Inside Look at the Best Nursing Schools in Colorado

Take advantage of the state’s high demand for nurses by enrolling at one of Colorado’s best nursing schools. This guide explores the top online and campus programs and can help you find the one that’s right for you.

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Written By

Michael Hoffman

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A former practicing attorney, Michael Hoffman has years of experience as a freelance journalist specializing in the research and writing of higher education content – from online learning to financial aid, and everything in between. Michael is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael practiced for several years as a civil litigator in Los Angeles and worked in Santa Monica, California as a development executive for a major film producer.

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If you’ve been thinking about getting a degree from one of the many nursing schools in Colorado, now is the time. The nation’s nurse shortage makes for attractive offers to nursing professionals that include significant salaries and healthy signing bonuses. This demand for nurses is not expected to let up soon, either, and states like Colorado expect even higher demand with 30 percent job growth and over 4,800 average annual openings through 2028.

This guide will introduce you to the best accredited nursing programs in Colorado, including convenient online options. You’ll also find advice on selecting the right degree type based on your current nursing education and training, details about what you could earn as a nurse in Colorado, and other helpful information resources.

2022’s Best-in-Class Nursing Schools in Colorado

Start your search for nursing programs in Colorado by perusing our list of which schools and programs stand out in 2022 in terms of affordability, accreditation, and student support. The three high-quality programs spotlighted below will help get you started and show you what to expect from any quality, accredited nursing school in Colorado.

Front Range Community College

Colorado is somewhat unique in that many of its community colleges offer RN to BSN programs along with the licensed practical nurse (LPN) and nursing associate degree (ADN) programs typical of those schools. One of the best examples is Front Range Community College and its fully-online RN to BSN. The program is open to students with ADNs or who have completed their first year of an ADN program. Front Range also offers both LPN to RN and Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN) degrees for students seeking eligibility to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become licensed registered nurses. For students interested in becoming LPNs, there’s also Front Range’s three-semester Practical Nursing Certificate program.

University of Colorado Colorado Springs

The University of Colorado Colorado Springs is home to several undergraduate and graduate nursing programs, starting with two pre-licensure nursing bachelor’s options that include all coursework and clinical hours required to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. UCCS’s four-year Traditional BSN is designed for students with little or no previous college or nursing experience. The 16-month Accelerated BSN is for students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. UCCS’s RN to BSN has two options: a standard RN to BSN for current RNs and a Dual Enrollment RN to BSN that allows current ADN students to save time and money by working on their BSN and ADN degrees simultaneously. Classes in the RN to BSN program are online and part-time. Graduate-level nursing programs at UCCS include an online MSN with three specialized nurse practitioner track options, a full-time MSN to DNP, a BSN to DNP with both full-time and part-time study formats, and a 100% online Post-Master’s Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate.

University of Northern Colorado

Located in Greeley, the University of Northern Colorado is another public institution offering a comprehensive selection of affordable and accredited nursing programs, several featuring online coursework. Undergrad options include a BSN program with both four-year traditional and two-year second-degree options. Second Degree BSN students can choose between online and on-campus formats. UNC’s five-semester RN to BSN program is also available in both online and on-campus formats. A Dual Enrollment RN to BSN option is another option and gives ADN students at partner colleges a head start working on their BSNs while completing their nursing associate degrees. RNs seeking career advancement into advanced practice and leadership roles have several degree choices at UNC, all featuring online components. These include a partially-online Family Nurse Practitioner MSN and fully-online Leadership, Quality & Safety Emphasis MSN. Post-Bachelor’s FNP DNP and Post-Master’s FNP DNP programs and a Nursing Education PhD are also available.

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Types of Nursing Programs Available in Colorado

Nursing schools in Colorado offer an array of degree and certificate options to meet the needs of students at different points in their nursing education and careers. Below is our breakdown of the most common types of undergraduate and graduate nursing programs along with a sampling of their availability at nursing schools in Colorado.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Colorado

ADN Programs

An associate degree in nursing (ADN) offers a quick pathway to NCLEX-RN eligibility. It also provides a solid academic foundation for earning your nursing bachelors. ADN (also commonly titled ASN or AASN) programs are typically two years in length and most often found in Colorado on community college campuses.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with this Program

Traditional BSN Programs

Along with the full bachelor’s degree college experience, a traditional Bachelor of Science (BSN) program gives students with little or no college or nursing experience eligibility to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Traditional BSN programs in Colorado are almost exclusively found on four-year college and university campuses. RNs with a BSN degree are often favored in the job market over those with only a nursing associate degree or nursing diploma.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated (Second Degree) BSN programs provide students with a bachelor’s degree in non-nursing majors the ability to apply the general education and other lower-division credits from that degree to their BSN requirements. This is a major savings of time and cost. As with all nursing bachelor’s programs, accelerated BSN programs qualify graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Colorado for Current Nurses

