You may encounter the need to write an essay for admittance to nursing school. It may be titled: a personal statement, letter of intent or definition of nursing. Schools may use these as criteria for admittance to nursing school. Points may be assigned to the essay. Or it might be a pass or fail type criteria.
My school of nursing uses an essay not so much as criteria to get into the program but, it could be used as reason to keep you out. How so?
There are no points assigned to the essay we have students write. We use them to identify red flags for non-admittance vs. for admittance. Essays that show limited use of the English language are definitely a red flag. The essay needs to make sense. Be structurally sound. It needs to show that you can write in English, be understandable and have some type of flow to it. You would be amazed at some of the essays we have received, the grammar and formatting told us right away that this student will not be successful due to their mastery of the English language, regardless of the B grade they received in English 101. We are shocked when we see that type of disconnect between a passing grade in English and what is written.
The subject of the essay is usually “Why I want to be a nurse”. They want to know why nursing is for you. The nursing admission committee will be looking at multiple things in your essay. They want to know why you will be successful and finish nursing school and become a great nurse with all the qualities that define a great nurse.
AVOID these things in your ESSAY:
No one wants an angry student in their nursing program. Your essay should not reflect any type of anger. You may be angry at the medical profession, health care system or education system… that needs no discussion in the essay. Do not show anger at the political system responsible for your layoff that drove you to find a new career. You may have anger at an ex-spouse who was responsible for your change in circumstances.
Angry people have a hard time not keeping the tone out of an essay. Ask someone else to read it for an honest opinion. If you are an angry person, you will need to get rid of it before nursing school. Self-coaching, reflection, journaling and professional help is in order!
• Too much detailed personal information
The essay needs to be personalized; this does not mean detailed personal information. You may include a short story that reflects your positive traits or reasons for picking nursing as your profession with personal examples. But, it should not disclose detailed personal information that people do not want to hear.
On my admissions committee there is one member that hates these types of essays with a passion. I have more of a tolerance for them. If you have this person on your committee looking at your essay, then you are sunk. Do not tell the sordid details of your nasty divorce. One essay we received gave us a step by step account of a rape. It appeared that some of the essays were written as therapy for the student. Do not write those details that you might write in a journal.
To mention you had a traumatizing event occur in your life is OK, but to give the committee a blow by blow account of the trauma is way too much personal information and does not belong in the essay.
• Watch views/ opinions/ debate
This is not a soapbox. This is not where you tell how broken the health care system is. Do not spend time telling the admissions committee how you were “screwed” by the medical community, and how you single handedly will fix it. Watch for personal views, opinions, and debatable or controversial subjects.
• NO false views of nursing/ stereotypes
The admissions committee wants to know that you know what nursing is all about. You need to know what you will be doing. Do not tell them you are going into nursing so you can serve the doctor and be their handmaiden or marry one! This view is archaic and will definitely get you thrown out of the pool for consideration. If you really do not know what nurses do in today’s world! Please sign up to job shadow at your local hospital and ask them questions about what they do and are responsible for.
Do not tell the admission committee that you dressed up in a slutty nurse costume for Halloween last year and it inspired you to become one. This stereotype is not a favorable or realistic view and only shows the students lack of understanding of the modern nurse of today.
• Do not include items that might keep you from succeeding.
If you are currently working 60 hour work weeks, beware of bragging about it in your essay. This is a red flag that the student is set for failure. If you have an addiction issue, best not to disclose it here and seek help so you can be successful. Stay away from your weaknesses. I told you to be honest but, that does not include disclosing all your weaknesses.
• Do Not cover items already in your application packet
Your GPA is already covered in your admission packet. Do not review every course and A that you have received. There are enough other items to cover that you will be using valuable space on information already present.
• No quotes
Do not quote famous nurses or theorists in the attempt to impress the admission committee. They want to hear your thoughts and feeling! Tell your story. This is not a research paper on nursing, although it may be helpful for you to read about modern nursing and what it entails so you are better informed.
