You can't get in to pre-nursing. Now what?

Best practice from the Academic Affairs Forum

Nearly every campus has one or more academic programs that have more applicants than their capacity or selectivity can accommodate. Nursing is the most well-known example of these so-called “impacted” majors, though many arts and performance fields fall into this pattern as well.

Students who matriculate with the intention of entering these programs often struggle to recover when denied admission, leading them to transfer to an institution that might afford them a second chance, or to another field less aligned with their interests and prior course work.

The University of Missouri developed a solution to address growing pre-nursing enrollment that has met with great success: a broader health science major.

The most important feature of this new program was the assurance of overlapping major requirements, which provide students with a strict pre-nursing credit portfolio and the ability to switch seamlessly into the new program without falling behind on their path to graduation or having to unnecessarily repeat courses.

Even when moving between STEM majors, students are frequently forced to take department-specific versions of statistical methods, calculus, or anatomy. By building this program specifically with major-switching in mind, faculty were able to assuage any curricular fears students might have when considering options outside of nursing.

Administrators were pleased to encounter unanticipated student demand for the major; it grew from a few hundred enrollees in 2006 to nearly 1,200 students as of spring 2014.

Now among the university’s fastest growing majors, the health science program has become much more than a second-choice alternative for pre-nursing students. Given the need for capable health care professionals in the ever-evolving medical sector, students with general interest in the health industry now actively pursue this option to prepare for graduate programs in public health and careers in health care management, pharmaceuticals, and therapy.

Securing faculty interest, administrative approval, and student interest in macro majors designed to augment a more narrow discipline requires diligent planning and careful messaging. If the program is perceived as lacking in rigor or viable pathways to graduate programs or careers, it will be severely hamstrung from the beginning.

Program leaders cited the following keys to demonstrating both the legitimacy and professional returns associated with the new program: first, building the curriculum on strong foundations linked to top faculty and emphasizing the value of pursuing coursework outside of a narrowly focused discipline. And second, securing the support and endorsement of industry organizations and prospective employers, who were consulted in the creation of the program as well.

Students whose paths take them away from their original plans—whether in the performing arts, applied sciences, or other limited-capacity fields—need to be reminded of both the breadth of careers within their range of interest, and the extent to which skills, professional roles, and sub-fields are likely to shift during their career. The foundation provided by pre-professional macro majors provides not only a chance at graduation for students who otherwise might have withdrawn from attendance, but also a promising pathway to success that aligns with their passions.

Academic Affairs Forum members: See 9 more best practices for improving retention


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