Attracting and Advertising to Nursing Students

Nursing school admissions continue to grow more competitive despite challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, and this competition can be felt by nursing students and schools alike.

As a growing number of baby boomers retire, younger people — those making up millennials and Generation Z — are actively choosing nursing careers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects registered nurse jobs will grow 6% through 2031, and with that growth comes greater numbers of nursing students. While this job outlook appears promising, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unforeseen challenges for both students and recruiters.

A current shortage of nurse faculty and availability of certain resources, such as clinical placement options, have forced schools to limit admissions of students in nursing programs. This has created a dilemma where the amount of nursing student applications is outnumbering the allotted seats in a program.

In a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 91,938 qualified applications were declined at nursing schools nationwide in 2021. This shows there is a pool of candidates for these programs but not enough seats to accommodate them, creating tighter competition than before.

When faced with challenges like these, it’s still important to highlight what sets your school’s program above the rest to prospective students. By engaging and advertising to these candidates, you can identify a diverse population of students who will bring their own unique perspectives to your program.

Recognizing diversity in nursing school applicants

Applications can arrive in large numbers, and you probably have many different student nurses to interview. But are you attracting a diverse group of candidates?

Students’ ages and backgrounds are different — they speak different languages and have different beliefs, practices, and values. They may be just out of high school or starting a second career, and it’s up to you to create advertising that reaches as many of them as possible.

Technology has advanced in the last decade, and if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s how useful and beneficial technology can be. Applicants don’t want to communicate through a fax machine or physical mail, so ensure your intake process is as responsive, hands on, and personalized with email, virtual or face-to-face events, and social media outreach.

Another AACN survey revealed that graduates with Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees or entry-level Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees had nearly equal percentages of job offer rates at graduation (75% for BSN students and 76% for MSN students). The survey further explored the percentages by U.S. region, highlighting slight differences in certain regions.

Seventy-eight percent of BSN and MSN students in the Midwest received job offers at graduation compared to 84% of BSN and 78% of MSN graduates in the South. These results highlight the diversity in physical location, especially with degree types.

However, diversity doesn’t stop at the state or territory in which students live. You’ll find distinctions in students’ skill sets and experiences. For example, students who are re-entering the workforce have nursing skills but also goals and additional direction and focus.

Accelerated second-degree BSN program applicants can add dimension to class discussions by sharing their experiences. As these diverse student populations advance their education, they will help move the profession forward.

Your role as a recruiter for nursing students

Some nurses consider education more of a lifetime pursuit than just a degree or license. Many are moving beyond associate and bachelor’s degrees to master’s and doctorates, increasing the demand on colleges and universities.

As a nursing student recruiter, you work hard to market and advertise your programs to recruit and retain the most qualified students. You consider every detail of each candidate from their extracurricular activities and work experience to languages spoken and professional affiliations or memberships.

You take steps to welcome students and accommodate them throughout the program. For example, you may work with faculty on something special to present during National Nurses Week — something that celebrates the diversity of your student population. You plan this in advance and advertise or share it in a newsletter for other nursing professionals to see.

Nurses — future and current — want to be recognized that they’re not only students but also people with other lives at home and at their workplaces. So if one of their facilities receives a Joint Commission accreditation, achieves Magnet® status, or receives a DAISY Award, celebrate that achievement and share it with faculty and other students.

10 questions to help you better target your advertising

  1. Is your advertising fully promoting the strengths of your school, faculty, and programs?
  2. Are your school’s name and brand strong and well known, and are your logo and tagline recognizable?
  3. Do your marketing statistics show that you’re attracting the brightest and best applicants?
  4. Are your advertising campaigns reaching the broadest nursing audience possible?
  5. Does your advertising tell nurses why they should choose and apply to your degree programs?
  6. Would applicants rate your current application process as user friendly and personal?
  7. Is your social media program broad and diverse enough to draw from all prospective students?
  8. Is your website user friendly and does it give applicants all the information they need?
  9. Are your applicants aware of the accreditation your school and programs have received?
  10. Do you use various media types to tell prospective students about your school and program?


You work hard to be the school and program with the best reputation because you know applicants want to be a part of well-known and esteemed programs. Embracing diversity in student populations and highlighting the ways your school’s nursing program stands out in advertising will not only allow you to reach more applicants but build stronger ties with your future nursing students.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2019 and has been updated with new content.