A Guide to the Best Undergraduate Nursing Programs

Padya Paramita

A Guide to the Best Undergraduate Nursing Programs

You may be a student who has known your entire life that nursing is the career path for you. Or, you may have done volunteer work with nurses more recently and discovered you want to pursue a career in the field. Regardless of how your aspirations arose, you’re here because you don’t want to wait until after you graduate college to get started on your nursing career. And you’re probably wondering what the best undergraduate nursing programs in the country are.

Studying nursing during undergrad is 100% a possibility if you’re a driven and compassionate human with an avid interest in a future in patient care. Students who’ve chosen nursing as a major follow a set curriculum leading to the reception of their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), after which they may obtain a license and can work as a nurse. So, how do you sort through the various options available to find the right school for you? To guide you through the school research and application process, I have outlined the best undergraduate nursing programs around the US, what makes the various nursing schools unique, what you can do with a BSN, and application tips to help you gain an edge in the admissions process.

BSN vs. Associates Degree in Nursing

A BSN is a bachelor’s degree of science in nursing and is a four-year program for students who seek to become a registered nurse. Nurses with a BSN degree can choose to further their education with a master's or doctoral degree in nursing so that they can go on to become a nursing educator or nurse practitioner.

A BSN degree is favored over having only a 2-year associates degree in nursing for many entry-level nursing jobs. So, BSN brings you more opportunities to make a higher salary. On another note, in order to grow within the nursing field you may need to further your education to qualify for certain positions. Having a BSN degree allows for an easier and faster transition to obtaining a master's or doctoral degree and can help you progress more as a nurse in the future.

What Are the Best Undergraduate Nursing Programs?

Although many universities offer Masters programs in nursing, undergraduate nursing schools are slightly less common. In the table below, I have compiled the top 20 institutions ranked among US News’ list of top nursing schools that also offer undergraduate options and Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. The list also includes the universities’ location so that you can possibly tour campus (when it’s safe!) on your way to determining the right college for you.

School Location
Duke University (Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program for students who have already received an undergraduate degree) Durham, NC
University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill Chapel Hill, NC
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
Emory University Atlanta, GA
Ohio State University Columbus, OH
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
University of Washington Seattle, WA
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH
University of Alabama — Birmingham Birmingham, AL
University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
New York University New York, NY
Rutgers University — Newark Newark, NJ
University of Illinois — Chicago Chicago, IL
University of California — Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
University of Maryland — Baltimore Baltimore, MD
University of Texas — Austin Austin, TX
Rush University Chicago, IL
University of Tennessee — Knoxville Knoxville, TN

Some of the entries to the list might surprise you. You might have expected schools like UPenn and NYU to be on the list, but instead colleges such as Rush University, University of Maryland, and the University of Illinois — Chicago all topped the list. So you shouldn’t let schools’ general reputations fool you. Just because a school is well known doesn’t necessarily indicate that it has a particularly strong program in any given field. If you’re convinced that nursing is the correct path for you, you should concentrate on the strength of a specific program rather than how you perceive the university as a whole.

When you apply to one of these schools through the Common App, UC application, or ApplyTexas, you have to select the nursing program as your undergraduate college choice. 

Seeing your selection helps admissions officers understand from the get-go that you’re a nursing applicant, and evaluate your profile accordingly.


What Makes Each of the Best Undergraduate Nursing Programs Unique?


Every program on the list is a top-notch institution that provides hands-on experiences like dosage calculations, pharmacology, maternal and newborn nursing, medical surgical nursing, acute care nursing, and psychiatric nursing. The best undergraduate nursing programs also provide you with useful lessons that help you understand how to be successful in class and clinical settings and develop the people skills necessary to succeed in the profession. You also have a chance to work on your collaboration, stress-management, and research skills.


Now that you have a general idea of which universities offer strong nursing options, you might be confused about which school can specifically aid you in your own goals within nursing. It’s important to choose a school whose mission and specialties align with your specific interest in the health field, so that you can make the most out of the unique resources available. I’ve included a table that includes unique programs and opportunities at some of the top nursing institutions.

