Tips on Researching Nursing Programs and Finding the Best Fit For You
The decision to attend nursing school is a big one. For many people, it provides a much-needed sense of purpose and a tangible goal to pursue.
Once you’ve made the important choice to become a nurse, it’s only natural to daydream a bit about your future career and lifestyle. But before you can get there, you need to accomplish the practical first step of choosing a nursing school!
Nurses need years of training and education to excel in their careers, and nursing school is certainly a huge part of that. But the right nursing school can provide so much more—from student support services to networking and career opportunities after graduation. Finding a school that matches your goals, life circumstances, and learning style can set you up for success, both in school and throughout your career.
To help you choose the best nursing school for your needs, let’s explore some of the things you should keep in mind when comparing nursing programs and some tips on how to make your final decision.
If you’re looking for more details about what it takes to be an RN, check out our in-depth guide on how to become a registered nurse.
Researching Nursing Schools
Factors to Consider When Researching Nursing Schools
The sheer amount of schools out there may seem a little overwhelming at first. However, there are a few key things to keep in mind that can be useful in making your short list of potential nursing schools.
To give yourself the best chance of success in school and in your nursing career, it’s important to reflect on your own needs, tendencies, and long-term goals and how these factors might impact your daily life.
This should be one of the first factors to consider. Do you need to stay close to home for family or financial reasons? Or would you be better off making a fresh start somewhere where you can really focus on school? There’s no wrong answer here, as everyone is in a different place in their lives.
From there, you can look at some of the finer details of a nursing school’s location: Are there public transit options nearby? What’s traffic usually like on the way there? If you’re planning to relocate for nursing school, you should also look into the cost of living in the surrounding area.
This one should be non-negotiable when choosing a nursing school. Accreditation means a nursing school is nationally recognized by an organization that establishes academic standards for nurses. Most healthcare facilities strongly prefer to hire nurses from accredited schools because it comes with a certain amount of trust in that nurse’s level of training.
There are two main accrediting organizations for nurses: the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Be sure all of the nursing schools you’re considering are recognized by one of these organizations.
Online vs. In-Person
This is more of a personal preference, depending on how you learn best. Online classes can be a great choice for accommodating work schedules or other responsibilities—but they also require some self-discipline to stay on track. If you have a tough time staying focused in online classes or tend to procrastinate without a little bit of structure, it’s important to be honest with yourself that in-person classes may be a better fit.
Some nursing schools offer hybrid programs that combine the flexibility of online courses with the benefits of hands-on instruction. These blended formats can be a great way for nursing students to make their own schedule, while also graduating with confidence in their clinical skills and decision-making.
The average number of people in your classes can have a major impact on your overall experience at nursing school. Smaller classes can lead to a more interactive learning environment where students feel empowered to ask questions. Getting one-on-one attention from instructors is often helpful in understanding difficult concepts or solidifying certain skills. Some students also find it helps them stay accountable for their assignments when they’re able to form personal relationships with their professors.
Bigger schools with more students per instructor often have large lecture-style classes, especially for general education requirements and intro courses. Some students enjoy the anonymity of larger classes, though others may find it difficult to ask questions or receive much individual attention.
NCLEX Pass Rate
Passing the NCLEX exam is a requirement for any new nurse to become licensed and begin treating patients. While it’s still up to each individual student to master the material and be ready for their licensure exam, a school’s NCLEX pass rate can give you an idea of how well they prepare their graduates to earn their license and land their first nursing job.
Some nursing schools offer services dedicated specifically to NCLEX success, like free review courses and tutoring services. Choosing a nursing school that goes the extra mile to help students achieve licensure can take some weight off your shoulders when it comes time to take that final step.
All accredited nursing programs include instruction in anatomy, pharmacology, healthcare ethics, and a variety of patient-care techniques. However, there are multiple types of nursing degrees, and it’s important to choose the right one for your long-term goals.
Some nursing programs offer associate degrees in nursing (ADNs) that typically take around two years to complete. However, some nurses find ADN degrees can be somewhat limiting for long-term career growth without undergoing extensive additional training.
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree takes a little more time to complete but can also lead to broader career options, more nursing specialties—and often, higher average salaries.
BSN-educated nurses have no shortage of options when it comes to potential career paths—read up on our list of the 16 highest-paying nursing jobs to learn more.
Evaluating Nursing Schools
Factors to Consider When Evaluating Nursing Schools
In addition to these big-picture questions that can help steer you toward the best nursing school for you, it’s important to consider some additional details about any nursing program. While all accredited nursing schools can provide quality education, some schools do more than others to help their students thrive.
Any reputable nursing program will cover the basics of patient care, pharmacology, anatomy, and more. BSN-level programs often go deeper into subjects like pediatric nursing, mental health nursing, surgical nursing, and leadership skills. It’s wise to choose a nursing school offering instruction that aligns with your long-term goals.
When evaluating different nursing schools, you should ask about the training tools and methods they use to teach their students. Nursing schools that invest in high-tech equipment like virtual simulation labs can help students gain experience in rare clinical situations—including emergencies—so they’re more prepared to respond appropriately.
If there’s a certain field of nursing you know you’re interested in—like orthopedic, cardiology, or pediatric nursing, for example—it’s also a good idea to see how many courses a school offers in those particular areas. While you’ll likely need to gain some experience and complete additional training before you can specialize in a specific field, learning the fundamentals in nursing school can give you a head start toward accomplishing your career goals.
Clinical rotations are an essential part of any nurse’s education, because they enable hands-on learning in a real healthcare environment. Some schools will leave students on their own to find clinical sites and set up rotations, which can be challenging and sometimes overwhelming. Other schools will handle the bulk of logistical planning and scheduling for clinical rotations. Before you begin nursing school, it’s important to understand what will be expected of you when it comes time to start scheduling your clinicals.
