Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in Kentucky
For years, becoming a registered nurse (RN) was the minimum requirement for many nursing positions. However, standards for nursing have been increasing, and more hospitals are beginning to require at least a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN).
Not only does earning a BSN increase your chances of finding a nursing position, but BSN holders earn much more than the average non-BSN RN.
Here, we'll cover some of the best schools in Kentucky for earning a BSN, including tuition estimates and program outcomes. We'll also cover the college application process, considerations when picking a school, the outlook for nursing in Kentucky, and the licensure process.
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 nursing schools in Kentucky are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Nursing Schools in Kentucky
Annual In-State Tuition: $10,802 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $26,496 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
Western Kentucky University's location on the top of a hill inspired the "Hilltoppers" nickname that students use. WKU is located in Bowling Green, a city whose population is only three times the size of WKU's student body. The large student body also means a large nursing school. With 129 students in the 2018 graduating class, WKU has one of the largest nursing programs in Kentucky. Along with a traditional BSN, WKU has an RN-BSN, LPN-ASN, master's of science in nursing (MSN), and doctoral nurse practitioner (DNP).
Annual Tuition: $25,350 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96%
A small, private school with just 2,500 students, Lindsey Wilson College is a stark contrast to many of the large, public schools on this list. Despite the relatively small size, students still receive a true college experience in Columbus. As a small school, LWC only graduated 23 nursing students in 2018, though they had a high NCLEX pass rate (and a reported 100% pass rate for 2019). Undergraduate nurses have two options: a pre-licensure BSN and an RN-BSN. Kentucky residents don't get a tuition discount, but the quality of this nursing program is worth the price.
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,912 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $19,872 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 93%
While Northern Kentucky University has an in-state and out-of-state tuition, many students will pay somewhere in between; NKU scales tuition, offering reduced tuition to Indiana and Ohio residents. Based in Highland Heights, NKU is just a short drive to Cincinnati and one of the fastest-growing schools in Kentucky. NKU's School of Nursing is also one of the largest in the state, and outcomes for the traditional BSN are excellent. Students can also choose an accelerated BSN or an online RN-BSN bridge program.
Annual In-State Tuition: $12,360 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $30,680 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
The University of Kentucky is among the most well-known universities in the nation, often considered one of the best in numerous fields. Unsurprisingly, the College of Nursing makes this list and could also be considered one of the best nursing schools in the nation. Options include a traditional BSN, accelerated BSN, online RN-BSN, and various graduate degrees. UK has the largest BSN program in Kentucky (it recently graduated nearly 200 students), though admissions can be highly competitive.
Annual Tuition: $25,800 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88%
Located in the vibrant city of Louisville, Spalding University's culture emphasizes community and service. As a private school, Spalding University students pay the same tuition regardless of where they live -- unless you earn financial aid (which most students do). Spalding's traditional BSN has nurses spend their clinicals at some of the top healthcare facilities in the area. So, while the NCLEX pass rates could be better, nurses can form connections that could lead to their first job. For nurses that already have a BSN and MSN, Spalding also has an online DNP.
Annual In-State Tuition: $11,732 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $27,758 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 91%
Another nationally-renowned school, the University of Louisville is one of the largest schools in the state. Naturally, Louisville also has one of the largest nursing schools in the state. The BSN is available on two campuses (Louisville and Owensboro), and current RNs can choose the online RN-BSN bridge program. There's also a master's entry accelerated program, a two-year program that lets non-BSN students with a bachelor's earn both a BSN and MSN. Already a low cost for the school's value, it's worth noting that Southern Indiana residents also receive access to in-state tuition.
Annual In-State Tuition: $8,970 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $13,556 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94%
Morehead State University isn't as well known as other Kentucky state schools. However, MSU has plenty to offer prospective students, particularly those interested in nursing. The two main options offered are a pre- and post-licensure BSN, both of which have excellent program outcomes. Also, MSU's BSN is ranked as one of the top BSNs in the nation for the price. The difference between the in-state and out-of-state tuition is smaller than with other state schools, something that should appeal to residents from out-of-state.
