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

Learn about top nursing schools in Washington state for both aspiring and current nurses and find the online or campus program that’s best for you.

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Last Updated: 05/12/2021
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Nursing jobs in Washington state are projected to grow by over 20% through 2028. While that equates to nearly 12,000 jobs gained, it also reveals what could be a significant shortfall in the state’s nursing workforce. With median salaries exceeding the national average, there’s never been a better time to take the first or next step in your current nursing career.

Whether you’re new to the field or a seasoned professional, nursing schools across Washington offer educational opportunities to boost your career and expand your earnings potential. This guide looks at the different academic paths for nurses in Washington and highlights this year’s top-rated programs to help you find the campus or online nursing program that’s best for you. You’ll also find helpful information on financial aid, the nursing job market in Washington, and more.

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

Washington has many nursing schools and deciding which one best fits your needs can feel a bit overwhelming. While proper accreditation and state approval are non-negotiables, affordability, flexibility, and ample student support should also factor into your decision. To help make the process easier, we spotlight three top nursing schools below to show you who stands out in 2021.

University of Washington

University of Washington’s BSN program boasts a nationally acclaimed faculty accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. At UW, students supplement their nursing knowledge with professional behaviors that emphasize empathy, integrity, and social justice. Along with more traditional coursework, students use interactive scenarios in the school’s Learning Lab to hone essential skills before clinical work.

Core nursing coursework includes ambulatory care, foundations of interprofessional practice, and healthcare systems and policy. In addition to classroom work, students build foundational skills through over 1,000 hours of hands-on patient care experiences. UW’s nursing program has strong working relationships with over 700 community partnership sites.

Along with GPA and prerequisite requirements, UW’s BSN applicants must complete a program-specific application and a proctored admissions essay, which students have one hour to complete, along with three math problems.

Washington State University

Washington State University’s BSN program combines coursework, skills practice, and clinical experiences to prepare you for your nursing career. The program highlights foundational nursing skills and theories while also developing the critical thinking skills needed for effective care. Students learn essential clinical skills through simulated nursing experiences before logging more than 950 hours of hands-on clinical work in a professional medical environment.

Before gaining admission into the nursing program, students must complete a host of nursing prerequisites and general education requirements. Upon admission, they then tackle 66 credits of nursing coursework, covering topics like community health nursing theory, nursing care of childbearing families, and nursing in the genome era.

Students interested in gaining admission into WSU’s BSN program must take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS). They must also have completed 50 hours of work/volunteer experience in a medical setting. WSU also offers an RN-to-BSN program available for part-time and full-time students.

Gonzaga University

Dedicated to promoting a humanistic, Jesuit approach to nursing, Spokane’s Gonzaga University offers a traditional BSN program as well as online MSN DNP degrees. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Gonzaga’s pre-licensure BSN program takes an interdisciplinary approach and pays special attention to community nursing, personal reflection, and social justice.

Upon completing the necessary general education and nursing prerequisites, nursing students spend most of their last two years focused on the nursing curriculum. Core nursing classes include community and populations as clients, professional nursing within a complex adaptive system, and complexity in healthcare organizations. Before graduation, students also take 21 credits of practicum experience.

Students admitted directly out of high school choose either an 8- or 9-semester option for completing their BSN degree. During the first two years at Gonzaga, nursing students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA and earn no lower than a C in prerequisite nursing courses.

Common Qualities of the Best Nursing Schools in Washington

While program details vary among schools, they have some important qualities in common. The best nursing programs are properly accredited and state approved, affordable, and have high NCLEX pass rates. Make sure the school you choose keeps to the highest standards in these areas.