• Do NOT Procrastinate
If will take some time to write the perfect essay. Do not put it off and throw it together at the last minute. You work too hard in your pre-requisites all year to throw it away without taking the essay seriously. Plan ahead, do a rough draft. Write it and then sit on it for a while. Go back and re-read it. Time in-between will give you a new perspective on the essay. Your product will be improved if you look at the essay more than once.
Don’t be surprised if it takes weeks to come up with the perfect essay. Start early and gather ideas, make notes, formulate a plan of when to start, revise and finish the essay.
• Do not tell lies or be deceitful/ Be Truthful
Can you imagine reading an essay that appears on the internet? Yes, this has happened, copied word for word. I have even read an essay that was presented the quarter before, written by a different student. A student thought they would lend theirs to a friend. There is no place in nursing for dishonesty. Too much trust is needed in the profession.
Your nursing instructor has to trust you behind closed doors……the patient’s door. You are expected to do what is right and if a mistake is made, to report it and be honest. This will keep you out of the nursing program for more than one quarter or a year….try permanently! For this reason I will not create a sample essay for you to review. There would be too much of a temptation to use it.
Be truthful about yourself and your reasons for wanting into the nursing program. A sham essay is easy to recognize. If you go over the top of being mushy it can appear as not being genuine. Be yourself but don’t go over the top. Do not say what you think they want to hear. It will come across as not being genuine.You may be asked about your essay in an interview, it will be difficult to answer their questions if the stories you tell are untruthful. They will know if you are fibbing without watching your nose grow.
• Do NOT tell them something they already know
Do not produce an essay on the history of nursing. Do not quote a nursing theorist on her definition of nursing. They know these things already. Tell them something that is more personalized. What is your view and definition of nursing? You can review what is said in books and online if it will help you formulate your own view and definition.
• Use the right word count
This demonstrates you can follow directions. By going over the approved word count number you demonstrate that the rules do not apply to me. It says that you are an exception. Know what the word count number limit is and stay within it. You do not have to fill all of it but, definitely do not go over. Make every word count.
Use the tool on your computer to count the words. Do not feel you have to use all the space available. To write meaningless words will not help you. But, using only a quarter of the space available tells the committee you have difficulty writing and no contributions to add. It may say that you did not want to put in the time and effort to come up with something of value. If there is a 500 word limit, try to use 480 of it.
• Best foot forward/ you in a good light
This is about how you will make the nursing program proud of you. You will be representing the program and their reputation is on the line with you. How will you be successful? These items need to be included.
• Life events that may have influenced your GPA
Explain extenuating circumstances. If you have a bad GPA for one quarter, tell them why. Possibly Uncle Ned came to live with you after getting cancer and you had to care for him day and night. Possibly you had a health problem. Life does happen, even while trying to get into nursing school. Make sure they know the situation is corrected and you have things in control.
If the low GPA goes on for two years…..be very careful of making too many excuses. Nursing is about accepting accountability. If you are full of excuses for everything that is not right about your admission packet then this will not look favorable. The admission committee does not want a “pity parade”. DO NOT do this! If things are not favorable in your admission packet then, tell them why things will be different, tell them and show them with examples how you have changed.
• Nurse mentors
It is OK to talk about nurses who have influenced your decision. It may be a friend, mother, father, grandma. It is common to have someone who has influenced you this way. Because so many students write about it, yours may be no different than most. Therefore, it is wise not to devote your entire essay discussing their attributes; you need to focus on yours!
• Items that made you who you are/ challenges
If you have had challenges you have overcome, tell about it. Be careful of too much personal information as talked about earlier. The nursing committee wants to know what challenges you have overcome as well as currently face. Talk about how you will be ok, and how you have prepared to cope while in nursing school.
• Experiences/ experiences health care related
Tell a short story about a health care experience. Maybe you have volunteered. Your experience as a patient or as a friend or as a family member that was present for a health care experience. What was it like, were you able to observe nurses and their positive qualities that you would like to gain someday?
These experiences can demonstrate your personality a bit. A bit! Don’t go over the top in trying to demonstrate your personality. I remember one essay that used profanity to try and emphasize several points. This allowed us to see a bit too much of their personality!
