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How to Choose the Best Nursing School

The Most Important Factors to Consider as You Research and Evaluate Potential Nursing Schools

Asian nurse standing against a blue backdrop

So, you’re thinking about starting a career in nursing? Congratulations on your interest in this rewarding, high-demand healthcare career! The first step to becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) or a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) is choosing the right nursing school. This decision is highly personal, so you should make a decision on what’s best for you and your personal goals.

If you’re unsure of how to choose the best nursing school, this guide will highlight some of the factors you should consider as you start researching potential schools. For example, are you looking for a 100% in-person experience, or do you want the option to take some of your classes online? And how far are you willing to travel for school? We’ll also discuss how to evaluate the nursing schools that make your shortlist.

Keep reading to discover what to look for in a nursing program. You can also read more about How to Become a Registered Nurse.

Researching Nursing Schools

Factors to Consider When Researching Nursing Schools

Not all nursing schools are created equally. Each has its own faculty, accreditation status, in-person or online programs, and curriculum. Though every nursing school will tout its advantages, it’s up to you to determine which school will be the best fit for your needs and goals.

As you start your research, use the following seven factors to help you develop a short list of your two or three top contenders.

If you are interested in a particular nursing specialization—for example, a Cardiac Nurse or Emergency Nurse—you’ll want to choose a program with a robust curriculum and clinical experience that can help support your area of focus.

For a list of common nursing specializations and average annual salaries, see our article on the Highest Paying Nursing Jobs.

1. Location

In real estate, you always hear that the most important factor in choosing a place to live is “location, location, location.” But this slogan also applies when choosing a place to attend nursing school.

For some, choosing a nursing school might not be restricted by state or region. But for most, it’s probably more realistic that you might have a focus on staying in state, or perhaps limiting your search to neighboring states within a reasonable driving distance of family and friends. If you’re looking out of state, you should consider not only the difference in tuition, but also your expected living expenses.

2. Accreditation

When you choose a program that is nationally accredited, you are ensuring that the school and program have met certain faculty qualifications, content and curriculum requirements, and quality standards. An accredited program also allows you to qualify for financial aid or apply your credits to an advanced degree later on.

The state’s Board of Nursing must also approve the program. In fact, if your program is not state-approved, you won’t be able to take the NCLEX licensing exam.

3. Online vs. In-Person

You may prefer a program that is 100% in-person, with a live classroom environment and traditional instructor-student interactions. Or you might enjoy a blended program supplemented with online classes and learning. This option may give you more flexibility if you have a job or other limitations to your daily schedule.

With either option, you’ll probably still take part in on-site clinical experiences where you can get a hands-on feel of specific nursing environments and procedures.

4. Faculty-to-Student Ratio

Besides reviewing the quality of the faculty and their backgrounds, you should also look up the faculty-to-student ratio. The idea is that the lower the ratio, the more personalized education and the greater one-on-one time a student might expect.

Nationwide, the average ratio for public colleges as of the 2021-2022 school year was nearly 16 to 1, while the average ratio for private colleges was about 14 to 1. If a lower ratio is important to you, you’ll want to research this statistic by checking with the school directly or an organization that tracks this kind of data.

Close up of a medical student with textbooks

5. NCLEX Pass Rate

Here’s a factor you won’t want to overlook as you research each school—the NCLEX pass rates. You can usually find these rates posted on the school’s website. If you don’t see rates on the site, you may find them on your state’s Board of Nursing site.

For 2022, the overall pass rate reported by NCSBN for both the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-PN was just under 80%. You can use this result as a baseline as you compare individual school results.

6. Available Programs

What kinds of nursing programs are available at the school? Does it offer a variety of programs for different circumstances? For example, can you choose a standard BSN program as well as an RN-to-BSN program for RNs who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree? Do they offer a BSN program for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in another field? Do they also offer a Practical Nursing (PN) program? Do they offer master’s degree programs such as an MSN?

Find out which programs are offered in-person vs. online/blended programs. Finally, take note of how long it takes to complete each program. Some schools may offer accelerated programs that can be finished more quickly than the average.

7. Specialization

If you already have an interest in a specific nursing specialty, like pediatric nursing, for example, then look specifically at the faculty of the school and whether instructors have that type of background and certifications. You can also ask about the clinical opportunities available with the program and whether they will align with your specialization interest (more on clinical opportunities below).

