If the coming fall season makes you think about someday returning to school or even getting a new certification, then it’s time to start planning how you can turn your thoughts into actions. There’s a lot to consider as you compare programs and courses that will boost your knowledge, move your career forward, and appeal to your interests.

Evaluate the best programs

Before you send in an application, be sure the school meets high educational standards. “Nurses should definitely look for an accredited program, either by the CCNE or ACEN (NLN), which ensures the quality and integrity of the program,” says Ayanna Lopez, Director of Academic Advising for Graduate Student Services at the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Nursing.

Find that work/life balance

Going to school takes a lot of time and is considered a financial investment in your future, so assess the resources and any available benefits you have to devote and plan accordingly. “I would recommend they find a program that aligns with their career goals and meets their personal needs,” says Lopez. “Oftentimes, graduate students are still working in their nursing careers and balancing a family. A program with full- or part-time options as well as online would provide flexibility and convenience.”  In addition, online programs may also be more affordable. For example, UCF’s online programs offer reduced tuition through fee waivers for some campus-based amenities.

Map your route

No matter what your level of education, you’ll find several options to reach your goal in your return to school. In some accelerated degree programs, RNs can pursue a graduate degree without a BSN. The same goes for some nurses who want to pursue a doctorate degree–there are accelerated programs that help them combine some MSN and DNP or PhD requirements so it takes less time to complete the degree. Even some prerequisite courses that nurses will need to complete for a degree program can be flexible. Those courses can often be taken before or during the course of studies. All those details will help you plan how long different programs will take and how much each will cost.

See also
Achieving Salary and Career Satisfaction

Know your expectations

Most nurses with advanced degrees will encourage others to strive for a higher level of education, but they also advise giving it careful thought. Nurses should do the work to understand their real motivation for wanting that additional degree. Is it for a promotion opportunity or to meet a personal goal? Are they looking for a salary increase and how would they view their efforts without a salary bump? “I would advise applicants to review the policies within their organization first to determine the best path for advancement,” says Lopez, “as some employers have policies about degrees required for promotion and salary increases.”

There’s a lot of information to consider when thinking of returning to school. With careful thought and planning, you can find the right program for you.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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