How To Get Into CRNA School On Your First Attempt Cover Photo

Getting accepted into a CRNA school on your first attempt is a huge achievement. It saves you a lot of time and gives you a powerful boost in self-confidence. To help you pull this off, Jenny Finnell presents eight simple steps that you can easily follow. She breaks down tips on keeping a good GPA, the importance of job shadowing in critical care, how to determine if you need graduate-level courses, and a lot more. Jenny also talks about the leadership skills you must possess and why you should never pursue success just by mimicking other people.

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How To Get Accepted Into CRNA School On Your First Attempt

How to get accepted into CRNA school on your first attempt? Better yet, it’s just eight steps. Go ahead and click subscribe. If you are a new follower, welcome to the show.

In this episode, I’m going to discuss eight things you can do to make sure that you get into CRNA school on your very first attempt. That’s what we all want. We all want to get in on our first attempt. I feel passionate about this, and I want to help you make that dream a reality. I have then consolidated the steps that you need to do to make sure this happens in eight steps.

Graduate From An Accredited BSN Program

Number one, this probably sounds pretty straightforward, but I want to make sure I cover it. It’s graduating from an accredited BSN Program. You can also have a Bachelor’s in Science with an ADN. That’s an awesome avenue. Keep in mind that if you have a Bachelor’s in Science with an ADN, not all schools will take that. The majority would, it seems to be at least half after all of my time researching this, but others require the actual BSN. You have to confirm this with your program.

The other thing about having a BSN is that you have to consider where it’s credited. All schools will have different accrediting bodies that they accept, but you have to confirm that your BSN is done through the accreditation body, whether it’s regionally or nationally. You have to confirm that it is happening in accordance with what your desired CRNA school requires.

I have had students who get a regionally accredited BSN but not nationally. It can cause all kinds of problems. Hopefully, I’m catching you early on in your CRNA journey. You can look into this ahead of time. For those of you who haven’t gone on to get your BSN yet, hopefully, this catches you in time. You have to consider where your ADN was from as well.

It seems to happen mostly with people getting their BSN versus their ADN, but either way, you have to be aware of what credentials embody your ADN and BSN. Whether it’s regionally, nationally or both, make sure you are verifying what your CRNA school program requires. If you can’t find it on your CRNA school’s website, you have to ask.

The safest is to make sure your school is both regionally and nationally accredited. That’s the safest bet when you are picking your BSN Program. The number one is making sure that you have your BSN or a Bachelor’s in Science with an ADN and checking the accreditation bodies with those degrees. The next thing that I want to discuss when it comes to this is the fact that if you already have an MSN, you can apply to CRNA School.

I’ve also had people get confused. They were like, “How do I go for my DNP with my BSN? Don’t I need my Master’s first?” No, you do not. This is a BSN to DNP program. You do not need your Master’s prior to your DNP. I hope no one does that. That would be awful if that happened. Occasionally, I have come across people who have asked me that question. I want to make sure I clarify it. I’m giving you a brief overview of these steps. If you want more details, there’s a little small eBook that has more details of each one of these steps that you can get, it’s free!

Keep Good Grades

Step number two is keeping good grades. I know this is a blanket statement. You are probably giving an eye roll. I get it. I feel you. Most schools have applicants with an average of 3.5. You may be getting discouraged by reading that but you shouldn’t be because that means half are above that GPA and half are below. If you take the fact that half the students have less than a 3.5, if you have less than a 3.5, you have a 50% chance.

I’ve seen 4.0 students get rejected. Just because you have good grades does not mean they are going to let you in. GPA isn’t everything. Applying to CRNA school is like a big puzzle. You have multiple puzzle pieces to you, and they are looking at all the pieces to see how they connect. Your grade is one aspect of that.

Please don’t define your self-worth, your success or who you are from your GPA alone. I made that mistake early on in my own nursing career and personal career. It puts you in a toxic mindset and a negative space. It’s not until you realize, “I have more to offer than just my grades.” Essentially, if you have a piece that maybe is less than ideal as far as GPA, it’s okay. You can make up for it.