  • Nationally Accredited and State Approved

    Accreditation indicates certain critical standards of quality, and all the best nursing programs in Washington State 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 Washington State are also approved by the Washington State Department of State’s Board of Nursing (BON).
  • Affordable

    The best schools offer an excellent curriculum at an affordable price. In general, attending a public school as an in-state student offers the lowest tuition rate. Private school tuition tends to cost more, as do public schools for out-of-state students.
  • High NCLEX-RN Pass Rates

    One of the true hallmarks of a top nursing program is adequate preparation for the NCLEX-RN exam required for licensure. The best schools have high exam pass rates, and they provide graduates with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed. If you don’t see NCLEX-RN pass rates on the program website, reach out to an administrator and ask.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in Washington

Whether you’re just starting to consider a career in nursing or are a veteran nurse looking to upgrade your credentials, nursing schools in Washington offer many campus-based and online nursing degrees and certificates to help you meet your educational and professional goals. We look at the most common program options below and give examples of schools offering each type.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Washington

ADN Programs

Associate degrees in nursing (ADN) programs provide a great first step into the field of nursing. Typically lasting two years and available at community colleges, ADNs cover both general education and foundational nursing topics. After graduating, you qualify to take the NCLEX-RN exam and begin work as a registered nurse.

Examples of Washington State Nursing Schools with this Program

Traditional BSN Programs

Because RNs with a bachelor’s degree earn higher salaries and qualify for more advanced roles, some students move straight into a four-year program. These degrees typically include 120 credits of coursework and hours of essential practical experience. At the end, you can pursue your RN license and/or move into an advanced degree program.

Examples of Washington Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

An accelerated BSN program allows those who previously earned a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated subject to pursue a nursing career. Building on knowledge previously gained, accelerated BSN programs immediately dive into nursing topics and allow you to graduate within 18-24 months after enrolling.

Examples of Washington Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Washington for Current Nurses

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN Programs

After working as a licensed vocational nurse, you may decide to upgrade your credentials and earning potential. Whether looking to complete an ADN or BSN, online and in-person programs are available. The LPN to RN takes 12-24 months, while the LPN to BSN usually requires 24-36 months. Both paths allow you to work as an RN.

Examples of Washington Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

If you previously earned your ADN and now feel ready to earn a BSN, consider an RN to BSN bridge program. Building on knowledge already gained in your associate degree, these programs cover more advanced materials and prepare you for leadership roles. Programs last 12-24 months and are available in both part-time and full-time options.

Examples of Washington Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

After completing an ADN and working as an RN for several years, you may decide to bypass obtaining a BSN to move straight into an advanced nursing role. The RN to MSN allows you to do this and graduate more quickly than if you pursued both a BSN and MSN separately. Most programs take 30-36 months to complete and offer specialized academic tracks.

Examples of Washington Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Washington

MSN Programs

If you already have your BSN, these programs allow you to earn your MSN in about 18 months. You can also complete an MSN with no prior nursing experience if you have a bachelor’s degree in another subject, and such programs typically take about 3 years to complete. You can choose from specializations like family practitioner, nurse-midwife, and nurse educator.

Examples of Washington Nursing Schools with this Program

DNP and PhD Doctoral Programs

DNP programs act as professional nursing degrees for those wanting to continue practicing at the top of the field. These programs usually take 3 and 4 years to complete. A Ph.D. in nursing supports students who want to focus on research and/or academia. Plan to spend about 4-6 years enrolled in a nursing Ph.D.

Examples of Washington State Nursing Schools with this Program

Post-Graduate Certificates

Designed for students with general MSNs, post-graduate certificates allow you to specialize your skills to a particular population or medical topic. Common post-graduate certificates include pediatric primary care, nurse informatics, nurse leadership, nurse education, women’s health, and health policy.

Examples of Washington State Nursing Schools with This Program

Inside Look at Online Nursing Programs in Washington State

With so many Washington-based schools now providing online nursing programs, it’s essential to understand what you should expect. Any program with a clinical component requires face-to-face learning in an approved medical environment. While there’s no substitute for hands-on clinical experience, online and hybrid nursing programs in Washington still provide flexibility where campus programs might not. Many schools offer asynchronous classes, allowing you to watch prerecorded lectures rather than having to attend at a designated time. This flexibility benefits students who work and have busy lives, but they also add the challenge of completing classes without the cohort atmosphere of other learners participating together.

