Best Nursing Schools in Iowa: Online & Campus Programs

Explore the top nursing schools in Iowa and find the online or campus program that can help you reach your academic and career goals.

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Timon Kaple

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Timon Kaple, Ph.D., is a full-time writer and researcher. His work focuses on sociolinguistics, small-group folklore, the anthropology of sound, higher education, and student support services. He has experience as an ethnographer and enjoys conducting fieldwork and archival research.

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Whether you’re just starting out on your nursing degree journey, looking to go from RN to BSN nurse, or planning to move into an advanced nursing career that requires a grad degree, Iowa nursing schools can help you achieve your goals. This guide showcases the best nursing programs in Iowa, including flexible online programs, to help you get started on your school search. You’ll also find other helpful information on Iowa nursing licensure requirements, degree paths, and financial aid opportunities.

2023’s Best Nursing Schools in Iowa

Colleges and universities offer a variety of online, in-person, and hybrid nursing programs in Iowa. The school spotlights below provide essential information about the top nursing schools in the state. These accredited programs were chosen for you based on their quality of support services, how well they prepare students for the NCLEX-RN licensure exam, and their affordability. See which nursing schools in Iowa stand out for 2023.

Allen College

A private school in Waterloo, Allen College is focused on healthcare education. Students choose from a variety of nursing programs, including BSN, MSN, and DNP degrees. Allen College reported strong NCLEX-RN pass rates in recent years, with a 97.6% first-attempt pass rate.

The BSN at Allen College provides an interactive online classroom learning experiences coupled with hands-on patient care training. Bachelor’s degree-seekers choose from traditional BSN, accelerated BSN, or RN-to-BSN programs, each costing $677/credit. The 124-credit traditional BSN takes five semesters to complete. Incoming students in this track must have completed all required general education classes and a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) state certificate before beginning nursing coursework. Students looking for a faster, four-semester program can pursue the accelerated BSN.

Eastern Iowa Community Colleges

EICC includes three college campuses and offers an Associate of Applied Science in Nursing available at its Clinton Community College and Scott Community College campuses. This regionally accredited program boasts a 95% NCLEX-RN pass rate. It’s also affordable at $179 for Iowa residents and $246 for non-residents. The AAS requires 73.5 credits for graduation, and most students finish in 22 months. In addition to required coursework like general biology and developmental psychology, nursing students engage in two clinicals per week. This in-person training includes nursing simulation in labs, care conferences, and direct patient care experiences.

EICC also has an RN-to-BSN articulation agreement with the University of Iowa. Students completing the AAS at EICC and getting their RN licensure can transfer to UI to complete their bachelor’s in nursing.

Northwestern College

Located in Orange City, NWC is a private Christian institution established in 1882. Remote students can take advantage of its entirely online RN to BSN program. The curriculum features foundational training in nursing practices with a Christian-centered worldview. NWC is also a CCNE-accredited nursing program with competitive tuition rates of $340/credit.

Remote RN to BSN students at NWC complete asynchronous eight-week classes. Students usually complete two classes a semester and finish the 124-credit program in two years or less. NWC also offers an accelerated track that can be finished in 12 months. Incoming students with seven or more years of RN experience may receive up to 66 credits toward a BSN.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in Iowa

Whether you’re just beginning your nursing education or going back to school for additional credentials, there’s a nursing program to meet your educational needs. You’ll find many types of nursing programs in Iowa to choose from, including online, in-person, hybrid, and accelerated degrees. Here’s a look at some of the most common options available in the state today.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Iowa

ADN Programs

Associate nursing degrees (ADNs) best serve those with no previous nursing education or experience. Depending on the program and a student’s availability, an ADN degree usually takes two years. ADN programs in Iowa teach the essential knowledge and skills needed to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam leading to RN licensure.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with this Program

Traditional BSN Programs

BSNs are for individuals who already possess ADNs or RN licensure. Full-time students usually need four years to complete a traditional BSN program. Nursing students with RN licenses can complete these programs in about two years.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN programs work best for students who want to get in and out of school quickly. Schools offering these degrees typically say that learners graduate in three years or fewer by following an accelerated learning path. As with traditional BSNs, you can find them at both public and private schools.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Iowa for Current Nurses

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN Programs

Designed to prepare LPNs to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, LPN to RN and LPN to BSN degrees are commonly available online and in-person. LPN to RN programs usually take two years or less to finish, while the LPN to BSN can take up to three years.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

For those who have ADNs and current RN licenses, attending an RN to BSN program in Iowa is a great next step. Referred to as a bridge program, RN to BSN programs expand upon existing nursing knowledge and result in increased earning potential and job opportunities.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Iowa

MSN Programs

Nursing schools in Iowa offer both traditional and direct-entry MSN nursing programs. The traditional MSN is for students who already possess BSNs. For those with bachelor’s degrees in outside fields who want to switch to nursing, direct-entry MSN programs can accommodate you.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with This Program

DNP and PhD Doctoral Programs

DNP and PhD programs are for advanced learners with MSNs. DNP programs in Iowa prepare students for nursing leadership roles in health facilities or as advanced practice nurses. PhD programs are for students wishing to research new nursing theories and methods to advance the field. PhDs can also obtain teaching positions at colleges and universities.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with This Program

Post-Graduate Certificates

For those with DNP or MSN degrees, post-graduate certificates can hone knowledge in a particular area. Common post-graduate certificates include family nurse practitioner, nurse educator, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, and adult gerontology acute care practitioner.

