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Using the ‘Top Schools’ Search Function

Snapshot: This article summarizes how to use the ‘Top Schools’ search function, including a description of what each variable means and data sources.

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Overview Variable 1: Location Variable 2: Nursing Degrees Offered Variable 3: Institution Type Variable 4: Selectivity Variable 5: Cost Variable 6: State Control Variable 7: Campus Setting Variable 8: Religious Affiliation
 

Overview

  • A total of 60 colleges and universities are included in this dataset. These are the top nursing programs as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
  • All institutions in this dataset offer at least a four year undergraduate level Bachelors degree, and all are fully accredited institutions of higher education. Accreditation is granted at the university level by regional accreditation bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. All nursing programs are accredited by the Collegiate Committee on Nursing Education (CCNE).
  • Accreditation is important because it is a guarantee that a nursing program, and the college or university with which it is affiliated, meets minimum standards of academic quality. Accreditation is important because it ensures that academic credits earned at one institution can be transferred to another. Accreditation can also affect a student’s eligibility for student loans, and is often examined by potential employers.
  • There are over 600 schools of nursing in the United States that offer at least a Bachelors degree, and over 1,000 total schools that offer at least an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN). The programs profiled in this website are therefore a small, elite subset of all U.S. nursing programs.

Variable 1: Location

  • This variable allows you to select the state you are interested in searching for programs in.
  • You can select one state at a time, and results will be displayed in alphabetical order. All results will be displayed on the map.

Variable 2: Nursing Degrees Offered

  • This variable allows you to select the type of nursing degree you are interested in searching for. Note: while every effort is made to keep this directory current and up to date, it is always wise to verify that the program you are interested in is currently being offered. Check out the website of the school of nursing to verify current degree information.
  • The source for this data is a combination of information publicly provided by schools of nursing, and data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
  • Below is a brief description of what each degree type means. Your goal should be to find a degree that matches your educational background and professional goals. As in the website search function, degree types are listed in alphabetical order.
    • Accelerated BSN. An accelerated BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) is intended for individuals who already have a four year bachelors degree in a non-nursing subject and wish to become Registered Nurses (RN’s). These are “second degree” bachelor’s degree programs for individuals who wish to switch careers, after they have already received a degree in a non-nursing field. Most accelerated BSN programs last between 12 – 18 months and are intense, academically rigorous programs that require the completion of pre-requisite coursework, usually with a minimum GPA requirement, prior to enrollment. Most students find it very difficult to work while completing Accelerated BSN programs. Those who graduate from an Accelerated BSN program will have the academic background to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), and then become a professional Registered Nurse.
    • BSN. A BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) is a traditional four year bachelors degree program for first-time college students. In most BSN programs, undergraduates complete pre-requisite coursework for the program in their freshman and sophomore years of college, along with general liberal arts courses, and then choose to ‘major’ in nursing in their junior year. Many universities require that students achieve a minimum GPA in relevant coursework to be ‘admitted’ into the school’s nursing program. A student who graduates from a BSN program will have the academic background to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), and then become a professional Registered Nurse.
    • BSN to DNP. A BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) to DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program is appropriate for students who have already earned a BSN degree, and wish to earn a DNP. The DNP is a doctoral level degree that is more focused on professional practice than original scholarship and research, which is the focus of a PhD program. The benefit of BSN to DNP program is that, provided the student meets the relevant academic standards, he or she can go ‘straight through’ to earning a DNP, without needing to apply to the doctoral-level program after earning a Master’s degree. Most BSN to DNP programs take 4 – 5 years to complete; many can be completed part time while a student continues to work as a nurse.
    • BSN to PhD. A BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) to PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Nursing program is appropriate for students who have already earned a BSN degree, and wish to earn a PhD. The PhD is a doctoral level degree that is more focused on original academic scholarship and research; the DNP, in contrast, is more focused on professional practice. The benefit of a BSN to PhD program is that, provided the student meets the relevant academic standards, he or she can go ‘straight through’ to earning a PhD, without needing to apply to the doctoral-level program after earning a Master’s degree. Most BSN to PhD programs take 4 – 5 years to complete; many can be completed part time while a student continues to work as a nurse.
    • DNP. The DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) degree is a doctoral-level program for students who have already a Master’s in nursing. Unlike the PhD, which is focused on producing original academic scholarship and research, the DNP is focused on questions of professional practice. In this sense it is more ‘practical’ and ‘hands on’ than the PhD. Most DNP programs take 3 – 4 years to complete; many can be completed part time while a student continues to work as a nurse.
    • Entry-Level MSN. The Entry-Level MSN (Masters of Science in Nursing) is a program intended for individuals who have already earned a Bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing subject, and want to go ‘straight through’ to earn a Master’s in Nursing. Entry-Level MSN programs exist for a variety of Master’s level programs, including for Nurse Practitioners (NP’s), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS’s), and others. Some Entry-Level MSN programs allow students to earn a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) along the way, while others do not. The advantage of an Entry-Level MSN program is that students can start their nursing careers at an advanced practice level. Disadvantages include a lack of work-study flexibility in some programs, and the need to pick an advanced practice specialty without the benefit of working and gaining knowledge as an RN first. Such programs usually take 2 – 3 years to complete.
    • LPN to BSN. LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) to BSN (Bachelors of Science in Nursing) programs are intended for individuals who hold an LPN and wish to become Bachelors prepared Registered Nurses (RN’s). RN’s who hold a BSN are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and to practice as professional nurses. Such programs usually take 1 – 2 years to complete, and often allow the student to continue working along the way.
    • MSN. The MSN (Master’s of Science in Nursing) is a broad degree type that encompasses a variety of Master’s level nursing degree programs. Among the many Master’s level nursing degrees include the Nurse Practitioner (NP) role, the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) role, the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) role, in addition to a wide range of more specialized Master’s degrees. Such programs are intended for individuals who have already earned a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) and usually take 1 – 2 years to complete, and many allow the student to continue working as an RN along the way.
    • PhD. The PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degree is a terminal, doctoral-level degree intended for individuals who have already earned a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN). The PhD is the most advanced and most academically rigorous type of nursing degree available. It requires the student engage in original scholarship and research, and write and defend a dissertation at the conclusion of the program. The goal of the PhD program is to produce nurse scholars who will advance nursing science in a variety of academic, research, and professional settings. Most PhD programs take 4 – 6 years to complete, and many allow the student to continue working as an RN along the way.
    • RN to BSN. The RN (Registered Nurse) to BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program is intended for individuals who are Registered Nurses who have an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), and wish to obtain the equivalent of a four year Bachelor’s level degree. Individuals who complete an RN to BSN program do not need to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), as they are already licensed to work as RN’s. RN’s with a BSN are better prepared to assume professional and leadership roles as nurses. Most RN to BSN programs take 1 – 2 years to complete, and most allow students to continue working along the way.
    • RN to MSN. The RN (Registered Nurse) to MSN (Master’s of Science in Nursing) program is intended for individuals who are Registered Nurses who have an Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN), and wish to obtain an advanced practice, master’s level degree in nursing. Some RN to MSN programs grant a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree along the way, and others do not. Most RN to MSN programs take 2 – 3 years to complete, and most allow students to work as nurses along the way.

