Preparing For Your Nursing Program Interview icon

Preparing For Your Nursing Program Interview

| Maura Deering

Despite a national nursing shortage, admission to nursing programs continues to be competitive, as applicants outnumber the available spots. An American Association of Colleges of Nursing report found that more than 75,000 qualified nursing school applicants were denied admission for the 2018-19 school year.

Some schools conduct interviews to facilitate selection from the candidates who pass the initial application screening. Interviewing also allows potential students to determine a program's fit for their needs.

Nursing school interview questions offer applicants an opportunity to demonstrate their suitability for the program and profession. Rather than using the time to eliminate prospective students, schools aim to evaluate each student's communication and interpersonal skills and to see how they handle stress.

Nursing interviews may take place in person or on the phone, but, increasingly, schools conduct virtual interviews using Zoom, Skype, or a similar online platform. Common nursing school questions explore an applicant's motivations for wanting to become a nurse and their reasons for choosing the program in question. Interviewers also assess potential student's professional goals, strengths and weaknesses, academic background, and knowledge of current issues in nursing.

Most people experience anxiety or nervousness before an important interview, but we hope the following tips and advice from nursing professionals can help you feel confident and prepared for the process. Keep in mind that an invitation to interview often indicates a school's interest in you as a candidate.

Tip #1: Understand the Nursing School Interview Format

Nursing program interviews follow different formats depending on the school, so applicants should do research on the number of people they'll be speaking with and the backgrounds of those interviewing them.

Interviewers might be admissions counselors, faculty, or other members of the program community. Interviews might be conducted in panels, one-on-one, or in small groups, and take place over multiple sessions.

"[The interview format] depends on the specific program you are applying to," advises Dr. Debra Sullivan, a nurse educator, writer, and medical reviewer. "So you may want to do some research, and try to find someone you can trust who has interviewed at that program, or even a blog or Facebook page of other people applying." Interview simulations using the anticipated format provide valuable practice.

Tip #2: Prepare for Common Nursing School Interview Questions

Nursing school applicants should prepare to answer a variety of question types about themselves and the profession. "Typically," says Sullivan, "the questions are a mix of personality, behavioral, and situational."

Dr. Anna-Lise Krippaehne, a board-certified family nurse practitioner, points out that the interview process provides candidates an opportunity: "It is really powerful to tell your story about how you came to be there that day, applying for this nursing program."

In addition to professional motivations, personality questions might explore how a candidate's friends would describe them or which of their personality traits they would change and why. Behavioral questions look for examples of how applicants handled past situations or might handle hypothetical situations.

"The interviewer wants to ensure that you are a well-rounded person, and that you will not only succeed in the program but that you will thrive," explains Sullivan. "They are looking for resilience."

Situational questions often deal with ethical dilemmas that arise in the field, such as "what is your opinion on euthanasia?" or "should you tell a patient they only have a year to live?"

Interviewers might ask about a candidate's knowledge of current affairs and issues in nursing and medicine in general.

"Health equity and disparities, social determinants of health, cultural competency, evidence-based practice, preventive care, and health promotion are hot topics and interviewees should be familiar with these terms and their significance," advises Krippaehne.

Krippaehne also suggests you "be prepared to answer questions about how you will support yourself (financially, mentally, support systems) and whether you plan to work through the program."

Examples of Nursing School Interview Questions

Applicants can use practice questions to prepare for interviews. Practicing aloud can help you with your delivery method, but also help you provide clear, thought out responses on the day of the interview. To help you know what types of questions to expect, Sullivan and Krippaehne share a sampling of the questions they were asked during their nursing school interviews:

  • What does the role of the "nurse" mean to you?
  • How do you typically cope with stress?
  • Do you have a role model?
  • What was the most difficult situation in your past? How did you get through it?
  • What would you do if you noticed that you were falling behind in class?
  • How would you handle a verbally hostile patient or their family member?
  • What aspect of a nursing job would be the most challenging, in your opinion?
  • What about your background makes you an ideal candidate?

For more examples of potential nursing school questions, utilize these interview resources from University of Houston, Gwynedd Mercy University, and Western Governors University.

