Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in Montana
To work as a nurse in Montana, you must become a registered nurse (RN). To do so, you need to finish a minimum amount of schooling, gain on-the-job experience, and pass the NCLEX-RN.
But if you want to increase your chances of finding a high-paying job, the best thing to do is earn a bachelor's of science in nursing (BSN). A BSN leads to licensure as an RN, though nurses with a BSN earn nearly $30,000 more than RNs without a BSN.
Choosing the right program to become an RN and earn a BSN can impact your career, too. Better nursing schools often have connections with renowned hospitals, and these connections could help you land a job coming out of school.
Fortunately, Montana has plenty of nursing programs with great student outcomes.
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 Montana nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Nursing Schools in Montana
Total In-State Tuition: $11,745 | Total Out-of-State Tuition: $18,020 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 91.89%
The City College at Montana State University Billings offers programs that lead to high-employment fields, nursing included. However, anyone interested in a nursing degree won't have a BSN as an option -- instead, City College offers an associate of science in nursing (ASN). This two-year program is incredibly affordable, especially for in-state students. Also, with a high NCLEX pass rate for recent grads, this program is an excellent way to become an RN at a low cost. Graduates can always enter an RN-BSN bridge program after completing the ASN.
Annual In-State Tuition: $7,565 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $18,475 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 91.56%
Based in Bozeman, Montana State University is home to nearly 17,000 students, only 7,800 of which are from MSU is also one of the most important public schools in Montana and offers the only generic BSN in the state. Aside from the traditional BSN, MSU has an accelerated BSN, master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP). NCLEX pass rates for MSU grads are impressive, and any Montana residents interested in nursing can earn an excellent BSN at a low tuition cost.
Annual In-State Tuition: $7,440 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $22,500 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 100%
Originally the Montana State School of Mines, Montana Tech has since absorbed multiple colleges and schools. Today, Montana Tech has a nursing program with two options for students: a traditional, four-year degree and an RN-BSN. The traditional BSN has incredible outcomes, and the past two years have seen every student pass the NCLEX on their first try. Current RNs can enroll in the RN-BSN and online program that can be finished in as little as a year. However, RN-BSN students must have an ASN.
Annual Tuition: $29,190 | NCLEX Pass Rate: N/A
Based in Great Falls, University of Providence is a private, Catholic school. As a private school, all students are required to pay the same tuition rate, although many University of Providence students get some form of financial aid. University of Providence doesn't disclose the Division of Nursing NCLEX pass rates, but the program is well-respected. Students can enroll in the traditional BSN or an online RN-BSN. Current RNs enrolling in the RN-BSN completion program instead pay $483 per credit, making it an affordable program for nurses that just needs a few more credits.
Annual Tuition: $36,182 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 100%
Consistently ranked as one of the top schools in the region, Carroll College is another Catholic school. Based in Helena, Carroll College is a bit more expensive than other schools on this list. However, students receive an average financial aid package of over $28,000, and the nursing program is well worth the cost. The 2018 class aced the NCLEX on their first try, and Carroll has a direct-entry option for students still in high school. An accelerated BSN is also available for students who already have a bachelor's degree, though this program hasn't yet received accreditation.
Annual In-State Tuition: $3,440 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $9,400 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 93.94%
With a small student to faculty ratio of 12:1 and an average class size of just 11 students, Helena College offers a focused education. The attention to students could be part of the reason every nursing program graduate who took the NCLEX passed on the first try (according to the school's 2019 data). While Helena College doesn't have a four-year program, students can enroll in the ASN, a two-year program that leads to NCLEX readiness and nursing licensure. Afterward, students can always choose one of the RN-BSN programs offered elsewhere in Montana.
Annual In-State Tuition: $7,948 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $14,434 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 85.19%
Missoula College is a two-year college that only offers associate degrees, so nursing students won't be able to complete their BSN. However, the RN program only takes four semesters to complete and leads to RN licensure. Only 18 students are admitted to the RN program each semester, so admissions can be competitive. However, any students that get accepted can get an affordable two-year degree and follow up with an RN-BSN at another school.
