When embarking on a career as a registered nurse (RN), the nursing school and degree program you select will shape your professional journey. With numerous options to choose from, how do you determine the best nursing school for you?
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the top nursing schools in the United States. We will also discuss how to conduct effective research, identify the qualities most important to you, and select programs that align with your preferences and goals.
Comparing the Best Nursing Schools
>> Related: The Leading Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program in Each State
Top 10 Nursing Schools in the United States for 2023
With nearly 1,000 baccalaureate programs and numerous associate degree programs available, identifying the cream of the crop is no easy task. To determine the top 10 nursing programs in the U.S., we considered various factors, including:
- Program outcomes
- NCLEX pass rate
- Program quality
- Accreditation (all ranked schools have ACEN or CCNE accreditation)
Based on this methodology, the following are the top 10 nursing programs in the nation:
1.) Duke University
Annual Tuition: $50,516 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 99%
Renowned for its excellence in research, Duke University offers some of the best nursing programs available. The School of Nursing at Duke exclusively offers an accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program for undergraduate nurses.
To enroll in this program, applicants must first complete a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. However, the program can be completed in just 16 months, requires only 58 credits, and provides students with 800 hours of clinical experience before graduation. The program boasts highly positive outcomes.
Duke University is particularly renowned for its graduate programs, which include a variety of Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and doctoral programs. Notably, Duke boasts one of the top nurse anesthesia programs in the nation for those interested in pursuing a career as a nurse anesthetist.
2.) Georgetown University
Annual Tuition: $61,872 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96.88%
Online: Yes (for graduate programs; no for BSN)
Georgetown University, one of the oldest private institutions in the United States, is renowned for its well-established and highly respected nursing program.
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at Georgetown University offers direct entry, allowing current high school students to find out if they have been accepted into the program before enrolling. BSN students at Georgetown gain over 850 hours of clinical experience at various locations in and around Washington, D.C. throughout their education. The program also offers an honors program for BSN students.
Graduate students at Georgetown have numerous nursing options available, including an outstanding Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program focused on nurse-midwifery/women’s health nurse practitioner. The university also offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN-DNP) program for those looking to bypass a master’s degree.
3.) Johns Hopkins University
Annual Tuition: $66,168 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 93%
Johns Hopkins University is renowned for its research-driven graduate nursing programs. While the university does not offer undergraduate nursing programs, it does provide a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field.
MSN graduates from Johns Hopkins University excel on the NCLEX and go on to have successful careers. After obtaining the MSN degree, many nurses choose to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) at Johns Hopkins, which offers 13 different DNP tracks leading to various career outcomes.
4.) New York University
Annual Tuition: $58,168 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 88.3%
New York University (NYU) is a global institution with a diverse student body. Students come from over 120 different countries, and NYU has multiple campuses across the world.
NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing offers various undergraduate options, including a traditional BSN degree, a second-degree transfer BSN program, an RN-BSN program, and an accelerated 15-month BSN program. The traditional BSN curriculum includes liberal arts courses, science and prerequisite courses, and nursing core and clinical courses.
In addition to its undergraduate programs, NYU offers several master’s and doctoral nursing programs, allowing students to specialize in their field of interest.
5.) University of Pennsylvania
Annual Tuition: $56,212 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 94.6%
Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest universities in the United States and a member of the prestigious Ivy League. The university boasts a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio, providing a personalized education ideal for nursing students. The School of Nursing at Penn is consistently ranked among the best in the world and prioritizes research across all its programs.
Penn’s BSN program offers state-of-the-art simulation lab experiences and a mentorship program to enhance hands-on learning. The university also provides study abroad opportunities for undergraduate nursing students. For graduate students, Penn offers MSN and DNP programs, including specializations such as nurse-midwifery, nurse anesthesia, and pediatric care.
6.) University of Michigan
Annual Tuition: $16,404 per year (in-state) | $55,002 per year (out-of-state) | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98.06%
The University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor, offers an exceptional undergraduate nursing education. With over 100 years of nursing education experience, the BSN program at the University of Michigan is highly regarded, and its alumni work worldwide.
The university offers two entry options for nursing students: direct entry for first-year students and a sophomore transfer program. Regardless of the entry option, nursing students gain over 1,000 hands-on clinical hours throughout their education. The MSN program at the University of Michigan offers eight different specializations, all leading to advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) roles.
7.) University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
Annual Tuition: $23,856 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 84%
Online: Hybrid DNP
Known for producing highly skilled graduates who become leaders in their fields, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is one of the premier institutions of higher education in the Western United States.
UCLA offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program that paves the way for a successful nursing career or advanced degrees in the field. The university’s MSN programs are widely recognized and provide various advanced practice specializations, making them an excellent choice for nurses looking to advance their careers. UCLA also offers a hybrid Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program that can be completed in as little as two years.
8.) University of Washington
Annual Tuition: $16,324 per year (in-state) | $54,320 per year (out-of-state) | NCLEX Pass Rate: 78.72%
The University of Washington, located in Seattle, offers unique opportunities for nursing students. The university provides clinical experiences at numerous sites across the region, including esteemed hospitals such as Seattle Children’s Hospital. The University of Washington also offers innovative programs, such as an accelerated BSN with early admission to the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, allowing non-nursing graduates to quickly earn their doctoral degrees.
While the university offers a traditional BSN program, it does not have an MSN option. However, the University of Washington has 10 DNP tracks leading to APRN roles, including pediatric clinical nurse specialist, nurse-midwifery, and adult gerontology acute care.
9.) Emory University
Annual Tuition: $57,120 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 98%
Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory University is renowned for its exceptional healthcare system and offers a top-tier nursing education. Ranked as the second-best undergraduate nursing school in the United States by U.S. News and World Report, Emory’s nursing programs provide outstanding education and training for nursing students.
