Best Nursing Schools in Pennsylvania: Top Online & Campus Programs for You

Launch or advance your nursing career by attending one of the top nursing schools in Pennsylvania. We’ll help you find the degree program that’s just right for you.

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Last Updated: 09/22/2021
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If you live in Pennsylvania and have the talent and desire to care for others, it’s hard to think of a better career choice than nursing. What’s more, highly-skilled and educated nurses are in high demand, a demand that is expected to grow much faster than the average of all other occupations combined. With so many different nursing opportunities, how do you choose the right one for you?


This guide has all the information you need to select the nursing school and program in Pennsylvania that best suits your professional goals and academic needs, no matter where you’re currently at in your nursing education and career. You’ll find a list of top-ranked programs (including convenient online programs built for working nurses) while also learning about the types of nursing degrees offered, critical qualities to consider in a program, where to obtain financial aid, and much more. Get started on your search for your Pennsylvania nursing school match below.

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

To help you know what to look for in a quality nursing school, we’ve spotlighted three of the best nursing degree programs currently available in Pennsylvania. Our selections are based on factors like accreditation, affordability, study convenience and flexibility, curriculum comprehensiveness, and access to student support services. See which Pennsylvania nursing schools are leading the way in 2021.

Clarion University

The Department of Nursing at Clarion University one of the most robust selections of nursing programs in Pennsylvania. Options include three undergraduate degree programs: Associate on Science in Nursing (ASN), pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and a fully-online RN to BSN. On the graduate level, Clarion offers MSN Family Nurse Practitioner and Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees. Both graduate programs feature fully online didactic coursework, though the FNP program does include an in-person internship requirement.

In addition to its degree programs, Clarion nursing students can choose from two online-only certificates: Nursing Case Management (fully online) and Post-Masters FNP (includes in-person internship). All of Clarion’s nursing degrees and certificates feature affordable tuition rates when compared to similar programs in Pennsylvania. Additionally, substantial tuition discounts are available to active-duty military as well.

Pennsylvania State University 

The Penn State College of Nursing offers the most extensive line of nursing degree and certificate programs in Pennsylvania, including six undergraduate, eight master’s level, and five doctoral-level programs. There are three BSN degree options: a General BSN for students without RN licensure or a bachelor’s degree, an accelerated BSN Second Degree for students with non-nursing bachelors interested in becoming RNs, and an RN to BSN for current RNs without a bachelor’s interested in advancing their nursing careers. Penn State also offers undergrad nursing certificates in Nursing Forensics, Nursing Informatics, and Nursing Management..

All Penn State’s BSN programs are offered at multiple Penn State campuses. The RN-to-BSN program is also available online through Penn State World Campus as are the three undergrad certificate programs and several graduate degrees and certificates. Given the exceptional reputation of its nursing programs, expect higher tuition rates than at other public colleges and universities in the state. However, a range of financial aid resources are available through Penn State Student Aid.

York College of Pennsylvania

Through its Myers School of Nursing and Health Professions, York College offers two BSN programs and seven graduate-level nursing degree and certificate programs. York’s standard BSN degree program is a 122-credit hour pre-licensure program consisting of didactic courses, lab simulation classes, and in-person clinical practice experiences attended at program-approved nursing facilities in the York area. The Fall Clinical program consists of eight semesters (13 to 14 credits each) and is recommended for students working 10+ hours a week. The Spring Clinical program consists of nine semesters (15 to 17 credits each) and is recommended for students working less than 10 hours a week.

York’s RN to BSN program is for licensed RNs with AS or ADN degrees. The program is 100% online and can be completed in 12 months. Six start dates are available yearly.

Compared with similar nursing programs in Pennsylvania, York’s tuition is competitive. Current per-credit tuition rate for the RN-to-BSN’s nursing courses is $330 (for nursing students employed by partner institutions) and $400 (non-partner students). Additionally, York nursing students may be eligible for any number of in-house scholarship and grant opportunities.