Is it going to mean that you have a little bit more work to do than your coworker who doesn’t have a low GPA? Yes, it does mean that you are going to have a little more work to do but are you willing to do a little more work? I would say so. You are here, reading this show. Don’t compare yourself to someone else and think, “They have it much easier,” because they are going to have their own battles and their own things to do. Everyone is different and unique when it comes to applying to CRNA. You have to own you.

I heard my colleague CRNA and friend Haley Franck say that one of the hardest things she had to overcome when applying to CNA school was comparing herself to others and doubting her own abilities because she would see things in others that she didn’t have. That struck a chord with me because I feel like that’s such a common thing that I, myself, and you are facing looking at everyone else instead of looking inward at you.

The sooner you can start trying to change that focus, focus more on yourself, not so much on what other people are doing, and focusing on how you can be the best that you can be versus trying to do what someone else did, then you will flourish because you are going to own what you’ve accomplished and what your past is. It’s okay not to be perfect but what have you done about it? Trying to mimic someone else is not the truth. You are who you are. You need to own what you are all about. You are not like them. You shouldn’t try to be anyone else.

If you have less than a 3.5, your chances are not over. If you have less than a 3.0, you then have to say, “In sciences or overall?” That’s where a lot of people get stuck. They don’t understand how to break down their science and overall GPA. They end up thinking they are okay when they are not okay because their science GPA is lower than 3.0, even though their overall is higher than 3.0. You have to take your time and figure that out.

If you are a CSPA member, we have different tools that you can use to help calculate your GPA. It’s on the resource page, if you are already a member with us. Equally, you can book a transcript review with TeachRN if you want actual CRNA faculty to look at and review your transcripts. You can have that service as well if you need some extra help.

Ultimately, if you have a lower GPA, you are going to have some more work to do but it is still possible. You have to figure out what that extra work needs to be. You have to tailor it to the individual schools that you are applying to. You can’t assume because one school wants this, that all the rest schools are also going to want it, too. They may want this and that, then you have to start saying, “I can only do one or the other. Which one’s my top school? What do I have time to accomplish?” Go for that and see if that can work for both schools because I get it. Sometimes they are like, “You need this course.”

CRNA 92 | First Attempt
First Attempt: If your GPA is low, it is still possible to push through with your CRNA school application. You just need to figure out the extra work you need and tailor them to the school you are applying to.

You are like, “That’s $8,000 and a year of my life. That’s to apply to appease all three schools. That’s where you have to do some school research, know what your number one school is, go that way and see if the other schools can take something that other schools recommended. A lot of times, they will. If one school wants a BioChem and this school wants a Chemistry, see if they are willing to take a BioChem because that one other school wants a BioChem. They may be willing to accept BioChem instead of regular Chem but they may be like, “No, we need an organic chem.” If you don’t get an organic Chem, then that won’t count.

You have to engage what schools are willing because they know that you are probably trying to appease other programs as well. I don’t think any school would see taking additional courses as a negative. Would it be what their first choice was for that particular course for you? Maybe or maybe not but if your number one school wanted you to do it, then I think that’s the way you need to go and then try to do the best you can with all the other recommendations from the other programs that you are also going to be applying to.

Try your best to keep good grades. I know it’s much easier said than done. I get it. I see a lot of students who, early on in their nursing career path, were like, “Nursing isn’t it for me. I’m never going back to school. I never want to go back to grad school.” That’s a huge mistake because, unfortunately, you can close a lot of doors that way.

I’m not just speaking to CRNA. I’m speaking to grad school in general. Remember that 4.0 students get rejected. Just because you are 4.0 does not mean you are guaranteed a spot. I have many students who are like, “I don’t understand. I have a better GPA, more ICU experience, better GRE, and yet they got in.” “How have you honed your interview skills? Have you at least thought about that as potentially being a problem?” Usually, what ends up being the hiccup is that they need to practice their interview skills. Know that, just because you have more doesn’t mean you are going to be more successful.

All the puzzle pieces have to fit. The reality is that great students get rejected every year. Don’t beat yourself up if you face rejection. It doesn’t mean that you are not qualified or not able to become a CRNA. It may mean that you need to try to figure out for the next year and see what areas you may be slightly weaker on that you can improve, whether that’s your ICU experience, GRE Score, your interview skills or whatever it may be. There’s usually something in some area that you can do a little bit better on. Maybe it’s networking within the community more, going to more events, and things like that.

