Best Nursing colleges in the U.S.

Written by Amy Isler
Updated by Thomas Short

Nursing has been ranked the most trusted profession for the last twenty years, and a nursing degree opens the gates to the lucrative and rewarding field. The registered nurse (RN) role is projected to grow 9% between 2020-2030, marking it as one of the best career paths for young professionals and anyone looking for a meaningful career change. The median salary for a registered nurse is $78,000 but varies depending on location, specialty, and education. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of nursing as the essential backbone of the healthcare system. With the increasing demand for nurses in various settings, the last few years have underscored the role nurses play in the nation's health. 

Various careers for nurses range from novice certified nursing assistants (CNA) to doctors of nursing practice (DNP), with many nursing schools offering an accelerated pathway to train nurses to enter the workforce in as little as one year. Despite the challenges spotlighted on the profession since the pandemic, nursing schools saw a 5.6% increase in student enrollment in 2020.

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Best Nursing colleges in the U.S. for 2022

Ohio University-Main Campus offers 19 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, public, four-year university in a faraway town. In 2020, 2,472 Nursing students graduated with students earning 2,354 Bachelor's degrees, 97 Master's degrees, 13 Certificates, and 8 Doctoral degrees.

Grand Canyon University offers 15 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, private for-profit, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 6,743 Nursing students graduated with students earning 4,638 Bachelor's degrees, 1,782 Master's degrees, 288 Doctoral degrees, and 35 Certificates.

Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA

Drexel University offers 14 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, private not-for-profit, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 922 Nursing students graduated with students earning 485 Bachelor's degrees, 368 Master's degrees, 50 Certificates, and 19 Doctoral degrees.

Ivy Tech Community College
Indianapolis, IN

Ivy Tech Community College offers 14 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, public, two-year college in a large city. In 2020, 4,768 Nursing students graduated with students earning 3,335 Certificates, and 1,433 Associate's degrees.

Walden University
Minneapolis, MN

Walden University offers 12 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, private for-profit, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 5,228 Nursing students graduated with students earning 4,106 Master's degrees, 892 Bachelor's degrees, 221 Doctoral degrees, and 9 Certificates.

University of South Alabama offers 15 Nursing degree programs. It's a large, public, four-year university in a midsize city. In 2020, 1,345 Nursing students graduated with students earning 666 Master's degrees, 329 Bachelor's degrees, 184 Certificates, and 166 Doctoral degrees.

Excelsior College
Albany, NY

Excelsior College offers 20 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, private not-for-profit, four-year university in a small city. In 2020, 1,300 Nursing students graduated with students earning 1,061 Associate's degrees, 167 Bachelor's degrees, and 72 Master's degrees.

University of Cincinnati-Main Campus offers 26 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, public, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 1,266 Nursing students graduated with students earning 575 Master's degrees, 416 Bachelor's degrees, 216 Certificates, and 59 Doctoral degrees.

Maryville University of Saint Louis offers 39 Nursing degree programs. It's a large, private not-for-profit, four-year university in a large suburb. In 2020, 1,384 Nursing students graduated with students earning 846 Master's degrees, 308 Certificates, 180 Bachelor's degrees, and 50 Doctoral degrees.

The University of Texas at Arlington offers 18 Nursing degree programs. It's a very large, public, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 5,249 Nursing students graduated with students earning 3,539 Bachelor's degrees, 1,527 Master's degrees, 119 Certificates, and 64 Doctoral degrees.

Top schools offering Nursing degrees in the U.S.

What is Nursing?

Nursing is rooted in compassion, education, and the desire to care for another person. With a strong background in biological sciences, psychology, and behavioral health, nurses have a specific scope of work centered around prevention, promotion, and optimizing health and abilities.

Using the nursing process focused on assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation (ADPIE), nurses center around:

  • Health promotion

  • Patient advocacy 

  • Disease and injury prevention 

  • Health education 

  • Create optimized care plans to help people manage disease

While nursing school typically focuses on clinical experience in the acute care setting, a nursing degree can be used in a variety of settings both in and out of the hospital, including:

  • Schools

  • Public health

  • Community health

  • Outpatient clinic

  • Health educator 

  • Case manager 

  • Private office 

  • Urgent care 

  • Skilled nursing facilities

  • Hospice 

  • Correctional facilities 

Registered nurses typically work as part of a larger medical team. Many states are granting nurse practitioners (NP) the ability to work independently, paving the way for quality primary healthcare in many rural and underserved communities.  

