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Below are the the 50 most affordable schools for Nursing, according to our methodology.
Note: overall, we selected over 400 schools across the country for our rankings (see the State Rankings pages). We decided to limit the Subject Rankings pages to profiles of, at most, 50 schools offering degrees in each subject. So, while the 50 schools below are the "best of the best" in terms of affordability, there may be many other affordable schools listed in our State Rankings that offer these programs too!
The 50 Most Affordable Nursing Degrees
Looking for an affordable education in nursing? You’ve come to the right place. We’ve analyzed thousands of colleges and universities to determine which schools offer solid nursing degrees for students on a budget. Each detailed listing includes information on the school’s programs, accreditations, accepted credits and weekend/evening classes.
Plus, for those new to the field, we’ve provided a primer on the nursing profession. Here you can discover what type of nurse you’d like to be, what kind of degree you can earn and which nursing programs are offered online. We also take a look at what state and ACEN/CCNE accreditation means for your school and your career.
Online Nursing Degrees
Online Undergraduate Nursing Programs
Since nursing is a hands-on profession, it’s near impossible to gain your LPN qualification, ADN or BSN completely online. However, many schools now offer hybrid programs that allow you to take core nursing and science classes via the Internet. Your clinical work could be performed at a local hospital, nursing home or medical facility.
During your search for online programs, you will find a lot of listings for online LPN to BSN or RN to BSN degrees. These are accelerated degrees that licensed practical nurses or registered nurses can take to gain a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Universities are more comfortable offering these degrees online because they know LPNs and RNs already have a certain amount of clinical experience under their belt.
Online Graduate Nursing Programs
Thanks to demand, online graduate nursing programs continue to grow in number and scope. You’ll find online RN to MSNs, direct entry MSNs and traditional MSN programs focusing on a particular specialty (e.g. midwifery, family practice, etc.). If clinical work is required (and it usually is), a large number of universities will allow you to complete your practicums at a nearby hospital, health center or school.
Some universities have taken cyber education a step further and now offer online DNP, PhD and DSN programs. These are usually hybrid affairs. In the case of an online DNP, for example, you might take courses and talk to your supervisor via the Internet. Meanwhile, you would be conducting research and working on a capstone project in your local area.
What Kind of Nurse Can I Become?
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
Many nurses find their first job as an LPN. In Texas and California, you’ll see this qualification referred to as a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN). Tasked with basic nursing duties like collecting samples or monitoring vital signs, LPNs or LVNs always work under the supervision of a Registered Nurse (RN) or a medical doctor. To become an LPN, you must complete a state-approved LPN program and successfully pass the NCLEX-PN examination.
Registered Nurse (RN)
RNs have greater job responsibilities and much more independence than LPNs. As a registered nurse, you may be caring for patients in the ICU or ER, managing nursing care units and working in hospital leadership roles.
You can become an RN by earning one of the following qualifications:
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- Diploma in Nursing
At the end of your studies, you should be ready to take the NCLEX-RN examination. Once you’ve passed the exam, you must then earn your RN license.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)
A career rung above RNs, APRNs focus on certain types of specialty care. For example, nurse practitioners take on many of the same tasks as primary care doctors; nurse anesthetists are allowed to administer anesthesia.
There are four types of APRNs:
- Nurse practitioners
- Clinical nurse specialists (e.g. cardiology, pediatrics, oncology, etc.)
- Nurse midwives
- Nurse anesthetists
To become an APRN, you must have:
- A valid RN license
- A state-approved master’s degree or DNP
- Validated clinical hours in your area of interest (e.g. obstetrics)
- Successfully passed an advanced practice certification exam
Types of Nursing Degrees
Summary: You can become a licensed practical nurse by completing an LPN associate or diploma program from a community college, vocational school, university or hospital. This will prepare you for the NCLEX-PN exam.
Time Commitment: An LPN qualification usually takes one year of full-time study or two years of part-time study. Around one third of your coursework will be done in the classroom (e.g. anatomy, biology) and two thirds in a practical clinical setting. For added flexibility, you might find LPN courses being offered online.
Summary: An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is designed to train you as a Registered Nurse (RN).
Time Commitment: ADNs are offered by community colleges, vocational schools and universities and typically take two years to complete. Coursework is focused on technical skills rather than theory.
LPN to ADN
Summary: LPN to ADN bridge programs are designed to help students with LPN qualifications become entry-level RNs. Being an RN will increase both your job opportunities and your pay scale.
Time Commitment: Bridge programs can last 1-2 years. Instead of having to do the full ADN degree, you will take classes you may have missed in LPN training and engage in practical clinical work. Some classroom courses are offered online.
Summary: A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is one of the most flexible and coveted nursing qualifications. In addition to training you to take the RN exam, a BSN provides you with leadership skills and extensive hands-on experience in clinical work.
Time Commitment: BSNs take four years of full-time study to complete. Courses are a blend of hard science (e.g. anatomy, physiology), liberal arts (e.g. English, foreign language), advanced topics in health care (e.g. evidence-based practice, technology, patient safety) and clinical work in health care settings.
Like other nursing degrees, some courses may be offered online in a hybrid format. However, practicals will be conducted at a local hospital or campus.
LPN to BSN
Summary: The LPN to BSN bridge program is designed to help licensed practical nurses become RNs with a BSN degree. Interested in greater independence, more career options and management opportunities? A BSN is worth investigating.
