Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is home to some of the oldest cities in the nation. The state is full of history, famous buildings, and institutions, including world-renowned colleges and universities.
While a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) has never been required to become a nurse, many hospitals are starting to look for nurses with at least a BSN. Also, a BSN increases your chances of finding a job in the area you want. Of course, finding the perfect job starts with earning a degree.
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 5 Registered Nurses with over 55 years of combined nursing experience and 7 nursing degrees.
- Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
- Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
- Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN
- Kathleen Gaines, BSN, RN, BA, CBC
- Leah Helmbrecht, BSN, RN
Because nursing careers take different forms, the top 10 New Jersey nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Nursing Schools in Pennsylvania
Most colleges are based in or around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, two of the largest cities in the region. By studying in an urban area, students will be closer to hospitals and healthcare facilities, shortening their commute for clinicals. Of course, nursing programs in more rural areas are always an option, too.
Annual Tuition: $40,287 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 90%
As the name insinuates, Moravian College was founded by members of the Moravian Church. Fittingly located in Bethlehem, Moravian College has nearly 300 years of history and has become one of the most renowned schools in the area. Their nursing department is particularly impressive, boasting 10 different degree options from the bachelors to doctoral level. It’s also worth noting that many students earn some form of financial aid, so the tuition might not be as high as it seems.
Annual Tuition: $34,764 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.26%
Drexel University is a private school, but you wouldn’t know it visiting campus. With over 24,00 students, Drexel is among the largest private universities in the nation. The university’s campus spreads across Philadelphia, and nursing students are bound to gain clinical experience in or around the city. Drexel offers two pre-licensure nursing programs: a co-op four-year and a co-op five year. Both will give students acute and chronic illness nursing experience, while the latter will add specialties in contemporary healthcare and another field that students may choose themselves.
Annual Tuition: $29,990 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 92.86%
Holy Family University is a small, Catholic school with just over 2,000 undergraduate students, making it one of the smallest schools in Pennsylvania. Despite its small size, Holy Family University still has one of the top nursing programs in the state. There are multiple nursing degree options, including a traditional BSN. This 123-credit program is considered to one of the best in Philadelphia, if not the best. Students will earn nearly 600 hours of clinical experience in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Annual Tuition: $30,700 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.29%
Another private, Christian school in Philadelphia, La Salle University distinguishes itself by combining Christian ethics with modern science. The traditional BSN shows this blend, teaching students how to be professionals while placing an emphasis on compassion. Through this program, students will gain clinical experience through at a hospital in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey. If you’re not interested in a traditional BSN, La Salle has nine other degree choices for students of varying experience, along with an array of master’s certificates.
Annual Tuition: $51,156 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 91.46%
Better known across the nation as “Penn,” the University of Pennsylvania is one of the top schools in the nation for all programs. Their nursing program is also considered one of the best nationally and for good reason. Nurses gain access to Penn’s extensive alumni network, and that can lead to top jobs. One interesting part of their BSN program is sub matriculation. In their junior year, students can choose to double-count their courses toward a master’s degree. This significantly reduces the time and cost of earning a master’s, if that’s your end goal.
Annual Tuition: $39,992 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 92.99%
Duquesne University is a well-known Catholic school based in Pittsburgh. They have an incredibly low student-to-faculty ratio (14:1) that many nursing students are sure to love. While Duquesne’s traditional BSN program is their most popular option for nursing students, the most interesting undergraduate option is the five-year biomedical engineering (BME) and BSN program. Duquesne is the first school to offer a BME/BSN and is likely the best school for anyone interested in the dual degree.
Annual In-State Tuition: $22,826 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 91.49%
The University of Pittsburgh is one of the most recognizable schools in the region. Founded in 1787, Pitt has a rich history of educating and has grown with the city around it. Unlike other schools, Pitt’s traditional BSN doesn’t make students apply to the program separately; instead, students will get accepted into the program directly out of high school. If you’re worried about choosing a school only to miss out on the BSN, then this is a school worth applying to. As a public school, Pennsylvania residents will get to take advantage of Pitt’s in-state tuition rate.
Annual Tuition: $45,790 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 95.77%
Perhaps the best Pennsylvania school for nurses not located in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh is the University of Scranton. This private, Catholic school was founded by Jesuits, so expect to receive a well-rounded education prior to working on your nursing degree. BSN students will be happy to hear that three hospitals where they may have clinicals are just a quick walk from campus – something most other schools don’t have. Students also have the option to get an externship at one of the nation’s top hospitals, such as New York University Hospital or Vanderbilt Medical Center.