Examples of Iowa Nursing Schools with This Program

Best Online Nursing Programs in Iowa: 2023

Online nursing programs in Iowa exist at all degree levels, and distance learning follows the same quality curricula as in-person nursing programs in Iowa but with the convenience of learning from home. While most programs still require in-person clinical training at an approved healthcare facility, most online programs offer fully-online didactic learning.

Remote learners enjoy flexible scheduling, self-paced classes, and often lower tuition rates. Most remote nursing students also have no on-campus obligations. Online nursing programs in Iowa are a good fit for motivated students who are self-starters and good at working independently. Some synchronous programs offer a solid structure, but the more flexible asynchronous programs can present challenges for students who thrive in highly structured learning environments. See which schools offer the best online nursing programs in Iowa for 2023.

About the ranking


Base Methodology for EduMed’s 2023 Online College Rankings

1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

2. Assign Weightings

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.


  • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2022

# School Name Type Cost Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 University of IowaIowa City, IA Public $$ 7

The University of Iowa offers an online RN to BSN nursing program. This program is designed to help registered nurses put their prior experience and knowledge toward earning their bachelor’s degrees. A BSN will expand their knowledge and students will learn the vital skills necessary to provide quality care for a diverse population. All classroom courses are online, and the degree requires one practicum/clinical course and one Leadership course project. This course must be taken any place in Iowa nearest to the student’s location. Alternatively, students may choose a two-week immersion course in Swaziland, Africa. The leadership project can be taken at the student’s current job or at the nearest RN-BSN program office.

Program Highlights:

RN to BSN Nursing Program

  • Credits: 32
  • Cost: $15,136 total
  • Length: 2 years
  • Mode: Online with practicum
Faculty Ratio
2 St Luke’s CollegeSioux City, IA Private not-for-profit $$$$ 1

St. Luke’s College offers an online RN to BSN degree completion program for registered nurses seeking to further their education. This program takes students’ previous experience and college credits and puts them toward a bachelor’s degree that has a flexible full- or part-time schedule. The online curriculum will cover courses in pharmacology, chronic health issues, palliative nursing care, women’s health issues, informatics, pathophysiology, population-focused practice, and leadership and diversity, as well as a variety of elective courses. St. Luke’s College also offers a complete Bachelor of Health Science online for those without an RN license or associate degree.

Program Highlights:


  • Credits: 120 (including previous credits)
  • Cost: $7,200/semester
  • Length: 3 years
  • Mode: online
Faculty Ratio
3 Mercy College of Health SciencesDes Moines, IA Private not-for-profit $$$$ 1

Mercy College offers an online, CCNE-accredited RN to BSN program for registered nurses that don’t have a BSN yet. The program has four start dates every year in October, January, April and July. To apply, students must submit a copy of their active nursing license. The curriculum covers holistic nursing, advocacy and health policy, information and financial management, community health, genomics, aging and end-of-life care, theories of leadership management, and more. If taken full-time, students can graduate in as little as 12 months as long as they’ve maintained a “C” or better in the core nursing courses. Those who complete the program on a part-time schedule can expect to graduate in 2 years.

Program Highlights:


  • Credits: 26-67
  • Cost: $2,570/semester
  • Length: 1-2 years
  • Mode: online
Faculty Ratio
4 Allen CollegeWaterloo, IA Private not-for-profit $$$$ 3

Allen College offers three options for a Bachelor of Nursing degree, but only the RN to BSN program is fully online. General education courses must be taken at another regionally accredited institution prior to admission, or be covered in a prior associate degree. While there is an accelerated program, this degree typically takes two years to complete, with courses covering quality and patient safety, informatics, care coordination across the lifespan, community and public health, professional nursing concepts, and more. Students living outside of Iowa may need to gain the approval of the state certification or governing licensing board in order to be admitted to Allen College’s online RN to BSN program.

Program Highlights:


  • Credits: 124 (including previous credits)
  • Cost: $8,244/semester
  • Length: 2 years
  • Mode: online
Faculty Ratio

North Iowa Community College

Located in Mason City, NICC offers online and hybrid associate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing. First-time NCLEX-RN pass rates for ADN graduates at NICC were 100% in both 2020 and 2018. This affordable program costs about $170/credit for residents and $268/credit for non-residents.

The ADN program is for students with no previous nursing training or with LPN credentials. Applicants need ACT scores of 20 or higher, associate degrees, or bachelor’s degrees for admission.