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,168 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $13,920 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96%
With just under 10,000 students, Murray State University is one of the smaller state schools in Kentucky to make this list. However, that doesn't take away from the quality of the nursing program, which has been steadily improving over the past decade. The traditional BSN has students complete clinicals in the region, including the possibility of learning at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Murray State also has an RN-BSN, though the two DNP routes offered could interest nurses. The first, a post-master's DNP, takes just two years and is 100% online. The second is a three-year DNP that's partially online.
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,266 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $19,338 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98%
Eastern Kentucky University benefits from its prime location near Lexington, Richmond, Cincinnati, and Louisville. With so many famous cities nearby, students should have plenty to do to keep themselves entertained. When they aren't touring the area, nursing students will study at one of the best nursing schools in the region. The pre-licensure BSN is the highlight of the nursing school, and students will start taking nursing classes during their second year of college. Aside from the BSN, EKU has an accelerated second degree BSN program. RN-BSN and multiple graduate programs are also available.
Annual Tuition: $42,430 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94%
As a private school with one of the best nursing programs in the state, Bellarmine University comes with hefty tuition. However, many students earn financial aid, and Bellarmine graduates earn "30% higher median salaries" than those from every other four-year school in Kentucky. So, nursing students could see higher-than-average salaries after completing their BSN. The two undergraduate options -- a traditional BSN and accelerated second degree BSN -- make up the bulk of the nursing student body at Bellarmine, though multiple on-campus and online graduate options are also available.
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 Kentucky earn an annual mean wage of $63,100, which is lower than the national mean wage.
- Kentucky employs 46,130 nurses, equal to 24.41 for every 1,000 workers. This is much higher than the national average.
The national mean annual wage for RNs is $75,510, which is higher than the mean wage for RNs in Kentucky. Of course, the high national mean wage includes highly-populated and high-paying states like California and New York. So, while the mean annual wage doesn't look great at first glance, nurses in Kentucky are still earning a good wage.
What stands out is Kentucky's above-average employment. While you won't find the highest-paying positions right out of college in Kentucky, you could have a much easier time finding the perfect position for you than in other states.
You should have a shortlist of schools you'd be interested in attending. However, before sending in an application, you'll want to take some time getting to know more about the college, the nursing school, and the nursing program.
Here are the next steps to take:
Contact each school’s admissions offices. The admissions office is in charge of all things admissions. Get in touch with them to learn more about the admissions process and to evaluate whether you meet the school's admissions standards.
Check to see if you meet the nursing school requirements. Nursing schools typically have their own additional admission requirements. Just because you got into the college doesn't mean you're a lock for the nursing school! Check in with the nursing school to see what steps you should take to improve your nursing school application.
Submit your application(s). After doing some research, you should know exactly what you need to do to improve and/or prepare your application for the university and nursing school. The final step at this stage is to apply!
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:
Picking schools to apply to is easy, but picking the school you choose to attend can be much more difficult. Fortunately, if you've only applied to accredited schools then there's no "wrong" answer. The only thing to do is to find the perfect fit for your personal situation.
Here are some factors to help you pick which school to attend:
- 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 off-campus
- School and nursing program acceptance rate (if available)
- Distance to clinicals
- Transportation costs (visiting family, going to clinicals, commuting to campus)
- Program outcomes (NCLEX pass rate and job placement)
- Accreditation (regional and programmatic)
Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation
When a school or program is accredited, it means that the school/program meets the rigorous academic standards of a nationally recognized accrediting body. In Kentucky, schools you apply to should be regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition to regional accreditation, make sure the nursing program you apply to 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 Kentucky
Kentucky is a member of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), meaning a nursing license in Kentucky is recognized by other compact states. This is good news if you end up wanting to work in nearby Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, or another compact state. As a compact state, Kentucky also has a standardized process for obtaining licensure:
- Study at an accredited nursing school
- Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
- Submit electronic fingerprints and pass a criminal background check
- Pay a $125 application fee and complete an application through the Kentucky Board of Nursing
>> Related: The Complete Guide to Nursing in Kentucky
Kentucky has many great public schools to choose from, making a quality BSN affordable for any state residents. While Kentucky isn't the highest-paying state for nurses, the high density of nursing jobs means nursing students should have no shortage of options once they graduate. As part of the eNLC, nurses in Kentucky can easily earn a nursing license in most other states. With high NCLEX pass rates and affordable schooling, Kentucky is an excellent place to earn a BSN.