Best Nursing Schools in Illinois: Top Online & Campus Programs for 2021

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Last Updated: 06/03/2021
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Illinois is projected to create nearly 17,000 new registered nursing positions in the coming decade, creating demand for competent, compassionate professionals. Whether you’re a high school student who’s set on becoming a nurse, already work as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and want to upgrade your degree, or you’re thinking about making a complete career change, pursuing a nursing program in Illinois is a great option. Many nursing schools in Illinois provide both in-person and online opportunities, making it easy to find a program that matches your lifestyle and budget.

This guide includes important information about the best nursing schools in Illinois, including admissions and program requirements, career outlook and salary potential upon degree completion, and spotlights of top programs in the state. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about the variety of nursing degrees available near you and find the best one for your career goals.

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2021’s Best-in-Class Nursing Schools in Illinois

With many different schools offering nursing programs at varied academic levels, it’s essential to find the ones that best align with your need for accreditation, affordability, and flexibility. Whether seeking an ADN, BSN, or MSN, the programs highlighted in this section rise to the top with their mix of excellent student support, affordable tuition, and required institutional and programmatic accreditation. Check out three great options for nursing programs in 2021 below.

Illinois State University

Located in the college town of Normal, Illinois State University offers three BSN pathways to help you gain licensure as a registered nurse. The department also provides a BSN to DNP bridge, a DNP, and a Ph.D. in nursing alongside several certificates. The Mennonite College of Nursing holds accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

First-time students looking to move directly into a BSN program can pursue the traditional path, while those who previously completed an ADN and want to expand their credentials can choose the RN-to-BSN bridge program. If you previously completed a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field, the accelerated BSN is for you.

As a competitive program, you should plan to possess a high GPA (3.5 or higher), outline your existing experience within the healthcare field, and submit an essay describing why you want to pursue a nursing career. The department offers various nursing student organizations, a leadership academy, transcultural nursing experiences, and regularly scheduled lectures from nurse professionals.

Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing

From its home base of Peoria, St. Francis Medical Center College of Nursing offers a BSN, RN-to-BSN, BSN-to-DNP, MSN, and several post-graduate certificates. The BSN holds accreditation through both the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The MSN, DNP, and post-graduate APRN certificates also hold CCNE accreditation.

Because this college of nursing is attached to the Saint Francis Medical Center, students have the opportunity to complete their clinical experiences in a leading, 600-bed medical facility. For learners further afield, the RN-to-BSN, MSN, and DNP programs can be done online.

Admission requirements vary by program, but once admitted, all students can take advantage of social activities, residential services, several student organizations, a peer teaching group, and Sigma Theta Tau International, the nursing honor society.

University of Illinois Chicago

The University of Illinois Chicago offers a full spectrum of online and in-person nursing programs to meet your needs, regardless of your academic level. A traditional on-campus BSN complements a fully online RN-to-BSN program. The department also offers an MSN for both RNs and non-RNs, a DNP, a Ph.D. in nursing, and several certificate programs.

If you’re looking for an affordable nursing program in Chicago, UIC charges just $475 per credit for the online RN-to-BSN program comprising 30 credits. Campus-based students can enjoy the newly opened, state-of-the-art nursing simulation labs, the urban health program for underrepresented students, and research opportunities in areas such as sleep and health, Midwest nursing history, cardiometabolic promotion, and diabetes.

In terms of student interest groups, UIC provides the College of Nursing Student Council, Graduate Student Nurses Organization, Student Nurses Association, Student Nurses for Social Justice, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The BSN, MSN, and DNP programs hold accreditation through CCNE.

Common Traits of the Best Nursing Schools in Illinois

When looking at nursing schools in Illinois, there are several things you should identify in a program before strongly considering it. We look at three of those qualities in this section.