Common Qualities of the Best Nursing Schools in Pennsylvania

There are many characteristics that quality nursing schools in Pennsylvania have in common. Here are the most important qualities to look for when choosing your Pennsylvania nursing program:

  • Nationally Accredited and State Approved

    Accreditation indicates certain critical standards of quality, and all the best nursing programs in Pennsylvania PA have it. Accreditation for nursing programs in the U.S. comes via the Accreditation Commission for Education and Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). You can search for current nursing program accreditation status using these ACEN and CCNE search engines. Quality nursing degree and certificate programs in Pennsylvania are also approved by the Pennsylvania Department of State’s Board of Nursing (BON).
  • Track Record of High NCLEX Exam Pass Rates

    Licensure for LPNs and RNs in Pennsylvania requires passing the NCLEX examination, so one of the most important factors of any nursing program is a high NCLEX exam pass rate. School websites often indicate a program’s pass rate, and BON provides a current list of exam pass rates for nursing programs in Pennsylvania.
  • Instructor Access and Quality Student Support Services

    Determining instructor access and the availability of quality student support services (e.g., academic and career counseling, help in finding financial aid, job search assistance, etc.) takes some work. Search online search for student comments about nursing programs, and speak with as many program students as possible. Word-of-mouth is a great source of advice.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in Pennsylvania

If you’re new to the nursing field, sorting through the numerous college nursing programs can be confusing. To help you, here are brief descriptions of the nine different types of nursing degrees and certificates available from nursing schools in Pennsylvania.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania

ADN/ASN Programs

Associate degrees in nursing (ADNs and ASNs) prepare students with little or no previous college-level study or nursing experience for the NCLEX RN exam to become RNs. ADN programs usually take two years and are common at community colleges and vocational schools but are also sometimes available through nursing schools at four-year colleges and universities. ADN and ASN curriculums combine general education and foundational nursing courses with hands-on clinical experiences at nearby healthcare facilities.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

Traditional BSN Programs

A traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is designed for students with little or no previous college-level study or nursing experience who want to be RNs. Given the more extensive education and training than with an ADN, BSN degree holders tend to be more attractive to employers. Traditional BSN programs are typically offered by four-year colleges and universities and require four years of full-time study.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Accelerated BSN programs are for students with no prior nursing experience but who possess a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Accelerated BSN programs provide the necessary coursework and clinical practice hours needed to take the NCLEX-RN exam. BSN programs are mostly available from the same four-year schools offering traditional BSN programs. Completion times are typically 15 to 24 months.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Pennsylvania for Current Nurses

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN Programs

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN programs are open to currently LPNs interested in advancing their careers by taking the NCLEX RN exam and becoming RNs. Both LPN to RN and LPN to BSN programs include didactic coursework and the clinical hours required for RN licensure. LPN to RN programs are often offered by community colleges and vocational schools but sometimes by four-year institutions. LPN to RN programs typically require three semesters or more of full-time study. LPN to BSN programs are normally available at four-year schools and require three to four years of full-time study.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

RN to BSN programs provide licensed RNs without a bachelor’s degree with a convenient and affordable path to earning a BSN. RN to BSN programs are often available in fully online formats from most four-year schools offering undergraduate nursing programs. Admission requirements include a current RN license and an ADN. A BSN degree in an RN to BSN program requires about 120 credit hours, and completion times vary.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees provide the knowledge and skills needed for advanced practice and leadership positions in nursing. MSN programs typically offer multiple specialization options as well as optional specialized curriculums for becoming nurse practitioners (NPs). MSN programs are exclusively through 4-year nursing programs and may be fully or partially online. Students usually complete in-person clinical experiences at their current places of employment.

RN to MSN programs offer current RNs a direct path to an MSN. In some cases, students receive a BSN as part of their programs. Full-time students can finish within 3 years, but most programs are for working RNs and feature part-time formats taking 3 ½ to 4 years.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania

MSN Programs

Standard MSN programs also offer advanced leadership and practice outcomes as well as eligibility for NP certification. Given the additional coursework completed by students in their BSN programs, however, standard MSN programs require fewer credit hours than RN to MSN programs with completion of two years for full-time students and three years for part-time.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

DNP and PhD Doctoral Programs

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree is for students seeking to become leaders in top nursing administration and advanced nursing practice positions. The Nursing PhD prepares nursing scientists to conduct research and develop new scientific knowledge to advance professional nursing practice. DNP and PhD nursing programs come in a variety of formats and with different specializations. Completion lengths are three to seven years or longer depending on degree type, specialization, and study pace.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with this Program

Post-Graduate Certificates

Post-graduate nursing certificate programs provide a nursing graduate degree with opportunities to specialize in a particular area of nursing practice. Examples include nursing administration, nursing education, nurse anesthetist, public health nursing, and several nurse practitioner fields.

