Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in Iowa
Maybe you're from Iowa or maybe you've always wanted to live in the Hawkeye State. Whatever your reason, you can't go wrong with earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an Iowa school.
While not required for nursing licensure, a BSN is highly recommended for any aspiring nurses. BSN grads earn around $30,000 more per year than non-BSN registered nurses (RNs), and BSN grads could have an easier time finding a great nursing job.
Here we cover the top nursing schools in Iowa, along with program outcomes and potential tuition rates. We also cover how to become a nurse in Iowa and considerations when applying to nursing school.
This is a panel-reviewed selection based on a number of factors including,
- NCLEX pass rate
- Acceptance rate, when available
- Only ACEN or CCNE accredited schools are eligible
Our selection panel includes 4 Registered Nurses with over 55 years of combined nursing experience and 7 nursing degrees.
- Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
- Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
- Kathleen Gaines, BSN, RN, BA, CBC
- Leah Helmbrecht, BSN, RN
Because nursing careers take different forms, the top 10 Iowa nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Nursing Schools in Iowa
Annual Tuition: $35,060 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 100%
A private school based in Dubuque, the University of Dubuque is founded on Presbyterian principles. Part of this means educating the mind, body, and spirit while "encouraging students to explore their fullest potential." This full-person education is applied to the nursing program, perhaps part of the reason recent BSN grads have performed so well on the NCLEX. The University of Dubuque only offers a traditional BSN and only 17 nurses were in the graduating class, so admission is highly competitive.
Annual Tuition: $19,052 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
Allen College UnityPoint Health has been a regional leader in healthcare education for over 90 years. Based in Waterloo, Allen College provides a small-school college experience in a vibrant metropolitan area. Allen College also has plenty of options for nurses, including a traditional BSN that recently graduated 109 students. Other nursing options include an accelerated BSN and an online RN-BSN bridge program. If you currently have an RN, the bridge program could be perfect as it comes with a 25% tuition discount.
Annual Tuition: $31,770 | NCLEX Pass Rate: N/A
Dordt College is a small, private school with just 1,500 students. Located in Sioux Center and just a short drive from South Dakota and Minnesota, many of Dordt's nursing graduates find work outside of Iowa. The only nursing degree offered is a four-year BSN that was overhauled in 2017. The result promises to be huge improvements for future Dordt nursing students. While Dordt College doesn't disclose NCLEX pass rates, they boast a 100% career outcome rate, and many graduates go on to earn a master's of science in nursing (MSN). Also, the tuition rate may seem high, but the average Dordt student earns $25,500 in financial aid.
Annual Tuition: $31,532 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88%
Another small school, St. Ambrose University is home to just 2,310 undergraduate students. Despite the small size, nursing students have plenty of options, including a traditional BSN, accelerated BSN, and online RN-BSN bridge program. It might not have the most impressive outcomes compared to other schools on this list, but with 76 students in the recent graduating class, St. Ambrose accepts more nursing students than most Iowa schools. Like other private schools, St. Ambrose's tuition isn't always as high as it seems like 99% of first-year students receive financial aid.
Annual Tuition: $35,506 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 95%
Based in Cedar Rapids, Mount Mercy University promises an open-minded community and a beautiful campus. A goal of Mount Mercy is to create a more just and peaceful world, two traits embodied by the Martin-Herold College of Nursing and Health. Current high school students can apply to the BSN's early admission, meaning applicants are accepted to the nursing school at the same time as Mount Mercy. Current RNs can choose one of three RN-BSN bridge options: a traditional format, an online format, or an accelerated format with five-week sessions.
Annual Tuition: $45,000 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 97%
Luther College was founded by Norwegian immigrants and is affiliated with the Lutheran Church, though the school is much more diverse than those two traits. Nearly half of the 2,050 students participate in musical programs, the programs that Luther is best known for. But with the success of the nursing school, Luther could become better known for its healthcare education. The highlight of the nursing program is the traditional BSN, complete with the option to study abroad in England, Malta, Italy, or Germany. Luther College carries the hefty price tag of a private school, though 98% of students receive financial aid and most students receive over $40,000 in financial aid.
Annual Tuition: $32,100 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 87%
Another small, private, Christian school, Northwestern College has just over 1,000 undergraduate students, though students come from all over the country. The nursing school has an online RN-BSN and a traditional BSN. The traditional program sends students to nearby Iowa City, along with Sioux Falls, SD and Normal, IL. While you might complete some of your degree out of Iowa, the goal is to offer the best nursing education possible. Northwestern's program outcomes are improving, too. This list uses 2018 NCLEX pass rates, but the most recent graduating nursing class had a 91.7% first-time NCLEX pass rate.
8. Coe College
Annual Tuition: $46,870 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 90%
Considered to be among the top small schools in the nation, it should come as no surprise that Coe College also has one of the top nursing programs in Iowa. Coe describes its nursing program as "elite, selective and known for educating outstanding nurses." Along with quality education, students also have the option to study abroad in Korea, England, or Tanzania. Outcomes for the nursing program are highly positive; not only is the NCLEX pass rate high, but nearly 100% of all graduates are employed or in graduate school within 12 months of finishing their degree.
