Nursing School Guide

Learn about the different types of nursing schools, the job outlook, and how much you might earn with different nursing degrees.

Nursing is quickly becoming one of the most popular professions in the United States. It’s not surprising given the sharp rise in demand as our population gets older. Finding the best nursing schools can be tricky since there are now so many schools offering a program.

These programs range from certificate degrees to become a Certified Nurse Assistant and Licensed Practical Nurse, to ADN’s and BSN’s to become a Registered Nurse. And if you want to take it one step further, getting a Master’s of Science in Nursing will open even more doors.

We’ll explore all of these elements of nursing and the different schools in this document. But let’s start with the reality that most people will attend a school in their own state. So here’s an easy state map to help you search for schools in your state.

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Find Nursing Schools by State

Registered Nurse School

There are two paths to becoming a registered nurse. You can go to a four-year Bachelor of Science (BSN) Program, or a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) Program. Both are well respected, but someone with a BSN will have more job opportunities and higher earnings power.

BSN Programs

As you would expect, a BSN is a more involved educational program. It includes more general education course work than an ADN and typically takes 4 years to complete. Because of the longer timeframe to get this degree, many RN’s opt for the shorter path of getting an ADN first.

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ADN Programs 

This program is only going to take 2-years to complete which is a major selling point for multiple reasons. If you don’t have the funds for 4-years of school, or just aren’t a “school” person, this is the route for you. An ADN program is going to be more focused on the nursing curriculum and will skip more general classwork. By going the route of an ADN you can get out in the workforce more quickly and start earning money. Be aware however, you may not be able to get some of the more specialized nursing jobs that someone with a BSN will have access to.

RN to BSN Programs

If you are thinking about nursing school, and fretting over an ADN vs. BSN program, you’re not locked in if you go with an ADN. RN to BSN Programs are very popular, and allow an RN to upgrade to a BSN with some additional coursework. You will even find some of these programs available online.

Pre-requisites for RN School

Academics – To get accepted to either an ADN or BSN program you will need to meet certain academic standards. It’s generally accepted that a GPA of 2.0-2.5 is the lowest you can go and still get into an RN School. That said, the more competitive programs are going to require far higher standards. Some programs will be looking for students with over a 3.5 GPA.
 
Testing– Each RN School is going to have its own testing standard. Some may require an exam like the SAT, while others may use tests like the HESI A2 or TEAS. It’s incumbent upon the student to find out what tests are required at a school of interest, and complete those exams.
 
Extras – Beyond academics, many schools will want to see additional things like extra-curricular activities, community service, and letters of support

Exams and State Licensure for RN’s

According to the NCSBN there are different components to becoming a licensed RN in most states. After complete RN school you will need to complete the NCLEX-RN. After completing school and the exam, you will need to apply for a license in the state you would like to work in. 

What Does an RN?

After completing nursing school and getting your license, an RN has many different job opportunities. RN’s are found in almost all medical settings, from doctor’s offices and hospitals to long-term care facilities and retirement homes. As the population ages and baby-boomers get older, demand across all of these job markets is going to continue increasing.

Here are a few common tasks carried out by RN’s, but the list is much longer depending on the nature of each job.

  • Care for patients
  • Supervise lower-level nurses and CNA’s
  • Assist doctors and surgeons
  • Physical exams and diagnostic testing
  • Take vital signs
  • Administer medication
  • Wound Care
  • Evaluate patients symptoms
  • Collect patient history
  • Educate patients and family

Find an RN Program

FAQ's About RN Programs

The salary of an RN can vary greatly based on the location and the type of job. But according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the median pay for an RN is $73,300. With over 3,000,000 Registered Nurses employed in the U.S. that means a lot of good-paying jobs. They also estimate the number of RN’s will grow by 12% by the year 2028, meaning job opportunities should be plentiful.

In order to become an RN, you will need at least two years in school to earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. As mentioned earlier you can also obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing which takes longer. A popular path is to first get an Associate’s Degree and at a later date go through an RN to BSN program. This allows people to get out in the workforce more quickly, but upgrade to a BSN if they see the benefit.

Unfortunately, an RN degree cannot be obtained 100% online because of the need for clinical work. As with many medical jobs, hands-on training is critical to what students learn in school. There are online RN to BSN programs for nurses who only have an ADN. 

The cost of an RN program is entirely dependant on the school you attend and type of degree. As you’d expect most ADN programs are going to be significantly less than a BSN. But a BSN at one school may cost drastically more than a BSN at another just do to the prestige of a school or other factors. Make sure to run the numbers and ensure the cost of the school makes sense based on your future job opportunities and return on investment.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) School

If you are looking to get into the nursing field, but don’t have the time or money to become an RN, then look at LPN school. According to Learn.org, an LPN program is going to take approximately 12 months to complete. The coursework will typically be split between classroom and clinical time.

While the earnings power of an LPN is not that of an RN, it is a great paying job without the need for a lot of schooling. For that reason, it is a great job for someone who is changing careers later in life.

Pre-requisites

To get accepted to an LPN program, you will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Each school is going to have its own standards for how well you need to have done.

Exams and State Licensure

After graduating from an approved LPN program, you will need to pass the NCLEX-PN. These exams are administered by the state.

What Does an LPN Do?

As with other nursing jobs, an LPN or LVN does many things in a healthcare setting. They may work in assisted-living facilities, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and anywhere else that patient care is needed.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the tasks and LPN may find themselves doing.

