Currently, registered nurse (RN) positions experience high demand. A BSN helps nurses move into specialties, increase their earning potential, and stand out on the job market.
During a BSN program, nursing students strengthen their patient care, health assessment, and leadership skills. Many RN-to-BSN programs admit nurses with a diploma or associate degree in nursing. The best nursing degrees offered online design their curriculum for working nurses. In some programs, students complete practicum requirements at their current workplace.
Our list ranks the best nursing degrees. Prospective nursing students can use the rankings to find the right fit for their schedule, budget, and career goals.
Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing
What degree do you need to be a nurse?
RNs typically hold a nursing diploma, associate degree in nursing, or bachelor's degree in nursing. All three options meet the requirements for an RN license.
How many years does a nursing degree take?
Nurses qualify to enter the field with a two-year degree in nursing. However, BSN nurses who complete a four-year degree or RN-to-BSN program typically earn higher salaries.
What is the highest degree in nursing?
A doctorate represents the highest degree in nursing. DNP nurses work as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nursing professors. Nurses pursue advanced practice roles with master's-level nursing degrees.
Why Get a Degree in Nursing?
Nursing degrees prepare graduates for in-demand, lucrative careers. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projections show registered nurses may benefit from more than 275,000 new jobs in 2020-2030. As a well-paying field with opportunities for career advancement and salary increases, nursing degrees offer strong returns on investment.
Today, nursing students choose between in-person and online programs. Online nursing degrees from accredited nursing schools meet the same high academic standards. With a more flexible schedule, online programs appeal to current RNs seeking a BSN. Online nursing programs can also help nurses save money.
Featured Online Bachelor's Programs
Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.
How Much Does a Nursing Degree Cost?
The costs of nursing degrees vary depending on the specific programs. Some nursing programs charge as little as $100 per credit, while others charge over $1,000 per credit. On average, nursing degrees cost around $400 per credit.
Prospective nurses often save money by comparing the costs of different nursing degrees. The best nursing degrees offered online may cost less than your local nursing school, for example. Besides tuition, nursing students must consider additional fees and expenses, including any supplies or practicum costs. When comparing programs, ask about the total cost of the degree in addition to the tuition rate.
How Much Do Nursing Majors Make?
Registered nurses earn above-average salaries. The BLS reports a median annual wage of $41,950 for all occupations. In comparison, RNs make a $75,330 median annual salary. The highest-paid RNs earn more than $115,000 per year.
The highest-paid nurses include those working in hospitals or government settings. Ambulatory care, residential care, and nursing home facilities report slightly lower salaries.
Graduate nursing degrees help nurses increase their earning potential. Advanced practice RNs, including nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists, report a median salary of $117,670.
Courses in Nursing
During a nursing program, learners strengthen their patient care and assessment skills. Nursing degrees train students how to analyze nursing research and act as a leader in healthcare settings. The best nursing degrees build the theoretical and practical skills necessary for nursing careers.
Besides coursework, nursing students complete practicum hours to gain career-ready skills. Online programs use simulations and in-person clinical placements in students' local areas.
This section introduces courses common to nursing degrees. While each program sets its own curriculum, many include the following options.
RNs conduct health assessments in many settings. The class prepares nurses to do comprehensive assessments, covering physical as well as mental health. Students learn how to collect and interpret data, communicate health assessment information, and make observations. The course often includes a hands-on practicum.
Comprehensive Health Assessment
Nursing students review current research and discuss the link between research and practice. The course trains learners to evaluate research, critique findings, and develop practices based on nursing research. Participants explore the research process to strengthen their analytical skills. By linking the research process with practice, the class prepares nurses for leadership roles.
BSN nurses act as leaders in their healthcare organizations. Classes in nursing leadership strengthen knowledge of the healthcare delivery system, information management, and patient outcomes. Nursing degree-seekers build leadership skills with an emphasis on data-backed approaches. The course prepares nurses for roles like lead nurse or head nurse.
Specializations for Nursing
In the best nursing degrees, students choose a specialization to focus their training. These concentrations prepare nurses for specialties like critical care, cardiac care, pediatrics, oncology, and ambulatory care. By taking courses and completing practicum hours within a specialty, nurses graduate with a focused career path.
Before applying to nursing programs, check the specialization options. Some programs use terms like concentration or track to describe specializations. Even in programs without formal tracks, students often choose electives or practicum settings matching their chosen specialty. This section introduces some common nursing specializations.
Critical care, or intensive care unit (ICU), nurses specialize in treating serious and acute conditions. They work in ICU settings where they assess, treat, and monitor patients. Critical care nurses evaluate incoming patients, provide treatments, and use ICU equipment. They also communicate with patients and their family members.
