Top 10 Best Nursing Schools of 2020
If you plan on becoming a Registered Nurse (RN), then where you go to school and the degree you earn will play a huge role in your future career. The United States has a pressing need for qualified nurses. The BLS projects the number of nursing jobs to grow by 12% over the next decade, much faster than the average for other careers. A degree in nursing leads to high-growth positions with excellent pay.
According to the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN), as of 2020, there were approximately 996 Bachelor’s degree programs in the United States. A survey conducted by the AACN in 2018 found at least 363,433 students enrolled in 688 of those baccalaureate nursing programs.
With so many nursing schools, how do you pick the best option?
In this guide, we explore the top 10 nursing schools in the nation as well as how to research nursing schools, how to find the qualities most important to you, and how to select programs that match your wants and needs.
Top 10 Best Nursing Schools in 2020
With nearly 1,000 BSN programs and plenty of ADN programs, picking the best of the best is no simple task. When selecting the top 10 nursing programs in the U.S., we considered factors including:
- Program outcomes
- NCLEX pass rate
- Program quality
- Accreditation (all ranked schools have ACEN or CCNE accreditation)
These are the top 10 nursing programs in the nation:
Annual Tuition: $60,408 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98.39%
One of the most well-known universities in the nation, Duke University excels as a research school. While this might be more valuable to some graduate nurses, undergraduate nurses benefit from state-of-the-art facilities, world-renowned faculty, and a degree from one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Undergraduate students have one nursing degree option: an accelerated BSN for students who already hold a non-nursing bachelor's degree. The 58-credit hours require almost 800 hours of clinical experience, so students are more than prepared to begin nursing careers.
Other options at Duke include multiple MSN options, DNP choices (including one of the best nurse anesthesia programs), and a more research-intensive Ph.D. in nursing. No matter which degree you choose from Duke, it's guaranteed to be among the best in the nation.
Annual Tuition: $58,503 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 100%
Georgetown University is the nation's oldest Jesuit and Catholic universities. Nursing students enjoy access to various health systems and communities in the Washington, D.C. area. Georgetown also runs the O'Neill Family Foundation Clinical Simulation Center, one of the best simulation centers for nurses in the nation. The BSN uses direct entry, so you won’t need to worry about a second application after enrolling at Georgetown. Nursing students begin gaining clinical experience during their freshman year and rack up over 850 clinical hours before graduating. The result is a perfect NCLEX pass rate for the class of 2019.
Annual Tuition: $55,350 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 92.31%
As America's first research university, it's no wonder that Johns Hopkins University ranks among the best in most fields, including nursing. Unfortunately for recent high school graduates, Johns Hopkins doesn't offer a BSN. However, the esteemed institution does have a unique pre-licensure MSN for students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree. This program prepares students to sit for the NCLEX and has various scholarships available.
The bulk of Johns Hopkins nursing programs are doctoral degrees, mainly in advanced practice tracks like nurse anesthesiology, family primary care nurse practitioner, and adult-gerontological health clinical nurse specialist. Regardless of which degree you choose, you'll be studying at possibly the best research institution in the world.
Annual Tuition: $53,308 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 89.8%
Founded in 1831, New York University is a leader in higher education, and despite the high price tag, many students receive financial aid. The Rory Meyers College of Nursing has several undergraduate nursing options including a traditional four-year BSN, an accelerated 15-month BSN, and an RN-BSN. The traditional BSN has students begin nursing courses during their first semester and allows for a study abroad opportunity during students' sophomore year. Of the 401 NYU nursing students who took the NCLEX in 2019, 360 passed.
NYU's graduate-level programs include a DNP, a Ph.D., and two multi-degree master's programs, a dual BSN/MSN program that completes both degrees and leads to specialty, and an MSN with a second master's degree in public health.
Annual Tuition: $57,770 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.83%
The University of Pennsylvania stands out for several reasons: its founding in 1740, its incredibly low 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and the quality of all its programs. The main Penn Nursing program is the traditional BSN, a four-year program that emphasizes community involvement and involves a mentorship program. Undergraduate nurses also get to study at a state-of-the-art research lab and have the chance to study abroad or complete an internship.
UPenn offers several accelerated options, including a second degree BSN and a direct entry BSN/MSN for incoming students that know they want a master's degree. There's also the Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation that moves BSN students straight into the Ph.D. program.
