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Enrolling at the best nursing school in your state will give you every opportunity for a rewarding and exciting career in nursing.

Nurses remain in high demand across the United States. In May 2020, California, Texas, and Florida employed the largest number of registered nurses (RNs) in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nursing careers can offer lucrative, fulfilling work, providing nurses with opportunities to do what they love while providing essential care. The best nursing schools prepare students to work in healthcare settings, government agencies, and academia.

Determining the best nursing school requires a lot of research. Students can receive a comprehensive look at a nursing program's academics, resources, and support by exploring school rankings. With numerous nursing schools to choose from in each state, the map and rankings below can help you identify your ideal nursing degree.

Best Nursing Schools in Each State

To identify the best nursing schools in each state, we assessed nursing schools based on programmatic value, faculty quality, institutional reputation, and accreditation. Our methodology draws from statistics and insights from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).


What Types of Nursing Programs Are There?

Nursing is a complex field with more than eight different types of degrees. Students can earn undergraduate certificates, diplomas, and degrees in nursing, which serve as pathways to different careers in the field. Nursing certificates and diplomas may take less than a year to complete. An associate degree in nursing includes two years of coursework and practical requirements.

A bachelor's degree typically requires four years of full-time enrollment. Some bachelor's degrees in nursing suit novices to the discipline, while others tailor to RNs who hold diplomas, certificates, or associate degrees.

Graduate nursing programs develop existing skills and build expertise in advanced areas of nursing. Many master's in nursing degrees include specializations such as nurse leadership, clinical care nursing, or public health nursing. Nurses interested in research, administration, and teaching can also pursue doctorates in nursing.

Choosing a Nursing Program

When looking for the best nursing program, students need to consider tuition, transportation costs, accreditation, and concentration availability. Nursing programs include practical components, and learners should assess what additional expectations, requirements, and possible expenses those components may bring to the degree.

Other considerations include program length, curriculum, and overall outcomes. Students who want to pursue specific areas of nursing as part of a graduate degree, such as nurse practitioners (NPs), need to make sure they have access to relevant coursework and specialties.

Accreditation for Nursing Degrees

An additional consideration is accreditation status. Colleges and universities can receive regional or national accreditation, which applies to all academic programs. Regional accreditation is typically held in higher regard and indicates that an institution offers programs more academic in nature. National accreditation often attests to the quality of a school's technical and vocational programs.

Along with regional or national accreditation, individual programs, degrees, and departments may receive programmatic accreditation. This status, awarded by a professional body within a specific field, indicates that a program meets the standards put forth by that organization or association. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredits baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing.

What Can I Expect in Pursuing a Nursing Program?

Nursing programs vary in specific coursework, but many core classes remain consistent across the field. Nursing students take introductory courses in anatomy and physiology, biology, psychology, and statistics. They also study patient assessment, medical terminology, and health information technology.

Specialized courses, certifications, and licenses build expertise in subsets of nursing. The following information details common specializations in the nursing field.

Common Areas of Nursing Specialization

Acute care nurses work with patients in need of critical or time-sensitive attention. Acute care nurses provide treatment in emergency rooms and triage clinics. Cardiology focuses on heart diseases and conditions. Cardiac care nurses assist patients suffering from acute and chronic heart conditions in intensive care units and operating rooms. Nurses who work in infection control and infection prevention treat patients with bacterial and viral infections. They also stop the spread of infectious diseases, educate the public about disease, and mitigate harm when outbreaks occur by working closely with fellow medical personnel. Neonatal nurses work with newborn infants and their parents. They may also care for premature babies and infants born with infections and other issues. Neurology nurses prevent and treat conditions related to the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. A neurology nurse works in inpatient and outpatient settings to manage acute and chronic ailments. Oncology nurses care for patients with cancer. They build relationships with patients and their families as their loved ones receive treatment. These nurses administer medication, monitor overall health, and coordinate with fellow healthcare providers to meet patient needs. Pediatric nurses care for children and adolescents. They work in hospitals and doctor's offices, communicating with children and parents. These professionals serve as advocates for children, help quell fears and concerns, and provide comfort and support in clinical settings. Psychiatric nurses care for individuals of all ages experiencing mental health conditions. They also work with families, groups, and communities to assess, diagnose, and inform about psychiatric disorders and risk factors for psychiatric conditions. Women's health nurses provide care to women across their lifespans. These nurses focus on reproductive care, fertility evaluations, breast health, and health conditions that affect women at high rates of occurrence, such as heart disease and cancer.

