June 20, 2019

Top 5 Nursing Schools for 2019 And How To Decide On A College

If you're considering becoming a Registered Nurse (RN), college education plays a very important role in launching your career. Currently, the healthcare system is demanding the need for more and more nurses. It is currently one of the hottest, fastest growing, stable and most desirable careers. 

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According to the American Association of College of Nursing, as of 2018, there were 996 bachelor’s degree programs in the United States. 688 programs responded to a 2018 survey, there are currently 363,433 students currently enrolled in baccalaureate nursing 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

Choosing the correct nursing program is a huge decision and can dictate your future nursing career. Whether you choose a BSN program or ADN program, each offers different benefits to different students. It is important to determine your goals for the program and your career. Various programs will have different outcomes and different program length times. 

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 when considering different nursing programs: 

  • 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?

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What are clinicals? 

Regardless if you choose a BSN program or an ADN program, clinicals are a must. The time and type of rotations will vary depending on the program. For example, some schools may offer evening and weekend clinical rotations while others will be strictly M-F daytime hour clinicals. This is an important factor to consider if you have a job or childcare needs. While classroom time is very important to learn the basics of nursing, the clinical hours is what will allow you to apply the skills you have learned and practice your critical thinking. 

Consider these questions when investigating the clinical aspects of a nursing program: 

  • What hospitals does my program work with?
  • What types of units can I do clinicals in?
  • How much total clinical time is part of this program?
  • What days of the week are clinicals held on?
  • Can I do my clinical rotation hours with a part-time schedule?
  • Can I work while doing my clinical hours?
  • What is the make-up assignment if I miss a day of clinical?

Considering Nursing Program Cost 

Just like nursing programs vary, so do the costs. 

On top of the tuition, there are also these additional costs to consider, 

  • School and lab fees
  • Cost of books
  • Other course materials such as uniforms and clinical supplies
  • Cost of living expenses which may include on-campus room and board. 

Paying For Nursing School 

Thankfully, there are a lot of options available to students to help pay the cost of tuition. 

  • Student loans
  • Government stipends, 
  • Scholarships,
  • Student Loan Forgiveness 

Associate degree programs cost significantly less than a bachelor’s nursing program. Tuition varies but students can be expected to pay roughly $100-$400 per credit. By paying in-state tuition at a community college, students can earn their degree for as little as $3,000. At a larger university, prospective nurses may pay upwards of $14,000 for an associate’s degree in nursing.

Bachelor’s degree programs, which are preferred by most healthcare institutions and would be required for a career as an advanced practice nurse, will pay more. Students typically pay between $300-$1,500 per credit for a bachelor’s degree. The total cost of a bachelor’s in nursing can range from $40,000 at a state college to $200,000 at an elite, private university. 

Ultimately, it is up to you to determine your financial abilities but speaking to a financial advisor can help start the process of determining the best payment options for your nursing education. 

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What is the NCLEX?

A program of nursing study is required in order to take the NCLEX examination. The NCLEX is a standardized exam that once passed allows you to practice as an RN. Without passing the NCLEX, you will not be able to work as a registered nurse in any capacity.

Beyond that, top nursing schools should offer a strong academic, classroom foundation and practical hands-on training to help you administer proper patient care and succeed as an RN. Traditional baccalaureate programs offer the intense classroom education but also the clinical aspect that will help you prepare to become an entry-level registered nurse but also will lay the critical foundation needed to further your career during a graduate program. 

Evaluating Nursing Schools? Ask These Questions First

Once you decide which type of program (BSN or ADN) is best for you, it’s time to start checking out the nursing schools. 

First, decide if you want to stay close to home or attend a program somewhere else in the country. Deciding to attend a program away from home can open many opportunities and allow to live in another area of the country. It also can be a great start to a travel nursing career.

If you are going to move somewhere else to attend nursing school, consider your housing options, 

  1. Will the university help you acquire on-campus housing or will you be responsible for finding an apartment off-campus? 
  2. Are you moving to a major urban city or a small, rural college? 
  3. What extracurricular activities are available in the area? If you are attending a traditional four-year undergraduate program, you will have breaks throughout the year and free time to enjoy the neighboring areas.  

Other things to consider include when choosing a nursing school,

  • What are the admission requirements and do I meet them?
  • What is the total cost of the program?
  • Will I be able to earn a scholarship to the program?
  • If the program is not close to home, where will I live?
  • Is the program accredited and reputable?
  • How convenient is it to travel to the program and clinical sites?

As you do your research into nursing programs, 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). If the program is NOT accredited you CAN’T sit for the NCLEX. You will NOT be able to become a Registered Nurse. 
  • 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, it can give you a research starting point.
  • Check for scholarships. Scholarships can be specific to a school, program, ethnicity, or general in nature. 

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Top Nursing Schools Spotlight

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

All of the nursing programs highlighted are accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) OR the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation should be the first thing you ensure a program has when doing research.

The purpose of accreditation is to focus on the same standards and criteria across all nursing programs. This ensures that there is some level of sameness within the programs. The accreditation process ultimately improves the quality of nursing education and keeps the curriculum up to date on current trends in advances in nursing and healthcare.

These programs include: 

1. Columbia University - New York, New York 

Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Tuition: $106,825 

NCLEX Pass Rate: 88.5%

Columbia University, located in the heart of New York City, is an elite Ivy League University that places nursing students in some of the top hospitals in the country for clinical rotations. Students pick this program because of their direct access to advanced practice nursing degrees and combination BSN-MSN-NP programs. 

With a “Core Curriculum” that all undergraduate students must take, it encourages active student participation, application of critical thinking skills, and meaningful learning. Students are drawn to the medical research conducted at the University and nursing students are able to actively participate and learn from ongoing research projects.

2. New York University 

Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Tuition: $76,614 

NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%

For a great example of hands-on learning, it’s hard to beat NYU’s Clinical Simulation Learning Center. Also appealing, 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.

3. Johns Hopkins University - The School of Nursing 

Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Tuition: $97,430

NCLEX Pass Rate: 89%

Named a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the National League for Nursing, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing is consistently ranked as one of the best nursing programs in the country. Graduates are consistently recognized as being in the top of their fields and most students go on to earn graduate degrees. The nursing programs occupies one of the largest buildings on campus, with 6 floors and over 90,000 square feet of classroom space. 

Johns Hopkins University’s School of Nursing receives $2.6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health annually which is applied to End of Life Care, the Prevention of Disease, Health Promotion, Women’s Health, Risk Prevention, Cardiovascular Health, and Disease Prevention education. 

4. University of Michigan Ann-Arbor

Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Tuition: $26,407 (out-of-state) $8,594 (in-state) 

NCLEX Pass Rate: 97%

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 program is among the top National Institute of Health (NIH) funded nursing research universities. Receiving roughly $3 million from the NIH and World Health Organization, the money is used to fund research in the areas the school emphasizes – Cancer Fatigues, Symptom Science, Childbirth Recovery, Health Care Effectiveness, and the Analysis & Visualization of HealthCare Informatics.

5. Duke University

Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

Tuition: $46,076

NCLEX Pass Rate: 97%

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. Duke offers several different nursing programs from an Accelerated Bachelor of Nursing (ABSN) to a Post Doctoral Fellowship.

How To Choose The Best Nursing School

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. 

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