What experiences have made you who you are today? An experience that shows your compassion, leadership, dedication, involvement, would be appropriate in an essay. These are qualities the nursing program is looking for. Let them know where you want to be in two years! What do you see yourself being, doing, what type of person will you be?
If you work in the health care field, this is the time to discuss it and how it influenced your decision to go into nursing. Tell of an incident or experience working with a certain patient or in general how you like working with patients.
• Positive traits
Do you have a story that demonstrated how you cared for a sick neighbor or friend? This may show: dedication, caring, friendship, loyalty and the ability to succeed in nursing. Use an incident or story that demonstrates your ability to get along with others and like others. Teamwork and communication skills are desirable traits for a nursing student.
• Short personal story portraying your good traits/ or when giving care
A short story that shows a positive personal aspect of yourself is good to use. Find something that shows your ability to work under-pressure or work as a team member. Some positive quality that is required as a nurse should be highlighted. In this “Secrets Book” you have learned about many of those qualities and should be very prepared to accent these.
Do you have a quality, skill, attribute, accomplishments; characteristic that lets you shine above the others or distinguishes you?
• Want to make a difference
It is OK to tell about the desire of wanting to make a difference. If you are changing careers, this may be a big factor into why you are doing it. You may talk about past experiences when you made a difference in someone’s life and how that felt. Do not devote the entire essay to this subject.
• Kiss up a bit
If you know the program you are applying to has a good reputation, tell them this is one of the reasons you are applying to the program. Let them know you have done your research and you want only the best. Keep this short.
• Talk about your support systems
Nursing school requires a lot of time and effort. You will need support systems in place to be able to handle the challenge. You will not be able to work much so, income will be needed. Let them know how you will support yourself while in nursing school. Explain how all “your ducks are in a row” and you are “ready to go” and have the support systems ready and waiting to ensure your success.
The support systems may include a spouse willing to work extra shifts, financial aid, grandparents willing to watch children, a boss who will allow you to go part-time and let you create your schedule, a friend who said “move in with me for two years.”
• Abilities to work with people/ teamwork
Talk about when you have worked in teams. If in past employment you were a team leader or project manager, it would be wise to discuss how you learned from other people and how you were able to get along and contribute. Nursing is all about people and working with people, not just the patient but the whole healthcare team. Your teamwork could be voluntary in nature by serving on a committee at your child’s grade school or local church.
• Use correct English/ grammar
The essay will not be long, so use short paragraphs. Sound sentence structure is a must. One mistake will make you look unprofessional and sloppy. Use spell check and re-check it yourself for errors. Grammar needs to be checked. Utilize your schools writing lab or tutors to help if needed. Remember you are making a first impression. Use one inch margins, half-inch indents on paragraphs, size 12 fonts, use common font types: Arial, Times Roman or Calibri. Stay away from fancy,cutsey or bold type font.
• Include an introductory and conclusion paragraph
Your essay needs an opening and a closing. Your opening could tell there are 3 reasons you are made for nursing, and then use the next three paragraphs to explain what they are. Conclude with a paragraph that gives a summary and appreciatively thank them for consideration for admittance to the nursing program.
• Show why you have interest in the field of nursing
The admission committee needs to know why you are interested in the field of nursing. Job security needs to be a very very small part of the essay. Include not only why you want to be a nurse but, what TYPE of nurse you want to be. Type does not refer to specialty but what characteristics.
• Gather ideas from others
It may be difficult to toot your own horn or to identify areas or events where you shined. Talk with friends, family and co-workers for ideas, read your essay to them and ask for ideas and suggestions to improve it.
How would friends characterize you, your favorable traits? What would they write about you?
You now have the secrets of how to write a killer essay! This is the one area of your application that you have total control over. It would be wise to maximize the opportunity. You need to demonstrate that you are exceptional, a better pick than the next applicant. Catch their attention!
So write it and re-read it with the above information in mind. Be honest with yourself when reading it. This will be the nursing programs first impression of you….MAKE IT COUNT!