EDUCATION
December 18, 2017

Top 5 Nursing Schools for 2018 And How To Decide On A College

If you're considering becoming a Registered Nurse (RN), you know that education plays such an important role in launching your career. 

For starters, a program of nursing study is required in order for you to take and pass the NCLEX exam.

But beyond that, top nursing schools should offer you both a strong academic foundation and practical hands-on training to help you administer proper patient care and succeed as an RN.

That's why one of your first moves toward becoming an RN is choosing from among the top nursing schools. The good news is that there are many high-quality programs of study from which to choose. 

According to the National League for Nursing, as of 2014, there were 1,869 RN programs in the United States (1,092 bachelor's degrees; 710 associate degrees; and 67 diploma programs).

So how can you choose the right one for your needs? 

Below, learn how to assess what program characteristics are important to you, find out how to evaluate top nursing schools, learn how to navigate nursing school rankings, and then explore five top nursing schools that we highlight.

Choosing the Best RN Program for You

Before you get caught up on which top nursing schools are the best, think about what it is you want out of your nursing education. Not all nursing students have the same life circumstances, career experience, or educational background, which is why RN programs are so varied.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

  • Do I prefer a small nursing program or a large one at a big university?
  • How much time can I commit to my studies, and how long do I want the program to take? There are traditional nursing programs, accelerated ones, those that can be completed mostly online, and others that cater to career changers. 
  • Do I want an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN)? An ADN can fast track you into a nursing career, but a bachelor’s degree can open more doors down the line.
  • If I’m already in the field, should I go for an MSN or other advanced nursing studies? 

Evaluating Nursing Schools

Once you decide which type of program is best for you, it’s time to start checking out the nursing schools near you.

Some things to consider include how convenient it is to travel to; what the admissions requirements are and if you meet them; the cost; and the reputation.  As you do your research, here are some additional questions to think about:

  • Look online or ask the school what percentage of graduating students pass the NCLEX. A strong pass rate will demonstrate that the program is solid.
  • Double-check that the program is nationally accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and Education (CCNE). You should also see if it’s approved by your State Board of Nursing.
  • Inquire about how much hands-on clinical training the program provides. The more you get, the better prepared you will be.
  • Peruse rankings of top nursing schools. Although you should never base your decision solely on how a school is ranked (especially since there are so many programs that might not crack a top 10 list, but are still fantastic), it can give you a research starting point.
  • Check for scholarships. There are tons of scholarships available, many of which are specific to certain programs, regions, and backgrounds.

Various rankings to explore include:

CollegeChoice’s Best Undergraduate Nursing Schools, which lists University of Baltimore, Oregon Health and Science University, and the University of Washington as the top three programs. 

U.S. News & World Report ranks the best Master’s of Science in nursing programs. Atop the list are Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, San Francisco.

ValueCollege.com recognized University of Michigan Ann Arbor, South Dakota State University, and the University of Oklahoma as the most affordable BSN degrees.

In USA Today’s top 10 best colleges for nursing, among the honorees were Molloy College, Simmons College, Azusa Pacific University, and Drexel University.

Top Nursing Schools Spotlight

Keep in mind that although there are hundreds of excellent nursing programs, we chose to highlight five top nursing schools that illustrate the types of qualities you should try to look for when researching RN programs.:

1. New York University 

For a great example of hands-on learning, it’s hard to beat NYU’s Clinical Simulation Learning Center. Also appealing is that NYU offers both a 15-month accelerated program and a traditional four-year program so students can choose the option that best suits their needs.

2. Johns Hopkins University - The School of Nursing 

Named a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League for Nursing, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing is certainly impressive. Not only does the school boast a 91% pass rate on the NCLEX, but students learn just steps away from one of the most well-known hospitals in the world. 

3. University of Michigan Ann-Arbor

In the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing, options abound for students. Undergrads can take a traditional four-year track toward their BSN, or go for a 16-month accelerated second career BSN. Patient simulation labs make hands-on learning more realistic. The school also collaborates with the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization to give students research opportunities.

4. Vanderbilt University

As far as graduate studies in nursing go, the MSN program at Vanderbilt has pathways for nurses and non-nurses, with some distance learning available as well. Considered a leader in innovations in nursing practice and education, many other institutions try to emulate this top nursing school. 

5. Duke University

Duke University really takes student-centered learning to the next level with its Center for Nursing Discovery (CND). There, students (working on their master’s, Ph.D. and doctor of nursing practice degrees) learn using adult and pediatric mannequins in a simulated clinical setting.

Although outcome data and state-of-the-art classrooms make compiling a list of top nursing schools possible, on a personal level, you have to consider what’s important to you. Ultimately, aim to create your own customized top nursing schools list based on which schools are in your area, offer programs that are geared toward your needs, and have a track record of success among recent graduates. 

Next Up: 26 Industries That Pay Nurses OVER $50/HR

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