Top Nursing Schools Expert Advice on Finding, Selecting, and Getting into the Best Nursing Program

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Keith Carlson Read More

From certificate programs to doctoral degrees and vocational schools to
private universities, future nursing students have numerous options when
it comes to education and training. But where do you start? The perfect
school for an aspiring midwife could be a poor choice for an RN looking
to earn a master’s. The following guide serves as a first step, both for students looking to enter the field and for current nurses who wish advance their careers. Read on for a comprehensive breakdown of nursing programs, expert advice and strategies on how to get into a top nursing school, and key insight on and the application process from an administrator in the know.

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Top Nursing Schools

Badge Methodology +
ASO’s Best On-Campus Nursing Schools

The top nursing schools listed in this ranking were determined by comparison of three primary, equally weighted, criteria including,

  • Student-to-faculty ratio
  • In-state tuition
  • Graduation rate

Additional details for each school were included:

  • Count of programs available
  • Public and private not-for-profit schools

Finding the right college and program is an important step for all potential students – especially those interested in pursuing a career in nursing. A good on-campus program will offer the student supportive services, flexible learning options, advanced tech and a top-rated education. The programs listed below have been tested against our specific methodology and have come out on top as the best-of-the-best for their on-campus nursing options. Discover who made the list for Best in On-Campus Nursing for 2015-2016 below.

Score Tuition Student/teacher ratioProgram CountGraduation Rate
1 University at Buffalo 100 13:11472%
2 University of Iowa 99.75 16:12470%
3 Stony Brook University 98.25 16:11769%
4 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 98 13:1690%
5 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor 97.25 12:11091%
6 CUNY Hunter College 96.5 11:11352%
7 Allen College 95.25 9:11675%
8 SUNY at Binghamton 94.25 20:11681%
9 Mount Carmel College of Nursing 94.25 12:11064%
10 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus 93.5 14:11382%
11 University of Connecticut 92.5 16:1981%
12 University of Washington-Seattle Campus 92 18:11084%
13 Ball State University 91.75 15:1959%
14 University of Kansas 90.5 17:11060%
15 University of South Carolina-Columbia 90 18:1973%
16 Washington State University 90 15:1867%
17 Rutgers University-New Brunswick 89.75 16:1881%
18 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus 89.75 18:11860%
19 Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 100 17:1986%
20 Clarkson College 89.25 11:1859%
21 University of Utah 89 17:1562%
22 University of Wyoming 88.75 15:1554%
23 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 88.5 17:1878%
24 George Mason University 88.5 16:1567%
25 Southern Connecticut State University 88.5 14:1853%
26 University of Mississippi 88 18:1561%
27 South Dakota State University 88 17:1757%
28 Madonna University 87.75 11:12150%
29 East Carolina University 87.25 18:1559%
30 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health 86.75 12:1566%
31 Temple University 85.75 14:1569%
32 Winona State University 85.75 20:11257%
33 University of Hawaii at Manoa 85.75 13:1556%
34 University of Alabama at Birmingham 84.5 18:1556%
35 University of Missouri-Columbia 84 20:1569%
36 William Carey University 84 15:1558%
37 University of Kentucky 83.75 18:1561%
38 Virginia Commonwealth University 83.5 17:1759%
39 University of Arizona 83.25 20:1860%
40 University of North Dakota 82.75 19:1755%
41 Illinois State University 82 19:1672%
42 Missouri State University-Springfield 81.75 20:1555%
43 University of Illinois at Chicago 80.75 17:1560%
44 University of Massachusetts-Lowell 80.25 18:1854%
45 Northern Arizona University 80.25 18:1652%

Nursing Programs

  • Online Nursing Degrees

    In an effort to address the nationwide nursing shortage, many nursing schools have expanded their educational options to offer online programs, making a nursing degree more attainable. This guide explores online programs and takes a closer look at an important question that many prospective students may be wondering: how clinical, hands-on experience works in a distance learning setting.

    Read More
  • Registered Nursing

    There are a number of ways to become a registered nurse. This guide dives into all the different options available to prospective students, from certificate programs to graduate degrees, and also provides some insight on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

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  • RN to BSN

    Bridge programs, such as RN to BSN programs, are a great way for nurses to not only use their current experience towards a four-year degree, but also enhance their skills and knowledge. Explore RN to BSN curricula and potential career paths post graduation.

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  • Accelerated Programs

    Accelerated nursing programs offer a fast track to licensure and employment. Learn about available program options, including specific degree paths, admission requirements, and curriculum. This guide also offers strategies on how to survive these fast-paced programs.

