7 Tips To Get Into CRNA School, Even With a Low G.P.A.

14 Min Read Published January 12, 2021
crna school application with low gpa

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I believe at one point or another, every new (and seasoned) nurse aspires or at least thinks about becoming a CRNA as a potential future career. However, many potential applicants shy away from the opportunity or do not explore the possibility due to the rigorous and competitive CRNA school requirements. 

If you are someone that has researched the process of getting into CRNA school or are an ICU nurse currently applying for one, you know it is an incredibly competitive process. 

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There are many criteria that students must possess in order to produce a competitive application, but the MOST important of these criteria is the undergraduate science (chemistry, organic chemistry, microbiology, anatomy & physiology) and the nursing school GPA. Most programs require a GPA of at least 3.0, with some requiring as high as a 3.5. It’s especially important that you earn a GPA of at least 3.0 in your health- and science-related courses for admission to most programs.

>> See the Top CRNA Programs

If you’re anything like me, then you had no idea where you were going to work after graduating from nursing school, let alone even think about applying to CRNA school. And let's be honest, life happens and not everyone graduates school with a 4.0 GPA. So what if you didn’t have the best grades in nursing school but you went on to become a competent, compassionate, and intelligent nurse. Do you still have a chance of getting into CRNA school? 

  • The answer on paper: NO 
  • The real answer: YES! But only if YOU can show it. 

>> Show Me CRNA Programs

You Are More Than a Grade 

I serve as the class president of my cohort and for the last several months I’ve assisted faculty in conducting interviews for the incoming class of student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNAs). I’ve asked faculty members questions to explore and understand exactly what it is they seek in potential candidates. 

  • Is it just “good grades?" 
  • Must every candidate have a 4.0 in order to be considered competitive? 

And despite what you may have heard from others or read on a nursing blog; the overwhelming consensus is NO! 

Before we get into how you can strengthen your application for CRNA school, I need you to reaffirm a truth about yourself that you may have forgotten on your journey. 

“You are more than a grade. You are more than a 4.0 or any other measure used to determine your position in a program. You are a beautiful human being with unlimited and untapped potential that goes well beyond what is written on a paper application,” - Wali Khan 

It Only Takes One

The single best piece of advice I received when I was applying to school was that it only takes ONE.

  • It only takes ONE school
  • It only takes ONE interview
  • It only takes ONE opportunity for you to tell your story. 

And when you are given that opportunity, you must be the best storyteller there is. Because there is no one that knows your story better than you. Whether you are preparing responses for your essays and personal statements or getting ready for an upcoming interview, consider these 7 points to strengthen your overall CRNA school application. 

Learn more about becoming a Nurse Anesthetist at Nurse.org's Ultimate Guide to Becoming a CRNA.

7 Ways to strengthen your CRNA school application 


1. Tell Your Story - Who Are YOU?

The person or people reading your application want to know who you are as an individual. They all know you are an ICU nurse with a few years of experience because that is a requirement. What they don’t know is what kind of a person you are. 

  • They don’t know what kind of life you have lived 
  • They don’t know what you have had to overcome to stand where you do today

As you write the responses to the essay prompts of the applications, now is the time to tell your unique and powerful story. Some things to think about, 

  • Did you face adversity on your journey to and through nursing school? 
  • Did you have to overcome trials and tribulations that made your success an unlikely reality? 
  • Make your responses to these questions intentional and purposeful. 
  • They want to see if you possess the tenacity to overcome obstacles in your life - your unwillingness to quit and persevere is telling of what kind of a person you are and what kind of student you will be. Your individual story may be one of resiliency. Now is the time to draw a parallel from your life to your future journey in school. 

A key trait that many schools seek in candidates is “Grit”. Grit is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state. CRNA school is a three-year-long journey that will challenge every aspect of your life. Faculty wants to see if you possess the motivation to achieve this personal objective. 


2. Emotional Intelligence

Chances are, if you haven’t researched how schools are conducting interviews nowadays, you’re probably unfamiliar with the idea of emotional intelligence and how it helps others see what kind of an individual you are. 

Emotional intelligence or EI is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they're feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people. 

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, there are five key elements to it: 

  1. Self-awareness 
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation 
  4. Empathy 
  5. Social skills

Whether it's by reading your answers to written questions, direct questions in an interview or demonstration through role-play, schools want to see you demonstrate emotional intelligence. 

Here’s an example, 

Let's put this into more relevant and practical terms. Upon graduation from CRNA school and after passing boards, we’re going to be CRNAs who will routinely be working in the OR (operating room). Now, the OR is a place with a potpourri of personalities that are oftentimes unpredictable. On average we will be working with surgeons of different backgrounds and specialties, anesthesiologists, anesthesia assistants, OR nurses, OR techs, and environmental teams. 

