With more schools and educational institutions offering nursing degree programs these days, evaluating which program will work best for you has become more challenging. If you want a degree that will give you a leg up when it comes to job-hunting, you’d be well advised to consider the following:

Choose Your Program First, Then Pick Your School

Do you want to a two-year ADN nursing degree? Or a four year bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing? Are you interested in an accelerated program or in specializing in a particular type of nursing? Decide what kind of degree you are working towards and what kind of experience you want, and then begin honing in on schools that offer the programs you need.


Nursing school is a demanding and requires a large number of classroom and clinical hours. Start with schools closest to you, as in-state tuition is cheaper and a shorter commute gives you more time to study. Narrow your search to those schools that offer the specialized program you require.   It’s also important to take into account location when you decide where you want to work; check in with the state nursing board to make sure your school offers what you need to be an accredited nurse in the state where you choose to work. If nothing is in your area, you can widen your search area but remember that it should be located somewhere  with an easy commute or consider moving closer to school.  If none of these are options, an online degree is a great option.


Look for schools that have been accredited by the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and Education.  Employers look for at least one of these certifications when hiring. A program with both certifications is even better.

Clinical Rotation Hours

Does your school offer enough clinical rotation hours in the hospital?  There aren’t a set number of clinical hours required to get your degree but a general rule of thumb is that for every hour you spend in the classroom, you should spend three hours in a clinical setting.  Clinical placements should be split between several different hospitals and other medical facilities. They should be hands-on, so the student nurse gets valuable nursing experience. That last piece of information is probably best earned by talking to graduates and current students in the nursing program you want for their perspective on the program.

“It’s so important you master basic care your first term. You need to get comfortable turning, administering a bed pan, a bed bath. This is the time to really study your basic nursing,” writes one nurse on the nursing chat group allnurses.com. “Many CNAs look at you like you’re stupid and talk down to you. Prove them wrong! Keep in mind this is the time to ask questions as well. You really need to be proficient don’t wait till term three like I did because you’re afraid of hurting a patient. Be careful but dive right in and LEARN.”

NCLEX Examination Pass-Rates

The percentage of graduating students who pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) – a requirement to get your nursing license – is often a good indicator of how well the school prepares students. Ideally, it should be as high – or higher – than the national average pass rate, which each year is in the high 80’s (86, 87 or 88 percent). Ask the school for the data from the last five to ten years.

School and Class Size

The best school size can vary from student to student. Some prefer a smaller school with a more intimate environment, others prefer the rigorous intellectual competition of a larger university. However, when it comes to clinical rotations, small class sizes with a low student-to-faculty ratio are preferable, so you can get help when you are on the floor practicing with patients.

Tuition Reimbursements/Student Loans

As the demand for nurses has grown, more financing options are being made available to nursing students.  You can go for standard student loans, scholarships from public or private organizations, work-study, or a loan forgiveness program where you commit to work in a hospital setting for a certain period of time, get paid, and get reimbursed for your nursing school tuition.  These options vary from institution to institution, so make sure to check what financing options are available at the school or schools you’d like to attend.

Whatever nursing school you choose, remember that it pays to do your research in advance. Find the school that’s right for you and your future nursing career will take care of itself.

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