6 Must-Do Strategies For Recruiting Nursing Students

OHO Interactive survey data gives insight into what college and university nursing programs need to do to recruit prospective nursing students.

In 2022, nursing programs across the U.S. realized a 3.3% increase to entry-level baccalaureate programs. This increase was welcome news since employers and professional associations worried that “the pandemic might discourage career seekers from entering the profession.”

However, it was not all good news for enrollment trends according to a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN):

  • RN-to-BSN program enrollments declined 9.6%
  • Master's nursing programs declined for the first time in 20 years – down 3.8%
  • DNP programs saw a slight dip and a definite decline

AACN contends that demand for nursing programs remains strong, but schools should take efforts to ensure that they are positioning their programs to appeal to a wider pool of prospects.

The Prospective Nursing Student Journey

As colleges and universities invest in marketing new programs, particularly RN to Bachelor's degree programs, it’s important for them to understand the unique customer journey for a prospective nursing student. Our online survey of current and admitted nursing students dug into their preferences, priorities, concerns, and motivations when researching and selecting a nursing program. The following data is based on responses from high school students accepted to nursing programs and current undergraduate nursing students.

How Prospective Nursing Students Research Nursing Programs?

The most popular method for gathering information about nursing programs is through the school’s website; 78% of respondents rank the website as the “most helpful” resource. The second most valuable resource – speaking with admissions – was ranked most helpful by only 35% of respondents. Our research reveals that conversations are extremely important for prospective nursing students during their research. They rank speaking with admissions, alumni, and current students very highly.

Key Insight: Prospective nursing students are concerned about the student experience, but they express higher preferences for academic information.

We asked respondents to rank the importance of 19 different types of website content. They indicated content about programs, degrees, and courses as high value while also showing concern regarding the outcomes of their education and doors it would open.

words in a graph

Prospective undergraduate nursing students value different content from their non-nursing peers. Non-nursing prospective undergraduates (coming directly from high school) are most interested in learning about the college experience on their first visit to a college website, and they prioritize content about student life, housing options, quality of food, and majors.

Key Insight: Your marketing content must address four key concerns for prospective nursing students: overall reputation, clinical placements, life balance, and overall cost.

Respondents were asked open-ended questions regarding their top concerns about nursing school. Without any prompting, their responses clustered around four major concerns:

  • Nursing Program Reputation: Prospects cite the “quality of the program” and “how well the program is known” as the top criteria when researching schools. They want to select the most reputable program into which they believe they’ll be accepted.

  • Clinical Placements: Prospective nursing students are interested in the quality and reputation of the hospitals at which they will do their clinicals. After the overall reputation of the school, these prospects look at the reputation of the affiliated hospitals and healthcare facilities.

  • School/Life Balance: Prospective students are concerned about balancing classwork, internships, work, and personal lives. They are aware their schedules may be overwhelming and express a fair amount of anxiety about this.

  • Financing an Education: Cost. Cost. Cost. This is a top concern of prospective students. They are afraid of not being able to pay for the program as well as finding the time to do work outside of classes and clinical placements to pay for school.

3 Implications for Developing Nursing Program Websites

Based on these learnings from prospective undergraduate nursing students, colleges and universities looking to increase enrollment in their nursing program should pay particular attention to their website in these three areas:

  • Develop robust program pages: These pages should contain all of the information about the degree requirements, outcomes, courses, and faculty.

  • Provide clear information on financial aid: Engage prospects by speaking to them about all the options for financing an education with a friendly and approachable tone.

  • Demonstrate outcomes: Highlight passing rates for certification exams, job placements, and advanced degrees earned. Use a mix of statistics, lists, and student testimonials to thoroughly and clearly illustrate the information for your prospects.

Digital Advertising Campaigns for Nursing Schools

These insights are helpful in developing creative ads for paid digital campaigns – we recommend highlighting rankings, prestige, cost, outcomes, and clinical placements in ad copy and landing pages. We've been successful using the following channels to reach prospective nursing students:

  • Google Paid Search
  • Display Campaigns
  • Meta (Facebook and Instagram)
  • YouTube
  • Retargeting campaigns

To ensure your school continues to fill your nursing programs, we recommend reviewing your website, digital advertising campaigns, and landing pages to ensure that you have aligned all of these assets to the needs of prospective nursing students.

This post was originally publishing in 2015. It was updated with new data and recommendations in 2023.