Preparing for the First Semester of Nursing School

Summary: The first semester of nursing school can be intimidating, especially if you’re unsure of how to prepare for the first semester of nursing school. Buying a planner, talking to your support system, making a financial plan and knowing what to expect are great ways to get started.

Xavier nurse with stethoscope smiling at camera

If you’re considering our 16-month ABSN program in Ohio, we thought you could use a heads up on what to expect from the first semester of nursing school. You’ll especially want to see what current students and recent graduates of the program have to say about our accelerated path to nursing.

Beginning Weeks of Nursing School

Learning how to prepare for the first semester of nursing school starts before you even start the program. Prior to enrolling, you’ll want to make sure you’ve met all the admissions requirements — especially the prerequisite courses that will support your learning in the ABSN program.

In the first couple weeks of nursing school, you’ll be able to get a feel of what the program is all about and the pace at which it moves. This is the perfect time to implement a few steps that will help you down the road:

  • Talk to friends and family to ensure they understand the time commitment you’ve taken on. Let them know you need their support and that you may have to miss out on time with them to complete your program.
  • Ensure your finances are covered. We do not recommend working full-time while in the program, so be sure you’ve made arrangements and applied for any scholarships you qualify for. Our financial aid office can help with this.
  • Be ready to put time and effort into the program. The Xavier ABSN program is rigorous and demands commitment. After all, our program provides the same curriculum a traditional four-year BSN track would on a condensed timeline, so it moves at a fast pace.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers. Your cohort will be going through the same challenges and journey you are, so lean on one other. You can set up a study group, quiz each other and maybe even make lifelong connections.

What to Expect for the First Semester

Your first semester of nursing school is going to pack a lot of information into a short amount of time. It might feel like a lot is coming at you, but by being prepared and taking things step-by-step, you’ll navigate this portion of the program smoothly. 

Online Coursework

A lot of people think that learning online is easier or of lesser quality than learning in the classroom — neither of which is true. It’s a course delivery option that involves a significant amount of independent study, requiring you to have good self-discipline and time management skills to be successful.

“Don’t come in thinking [the program] is going to be easy because [part of] it is online,” advises Sarah Bobbe, Xavier ABSN graduate. “I have to work harder because of the online component, but it’s worth it for me. This program allowed me to start [nursing school] the fastest and be done the fastest.”

While instructor deadlines still apply, online learning allows you to learn at your own pace and attend “class” at any time of the day or night. Delivered through Canvas, a popular learning management system, each of our online nursing courses feature a series of modules.

Within each module, you’re required to complete a list of activities, which could be anything from watching a video to completing a simulated case study. There’s also a live video conference feature within Canvas that allows instructors to schedule times to discuss complex concepts with students.

While ABSN program graduate Lauren Larrick will tell you that online learning was challenging for her to get used to, it ended up benefiting her. “I chose the Xavier ABSN program because I really liked the online aspect,” she says. “I struggle with sitting in a classroom, so being able to take breaks, learn on my own time, and spend in-depth time on the material really helped with my learning.”

Nursing Skills Labs

Our state-of-the-art nursing skills lab, which features hospital equipment, medical supplies, clinical task trainers, and full-body manikins, provides a safe, contextual learning environment for developing basic nursing skills such as head-to-toe assessments, nasogastric tube insertion, and wound care — the types of skills that every nurse must have no matter the area of practice.

“[Skills labs] start out very basic and then progressively get more advanced,” Sarah says. “In our first skills lab, we learned proper hand washing and sterilization techniques.” Among the more challenging nursing skills that you’ll learn during the first semester of nursing school is tracheotomy care.

Greg explains that he was able to take the skills he learned during his first semester labs and apply them in the real world. “During clinicals, I got to manage a patient who had a feeding tube as well as change the dressings of a patient who had burns.”

Nursing Simulation Labs

With the help of a computerized medical manikin, our nursing simulation lab takes your nursing competency to the next level. Getting you as close as possible to real-life clinical situations, these labs help develop your clinical judgment and problem-solving skills, essentially preparing you to think on your feet and act on instinct while working in the profession.

