One of your most important considerations when starting nursing school is scheduling. Most nursing programs begin in the fall. Your decision to pursue your bachelor of science in nursing, an associate nursing degree or a licensed practical nursing diploma (which may or may not require an associate degree), will determine the length of time you will be in school, and the kinds of schedules that will be available. Starting nursing school in the winter has both advantages and disadvantages.
Not all school schedules are the same, with some dividing their academic calendar years into two, three or four periods. Schools with two semesters usually have a short summer semester and in some instances, they may include a brief winter period. Known as a "J" or "4-1-4" schedule, students usually take only one or two classes during this short (often four weeks) winter period.
Schools with trimesters also have a short summer schedule, but they have a full winter period. While students in a semester system usually take five or six classes each period, trimester students take only three or four. Those enrolled in schools with four quarters sometimes take even fewer classes each period. In most cases, nursing school cohorts begin classes in the fall. This means that if you begin in the winter, you will initially not be a member of the cohort.
Some of the principal benefits of beginning school during the winter include the following:
- Getting required classes completed before a program begins. The advantage of doing this in the winter is that courses are completed in a fraction of the time normally needed during full schedule periods.
- You have a jump start to register for better class schedules, instructors and classrooms, and you can also accelerate the completion of your degree.
- It gives you an easier opportunity to take courses that are in high demand and ordinarily more difficult to get into.
- You will get to know the program's faculty sooner than the oncoming new cohort.
- Starting earlier gives you a better choice among dorm rooms that have been vacated by graduating students.
Some of the disadvantages of starting school in the winter include the following:
- Course selection during the winter is more limited. Many courses are sequential in structure; that is, you take the first of the series in the fall before you can take the second in the spring. Most winter schedules may omit these classes.
- Beginning school during a winter schedule, especially in trimester and quarterly schools, means you might graduate before or after the rest of the cohort.
- Orientation for a winter period means missing the fall orientation, which is when many students begin forming their social relationships.
- In the semester system, you can only take one or two classes. Since most financial aid is based on full-time status, there may be more out-of-pocket costs to begin schooling.
- Courses have to be chosen with care, since some programs require that they begin during certain periods. By starting nursing school in winter, you may end up repeating a class.
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