Annual Tuition: $32,720 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88%
Founded in 1894, Morningside College has a prime location in Sioux City. BSN students will complete their degree -- including clinicals -- in Sioux City and are primed to continue their studies. Morningside also offers online graduate nursing degrees, so if you plan on earning an MSN or doctoral degree, you could do so through Morningside. Like other schools on this list, Morningside's tuition isn't as high as it seems -- 100% of full-time undergraduate students receive financial aid, so if you study nursing full-time, expect tuition costs to be lower.
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,830 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $31,793 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96%
The University of Iowa, referred to as "Iowa," is among the top public research institutions in the nation and the oldest in the state. Iowa also has one of the best nursing schools in the region, offering plenty of programs for students at every level. A highlight of the program is the 3+1 RN-BSN online bridge option. Through this, students complete a three-year degree through an Iowa community college then finish their BSN through Iowa. This is one of the most affordable ways to earn a BSN in the state. Any Iowa residents can also take advantage of the low in-state tuition.
4 Key Factors That Affect Nursing School Tuition
Keep in mind that colleges and universities reserve the right to change tuition rates at any time. The yearly tuition rates listed here will vary for each student depending on various factors including,
- Transfer credits
- Completed competency exams
- Amount of credits taken per year
- Financial aid awards
Check with the specific school for current tuition rates.
Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),
- RNs in Iowa earn an annual mean wage of $59,130, lower than the national mean wage.
- Iowa employs 33,770 nurses and has a higher density of employed nurses than the average state.
The average RN in Iowa earns less than the national average for nurses. Iowa's mean annual wage of $59,130 is a bit lower than the national mean annual wage of $75,510. However, state data represents all RNs, and nurses with a BSN could earn much more than the average RN.
While Iowa doesn't employ the most nurses in the nation (or region), it follows a Midwest trend of having a high location quotient. A location quotient is used by the BLS to represent the number of nurses employed for every 1,000 workers.
According to the BLS, Iowa has a location quotient of 1.07, and any number higher than one means higher than average employment.
So, while your first nursing job in Iowa may not be the highest paying in the nation, the high density of nurses could make it easier to find a full-time job out of college.
After looking into some of the best nursing schools in the state, you should have an idea of which schools you might want to attend. That brings us to the next steps: learning more about each school, finding out more about the nursing program, and preparing your applications.
Here are the next steps broken down:
Contact each school’s admissions offices. You can find most information on a school or nursing program online, but you should get in touch with an admissions office representative. The admissions office can give you pointers for applying and can help you with just about any application questions you have.
Check to see if you meet the nursing school requirements. Either through the admissions office or through a nursing school representative, ask about the nursing program's admissions requirements. Nursing schools typically have stricter application requirements than the college or university. Make sure you're on track to meet these requirements.
Submit your application(s). After you've determined everything you need for your application, all you need to do is prepare your application materials and submit them!
In your application, be prepared to submit:
- High school transcript (GPA)
- ACT and/or SAT scores
- College entrance essay(s)
- Letter(s) of recommendation
Important considerations when comparing schools:
Not long after applying to schools the acceptance letters will begin to arrive! However, you're now tasked with picking the school where you'll study for the next four years. There are plenty of factors to consider when comparing schools, some of which may be obvious, such as tuition rates and financial aid. But there's much more to consider.
Factors to consider include:
- Tuition cost and cost of the nursing program (these might be different)
- Type of school (public or private)
- Financial aid, scholarships, and grants offered
- Cost of living on-campus or in the area
- Distance from home
- School and nursing program acceptance rate
- Time it takes to complete the program
- Distance to clinicals (and transportation to get to clinicals)
- Program outcomes (NCLEX pass rate and job placement)
- Accreditation (regional and programmatic)
Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation
School and programmatic accreditation prove academic quality. When applying to schools, make sure they're regionally accredited. In Iowa, the regionally accrediting body is the Higher Learning Commission. On top of regional accreditation, choose a nursing program that has programmatic accreditation.
The two nursing accreditation organizations to look for are
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
If you earn a degree from an unaccredited school, you may have trouble securing federal financial aid and finding work as a nurse after graduation.
Getting a License in Iowa
The process for licensure in Iowa is straightforward, and you'll satisfy nearly every requirement by completing an accredited BSN program. Also, Iowa is part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), meaning an Iowa nursing license will easily transfer to every other Compact state.
Here are the steps to becoming a licensed nurse in Iowa:
- Study at a state board approved program (all colleges that made our list satisfy this requirement)
- Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
- Submit electronic fingerprints and pass a criminal background check
- Pay an application fee and complete an application through the Iowa Board of Nursing
Like most of its neighbors, Iowa employs more nurses per capita than the average state. This is good news for new RNs and BSN grads looking for a job. Iowa has many excellent private schools, so nursing students should have no trouble finding a school that fits their needs. As an eNLC state, any nurses who study and earn a license in Iowa can easily transfer their license to most other states.