8 Signs of a Good (or Bad) Nursing School

There are so many nursing schools, so many degrees and so many levels of education. Not to mention tuition. How can you tell which ones are quality nursing schools? Here are 8 tell-tale signs to look for.

The best way to find the following information is to first look at the school’s website. Some can be hard to navigate. Use a search engine if you can’t find a particular item. If you still can’t find it, call them and ask for the admissions person. Use this list to “interview” your school. They should be helpful and volunteer the information freely. If they are unhelpful or hesitant, that can be a clue to the overall culture of the school.

1. NCLEX Pass Rate. Every nursing student has to take a national exam called the NCLEX to finally get licensed as a nurse. Check the school’s rate of students who pass the NCLEX. Every school should have it either published or revealed freely if you call them. If they are hesitant to tell you, that’s a red flag!

2. Accreditation. Accreditation is a national “stamp of approval” for a school. A graduate from an accredited school is able to transfer or continue their education in other schools. It can also be an indicator of the quality of education you will receive. The two bodies that accredit schools are the NLNAC (National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission) and the CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education). The CCNE is exclusively for bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, while the NLNAC may accredit at any level. Look at the school’s website or ask them directly to make sure they are accredited by one of these organizations.

3. Class Size and Retention Rate. Is it a big school or a small school? What is the typical class size? And most importantly, how many students make it all the way through in one try? This is probably one of those things you’ll have to call and ask about. A high drop rate can mean a few things. Nursing programs are generally difficult. That’s not a bad thing, since you’ll be better prepared for the NCLEX. However, beware if they have too high of a drop rate. They might not be helpful enough to their students.

4. Clinical Sites. The program should have a list of clinical sites they send their students to. Ideally, it should include a variety of hospitals in the area. Nursing homes are not great clinical sites for RN or BSN programs. They should not be sending you exclusively to long-term care facilities.

5. Prerequisites. Know which prerequisites the school will require before you enter the program. Depending on what you took in high school and how long ago, prerequisites can take quite a bit of time. You can usually find this information on their admissions packet. Of some importance is whether a school makes you get the CNA certification.

6. The Application Process. Always check the school’s application process for these important details. Is there a waiting list, or do they accept candidates based on test scores and grades? A waiting list can be good or bad. However, in most cases, a waiting list is not a good sign. It’s an outdated system and is being phased out by many schools.

7. Program Competition. How competitive is it to get into the program? Community Colleges are often the most competitive. However, you can get a general idea by asking a program representative over the phone. If they accept applicants based on test scores, ask them the average test score for the applicants they accept. Then you’ll know what you need to get on the pre-entrance exam.

8. Type of School. Know what type of nursing school you’re looking at! Universities, Private Colleges, and Community Colleges all work very differently. The names can be misleading. For example, some private schools have the word “university” in their names, while others have “college of nursing.” They can be confusing. Read more about the 3 types of nursing schools.


  • Why do Associate Degree programs require the CNA certification but BSN at a University does not require this experience/knowledge?

    • Kevin Pan says:

      Good question, Debby. I wasn’t sure myself. I called around some schools and boards of nursing.

      The CNA certification requirement is based on a school’s “preference.” Since many community colleges and Associate Degree programs have such a condensed schedule (they give you the degree in a short span of time), they prefer having candidates who already have gained some clinical experience. It’s a way for them to make sure their students are not only experienced, but invested in the program. They don’t want people who are deciding to practice nursing on a whim, because as a 2-year program, they can’t afford to. Community colleges are very easy to get into, so the nursing programs do this both to “weed” students out and to make sure their own students are well-prepared to work in an acute-care setting.

      On the other hand, BSN programs have 4 years to prepare their students. They usually don’t use this requirement because basically, they have more time. They don’t need to weed out prospective students, since their general University Admissions has already done this.

      Hope this helps, and thanks for reading!

  • Thank you Mr. Kevin Pan,
    I appreciate the feedback. I understand the need for “weeding out” those who do not make the grade in the university setting and the idea for the PN programs. However, shouldn’t BSN students also have some measure of experience when it comes to basic assessment skills? Could this be a cost-effective means to shorten the “Fundamentals” class or use for additional, more advanced skills? I have learned a few BSN programs are going to this as a requirement and wondered if there was any research to provide evidence-based practice for this new requirement. THANKS!
    Debby Pockrandt

    • Kevin Pan says:

      Basic assessment skills is technically a nursing skill, so all nursing students should learn assessments regardless of what degree program they are part of.

      Strictly speaking, nothing from a Nursing Fundamentals class can be substituted by a CNA class, because they are two different scopes of practice. A CNA class can be a good supplement by introducing students to the hospital/nursing home setting and some basic patient care, but never should replace nursing core classes.

      I’m not sure if there is any evidence-based practice on this, but it’s a good idea to see if this practice actually helps or not!

      In my opinion (I was a CNA for three years before becoming an RN), CNA was great for getting comfortable with patients. However, I was a far cry from having the skills I eventually learned as a nurse. I was not able to assess patients properly at all until practicing critical thinking as a nurse. It also gave me the opportunity to support myself as a CNA. Which may or may not have been a good idea, since it takes away time from studying and school.

  • Jodi says:

    This is great. Accredition does in fact matter, I just got kicked off a website for telling a prospective student that if a nursing school is not accredited than that meant that they are not following standard nursing critera from the NLNAC. This blog supports my argument that accreditation matters.

    • Kevin Pan says:

      Thanks, Jodi! Yes, of course accreditation matters! It’s what we’re going to school for, in order to get personal accreditation (A.K.A, a degree). And how can they give us a degree if they’re not authorized to do so? I’m glad you agree, and thanks for reading!

  • Juana says:

    Hello everyone!

    I wanted to mention something about the accreditation bodies. NLNAC has become two independent bodies (NLN and ACEN). Therefore, after reading about it, I believe that currently there are CCNE, NLN, and ACEN as legitimate accreditation bodies 🙂

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