Nursing school is a big commitment. Not only are the classes challenging, but it also requires you to master the many practical tasks that you will have to perform quickly and accurately once you are in a real nursing position. For those students committing to a four-year BSN program, successful completion particularly matters due to the large time and financial commitments.

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So choosing the right nursing program can be a challenge. There are so many schools out there, yet not all offer the same quality of education. Many of the most prestigious schools require a significant investment that prospective students feel hesitant to put down without knowing if it will really pay off in the long run. What’s more, so much advice out there on the best ways to get a nursing degree differs and contradicts itself. Many students find themselves frustratedly asking themselves,"Does it actually matter which nursing school you attend?

While this question may have no simple answer, Brainscape collected advice from professionals across the nursing profession to find out what they think and to help you decide.

Does your nursing school matter?

A nurse giving a woman a flu vaccine shot

There are so many questions that could impact in your nursing school choice:

  • Is a big program or a small program better?
  • Does a “name brand” degree really help your career?
  • Do hospitals and doctors care where you attended in the short and long term?

So does it matter which nursing school you attend? Yes and no. There are a few factors that can help you pick the perfect program.

A quality program is important: make sure your program is accredited

First and foremost, it is important to ensure that any school you consider has a basic level of quality to ensure your degree is worth anything. That primarily means you need to know that the school is accredited. An accredited school has to meet certain quality criteria for their instructors and curriculum. You may be permitted to sit the licensing exam without having gone to an accredited program, but potential employers won’t look very highly on an unaccredited degree, even if you pass the NCLEX.

Plus, you’re less likely to pass after attending an unaccredited school in the first place. Look for a program that prepares you well for all the boards you will need to take.

Look for your school's NCLEX pass rates

Speaking of the NCLEX, a school’s first-time pass rate is a gold standard indicator of the quality of its nursing program. Your degree won’t be worth much if it doesn’t even give you the skills you need to practice as a nurse. A quality nursing school should prepare you to pass the NCLEX licensing exam from day one. The higher the pass rate, the better. In fact, you should not consider a program with a NCLEX pass rate below 85 percent.

You can also start ensuring your own study process by using NCLEX practice questions. We also have huge master list of NCLEX study tips that will save you heaps of time and anxiety.

Build a network and get valuable clinical experience

Nursing clinical experience

Networking has been touted as one of the most important ways to kickstart your career, and this is no different in nursing.

The best way to build a network is through your clinical experiences in school. If you know that you want to work at a local hospital when you graduate, you are most likely to get a job there if they already know you and like you. Go to the hospital and ask where most of the nurses there went to school. In general, most hospitals have a few schools that they trust above others to give quality nurses with the desired skills. The “best nursing school” to them may mean the local community college that the hospital has a good relationship with or an Ivy League university. It really just depends.

Similarly, joining the right nursing organizations and attending the right professional meetings does a lot to give you a leg up in your career. If you know that you want to work in the NICU, for example, it helps to choose a school that has a large alumni base with that experience. Not only will you have the opportunity for the best training in that area, but you can also make connections to get you rotations that build you the necessary experience in that area. Join the special, active neonatal nursing organization, and you are much more likely to successfully get placed in that field after graduation.

Even if you want to work in a private doctor’s office as a nurse, connections matter. Find a school that offers clinical hours in small clinics or office settings, which will allow you to show that you can build a necessary rapport with patients and get to know other nurses working in those settings.

Choose the right nursing school for you

Nurses examining an x-ray; Nursing school

In the end, there are a lot of factors that make some schools better for some students than others. Maybe you learn best one-on-one. If that’s the case, you may find a huge nursing program challenging, no matter how “good” the school is. Maybe you want to work as a researcher. Nursing research programs generally look more at your academic qualifications. If you prefer to practice at a busy hospital, your experience may matter more. Similarly, if you want a specific specialization (pediatric, oncology, etc.), choosing a nursing school with that focus can really help you get in the field.

For most nurses, the name on your degree matters for only the first 3 to 5 years of your career. If you know that you want to go on and get a higher degree to specialize or to work in certain positions, though, your academic transcripts and program will matter for much longer. This is another consideration that you should carefully weigh. On the other hand, if you want to simply build a nursing career by working your way up in a hospital, the experience and the connections you have matter more.

Your career goals will determine what nursing school is the best choice for you

In the end, choosing a nursing school is a very personal decision. So long as you choose a program with a basic high level of quality, you will be fine! The key to making the best decision is considering all the other factors that affect your personal goals for your nursing career. Many people who wonder if their nursing school choice matters are actually thinking about whether or not to go to a “top school” or a local community college that is “good enough,” but these aren’t the questions that really matter for your decision. What matters is how much the education you will get aligns with your nursing career goals.

In the end, does it matter which nursing school you attend? Absolutely. Just make sure to find the right nursing school for you.