Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in Tennessee
If you're interested in becoming a nurse in Tennessee, the best thing to do is earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at a local school. Not only is Tennessee home to many excellent nursing programs, but studying in-state prepares you to pass the NCLEX, become a registered nurse (RN), and meet the application requirements for a nursing license in Tennessee.
Earning a BSN increases your chances of finding a high-paying position, and BSN holders earn more than non-BSN holding RNs.
By choosing the right school, you'll set yourself up to become an RN, find a high-paying position, and prepare yourself for more education down the road.
Because nursing careers take different forms, the top 10 Tennessee nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.
Top 10 Nursing Schools in Tennessee
Annual In-State Tuition: $10,020 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
Based in Chattanooga and just a short drive from Georgia is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. With nearly 10,000 full-time students, nursing students that choose UTC get to enjoy an urban campus and the benefits of a large school. While the School of Nursing isn't the largest in the state, students can complete nearly any degree through UTC. Available programs include a traditional BSN, an online RN-BSN, two master's of science in nursing (MSN) programs, and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). First-time NCLEX pass rates are impressive, and every student who completed the BSN has eventually passed the NCLEX.
Annual In-State Tuition: $8,934 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
Based in Cookeville, Tennessee Technological University structures its curriculum and programs to maximize students' chances of finding a job after graduation. Students who earn a nursing degree through the Whitson-Hester School of Nursing graduate ready to enter a high-demand field. Recent NCLEX pass rates for the traditional BSN are impressive, and Tennessee Tech offers an affordable in-state tuition rate to Tennessee residents. Current RNs can take advantage of an RN-BSN or RN-MSN, both of which can boost your income.
Annual Tuition: $32,650 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94%
With just over 3,000 students, Union University offers a small, private university experience. Union's main campus is based in Jackson, though it has additional campuses in Hendersonville, Germantown, and Memphis. While earning a BSN from Union, students will first complete 65 credit hours of core courses, followed by 64 nursing credit hours. This is generally split evenly over the four-year degree, so students take most of their nursing courses during their junior and senior years. Upon graduation, nurses either enter the workforce or continue their education and earn an MSN or DNP.
Annual In-State Tuition: $13,264 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98%
The University of Tennessee Knoxville is one of the oldest universities in the nation, founded over 200 years ago. Since its establishment, UT Knoxville -- often referred to as "Tennessee" -- has grown into the flagship university in the University of Tennessee System and one of the top universities in the nation. The College of Nursing matches the academic excellence of UT Knoxville, and undergraduate students can choose from the traditional BSN, an online RN-BSN, accelerated BSN, or the Honors Program. UT Knoxville regularly admits over 100 BSN students annually, though admissions are still tough.
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,542 (based on per-credit tuition) | NCLEX Pass Rate: 93%
Middle Tennessee State University is a large, public research school based in Murfreesboro. MTSU has a reputation for being an affordable, quality school for Tennessee residents, though students from out-of-state can take advantage of its excellent programs. The School of Nursing offers two programs: a traditional, four-year BSN and an MSN with a concentration of family nurse practitioner (FNP). The MSN leads to a high-paying and high-demand field, so current or future nurses looking to specialize their practice may be interested in the program.
Annual Tuition: $22,000 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
Founded based on President Abraham Lincoln's vision to create a great university in the Cumberland Gap, Lincoln Memorial University brings quality education to the region. Based in the Appalachian city of Harrogate, LMU students study at one of the most scenic campuses in the area and benefit from a tight-knit community. Students of the Caylor School of Nursing can choose a traditional or accelerated 17-month BSN and have the option to study at LMU's extended campus in Tampa, Florida. Keep in mind that studying in Florida meets Florida's nursing requirements and may not meet Tennessee's.
Annual Tuition: $35,650 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 91%
Belmont University is a private, Christian school that prides itself on innovation. With over 8,400 students, Belmont is a decently sized private school, though students still enjoy a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and the chance to study in Nashville. Belmont's innovation extends to the BSN program where students can choose a traditional four-year degree or one of two accelerated formats (a 16-month or 21-month BSN). Also offered are an MSN and a DNP with a focus as an FNP.