Evaluating Nursing Schools

Factors to Consider When Evaluating Nursing Schools

After your initial research, you may find that your search has narrowed your shortlist to two or three potential schools. Now it’s time to dig a little deeper and evaluate a few more specifics about the school and program that will help you make a final decision.

Read on to discover how to compare each program’s curriculum, the school’s clinical opportunities, available student support services, as well as the school’s reputation.

1. Curriculum

Look at a past or current curriculum from the school, which is basically an outline of the content covered, as well as details about instruction and clinical work. See how the content outline differs from school to school and if one stands out to you as more comprehensive and detailed or better meets your specialization interest. Ask questions about the curriculum and how quickly you will move through each content area.

2. Clinical Opportunities

With each nursing program, you’ll experience hands-on clinical opportunities in specific healthcare environments. These rotations allow you to interact with nurses or physicians as you learn how to perform specific tasks and handle different situations. You may want to ask each school where these clinical experiences will take place and what kinds of specialized nursing opportunities may be available, such as hospital inpatient care or primary care.

3. Student Support Services

Another key differentiator can be student support services. These resources will vary by school, but can serve as great sources of help during your program. Ask about institutional resources such as library access, online learning platforms, website tools, and mobile apps, as well as people-based services like tutoring, support groups, and academic counselors.

4. Reputation and Accreditation

Your final decision may be influenced by the school’s reputation. What kinds of stories about the school do you see online? How has the school interacted with the community? Do you find positive reviews when you read about other student’s comments and experiences at the school?

You’ll also want to ensure the school is accredited, which is a requirement for taking the NCLEX exam. Nursing programs are accredited by either the Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN) or The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). ACEN accredits all types of nursing programs, while CCNE focuses on  bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

Close up of a nurse holding a replica graduation cap

Nursing School Cost

How Much Does Nursing School Cost?

The cost of nursing school can also factor into your decision. Not all programs are equal when it comes to nursing tuition and fees, textbooks and supplies, and room and board (if moving away from home).

Tuition varies widely between public and private schools, and other factors. Following are some reported costs for nursing school programs nationwide:

  • LPN programs can average about $10,000 to $15,000 in tuition nationally.
  • The average tuition for all two-year ADN programs for the 2020-21 school year was about $3,780, with a total cost of about $11,890.
  • Public school tuition for BSN programs averaged $9,380 ($40-$80,000 in total), while students in private schools paid an average of $32,830 in tuition ($60-$120,000 in total).
  • The national average cost for an MSN program ranges from $35,000 to $70,000.

Nursing School Financial Aid

Financial Aid Options for Nursing School

If you qualify, nursing financial aid may be available to help you pay for your schooling. Additionally, you may be eligible to apply for a nursing scholarship or other available grants, loans, and work-study programs. These programs can be of great value as you determine the best way to budget and pay for your schooling. To find out if you qualify, and learn how to apply, contact the financial aid representative at each school on your shortlist.

Visiting Nursing Schools

Once you find nursing schools you’re considering attending, a final step in the evaluation process should be a visit to the school campus. Meeting with admissions and financial representatives—and even faculty members—may give you the best feel for whether the school is the best match for your education.

You’ll most likely be invited on a tour of the campus, and perhaps an opportunity to see a live nursing classroom in person. If so, you may also want to ask a few questions to current students to find out about their experiences. Whatever the agenda of your campus visit, don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Brookline College Nursing Programs

With campuses in Arizona and New Mexico, Brookline College is a respected medical college and nursing school that many students choose to prepare for their nursing careers. Small class sizes, with plenty of one-on-one time with instructors, make Brookline College ideal for those seeking a more intimate classroom experience. The school offers nursing programs for both RN and LPN career paths:

BSN Program: The BSN program at Brookline College can be completed in as little as 32 months, much faster than many programs at a traditional four-year college. If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can complete the Second Degree BSN  program in as little as 16 months. With either option, you’ll be prepared to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become a Registered Nurse. Both programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

LPN Program: Although many LPN diploma programs can take students 12-18 months, the Practical Nursing program at Brookline College can be completed in as little as 48 weeks. This program will provide you with the requisite theory and skills you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-PN exam and become a licensed LPN.

Line of smiling healthcare professionals

Choosing the Right Nursing School

Now that you’ve read our tips and strategies on how to choose a nursing program, you’re equipped with the knowledge you need to begin your research. This is your chance to gather information about many schools online, narrow your search to a few finalists, schedule a campus visit, and then make a final decision on the program that best matches your preferences and personal goals.

Start on the path to a rewarding career as an RN or PN by starting your search today.