FROM Sydney LakeAugust 19, 2022, 2:42 p.m
Registered nurses gather for a daily meeting at a nursing station at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, California, as seen in February 2021. (Photo: Ariana Drehsler—Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Among the highest paying and most in-demand occupations in the US is nursing, according to the career platform Indeed. In 2021, the national median salary for registered nurses (RN) was almost $78,000; that position requires only a bachelor’s degree, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports show. However, nurse practitioners who need a master’s degree to practice had median salaries of nearly $124,000 in 2021.
Master’s degrees in nursing are offered both online and in-person. However, online programs can provide nursing students with more flexibility to continue working while on their way to higher earning potential. However, the top-ranked programs do not accept everyone. Between ConditionThe 10 Best Online Masters in Nursing in the USA, acceptance rates range from 43% to 79%.
Students entering an online master’s in nursing program should be “academically strong and achievement-oriented,” says Jacqueline Dunbar-Jacob, dean and distinguished professor of nursing at the University of Pittsburgh condition, which ranks the school 6th in the country.
“We are interested in students who have exceeded the minimum requirements for their activities,” she says. “They demonstrate a willingness to learn and to be engaged.”
The best online nursing master’s programs in the US are not just looking for applicants to copy, but some of the common attributes include academic excellence, leadership potential and career drive. Condition spoke with officials from some of the top-ranked programs to find out what they look for in nursing school applicants.
Strong academic background
Not all nursing schools require applicants to submit test scores, such as the GRE, to apply to their online programs. In fact, none of the top five online nursing master’s programs (as considered by Condition) in the US require the submission of test results.
However, schools look at how applicants perform in their undergraduate nursing courses. Students accepted into the top 10 nursing programs in the U.S. averaged a 3.4 undergraduate GPA, according to data compiled by Condition.
However, many programs—like Rush University—take a holistic approach to the admissions process. Rather than focusing on specific aspects of their application, nurses should “make sure they’re ready for the rigors of the program,” says Fred Brown, program director of the No. 33 Rush-ranked MSN.
“We look at the applicant’s work history, their grades, test scores, personality, statements, etc.,” he says. “Just as important as what they’ve already done in their careers is just as important as what they hope to achieve.”
Prospective students should highlight their career goals during the application process and how this intersects with the specific focus of the program. At East Tennessee State University, ranked No. 9, online master’s degree nursing students study with intent to provide comprehensive care to rural, poor, socioeconomically disadvantaged and high-risk communities, ETSU staff Lisa Haddad and Bernita Armstrong say Condition.
This focus requires students “to have a passion for learning and helping others, and whose dedication and calling is to make life better for all people,” they explain. “We’re looking for leaders.”
Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh evaluates leadership potential by looking at activities that applicants have engaged in during their academic program or professional life. Admissions officers ask, “Have they taken on any leadership activities and been successful at them?” Other universities, such as Rush, even have programs aimed at nursing leadership.
“To be successful, Rush is looking for nurses who are interested in improving health care for patients and communities,” says Brown. “Having leadership skills [such as being a charge nurse] and experience working on a quality project are good qualities, but not necessarily required.”
Know your intention
Dunbar-Jacobs number one piece of advice for master’s degree nursing candidates, whether at Pitt or elsewhere? Know what you want to do with your degree and know your aspirations.
“This will help them take advantage of the opportunities that are presented during the master’s degree that will be exciting for them,” she says.
Nursing students also display these qualities throughout the program itself during quality improvement activities, Dunbar-Jacob explains.
“We want people who are curious about why things happen and have an interest in doing something about it,” she adds. “The other thing they need to know before entering a master’s program is that they will have a wide range of options available to them after they complete their degree, and they need to be prepared to stay the course.”
See how the schools you’re considering fare in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public healthand business analyticsas well as the best doctorate in education programs, and in absentia, executive, full work dayand online MBA programs.