier Nursing University, and a DNP (psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner) from the University of Virginia.
What Personal Qualities Do You Look for in Nurse Practitioner Candidates?
We look for a variety of important qualities in candidates. We hope and expect that students are committed, professional, and responsible. In addition, they should be able to accept feedback, have good time management, communication (written and verbal) and problem-solving skills, academic aptitude, a potential for leadership—and perhaps most important: perseverance.
What Makes a Prospective NP a Strong Applicant for the Nursing@Simmons NP Program?
We take a holistic approach to the application review process so each component of the application is strongly considered when determining if the applicant is a candidate for the program. This includes academic history; professional experience, growth and leadership; a strong grasp of FNP role and Simmons University and alignment of goals for the program; and qualitative input from recommenders regarding academic and professional experience.
In What Cases Do You Require Interviews of Applicants to Your Nurse Practitioner Program and What Format Does the Interview Take?
Interviews are requested on a case-by-case basis. Most often, this occurs if/when additional information is needed in order to assess potential fit, to gain context regarding academic history, or to assess the applicant’s understanding of the program’s focus. Interviews are typically conducted via phone but can be done virtually as well.
What Kinds of Questions Do You Typically Ask NP Applicants in Such Interviews?
Interview questions are consistent in order to ensure a fair evaluation process for each applicant, and our goal is to better understand how the applicant acted in specific situations. These questions allow the applicant to reflect on their approach in the past—what they might have learned from that situation and how this might inform their actions in the future. We look for applicants who can provide specific examples and thoughtful reflection.
What Advice Do You Have for NP Applicants on How to Best Prepare for the Interview?
Do your research on the university and reflect on your goals. Just as you would prepare for a professional interview, be sure to understand Simmons University and the outcomes of the program for which you are applying. Be prepared to discuss your prior experience and future goals. Make sure you come prepared to talk with detail and reflection about a few specific examples that show your growth as a nurse and your readiness to become an NP.
Closing Thoughts from the Inside: Advice from NPSchools.com Contributor Dr. Melissa DeCapua
What else should aspiring nurse practitioners do to prepare specifically for an NP school interview?
Psychiatric nurse practitioner, Microsoft innovator, and NPSchools contributor Dr. Melissa DeCapua explains that NP school interview questions vary at the master’s and doctoral levels reflecting the unique purposes of each educational path. A DNP holder herself, she explains in her Nurse Practitioner Blog that,
The MSN has been the traditional path to becoming a nurse practitioner. It focuses mostly on preparing you to provide medical care. The DNP, on the other hand, is a newer degree that prepares you to provide medical care and additional things like leadership, technology, and policy.
Overall, Dr. DeCapua provides four simple steps as advice to aspiring NP students preparing for an interview:
- Study the nursing profession and your chosen NP concentration
- Review the school’s website
- Update your LinkedIn profile and resume
- Practice the interview questions
She provides a list of excellent resources for delving deeper into the profession as well as an extensive list of DNP interview questions from her own experience and research in her guide to “Doctor of Nursing Practice Interview Questions.”
Cevia Yellin is a freelance writer based in Eugene, Oregon. She studied English and French literature as an undergraduate. After serving two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer, she earned her master of arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cevia’s travels and experiences working with students of diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds have contributed to her interest in the forces that shape identity. She grew up on the edge of Philadelphia, where her mom still lives in her childhood home.