Recall back to when you were in a rapid response or cardiac arrest. Remember how out of control and unpredictable the situation can become in a split second? Now envision the same scenario unfolding with you at the head of the bed and the whole room looking and screaming at you for answers. For leaders, having emotional intelligence is essential for success. After all, who is more likely to succeed – a leader who shouts at his team when he's under stress, or a leader who stays in control, and calmly assesses the situation? You can be the” smartest” individual on paper, but if that intelligence doesn’t translate to your practice, how good of a provider will you really be? 


3. Take graduate-level classes

If you’re an ICU who is interested in applying to CRNA school, but you don’t have the most competitive (science) GPA, one of the best things you can do right now shows you are actively trying to be better than you were. The way to demonstrate that is by enrolling in classes at a university or graduate school that can be applied towards your advanced practice degree (MSN, DNP). If you’re applying with a recent bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), you’ll likely already have taken the required courses. However, if you earned your BSN more than five years prior or in a non-nursing field, you might need to take additional classes before applying to CRNA school.  

There are many CRNA schools that will allow prospective students to take some didactic coursework at outside institutions and have the credits transfer over. This action is reflective of your ability to take higher level graduate courses and succeed, despite not having had the strongest undergraduate grades.  Your ability to take preliminary didactic graduate-level classes like physics, chemistry, health assessment, statistics, and pathophysiology will demonstrate not only your ability to succeed but also your desire to invest in yourself and grow beyond where you were at one point. 

This action alone makes a strong statement on your behalf. It says to the people reading your application loud and clear, “I am aware I did not have the best grades at one point, but I am willing to show that I can be successful in your program. Here are some of the steps I’ve taken to better myself!” It shows that your past is not reflective of the person or student you are today or will become tomorrow and that is a powerful statement to make. This step can also potentially make your life a lot easier down the road as you will have a lessened class load compared to those who did not take extra classes outside.


4. Community Service 

Grades aside, the panel of faculty will want to see what other aspects of your application make you a competitive candidate. One area that is often overlooked and under weighed by prospective students is community service. 

The people reading your application are genuinely interested in getting to know you beyond your 2-3 years of ICU experience that you have listed on your resume. They want to see what you do outside of the hospital when you’re not in scrubs and on the clock. This is time to show that you are someone invested in your local, national, even global community. 

Your involvement in your community shows you, 

  • Care about others 
  • Are willing to give back - not because it makes you look good on paper or earns praise, but because you genuinely are invested in the well being and concern of others. 

This can easily turn into a talking point later down the road in a potential interview for ‘why do you want to be a CRNA?’ 

  • Is it because YOU want to make more money? 
  • Because YOU want to increase your skillset and scope of practice? 
  • Perhaps YOU want to add more letters to the alphabet soup after your name? 

Keep in mind that your involvement in your community and your ongoing civic engagement shows your dedication and commitment to those around you and your willingness to give to those that may be less privileged. It makes a statement on your behalf that you understand that life is bigger than just you. 

Anyone who reads your application knows what an ICU nurse is, what they do, and their scope of practice. What they don’t know is what THIS ICU NURSE (you) does in his/her underprivileged or marginalized community. 

However, you won’t have anything to say unless you’ve actually rolled up your sleeves and done something for your community. And maybe while you’re in the process of refining your application for school, you just may end up learning something about yourself as an individual and your own capacity to love and care for others. 

After all, this is what our profession is truly about. It's about giving back to people, taking care of people that we may never cross paths within our day to day lives, and perhaps through involvement in your community, this may help to cultivate you personally on an individual level.  

Learn more about becoming a Nurse Anesthetist at Nurse.org's Ultimate Guide to Becoming a CRNA.

5. Work Experience

Ideally, when applying to CRNA school, this is a straightforward concept. Before you can enter a CRNA program, you’ll also need at least one year of experience working as an RN in a critical care setting, though your school may require more time. 

According to the AANA, aspiring CRNAs enter graduate programs with an average of 2.9 years of experience in critical care. Although any adult ICU is accepted for school requirements, you can turn this into a leverage point. If you come from a small, low acuity hospital, and work on a unit that barely pushed you to your potential or challenged your intellectual capacity, a parallel transfer may be advantageous. This move shows your willingness to take on a new challenge, learn a new skill set, and be exposed to a broad range of disease processes in preparation for your new endeavor. It's easy to become complacent and apathetic when we aren’t pushed or challenged. A transfer to a robust environment to challenge yourself and expose yourself to new opportunities may prove advantageous in an interview and set you up for leverage. 