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  • Certified Nursing Midwife

    For nurses with an interest in prenatal health, childbirth and women’s care, a master’s degree in nurse midwifery can be the way to go. Explore this educational path and the certifications required to enter this nursing specialty.

    Read More
  • Forensic Nursing

    Nurses in this unique subsection of the field must learn the balance between collecting evidence for potential court cases and providing compassionate care for victims of assault, neglect and abuse. Learn how to become a successful nurse at the intersection of crime and medical care.

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  • Pediatric Nursing

    Working alongside pediatricians, nurses in this specialty promote the health and wellness of their patients from infancy through young adulthood. Explore the steps towards earning a certification in pediatric nursing and making a difference in the lives of young patients.

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  • Neonatal Nursing

    Neonatal nurses play a crucial role in the first line of medical care for newborns with birth defects or other health complications. After earning the required education, clinical experience and certification, these nurses are ready to provide critical care for infants in their first few months of life.

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  • Nurse Practitioner

    Nurse practitioners take their nursing skills and experience to the next level—and earning a graduate degree is an essential step. Explore degree options and potential specializations for this fast-growing nursing position.

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  • Nurse Practitioner Online

    For some aspiring nurse practitioners, taking time off work to further their education may not be an option. Learn how to balance work and study by earning an advanced nursing degree online.

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Nursing Resource Center

Men in Nursing

Women have long dominated the nursing profession, but more and more men are entering the field due to lucrative salaries, exciting career opportunities, and a desire to help others through quality patient care. Read this expert-written guide to get career advice and resources for men in nursing.

Read More
Minorities in Nursing

With an increasingly diverse patient population, diversity in healthcare staff is of growing importance. Learn more about what schools and healthcare organizations are doing to increase diversity in the nursing world and get information on how to find success as a minority in nursing.

Read More

Nursing Degree Paths

Nursing education is a broad topic, from the certification of nursing assistants to the rigorous graduate-level education of advanced practice nurses. There is also a range of programs to match many ages, skill levels, life experiences, and educational backgrounds. With so many options, however, choosing an academic path can be challenging. Review the most common nursing degrees available to get an idea of where to start.

Certificates and Diplomas

A certificate or diploma program can lead to one of two careers – certified nursing assistant or licensed practice nurse (LPN)/licensed vocational nurse (LVN). A certified nursing assistant provides direct, but limited care to patients under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN) or LPN/LVN.

CNA certification programs range in length from 6 to 18 months, offering classroom instruction and considerable clinical training in patient care facilities such as nursing homes. These courses may be offered at vocational schools, community colleges, and other educational or training institutions. LPN/LVN certificate programs tend to be 12-18 months in length, generally focusing on the task-oriented aspects of nursing care.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The ADN is widely accepted as the entry-level degree for employment as a nurse in a hospital. Although there is now an industry-wide movement towards making the Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) the entry-level degree for all hospital-based nurses, the transition to this goal is a slow (yet likely inevitable) process.

Earning an Associate Degree in Nursing involves considerable prerequisite study, usually including algebra, chemistry, psychology, sociology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, English composition, and other humanities. Time to completion can vary between two to four years, depending on how many prerequisites a student must fulfill. ADN programs involve considerable classroom-based learning, as well as significant clinical hours in facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, and other community settings.

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Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN)

BSN programs in nursing are offered at four-year colleges and universities. In order to earn the BSN, students pursue a more academically rigorous course of study than ADN students, with considerably broader training in the liberal arts.
Since they are taught at the university level, BSN programs provide deeper instruction in salient topics such as nursing leadership, nursing research, community health and community nursing, environmental health, and other aspects of 21st-century healthcare.

Nursing schools within four-year colleges and universities offer pre-licensure baccalaureate nursing programs for students with no previous nursing experience. These programs may also include students with no previous college experience. These pre-licensure programs prepare students to sit for the NCLEX exam. Other students may enter “Second Bachelors” programs wherein they pursue a BSN and nursing licensure after having already earned a baccalaureate degree in another discipline.

Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Programs offering a Masters of Science in Nursing provide specialized graduate education to nurses seeking to further their careers through advanced academic education and clinical training. For example, an MSN candidate may pursue education in order to qualify for a role as a nurse practitioner (including adult, pediatric, family, geriatric, or other specialization), certified nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, and certified nurse anesthetist.

Non-clinical masters-level job opportunities include nursing administration, nursing education, and related educational/leadership tracks.

