Best Nursing Schools in Wisconsin: Online & Campus

Want to become a registered nurse or APRN in Wisconsin? Check out our list of the best nursing schools in Wisconsin and join the ranks of this rewarding, high-demand field.

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Shannon Lee has been a freelance writer, editor, and novelist for over 25 years. Her work has appeared on Fox Business, Forbes, MSN, Bob Vila, Modernize, Nashville Scene, MoneyGeek, MVP Parent, and many other outlets; her writing on home improvement led to an editorial position with The Spruce in 2021. She's written extensively on higher education, relationships, and the intersection of technology, health, and medicine. When she's not freelancing, Shannon also writes fiction novels.

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Registered nurses are in demand across the U.S., and Wisconsin is no exception. Wisconsin nursing schools have risen to the challenge by offering a plethora of programs to help you start or advance your nursing career. This guide highlights the best in-person and online nursing programs in Wisconsin and profiles the state’s top-ranked schools to help you find the one that’s right for you. You’ll also learn about where you can get financial aid, how to get your nursing license, and what you can expect to earn after graduation. Read on to discover your degree pathway to becoming a nurse in Wisconsin.

2022’s Best Accredited Nursing Schools in Wisconsin

There are many nursing schools in Wisconsin, which makes choosing one challenging. To get you started on your search for a top-tier program, we’re presenting three best-in-class schools based on factors like accreditation, program flexibility, affordability, curriculum quality, and more. See which nursing schools in Wisconsin stand out for 2022.

University of Wisconsin – Madison

The School of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a range of nursing programs, including three pathways to a BSN, two options for doctoral programs, and three certificates. The traditional BSN, accelerated BSN, and RN to BSN bridge programs are for those with no nursing experience as well for RNs with associate degrees. Doctoral programs for nurses include the DNP, which offers several hybrid and online options, and the PhD, which emphasizes research for advanced nursing practice. Those with at least a bachelor’s degree can also earn certificates to gain specialized skills in areas like psychiatric mental health, nurse educator, and school nursing.

UW-Madison offers a student-centered education at the state’s only academic health center. It also boasts a 93% first-time pass rate for the NCLEX. Graduates work in exam rooms, board rooms, and the military.

Madison Area Technical College

Madison Area Technical College offers diplomas and degrees that pave the way to quickly work as a nurse. The Nursing Assistant program costs just $661 and takes about a year. The Practical Nursing diploma includes 33 credits, can be finished in as little as a year, and is mostly in person with some online components. These two programs provide entry into the healthcare field but do not lead to RN licensure.

The Associate Degree in Nursing and Nursing Completion LPN to ADN programs consist of 61 credits each, take two years, and lead to the NCLEX-RN. Finally, the Paramedic to RN program, with some online and some in-person components, provides a pathway for experienced paramedics to enter the nursing field in 2 years with full-time attendance.

University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire

The College of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire offers several nursing degree options. Students can earn their bachelor’s degrees and continue through the DNP all at UW-Eau Claire and continue working while doing so through flexible hybrid options.

The traditional BSN is an on-campus program while the BSN Completion Program is available in a hybrid format. Those who want to take their RN careers beyond the bachelor’s level can opt for the MSN or the DNP, which has both post-bachelor’s and post-master’s options. Post-master’s certificates in either education or nursing administration offer specialization without having to earn another degree.

Types of Nursing Programs Available in Wisconsin

There are numerous pathways to becoming a nurse, from earning an associate degree and becoming an RN to earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice or PhD in nursing to adding specializations through post-graduate certificates. Below are the common paths available through nursing programs in Wisconsin.

Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs in Wisconsin

ADN Programs

ADNs are designed for those with little or no college experience and who want to enter nursing as quickly as possible. The ADN takes about two years, is available at community colleges, and allows students to become RNs after graduation. It also allows for a smooth transition to a BSN later.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with this Program

Traditional BSN Programs

Traditional BSNs take about four years and result in eligibility to sit for the NCLEX-RN. BSN programs are for those who want to earn a bachelor’s degree, gain access to better nursing jobs, and be ready to earn an MSN at some point.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with this Program

Accelerated BSN Programs

Those with bachelor’s degrees in something other than nursing can turn to the accelerated BSN program to gain the necessary knowledge and clinical skills to take the NCLEX-RN. Accelerated BSN programs focus on core nursing courses and can be completed in 15 to 24 months of full-time study.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with this Program

Nursing Bridge Programs in Wisconsin for Current Nurses

LPN to RN and LPN to BSN Programs

LPNs who want to become RNs have two pathway options. LPN to RN programs, offered mostly by community colleges, take three to four semesters and result in an associate degree. LPN to BSN programs result in bachelor’s degrees after four years of study and are offered by colleges and universities.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to BSN Programs