Variable 3: Institution Type

  • This variable allows you to select the type of institution your nursing program is affiliated with, which affects the priorities, values and mission of the program. There are two major distinctions among the top programs profiled on this website.
  • The source for this data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and individual schools of nursing.
    • Medical School or Medical Center. This type of program exists as part of a larger medical school or medical center, rather than a traditional university. Such programs tend to be more specialized; students know they want to be nurses, and faculty tends to be more focused on nursing skills and practice than on theory. Students in such programs tend to be professionally focused from the start, and are surrounded by other medical professionals with especially strong interests in and aptitudes for science.
    • Research University. Research universities are institutions that grant a wide range of degrees, and engage in extensive, original academic research. Nursing programs that exist within such institutions are usually only one of many different degree programs on offer. Consequently, such schools of nursing tend to be less professionally focused and tend to require, and value, a broader range of academic and professional skills in comparison with nursing programs housed in medical schools or medical centers. In universities with a liberal arts focus, students are often required to complete coursework in the humanities and social sciences in addition to their life sciences and nursing coursework.

Variable 4: Selectivity

  • This variable allows you to choose a nursing program according to its selectivity, which is a measure of the percentage of students who apply to the institution versus the percentage who are admitted.
  • For the purposes of this website, selectivity is measured not according to the percentage of students who are admitted to the nursing program, but rather, to the selectivity of the institution as a whole. This is due to both the availability of data, but also because it is the institution, and not the nursing program itself, that grants the degree.
  • While it is valuable to take the selectivity of the programs you consider into account, don’t let the prestige of the institution lead you to overlook other, perhaps less selective schools that may be an equally good, if not even better fit. In the real world, you’ll succeed because you’re a good nurse, not because you hold a diploma from a particular school.
  • The source for this data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and individual schools of nursing.
    • Most Selective. This is defined as institutions that admit 25% or less of all applicants. These tend to be elite research universities with national reputations and name recognition.
    • Moderately Selective. This is defined as institutions that admit 25% to 70% of all applicants. These tend to be diverse mix of public and private institutions; while some are well known regionally or even nationally, others are more obscure.
    • Less Selective. This is defined as institutions that admit more than 70% of all applicants. These tend to be public universities, some of which have strong regional reputations and name recognition.