Pediatric nurses specialize in caring for children. They treat newborns, infants, young children, and teenagers. A pediatric specialty requires strong communication skills and patience. Pediatric nurses may work in hospital settings or in pediatrician offices. Within pediatrics, they specialize in areas like primary care, emergency pediatrics, and oncology.
Ambulatory care nurses work in outpatient care centers, including clinics and urgent care facilities. In this specialty, nurses must quickly assess a patient's condition and take vital signs. Ambulatory care nurses then work closely with physicians to treat injuries or illnesses that do not require a hospital stay.
How to Become a Nurse
RNs enter the field with a nursing diploma, associate degree in nursing, or bachelor's degree in nursing. Each option meets the requirements for a nursing license. RNs can also complete an RN-to-BSN program after becoming a nurse to increase earning potential and get specialized roles.
During a nursing program, learners do clinical rotations to learn about different specialties. RNs then pursue careers in those specialty areas, including pediatric nursing, critical care, emergency care, or oncology. Depending on their career path, nurses may work in hospitals, doctors' offices, or outpatient care centers. In these settings, nurses conduct health assessments, communicate with other healthcare professionals about a patient's needs, and administer treatments.
Licensure for Nurses
RNs must hold a license from their state's board of nursing. To qualify, candidates must complete an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Many states conduct a background check during the licensure process.
Approved nursing programs include community college, university, and hospital programs that train nurses. An associate degree in nursing or a nursing diploma meet the educational requirement. To learn more about the licensure process in your state, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Nurses interested in RN-to-BSN programs generally need an RN license before starting their program. Most programs require a valid, unencumbered RN license to start BSN coursework. BSN nurses with an RN license can add professional certifications to their credentials. Professional associations offer certifications in specialties like emergency care, ambulatory care, and cardiac care.
Best Nursing Degrees
Best Undergraduate Nursing Programs
Topping this list is the University of California at Los Angeles’ bachelor of science in nursing program. The degree is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing. During the program, students complete 180-216 units of coursework, including classes like psychiatric mental health nursing, advanced leadership and role integration, and human responses to critical illness. Aside from classroom work, students can get involved with organizations like Global Action in Nursing, the Foundational for International Medical Relief for Children at UCLA, and Wellness in Nursing.
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor allows students the opportunity to finish their bachelor of science in nursing through a 128-credit program. The degree includes coursework like communications, groups and teams, role transition, and culture of health. Students can also pursue a minor in population health in a global text and complete a certificate in trauma-informed practice. Students of UM have also traveled abroad to complete clinical experiences in countries like India, Thailand, Uganda, and Denmark. UM also has an undergraduate honors program that gives students access to leaders in the nursing profession and a student mentorship program.
Georgetown University offers a direct-entry bachelor of science in nursing program. In this program, students complete 129 credit hours with 882 clinical hours. Students can also take part in an honors program in nursing, as well as in study abroad opportunities in Dublin, Ireland, and Sydney, Australia. Georgetown also places its students in clinical settings during their first year and has thousands of clinical affiliation agreements so that students can get quality experience outside of the classroom. Graduates typically find work within government, higher education, the military, community organizations, and healthcare industries.
The University of Texas Medical Branch hosts a bachelor of science in nursing program with a 97% passage rate on the NCLEX exam and a 91% graduation rate. Students first complete prerequisite courses before entering the BSN program. Then they complete four additional semesters and 16 nursing-specific topics. Additionally, UT Medical Branch has a new Health Education Center with simulation equipment to help students hone their clinical skills. The school also offers honors opportunities for students. Finally, UT has an RN-to-BSN program that allows RNs to finish a bachelor’s in two semesters. This program is also online to give students the flexibility to complete their coursework while also working full-time.
Binghamton University is home to a direct admit bachelor of science in nursing program. The program requires 126 credit hours, and this includes prerequisites, general education courses, and the core nursing coursework. The core nursing classes include nursing assessment of clients, practice of nursing, and pathophysiology. Binghamton also has a nursing learning community for those who are living on campus; this means that students can live with other nursing students. Students of Binghamton may also join the Mary E. Mahoney Nursing Support Group and the Nursing Student Association. Additionally, Binghamton offers a 12-month accelerated track for those who already have a bachelor’s degree.
The University of Virginia offers a bachelor of science in nursing for first-time and transfer students as well as those who are already a registered nurse. RNs can complete the BSN in two years on a part-time basis while first-time students finish in four years. UVA has a placement rate of 93% within three months of graduation and a 93% first-time pass rate for the NCLEX exam. The BSN requires 120 credits overall. Students begin nursing courses during their first year in the program. The curriculum also includes clinical classes during the three years of the program. Many students take clinical classes at hospitals.
