When preparing to apply to a graduate nursing program, there are many requirements and submission guidelines to remember. The component that allows you to tell your unique story — your personal statement — is one of the most important.
Writing a compelling personal statement for an MSN program, like the Nursing@Simmons online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program, takes time and can be challenging for some applicants. Just as a poorly written essay can hinder your chances of acceptance, a great one can set you apart from other applicants. Below are three steps to writing a personal statement that will make a positive impression on any admissions committee.
1. Plan Your Story
Very few people can sit down at a keyboard and craft the perfect personal statement without preparation. It may take several weeks of thinking about how to communicate your story, so give yourself plenty of time to plan, jot down thoughts, and make an outline as ideas come to you. Use the following tips to gather the information you’ll need to create an excellent statement.
- Consider how your work experience as a registered nurse (RN) has influenced you and shaped your goals for the future. How will an advanced education promote your professional growth and help you transition into the role of an FNP?
- Think beyond your resume. What traits, strengths, and accomplishments aren’t captured there? Consider your interests, including how they will contribute to your success in the program. Provide examples of nursing goals, leadership, mentorship, or growth you have accomplished or experienced. Write these down and keep them in mind as you begin your draft.
- Choose appropriate topics for your statement. Avoid soapbox issues, and don’t preach to your reader. This kind of statement can come across as condescending and obscure the point you’re trying to make.
- Research the program. Make sure you understand the school’s values and reputation. Do they align with yours? How so?
2. Create Your Draft
- When it is time to start putting your thoughts on paper, try to avoid overthinking your work. Strive for a natural voice. Pretend you are talking to a friend and write without fear — you can edit and polish your piece to perfection in the next stage.
- Avoid cliches and nursing generalities. Generic descriptors, such as “caring,” “compassionate,” “people person,” and “unique,” have been so often overused that they no longer carry much weight with an admissions committee. They also don’t address your personal experience in the nursing sphere. Try not to start your story with phrases like “for as long as I can remember” or your audience may stop reading.
- Show, don’t tell. Strong storytelling is grounded in personal details that illustrate who you are, both as a nurse and a person. Be specific by describing how many patients you managed, how you earned promotions, or a time when your supervisor praised your professionalism and clinical abilities. Here are examples that illustrate the difference between telling and showing:
“I perform well under pressure.”
“Although my patient arrived for a different ailment, I suspected that her symptoms were consistent with a serious infection. As a result, I was able to advocate for a care plan that prevented further damage.”
- Use specific examples when talking about your experience with direct patient care and evidence-based practice. Provide details about how your clinical experiences have demonstrated patient advocacy, leadership, communication, or confidence.
- Discuss how earning a Master of Science in Nursing aligns with your career plans and why you want to become a FNP. Explain that you understand the commitment required and that you have the skills and dedication to become an FNP. Be sure to let the admissions committee know why you are choosing their program and what makes their program stand apart from the rest. Reflect on the school and program research you did during your planning stage.
3. Edit and Perfect
Even the best writers have to edit and polish their work. Reviewing and revising your personal statement ensures that the piece is clear, organized, and free of errors.
- Once you have written your first draft, take a break and distance yourself from your work. This will allow you to return to the draft with a clear head to review objectively and spot potential issues and errors.
- Read your statement aloud. Does it sound like you? Does it reflect your best qualities and the strengths you’ll bring to a nursing program?
- Take great care to submit a statement that is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Even minor mistakes can make you look careless. Multiple errors could indicate to the admissions committee that you are disorganized or not taking the application process seriously. Here are some tools and tips to help you present a perfect piece of writing:
- Always use spell check on your essay, but be careful as it won’t catch every spelling error.
- Use a grammar editing tool, such as Grammarly.
- Ask a friend, family member, or mentor to review your statement. This is a great way to catch errors or awkward phrasing that you may have missed.
Your nursing personal statement should be a window into your life. Use it to share specific experiences that have influenced your decision to advance your nursing education. Adhering to professional standards and presenting yourself in a positive, open, and honest way will help the admissions committee determine your fit and future in an FNP program.
Admission to a nurse practitioner (NP) program is competitive. NP program class sizes are generally small and typically only admit between 10 to 15 students each year. However, interest in the programs are high. It is not unusual for an NP program to receive one hundred or more applications for those few slots.
Each program establishes minimum requirements that an applicant must meet to be considered for admission. NP program requirements will differ for each school, so be sure to check whether you meet the admission criteria before beginning the application process. Requirements usually include:
- Minimum GPA.
- Minimum amount of work experience as a registered nurse (RN).
- List of references who can speak directly to your skills and accomplishments.
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE) results.
Meeting the entrance requirements is only the first step. You will also be asked to write an admission essay and you may be called in for a personal interview. How you perform during the application process will determine whether you stand out from the crowd or fade into the background.
Here are three things that will help you demonstrate to the selection committee that you have what it takes to be a successful graduate student and future NP.
1. An Understanding of the NP Role
You should be comfortable describing the role of an NP in detail. You must speak articulately about the NP scope of practice and be able to intelligently discuss the state laws governing practice and the challenges facing the profession. Show that you understand that being an NP is about more than prescribing privileges. Do enough research that you know better than to say things such as “working under a physician” or “midlevel.” Using outdated language shows you didn’t do your homework and can jeopardize your application.
2. Leadership Experience
Your past clinical experience is important, but the role of the NP requires a very high level of autonomy and responsibility that goes beyond bedside nursing. Admissions committees are looking for examples of your leadership experience, something that indicates you have pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone.
What additional roles beyond staff nurse have you held? Have you chaired a committee or led a workgroup? The admission committee will want to see proof that you have grown over the course of your RN career and stepped up to take on higher-level duties and responsibilities. If you haven’t, then you might want to hold off on your application until you have gained some additional leadership experience.
3. Proof You Can Finish the Program
This is the unspoken elephant in the room. Grad school is hard and NP programs are rigorous. Admissions committees like to see evidence that you have done the planning and can navigate the financial and family stresses that go along with acceptance into an NP program. Schools are not a fan of students who do not successfully complete a program. You need to prove that you have put enough thought into how you will survive the two to four years it will take for you to finish the program.
Once your application is received, most universities use a system that assigns points to each individual requirement. The applicant is then ranked according to the total score. Your essay and interview is how you will show your true readiness for the next step in your career and thus will carry at least as much weight as your grades and experience. If you can speak clearly to the three points I have outlined, you will greatly increase your chances of admission.
See what job opportunities await once you finish your NP program.
About Renee Dahring, NP
Renee Dahring, NP, has worked as a family nurse practitioner in the prison and jail system since 2001. In addition to her clinical practice, she helped build and grow a successful staffing company in Minnesota and teaches nursing as adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota. Dahring also writes a blog with career and job search tips for Advance for NPs and PAs, and manages a website that offers career advice at NPCareerCoach.com.