Variable 5: Cost

  • This variable allows you to sort nursing programs by their cost, which can vary widely depending upon whether you choose a public or private institution, and upon the amount of financial aid an institution can offer.
  • For the purposes of this website, the cost of a school of nursing is calculated according to the ‘net cost’ of attending that institution. Net cost is the ‘sticker price’ (that is, the cost of tuition and fees) minus the average amount of financial aid a student receives.
  • In the case of public universities and programs, net cost is calculated in terms of the in-state tuition cost. This is significant, because many public universities charge considerably higher prices to out of state students.
  • Keep in mind that while pricier programs may offer more modern facilities and amenities, cost alone is no guarantee of quality. If you’re planning to spend thousands and thousands of dollars, and especially if you’re taking out student loans as almost everyone does, do some math to figure out your ‘return on investment,’ or the number of years you’ll need to pay back your debts. No one goes into nursing to get rich, but you don’t want your chosen profession to be an unmanageable financial burden either.
  • The source for this data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and individual schools of nursing.
    • Most Expensive. This is defined as institutions with a net annual cost greater than or equal to $15,000. A disproportionate number of these programs are housed in private institutions, and especially less elite private universities that lack the financial resources to offer students extensive financial aid.
    • Moderately Expensive. This is defined as institutions with a net annual cost between $10,000 – $15,000. This tends to be a mix of public and private institutions of varying levels of selectivity.
    • Less Expensive. This is defined as institutions with a net annual cost of less than $10,000. A disproportionate number of these institutions are public universities that offer a relatively good deal to in-state residents.

Variable 6: State Control

  • This variable allows you to sort schools of nursing depending on whether they are public or private institutions.
  • While the schools that fall into both categories are diverse, private universities tend to be (though certainly are not always) smaller and more expensive, while public universities tend to be larger and (at least for in-state residents) less expensive. While public universities are sometimes stereotyped as having larger class sizes and less individual attention, this is certainly not always the case, especially in the case of elite public research universities, which house some of the most selective schools of nursing.
  • The source for this data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and individual schools of nursing.
    • Public Institution. This is defined as an institution operated by a governmental authority. In most cases, public universities are at least partially controlled and funded by state legislatures.
    • Private Institution. This is defined as an institution operated by a non-governmental authority. Because they do no directly accept public funds, private universities have more discretion to shape the type of student body and educational mission than private universities.

Variable 7: Campus Setting

  • This variable allows you to sort schools of nursing according to whether they are located in an urban setting, or in a town/suburban setting. A rural option was excluded because, although some universities are indeed located in rural areas, no top schools of nursing profiled on this website are situated in rural areas.
  • A school’s location matters for a variety of reasons. Beyond personal preference, a school’s setting may determine the number and type of hospitals and other clinical settings in which to train, the proximity of potential employers, and the cost of living while you are in school.
  • While nursing programs located in urban areas tend to be more diverse, and may offer a greater selection of clinical sites, nursing programs located in smaller towns may foster greater intimacy among students and faculty. You should ask yourself: in what sort of environment are you most comfortable learning, working and living? If you’re energized by urban life, maybe you should lean toward programs located in cities; if you need quieter, more open spaces, maybe you should lean toward programs located in towns or suburbs. While campus setting will rarely be a deciding factor, it could push you toward some nursing programs, and away from others.
  • The source for this data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and individual schools of nursing.
    • Urban. This includes schools that are located in places with a population of at least 100,000 people. Such settings tend to be denser, and more culturally and racially and diverse.
    • Suburban/Town. This includes schools that location in places with a population of less than 100,000 people. Such settings tend to be less dense, and less culturally and racially diverse.

Variable 8: Religious Affiliation

  • This variable allows you to sort schools of nursing according to whether they are operated by an institution with a religious affiliation or mission. For constitutional reasons public universities are generally not permitted to have a religious affiliation, and consequently, nearly all universities that are religiously affiliated are private.
  • For students with strong faith commitments, attending a nursing program affiliated with a religious denomination may be just the right fit. While such programs confer on their students the same degrees as secular colleges and universities, and prepare their students for the same licensing exams, their curriculums may be influenced by their particular religious outlook and values.
  • That said, nursing programs with a religious affiliation vary in the degree of influence their religious tradition holds. At some religiously-affiliated programs many or most students may be religious, while other institutions may attract students from a wide variety of religious backgrounds, or students who do not identify with any particular religion. Students for whom religion is not an important part of their life (or who don’t wish to enroll in programs with religious overtones) may feel more comfortable at nursing programs not affiliated with any particular religious tradition.
  • The source for this data is the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and individual schools of nursing.