College Rankings for Nursing Schools

College rankings are a fickle system, but many people rely on them to get information about which schools offer the best programs in a given field, so it is important to understand how they work. Unfortunately, every organization that publishes ratings has their own formulas and algorithms for determining the ratings, ungoverned by any disinterested set of standards.

One of the most famous producers of college ratings is the U.S. News and World Report, which regularly releases a bevy of lists of the colleges that are best for this or that, and the metrics that they use to determine their rankings are fairly transparent, but not necessarily logical. If you do look at college rankings as part of your decision making process, make sure to take into account the factors that were used to generate the rankings you look at.

Common Factors in Popular College Rankings

Though methodologies differ between ranking publications, there are a few factors that are important enough that most college rankers work them into the equation somehow. The amount of weight they carry in an individual school’s overall ranking may vary, but it’s in there!

  • Graduation and Retention Rates: Nothing says “this is a good school” like having 100% of the students actually make it all the way through. That’s actually highly uncommon, though. Colleges usually publish their graduation rates and retention rates, and 60%-70% is actually a pretty good showing.
  • Costs: Usually, ranking publishers will have a separate list of colleges that give the best education for the money, or just the cheapest colleges overall. The latter can also be looked up easily at collegecost.ed.gov.
  • Academic Reputation: Colleges live and die on the amount of research their professors publish. This might not be all that important to you if you don’t plan to go into academia, and there are better ways to judge a college’s professors than by how much research they have published.

College Rankings and the Subjectivity Issue

College rankings use general statistics to provide information about a college’s student body, strengths and weaknesses, and overall identity. This information cannot predict how well an individual student will do at that college, or how happy he or she will be there. It is much better to know exactly what you want to get out of college, how much you are willing to pay for it, and which parts of the experience will be most important to you, than to choose a college based on third-party rankings. Your education is an investment, and you need to decide whether the opportunity cost and financial drain will be repaid well enough by the benefits of your higher degree. For a frame of reference, here are the factors and their relative weights used by the U.S. News and World Report to generate their annual best colleges list.

Nursing Program Rankings Are Different

Nursing programs are different than other kinds of programs in that the nursing profession has highly developed professional standards, and credentials beyond just a college degree that you have to earn to continue moving up in the field. While it is difficult to measure the success of an English Literature program, because success might mean wildly different things to different students, a nursing program basically has one goal: graduating professional grade nurses who can pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). That makes it a lot easier to tell which programs are delivering on their promises, and which fall short. Here’s a list of a few statistics that are worth digging up about any particular school you are planning on applying to.

  • Number of graduates who pass the NCLEX on the first try: The NCLEX is a really difficult test, and it is recommended that candidates spend a few months studying for it full-time before taking it, because it is that important. If a particular college has a low percentage of its graduates who pass the test on their first go, that has negative implications about the quality of the program.
  • Number of graduates employed as nurses one year after graduation: People don’t usually go to nursing school to expand their worldview. They go because they want a job as a nurse. If a school isn’t delivering that need, there is cause for concern. Ask for post-graduation employment rates from any school you consider.
  • Percentage of your total bills that can be covered by financial aid: Schools will brag about the amount of financial aid that they hand out annually, but this is useless to you unless they’ll give a slice of it to you. Make sure to find out about all the ways the school can help you get financial assistance before you even apply.

The lesson is that rankings can’t tell you whether a school will be good for you or not, especially not in the case of nursing schools. If you want to look at them and get information that way, that’s fine, but knowing your own needs and resources is far more important when you’re trying to choose a nursing school to sink years of time and thousands of dollars into.

Low Profile Schools Probably Pay More Attention To What You Actually Need

The thing about school rankings is that once a university starts to move up in the rankings, it allocates more of its resources to improving the metrics used by the rankers, and less to meeting the actual needs of the students. Colleges want to be high in the rankings, and if they see a chance to improve their numbers, they’ll spend money on it. Colleges that fall outside the traditional highly ranked categories like the Ivy League schools or other famous establishments are under less pressure to conform to the standards set by rankers, and can be more responsive to their students.

Going to a nationally recognized school, or one that was featured in Forbes or the U.S. News and World Report isn’t necessarily the best choice for someone who wants their degree to prepare them for a specific career.

How to Find Out Which Nursing Colleges are Really Great

Getting in touch with the nursing department of a school you might attend is a good way to get information about the program, but the school will portray itself in the best light possible because they want you to go there. The best source of honest and reliable reviews of a particular college is the students who have graduated from the school, or even those still in attendance. If you can get in touch with some students at the schools you are considering applying to, and come up with a list of questions to ask them to determine whether the school is right for you, you’ll massively increase your chances of making a good choice. Here are a few ways you can network with other nurses to find out which schools get the best ratings from their actual students and former students:

  • Social Networks: Professional and personal social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook can all be great places to connect with other people in your line of work, and since many people list their alma mater on their profile, it shouldn’t be too hard to find graduates of the schools you might apply to.
  • Professional Nursing Organization Websites: The American Nurses Association and other such coalitions of professional nurses can provide contacts and other resources for aspiring nurses.
  • Local Medical Facilities: Going down to a hospital or nursing home and asking to interview a nurse who works there is a great way to meet people in the profession. You’ll have to conform to their schedules, of course, but most people would be flattered to be asked questions about their area of expertise, and experienced nurses will know best what is important to take away from nursing school.

What To Do When You’ve Finished Researching Schools

Once you’ve got a dossier of information on the schools you might be interested in, it’s a good idea to take a little time off from doing research and just let the information sit. Getting your mind off of it and onto other things can help you process the info and look at it with fresh eyes when it comes time to make a final choice.

The links below all lead to accredited schools that offer online nursing programs, including BSN to MSN programs and other courses of study that lead to nursing credentials. Clicking the links will help you get directly in touch with the schools so they can send you detailed information about the programs that interest you most.

Getting directly in touch with schools is one of the best ways to get information about them, and a good first step to take when you’re considering going to college for the first time, or returning to earn a higher degree.


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