  • Take vital measurements
  • Assist Registered Nurses and Physicians with procedures
  • Administer medication
  • Help patients with eating

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Find an LPN Program

FAQ's About LPN Programs

One of the benefits of an LPN program is its relatively short duration compared RN programs. Becoming an LPN is going to take around 12 months and 40 credit hours. That time will be spent between classroom and clinical settings.

You can find accelerated LPN programs that will only take 6 months if you have no prior credentials. Most of the accelerated programs are 9 to 10 months, but that’s still a decent improvement over the standard 12 months. These programs are not the best choice for everyone because a lot of work is packed into a short period of time. Sometimes being a CNA or having previous college credits can help get you through an LPN program quicker as well.

The cost of an LPN program varies greatly depending on the institution. You can find programs for close to $5,000 while some may be above $30,000. It’s critical you don’t overpay to ensure you get an appropriate return on investment for you degree. The average cost is between $10,000-$15,000 nationally. Think twice if you find a program that is significantly more cost than this.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) School

If you want to avoid any significant time in school, then consider CNA school. These programs can typically be completed in a matter of weeks and can have you up and running quickly with a career in a medical field. You will spend most of your time assisting RN’s and LPN’s in taking care of patients as a CNA. If you are a compassionate person, who enjoys helping people, this is a job you should consider.

You can find CNA programs at many different schools. These are popular programs at local community colleges, trade schools, and possibly other medical training facilities. Because these programs are typically at the local level, you can normally find a one near you.

Pre-requisites

One of the selling points of going to CNA school is you only need a high school degree or GED. Check with your specific program for additional requirements.

Exams and State License

After completing an approved CNA program in your state you will need to pass a CNA exam. The exam consists of two portions, one is written while the other is in a clinical setting. As with many elements of CNA programs, check your state’s specific requirements as they may vary by state. Once you have completed your CNA exam, you will be able to apply for a license.

What Does a CNA  Do?

A CNA in general helps with a variety of tasks in providing healthcare to patients. We’ve listed some of those tasks below, but keep in mind there are many more depending on the environment in which you get a job.

  • Assist bedridden patients
  • Help with patient documentation
  • Take vital sign measurements
  • Clean rooms and/or linens
  • Wound Care
  • Helping to feed patients
  • Sometimes administer medication
  • Collect patient information

FAQ's About CNA Programs

According to the CNA Plus academy, a CNA program costs on average around $1,300. That’s a deal compared to the cost of the other nursing schools we’ve discussed. Granted the earning’s power isn’t as high, but this is a great low cost and quick option to get started in a medical profession.

A CNA program can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. Again, that’s a huge time saver compared to other programs. Once your CNA classes are done, you can take the CNA examination.

The median income for a CNA is $29,670 according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Scroll down to see how the salary of a CNA compares to that of other nurses and the national median.

Master's of Science (MSN) in Nursing School

If you have your BSN and want to go to another level, consider an MSN program. Having a Masters of Science in Nursing opens the door to extremely high paying nursing jobs. Those include Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Midwives, Nurse Educators, and more. 

Pre-requisites

Given the advanced nature of this degree, there are higher-level requirements for being admitted. Every school is going to have it’s own admissions requirements, but here are some typical examples.

  • A BSN degree
  • Current RN license
  • At least one year of clinical experience
  • Minimum GPA often of 3.0 or better. Varies by school
  • Letters of recommendation

Exams and State Licensure

The types of exams and licensure will depend on the chosen profess after graduation from an MSN program. Each job type and state may have different requirements.

FAQ's About MSN Programs

The salary of an RN can vary greatly based on the location and the type of job. But according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics the median pay for an RN is $73,300. With over 3,000,000 Registered Nurses employed in the U.S. that means a lot of good-paying jobs. They also estimate the number of RN’s will grow by 12% by the year 2028, meaning job opportunities should be plentiful.

In order to become an RN, you will need at least two years in school to earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. As mentioned earlier you can also obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing which takes longer. A popular path is to first get an Associate’s Degree and at a later date go through an RN to BSN program. This allows people to get out in the workforce more quickly, but upgrade to a BSN if they see the benefit.

Unfortunately, an RN degree cannot be obtained 100% online because of the need for clinical work. As with many medical jobs, hands-on training is critical to what students learn in school. There are online RN to BSN programs for nurses who only have an ADN. 

How Much do Nurses Make

Across the board, nurses do well when comparing salaries to the national average. As you would expect, the median pay increases along with the education level. CNA’s are making about $29,640 per year according to the BLS, while a nurse anesthetist is raking in $174,790. That means some nurses in the most advanced professions are making well over $200,000 per year. Keep in mind those nurses put in almost as much time as a doctor in school to get there. Regardless, nurses with the right training and jobs do very well.

Job Outlook for Nurses

As with Nursing salaries, the overall job outlook for all levels of nursing is good. The current age demographics in this country are driving a significant increase in demand across most medical professions. As you can see in this chart, the demand for the most popular nursing jobs is expected to grow by double digits over the next ten years.

The Bottom Line

The options for nursing school today are vast and offer opportunities for people across many spectrums. Whether you have the financial means to go for an advanced degree, or are seeking affordability, you have options. If you have years to study, or just weeks to get off the ground, again you have options.

The number of different programs and increasing demand across all makes this an enticing career choice. If you enjoy interacting with and helping people in need, you can almost certainly find a career in the nursing profession.

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