Annual In-State Tuition: $7,779 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $25,600 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98.95%
As a public school, the University of Michigan can be incredibly affordable for Michigan residents. Even out-of-state students receive a relatively low tuition rate considering the quality of the School of Nursing. When BSN students aren't busy watching Wolverine football, they're studying in a program with over 127 years of nursing education. Undergraduate students develop into some of the best nurses in the nation, and the extensive alumni network of 13,000 could help graduates secure an excellent job right out of college.
Nurses that want to continue their education would likely be most interested in the U-M School of Nursing's MSN programs. Students choose from eight different clinical focuses or select the leadership-focused MSN. Some of these degrees are available entirely online, too.
Annual In-State Tuition: $13,239 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $42,993 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 97.73%
Any prospective nursing students living in California probably already have the University of California Los Angeles on their list. Not only does UCLA offer a beautiful campus in sunny Southern California, but the School of Nursing is easily among the best in the nation. New students enroll in the BSN, a cohort program that has students gain clinical experience at some of the top hospitals in Los Angeles.
Perhaps the highlight of UCLA's School of Nursing is the APRN program. This two-year MSN degree prepares students to gain a specialty in one of 10 areas. This includes one of the West's first and largest acute care nurse practitioner programs.
Annual In-State Tuition: $11,465 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $38,166 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.04%
Based in the tech city of Seattle, the University of Washington is one of the top universities in the nation and perhaps the best in the region. UW's undergraduate nursing options include a traditional BSN, an accelerated second degree BSN, and an accelerated BSN with direct entry into the DNP in nurse-midwifery. Most students select the traditional BSN and earn over 1,000 hours of clinical experience at local hospitals like Seattle Children's Hospital and the University of Washington Medical Center.
While UW does offer a master's degree in clinical informatics, most graduate students select one of 11 DNP tracks. The DNP program is arguably the best in the nation, and nurses don't need to earn an MSN before applying -- though they should gain some professional experience first.
Annual Tuition: $53,070 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96.26%
Considered one of the top private universities in the nation, Emory University is also well-known for its incredible healthcare system. The Neil Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing offers students plenty of flexibility. For example, BSN students have two choices: study at the Emory College campus in Atlanta, Georgia, or at the Oxford College campus in Oxford, Georgia. Both options have the same tuition (the rate represented above) and excellent outcomes, though student experiences differ between the two.
The Emory College campus is best for students who value independence and want to enjoy life in a bustling city. The Oxford College campus is best for students who want small class sizes and a tight-knit group of fellow nursing students. When nursing students aren't busy studying, they get to enjoy the scenic campuses. Graduate nurses have plenty of MSN options and also get to enjoy Emory's top-of-the-class healthcare system.
Annual In-State Tuition: $10,819 | Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $38,886 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 86.67%
Located just outside of Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland enrolls over 41,000 students and has over 377,000 alumni. The School of Nursing's undergraduate program includes a traditional BSN and an online RN-BSN. Traditional students have the option to study through the University of Maryland Baltimore or Universities of Shady Grove, both of which have the same requirements and similar outcomes. The 300+ test-takers in the class of 2019 may not have posted the most impressive NCLEX pass rate numbers, but the University of Maryland usually sees even more graduates pass on their first try.
The highlights of the University of Maryland's nursing school are the graduate programs. Students have various MSN and DNP options, including an RN-MSN, an entry-into-nursing MSN, and a nurse anesthesia DNP.
Choosing the Best RN Program for You
Where you complete your RN program plays a huge role in dictating your future career. You have to choose between a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program, a large or small nursing school, an accelerated or four-year degree, and much more. Each factor can influence your career.
Any given program might not work for some students but could be perfect for you. Nursing schools are intentionally different to best educate specific students.
Before looking at nursing schools, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I want to study at a large or small school?
- Do I want a private or public education?
- Do I prefer to study in a busy city or a small town? Am I planning on starting a nursing career in the same city or town as the college/university?
- Nursing licenses are offered by states, so is there a specific state where I want to start my nursing career?
- Do I want to earn a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN? Or, do I want to go even further and earn a master's of science in nursing (MSN), doctorate of nursing practice (DNP), or a Ph.D. in nursing?
What Are Clinicals?
While part of a nursing degree involves sitting in classrooms and learning valuable information, nurses need experience before they begin saving lives. Clinical experience, referred to as clinicals, provides nurses with the practical experience necessary to begin nursing. Each school handles clinicals differently. For example, some schools offer evening or weekend rotations while some may be during typical 9-5 hours. Schools also use connections with local hospitals and healthcare facilities to organize clinicals, so some students end up learning in some of the best hospitals in the nation.