Nursing Degree Overview

A nursing career path holds many levels of entry. Several degree options provide the training and expertise needed to start your nursing career as a licensed registered nurse.

While many associate's degree (ADN) nurse programs exist, many hospitals and medical centers require new RN’s to hold a bachelor's degree (BSN).

Since nursing is an umbrella term for many career paths, you can start with an ADN or enter the field as a nurse practitioner. 

While this article focuses on the traditional pathways to becoming an RN, many schools have curated accelerated degree programs to meet everyone looking to enter the profession.

Associate Degree in Nursing

An ADN is the quickest way to become a registered nurse. Typical programs are two years long and prepare you to take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.

Associate's degrees are offered at the community college level. Since nursing is a popular career choice, many ADN programs are competitive with long waitlists. Some hold lotteries to get in. 

Prerequisite requirements for ADN programs include:

  • High school diploma or GED

  • High school chemistry and biology class 

  • SAT scores (many schools are moving away from SAT/ACT requirements)

  • Successful completion of the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) test

  • Personal essay

  • High school transcripts

The curriculum is focused on science, math, and the foundations of nursing and typically includes:

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Microbiology

  • Chemistry

  • English

  • Math

  • Communications

  • Behavioral health/Psychology

  • Nursing principles 

Since ADN programs prepare students to sit for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam, many clinical hours are required for graduation.

Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

A bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) is becoming the standard entry-point requirement for many large hospitals and medical centers. A BSN program prepares nurses to incorporate evidence-based practice, critical thinking, research, and public health into the nursing process.

BSN undergraduate programs usually take four years to complete and are offered at the university level. However, many schools are now offering an accelerated BSN degree for people with a bachelor's degree. These programs can be finished in as little as one year and are great for making a quick career change. 

Prerequisite requirements for BSN programs usually include:

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Microbiology

  • Chemistry or organic chemistry

  • Statistics

  • Written communication

  • Critical thinking

  • Psychology

  • Nutrition

  • Human development

The curriculum for traditional BSN programs focuses on the foundations of nursing, research, community and public health, and leadership. Classes include:

  • Nursing care of adults and pediatrics

  • Nursing for the childbearing family

  • Nursing assessment

  • Community health nursing

  • Mental health nursing

  • Pharmacology

  • Pathophysiology

  • Research

  • Leadership and management

Each semester of the BSN program includes a set number of clinical hours required to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. The nursing school typically coordinates clinical placement for each student. 

Master's Degree in Nursing

Registered nurses that hold a BSN can expand their knowledge with a master’s of nursing degree (MSN). The MSN degree prepares nurses for advanced roles in leadership, research, management, and teaching roles.

The MSN degree usually takes about two years to complete. Still, it may vary depending on school and ability to take classes full or part-time. 

Prerequisite requirements for MSN programs usually include:

  • Current registered nurse license

  • Have a bachelor of science degree

  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher

  • Personal essay or statement of purpose

The curriculum focuses on the foundations of nursing, research, community health, and leadership. Courses include:

  • Advanced studies in pathophysiology, nursing development, and physical assessment

  • Research for advanced nursing

  • Organizational and systems leadership

  • Educational program development

  • Community health policy

Students are also required to submit a thesis project or comprehensive examination to graduate with a master’s degree in nursing. 

Many schools offer an MSN to NP pathway that prepares you to sit for the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certifications. 

Doctoral Degree in Nursing

A doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is the highest degree a nurse can earn. A DNP prepares students for advanced clinical practice and leadership roles as a nurse practitioner.

A DNP degree allows nurses to work in a variety of high-level positions, including:

  • Healthcare administration

  • Head of a nursing department

  • Clinical nurse faculty member

  • Program management

  • Health policy

A DNP program typically takes two years to complete depending on if you participate as a full or part-time student. 

Prerequisite requirements for a DNP program usually include:

  • Unrestricted registered nurse license 

  • Master’s degree 

  • Letters of reference 

The curriculum focuses on improving health outcomes, influencing health policy and health economics, complex healthcare systems, and organizational leadership. A sample of courses include:

  • Population health

  • Improving health outcomes

  • Information systems and technology

  • Healthcare Policy

  • Organizational and systems leadership

  • Ethics

  • Family-centered health promotion

A DNP program prepares you to sit for the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certifications. 