Time Commitment: LPN to BSN bridge programs can be completed full-time (typically four semesters) or part-time. Through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DSST, LPNs can earn college credit by demonstrating mastery of prerequisite courses or degree requirements.
RN to BSN
Summary: An RN to BSN bridge program allows registered nurses with an associate degree or diploma to apply their prior learning to a BSN. With a BSN, you increase your job opportunities and boost your pay.
Time Commitment: The RN to BSN program takes about two years. Institutions usually accept coursework from an ADN, but nurses can also earn credits for on-the-job training or independent study. To make it easier on working nurses, schools often offer rolling start dates. Online RN to BSN programs are also commonly available.
Summary: A master’s degree in nursing goes under a variety of names, including Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Master of Nursing (MN) and Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) in Nursing. These degrees are intended to prepare you for specialty roles in areas such as:
- Nursing administration
- Family practice
- Mental health
- Critical care
- Pediatric nursing
- Public health
Most schools will require you to hold a BSN and a valid RN license. A master’s degree is required if you wish to become an APRN.
Time Commitment: Full-time programs take approximately two years to earn. However, since most nurses are working while studying, many MSN degrees are completed part-time and online. Coursework will be focused on your particular area of interest and most programs will require you to complete a thesis or capstone project.
Other MSN Programs
Summary: Many universities offer programs that are intended to help speed up the process of gaining an MSN. Some of these include:
- RN to MSN: RNs with an ADN can choose to gain an MSN without earning a bachelor’s degree. This is a good option if you know what you wish to specialize in.
- Direct Entry: This program is intended for students who hold a bachelor’s degree in a separate field. It will help you achieve your RN before launching you into master’s level studies.
- Dual Master’s: One of the most time-intensive programs, a dual master’s combines a nursing degree with a related field (e.g. business, public health or public administration).
- MSN/PhD: Intended for BSN graduates, this dual degree condenses masters and doctoral nursing work into a 5-year program.
Time Commitment: Time commitments will vary according to the program and job responsibilities. For example, a full-time, direct entry MSN program can take three years to complete. An RN to MSN degree might last 3 to 5 years.
Fortunately, universities try to make it easy for working professionals. Like RN to BSN programs, RN to MSN courses are often offered online and on a rolling basis.
Summary: A doctoral degree in nursing is the highest academic qualification you can achieve. It will train you for a career in nursing research, health administration (e.g. executive positions), public policy, university teaching or high-level APRN jobs (e.g. nurse practitioner).
Examples of nursing doctoral degrees include:
- Doctor of Nursing Education (ND): Advanced practice nurse specialist skills (phased out in favor of the DNP)
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Clinical, practice-oriented leadership development (especially relevant to nurse practitioners)
- Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS): Science research, leadership development and skills applicable to the health care system (phased out in favor of the PhD)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): Theoretical foundations of nursing practice and health care delivery
Time Commitment: Doctoral degrees demand a great deal of clinical work and research. However, an ND or DNP will take less time to complete than a DNS or a PhD. Here are some general guidelines for full-time study:
- ND: 3-5 years
- DNP: 3-4 years
- DNS: 5 years
- PhD: 4-5 years
State Board of Nursing (BON) Approval
Every state has a board of nursing. This board sets standards and approves schools that train nurses for the NCLEX examinations (e.g. PN, RN). If a program isn’t state-approved, you will be unable to sit the exams or obtain licensure. Your first step in looking at schools is to make sure your program is accredited by the state.
ACEN & CCNE Accreditations
The Department of Education has sanctioned two national organizations to accredit nursing education programs. It’s not necessary for your nursing program/school to have these accreditations, but it’s a big plus (see Why is ACEN/CCNE Accreditation Important below).
As ACEN puts it, “accreditation recognizes educational institutions or programs that have been found to meet or exceed standards and criteria for educational quality.”
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
Formerly known as the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC), ACEN is responsible for accrediting all levels of nursing education programs, including diploma, associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
CCNE focuses on nursing programs offering bachelor’s, master’s and/or DNP degrees. Like ACEN, it sets a series of nationally recognized standards and evaluates schools with a non-governmental, peer review process.
Specialty Nursing Accreditations
In addition to the “big two”, there are a variety of smaller organizations that accredit programs in specialty areas of nursing. These include:
Why is ACEN/CCNE Accreditation Important?
There are a few reasons why you should strongly consider attending a program accredited by ACEN or CCNE. Going to an accredited school means you will be:
- Eligible for a variety of scholarships, grants, federal/state financial aid and tuition reimbursement programs from employers
- Able to attend an accredited school to pursue a RN to BSN or a master’s degree – this school may not accept a qualification from a non-accredited program
- Prepared to apply for a wide variety of jobs – some hospitals, facilities and branches of the military make ACEN or CCNE a requirement
There are plenty of strong, non-accredited nursing programs out there. However, you’re limiting your future choices when you attend one.
State Board of Nursing vs. ACEN/CCNE
Unsurprisingly, most CCNE or ACEN accredited schools have also received the seal of approval from their state nursing boards. However, it doesn’t always work the other way around. Some state-approved nursing schools have not been recognized by a national accreditation body.
So if you’re interested in going to an accredited graduate school, make sure your undergraduate program is approved by both the state nursing board and ACEN or CCNE (or a specialty nursing organization such as ACME).