Get Critical Care Experience

Step number three is critical care experience. It is crucial. It’s hard to hone in on exactly what. Many people fall into this trap: “I work at a world-renowned hospital. That must mean they automatically know that I have the best.” Sometimes, they may know a name but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to write off someone else’s experience that doesn’t have work at a well-renowned hospital.

That being said, they do consider trauma level rankings because of this reason. If they don’t know the hospital, they don’t have another way to compare. If you are coming from a level one trauma where it is pretty high acuity most of the time, and then you are coming from a hospital that’s not ranked trauma at all, it’s like, “How do I know it is?” They have to take your word for it.

People are like, “Do I need level one?” No, you don’t need level one. Level 1, 2 or 3, if you are level 3 or no level at all, you have to be able to prove the acuity. If you are not at a level trauma center at all, through your resume, essay, or interview skills, you have to be able to prove that you have high acuity experience by having things like ECMO, CVVHD, and different advanced life support show them like, “They are maybe not at a ranked hospital but they do CRT so that must mean they are taking these critically sick patients.”

A woman sitting and listening to another woman who looks upset
First Attempt: If you do not have experience working at a level trauma center, you must prove in your resume and during the interview that you have high acuity experience.

Showing that can help. I took a locum job, and it’s at a regional hospital. It’s small but they have a CVICU. I have been over there a few times to do CTs. I can’t believe that’s an ICU because I’ve never seen anyone intubated and I’m like, “Wow.” People are in there with ice chips. There are people coming from the cath lab, STEMs, and things like that but that is not the ICU I was familiar with.

If you’re coming from ICU like that, it’s time to branch out and get a better experience. If you are seeing a critically sick patient, titrating vasoactive drips, and seeing routine ventilators, then that’s a great experience. You have to eye in on your experience. This is where it gets hard for me to advise you because I don’t want to make you leave a place or a unit you love.

I’m not trying to have it crush your dreams or whatever but seriously, what do you want? If you are in a cushy ICU position that’s not challenging, it’s time to look in the mirror and face the reality that it may be time to step out of your comfort zone and leave where you love to work to try to get a better experience so that you can get into a CRNA school. You can always risk it and try to apply with the experience you have but in your gut, if you know that this is probably not going to be a good enough experience to excel as an anesthesia resident in the interview process, it’s probably not. You got to listen to that gut instinct.

If you want to get into a CRNA school but you think you do not have good enough experience to excel, listen to your gut instinct and step out of your comfort zone. Click To Tweet

As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer but it’s the reality that you are faced with. I’ve had a student like, “Jenny, the closest level one is one hour away.” I’m like, “That stinks,” but I know students who are traveling an hour away to get that experience, and they are applying to CRNA school. When they look at two applicants, they say, “You both come from the same hometown. You work here at this regional hospital, that’s a very basic ICU; this person lives there too. They are traveling one hour away to go to this level one trauma center.” It’s clear that the person who’s willing to travel one hour away probably wants it more and is getting a better experience. That’s who they are going to interview. It’s the reality of it. Most CRNA schools have plenty of applicants who will have this experience. If you are not willing to leave to get that experience, you are not going to be able to put your best foot forward, and you may or may not be successful because of it.

I’m being real with you that you may have to travel to get the ICU experience you need to be successful in CRNA school. Let’s address it. Get it out in the open that there are some units that, I don’t know why are considered ICU but they are not. Those are the PAC-lab, cath lab, OR, or pre-op. That’s not ICU. You are going to be like, “I know somebody got in with cath lab experience.” “But did they have cath lab experience?”

That’s probably unlikely that they had cath lab experience. That being said, the NBCRNA studies where all these students get their ICU training and look at board passing rates compare what units they work in. Schools look at that because all the schools want is to keep their doors open, and to keep their doors open, they have to have a certain pass rate for each one of their cohorts or they don’t get reaccredited and close down.