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Doctorate in Nursing (PhD or DNP)

At the doctoral degree level, candidates may seek to earn the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) designation. While not yet mandated for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), the DNP is offered as a degree for APRNs seeking the highest possible level of clinical nursing education. As a terminal degree, the DNP educational track offers a depth of clinical education on par with that pursued by pharmacists, physicians, and other advanced healthcare providers. At some point in the near future, the DNP may be a mandated requirement for all APRNs.

In contrast, programs leading to a Doctorate in Nursing Science offer advanced non-clinical educational opportunities such as nursing and healthcare administration, nursing education, nursing research, and other paths of doctoral-level nursing scholarship.

Accelerated and Bridge Programs

Many schools offer accelerated (or “second-degree”) nursing programs, which are the quickest route to RN licensure for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline. These programs tend to take about 11 to 18 months for baccalaureate programs and approximately three years for master’s degrees. Clinical hours in accelerated programs are the same as their traditional counterparts, but coursework builds on students’ previous learning experiences. Instruction is more fast-paced, with no breaks between sessions.

So-called nursing “bridge” programs provide licensed nurses who have already completed some nursing education further education in pursuit of advanced career and professional opportunities. Such programs are usually offered via strictly online formats, solely in the classroom setting, or as a hybrid program. Many bridge program students choose this educational pathway in order to maintain employment in their current nursing practice.

Nursing degree bridge programs can include:

  • LPN to RN
  • RN to BSN
  • BSN to MSN
  • LPN to BSN
  • RN to MSN
  • BSN to DNP
  • LPN to MSN
  • RN to DNP

Types of Nursing Schools

There are various types of nursing schools for aspiring and current nursing professionals. The following is a snapshot of what’s available to help prospective nursing students better understand their options and ultimately choose the path that matches their needs and goals.

Type of School Description Type of nursing education offered Demographic/Who would enroll?
Vocational/Trade schools

Labor market preparation has historically been the goal of post-secondary vocational education.

Vocational and trade schools offer job-specific training and education programs. These schools offer the most efficient route to job-readiness with lower financial and/or time commitment.

Individual courses in practical nursing, as well as courses for nursing assistants. Many also offer certificate programs in nursing.

Students seeking an affordable education that will lead to relatively quick entry into nursing.

Community colleges

Community colleges offer 2-year programs and associate-level degree programs. In the 2-year model, students gain education, training, and a college degree in a shorter span than a four-year college, leading to faster entrance into the workforce.

Associate of Science in Nursing is the program of choice; some community colleges also offer vocational programs for individuals seeking certification as a Licensed Practical Nurse.

Students seeking more in-depth education and training with less time and financial commitment than a four-year college or university. Many students use an associate degree from a community college as a stepping-stone to further nursing education at the university level.

Four-year colleges & universities

Four-year colleges and universities offer the highest level of academic pursuit and also the largest range of program options for nurses.

Bachelors of Science in Nursing, various Masters of Science in Nursing educational tracks, and doctoral studies in both clinical and non-clinical nursing. Many nursing programs also allow students to specialize.

Students seeking the benefit of deeper academic education in nursing in order to qualify for more advanced nursing roles.

Ten Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing School

Choosing a nursing school is an important decision. You will be spending your hard-earned money on your nursing education – as well as a significant amount of your time – so making an informed and prudent decision is paramount.

When researching nursing schools and programs, here are ten things prospective students should keep in mind:

#1

If you plan to attend a brick and mortar school, seek an institution that offers a location that is convenient and practical for you; a shorter commute is generally favorable in terms of time and expense

#2

Carefully assess the school’s availability of online programs – and the corresponding requirements – if that form of learning is important to you

#3

Find a nursing school that has been properly accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and/or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is the accrediting arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)

#4

Ask the schools you’re seriously considering to supply you with the contact information of at least two former or current students who would be willing to talk with you about their educational experience

#5

Ensure that the school offers the degree programs and specialty training that you desire to pursue

#6

Ask each school for their most current NCLEX pass rates. This number may be an indication of program quality.

#7

Assess the availability of financial aid at your chosen institutions

#8

Inquire about the quality and quantity of clinical rotation sites. Do students arrange their own rotations or is this handled by the school? Is there a wide variety of clinical opportunities in diverse settings? How are clinical requirements completed if the program you’re interested in is online?

#9

Investigate student-faculty ratios in both clinical and classroom settings. Lower ratios usually mean more one-on-one direct instruction from professors, which some students may prefer.

#10

Ascertain what resources the schools offer in terms of skills labs and clinical simulation technologies.