Certification and Licensure in Nursing

To become a nurse, you must be licensed in the state where you plan to practice nursing.

Registered Nurse

The license exam to become an RN is the NCLEX-RN, developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). It is an online, comprehensive exam that can take up to six hours. 

The exam focuses on four key areas of critical thinking to determine if you are safe to practice nursing at the level of an RN, including:

  • Providing a safe and effective care environment

  • Health promotion and maintenance

  • Psychosocial integrity

  • Physiological integrity

After becoming an RN, nurses can obtain further certifications in their specialty that allow them to become experts in their field. Common certifications include:

  • Certification for adult critical care nurses (CCRN)

  • Inpatient obstetric nursing (RNC-OB)

  • Certified emergency nurse (CEN)

  • Certified pediatric nurse (CPN)

  • Certified medical-surgical registered nurse (CMSRN)

Nurse Practitioner 

After completing an MSN or DNP program, RNs can sit for the nurse practitioner certification offered by two organizations; the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

While over 80% of nurse practitioners become family nurse practitioners (FNP), there are several specialty nurse practitioner roles and certifications, including:

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (ACNP)

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP)

  • Cardiac Nurse Practitioner 

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

  • Oncology Nurse Practitioner 

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

  • Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

What Can I Do with a Degree in Nursing?

Nursing offers a variety of career choices both inside and outside of the hospital setting.

Inside the hospital, nurses can provide care in a number of specialized settings, including: 

  • Emergency room

  • Medical-surgical

  • Intensive care

  • Maternity

  • Pediatrics

  • Mental Health

  • Oncology

  • Orthopedics

Outside the hospital setting, nurses can find a wide array of career options away from the bedside, including:

  • Public health

  • Case management

  • School nurse

  • Insurance companies

  • Medical device companies

  • Pharmaceutical companies 

  • Health Administration

  • Legal nurse consultant 

The future of nursing looks very bright for both veteran nurses and those looking to enter the field. 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the role of NP is estimated to grow 45% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the average career. The average annual salary of a nurse practitioner is $123,780. 

Registered nursing is estimated to increase 9% over the next 10 years, which is considered as fast as average compared to other careers. The median annual income of a registered nurse is $77,600. 

Nursing FAQ

  • What is the difference between RN and BSN?

    • You can become a registered nurse with either an ADN or a BSN.


      An RN with a BSN has taken additional classes in public health, leadership, research, and evidence-based practice. Many hospitals and medical centers are requiring new entry-level nurses to have BSN.

  • How do I become a nurse?

    • There are many pathways to becoming an RN. You must first decide if you want to participate in a two-year ADN program or a four-year BSN program. 


      The requirements to enter a nursing program include a high school diploma, completing prerequisite courses (science, psychology, math, etc.), and passing the TEAS Test. Nursing programs are highly competitive and may take a couple of years to be accepted. In the meantime, you can work on taking college-level classes required for a nursing degree. 


      To become a licensed RN, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and register with the state where you plan to practice nursing.

  • How much do nurses make?

    • The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the role of NP is estimated to grow 45% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the average career. The average annual salary of a nurse practitioner is $123,780. 


      Registered nursing is estimated to increase 9% over the next 10 years, which is considered as fast as average compared to other careers. The median annual income of a registered nurse is $77,600.

  • How many years does it take to become a nurse?

    • Becoming a licensed RN depends on the nursing program. An ADN program takes about two years to complete, while a BSN program is four years. 


      However, this does not account for the time it takes to get accepted into a nursing program.

List of all Nursing colleges in the U.S.

School Average Tuition Student Teacher Ratio Enrolled Students
Chamberlain University-Illinois Logo Chamberlain University-Illinois Addison, IL
4/5
  29,481
Ohio University-Main Campus Logo Ohio University-Main Campus Athens, OH
3/5
28 : 1 25,714
Grand Canyon University Logo Grand Canyon University Phoenix, AZ
4/5
224 : 1 103,427
Drexel University Logo Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
5/5
22 : 1 23,589
Ivy Tech Community College Logo Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis, IN
2/5
54 : 1 63,809