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Jacqueline R. Klein, New York University College of Nursing

 JackieKlein.jpgIn order to assist with the nursing shortage, it is critical that educators focus on developing strategies for academic success and retention for students who are enrolled in undergraduate nursing programs (Jeffreys, 2007). The rigor of nursing programs causes students to experience a high level of stress and thus meet with their advisors more often than other majors (Harrison, 2009). The intense academic curriculum causes baccalaureate students to experience stress related to academic, clinical, and personal issues (Del Prato et al., 2011). As a result, the interactions that nursing students tend to have with advisors are more frequent than students enrolled in other majors (Harrison, 2009) and more focused on support with academic challenges and career advisement than discussions about course scheduling (Gasper, 2009).

Bosley, Miller, and Novak (2011) discussed the additional stressors that pre-nursing college students face prior to entering their major, including the competitive admission criteria and maintaining high grade point averages. Furthermore, there are other sets of pressures that nursing students experience once they begin their nursing courses (Bosley et al.). 

Undergraduate nursing students are traditionally held to higher standards than many other majors (Harrison, 2009). At a number of institutions, nursing students are required to earn a minimum passing grade of a C in all nursing courses to progress to the next semester of courses. Additionally, students who earn below a 2.0 cumulative GPA for one semester may be placed on warning or probation. Failure of a second or the same nursing course twice (Jeffreys, 2007) or earning below a 2.0 cumulative GPA for the second consecutive semester may result in dismissal from the program.

Proactive Advising Strategies

All students are able to benefit from support strategies before they begin their major courses through their professional coursework regardless of academic performance (Jeffreys, 2007). However, strategies for empowering nursing students to manage academic stress beyond typical models are needed (Del Prato et al., 2011). Bosley, Miller, and Novak (2011) describe anticipatory guidance as a means to assist pre-nursing students with being prepared to effectively manage stress prior to taking courses in their major. Students are able to learn realistic expectations before they start their major and healthy mechanisms for coping with stress when they begin their nursing courses (Bosley et al.)

A proactive advising approach is similar to anticipatory advising since it provides students with mechanisms for support prior to becoming in jeopardy. A benefit of the approach is that it can be utilized by undergraduate students who are already taking nursing courses. The goals are (1) to provide proactive academic support opportunities for success and (2) to identify students who are at academic risk early and encourage participation in support programs.

Examples of Proactive Advising

Del Prato et al. (2011) recommend numerous proactive learning strategies to decrease the level of stress that nursing students experience. The advising approach that will be discussed includes a variety of academic support programs outside of the typical one on one advising meetings. The tendency of students who enter their first semester of nursing courses to underestimate the rigor of the program may place the students at risk for unsatisfactory performance (Jeffreys, 2007). Additionally, participation in clinicals has been identified as one of the largest stressors for nursing students (Del Prato et al., 2011). One of the most valuable support programs is an orientation for students entering their first semester of clinical courses. Such an orientation allows students to feel more prepared and less anxious about attending their first week of clinicals in hospital or agency settings. The orientation may include students hearing from key individuals involved in their clinical nursing courses including deans and the director of the Simulation Center, and faculty expectations about clinicals. Students should also be reminded about the health clearance requirements needed prior to beginning their clinicals, the appropriate attire, and necessary nursing instruments. It is helpful for students to learn from advisors about grade requirements for successful academic progression in their nursing courses and learn strategies for balancing the coursework and clinical experiences from a panel of students who are further along in their program.

Tutoring has been found to be another proactive measure for nursing students (Del Prato et al., 2011; Jeffreys, 2007) to improve understanding of course content (Del Prato et al.). It is recommended that tutoring sessions be offered weekly and led by an experienced master’s prepared faculty member. The faculty member should be in continuous contact with the course instructors so he or she is aware of the content in which students need assistance.

Peer mentorship programs have been found to contribute to student academic success and retention while reducing student anxiety and stress (Dorsey & Baker, 2004; Del Prato et al., 2011; Jeffreys, 2007). A peer advising program can be used to connect students who are early on in the nursing curriculum with students who are in their last semester of nursing courses. Students often feel more comfortable addressing their concerns with a peer who has gone through similar experiences than an advisor or instructor (Del Prato et al.).

Advising centers can also support students by providing workshops specifically designed for the needs of nursing students (Jeffreys, 2007). Topics may include time management, academic study skills, test taking strategies, and career development.

The proactive advising programs provided are encouraged to be utilized by students prior to being identified as at academic risk. However, it is critical to identify students who do encounter academic difficulties early so that interventions can be implemented to assist students in being successful (Jeffreys, 2007). It is suggested that advisors work with nursing faculty members to identify students who may be struggling starting with obtaining a list of students who did not pass the first exam of the semester. Advisors should then outreach to the at-risk students to offer support. Some programs may mandate that students meet with their advisors on a bi-weekly basis as a check-in to discuss academic progress. Advisors should also encourage students to take advantage of the academic support services provided including tutoring, workshops, and peer advising programs (Jeffreys).

It is critical for advisors to implement proactive strategies for nursing students to manage stress early on in the program. The result of a proactive advising approach is that students have the opportunity to take advantage of the academic support right away rather than reactively, which leads to student success.

Jacqueline R. Klein
Director, Office of Academic Advising & Learning Development
New York University College of Nursing
[email protected]


Bosley, C. L., Miller, S. M., & Novak, A. L. (2011). Anticipatory guidance as an advising strategy for pre-nursing students. Academic Advising Today, 34(4). 

Del Prato, D., Bankert, E. Grust, P., & Joseph, J. (2011). Transforming nursing education: A review of stressors and strategies that support students’ professional socialization.Advances in Medical Education and Practice, 2, 109-116.

Dorsey, L. E., & Baker, C. M. (2004). Mentoring undergraduate nursing students: Assessing the state of the science. Nurse Educator, 29 (6), 260-265.

Gasper, M. L. (2009). Building a community with your advisees. Nurse Education, 34 (2), 88-94.

Harrison, E. (2009). What constitutes good academic advising? Nursing students perceptions of academic advising. Journal of Nursing Education, 48 (7), 361-366.

Jeffreys, M. R. (2007). Tracking students through program entry, progression, graduation, and licensure. Assessing undergraduate nursing student retention and success. Nursing Education Today, 27, 406-419.


Cite this article using APA style as: Klein, J.R. (2012, September). Academic support for undergraduate nursing students: A proactive approach. Academic Advising Today, 35(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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