Insider tips for acing your nursing school interview

From doing your homework to selling yourself, these are the steps to take to earn your spot.

Insider tips for acing your nursing school interview

Show up prepared to get to the head of the class.

As a prospective student with a nursing school interview on the horizon, no doubt you’ve got some oversized butterflies in your stomach. Interviewing is never anyone’s favorite activity, and when nursing school admissions are on the line, well, the pressure is on. Take a deep breath. We asked experienced nurses to share their top interview tips.

1. Consider the interview an opportunity

It’s normal to be nervous, but remember: The purpose of most nursing school interviews (whether they’re a required or optional part of the admissions process) is generally not to weed out applicants. Rather, it’s an opportunity for a face-to-face, two-way exchange of information about the particular program and how you would fit in.

The interviewers want to determine whether you’re right for the school, explains Trissa Lyman, FNP-S, Brigham Young University. “Share experiences that have helped you develop the skills you need to master difficult material,” she says. “Nursing school is tough, and they need to know you have what it takes to perform well in the program.”

2. Sell yourself

The interview is a golden opportunity to shine, especially if your GPA and test scores don’t. Colton Hafeman, currently enrolled in a BS to DNP program at the University of Portland, advises, “one of the biggest mistakes that interviewees make is overemphasizing how perfect the school is for them. I think it’s more important to relay what you bring to the university that will enhance their academic environment.”

Without bragging, be prepared to express how you can enrich the program’s learning environment, Hafeman says. “How does adding you to their cohort bring uniqueness and new perspectives to the group? What conversations can you spark?”

Lyman agrees. “In one interview, I was asked to explain why I deserved to be in the prestigious program with few spots available out of numerous applicants.” That’s nothing short of an invitation to sell yourself to the interviewer. “To be a competitive candidate,” Lyman adds, “be ambitious and confident in your abilities to contribute to the program in which you are applying.”

3. Know the school

Prospective students should do their homework before the interview. All nursing schools have different missions (such as diversity and community) and specialties (acute care or health policy, for example). The last thing you want to do is apply to a school that is known for its cardiac nursing program if cardiac nursing isn’t at all what you plan to pursue.

Make certain a school’s goals and values match your own, and then be sure to express this in your interview. “You want to portray that you are a great fit for the particular nursing program to which you are applying, that you have the skills to be successful,” says Lyman.

4. Be prepared

“Practice, practice, practice!” advises Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, and member of the Emergency Nurses Association. “Do not let your interview be the first time that you practice your answers to potential interview questions.”

Wells suggests you practice your questions aloud. “Ideally, rehearse with someone who can give you feedback, ,” she says. “But, in a pinch, record yourself on your phone and listen to how you sound. Practice until you sound calm, confident, and conversational.”

Be reflective and prepare specific examples for your answers. “Draw from personal or professional experiences, focusing on experiences in and around the health care environment,” says Wells.

Also, review nursing journals and health-related news so you’re conversant in timely health topics (opioid use, obesity, and vaping illness, for example).

5. Don’t pass the buck

Don’t lie, evade, or embellish during an interview. In addition, be upfront about your academic record.

If there’s a little hiccup in your academic background, you don’t need to over-explain it, but you shouldn’t overlook it either. After all, faculty members will be poring over your grades and test scores, so if anything appears off, it’s better if you’re the one to bring it up first.  

6. Be professional

Treat your nursing school interview just like a job interview. Refresh your memory on basic job interviewing etiquette about what to wear and how to groom yourself, as well as the importance of a firm handshake and good eye contact.

On interview day, plan ahead to avoid anxiety:

  • Budget extra time for finding a parking spot, since university or college parking is often challenging.
  • Bring the phone number of the interviewer and call immediately if extraordinary circumstances—like a delayed flight or a traffic jam—delay you.
  • Arrive five to 10 minutes before your appointment time.

During the interview:

  • Turn off your cellphone.
  • Leave your coffee or other beverage in your car.
  • Leave family members at home (and never, ever expect the receptionist to babysit your kids!).

And after the interview—to really knock your interviewers’ socks off—send an old-fashioned, handwritten thank-you note.

Think ahead

Nursing school is the first step to an awesome and rewarding career in health care. Of course, conquering the interview is just part of what you'll have to overcome in the days ahead, but with every lesson you learn, you become a stronger and more attractive job candidate. Could you use some more advice for bolstering your professional development? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice, job search tips, and plenty more info to carry you through your education and career with confidence.