Examples of Pennsylvania Nursing Schools with This Program

Inside Look at Online Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania

Distance education has become surprisingly commonplace in Pennsylvania nursing programs. In fact, many schools now feature degree programs like RN to BSN programs from LaSalle University and York College and certificate programs like the Nursing and Administration Certificate from California University of Pennsylvania that are entirely online. Many pre-RN licensure programs also now offer some or all of their didactic courses in asynchronous online formats. If you’re a nursing student in Pennsylvania, some part of your academic work probably will be online.

Spotlighted below are three of the best Pennsylvania online nursing programs. We also answer a few common questions about online nursing programs in Pennsylvania PA.

Best Online Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania

California University of Pennsylvania

California University of Pennsylvania’s 100% online RN to BSN program is for RNs with a nursing diploma or ADN through a regionally accredited program who want to gain leadership and advanced practice skills to further their nursing careers. The program comes in an accelerated format with three-term full-time and four-term part-time study options available. New nursing cohorts begin each fall and spring. Cal U maintains articulation agreements with several Pennsylvania-based nursing schools and community colleges for easy transfer of previously-earned credits.

Cal U additionally offers three online master’s level options:

A 21-credit hour Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Administration and Leadership is also available and offered entirely online.

Pennsylvania College of Technology

Pennsylvania College of Technology, which is affiliated with but autonomous from Penn State University, offers two online degrees through its School of Nursing & Health Sciences, including a BSN degree completion (RN to BSN) program. The program is for current RNs and can be completed either full-time or part-time. All courses are asynchronous.

PCT also offers a Master’s Nursing Education degree designed for current nursing professionals interested in careers educating nurses in the classroom and the workforce. All coursework in this 37-credit hour program is asynchronous and completed entirely online. However, students must complete 90 hours of hands-on experience in the nurse educator role at a program-approved education facility of the student’s choice. The course of study is part-time and requires two years (fall and spring terms plus summer sessions) to complete.

LaSalle University

LaSalle University’s School of Nursing & Health Sciences has one undergraduate and two graduate nursing degree programs offering online study. The RN to BSN Online program consists of nine core nursing courses, one nursing elective, and one university-approved elective chosen in consultation with a program counselor. The entire program can be completed in as little as 10 months, and all courses in the 27-credit hour curriculum are in a 100% online asynchronous format. Total tuition is $10,800 ($400 per credit), making it notably competitive with similar programs, public and private.

LaSalle additionally offers online MSN Family Nurse Practitioner and MSN Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner programs, both of which prepare graduates to become ANCC- or AANP-certified nurse practitioners. Didactic coursework is completed entirely online, but both programs include substantial in-person field study requirements for developing and improving nursing skills in a hands-on clinical practice setting.

FAQs About Online Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania

Can I earn my nursing degree in Pennsylvania completely online?

A few schools offer RN to BSN programs that can be completed 100% online, but they’re in the minority. All pre-licensure programs include substantial clinical practice hour requirements, which are necessary to take the NCLEX RN exam for state licensure, that must be in-person.

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

Yes, as long as your program is accredited and state-approved. Most nursing employers are aware that distance learning components of nursing programs offered by reputable Pennsylvania colleges and universities are of equal quality to on-campus counterparts.

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

Most programs charge the same tuition for both online and on-campus programs. In fact, some charge an additional per-class or per-credit “online access fee” for online courses. You’ll probably pay less for your nursing program by taking online courses once you factor in money saved in travel to and from campus.

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in Pennsylvania

Students enrolled in accredited nursing programs in Pennsylvania are eligible for numerous forms of financial aid. The most common is the student loan, which is available from various public and privates sources but mostly through the federal government. Repayment opportunities are available through the federal government and Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Health.

Probably the most popular college funding types are scholarships and grants available from a variety of sources, most commonly professional nursing groups, associations, and private sponsors. Nursing schools themselves, like Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, also offer scholarship and grant opportunities.

For more great information on funding your nursing education, visit EduMed’s nursing scholarship guide and main financial aid guide.

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

Pennsylvania’s RN degree programs prepare you for the NCLEX-RN examination to obtain state licensure. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the steps you’ll need to earn that licensure before starting your nursing program. For more information, visit the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing website.

Step 1

Complete your nursing program.

Complete an accredited and state-approved pre-RN licensure program. Doing so helps you meet the education and clinical practice hours need to pass the NCLEX-RN, which is required for RN licensure in Pennsylvania.

Step 2

Submit your application to the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing.

Apply at the end of the final semester of your nursing program. An official transcript identifying RN education, degree or diploma type, and date of program completion needs to be sent by your program directly to the BON. You’ll also need to pay the $95 application fee. Visit this Board’s website for detailed information on requirements for RN licensure in Pennsylvania

Step 3

Register for the NCLEX RN exam.