The bachelor of science in nursing at the University of Wisconsin — Madison is completed over four years, two of which are dedicated to pre-nursing prerequisites. In total, students complete 124 undergraduate credits. The program also integrates clinical experiences each semester. UW also gives students the opportunity to join a cohort of students in the First-Year Interest Groups Program and to conduct research through the Nursing Honors Program. Furthermore, students can also earn certification as a school nurse or a certificate in global health as they earn their degree. Additionally, students can do the early entry Ph.D. program, in which students can begin graduate work early and continue on to the doctoral program immediately upon graduation. There’s also the option to finish a BSN and a master of public health within five years.
Stony Brook University gives students the ability to complete a bachelor of science in nursing, regardless of the prior education experience. Students can enter the program after completing two years of general education and prerequisite coursework, after earning their RN licensure, or after finishing a bachelor’s degree. The basic curriculum for students without prior educational experience requires 71 credits of coursework. The accelerated BSN for students with a bachelor’s degree requires one year of coursework. Both of these programs make students eligible to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination. The RN-to-BSN program is offered via distance learning.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has both a traditional bachelor of science in nursing and an accelerated BSN program. The traditional BSN requires 60 hours of prerequisite courses and 60 hours of nursing-specific courses, totaling 120 to earn the degree. Courses in this program include foundations of relationship-centered care and diversity and inclusion, family-focused genomic healthcare, and nursing care of adults. There is also a capstone course that students complete during their last semester. Many courses in the program also have a clinical requirement. Additionally, the accelerated BSN can be completed over four semesters.
The University of Maryland in Baltimore offers a bachelor of science in nursing to prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. The program requires 59 credits of prerequisites and has several partner universities for students who have been on a pre-nursing track to make for an easy transfer process. In total, students complete 120 credits of coursework to earn their bachelor’s degree. Students also have the opportunity through the Clinical Scholars Program to get up to $15,000 in scholarship funding for working at the University of Maryland Medical Center or Sinai Hospital.
A program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Ohio State’s bachelor of science in nursing program prepares students to earn licensure as a registered nurse and to pursue graduate study. Students complete one year of pre-nursing coursework followed by three years of courses in the field. In total, they complete 121 credit hours. During their course of study, students engage in clinical experiences with adults, children, and women in community health, psychiatric health, and other healthcare settings. Outside of the classroom, students can get involved with the College of Nursing Learning Community, the Student Ambassadors Program, and N-SPIRE, an organization dedicated to advocating for underserved populations and healthcare inequities.
The University of Utah has three options for students to pursue registered nurse licensure through a bachelor of science in nursing program. The first is a pre-licensure track, which is a 16-month track for students who do not have a nursing license. The second is an online RN-to-BS track, which can be completed in two, three, or four semesters. Finally, there is also an early assurance program geared toward high school seniors and first-year college students who have completed less than 30 credits. In this program, students first complete two years of prerequisite coursework then delve into the nursing-specific courses. In total, they complete 122 credits to earn their degree.
Florida International University has several options for students wishing to pursue a bachelor of science in nursing. These options include a generic BSN option, an accelerated option, and an online RN-to-BSN. The school also has a BSN option for veterans with medic experience who wish to become nurses. The generic BSN option qualifies students to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, and it is a five-semester program for students to enroll in after completing prerequisites. Overall, students must take 125 credits. The School of Nursing gives students in this program the ability to gain experience in the Simulation Teaching and Research Center, which replicates obstetric, pediatrics, medical-surgical, and patient/family home settings.
With a 98% graduation rate from its School of Nursing, the University of Washington students who complete a bachelor of science in nursing are well-prepared for work in a healthcare setting. Students in this program complete 151 credit hours of coursework. They also gain experience through clinical simulations in the learning lab and out in the field. Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington Medical Center are just two of the 700 community sites at which students get to experience. Before graduating, students complete over 1,000 hours of patient care experiences. The University of Washington is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
San Diego State University offers a bachelor of science in nursing program. Students can apply and begin their education at SDSU directly after high school. The degree requires 120 credit hours of coursework, which includes an international experience. This requirement is designed to give students a better perspective on cross-cultural issues, global health, and the experiences of local populations worldwide. Additionally, other courses include clinical pharmacology, nursing care of the acutely ill adult, and nursing care of the childbearing family. There are also options for students who have already completed their bachelor’s and for those with an RN. Nursing students at SDSU can also join SDSU Students H.E.A.L., or the Health & Education Abroad through Leadership, and the SDSU Student Nurses Association.