Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Going To NP School

career advice Oct 24, 2023


The first thing I wish I knew was how to pick the right nurse practitioner school. There are a lot of options for nurse practitioner schools and knowing which one to choose can be overwhelming. One important consideration is to find a school where you will get the best bang for your buck. Remember, grad school is an expensive investment. It is going to cost you lots of money, energy, and time. It will also cost you peace of mind if you don’t do your research properly. Many schools are now requiring you to find your own preceptors, and this can be a tremendous challenge for students if you don’t have a strong network of reliable clinicians that will step up and precept you. You also want to consider where the school is and if you will attend online or at a brick and mortar. Some people may also make choices based on taking the GRE or going to a school where it is not required, but in my opinion, your school choice should not be based on a test you don’t want to study for, but rather a school that will support your goals.


The second thing I wish I knew was to apply for scholarships early on. There are so many scholarships out there, especially for minorities and/or women. It is 100% worth the time and hassle to save you tons of money in student debt and peace of mind later when starting your career. There are many sites you can search to see what scholarships are available. I knew a girl in my DNP program who was awarded a $25,000 veteran scholarship. She wasn’t even a veteran; however, she wrote a killer essay about her future goals to care for veteran patients. It takes a lot of time and organization to apply for scholarships, but there are many out there that you may qualify for and could win if you just invest a little time and effort. I won a scholarship in my last semester of DNP school after hearing about the girl who won the $25,000 scholarship. I ended up winning the scholarship and kicking myself because I wish I would have done it sooner.


The third thing I wish I knew was how to choose between the MSN and DNP. When I was looking at nurse practitioner schools, I had the DNP in the back of my head as the end goal. But I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it out the gate. So, I did a lot of research on schools that offered BS-MSN and BS-DNP and the timeline it would take to complete each. I personally chose the BS-DNP because the school I went to had a dual concentration in Adult Gerontology Primary Care and Oncology Nurse Practitioner. However, I know plenty of nurse practitioners who got their MSN first and got the DNP later. There are some advantages to this approach. I think the biggest advantage is getting career experience first and having the clinical component down before entering a leadership mindset.

In DNP school, they teach you how to refine your leadership skills and how to translate evidence or research into practice. Although these skills are used on your first day on the job, I think there is benefit to having NP experience and going into DNP school with a plan of what you want to do with your DNP. For me, I didn’t really know what I was getting into until I was actually immersed in the program. I ultimately loved what I got out of DNP school; however, it took me some time to figure it out.

So, when deciding which one is right for you - do some research on the school and the program to ensure you are getting a return on your investment.


The fourth thing I wish I would have known before going to nurse practitioner school was when and how to network. Networking is such a huge component to getting a job as a nurse practitioner that I wish someone would have told me how important it was before starting school. I recommend you begin your networking early in your educational journey. This means making friends with students, faculty, and preceptors. I also recommend showing up in clinicals prepared and as if it were a semester-long interview. You never know who is watching and you never know who will recommend you. You might think that the current clinic where you are precepting isn’t hiring, but the providers or staff there might know somebody that is. It’s all about developing relationships with those around you so that you can reach back around when the time is right.

Develop relationships with faculty who are in the prime position to help you. I had one of my faculty advisers reach out to me to see if I was interested in a position with an oncologist who was a longtime colleague of hers who was looking for an outstanding NP - and she told me she thought of me first. Is it because I was better than the rest of the students? Heck no! I just developed a great relationship with her, and she trusted in my ability to do a good job, so she reached out to me first. You just never know where your career will lead you, so building relationships and networks will be one of the best skills that will serve you time and time again throughout your career - trust me on this one!


And finally, the fifth thing I wish I would have known before going to NP school is to trust myself. I went into NP school full of worry and doubt. I had a young family and worried that I was going to miss so much. I worried about not being smart enough. I worried about timing. What would happen if I failed? What would happen if I couldn’t find a job? I feel like we all go through this at some time or another throughout our journey. But I wish I would have trusted in my abilities. I spent so much time worrying that if I would have just trusted in myself, NP school would have been a completely different experience for me. Of course, getting an advanced degree can be stressful when trying to combine that with a job and family commitments; however, remember that if you can graduate from nursing school, pass NCLEX, become a novice nurse and then an expert nurse - then you can do this! Nothing they teach in NP school is rocket science, it just takes a lot of investment on your part to get the most out of it - without the worry. Trust yourself and your abilities to figure it out.

Do you need a little extra guidance? We're here to help! Visit our website to learn more about all the ways The Clinician Life can help guide you in your advanced practice career.

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