Annual Tuition: $38,300 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96%
Another private, Christian school, Bethel University is based in McKenzie. Bethel emphasizes community, and while the school is religious, students from all backgrounds enjoy their time at Bethel. As an example, the undergraduate nursing program doesn't mix religious values and medicine, instead, focusing on tried-and-true nursing practices. The result is one of the only nursing schools in the nation to achieve a 100% NCLEX pass rate for grads, and graduates over the past four years have averaged over a 95% pass rate. The cost of Bethel's education may be higher than that of other schools, but nursing students enjoy great outcomes and get an education like no other.
Annual Tuition: $33,424 NCLEX Pass Rate: 97%
Lipscomb University is a private school based in the bustling city of Nashville. Consistently ranked among the best Christian schools in the US, Lipscomb forgoes a large student body in favor of a lower student-to-faculty ratio. The benefits of a small school are clear to nursing students who receive a more personalized education when they have fewer students to compete with. In the past four years, Lipscomb has lowered its admitted students from roughly 65 per year to just 37. The result has been a jump in NCLEX pass rates, though this change might make admission into the program more difficult.
Annual In-State Tuition: $9,936 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88%
Founded in 1912, the University of Memphis teaches over 22,000 students across its 1,600-acre campus in Memphis. Most nursing students will complete the traditional BSN, a five-semester program that begins after students complete three semesters of prerequisite courses. Perhaps the most impressive part of Memphis' nursing program is maintaining a good NCLEX pass rate despite increasing the number of admitted nursing students from 153 to 258 earlier in the decade. The hike in admitted students could make this an easier nursing school to get admitted into.
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),
- Tennessee RNs earn an annual mean wage of $61,320, lower than the national mean wage of $75,510.
- Tennessee employs over 20 nurses for every 1,000 workers, on par with the national average. Over 60,000 nurses work in Tennessee.
Tennessee isn't among the top-paying states for nurses, but the region is home to some of the lowest mean wages for nurses. So, nurses in Tennessee earn about the same (and sometimes more) than nurses in neighboring states.
It's worth noting that mean wages don't determine the wage you could earn. RNs usually earn more if they earn a BSN, so the wages you earn could be higher than those reported by the BLS.
One great part about working as a nurse in Tennessee is that employment numbers meet the national average. Densely populated areas, like Nashville, have the highest concentration of nurses -- and higher mean wages.
The first step to picking a school is creating a list of a few schools you're interested in. While you may have one clear favorite, applying to multiple schools is always a smart choice. This increases your chances of getting into a nursing program, and a school might offer a nice financial aid package to get your attention!
Once you've narrowed your list down, here are the next steps:
Here are the next steps broken down:
Contact each school’s admissions offices. Each school has an admissions office, and this should be your first point of contact. Any questions you have about the admissions process can be answered by an admissions counselor.
Check to see if you meet the nursing school requirements. Yes, nursing schools often have additional (and stricter) admission requirements on top of those for the university. Make sure you're on track to be eligible for the nursing program. If you aren't, as the admissions office how you can improve your application.
Submit your application(s). After you've gathered everything you need and prepared your application, the final step is to apply to each school! Schools and nursing programs usually have deadlines, so make sure your application is in before the deadline.
Common application requirements include:
- High school transcript (GPA)
- ACT and/or SAT scores
- College entrance essay(s)
- Letter(s) of recommendation
Important considerations when comparing schools:
If everything goes well, you should be receiving acceptance letters from some -- or all -- of the schools you applied to. Next comes the hard part: picking where you're going to earn your degree. You might not have a clear-cut favorite, and that's ok. Spend some time weighing the pros and cons of each school you've been accepted to.
When comparing schools, consider the following:
- Total cost of the program
- Financial aid, scholarships, and grants offered
- Cost of living on-campus or in the area
- School and nursing program acceptance rate
- Length of program
- 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 school's way of verifying its academic quality. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges is the regionally accrediting body in Tennessee. Along with regional accreditation, make sure the nursing program 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 Tennessee
Tennessee is part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), a compact that standardizes nursing licensure across most US states. If you become licensed in Tennessee, your license will also work in most other US states, and more states are continually being added to the compact.
To get a license in Tennessee, you'll need to:
- Study at an accredited school
- Take and pass the NCLEX-RN
- Pass a criminal background check
- Apply through the Tennessee Board of Nursing
Tennessee is home to many nationally-renowned universities and nursing programs, and in-state students have plenty of affordable options. While a nursing career in Tennessee may not be the highest-paying, nurses enjoy high employment rates within the state, particularly in busy urban areas. Thanks to the eNLC, becoming a licensed nurse in Tennessee means you've met the minimum requirements to begin nursing in most other states.
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