  • Nationally Accredited and State Approved

    Without question, you should not attend any nursing program in Illinois if it doesn’t maintain proper accreditation and state approval. If you do, you may not qualify for licensure after graduating. When looking at prospective programs, prioritize those that hold accreditation from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Both organizations provide searchable databases you can customize to Illinois. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation also provides a list of state-approved nursing education programs.
  • Affordable

    Even though registered nurses earn ample salaries, you still don’t want to be saddled with thousands of dollars in educational debt – especially when paying interest on your student loans. Finding an affordable program can help you graduate without breaking the bank. In general, state schools tend to offer the most affordable tuition rates.
  • Flexible

    For many nurses-in-training, they must balance professional and personal responsibilities alongside school. This is especially true for those going back to seek an additional degree or qualification. Finding a flexible nursing program in Illinois ensures you can fit school into your already-busy life. In many cases, online nursing schools in Illinois offer programs that make the most sense for working professionals.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in Illinois

Many different types of nursing programs exist throughout the state, including degrees at every academic level. Whether you’re just starting your nursing journey or are considering a doctorate-level credential, you can find all these and more in the state. We highlight some of the most common options below.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Illinois

ADN Programs

Associate degrees in nursing provide a stepping stone into the nursing world, allowing graduates to take the NCLEX-RN exam and become registered nurses once they pass. These programs usually require two years of full-time study and include both class-based and clinical learning opportunities.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with this Program

Traditional BSN Programs

While you can become an RN with an associate degree, employers increasingly look for candidates with bachelor’s degrees. A traditional BSN supports first-time learners who want to bypass the ADN and move straight into a BSN. These programs consist of classroom and clinical work and typically require four years of full-time study.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN programs support students who already possess a bachelor’s degree but in a non-nursing subject. Suppose you’re in this predicament and decide you want to work as a registered nurse. In that case, an accelerated BSN can help you complete required coursework more quickly by acknowledging general education courses already taken.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Illinois for Current Nurses

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN Programs

If you worked as a licensed practical nurse for a while and now want to move up the career ladder, a bridge program offers an excellent opportunity to upgrade your credentials. The LPN-to-RN results in an associate degree in nursing and typically take 1-2 years to complete. An LPN-to-BSN results in a bachelor’s degree and takes 2-3 years to finish.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

RN-to-BSN programs support registered nurses who currently possess an AND but want to earn a bachelor’s degree. Building on knowledge already gained in your previous degree, these bridge programs usually take 18-24 months of full-time study to complete and comprise both classroom and clinical learning.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

RN-to-MSN programs help both associate degree-educated RNs earn a master’s degree in nursing and qualify for advanced roles. Those with an ADN should plan to spend at least three years of full-time enrollment working towards credentials.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Illinois

MSN Programs

An MSN offers a great fit if you already possess a BSN, have worked in the field for a few years, and now feel ready to take on leadership and/or advanced practice roles. Most take about two years to complete and offer specializations in areas such as family nurse practitioner, pediatrics, and nurse anesthetist, to name a few options.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

DNP and PhD. Doctoral Programs

If you want to continue indirect care services, a DNP provides a great path for working in the top positions. These programs take between one and four years to complete, depending on your previous education and experience. A Ph.D. supports those who want to engage in research and/or work in academic settings. They take between four and six years to complete.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

Post-Graduate Certificates

Post-graduate certificates provide the opportunity for MSN-trained nurses to build specialized skills in specific nursing areas. For instance, if you completed a general MSN program, you may decide to move towards topics such as midwifery, health informatics, psychiatric mental health, or women’s health. A post-graduate certificate can help you achieve that.

Examples of Illinois Nursing Schools with This Program

Inside Look at Online Nursing Programs in Illinois

If time and accessibility are important to you, you may want to consider one of Illinois’s many online nursing programs. Any nursing degree incorporating a clinical component will still require you to participate in some in-person training, but most schools will work with you to find a suitable hospital, clinic, or another setting to complete your hours.

Many online nursing programs in Illinois recognize that students need flexibility when pursuing their degrees. Because of this, most offer asynchronous courses. This means all lectures are prerecorded, allowing you to watch them and interact with peers and professors at times that work best with your schedule. Some lab classes may require attending in-person, but the majority can be done based on your existing timetable.

