Ask Erin: “What are the most important things in choosing a NP program?”

Last week, I received a question from Abbey, an aspiring nurse practitioner in the process of selecting a school. Abbey’s question is one I commonly receive so I thought it worthy of a reply in this week’s ‘Ask Erin’ column. If you are applying to nurse practitioner programs and weighing your options when it comes to your NP education, check out our correspondence.

Abbey asks:

Hi Erin, 

I follow ThriveAP pretty religiously and I love it! I’ve applied to NP school and was accepted to two different programs (Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, IA and Clarkson College in Omaha, NE). I’m struggling to decide which to attend. What are the most important things to look for in a school? How do I decide?! 


Great questions, Abbey! Selecting a nurse practitioner program is a major decision. There are five main criteria I suggest prospective NP students take into account when choosing an NP program. 

1. Cost

Even if you are able to secure substantial assistance paying for your program through student loans, you will eventually have to repay your educational expenses. Consider how long this will take and how much debt you will be responsible for upon graduation. Which program is more affordable? While the cheapest program isn’t always the best option, future debt is certainly something worth considering.

2. Program Offerings and Flexibility

Do your programs of interest both offer the specialty in which you are most interested? How flexible are these programs? Are they offered online or on-campus? Fitting a nurse practitioner education into an otherwise busy work, family and social schedule isn’t easy. If you have special considerations related to scheduling, look practically at how each prospective program will fit into your life.

3. Post-Graduation Employment Rate

Once you complete your nurse practitioner education, you’ll want to find a job. Begin your program with the end in mind. Ask faculty at your schools of interest what percentage of graduates find jobs as nurse practitioners within a few months of graduation. While this can be a reflection of the local job market rather than the school’s quality, it certainly helps in your decision-making.

4. Certification Exam Success

Upon graduation from your nurse practitioner program, you will need to take the ‘boards’, or national NP certification exam. Inquire as to the percentage of NP graduates from your prospective programs who pass the certification exam on their first attempt. This will help you determine which program will prepare you best for passing this all-important test.

5. Clinical Placement Coordination

Securing a preceptor to teach you during your nurse practitioner clinical rotations can be very, very difficult. In some cases, it may even delay graduation from your program. Ask your schools of interest if they offer assistance in setting up clinical placements. Some schools may take care of this hassle completely. Others offer little help. Choose a school that promises prompt placement in clinical sites so that you don’t find yourself a perpetual NP student.

Unfortunately, Abbey, I do not have any personal experiences with Briar Cliff University or Clarkson College. Can any readers help out?! Have you had any positive or negative experiences with either of these NP programs?


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