School Unique Opportunities
Duke University Duke’s ABSN is a full-time program lasting 16 months for students who already have a bachelor’s degree and want to accelerate their nursing education; Hands-on clinical experience at sites in the Duke University Health System; Two-week immersion-experience at clinical sites abroad for a chance to work with different populations
University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill One of few schools in the nation with access to its own biobehavioral laboratory; Education-Innovation-Simulation-Learning-Environment (EISLE), which provides clinical practice opportunities for nursing students; Hillman Scholars Program designed to accelerate the time from undergraduate nursing degree to completion of a PhD in five years or less
University of Pennsylvania Opportunity to work closely with Penn faculty and engage with the two teaching hospitals on campus as well as with clinical sites throughout the region; Nursing and Health Care Management dual degree for students to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Bachelor of Science in Economics; Office of Nursing Research and four research centers provide students with access to faculty support and valuable resources
Ohio State University Pre-nursing program for students who have an interest in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree before they start the major; Access to to more than 22 core research laboratories and 3 research centers; Community Health Workers initiative to support the local Columbus community
University of Michigan — Ann Arbor Students can either enroll as freshmen or transfer from another Michigan college during their sophomore year; Opportunity to participate in various centers including Center for Sexual and Health Disparities, Center For The Study Of Drugs, Alcohol, Smoking And Health (Dash Center), and Center For Complexity And Self-management Of Chronic Disease; Global Health minor for students to get oriented with healthcare on an international scale
Case Western Reserve University Clinical Placements start the first month of your first year—the earliest of any program in the nation; Clinical learning at the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic, Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, and the MetroHealth Medical Center; Senior Capstone Project provides seniors with the opportunity to analyze concepts of health and health care, health policy and finance, culture and ethics
New York University In addition to courses in NYU Meyers School of Nursing, students take courses in College of Arts and Sciences and Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development Global Initiatives programs in 15 countries and historical experience in an additional 13 and collaboration with NYU campuses in Shanghai and Ghana Innovation centers include Center for Precision Health in Diverse Populations, Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing, and Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders
Rutgers University — Newark Hands-on clinical experiences at more than 200 affiliated sites across New Jersey; Modern simulation labs that mimic realistic medical scenarios like cardiac arrest; Access to the Out-of-Hospital Residency program, service learning trips to Tanzania and China, and student organizations, like the Rutgers chapters of the American Association for Men in Nursing and Sigma, the international nursing honor society

What Can You Do With an Undergraduate Nursing Degree?

Now that you’ve seen all that you can do at the various best undergraduate nursing programs, you might also be wondering about your future beyond college. What can you do with an undergraduate nursing degree once you’re out of school? Obviously, you can work as an entry-level nurse at a hospital. However, the advantage of a BSN degree is that it provides more options than an associates degree in nursing.. Some routes that BSN students take upon graduation are:

  • Hospital administration - If you’re looking for a more administrative approach with limited patient care responsibilities, you might work in the office of a hospital or a physician.
  • Nursing education - If you’re passionate about teaching, you could become a nurse educator. They are responsible for designing, implementing, evaluating, and revising educational programs for nurses. Nurse educators may teach general nursing classes, or they might focus on specialized areas of nursing.
  • Healthcare research - You may be someone who’s excited about studying diseases, testing new medicine, and working closely with scientists, physicians, or patients. Nursing graduates can apply their classroom knowledge to lab work upon graduation.
  • Non-profit organizations - You can work for a non-profit company, or start your own. If there’s a cause that you believe you can use your education to support, use your nursing school knowledge and skills to help out an NGO for example.
  • Public health and policy - if you want to specialize in medical laws and assist in legal claims related to malpractice, accidents, and workers’ compensation, you can work in the healthcare sector of the government, at law firms, or even for insurance companies.

    Application Tips

    So, how do you stand out among the competition and establish yourself as a nursing student with potential to succeed and thrive not just in college, but in the workplace afterwards? You must show admissions officers that you have what it takes to thrive at their institution.

    • Work hard in school - The best undergraduate nursing programs all have a heavy STEM-focused course load. In order to show colleges that you can survive and succeed in the classroom, you need to bring a high GPA - particularly in the sciences. Demonstrate that you’ve challenged yourself by pursuing the most rigorous courses offered at your high school. Strong performance in courses such as AP Bio and AP Chem can convey your prowess in the STEM field.
    • Pursue relevant extracurriculars - Admissions officers won’t get a sense of your passion for nursing unless your application shows that you have pursued it outside the classroom as well. Think out of the box — don’t just join your school’s science club. Showing initiative and leadership can help you stand out. You can volunteer at a community clinic in your neighborhood, create COVID-19 safety protocols to send to students in your city, or see if you can conduct research at a local lab.
    • Take advantage of supplemental essays - One of the most effective ways to convince admissions officers that you’ve done your research and you’re a strong nursing candidate is through your supplemental essays. Universities have various prompts that allow you to articulate why this field is important to you, and why their school specifically appeals to you. Examples include:
      • UPenn: How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected. (300-450 words)
      • UVA: Describe a healthcare-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing.

    Make the most of these prompts to showcase your interests and goals and emphasize why you would be a strong addition to the classroom.

    The best undergraduate nursing programs provide students with a comprehensive education both in terms of academic skills as well as hands-on experience in clinics and research labs. Attending one of these institutions can help you grow into an empathetic and reliable individual with knowledge that can be applied in various areas of the healthcare field. Conduct thorough research to find the right school for you, work hard in your classes, and demonstrate initiative through your extracurriculars, and you’ll put yourself in a strong position to attend a reputable nursing school. Best of luck!

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