6. Certifications /Entrance Exams

Most programs require the GRE, though there are exceptions. As of 2020, a few schools have permanently removed the GRE from their application requirement, so be sure to check before applying. In some cases for instance, if you hold a recent BSN with a strong GPA, this requirement might be waived. Other programs may ask you to take an exam specific to their school or not require testing at all. 

For programs requiring the GRE, many do not publish a minimum score requirement, but 300 is generally considered to be the lower end of the range of acceptable scores. If you are planning to apply to a school that does still require the GRE as an entrance exam, take the time to really study. This means you may have to set aside ample time and may actually have to study for more than a month, purchase the prep programs (Kaplan, Magoosh, etc.), and score within the required range for acceptance. 

I have known many students that relied on grades or other aspects of their application alone and were turned away due to unsatisfactory scores on the GRE. Many did not take the exam seriously and thought it was just a refresher of middle school and high school course work until they took the exam and realized it actually is not like that and in fact, does require adequate planning, studying and strategy to succeed. Making assumptions, not adequately preparing, and taking things for granted can set you up for failure and your opportunity at an interview or even a potential seat in a CRNA school. 


CCRN Advantage 

Many programs also require applicants to have a Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certification, which requires an exam. Even if this credential isn’t required, getting it can demonstrate your level of expertise and commitment and increase your chances of being accepted into a competitive program. Given a scenario where another candidate is neck to neck with you, having this certification or other things that boost your application just may be the leverage you need to break the tie and secure your spot. 

Although not a requirement, I chose to show my dedication and commitment in a slightly different way. I wanted whoever was reading my application to know that I was hungry. I wanted them to know that I was willing to go over and beyond what was asked of me to prove that I belonged in their (or any other) program. While studying for the GRE and still being employed as a full-time, I took classes and became an ACLS and PALS instructor and began teaching initial and renewal ACLS and PALS classes at my hospital. I was aware this was not a requirement, but I wanted them to see that I was just as competitive of a candidate as anyone else. 

7. Leadership 

The dynamics of how care is delivered to patients is changing rapidly. With these new changes to structure and care models, we also find ourselves facing new challenges that require the presence and capabilities of strong leadership. CRNA schools want to produce not only competent CRNAs that will deliver the safest care to patients, but also individuals that will go on to become strong providers with a passion for advocacy in their profession. 

There are many challenges that the CRNA profession faces today, especially in terms of their independence and full scope of practice. 

  • There are many political conversations that are happening behind the scenes at capitol hill and even in courts. 
  • A potential question to ponder when preparing your essay and or interview response is: are you someone that is invested in not only making yourself better but the people that you’re working with and representing? 

When we become student registered nurse anesthetists (SRNAs), we become part of the American Association of nurse anesthetists (AANA), the professional association representing Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) and student registered nurse anesthetists nationwide. Whether it's in your application or in an interview panel, now is the time to highlight whether you’ve served on a committee in your hospital or in your respective unit. 

  • What changes were implemented because of your suggestions and feedback? Your commitment and desire to serve in this capacity shows you were invested in making not only yourself better, but also the place you called home for so many years that taught you the necessary skills to be where you are today. All these things will add up because they reflect that when you graduate as a competent CRNA, you will continue to be a voice of advocacy and representation for your profession and fellow colleagues. 

Life Happens...

Don’t be disheartened if you weren’t the ideal student in nursing school. Don’t be disheartened if you have been out of school for a while and your dream now feels somewhat impossible. Life happens. I know you’ve heard this time and time again but allow me to reiterate this powerful truth: You are more than a grade. 

This time, it's coming from someone who wasn’t a straight “A” student in nursing school. But here I am today, in CRNA school, writing and advising you on how you can become the best version of yourself and work towards accomplishing your professional dream. We have interviewed students that did not have the ideal grades, but the panel chose to listen to these applicants because their essays portrayed such a high level of ambition and drive. So regardless of what stage of your nursing journey you are in, I want you to remember…

>> Show Me CRNA Programs

Dr. Wali Khan
Dr. Wali Khan
Host of Nurse Converse Podcast and Nurse.org Contributor

Dr. Wali Khan, DNAP, CRNA, is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthesiologist, motivational speaker and humanitarian. His writing entails a powerful narrative and perspective on the balance between faith and medicine. Passionate about personal development, faith, and community service, he uses his voice on social media (Instagram) to highlight the intersection between the three. 

As a Muslim Pakistani-American immigrant and first-generation college graduate, his journey entails a story of perseverance, balance, and compassion that students and practitioners can relate to. His professional and personal goal has always been to advocate for human rights, diversity, and equality. 

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