Register and pay to take the exam with Pearson VUE, the service conducting the exam for Pennsylvania. Several weeks after registration, you’ll receive your Authorization to Test (ATT).

Step 4

Complete all additional state RN license requirements.

These include a Criminal History Records Check (CHRC) and completion of three continuing education (CE) hours of approved training by the Department of Human Services on child abuse recognition and reporting. These requirements, found on the Pennsylvania Licensing System (PALS) website, may be completed before taking the NCLEX-RN exam.

Step 5

Schedule and take the NCLEX RN exam.

Once you receive your ATT, schedule and take the NCLEX-RN exam at any one of the dozens of Pearson VUE’s testing locations within or outside of Pennsylvania. Visit this NCLEX website for detailed information on preparing for, taking, and passing the exam.

Step 6

Receive your Pennsylvania RN license.

Once you’ve taken the NCLEX RN exam, your results are forwarded to the BON. You can expect to receive your official Pennsylvania RN license within a few weeks.

Source: University of Pennsylvania

Job Outlook for RNs in Pennsylvania

The national demand for nursing professionals is strong and expected to remain so for many years. That demand applies to nurses in Pennsylvania, too, with estimated long-term job growth rates for RNs in line with national rates.

Employment Projections for RNs in Pennsylvania

Employment (2018) New Jobs (2018-2028) Job Growth Rate (2018-2028) Average Annual Openings (2018-2028)
Pennsylvania 151,750 18,970 12.5% 10,510
United States 3,059,800 371,500 12.1% 210,400

Source: Projections Central

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

Higher job demand is usually a good indicator of higher salaries, and that appears to be the case for both RNs in Pennsylvania and nationwide. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that current salaries for Pennsylvania RNs are quite similar to those nationwide. Actual earnings as a Pennsylvania RN, however, depend on factors like your employer and job duties, geographic location (i.e., urban, suburban, or rural), and your level of professional nursing experience.

Annual Earnings for Registered Nurses in Pennsylvania

10th Percentile Median Earnings 90th Percentile
Pennsylvania $52,640 $70,540 $96,340
United States $52,080 $73,300 $111,220
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ $52,420 $69,230 $89,930
Altoona, PA $52,130 $65,980 $84,170
Bloomsburg-Berwick, PA $53,290 $67,620 $87,900
Chambersburg-Waynesboro, PA $52,180 $75,720 $102,710
East Stroudsburg, PA $42,700 $63,100 $81,190
Erie, PA $41,690 $59,770 $80,070
Gettysburg, PA $51,860 $69,300 $91,770
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA $57,470 $74,100 $92,260
Johnstown, PA $50,080 $60,800 $85,130
Lancaster, PA $54,390 $70,450 $82,660
Lebanon, PA $54,930 $72,140 $94,050
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD $55,470 $76,820 $101,440
Pittsburgh, PA $52,880 $65,630 $89,760
Reading, PA $51,720 $69,040 $97,410
Scranton–Wilkes-Barre–Hazleton, PA $47,940 $65,270 $85,770
State College, PA $44,750 $63,550 $89,990
Williamsport, PA $43,030 $71,390 $94,940
York-Hanover, PA $53,710 $67,490 $91,020

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019

Pennsylvania Nursing Resources

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) – Pennsylvania

The AANP’s Pennsylvania state page offers information, news, and other resources for NPs and NP students. Membership includes access to free continuing education courses, career and practice support resources, and more. Student memberships are also available.

Pennsylvania Association of Practical Nursing Administrators (PA-PNA)

The PA-PNA is a professional association of practical nurse administrators that purposes to advance the practical nursing profession through awareness of issues affecting PNs and PN education in Pennsylvania. Its scholarship program has opportunities for students attending member schools.

Pennsylvania Department of State – Board of Nursing

The BON oversees the education, licensing, and practice activities of nurses in Pennsylvania. It provides important information and current news on nursing education programs, the state nurse licensing process, state nursing laws and regulations, and more.

Pennsylvania State Nurses Association (PSNA)

Affiliated with the American Nurses Association (ANA), the PSNA offers benefits that include unlimited continuing education program access, access to the ANA’s Career Center and webinars, discounts on nursing-related products and services, and more.

Scholarships and Online Resources for RN Students

This EduMed website offers descriptions and links for nursing scholarships and grants. There’s also information and advice for winning those scholarships plus links to other online academic and professional support services for RN students.