Annual In-State Tuition: $3,417 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $10,309 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 77.27%
Founded in 1969 as a vocational school, Great Falls College is now one of the main two-year schools in Montana. Like every other two-year college in Montana, Great Falls College doesn't have a traditional BSN program. Instead, students complete an ASN and are prepared to sit for the NCLEX and become RNs. Completing an ASN satisfies prerequisites for an RN-BSN program, so this can be a fast route to becoming a nurse and earning a BSN later.
Annual In-State Tuition: $5,955 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $18,664 | NCLEX Pass Rate: N/A
With campuses in Havre and Great Falls (and an online campus), Montana State University Northern has perhaps the least traditional route to a BSN of any school in Montana. Earning a BSN consists of two steps: first nursing students need to complete the ASN. After, they can enroll in MSU Northern's RN-BSN, available both in-person and online. MSU Northern's recent NCLEX pass rates were officially 0% -- only one student took the exam -- but prior years had pass rates as has as 89.83%.
Annual In-State Tuition: $5,076 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $10,260 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 86.67%
Salish Kootenai College is an incredibly small school with just 801 students currently enrolled. Despite the size, Salish Kootenai's Nursing Program graduates more Native American RNs than any other school. Currently, SKC only offers an ASN, though they're retiring the program to introduce a traditional four-year BSN. The new BSN program will begin accepting students in Spring 2020. It's also worth noting that Native American students and Native American descendants receive even lower tuition than in-state students.
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),
- Montana RNs earn an annual mean wage of $67,450, lower than the national average.
- Montana employs 10,100 nurses which is more nurses per total workers than the average state.
While the national mean wage for nurses is $75,510, Montana has a relatively low cost of living, so the lower wage extends further than in other states. Montana also has a higher mean wage than neighbors Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
According to the BLS, Montana has a location quotient of RNs of 1.07. Any number larger than 1 means that more nurses are employed per 1,000 workers than the national average. This data essentially means that Montana is a relatively high employer of nurses per capita.
With a national nursing shortage already affecting hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country, it's an encouraging sign that Montana employs more nurses than most other states.
After reviewing potential colleges and nursing programs, you'll probably be interested in a few options. Before jumping in and sending applications, here are some steps you'll want to follow to increase your chances of getting accepted into your program(s) of choice:
Contact each school’s admissions offices. The admissions office runs admissions, and they can tell the difference between a good and subpar application. If you have any questions about what you need to do to get accepted to the school, contact the admissions office.
Check to see if you meet the nursing school requirements. Just because you've been accepted to a college doesn't mean you've been accepted into the nursing program. Get connected with someone working for the nursing program to find out any requirements.
Submit your application(s). Once you've learned more about each school's admissions process and gotten in touch with the nursing school, the final step is to gather your materials and submit your application(s).
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:
No two schools are alike, and you may find yourself struggling to pick between two (or more) schools. Fortunately, as long as each school is accredited, there is no "wrong" choice. Focus on picking the best school for your personal wants and needs.
Here are things to consider when comparing schools:
- Tuition cost and cost of the nursing program
- 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 from clinicals
- Program outcomes (NCLEX pass rate and job placement)
- Accreditation (regional and programmatic)
Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation
Accreditation is a way for colleges to verify their academic quality. The best accreditation a school can earn is regional accreditation, and the regionally accrediting body for Montana is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. On top of regional accreditation, the best programs (including nursing programs) have 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 Montana
Montana is part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), a group of states that have standardized licensure. This means that becoming licensed is relatively straightforward, so long as you studied at an accredited school.
Along with becoming NCLEX-RN eligible, you'll need to:
- Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
- Submit fingerprints and pass a criminal background check
- Pay an application fee and complete an application on the Montana Board of Nursing website
With plenty of mountains and wide-open spaces, there are few places in the U.S. like Montana. While the wages earned by nurses in Montana aren't the highest, the low cost of living and high employment rates make Montana a great place to enjoy a nursing career. There are plenty of quality nursing programs in Montana, and if you're from the state you can take advantage of in-state tuition. As part of the eNLC, licensed nurses in Montana can easily move to most other states.