How to Choose the Right Nursing School Pathway

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Nursing »

Embarking on a career in nursing is a noble and rewarding journey, but it begins with a crucial decision: choosing the right nursing school pathway. With numerous options available, prospective and newly admitted nursing students may find themselves overwhelmed. But fear not!

How to Choose:

Keep reading for helpful and practical tips to guide you in selecting the perfect nursing pathway that aligns with your goals and aspirations.

Self-Reflection and Goal Setting:

Before diving into the world of nursing education, take some time for self-reflection. Ask yourself why you want to become a nurse and what your long-term goals are. Do you aspire to work in a specific healthcare setting or specialize in a particular field of nursing? Understanding your motivations and objectives will help you choose the most suitable nursing school pathway.

Accreditation Matters:

The first and foremost criterion in selecting a nursing school is ensuring it is accredited by the appropriate governing body. In the United States, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) are the two main accrediting agencies. Accreditation ensures that the school meets specific standards of education and that your degree will be recognized by employers and licensing boards.

Type of Nursing Programs:

Nursing schools offer various types of programs, each catering to different needs and career goals. Here are some common options:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN):

A BSN is a four-year degree program that provides a comprehensive nursing education. It is an excellent choice if you want to enter the field with a strong foundation in nursing theory and practice. Many healthcare institutions prefer hiring BSN-prepared nurses.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An ADN is a two-year program that focuses on the essential nursing skills and knowledge needed to become a registered nurse (RN). It is a quicker route to licensure but may limit career advancement opportunities compared to a BSN.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)

These programs typically take around one year to complete and lead to licensure as an LPN or LVN. While these roles have limitations compared to RNs, they provide a valuable entry point into the nursing profession.

Accelerated BSN or Second-Degree BSN

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, consider an accelerated BSN program, which can be completed in 12-18 months. It’s an efficient way to transition into nursing.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

MSN programs are designed for those who want to pursue advanced practice roles such as nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, nurse educator, or nurse administrator. These programs typically require a BSN as a prerequisite.

Other considerations:

Location and Accessibility:

Consider the location of the nursing school and how accessible it is to you. Do you prefer a school close to home, or are you open to relocating? Also, think about the clinical sites where you’ll gain hands-on experience. Proximity to healthcare facilities can be a significant advantage when it comes to clinical rotations and networking opportunities.

Cost and Financial Aid:

The cost of nursing education can vary significantly from one school to another. Calculate tuition, fees, and additional expenses such as textbooks and uniforms. Explore available financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs. Make a budget and choose a nursing school pathway that aligns with your financial resources.

Admission Requirements:

Different nursing programs have varying admission requirements, including prerequisites, GPA requirements, and standardized tests like the TEAS or HESI. Ensure that you meet these requirements before applying to your chosen program. Some schools may also require interviews or essays as part of the application process.

Faculty and Resources:

A crucial aspect of your nursing education is the faculty and resources available to you. Research the qualifications and experience of the nursing faculty at prospective schools. Additionally, check if the school offers student support services, tutoring, and clinical placement assistance. A strong support system can greatly enhance your learning experience.

Clinical Experience:

Hands-on clinical experience is a fundamental part of nursing education. Inquire about the types of clinical rotations offered, the variety of healthcare settings available, and the opportunities for specialization within your chosen program. A diverse range of clinical experiences will prepare you for a successful nursing career.


Many nursing programs have “state of the art” simulation learning labs where students practice and demonstrate the required clinical and assessment skills. They also engage in simulation experiences with high fidelity mannequins that enable students to practice real life skills in a safe environment. Many states allow academic programs to count the hours spent in the simulation lab as part of their required clinical hours. The use of standardized patients (actors) is another form of simulation. More recently the use of virtual reality has emerged as a way to enhance clinical learning, critical thinking, and clinical judgment.

Student-to-Faculty Ratio:

A lower student-to-faculty ratio can lead to a more personalized and effective learning experience. Smaller class sizes often mean more individualized attention from professors, which can be particularly beneficial in nursing programs.

Alumni Success:

Research the success stories of the nursing school’s alumni. Graduates’ achievements, licensure pass rates, and job placement rates can provide insights into the quality of education and the school’s reputation in the healthcare industry.


Choosing the right nursing school pathway is a significant decision that will shape your nursing career. By considering factors like accreditation, program type, location, cost, admission requirements, faculty, clinical experiences, student-to-faculty ratio, and alumni success, you can make an informed choice that aligns with your goals and aspirations. Remember that the journey to becoming a nurse is both challenging and rewarding, and selecting the right pathway is the first step towards a successful and fulfilling career in healthcare.