Get into a Top Nursing School: Boost Your Application

Nursing schools seek students with a variety of qualities, characteristics, personality traits, and life experiences that lend themselves to the academic and clinical aspects of nursing. Below are some of the important skills and characteristics that help nursing school applicants stand out in the crowd.

Academic Performance

Strong performance in the sciences (anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and microbiology) is certainly important for gaining entrance into most nursing programs. For master’s and doctoral programs, success in statistics may also be seen as important.

Satisfactory performance in the humanities is also worthy of attention, including English composition, psychology, and sociology.

Life Experience and Clinical Experience

Many nursing schools prefer applicants who have volunteered in their communities, especially in healthcare-related capacities. Healthcare-related internships and similar positions also strengthen a nursing school application.

Positions of leadership in the community or other venues also demonstrate that a student candidate is proactive in advancing his or her career.

For those coming to nursing from a previous career, applicable skills and experience in areas such as research, counseling, writing, data entry, and information technology also offer schools a glimpse of deeper understanding and a wider skill set and base of experience.

Formal certifications and trainings also look great on a nursing school application (e.g. hospice volunteer, Non-Violent Communication, or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction certifications).

Personal Characteristics

Emotional intelligence, strong communication skills, and being well-groomed and well-spoken are some personal characteristics that will come across strongly in a nursing school interview. Excellent writing skills will be demonstrated in your application essay/personal statement.

Strengthening Your Chances of Acceptance

There are many ways that a nursing school applicant can strengthen his or her chances of being admitted to a program. In addition to the recommendations above, consider the following strategies:

  • Keep your grades/GPA as high as possible

  • Work with writing experts, as well as friends and family, to craft a powerful and well-written resume and personal statement/essay

  • Sharpen your interview skills in preparation for your nursing school interviews, including hiring a career coach for interview prep

  • Pay close attention to detail when completing your applications in order to avoid your application being rejected for incomplete information

  • Hire a professional editor/proofreader to review your application essay/personal statement prior to submission

  • Network with nursing students who are already in your chosen programs and inquire what strategies supported their application’s success

  • Make an appointment with a nursing school admissions advisor in order to ascertain methods for strengthening your application and interview performance

  • Join LinkedIn, create a robust profile, and network with nurses, nursing professors, nurse administrators, and nursing students

Q&A: Interview with an Administrator

Shannon Hutchison, director of undergraduate admissions at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA, is a Point Loma graduate and was very interested in the university and what it had to offer students. She began working at Point Loma as an admissions counselor and has now been working at the university for about 11 years, helping students gain admission–many into the school of nursing–into her alma mater.

What is the most important prerequisite a student should have or work on before applying to nursing school?

We look for students who are pretty well-rounded. Certainly academic achievers, but freshmen who are also pretty active in their schools, communities, churches; specifically students who have had some sort of experience with nursing, whether it’s volunteer work or something that connects them to their passion. That always helps applications stand out.

What are some of the most important qualifications a nursing school should have to provide a proper education?

Making sure of the availability of clinical hours is very important. Making sure that students are able to get into programs that will offer them that clinical hands-on experience, not just on campus in a lab environment in the classroom but in hospitals, care centers, clinics, etc. in the city or surrounding area.

What are some tips for how nursing students can determine what specialty they might want to focus on in their course of study at nursing school?

Students start their clinical work here in their sophomore year for that reason. Nursing or not, any student can say, “Oh, I love doing this.” And then when you get out in the real world and do that, it may not be what you’re best at. So our nursing students practice and do their clinical hours starting sophomore year in a variety of different areas to help them really find what they love and what they’re really good at. That practical experience is key.

What are some of the most important skills students learn in nursing school?

Certainly the basic medical skills are crucial. But in addition to that, we really focus on that personal connection that nurses have with patients or people. Students need to be well prepared to deal with patients, and their bedside manner needs to be strong. We have a few courses that are specifically geared toward the practice of nursing – not necessarily the science; that comes from other classes, of course. But just how to work with people, how to make people feel OK and how to interact with patients who are stressed – kind of viewing nursing as a whole person and career.

For the NCLEX, what are some of the most important subjects or skills that nurses need to pick up on while they’re at nursing school?

Obviously, the sciences are key. The NCLEX exam focuses on the specific knowledge that you’ve learned. Your bedside manner and things like that will matter when you get the job, but the NCLEX looks at how you can remember what you’ve learned and how you can respond to specific scenarios. Things like anatomy, physiology, chemistry, general and organic, all of those things are key. A strong science emphasis is pretty crucial.