Emory University offers three undergraduate options for aspiring nurses: a direct-entry BSN program for current high school students, a sophomore entry program for current Emory or Oxford College students, and a transfer program for those with at least 60 credits. Emory also offers a variety of graduate-level options, including MSN programs and an array of specialties.
10.) University of Maryland
Annual Tuition: $9,635 per year (in-state) | $39,597 per year (out-of-state) | NCLEX Pass Rate: 90.33%
The University of Maryland, located in Baltimore, is renowned for its dedication to innovation and research. With over 41,000 students enrolled each year and its proximity to major cities like Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland offers an exceptional environment for nursing students and future professionals.
The BSN program at the University of Maryland prioritizes nursing leadership and utilizes state-of-the-art facilities to deliver an exceptional education. The program can be completed in as little as two years, although students must first complete two years of introductory courses.
For those interested in advanced practice nursing roles, the University of Maryland offers various Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs with specializations such as nurse anesthesia, neonatal nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nursing. The university also offers a range of other graduate-level nursing degrees for those interested in leadership, research, or administrative roles.
The Next 10: Honorable Mentions
Considering there are nearly 1,000 baccalaureate nursing programs in the United States, selecting only 10 means we have highlighted the top 1% of nursing schools in the nation.
The following 10 schools didn’t make our top 10 list, but they are worth mentioning:
- University of Illinois in Chicago
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- University of Texas in Austin
- Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
- Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
- Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
- Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana
- University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida
- Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio
- University of Pittsburgh
Choosing the Best RN Program For You
Selecting the right RN program can significantly impact your nursing career and future opportunities in the healthcare field. Your undergraduate degree can also influence your choices for advanced practice degrees down the line.
First, you must decide between a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program. Many employers now prefer new nurses to have a BSN, although they may hire ADNs who commit to completing their BSNs within a certain timeframe. Larger magnet hospitals and level 1 trauma centers generally require a BSN for employment.
Consider the financial implications of each degree. Obtaining an ADN may be more affordable initially, allowing you to start working as a nurse sooner. You can then pursue your BSN online while benefiting from employer tuition assistance. However, in some cases, it may be faster and more cost-effective to pursue a BSN directly if that aligns with your long-term goals.
>>Related: ADN vs BSN: What Nursing Degree Should You Pursue?
Consider other factors, such as the size of the nursing school, whether it is a public or private institution, and whether it is located in a bustling city or a more tranquil setting. Additionally, think about whether you plan to start your nursing career in the same location as the college or university.
Before applying to nursing schools, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I prefer a large or small nursing school?
- Do I want a private or public education?
- Do I prefer a campus in a busy city or a smaller town? Do I plan to start my nursing career in the same city or town as the college/university?
- Do I have a specific state in mind where I want to begin my nursing career? (Note: Nursing licenses are issued by states.)
- Do I want to pursue a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN? Alternatively, do I want to pursue an advanced practice degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or a Ph.D. in nursing?
- Do I have a desire to become a nurse educator after gaining experience in the healthcare setting?
- Do I require an online or hybrid program?
- How long does the program take to complete?
- What are the financial aid options for the program?
- Is the program fully accredited?
- What is the NCLEX pass rate for graduates?
- What is the graduation rate of the program?
- What is the job placement percentage for graduates?
Assessing Nursing Schools: Four Key Questions
Once you have determined whether you are interested in a BSN or ADN program, the next step is to evaluate nursing schools. Consider the following four key questions during your assessment:
1.) Where do you want to study, live, and work?
Most nurses obtain their licenses from the state where they completed their program. If you have a specific state, county, or city in mind where you want to work, consider finding a nursing school in that area. Alternatively, you can obtain a multi-state license that allows you to practice in multiple states once you complete your program.
2.) What are your housing preferences?
Housing can be a significant cost, depending on your chosen location. If you plan to move away from home for your nursing education, you will need to determine your housing situation. Some options include university housing, which offers proximity to campus but may be more expensive, or off-campus housing, which allows for more flexibility in terms of location.
3.) What are the admission requirements for nursing school?
Nursing programs typically have specific requirements for admission, in addition to the general requirements for entry into the college or university. It is important to familiarize yourself with these requirements and ensure you meet them before applying.
4.) Is the nursing program reputable?
Not all nursing programs are created equal, and it is essential to choose one that offers a quality education. First and foremost, verify that the nursing program you are considering is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation is critical, as it ensures that you will be eligible to sit for the NCLEX and obtain your RN license after graduation. Additionally, research the program’s NCLEX pass rates to assess the effectiveness of its curriculum and teaching methods.
How to Choose the Best Nursing School for You
While we have provided a list of the top nursing schools for 2023, it is important to remember that the best nursing school for you may not be on this list. Take the time to thoroughly research different nursing schools to ensure you are making the best decision for your unique circumstances.
Start by creating a list of potential schools and rank them based on the factors mentioned in this guide. If you have a specific career path in mind, such as public health or informatics, ensure that the schools you are considering offer relevant programs and resources.
Remember to consider practical factors, such as location and your current life circumstances. Moving across the country may not be feasible for everyone, but there are excellent nursing programs available in different regions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the top nursing school in the United States?
- Duke University is currently ranked as the top nursing school in the United States.
What is the top nursing school in the world?
- The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) holds the title of the best nursing school in the world.
What is the easiest college to get into for nursing?
- Community colleges generally have more relaxed admission requirements compared to university nursing programs.
Is RN schooling difficult?
- RN programs can be challenging and demanding, often requiring a minimum GPA for admission.
How long does it take to become an RN?
- You can become an RN through an associate’s degree program (ADN) in as little as 2-3 years.