Best Online Nursing Programs in Illinois

University of Illinois Chicago

If you’re looking for an online RN-to-BSN bridge program, the University of Illinois at Chicago offers one comprising just 30 credits. With start dates in the fall, spring, and summer, you can select one that works best with your scheduling needs.
The curriculum comprises eight courses taught entirely online, and students move through each as part of a cohort. Some of the topics you can expect include introduction to research and statistics for evidence-based practice, health assessment and communication, and concepts and processes in contemporary nursing. This program does not include a clinical component since accepted students already work as RNs.

Admission requirements include official transcripts, completion of prerequisite courses, 2.5 GPA or higher, letters of recommendation, and an updated resume. You may also need to possess an active and unencumbered RN license issued in Illinois. Students Pay $475 per credit plus an $18 library and IT fee per credit.

University of Northern Illinois

The University of Northern Illinois in DeKalb offers several different online nursing options at various academic levels. You can currently choose from an RN-to-BSN, an MSN, and a DNP – all available online. The bridge program exists fully online and consists of as few as 21 credits, depending on how many courses you can transfer to UNI. Applicants must possess an associate degree or nursing diploma, active RN license, and minimum 2.75 GPA.

The MSN exists fully online except for required clinicals and offers tracks in family nurse practitioner or nursing education. Regardless of your chosen specialization, plan to complete a capstone project. Required admission materials include a current RN license in Illinois, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program, three reference letters, a goal statement, and at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice completed within the last three years.

All coursework for the DNP is taken online, but this program does require in-person clinicals. The program is open to both bachelor’s and master’s students and offers dedicated scholarships. 95% of graduates report finding work within one year of graduation.

Western Illinois University

Located in Macomb, Western Illinois University offers a fully online RN-BSN completion program for working nurses who possess either a nursing diploma or associate degree. All coursework can be done from the comfort of your home, while the community health course requires clinical practice and project completion.
Plan to spend four semesters completing all required classes, including theoretical and conceptual foundations of professional nursing, pathophysiology and psychopathology, nursing leadership and management, and nursing in the community.

Applicants must show evidence of completing all prerequisite coursework, an active Illinois RN license, official transcripts, and three recommendation letters. The nursing department maintains above-average NCLEX-RN exam pass rates and a 100% job placement rate for graduates.

FAQs About Online Nursing Programs in Illinois

Can I earn my nursing degree in Illinois completely online?

Several nursing schools in Illinois offer nursing programs that can be completed fully online, provided you already work as an RN and possess clinical training. That said, the majority allows for you to complete coursework online but include in-person clinical components.

Will my online Illinois nursing degree be considered less valuable by employers?

Completing a nursing program in Illinois online has no effect on your value to employers as long as you attend a properly accredited and state-approved program. In fact, your degree diploma won’t even distinguish whether you studied on campus or online.

Are online nursing programs in Illinois more affordable than campus programs?

Nursing schools in Illinois may charge the same tuition for in-person and online students but enrolling at a distance means you can often bypass campus-based fees and charges. For instance, you won’t be charged facility and parking fees. By studying online, you can also save on things like transportation, eating out, and campus-based housing.

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in Illinois

With the cost of higher education rising each year, Illinois nursing students should take advantage of any and all financial aid opportunities. While you may first think of loans, you can also find plenty of scholarships and grants. Prioritize these when you can since they don’t require repayment. Loans should be your last option after exhausting all other possibilities.

In addition to nursing scholarships provided by individual schools, you should also see if your state or local government offers awards. The Illinois Department of Public Health offers a scholarship, as does the Illinois Nursing Workforce Center. Professional associations can also provide support, as evidenced by the Illinois Nurses Foundation. For more information, check out our nursing scholarship guide and financial aid guide.

How to Become an RN in Illinois: Licensing Information and Requirements

Before ever starting a nursing program in Illinois, you need to make sure you understand specific licensing requirements set by the state. Failing to do all the steps correctly – including attending a properly accredited and state-approved program – can result in issues getting your license later on. Check out the steps below to get started.