They look at these things and the stats. Even though stats, sometimes you are like, “That’s not fair.” Stats are stats. It’s reality, and that’s all these schools sometimes have to go by. They may essentially judge you by your ICU experience based on a stat that tells them that students who work in the ER are usually less successful than someone who works in the CVICU, which is why I hear all the rage about CVICU. They tend to have high board passing rates but so do ICU and MICU.

PICU has been knocking everyone on their butts because they have also equally had high board passing rates. Don’t discredit yourself if you are a PICU nurse but also keep in mind that not all schools take PICU. Don’t get too far. Do your school research. Know what they consider. The other one last thing, I want to leave with you on step three, and there’s more to it, which is why this is a tough area that not all schools are the same: some schools will say “on an individual basis.” If you hear the phrase “individual basis”, it means it’s not preferred but they will consider it.

The question when you are picking and choosing what ICU experience you are going to have for CRNA school is, “Are you going to pick a non-preferred unit or a preferred unit?” My heart and soul are in NICU and PICU. I want to stay with the kids, as baby CRNA. I work at ped hospital. I love it. I love the babies and snuggling them. They are cute. Whatever I can cuddle on, I will. I love loving on the babies.

They are equally can be terrifying but that being said, I get it. There’s going to be a day and time when you can be a ped CRNA. The objective is to get into CRNA school. Think about that. There’s going to be plenty of time to snuggle the babies once you become a CRNA. Step three was a long one. There was a lot to cover.

Be A Leader

Step four essentially is being a leader. This can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I encourage you not to overthink it. Being a leader is picking what fuels your soul and going with it. This could mean being involved in different committees and volunteer activities, showing up at different conferences and events, precepting, and being a mentor and resource.

There are a lot of things this could mean. I volunteered in doing research when I was a nurse and attending my unit because I wanted to educate myself. I wanted to have something like that under my belt for the experience. That ended up being what set me apart. Find something that you are interested in and try to run with it.

Undergo Job Shadowing

Step number five is job shadowing. I can’t say enough that it’s important to start this early because it can be hard to find. We are in the process of trying to find shadow experiences for our community. It’s a big to do but we are doing it because I am tired of this being a roadblock. I’m done with it. I want to put it in the garbage can. I want to say, “Here’s a shadowing opportunity, right here. Come take it.” We are embarking on that now. Give us some time. We are hoping it’s ready by 2023. We are hoping and praying that we can make some progress in this venture.

You have to job shadow, not once when you are eighteen years old. Sometimes it’s all students get. Maybe in nursing school, and they never do it again. I don’t like that. If that’s all you have, that’s all you have. Most schools will require at least 1 experience or 8 hours, and sometimes they require 16 or 24 hours. All schools are different as far as whether they require a certain amount of hours or experiences, and whether they require or recommend it.

You know how I feel about recommendations. If you’ve read this blog enough, I know how you know I feel about recommendations. They are not recommendations. You need to do it. Anyhow, take that as what it’s worth. Job shadowing is important. Not only because you need it to apply or should have it even if it’s recommended but because it gives you much insight into this career path. I want to make sure you are making the right decision for you. I don’t want you to go to CRNA school and find out later that this is not what you thought it was and that you don’t like it. The only way to see what we go through is to physically see it.

Job shadowing is not only a requirement for a CRNA school admission. It also gives you a lot of insight into your chosen career path. Click To Tweet

We improvised in 2020 and 2021. We have a virtual simulation experience, which I still think is a good lead-in to your real shadow experience. We had students act out a real OR case. We had Mr. Wilson, who is a CSPA expert contributor, educate you on the different aspects of the anesthetic case.

When they ask you in the interview, “Tell me what you know about how to provide anesthesia. What does anesthesia mean to you?” you can have some knowledge and insight on explaining that to them. One thing you don’t want to say, and it came to mind because I’ve heard this at the faculty Q&A we did at the last conference we had, is the following.

They ask this question along the lines of, “Tell me how does anesthesia work?” or something like that. The student said, “Let me dumb it down for you.” Don’t do that. That is not what you want to say. That’s offensive as soon as that student said that. They try to give an explanation clearly. They didn’t know how to explain it in detail but essentially said, “It’s because you are dumb. I’m going to explain to you how it works from my basic viewpoint. They provide anesthesia.” He said that to a CRNA.