Annual In-State Tuition: $18,454| NCLEX Pass Rate: 98.90%
The Pennsylvania State University’s low in-state tuition and super high NCLEX pass rate are sure to have gotten your attention. What’s even more impressive is that over 2,000 students are currently enrolled in the BSN program, so each year hundreds of grads are taking and passing the NCLEX. Penn State’s college of nursing is spread across 13 campuses, so it’s also one of the most accessible nursing programs. However, applicants should note that only 22% of BSN applicants were accepted in 2017, and accepted applicants had an average GPA of 3.77.
Annual Tuition: $54,550 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.09%
The tuition is steep at Villanova University, but you’d be paying for one of the best Catholic universities in the nation. But you don’t become one of the nation’s top schools without having excellent academics. The traditional BSN program, the centerpiece of Villanova’s nursing school, is among the top nursing programs in the region. Students that maintain a good GPA are also eligible to study abroad at the University of Manchester in England their sophomore year, a rarity for nursing majors.
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 individual 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),
- There were 148,520 registered nurses (RN) employed in Pennsylvania in 2018, the fifth highest in the nation.
- Pennsylvania employs more nurses per capita than the national average.
So, there is no shortage of work for nurses in Pennsylvania. While the median pay of $70,390 is slightly lower than the national average of $75,510, plenty of well-paying jobs are available for qualified nurses.
Also, because many Pennsylvania hospitals systems spread into other states, a degree in Pennsylvania could lead to a job in another state, such as New Jersey.
Before nurses can start their career, they’ll first need to earn a BSN and pass the NCLEX.
Once you’ve created a list of schools you are interested in, the next thing to do is apply! Prior to sending in your applications, though, you’ll want to make sure each school is a good fit. You won’t want to enroll at a college only to find out you aren’t eligible for the BSN program.
Here are the steps to follow:
- Contact each school’s admissions offices. The admissions office will walk you through their application requirements. Most schools have similar requirements, but it’s smart to double check with every school.
- See what the nursing school requirements are. Most schools will have you apply for a nursing program after a year of study. Nursing school applications often require a higher GPA than college applications, among other requirements. If you aren’t eligible for a school’s nursing program, you should take it off your list.
- Submit your application(s). Items you’ll need to submit will likely include:
- High school transcript (GPA)
- ACT and/or SAT scores
- College entrance essay(s)
- Letter(s) of recommendation
Other materials, such as community service or work experience, might also be required or suggested.
If at any point you feel confused or lost, contact an admissions representative. Their job is to help you through the application process.
Important considerations when comparing schools:
No two schools are alike, and each school will have a clear advantage over others. For example, a public school may offer in-state tuition, but a private school may have a program you can’t find anywhere else. Weigh the pros and cons of every school before picking where to study. Some factors to consider include:
- Annual tuition and total program cost
- Acceptance rate (both for the school and the nursing program)
- Scholarships or grants offered by the school
- Length of the program
- Benefits of each specific nursing program
- Distance from home (will you have to commute or live on campus?)
- Accreditation (regional and national)
Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation
You might not know much about accreditation, but it’s critical when looking at nursing schools. If a school doesn’t have the right accreditation, you won’t be eligible to take the NCLEX and become a registered nurse. Also, finding a job could prove to be much more difficult.
The two nursing accreditation organizations to look for are
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
If a school is accredited by one of these institutions, then their nursing program adheres to strict national standards.
Getting a License in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), meaning they follow the same nurse licensing standards as 24 other states (with more to come in the future). So, becoming licensed in Pennsylvania is pretty straight forward.
To become licensed, you’ll need to:
- Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
- Pass a criminal background check
- Apply to become a nurse in Pennsylvania
And that’s it! Of course, you’ll need to be eligible to sit for the NCLEX. A degree from a CCNE or ACEN accredited school should satisfy all the prerequisites to sit for the exam. Once licensed, you’ll need to maintain licensure with continuing education.
Despite not being one of the largest states in the nation, Pennsylvania has the fifth-most nurses of any state. There are incredible nursing options in Pennsylvania and the surrounding states and earning a BSN in Pennsylvania can help you find a local job. Be prepared to move to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia if you want to study at one of the premier nursing schools in Pennsylvania.