Small class sizes fuel nursing program’s competitive nature

By Rachel Cross | 1/30/13 2:02pm


GVL / Archive
Student nurse Ashlee Olsen checks out a patient in the Health Services Building.

by GVL Archives / Grand Valley Lanthorn

Grand Valley State University’s Kirkhof College of Nursing program is competitive. So competitive, that junior nursing major Julie Johnston said she didn’t get into the program until the second time she applied.

“When I found out I didn’t get in the first time, I chose to redo classes as a backup plan to get better grades,” Johnston said.

Prerequisite courses are tough, and students in the courses are so focused on the end-goal that Johnston said it can be isolating at times.

“While trying to get into the program, you’re competing with everyone in your classes,” Johnston said. “I was on my own.”

When she applied for the second time, she said she was more motivated because of the costs associated with an additional semester, and a drive to stay on track for graduation and future career plans.

“The reward of being accepted is being in the GVSU nursing program itself,” Johnston said. “GVSU has a huge and great nursing program and I enjoy getting to know the people that are in my cohort. I felt like I knew more information after taking classes the second time. I wasn’t as stressed and was able to form relationships with the well-rounded and intelligent group of students I was with.”

Elaine Van Doren, associate dean for undergraduate programs, said the highly competitive nature of getting into nursing programs is a national problem.

“One of the important things to know (about nursing programs) is that they don’t have enough openings for every student who wants to go into nursing,” Van Doren said. “In late 2012, The American Association for Colleges of Nursing came up with statistics that over 52,000 qualified students were turned away from nursing schools.”

Kristin Norton, director of the Office of Student Services, said the program admits its traditional 80 students per year for both fall and winter semesters, and students must have a minimum overall GPA of 3.0 with at least a ‘C’ in seven prerequisite courses to be eligible for admission.

She said 65 percent of an applicant’s admission score is based on their overall GPA in the seven prerequisite courses, and 30 percent of the score is based on the interview score.

The interview score is the average of two scores given by interviewers from a 15 minute session. In addition, the laker score, which is based on the number of credits the student has earned from GVSU, can have 5 percent added to their total score. The total amount of all three numbers is used to decide the applicant’s admission.

Van Doren said many people wonder why the nursing program doesn’t have larger classes so the program can take more students.

“There are two factors on why we don’t have larger classes,” Van Doren said. “There are limitations on faculty, who are retiring every day. The second part of the issue enters into not enough clinical sites to take more students.”

Of the 80 admitted students, eight students are placed in one group, totaling out to be an amount of 10 different groups, so finding clinical sites to place them in can be challenging, she said.

Norton said there are a few crucial steps that nursing students must take in order to increase their likelihood of getting into the program.

“Take advantage of your advisers,” Norton said. “Make the initiative to begin having conversations with your adviser to be aware of proper course selections. We have a catchphrase (at Kirkhof College of Nursing) that is: ‘It begins here. It starts now.’ It’s important to hit the ground running and to make sure that you’re living up to your potential at the earliest possible time.”

For future advice for students who are discouraged about not being accepted into the nursing program, Van Doren offered some insight.

“A lot of students who go into nursing don’t know of any other health care fields,” Van Doren said. “There are other ways to help and care for people in the health care profession besides nursing. Every once in a while student nursing programs aren’t for someone, and we try to minimize this.”
Norton added that the nursing school at GVSU is constantly having conversations with students who have to reapply for admission.

“We have something called parallel planning where advisers can meet with students to talk about what happens next, how students can plan to progress and graduate from the university,” Norton said. “A wide net depends on where the student needs support, it’s not an uncommon issue to have to reapply more than once; parallel planning can make sure that students achieve their academic goals.”

The nursing school applications for GVSU students go live Feb. 1 on the Kirkhof College of Nursing website, and will be available until March 1.

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