That sticks in my mind because I was like, “I can’t believe someone would say that.” It’s because you want to understand anesthesia. If they ask you, “Tell me how anesthesia works,” and if you shadowed 40 hours, you are going to know a lot of different things about that anesthesia. You are going to see a matte, spinal or epidural case. Maybe you will see something cool like a white cranny, for example, where they are freaking awake and have their skull cut open. That’s pretty cool. Don’t worry if you don’t get that experience because those are not super common.

There are many cool things that we do, regional blocks. To be able to see a variety of types of anesthetic cases, an open heart versus fistula and a ruptured AAA, a hip fracture, whatever it is, there’s a variety, and then it gives you good insight as to how anesthesia works because you are going to see it work in various ways. That’s job shadowing.

Get The Right GRE Score

Step number six is tackling the GRE and CCRN. I threw this in there as a combo because not all schools are going to require it. Some are only going to recommend it. In some, you only have to take the GRE if you have less than a certain GPA. When I said about recommendations, most schools are not going to recommend a GRE but they will recommend a CCRN. I do think that as long as you have the hours to take the test or to sit down for the test, you should be taking it.

I don’t think you need alphabet soup. Don’t go getting the CSC or CMC. Gobbledygook, if you have one additional certification, cool. That’s a high five. Stop. If that’s your jam, knock yourself out. If you do that and neglect other things on your application, that’s a huge mistake, in my opinion, because you don’t need alphabet soup to stand out. You need a solid package. Remember the puzzle piece? If one puzzle piece is giant and the rest are itty bitty, and they don’t fit, it’s not going to work.

Keep that in mind. Some of you are probably like, “I’m applying to schools that don’t require it.” That’s okay. You go with your bad self, and you do that. Some of you are like, “I don’t have a choice because the only school that is in my vicinity of where I’m willing to travel requires it,” or maybe 2 out of your 3 schools require it, then you are going to have to take it.

It’s getting to be such a weird test, to be honest with you. I feel like back when I applied, it was the requirement, and you hit that score or else. That was what you had to get, and if you didn’t get it, then you had to do it again or you couldn’t apply. I think some schools still feel that way or some schools are like, “No, the requirement is 300. If you can’t get a 300, you can’t apply.”

I have seen many schools bend with this requirement. This is the only requirement that I’ve seen schools bend a little bit. Keep in mind that if you don’t get the score you want, and I’m not saying, “If they require a 300 and you get 250, that’s going to count.” It’s not. If you get a 298 or something like that, they may still consider your application. That’s worth asking versus trying to retake it for a few more points when your school would consider you anyways. Keep in mind your GPA overall.

Many schools will slightly bend the requirement of having a 300 GRE Score to accept your application. If you don't get the score you want, look for a school that would consider you instead of retaking the test to gain a few more points. Click To Tweet

If it is not the highest GPA, if you still don’t meet the GRE requirement, you probably would try the GRE again because you are going to need something to buff that lower GPA, whether that’s the GRE, extra courses or whatever. Keep that in mind. CCRN enrolled that already. If you have the hours, you should take them. Don’t worry about getting alphabet soup. If you can get one more additional certification, that’s plenty to stand out for CRNA school, in my opinion. That was a big one for me.

Enroll In Graduate-Level Courses

We are getting close to the end. Number seven is graduate-level courses. This goes in line with the GPA but I’ve had 4.0 students tell me, “I have to do more.” I’m like, “You have to do less. You don’t necessarily have to do extra courses if you already have a great GPA.” Let me give you an example. In the school that I went to, there’s an Advanced Pathophysiology course. It was a graduate-level Advanced Pathophys. I didn’t know any better because I didn’t know anyone who gave me this tip.

If I had known the tip, I would’ve done the tip. That is the students who were local, the ones who knew the program well and talked to current students (you can get some insights by talking to current students) but what a lot of them would do is they would take this Advanced Pathophysiology course to help boost their application regardless of their GPA because this particular program preferred those students to get it out of the way prior to even starting their program.

