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Perfecting your nursing application

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Nursing and Midwifery are one of the top five most popular course destinations, here’s how to make your application stand out from the crowd

The nature of caring and supporting others is hugely appealing for many people and seen as a valuable and worthwhile career choice. This, together with the attraction of course fees paid for by the NHS and a means tested bursary, mean that Admissions tutors will continue to be very busy people.

For many applicants seeking to enter the nursing or midwifery professions, the whole process of application can be fraught with anxiety and stress, especially with highly popular and therefore very competitive routes such as child health nursing or midwifery. How then, do you strive to make sure that your application form stands out from all the other hundreds that are received? In my experience, most candidates don’t submit a ‘bad’ application, rather one that has either been done in a hurry or clearly demonstrates that the candidate hasn’t done their homework first. The following tips for success should therefore be both relevant and useful.

1. Ensure that you’re applying for the right course

This is a common mistake and can be a costly one. If you really enjoy working with babies, then midwifery is not the career for you! Consider instead child health nursing, or adult nursing with a view to completing an additional Health Visitor’s course once you’re qualified. Thorough research before you get to the stage of actually writing the dreaded personal statement will go a long way to ensuring that you seek entry into the right profession. This is very important within nursing as each Field of Practice is distinctly different and you must  clearly signal that you understand the distinction between adult nursing needs and adult mental health nursing needs, for example. Submitting a generic application for all of the Fields of Practice because you’re not sure what you want to do therefore just won’t work and wastes everybody’s time.  How do you find out what’s so different about nursing and midwifery? Seeking care experience is one excellent starting point, as is thorough and appropriate research, e.g. the Department of Health’s website is appropriate, Holby City isn’t; the Royal College of Midwives web site is appropriate, One Born every Minute isn’t. Links to useful and appropriate resources are provided at the end of this article.

2. Be clear about your motivation

Many people apply to a nursing or midwifery course because of their own experiences of being consumers of the professions. Admiring the care and professionalism of the mental health nurses who care for your mother with advanced dementia, or experiencing the skills of a midwife during your own pregnancy can be powerful magnets. There is nothing wrong with being inspired like this, but be very careful indeed when applying this experience to your personal statement, or exclude it completely. Admissions tutors will be looking for evidence of your suitability to join a nursing or midwifery degree programme through a clearly stated and objective motivation. A detailed account of your own experiences is highly unlikely to demonstrate that you appreciate the uniqueness of the experience of dementia or childbirth. Not everyone possesses the skills required to function effectively as a nurse or midwife in the 21st Century, so be honest and ask yourself ‘why do I want to be a nurse/midwife?’ Sometimes, this process can illuminate the fact that you actually don’t want to be a nurse or midwife at all – perhaps an early years professional, or counsellor instead. 

3. Identify and evidence your key skills

Candidates have mixed success with this aspect of their personal statement and tend to describe the skills they have without providing any evidence. Rather than just write a long list, try instead to identify some of the key skills of a nurse or midwife and then relate them to your own experiences to date. So, you might consider communication, caring and compassion to be very important skills for a nurse to have. On paper, you must now support these attributes with the relevant experience that you’ve acquired to date, for example volunteering in a residential home for adults with learning difficulties, or being a peer supporter at school. For the sake of objectivity, it’s best not to include your personal experiences of caring for relatives.

4. Write it properly

Approach the writing of the personal statement with the same attention to detail as a formal assessment at college. This means:

  • Don’t use’ text speak’, or other inappropriate language in any written material that you submit as part of the application process, including email. Remember that all these things are read by professional people who expect certain standards and who are on the lookout for candidates who understand the nature of a professional occupation. If you haven’t done so already, download the NMC ‘Code’ and this will illuminate what those standards are.
  • Seek an objective person to read your personal statement, proof reading it for spelling mistakes and clarity of expression. This is probably best not to be a friend or someone in your family as these people love you and will find it hard to be completely honest. Try instead your college tutor, careers officer or adviser at Connexions.
  • Avoid words that imply a value or judgement. Common culprits include ‘beautiful’, ‘miracle’ and ‘life changing’. Try instead ‘significant’, ‘important’ or ‘eventful’. The experience of childbirth may have been ‘beautiful’ for you, but not necessarily for other women.

Finally, remember that for some applicants it takes 2 or 3 attempts to be shortlisted as competition for places at some universities will be very intense. If you don’t succeed at the first attempt, don’t give up and good luck!

Sarah Snow is a senior lecturer & admissions tutor, Midwifery and Allied Health Sciences at the University of Worcester. Sarah is the author of ‘Get into Nursing & Midwifery’.

There is a 20% discount on Sarah’s book for Nursing Times readers. Visit to claim your discount.


Inspired? Find out more about applying for a nursing course, and what it’s like when you start, on Student Nursing Times


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