Graduation. It’s the moment that all nursing students look forward to, but what happens after this highly anticipated day? A lot of what happens next depends on how well you prepared during your last semester.

Here are a few tips to help guide you.

  1. Apply for licensure with your state’s Board of Nursing and register for the NCLEX exam with Pearson VUE.

In order to be eligible to take the NCLEX after you graduate from nursing school, you must apply for licensure/registration with your state’s Board of Nursing/regulatory body, as well as register to take the NCLEX exam with Pearson VUE. The cost of applying for licensure and Pearson VUE registration varies from state to state. Be sure to set aside several hundred dollars for this purpose. It also takes some time for your registration to process, so plan ahead and talk to your instructors about how far in advance they recommend applying for your specific state.

For more information on this process, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website here.

  1. Start applying for jobs.

If you are hoping to have a job soon after graduation, you will need to start applying 3-4 months prior to graduating. It may seem counterintuitive to apply for a nursing job before you have your license, but it can take a while for your applications to be considered. Human Resource departments receive vast numbers of applications, and it can take them several weeks to work their way through them before deciding who to interview. Having a job lined up that is contingent upon passing the NCLEX helps relieve the stress of having to job hunt while you are studying. 

  1. Prepare for job interviews.

It is very important to prepare for your job interviews so that you can impress future employers and stand out from the crowd. You can do this by polishing up your resume and lining up your references during your last semester.  It’s also helpful to write a strong cover letter that can be tailored to each position you apply for. Take several copies of your resume, cover letter, and references to each interview.

Another major way to impress employers is by looking professional. Invest in a nice suit jacket and slacks or a skirt. This will help you feel confident going into the interview so you make a great first impression.

Be prepared for the questions that the interviewers will ask you by making a list of possible questions and having several detailed stories ready that you can use to illustrate your answers. Practice these with a friend beforehand so that you can become comfortable talking about yourself under pressure.

  1. Sign up for an NCLEX review course.

One of the best ways to begin studying for the NCLEX is to take a review course. There are several types of review courses. Some classes are purely online, while others are in-person, lecture-based classes. Think about your learning style and pick a class that fits with the way you like to study.

The focus of each class will also vary. Some classes will be strategy-based, meaning that they will teach you how to answer NCLEX-style questions. Other classes will be content-based, meaning that they will give you the basic foundation of knowledge that you will need to have in order to pass the NCLEX. To decide which one is right for you, think about why you typically miss a sample NCLEX question. Is it because you don’t know the information needed to answer the question? Or is it because you don’t understand what the question is asking and how to answer it with the best response? Think about the primary reason for your mistakes and choose the type of review class accordingly.

  1. Make a study plan.

Much of your time following graduation will be spent studying for the NCLEX. It is important to make a study plan so that you can use your time efficiently. Set aside a chunk of time each day to sit down and study. There isn’t a magic amount of studying that will help you pass the NCLEX, because each person is different. Some people will only need to study 1-2 hours a day, while others may need to study 4-5 hours a day.

It’s a good idea to pick a topic or focus for each day. One day you may work on memorizing lab values, while the next day you may focus on answering questions about psych patients. Picking a focus for the day will help to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Celebrate!

Don’t forget that graduating from nursing school is a HUGE accomplishment, so be sure to celebrate! Give yourself a couple of days to relax and spend time with friends and family. It is really important not to jump right into studying for the NCLEX because you may burn out quickly.

Sarah Cruzan

Sarah Cruzan is a BSN nursing student at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. She has a previous BA from Ohio State University in anthropology. She is passionate about women's health and hopes to get a job on a labor and delivery unit one day.

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