Tip #3: Understand the Types of Answers Nursing School Interviewers are Looking For

In addition to the types of questions to anticipate, nursing school applicants should understand the kinds of answers that interviewers consider indicative of qualified candidates.

"Interviewers are looking for thoughtful answers, supported with examples," says Krippaehne. "Especially for behavioral questions, they are looking for a specific situation which demonstrates how you handled a situation." Krippaehne continues: "I think the STAR method, (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is helpful to guide a quality answer."

Candidates should use examples from their own experiences to highlight the traits and characteristics that make them unique. Sullivan says, "Most interviewers want to see a prospective student who is attentive to details, patient, flexible, capable of compassion, who can be a team player, and who has great communication skills."

Sullivan also advises applicants to reflect on their reasons for becoming a nurse, as most programs consider a prospective student's motivations for entering the profession. "They want to hear what makes you special and why you will keep pushing when nursing school gets tough," she says.

Tip #4: Come Prepared With a Plan for Your Nursing Future

Interviewers often ask where applicants see themselves in five or ten years. Formulating a career plan means having a ready answer to likely questions and demonstrates that candidates have given serious thought to their future. Research various specialty areas and approaches to care and practice to guide your plan.

"It may be helpful for candidates to highlight an area of interest, such as access to contraceptives and family planning or critical care," suggests Krippaehne. "Candidates should be ready to relate how they will address preventive care, health promotion, and evidence-based practice and take a holistic approach as a student and in their future practice."

Putting thought into your career plan helps highlight your interest in the profession. "Even though you can research more about the program and the potential interview questions in advance, try to be yourself during the interview," emphasizes Sullivan. "If you truly are passionate about nursing and the principles of nursing, it will come through."

Tip #5: Understand the Differences Between Interviewing for an Undergraduate and Graduate Nursing Program

According to Krippaehne, undergraduate program interviews tend to focus on an applicant's assets, backgrounds, values, and motivations for becoming a nurse.

"With a graduate program, the scope will more likely be based on their clinical or nursing experience specifically, although candidates may have experience in different occupations that could be relevant as well," says Krippaehne. "Nurses spend a great deal of time in direct patient care and need to know how to handle disgruntled patients and families."

Graduate-level candidates should also prepare to discuss the challenges of our complex health system, Krippaehne suggests.

Your interests as a nursing professional are considered for both types of programs, but hold more sway for graduate programs. "It's important to keep in mind that programs are often looking for the best fit, especially in graduate programs where you may be performing research as well," says Sullivan.

Graduate interviews might look different for candidates without experience in the field. "For those applying to a graduate program without prior nursing experience, interviews will be geared toward their previous professional background and what makes them prepared for this new path and the associated academic rigor," Krippaehne explains.

Meet Our Contributors

Dr. Debra Sullivan

Dr. Debra Sullivan
Dr. Debra Sullivan has been working in medicine for over 40 years. Being a dedicated nurse, she held leadership positions in both urban and suburban hospitals. Dr. Debra Sullivan has been participating in promoting nursing as a promising career path for young professionals. She is currently an active leader in numerous professional organizations, participating and presenting at local, state, national, and international webinars and professional venues.

Since 1999, when Dr. Debra Sullivan started teaching nursing students, she has been looking for innovative ways to educate young professionals and aspiring nurses. She continues searching for the most effective ways to train qualified clinical professionals.

Dr. Debra Sullivan is a prolific writer, cooperating with medical journals and publishing articles on a regular basis. Also, Dr. Debra Sullivan is a medical reviewer at Sleepingocean.com. In addition, she has authored multiple book chapters regarding nursing and medicine.

Anna-Lise Krippaehne

Anna-Lise Krippaehne
Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC, is a recent graduate from University of Portland's doctor of nursing practice program. She received her bachelor's in nursing science from University of Portland in 2012 and worked in acute care providing bedside nursing on a general surgical unit for eight years at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, before pursuing her doctorate.

There, she also assisted in teaching new graduate nurses through simulation experiences with Swedish's Nurse Residency Program, in addition to contributing to several quality improvement projects during her tenure. She will soon begin her first position on faculty as a board-certified family nurse practitioner at Oregon Health & Science University's Family Practice Department in Portland, Oregon.

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