Best Online Nursing Programs in Washington State

University of Washington-Bothell

Offering an RN-to-BSN track for over 20 years, UW-Bothell now also offers the program through both in-person and hybrid options. Designed to allow working RNs the flexibility they need to earn their undergraduate degree, hybrid students attend only one on-campus class bi-weekly. By highlighting their advocacy for community health, students work with myriad community partners to hone the nursing skills needed for compassionate, competent care.

This RN-to-BSN hybrid option requires only 45 credits of coursework and is often completed in just 4 quarters. Core nursing courses include translating scholarly knowledge to nursing practice, social justice in health, and ethical and quality nursing care. Students also complete a 5-credit practicum focused on population-based community practice.

Applicants for this program must have an ADN degree or a diploma in nursing and hold current RN licensure in Washington. In addition to having the required 90 transferable credits, prospective students must also compose a nursing goal statement and provide a resume and two letters of recommendation.

Bellevue College

Bellevue College’s RN-to-BSN program builds upon the academic work and professional experiences of working RNs. Along with highlighting practical nursing skills, this program enhances professional values while developing leaders in health information technology and community and public health. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Bellevue College offers a hybrid track with full-time and part-time options.

In addition to general education credits like cross-cultural medicine and biomedical ethics, students also take 30 credits of core nursing coursework. Classes include topics like management in healthcare, foundations of BSN practice, and health information technology. Before graduation, students also complete 4 credits of fieldwork in a public health setting.

Interested students must submit a completed application with official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and a professional resume. Applicants must also have a minimum 2.0 cumulative GPA in all prior college-level work.

Washington State University

Designed to give working nurses the flexibility they need to maintain personal and professional responsibilities, Washington State University’s hybrid RN-to-BSN degree requires just 30 credits of additional coursework and is often completed in as few as 12 months. Dedicated to providing as much convenience for working nurses as possible, WSU recently replaced some of its mandated clinical hours with a community health project and an independent study project. In addition to the prerequisites needed for admission, RN-to-BSN students tackle core nursing coursework in topics like nursing leadership, population health theory, and nursing management of the healthcare environment.

Applicants for this hybrid degree must hold a current Washington state RN license and have at least 60 semester hours of transferrable credits. Prospective students also must have a minimum GPA of at least 3.0. Prerequisite courses with a grade less than a C earned are not counted towards degree requirements.

FAQs About Online Nursing Programs in Washington State

Can I earn my nursing degree in Washington state completely online?

Many colleges and universities in Washington now provide online and hybrid nursing programs to help busy students earn a degree without losing focus on personal and professional responsibilities. Remember that any program requiring a clinical component involves some in-person learning. Colleges typically work with you to find an approved site near your residence.

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

Employers won’t know you completed your degree online unless you tell them. Your diploma doesn’t distinguish between campus-based and online learning. As long as you attend a school that holds state approval and proper accreditation, employers won’t differentiate between you and another candidate based on whether your degree was earned online or in person.

Are online nursing programs in Washington state more affordable than campus programs?

Most nursing programs in Washington cost the same in terms of tuition regardless of delivery method. That said, online students often save substantial sums in transportation costs, campus-based fees, and other expenses associated with studying in person.

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in Washington state

Many Washington professional associations and nonprofits provide scholarships and grants to offset educational costs. Nursing Students of Washington State, Washington Center for Nursing, and King County Nurses Association all provide funding to help you graduate without excessive debt.

In addition to these resources, check with local and state governments for funding opportunities. After exhausting other funding options not requiring you to repay the amount received, all state-approved and accredited nursing programs qualify for federal student loans. Financial aid doesn’t need to be confusing, especially with so many nursing scholarships at your fingertips.

How to Become an RN in Washington State: Licensing Information and Requirements

Each state has unique RN licensure requirements, so make sure you understand Washington’s before registering for one of its nursing degree programs. Failing to do so could mean struggles meeting requirements when applying for your license. The steps below give you an overview of the requirements to expect.

Step 1

Submit Application and Required Materials

Provide a completed online application, including all required documentation. You must also provide a non-refundable application fee of $120, a certificate of completion, official transcripts from all schools attended, and evidence of completing a Professional Vocational Relationship (PVR) course.