Nursing Careers

Nursing careers vary depending on education level, experience, and industry. With an undergraduate certificate, diploma, or degree in nursing, students can find employment in entry-level positions. Advanced degrees allow nurses to work in specialized areas of nursing.

Requirements for nursing positions, salaries, and projected growth rates vary by state. The following careers offer a sample of available nursing roles.

Nurse Anesthetist

Median Salary
Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients before medical procedures. They monitor individuals during and after surgery and deliver diagnostic tests and therapeutic procedures. These professionals serve individuals of all ages and must have advanced training and certification in the field.

Nurse Practitioner

Median Salary
Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

NPs must earn master's degrees in nursing to provide advanced nursing care. These professionals often specialize in an aspect of nursing or subset of the population. Many NPs work in pediatric, adult and geriatric, or psychiatric health. NPs in some states can prescribe medication, order diagnostic tests, and work independently under physician supervision.

Nurse Midwife

Median Salary
Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

Nurse midwives care for mothers throughout their pregnancies. They perform gynecological exams, help with family planning, and care for the mother and fetus alike. Nurse midwives deliver babies, often acting as the primary care provider in delivery. Nurse midwives also offer care to women for disease prevention, nutrition, and overall reproductive health.

Registered Nurse

Median Salary
Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

RNs work in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, private doctor's offices, outpatient clinics, and schools. RNs typically hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. They assess patients, perform treatments, administer medication, and assist physicians during exams and procedures. RNs provide care for patients in geriatric, pediatric, neonatal, and critical care.

Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse

Median Salary
Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) work with RNs and physicians to provide basic nursing care. LPNs and LVNs perform tests to monitor patients' health, keep records, and discuss treatments and concerns with patients. LPNs and LVNs also bathe patients, dress them, and assist them in their daily activities. However, specific duties and responsibilities for LPNs/LVNs vary by state.

Nursing Assistant

Median Salary
Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

Nursing assistants work with RNs and LPNs/LVNs. Some hold associate degrees in nursing. These providers offer supplemental support to nursing colleagues while helping patients carry out their daily activities. Nursing assistants often care for patients in nursing and residential care facilities, which allows them to build relationships with patients and their families.

Interview with an Expert

Portrait of Deborah J. Kelly, DNP, RN

Deborah J. Kelly, DNP, RN

Dr. Deborah Kelly is a Nurse Administrator and the Chair of the Nursing Department at Clarion University. She has been a faculty member at Clarion since 2003 and received her terminal degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Her passion for nursing and a strong desire to share her knowledge and experiences led her to become a nurse educator over 18 years ago. Prior to becoming department chair and nurse administrator, Kelly taught in the ASN, RN-BSN, MSN and DNP programs.

What level of education do you have, and what did you look for in your nursing programs?

I have a doctorate in nursing practice with a concentration in nursing administration and leadership. Throughout my educational journey, I looked for nursing programs that would prepare me to be an outstanding nurse. It is important for individuals who are pursuing a degree in nursing to understand how the content of the program will be delivered. For example, what is included in the curriculum? How flexible is the program? How many clinical hours are required to obtain the degree? Where do students complete clinicals? What is the success rate for students graduating from the program on NCLEX or certification exams? What student support services are available? What is the experience/expertise of the faculty teaching in the program?

What classes or experiences were the most beneficial (personally or professionally) in your nursing program?

The classes or experiences I found to be most beneficial were the courses that incorporated real life experiences into the classroom. I was able to apply the concepts taught in the classroom to real life situations in the clinical setting. I have had some amazing professors/mentors in my academic career that had a wealth of knowledge and experience. It was their passion for nursing that kept me moving ahead in my academic and professional careers.

What was one of the biggest challenges of your nursing program, and what advice would you have for someone just starting out?

I think one of the biggest challenges one faces when entering a nursing program is that it is easy to become overwhelmed at first, especially if someone has a lot of other responsibilities. It is important to be organized and manage time wisely.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing Schools

What's a Good GPA for Nursing School?

A student should have at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA to get into nursing school. Nursing programs may require a higher GPA for prerequisite coursework.

Is It Worth Going to Nursing School?

Yes, nursing is a rewarding and in-demand field. Nursing school is worth it for individuals who want to help others while making themselves competitive in the job market.

Do All Nursing Schools Require HESI?

Not all nursing schools use the Health Education Systems Incorporated (HESI) exam as part of the admission process, though many do. The HESI A2 assesses nursing school applicants. At the end of a nursing degree, students take a HESI exit exam to determine their preparation level for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

Portrait of Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Header Image Credit: sturti | Getty Images

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