Applying to a Nurse Practitioner Program


Applying to a Nurse Practitioner Program

Advice from UCLA, UCI and Cal State admissions staff

By Carole Jakucs, RN, BSN, PHN
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Have you been thinking about applying to a nurse practitioner program, but not yet done so because you feel intimidated by the whole process? Perhaps you’re wondering if your GPA is high enough, whether you have enough experience or if you might have a little too much. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the requirements and talk to decision-makers from several local NP programs about what they’re really looking for from applicants.


Most schools’ websites list each program’s admission requirements, which can vary from school to school. In general, most NP programs expect applicants to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher; an active California RN license; and a bachelor’s degree, usually a BSN. (A few schools will consider applicants with some other bachelor’s degree, but that’s not the norm.)

NP programs are graduate-level — they confer a master’s degree — so some schools also require applicants to take the GRE or other graduate pre-admission tests. Some schools do not.

Be aware that some NP programs require that you have completed certain prerequisite courses within the past three to five years. If that’s true of the program to which you’re applying, you might need to retake and pass one or more science classes before you even apply to the NP program.


• Apply to multiple schools. Unless you’re dead-set on a particular program, consider applying to several schools rather than just one or two. This is especially important if the programs in which you’re interested are very popular or if you’re on a tight timetable for your educational pursuits. Don’t put your plans on hold just because you didn’t get into your first-choice school.

• Turned down? Try again. If you don’t get into a program on your first go-around, don’t let that stop you from trying again the following year. Not getting in could just mean that the program had a lot of applicants, which raises the bar for admissions. The size and quality of the applicant pool often varies, so an application that didn’t quite make it this year might be a shoo-in next time around.

• Improve your chances. If you do need to wait and try again, use that time to make yourself a stronger candidate. For example, if you know you need to retake a prerequisite, go ahead and do it now even if the program you want doesn’t require it.
the admissions view

Working Nurse spoke with three different graduate NP programs in Southern California to gain additional insights about the application process and what criteria schools use for their admission decisions.


What are you looking for in NP applicants?

Susan Tiso, DNP, FNP-BC

Clinical Professor, Nursing Science, and Associate Director, M.S./Nurse Practitioner Program
University of California, Irvine, Program in Nursing Science

We like to see applicants with a background in areas of nursing that require them to make independent decisions and utilize critical thinking skills. We also look at various other elements such as an applicant’s work experience (both the type and the length); their GPA; their letters of recommendation; if they’ve served in any professional organizations or hospital committees; if they’ve received awards; if they’ve had any articles published in scholarly journals or other health-related publications; if they’ve done any public speaking or have given classes about health in the community; and if they have any specialty certifications.

Janet Mentes, APRN, Ph.D., BC, FGSA, FAAN
Section Chair, Acute and Chronic Health Sciences
UCLA School of Nursing

In general, we’re looking for people who understand the role of an NP. Many applicants have worked in tertiary facilities and may be great bedside nurses, but the transition into the role of an NP can be a big hurdle for many students. The advanced practice role requires a different mindset: As an NP, you have total responsibility for the patient; you are writing the orders, not just implementing them.

Ron Norby, BSN, MN
Assistant Director, School of Nursing, and Director, Graduate Program
California State University, Long Beach

We are looking for a well-rounded individual: someone who has done well in their undergraduate program; has functioned as a nurse and has done well; and whose letters of reference reflect someone who is respected for their expertise, abilities and professionalism. Of course, applicants must meet our prerequisite requirements and have a 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate studies. Right now, we also require a score of 4.0 on the English writing (analytical portion) of the GRE. Applicants must hold an unrestricted California nursing license.


Do both work experience and GPA carry equal weight?

Tiso – UCI

We require that our applicants have a minimum of one year of full-time nursing (RN) experience. We prefer they have three to 10 years of RN experience.

We also look at the type of work experience. We consider RNs from a variety of backgrounds, but applicants that tend to do better are those with work experience in the ER, ICU or public health. We generally find that nurses with experience in these areas have a higher comfort level in independent decision-making — a necessary skill for success as an NP student and a practicing NP.

We also look at GPA; we value a strong academic background. The last two years of your BSN program — your upper-division nursing classes — carry more weight than lower-division grades.