The best nursing schools often build relationships with nearby healthcare networks and facilities, so their students can learn from seasoned professionals at the top of their field. When evaluating different schools, remember to ask about how clinical rotations work and any potential partnerships with healthcare organizations.
Just like your professional reputation is important, so is the reputation of any nursing school. It’s never a bad idea to dig in a little further on any schools you’re considering. Have they been involved in any major scandals? What are former students or employees saying about them—or other people around the healthcare industry?
See if you can find any testimonials from current or former students. If you’ve got friends, family, or acquaintances who attended the school in question, they can be an excellent resource. If you don’t know anybody who attended the school you’re considering, you can try reaching out on social media platforms to ask people about their honest opinions.
Student Support Services
The journey through nursing school isn’t always easy, and choosing a nursing college that’s dedicated to supporting their students throughout (and after) the experience can relieve a lot of stress while helping you stay on track with your goals.
Not all nursing schools are the same when it comes to things like the availability of student advisors, tutoring services, or help to prepare for the NCLEX. Some nursing schools also offer job placement assistance to aid their graduates in finding leads or scheduling interviews. It’s always a smart move to ask questions about available support services and whether students can still access them even after they graduate.
Nursing School Cost
How Much Does Nursing School Cost?
Naturally, the cost is a major concern for people trying to choose which nursing school is best for them. It’s difficult to give an easy, one-line answer about the cost of nursing school because many schools price their services differently. Your individual situation can also have a major impact on your potential eligibility for different forms of financial aid.
When considering the cost of different nursing schools, it’s important to compare apples to apples, so to speak—the raw tuition number often doesn’t tell the whole story. Over time, what first seems like a higher price at first might be a better deal if it includes expenses like textbooks, lab fees, and other course materials—all of which can add up to thousands more per year.
Transportation costs and living expenses can also significantly affect the overall cost of a college education. Make sure you understand what’s covered and what isn’t, and ask about any extra fees you might encounter aside from the listed cost of tuition.
Nursing School Financial Aid
Financial Aid Options for Nursing School
If you need help paying for nursing school, there are many options available. Most nursing schools have financial aid offices to help students find the best way to accomplish their goals without taking on too much student debt. When meeting with any school’s financial aid office, you should feel free to ask lots of questions without feeling pressured into anything you’re not sure about.
All nursing students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year, which is the first step in determining your eligibility for various types of financial aid. If your life circumstances change, your financial aid options may also change.
There are countless scholarships and grants available for people with different achievements, backgrounds, and life circumstances. Some are based on merit, others are based on financial need, and some are based on a combination of both. Unlike student loans, scholarships, and grants usually don’t need to be repaid as long as you stay in school.
Students can also receive federal work-study aid, which qualifies them for part-time jobs, usually on campus or related to their field of study. Once becoming eligible, work-study students receive a normal paycheck which they can use to help cover the cost of education. Work-study jobs vary, but they’re all considered by the government to be in the public interest, which makes them good resume-builders.
Some states and organizations also offer student loan forgiveness programs for nurses, which can pay for a portion of your student loans if you work in a particular location or specialty for a certain time period. Check with your school’s financial aid office, your instructors, and professional nursing organizations for advice on finding scholarships and grants or to learn more about loan-forgiveness programs.
Visiting Nursing Schools
Once you’ve narrowed down your options to a short list of nursing schools, it’s always a good move to visit each campus in person. Most schools will be happy to give you a tour of their facilities and introduce you to some of the instructors and advisors. You can even ask to sit in on a lecture or lab session to get a feel for what life is really like as a student. You’re going to be spending a fair amount of time here for the next few years, so make sure it’s somewhere you feel welcome and inspired to do your best!
As you visit different nursing schools, write down some questions ahead of time to ask about the facilities, campus activities, available support services, and anything else that’s important to you. You should also be sure to get a clear answer about whether there’s a waitlist and when you’d actually be able to start school—some larger programs can be competitive and leave students in limbo until the start of the semester.
Choosing the Right Nursing School
There’s no nursing school that’s perfect for everyone, and it’s critical to consider your goals, personal preferences, and individual situation before committing to a program. Treat it like any other big decision in your life—make a list of the pros and cons for each school, and do your best to compare the benefits of each option with the associated costs and challenges. Go over the notes you took while researching and evaluating nursing schools to make sure you’re not overlooking anything.
It’s perfectly normal to seek out advice from trusted friends or family members, but remember that it’s your decision, and it’s important to trust your own intuition. You know yourself better than anyone, and it’s OK to stay true to what you want from your future and from your nursing school experience!
Begin Your Nursing Career at Provo College
The BSN program at Provo College makes an excellent springboard for anyone interested in becoming a nurse. You’ll receive a well-rounded healthcare education that prepares you to pursue any number of nursing specialties—including leadership and administration roles, once you’ve gained some experience.
Provo College makes it possible to complete your BSN in around three years. But you won’t just be left to figure things out on your own—you’ll also have hands-on instruction from experienced nurses to prepare you for a huge variety of clinical situations. Additionally, all Provo College students and graduates have access to dedicated student advisors, NCLEX success experts, and career services that can help you excel in school and in your new career.
Whether you pursue your dreams of becoming a nurse at Provo College or somewhere else, be sure to give the process of picking a nursing school the attention it deserves. Finding the right fit for your lifestyle, learning style, and long-term goals is important, because staying engaged in your studies is the first step toward a successful future as a nurse.
Nursing school isn’t necessarily meant to be easy because nursing isn’t always an easy career. However, it does come with an incredible sense of fulfillment and the chance to earn a comfortable living while helping other people. Stay focused on your goals, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it, and you’ll be capable of accomplishing amazing things—both in nursing school and for your future patients!