This ACEN-accredited program also features an RN to BSN 3+1 structure where students complete three years of course work at NICC and their last BSN year at the University of Iowa. All classes for the BSN are available online or on-campus. In-person clinical experiences, some of which will be scheduled on the weekends or during evening hours, are also required.

Iowa Wesleyan University

Located in Mount Pleasant, IWU offers a flexible online BSN to help distance learners develop essential skills in leadership, critical thinking, and communication. The nonprofit school accepts up to 90 transfer credits toward the BSN and charges $450 per credit. Incoming students can also get credit for military experience.

The asynchronous program has six start dates per year and follows an eight-week term schedule. Required classes include nursing care in the community, nursing leadership and management, nursing research, and advanced pathophysiology. Prospective RN to BSN nursing students need 2.75 or higher GPAs and a C or higher in all previously completed nursing classes. Incoming students must also have current RN licenses.

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in Iowa

While tuition rates can be daunting, there are a lot of financial aid options to help make those costs more manageable. In addition to scholarships, work-study positions, or assistantships that your school may offer, you should also apply to as many local, regional, state, and national scholarships and grants as possible.

Several private organizations in Iowa and around the U.S. offer substantial financial aid for nursing students. The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, B4 Brands, Dallas County Hospital, and Des Moines Women’s Club all provide valuable scholarships to students attending nursing programs in Iowa.

For more information on financial aid to offset the cost of your degree, check out our nursing scholarship guide, guide to graduating from nursing school debt-free, and main financial aid guide.

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

Those looking to become RNs in Iowa need to apply for licensure through the Iowa Board of Nursing. The state’s nursing board ensures that all the state laws related to nursing practice, education, and licensure are upheld. It’s important to understand Iowa’s specific licensure requirements before you begin your degree.

Step 1

Complete State-Approved RN Degree

Complete a degree program from an accredited institution that qualifies you to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Choose an ASN or BSN program offered through any Iowa state-approved nursing school. Depending on the program, you’ll finish in about 2-4 years.

Step 2

Submit Application for Licensure to the State

Next, submit an application for licensure using the Board’s online application and by paying $143. All applications expire one year after they’re started online. The Board conducts a criminal history check and reviews any records of prior disciplinary action before the application proceeds. After step three below, you’ll only have 90 days to pass the exam before your application for licensure expires.

Step 3

Submit NCLEX-RN Exam Application and Schedule Time

As your third step, complete the NCLEX candidate bulletin through NCSBN. The NCLEX-RN exam is a nationwide test, so a passing score is valid in all 50 states. You must pay a $200 fee every time you sit for the exam. You’ll know you’re eligible to sit for the exam in Iowa when you receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) email. You can then schedule your exam at a local testing center.

Step 4

Pass NCLEX-RN Exam

The NCLEX-RN exam is pass-fail and tests your knowledge in a handful of foundation areas. Testing categories include psychosocial integrity, safety and infection control, health promotion and maintenance, and reduction of risk potential. Expect 75-265 questions total. To prepare for the exam and get a feel for the layout, be sure to take at least one practice exam.

Step 5

Keep Licensure Current

Licensed RNs in Iowa must complete 36 contact hours every three years on the 16th of the RN’s birth month. Those RNs who work with dependent adults and children need to complete training hours related to reporting child/dependent abuse as part of those hours. You’ll need to complete training courses offered by the Iowa Department of Human Services for renewal.

Job Outlook for RNs in Iowa

RNs working in Iowa can expect healthy job growth. The 15.1% growth in available positions for Iowa RNs between 2018-2028 is 3% faster than the average growth rate for RNs across the U.S.

One contributing factor to this growth is the ongoing need for patient care for aging populations around the state. Since elderly patients typically need more extensive health services, RNs can fill that need through jobs in residential care facilities and at-home care positions. RNs also provide care for older populations in outpatient centers, including facilities that provide rehabilitation services, surgeries, and chemotherapy.

Employment Projections for RNs in Iowa

New Jobs
Job Growth Rate
Average Annual Openings
Iowa 5,180 15.1% 2,490
United States 371,500 12.1% 210,400

Source: Projections Central

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

With the median annual wage for RNs in Iowa at $61,130, RNs in the state make good money. RNs working in Iowa City make a little more at $68,940 with its sixth-highest concentration of RNs in the country. The median annual wage for all RNs in Iowa is $19,180 more and in Iowa City is $26,990 more per year than the median earnings of all other occupations in the U.S.

Annual Earnings for Registered Nurses in Iowa

10th Percentile Median Earnings 90th Percentile
Iowa $46,930 $61,130 $80,610
United States $53,410 $75,330 $116,230
Ames, IA $50,710 $62,650 $81,170
Cedar Rapids, IA $46,930 $60,550 $79,530
Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL $41,340 $57,180 $81,030
Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA $51,820 $62,340 $80,750
Dubuque, IA $45,280 $58,800 $77,030
Iowa City, IA $55,460 $65,610 $87,540
Sioux City, IA-NE-SD $45,220 $59,140 $77,790
Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA $45,100 $60,330 $78,690

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020