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    Best Nursing Schools in Washington: Top Online & Campus Programs for 2023

    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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    Washington State

    Nursing jobs in Washington state are projected to grow by over 16% through 2030. This equates to nearly 10,000 jobs gained and also reveals what could be a significant shortfall in the state’s nursing workforce. On top of all of this, median salaries in Washington exceed the national average, so there’s never been a better time to take the first or next step in your current nursing career.

    From Seattle to Spokane, nursing schools in Washington offer educational opportunities to boost your career and expand your earnings potential. This guide reviews the different academic paths for nurses in Washington and discusses why someone might choose one over the other. It also highlights this year’s top-rated programs to help you find the campus or online nursing program that’s best for you. Finally, you’ll find helpful information on financial aid, the nursing job market in Washington, and more.

    2023’s Best-in-Class Nursing Schools in Washington

    Washington has many nursing schools and deciding which one best fits your needs can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. While proper accreditation and state approval are non-negotiables, affordability, learning 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 what they offer and who stands out in 2023.

    University of Washington

    University of Washington’s BSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and boasts a nationally acclaimed faculty. 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 supervised 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 in both full-time and part-time tracks.

    Gonzaga University

    Dedicated to promoting a humanistic, Jesuit approach to nursing, Spokane’s Gonzaga University multiple nursing program learning options. These include 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 approved by the board of nursing. They also are 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 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 education means little if you can’t afford it. Luckly, many schools in Washington offer an excellent curriculum at an affordable price. 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. Passing the NCLEX-RN doesn’t guarantee success as an RN. But generally speaking, the more likely you are to pass the NCLEX-RN, the better prepared you’ll be to work as a registered nurse. Therefore, 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. Ideally, you want to enroll in a program with NCLEX-RN passage rates that exceed the state and national averages.

    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 nursing profession. Typically lasting two years and available at many 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 bachelor’s degrees 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 hundreds of hours of essential practical experience. In the end, you can pursue your RN license and/or move into an advanced degree program, such as one offering an MSN, DNP, or PhD.

    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. Accelerated BSN programs work by building on knowledge previously gained and immediately diving into nursing topics. As a result, they often 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 in the state. Building on knowledge already gained in your associate degree, these programs cover more advanced materials and prepare you for leadership roles in a healthcare setting. Program length depends on your course load and prior academic training, but most students can expect to graduate in about one to two years.

    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 learn more advanced clinical or administrative skills by earning an MSN degree. But many MSN programs require a BSN to enroll. RN to MSN programs get around this with special curriculums that allow you to 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 to 24 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 36 months to complete. Popular MSN specializations include 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 three to four years to complete. A PhD in nursing supports students who want to focus on research and/or academia and teach future nurses. Plan to spend about four to six years to earn a PhD.

    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 without getting another MSN degree. 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 from each one. One thing to keep in mind is that most online nursing programs have clinical or practicum requirements in addition to online coursework. This means students will also have in-person learning components that are completed in approved and supervised medical environments. 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 hold current RN licensure in Washington. In addition to having the required 90 transferable credits, prospective students must also compose a nursing goal statement, provide a resume, and obtain 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 at least 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 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale). 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?

    Sometimes you can. 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. But remember that any program requiring a clinical component involves some in-person learning; a few MSN programs will not have any clinical or practicum requirements. If experiential learning is required, nursing programs 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?

    It’s unlikely. Employers won’t know you completed your degree online unless you tell them. Also, 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?

    Not necessarily, but they can be. 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. Taking online classes also makes it possible to continue working while in school. This income can then be used to help pay for school.

    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 not meeting the 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

    After comparing Washington’s employment projections for RNs to national numbers, you can see that the job market for nurses in the state looks bright. Over the next decade or so, RN jobs in Washington are projected to grow by 10,000 jobs, with annual job openings estimated at more than 5,000. Seattle is home to almost 60% of the state’s nursing jobs, which is not surprising because Seattle is the state’s economic engine. As you might expect, the average annual salary for Seattle RNs exceeds $95,000.

    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 rural areas that define most of the state’s geography. One reason for this difference is the higher cost of living in Seattle and other highly-populated areas of Washington. Even though wages vary significantly across the state, earning advanced degrees and professional certificates can go a long way in determining your professional value to hiring managers regardless of your 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.

    Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission – Washington State’s Board of Nursing

    As Washington State’s governing body that oversees the licensure of its nurses, this is where you’ll find all the information necessary to complete the steps for initial RN licensure. You’ll also find initial licensure information for other nursing occupations, such as LPNs and nurse practitioners. Lastly, this is where you’ll renew your nursing license.

    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.