Step 1

Complete a state-approved RN program

First-time licensure applicants must ask their alma mater to submit an official student roster, official transcript, or an ED-NUR form to Continental Testing Services, the official provider of RN license exams for the state of Illinois. The roster is only good for 90 days, meaning you must take the test within 90 days or have the information resubmitted.

Step 2

Apply for the Registered Professional Nurse Exam

Apply through Continental Testing Services to sit for the computerized exam. To apply, you must pay a non-refundable application fee of $98. This fee lasts for three years, but you must reapply if you do not pass the exam within three years. You must also register with Pearson Vue Professional Testing and pay a $200 fee.

Step 3

Submit Required Documentation

Applicants must also provide proof of fingerprinting from an Illinois Live Scan Fingerprint Vendor. You must wait for these to be sent before you can check your application status or receive an Authorization to Test (ATT).

Step 4

Take the NCLEX-RN Exam

After receiving ATT, you can take the computerized exam at an approved Pearson Vue Professional Testing Center. Official results will usually be available within 7-10 days after taking the test, and an official results letter will arrive.

Step 5

Apply for License

Once you receive evidence of a passing score, contact the IDFPR based on your official results letter’s instructions.

Job Outlook for RNs in Illinois

It’s an excellent time to become a registered nurse in Illinois, as the government projects that roles for these professionals will grow an astonishing 12.4% between 2018-2028, leading to the creation of nearly 17,000 new roles. Whether you aspire to work in a hospital, residential care facility, clinic, or physician’s office, jobs in each of these settings should grow in the coming years. As you can see, Illinois’ employment projection numbers slightly beat the national average, but it’s a good sign that roles for RNs are set to grow all across the country in the coming years.

Employment Projections for RNs in Illinois

Employment (2018)New Jobs (2018-2028)Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)Average Annual Openings (2018-2028)
Illinois133,93016,66012.4%9,260
United States3,059,800371,50012.1%210,400

Source: Projections Central

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

When judging the state as a whole, Illinois ranks slightly lower than the national median pay rate for the United States. That said, RNs working in Illinois cities with a higher cost of living (e.g., Chicago, Naperville, Rockville, etc.) actually earn higher than the national median to account for additional expenses. As you can also see, RNs in the top 10% of earners bring home substantially more than those in the bottom 10%.

Annual Earnings for Registered Nurses in Illinois

10th PercentileMedian Earnings90th Percentile
Illinois$51,610$71,620$101,200
United States$52,080$73,300$111,220
Bloomington, IL$50,580$63,840$84,180
Carbondale-Marion, IL$34,660$58,960$81,460
Champaign-Urbana, IL$46,160$60,210$79,700
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI$54,710$75,700$103,780
Danville, IL$51,600$68,530$96,330
Decatur, IL$42,720$61,040$82,050
Kankakee, IL$51,160$68,240$97,740
Peoria, IL$51,330$64,530$85,080
Rockford, IL$52,590$65,250$85,910
Springfield, IL$51,230$69,310$88,330

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019

Illinois Nursing Resources

Illinois Nurses Association

Operating as the nurses’ union in the state, INA provides collective bargaining services, a political action committee, information on legislation and politics, and continuing education services. Members also gain access to events and career information.

llinois Nurse Licensure – State of Illinois

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation oversees nursing licensure in the state. It provides step-by-step information on filling for an initial license as well as renewing existing ones. Consumers can also file complaints.

American Nurses Association, Illinois

The Illinois chapter of the ANA supports nursing professionals in the state by providing in-person and virtual events, publications, advocacy services, and information on available careers.

Illinois Nurses Foundation

The INF focuses on advancing the nursing profession in Illinois by offering funding opportunities, awards, grants, and scholarships. The group also holds several events and fundraisers each year to continue its work.

Scholarships and Resources for RN Students

If you want to learn more about scholarships and other financial aid opportunities for your nursing degree, check out our comprehensive page on the subject.