Step 2

Take the NCLEX-RN Exam

Contact an approved Pearson VUE testing center and await an email providing the Authorization to Test (ATT) information. Once you receive this, schedule your exam. If you need to request ADA accommodations, submit a letter from your diagnosing physician with recommended accommodations, a letter from your school highlighting granted accommodations, and your own letter explaining your requested accommodations.

Step 3

Submit to Background Check

All individuals looking to become registered nurses in Washington must submit to and pass a background check. This involves providing fingerprints to the Department of Health. If you live out of state, you must complete fingerprint cards and pay a fee to the FBI.

Step 4

Renew License

After passing the NCLEX-RN and obtaining licensure through the state, your license renews annually on your birthday. To renew your license, you must pay a $120 fee. RNs must also prove they completed at least 531 hours of active nursing practice in the previous three years and show evidence of at least 45 hours of continuing education.

Job Outlook for RNs in Washington State

When comparing Washington’s employment projections for RNs to national numbers, the job market for nurses in the Evergreen State looks promising. Over the next decade, RN jobs in Washington are projected to grow by over 20%. That’s a growth of nearly 12,000 jobs with annual job openings estimated at almost 6,000. Seattle is home to almost 60% of the state’s nursing jobs, not surprising since Seattle is the state’s economic engine, and the average salary for Seattle RNs exceeds $95,000 annually.

Employment Projections for RNs in Washington State

Employment (2018)New Jobs (2018-2028)Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)Average Annual Openings (2018-2028)
Washington58,30011,94020.5%5,820
United States3,059,800371,50012.1%210,400

Source: Projections Central

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

RNs in Washington state earn over $10,000 a year more than the national median wage. While Seattle tops the list for highest RN salaries, there’s a significant wage gap between nurses working in a metropolitan area like Seattle versus those working in vast rural expanses that define most of the state’s geography. Even though wages vary significantly across the state, earning advanced degrees and professional certificates go a long way in determining your professional value to hiring managers regardless of location.

Annual Earnings for Registered Nurses in Washington State

10th PercentileMedian Earnings90th Percentile
Washington$59,000$83,490$120,010
United States$52,080$73,300$111,220
Bellingham, WA$46,350$58,540$74,240
Bremerton-Silverdale, WA$60,230$81,630$117,570
Kennewick-Richland, WA$57,110$76,010$106,430
Longview, WA$42,890$67,200$113,770
Mount Vernon-Anacortes, WA$61,710$81,800$118,970
Olympia-Tumwater, WA$55,940$74,910$113,560
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA$65,580$89,270$123,470
Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA$54,680$78,500$107,950
Walla Walla, WA$54,550$65,710$104,600
Wenatchee, WA$63,330$82,500$109,350
Yakima, WA$37,080$73,020$99,300

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2019

Washington State Nursing Resources

Washington State Nurses Association

With more than 17,000 members, the Washington State Nurses Association represents the interests of working nurses across the state. Advocating for improved working conditions, fair wages, and patient safety, this organization has advanced professional standards and community health for over 100 years.

Washington State Department of Health

Overseeing the professional and academic standards for nurses in the state, the Washington State Department of Health provides services spanning from nursing licensure to nursing program approval. It also maintains a current list of all state-approved nursing programs in Washington.

Scholarships and Online Resources for RN Students

This page includes information on nursing An essential resource for RN students, this EduMed page dives deep into nursing scholarships and grants and provides tips to help you secure funding for your nursing degree. It also directs you to resources helpful for getting through your online degree.

Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing

Striving to transform global healthcare since 1922, Sigma cultivates nursing leaders, promotes nursing scholarships, and develops strategic global relationships. With more than 135,000 active members across 100 countries, Sigma offers online continuing education, leadership programs, and financial aid opportunities.

Washington Center for Nursing

Working to better communities across Washington state through increased access to quality nursing care, this group advocates expanding nursing influence while building a diverse nursing workforce designed to meet future healthcare demands.