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN Programs

LPNs looking to move up the career ladder can do so by completing LPN to RN or LPN to BSN programs. Both programs qualify graduates to take the NCLEX-RN exam. LPN to RN programs are most commonly offered by community colleges and can usually be completed in as few as three semesters. LPN to BSN programs require three years or more of study and are typically offered by nursing schools on four-year college and university campuses.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

Likely the most common of all nursing programs in Colorado, the RN to BSN program provides current registered nurses with ADNs (or, in some cases, nursing diplomas) the most time-efficient and cost-effective path to obtaining their nursing bachelors. They’re also available in a 100% online format from several nursing schools in Colorado. Completion times for RN to BSN programs are typically one year for full-time students and two years for part-time students.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the most popular degree for those intending to start or advance their nursing careers as advanced practice nurses or in administration or other nursing leadership roles. Current registered nurses without a BSN will find the most direct route to gaining their MSN degree through an RN to MSN program. RN to MSN programs may or may not award BSN degrees as part of their programs.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Colorado

MSN Programs

There are two basic types of MSN programs. The standard MSN is for students with a BSN, and the direct-entry MSN is for students with non-nursing bachelor’s seeking to obtain RN licensure while earning their nursing masters. Standard MSNs are quite popular and available from virtually all nursing schools in Colorado with graduate-level programs and usually in several specializations. Colorado residents interested in a direct-entry MSN will, for now, must look out-of-state.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with This Program

DNP and PhD Doctoral Programs

Doctoral degrees in nursing are designed for highly-skilled and experienced nurses intent on filling top-tier leadership roles in their professions. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs prepare graduates for senior leadership positions in healthcare administration and advanced nursing practice. PhD in Nursing programs, on the other hand, are geared toward preparing students for careers in post-secondary academics and advanced research.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with This Program

Post-Graduate Certificates

Nursing post-graduate certificates provide students with master’s and doctoral degrees a way to advance their careers by gaining knowledge and skills in a specialized field of practice without completing an entire degree program. Common specialized fields include Nurse Administration, Nurse Anesthesia, Nurse Educator, FNP in any number of concentration areas, and Healthcare Informatics. Many nursing post-grad certificates can be completed 100% online.

Examples of Colorado Nursing Schools with This Program

Inside Look at Online Nursing Programs in Colorado

Most nursing programs in Colorado now have at least some distance education components like online lectures, readings, and assignments. Online communication with your instructors and classmates as well as to access your class schedules, academic and financial records, etc. is also commonplace. There are now even lots of nursing degree and certificate programs with didactic coursework and some labs completed entirely online.

Most online nursing students, especially those in pre-licensure programs will, of course, still participate in in-person clinical hour experiences. To help familiarize you with how nursing education and distance education work together, we’ve spotlighted three nursing schools in Colorado with substantial online offerings.

Best Online Nursing Programs in Colorado

Colorado State University Pueblo

Colorado State University Pueblo’s School of Nursing is among many highly-affordable public university nursing schools in Colorado offering degree and certificate programs with online components. Except for its four-year BSN, all CSU Pueblo’s nursing degree and certificate programs are either fully online or hybrid. Current RNs and enrolled ADN students can take advantage of CSU Pueblo’s RN to BSN program featuring 100% online didactic coursework. The 30-credit program emphasizes study flexibility with both full-time and part-time formats as well as eight-week classes offered twice each semester. Most students complete their programs in one year.

On the graduate level, CSU Pueblo’s online nursing programs include fully-online Nurse Manager & Leader MSN and Nurse Educator MSN degrees. Hybrid programs include MSN, DNP, and certificates in Adult/Gerontology Acute Care NP, Adult/Gerontology Acute Care FNP, and Psychiatric-Mental Health NP. A hybrid DNP in Population Health is also available.

Colorado Technical University

Colorado Technical University offers a slew of online nursing degree options. CTU’s RN to BSN program features fully-online courses in an asynchronous format that allows students to access and complete their coursework at times most convenient to them. Students also complete two in-person clinical experiences, one at a community agency serving an at-risk population and the other involving the creation of a health and wellness plan for a non-related family. Both full-time and part-time formats are available. Students studying at an accelerated pace may be able to complete their programs in as few as nine months for as little as $12,480.

CTU also offers several online graduate nursing options, including MSN programs in Nurse Administration, Nurse Education, and Family Nurse Practitioner. All MSN programs include in-person practicum or clinical hour requirements. An online DNP with a minimum required 500 clinical hours and an FNP Post-Graduate Certificate program are also available.

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Given its highly-respected status and full package of nursing programs, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus could easily be placed on our list of top nursing schools in Colorado. We’ve listed it here instead because of its selection of quality online programs. For students seeking to earn their nursing bachelor’s degree, CU Anschutz offers two online options: a four-semester RN to BSN for students with ADNs and a Dual Enrollment ADN/BSN for students concurrently enrolled in nursing associate degree programs at CU-partnered community colleges.