While we don’t grade you on your simulation experiences, we do record them so that you and faculty can debrief on your clinical performance. “Simulation is really focused on learning,” Lauren says. “We talk about [the experience] with our professors in terms of what we could’ve done better or things we did great.”

Our simulation manikin lets you actively engage in patient assessment and treatment without the fear of putting an individual’s safety at risk. Under faculty control, the manikin can ask questions and replicate bodily responses to procedures, such as intubation and catheterization.

Another benefit of our simulation exercises is that they allow you to be placed in patient care situations that you might not be exposed to during clinical.

Clinical Practicum

Unlike a lot of nursing programs, in the Xavier ABSN program, you start your clinical practicum (a.k.a. clinical rotations) during the first semester. Like nursing labs, your clinical practicum starts out simple, but then we gradually place you in more complex scenarios within hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, etc.

While we can’t guarantee where your clinical practicum will take place, many of our students gain real-world experience in top health-care facilities, such as Mercy Health, TriHealth, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Lauren explains that during your first set of clinical rotations, you’re taking vitals and performing head-to-toe assessments. From there, you progress into skills such as starting an IV line, and by the fourth and final semester, you’re caring for patients as a whole.

“When you go into clinical, you’re typically assigned to a patient that has a condition that’s similar to whatever you’re learning about at the moment,” says Lauren. “If you’re learning about the heart, the goal is to give you a patient with an atrial fibrillation or some kind of heart defect. [Xavier] really tries to help supplement your learning that way.”

Preparing for Your First Semester

Now that you have a broader understanding of how the Xavier ABSN program works, let’s explore how to prepare for each of those components we discussed above.

How to Prepare for Online Learning

First, you’ll want to purchase a planner or set up an online planner to schedule out your assignments, video conferences with your instructor and study time. Setting reminders on your phone or computer is also a helpful tip that can help remind you when to dedicate time to coursework, take a break, study for an exam, or manage deadlines.

You’ll also want to double check that your computer has all the needed updates and technology requirements to successfully run the programs you’ll need.

Having a dedicated workspace to complete your Xavier ABSN coursework is also a good idea. Studies have shown that having a home office, or even just sitting at the kitchen table rather than the couch or other downtime locations can be beneficial to productivity.

Additionally, if you’re unfamiliar with online learning, or have had very few online courses it’s a good idea to complete your ABSN prerequisite courses online through Xavier and get acquainted with the course delivery system. While some ABSN programs require as many as 15 prerequisites, we only have four: anatomy and physiology I and II, microbiology, and statistics.

How to Prepare for Nursing Skills and Simulation Labs

Aside from coming prepared with scrubs, nursing shoes, and the other equipment you’ll need, one of the best tips for labs is coming with an open mind. Labs are a time for learning, so be prepared to make mistakes. You’ll have a debrief session after lab to discuss what went right and what could be improved upon. Leaving your ego at the door and taking feedback to build upon will serve you well during this portion of the program.

How to Prepare for Nursing School Clinicals

Clinicals are your introduction to real-world nursing. While no one expects you to show up knowing everything, it is a busy, professional setting so you will have to act accordingly and be prepared to learn quickly. Make sure you eat a sufficient meal before your clinical round starts, be sure to bring pens and a notepad and realize that having some stress about this part of the program is totally normal. This will be your first experience working with health-care professionals and real patients, so having some nerves comes with the territory. Just be sure to come prepared, ask questions, be flexible and work hard and everything will fall into place.

Why Xavier

The nursing education you’ll receive as a Xavier ABSN student is second to none. In fact, local health-care facilities seek out our students. “Before I even graduated from the ABSN program, I was offered a job with Mercy,” Lauren says. Xavier University holds an esteemed reputation and a history of excellence. Plus, our 16-month ABSN program is the only one in Ohio to have three locations and three start dates a year.

Answer the Call to Nursing

If nursing is your calling, our second-degree Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program is the answer. If you’re ready to get started on your first semester of nursing school at Xavier University, contact our admission team today!

Xavier ABSN simulation lab

ABSN 101 Guide

Download our ABSN 101 Guide to help you successfully navigate the accelerated path to nursing.