Here are some questions to ask when comparing nursing program clinicals:
- Which hospitals does my program work with?
- What types of units can I do clinicals in?
- How far are clinicals from the school's campus?
- How much total clinical time is required by each program?
- What days of the week are clinicals held on?
- Can I do my clinical rotation hours with a part-time schedule?
- Can I work while doing my clinical hours?
- What is the make-up assignment if I miss a day of clinical?
Considering Nursing Program Cost
Another factor students need to consider is the cost of their degree. Tuition rates vary by school size, the type of institution, and the degree program. For example, public schools offer in-state tuition to residents, and ADN programs cost less than BSN programs.
Aside from tuition, nursing students need to consider other costs, including:
- School and lab fees
- Cost of books
- Other course materials such as uniforms and clinical supplies
- Cost of living expenses which may include on-campus room and board.
Paying For Nursing School
While costs may seem steep, most nursing students end up paying much less thanks to financial aid.
Some forms of financial aid for nursing students include:
Students worried about the cost of programs can always begin by getting their ADN. ADNs can be completed at community colleges, which typically charge much lower tuition rates than four-year colleges and universities. Doing this can save students thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars.
BSN programs, on the other hand, typically cost more than ADN programs and take twice as long to complete. However, BSN programs help nurses find higher-paying positions. Students with enough financial aid would have a hard time justifying an ADN program over a BSN program.
Which choice is a better financial decision? That depends on the student. Talk with a financial advisor to decide the best choice, and let each school's financial aid office know you're looking for help with the cost of your nursing degree.
What is the NCLEX?
If you enroll in an ADN or BSN program, you'll take the NCLEX-RN exam around the time of your graduation. The NCLEX certifies nurses, and no state or hospital will license or employ a nurse that hasn't passed the NCLEX. Fortunately, all accredited nursing programs satisfy the prerequisites to sit for the NCLEX and should prepare you to pass the exam on your first try.
You're not alone, though. Colleges and universities care about their students' outcomes and want to see as many students pass the NCLEX as possible. Through a combination of coursework, lab courses, and clinicals, schools do all they can to prepare you to take and pass the NCLEX. Some nursing schools do this better than others, and that's a factor worth considering when picking a college or university.
Evaluating Nursing Schools? Ask These 4 Questions First
Once you know what type of program (BSN or ADN) you're looking for, the next step is to start evaluating nursing schools. There are four questions you should ask as you’re deciding on your nursing school.
1.) Where do you want to study, live, and work?
As previously mentioned, nurses obtain a license for the state where they completed their program. If there's a specific state, county, or city you want to work in, consider finding a school in the area. If you're unsure, you can always obtain a multi-state license after you complete the program.
2.) What housing situation do you want?
Depending on where you study, housing can end up being a significant cost. If you decide to move away from home to earn your degree, you'll need to figure out where to live. Fortunately, you have a few options.
University housing, such as dorms or apartments, provides a location close to your courses. However, university housing is often more expensive than off-campus housing.
Off-campus housing lets you live nearly anywhere you want. You may be further from campus, but this could place you closer to clinicals.
If you do end up living off-campus, you'll need to pick the best neighborhood for your situation. Busy cities like New York and Los Angeles can be expensive, and living in the suburbs could be the most affordable option.
3.) What do I need to get admitted into nursing school?
Nursing programs require you to get admitted to the college/university and the nursing school. Nursing schools often have stricter requirements for entry.
4.) Is the nursing program I'm interested in good?
Just because a school offers a nursing degree doesn't mean it's a quality nursing degree.
First, make sure every school and nursing program you apply to is accredited. Any nursing program you apply to should be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and Education (CCNE). If you don't choose an accredited nursing program, you CANNOT sit for the NCLEX and earn an RN license. You'll likely have difficulty finding a nursing job after graduation.
Second, check out student outcomes. A nursing school may have a low tuition rate and be accredited, but the NCLEX pass rates could leave something to be desired. In 2019, the US saw a total NCLEX first time pass rate of 88.18%. A pass rate below this would be below the national average.
How To Choose The Best Nursing School
While we thought these were the top nursing schools of 2020, the best nursing school for you may not be on this list. Spend time researching various nursing schools to make sure that you're making the best decision for your personal situation. Create a list of potential schools and, using factors mentioned on this page, rank your set of schools to find the best option.