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Each day that a nurse faces tends to bring new and interesting challenges and the feeling of helping people for a living can be a benefit beyond measure. If you're thinking about a nursing career, we've got some information that can help you get on track.
You can begin work as a registered nurse (RN) before earning your bachelor's, although paths to advancement in the field typically require a four-year degree. Whether you're a working RN or not, the best schools and colleges for nursing degrees can help you take the next step.
Clinical sections of RN training typically must be done in person, but the academic portions of nursing degree programs can often be found online or through other distance education methods. Read on to learn more about the best schools for nursing, some top nursing degree programs and a few tips about financial aid and professional organizations.
Best Colleges for Nursing Degree Programs
We scored hundreds of nursing degree programs nationwide in eight categories, based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Click the button for details about our methodology, and take a look at our list of the ten best schools and colleges for nursing degrees.
Our No. 1 school boasts the second-lowest tuition among the ten best schools for nursing -- a modest $3,120 for the 2015-16 academic year -- and funnels a considerable portion of its institutional revenue back into the programs it offers. Just three other schools on our list reserved a higher percentage of spending for instructional expenses than Chipola College.
This Marianna, Florida, institution also features an open enrollment policy, which ensures that applicants won't be denied the ability to pursue an education based on past academic performance. The nursing program at Chipola offers degree programs at the associate as well as the bachelor's level.
This institution, located in the northeastern Mississippi city of Columbus, has study plans available for nurses at all levels of their careers. Associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in nursing can all be earned here, and only two other schools in our top ten graduated a higher percentage of nursing students in 2015.
Mississippi University for Women is also one of the top schools for online nursing degrees, with 63 percent of enrolled students taking at least some of their coursework in the virtual classroom. The RN to BSN program at MUW -- an option for working registered nurses who want to earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing -- is offered in a hybrid format that splits time between online and traditional classrooms.
Just three other schools on our list had a higher graduation rate than the University of Cincinnati, where flexibility and student services were the standout statistical categories. Not only did nearly 39 percent of the student body have at least one online course on their schedule in 2015, but students with scheduling concerns can take numerous classes on campus at night or on weekends.
The University of Cincinnati was the largest institution to make our list, awarding nearly 10,000 degrees in 2015. It also covered more nursing-specific subjects than any other school in our top ten, and aspiring nurses who hold a bachelor's degree in a different subject can choose accelerated pathways toward a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing.
Mount Carmel College of Nursing only offers nursing programs, so nursing students here have the highest possible percentage of like-minded classmates in the student body. This Columbus, Ohio, school also posted the second-highest graduation rate among schools that made our top ten and spent the third-highest percentage of its expenses on instructional matters.
The degree plans at Mount Carmel offer a range of scheduling plans to help students fit their nursing training into their busy lives. The Second Degree Accelerated Program (SDAP) for students who already hold a bachelor's degree takes just 13 months to complete, and the online RN to BSN program requires just 44 credit hours of study and can be earned full- or part-time.
Our No. 5 school took the No. 1 spot for affordability in this analysis, charging students an average of just $3,100 in 2015-16. Florida Gateway College also features an open enrollment policy and offers weekend and evening courses for non-traditional campus-based students.
Despite not offering a fully online nursing degree as of 2017, FGC does provide a substantial catalog of online courses that includes pathophysiology and nursing theory. More than 55 percent of students enrolled at Florida Gateway College in 2015 took at least some of their coursework online. Nursing degree programs at both the associate and bachelor's degree level are available at this Lake City, Florida school.
Southern Adventist University reported a student-faculty ratio of 15:1 in 2015, giving Southern a solid position among the schools that made our list. Its proportion of graduates that earned nursing degrees also put it right in the middle of the pack among our ten best schools for nursing -- 35.7 percent of the degrees awarded in 2015 went to aspiring nurses.
On-campus flexibility was an important part of the score that put Southern on our list. Not only were weekend and evening classes available, but the Tennessee school provides placement services for alumni once they finish their degrees. Southern offers nursing degrees at all levels, including a joint Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration (MSN/MBA) for aspiring healthcare administrators.
This medium-sized institution in the northwestern part of the Dallas-Fort Worth area takes a place among the best colleges for online nursing degrees, posting the second-highest percentage of enrolled students who took at least some of their classes via distance education and offering an RN to BS program entirely online. In-person students can take advantage of a BS program with a major in nursing that requires only weekend and evening attendance on campus.
The Denton school also offers a wide range of graduate programs in nursing, including a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in nursing science and a master's in nursing health systems management. A post-bachelor's certification in health care informatics is also available.
Tuition and fees expenses at South Georgia State College placed at No. 3 among the schools that made our list, coming to an average of just over $3,200 for the 2015-16 academic year. The School of Nursing at SGSC offers three degree plans: a licensed practical nurse to registered nurse (LPN-RN) pathway, an associate degree in nursing and an RN to BSN program. The RN to BSN track is offered in a hybrid format, combining online and on-campus classes.
This Douglas, Georgia, institution has an open enrollment policy, admitting 100 percent of applicants in 2015. SGSC also took the No. 6 spot among our ten best schools for nursing degrees in terms of the prominence of nursing programs in its catalog.
This small school in Lincoln, Nebraska, posted the highest graduation rate of all schools that made our top ten and spent the second-largest proportion of its budget on institutional and academic support expenses in 2015. The proportion of its graduates who earned nursing degrees in 2015 was nearly 85 percent, so students can count on having numerous fellow nurses among their peers.
Bryan College of Health Sciences was also one of the best colleges for online nursing degrees, offering no fewer than five hybrid programs -- RN to BSN, MSN, RN to MSN, a post-masters certificates in nursing and an education doctorate with an emphasis in nursing education. Around 31 percent of students at Bryan took at least some online courses in 2015.
The student-to-faculty ratio at this medium-small institution on Long Island in New York was 10:1 in 2015, which suggests that students at Molloy College have considerable opportunity to interact in a one-on-one or small-group environment. The average student-faculty ratio for national universities was 16:1 in 2016.
The graduation rate at Molloy was third-highest among our top ten schools, an achievement for which that availability of personalized time with faculty may be owed partial credit. Nursing students at Molloy have a wide range of programs to choose from, including dual degree programs, an LPN to BS track and a minor in the growing field of gerontology.
Nursing Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Some nursing jobs may be available to candidates with less than a bachelor's degree, but having a solid formal education in your background can open the door to advancement. Here are a few of the hottest careers for nurses with college degrees.
Career outlook for nursing
Rapid job growth can be found all across the health care industry, and nursing is certainly no exception. Check out this rundown of the career outlook for aspiring nurses.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Nursing, Psychiatric, and Home Health Aides||$26,320||2,377,790||24.5%|
Financial aid and scholarships in nursing
A wide range of scholarships are offered to undergraduate nursing students. Many of the available aid packages are specific to certain nursing specialties like emergency, long term care and behavioral health nursing, while others, like the Nurses Make a Difference Scholarship, are open to all nursing students.
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Q&A with an expert
Are there significant differences between RN training in diploma programs vs. associate degree programs?
Yes. Not all diploma programs offer college level classes. In today's environment it is important to confirm the diploma program you are considering is affiliated with an accredited college and awards college credit for the work you do.
Which nursing degree would you recommend to new nursing students today? Is it a good idea to go straight to a BSN or should they spend some time working as an RN first?
Either is OK — it depends upon their end goal. Many nursing students are second career or returning students, so a degree in a non-nursing field positions them well for a direct entry advanced practice program if nurse practitioner is the goal.