Mentes – UCLA
We don’t mandate work experience and we look for a diverse body of candidates. We give equal weight to GPA, the personal statement and the applicant’s experience. However, most of our applicants have two to five years of experience. The students who typically do well in our program have a few years of experience as an RN.

Norby – CSULB

We don’t require work experience, but obviously, without it, the letters of reference will be pretty thin, so it is considered. GPA is important because it suggests that the individual has the discipline to undertake collegiate study and do well. Starting this year, we will also be interviewing all potential students and having them work with other applicants to complete a group exercise in order to evaluate their communication skills, critical thinking and ability to function on a team.

So, in reality, all these factors are important: GPA, GRE, prerequisites, application, essay, letters of reference and interview. While we use a rubric to score these things and some are weighted more heavily than others, doing very poorly in a particular area might impact a potential student’s competitiveness.


What key elements do you look for in an applicant’s personal statement/essay?

Tiso – UCI

We look for appropriately structured sentences, proper grammar and correct spelling. Also, the statement needs to be organized, well thought out and illustrate the trajectory the applicant wants to take with their career as an NP and why. For instance, if your father had prostate cancer and was cared for by a great NP and that inspired you to become an NP and go into men’s health, let us know that.

Mentes – UCLA

The key is to know what you are applying for, understand the role and let that guide you in writing your personal statement. I want to see if the applicant understands the role of an NP and what they want to do with their advanced degree. Why did they choose their particular specialty?

For instance, if they have a background as a pediatric RN, but are now applying for an adult/gerontology NP program (which provides care for patients 18 years of age and up), what prompted the switch? In what areas do they want to work once they have their degree? What are their goals with regard to the NP role? How well does the applicant talk about their strengths and how they wish to build upon them in the NP role?

Norby – CSULB

The essay is important because there is a lot of scholarly writing in our program. When we assess the essay, we look at how well applicants write, including their ability to succinctly and logically present ideas, the overall flow of the essay and the grammar. We particularly look at the details they present, how they talk about themselves, their vision of the nursing profession and what they think they can contribute as an NP.


Do you have any other advice for prospective NP students?

Tiso – UCI

It is helpful for students to have their lives in order prior to beginning an NP program. School is a challenge and requires a huge commitment of time and flexibility with your schedule. Organize your life as best as you can before you start, from personal finances to family obligations — it will help to make the transition into school a bit smoother.

Remember to submit an up-to-date C.V. that highlights any awards and leadership roles you’ve had, such as being chosen as employee of the month or serving on a committee at your facility. We like to see applicants who have taken on leadership positions rather than someone who simply works their shift and then goes home.

Also, remember that your letters of recommendation are important. If someone writes a lukewarm letter, that’s a red flag. Think carefully about whom you choose as your references.

If you have questions about our application process, you can always check out the Nursing Science Program website ( or contact Student Affairs. Faculty are also happy to meet prospective students and answer questions.

Mentes – UCLA

Understanding the role of a nurse practitioner as well as the specialty is very important. Also, prior to applying, applicants are strongly encouraged to attend one of the information sessions offered by the UCLA Student Affairs Office. These sessions provide general information about the application process, so if you have questions, they can usually be answered. Faculty members from each specialty program are present at these info sessions and can provide students with valuable insights into the various specialties prior to applying. Applicants can also visit the admissions section of the School of Nursing website,

Norby – CSULB

Do the homework before applying. Clearly understand what you are seeking and the role as it exists in the reality of practice.

Speak with nurse practitioners who have been around for a while in the specialty that interests you. Find out what they do, the patient populations they serve and what the work actually entails. Talk to them about work/life balance and see what they would do differently.

Look carefully at the curriculum for the program, the content that will be presented, the credit units, the ability to work while going to school and how your life might need to change if you enter the program. You will have heavy-duty work ahead of you with school and studies; this requires a lot of time. Understand that you will be sacrificing time with your family and for other activities.

Don’t apply for the wrong specialty just because someone tells you that it will be more marketable. There are many good jobs out there, so don’t undertake the family nurse practitioner program if your passion is caring for children. Instead, apply for the pediatric NP program.

Take the time to carefully complete the application, check your work and present yourself in the best possible light. Also, get the prerequisites out of the way before you apply.

Make sure your references are from solid, professional people who know your expertise and passion. Letters from friends or your pastor are not viewed as positively as a letter from someone that you have worked with intimately who can speak to your specific nursing accomplishments.

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