The students who already had it done when they interviewed were like, “Bonus.” That’s awesome. You’ve got an A, even more, bonus proof that you can withstand a rigorous class like that. What’s nice is that if you take it prior to CRNA school, you are only focused on that one hard course versus several hard courses.

It’s a hard course but if you are only focused on that one course, you can give it your all. I see students who like, “I’m going to take five courses.” I’m like, “What?” or they are taking three courses and their CCRN and their GRE all at the same time. Are you crazy? They risk getting B, C, or for a bit, even worse, a D or an F, in a course because they are spreading themselves too thin. Don’t do that.

Consider graduate-level courses when you need them, but don’t take one just to take one. If you are a 4.0 student who already has maxed everything and you are going to take a course that won’t transfer into your school, you are essentially taking money and tossing it out the window. They are going to have their own pathophy they want you to take. You don’t need to take someone else’s pathophys. You already have a 4.0.

Anyone who has a 3.8 or higher, for the most part, you are going to find other ways to boost you application because their GPA is already solid. It’s a puzzle. All the puzzle pieces have to fit together nicely. If your GPA is the big puzzle piece and your leadership is the tiny one that doesn’t fit, get more leadership because your GPA is solid. You don’t need to add any more to that but maybe that’s where you feel comfortable because you have been a good student.

You are like, “I can do more. Here, because I’m good at this but I’m not good at doing committee stuff, and I don’t want to do that.” That’s exactly what you should be doing. Things that you don’t want to do usually in life are things that you should probably challenge yourself to do because it’s an area of weakness and an area that you can grow. Think about it that way.

Prepare Thoroughly For The Interview

Into the last step. Number eight is to prepare thoroughly for your interview. No surprise but this is in all seriousness. I see students apply to CRNA school thinking, “I’m not going to get asked to interview.” then they get asked to interview and freak out and are like, “Ah!” Sometimes these students literally have a week’s notice or less. I’ve had students who get called to interview the next day. They were like, “I got to call off work to come to this interview? I am not prepared,” because they didn’t think they were going to get asked.

If you are applying to CRNA school, you have to assume you are going to get asked for an interview. The other mistake I see people make is that they are juggling a lot of things, and I get it. You are but build in studying for the interview all along. From the time you decide CRNA is for you, you should make it a point to do little things.

If you do little things, you are not going to feel as overwhelmed trying to do everything all at once because a lot of you are taking courses, doing the GRE and the CCRN. That’s a lot. You try to cram in two hours of studying and the interview but the reality is a lot of you are faced with 2, 3 or 4-hour-plus days studying for the interview because you hadn’t been doing it all along.

If you had been doing it all along like the year leading up to applying to CRNA school, you may only have to spend half an hour or 45 minutes a day while you are actively preparing for the interview versus someone who didn’t, and now they are spending 4 or 5 an hour a day or something a week. Keep that in mind when you are on your CRNA journey. Prepare thoroughly. Another mistake I see people make is that they will prepare for what they think the interview style is or what questions they think they are going to get asked. That’s a huge mistake.

They can ask you anything first off. Don’t focus on the actual questions as much as you do the style, and practice a variety of those types of style questions. Know that they can throw you curve balls, and they change up their interview panel year to year most of the time. They tend to have favorite questions. They know students talk, and they are not going to ask, even the same person interviewed right before the next interview, because they know people talk and want to catch you off guard, so they can get real authentic answers from you.

A young healthcare professional speaking with another healthcare professional while they sit together at a table
First Attempt: Interviewers may change up panels every year to catch applicants off guard and get authentic answers from them.

My overall big picture advice for interview prep is to make sure you are very thorough. You are hitting the EQ questions, the pathophys, and the pharm. The worst case scenario is if you don’t get asked any pathophys, you are better off starting your program. Now you’ve buffered that knowledge base. I would never consider it a waste of time because they didn’t ask me any of those questions.

That’s not a waste of time. You still grow and learn from that experience, which is a win. That is my overall eight-step advice. If you want it in more detail, there’s a little mini eBook. It’s the eight steps I go into more detail in that guide you. It costs $9.99. I want to make sure I’m upfront and transparent about that. You can grab that eBook here. Thank you for reading. I appreciate you. We will see you in the next episode.

Important Links


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