All didactic coursework is available in an online-only format. Students must complete in-person clinical practicum hours as well. Online graduate-level nursing programs at UC Anschutz include an MSN with ten specializations earned through online didactic coursework and possibly some in-person clinical intensives and on-campus seminars. Doctoral options include a DNP and a PhD in Nursing, both taught through a combination of online courses and on-campus intensives.

Scholarships and Other Financial Aid for Nursing Students in Colorado

If you’re like most nursing students, you need help paying for your degree. Fortunately, there are many valuable resources you can tap into. These include scholarships and grants, fellowships and assistantships (for graduate students), the Veterans Administration (for vets and active-duty military), employer tuition assistance programs, and more. There’s also the most popular funding source of all, the student loan.

Student loans are available from many public and private sources, but the largest student loan source is the federal government. The federal government also offers several loan repayment opportunities for nurses as does the State of Colorado itself. To learn more about funding opportunities for nursing programs in Colorado, check out EduMed’s nursing scholarship guide, financial aid guide, and guide to graduating from nursing school debt-free.

How to Become an RN in Colorado

Working as a registered nurse in Colorado requires a current unencumbered RN license issued either by the Colorado Board of Nursing (CBN) or a state or U.S. territory member of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). There are two methods for applying for a Colorado RN license: examination and endorsement. Endorsement is used by nurses with an RN license from a non-NLC state or U.S. territory. If you are seeking your first RN license, you will apply for your license by examination. Here’s a detailed look at the steps you’ll take to gain your Colorado RN license via examination.

Step 1

Complete your state-approved ADN or BSN degree program

One of the major requirements for obtaining your Colorado RN license is taking and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Qualifying for the exam requires completion of a CBN-approved RN education program. You can find state-approved nursing associate and baccalaureate degree programs at CBN’s Education Resources.

Step 2

Apply for your RN license with the Colorado Board of Nursing

Apply for your RN license online through the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) Online Services Portal. Before submitting your application, you must meet all of the application requirements outlined in this application checklist. Those requirements include submitting information about your nursing education program, uploading your official school transcripts, and completing a declaration of primary residence and fingerprint and background checks. You’ll also answer a series of general and criminal history questions and pay an application fee.

Step 3

Register and sit for the NCLEX-RN exam

The NCLEX-RN examination is administered by Pearson VUE. Once they receive CBN clearance, you can register with Pearson VUE to take the exam. Two to three weeks later, you’ll receive your Authorization to Test from Pearson VUE and schedule your exam. You then can sit for the exam at one of Pearson VUE’s testing locations. Detailed exam preparation is available through NCLEX.

Step 4

Receive your Colorado RN license

NCLEX-RN exam results are available and forwarded to the CBN within hours of exam completion. If you’ve passed, you can verify the issuance of your license through DORA’s Healthcare Professions Profile Program website. The posting process takes two to three weeks.

Step 5

Keep your RN license current

All Colorado RN licenses expire every two years on September 30th. New license recipients who are issued their license within 120 days of an upcoming renewal date are issued their license with the following year’s renewal date. There are no continuing education requirements for RN license renewal in Colorado. You can renew your license via the DORA Online Services Portal.

Employment Outlook for RNs in Colorado

The demand for nurses of all types, particularly licensed RNs, is very strong in Colorado and is expected to stay that way for at least the next several years. This is true across the U.S. but is exceptionally so in Colorado as indicated by the projected employment figures for RNs from the U.S. Department of Labor presented in the chart below. In fact, the projected job growth rate for RNs in Colorado is nearly three times that for the nation as a whole. The news is almost as good for Colorado LPNs as well, with long-term job growth projected at 21% through 2028, almost twice that for the nation overall.

Employment Projections for RNs in Colorado

New Jobs
Job Growth Rate
Average Annual Openings (2018-2028)
Colorado 15,630 29.5% 4,810
United States 371,500 12.1% 210,400

Source: Projections Central

Nursing Salaries in Colorado: How Much You Could Make as an RN

As the BLS data in the table below indicates, salaries are competitively strong for Colorado RNs, particularly when accounting for the cost of living for Colorado residents compared to other states. These are, of course, median annual wage figures. What you’ll actually earn in your Colorado RN job depends on several factors like your geographic location, employer, job title, and levels of seniority and professional experience.

Annual Earnings for Registered Nurses in Colorado

10th Percentile Median Earnings 90th Percentile
Colorado $55,820 $76,500 $104,070
United States $53,410 $75,330 $116,230
Boulder, CO $60,330 $81,260 $107,300
Colorado Springs, CO $54,660 $75,510 $103,080
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO $56,520 $77,530 $105,510
Fort Collins, CO $57,620 $76,070 $101,240
Grand Junction, CO $55,200 $75,050 $100,700
Greeley, CO $54,080 $71,260 $92,690
Pueblo, CO $53,700 $75,970 $102,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020