Those who earned their RN through the associate degree path can earn their bachelor’s degrees through an RN to BSN program. Most four-year nursing schools offer this program, often entirely online. Since skills honed as an RN often replace the clinical aspect of a BSN program, students must simply complete additional nursing coursework.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with this Program

RN to MSN Programs

Current RNs with ADNs or BSNs can earn master’s degrees through an RN to MSN program. Most MSNs offer multiple specializations and take 18 months to three years to complete. Coursework is mostly online with clinical requirements met by working as an RN. Those with ADNs can often earn BSNs at the same time as MSNs with four years of study.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with this Program

Advanced Nursing Programs in Wisconsin

MSN Programs

Those with BSNs can hone their skills in advanced leadership, administration, advanced practice, and more through an MSN program. These programs take about two years and are often offered entirely online. Some advanced practice specialties may require in-person clinicals, which can often be completed at your current place of employment.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with This Program

DNP and PhD Doctoral Programs

Those who want to take their career to the highest level can earn a DNP or a PhD. The DNP degree is for nurses who want to move into advanced nursing practice or administrative positions while the PhD focuses on research and development that advances nursing practice. These programs offer a variety of specializations and take three to seven years.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with This Program

Post-Graduate Certificates

Post-graduate certificates offer targeted specializations like nursing education, public health nursing, nurse practitioner (and several fields under that umbrella), and more. These certificates take just a few classes to a few semesters to complete.

Examples of Wisconsin Nursing Schools with This Program

Inside Look at Online Nursing Programs in Wisconsin

There was a time when nursing programs were entirely hands-on, even classroom work. Today, there are many hybrid programs with classwork like lectures and discussions entirely online and hands-on clinical experiences still in-person. Many RN to BSN programs are entirely online since students usually already have solid experience as RNs. Even those without any nursing experience can expect some aspects of their programs to be virtual. Below, we highlight three of the best online nursing programs in Wisconsin.

Best Online Nursing Programs in Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin – Extended Campus

The University of Wisconsin-Extended Campus offers an RN to BSN through its UW Flexible Option, an online program that allows working nurses to take self-paced courses and choose which month to start their fully asynchronous online experience. Affordable flat-rate tuition takes the guesswork out of cost.

This evidence-based program focuses on improving patient outcomes and ensures that current RNs get the additional education necessary to move forward in their careers. It requires 124 credits, but ADNs receive a minimum of 60 credits for their previous coursework. This RN to BSN takes up to two years to complete and works well for motivated, self-directed learners who like to work independently and manage their own deadlines.

University of Wisconsin – Madison

The School of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers the unique [email protected] program that allows RNs to earn their BSNs without setting foot on campus. The program requires up to 30 credits, assuming all general education courses are already met through an ADN, and takes 18 to 36 months to complete.

This RN to BSN program runs on a semester schedule with optional summer studies. Students choose between 7-week or traditional 14-week sessions. The first day includes a half-day orientation that can be completed either on campus or through a real-time video session. There is also a 60-hour clinical assignment that can often be completed at a student’s current place of employment or another healthcare facility near where they live.

Madison Area Technical College

Madison Area Technical College offers a hybrid ADN that allows general education courses to be completed online and hands-on training to be completed at one of their four campuses, a local hospital, or another healthcare facility. Students can expect to complete this 61-credit program in four semesters.

Once accepted for enrollment, students must complete the petition requirements, which include certain prerequisites and testing. When these are satisfied, a student earns full admittance into this ADN program and can expect to learn good judgment and technical competence along with how to care for patients of all ages. The program also promotes self-direction and independence and a willingness to understand and follow procedures.

Financial Aid Opportunities for Nursing Students in Wisconsin

Students enrolled in one of the many accredited nursing programs in Wisconsin are eligible for various forms of financial aid. Some, such as grants that help lower the cost of tuition, come from federal and state governments. Scholarships are also available through a variety of organizations and businesses and sometimes through a school itself. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, awards over $400,000 nursing scholarships annually. Student loans are also popular ways to pay for higher education with the best route being through the Federal Government.

To learn more about what’s available, check out our list of nursing scholarships, guide to graduating from nursing school debt-free, and financial aid guide.

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

The NCLEX-RN serves as the gateway to earning a license to work as a registered nurse in Wisconsin and all other states. The specific process for Wisconsin is set forth by the Wisconsin Board of Nursing. We’ve outlined the steps for RN licensure in Wisconsin below.

Step 1

Enroll in an approved RN program

Students who want to become RNs in Wisconsin must graduate from a program approved by the Wisconsin Board of Nursing. This generally includes any Wisconsin-based ADN or BSN program accredited by the ACEN or CCNE.

Step 2

Sign up for the NCLEX-RN

Before you can receive your RN license from the Wisconsin Board of Nursing, you must take and pass the NCLEX-RN. Most nursing students register for the test during the final few months of their nursing degree program. To register, create an account with Pearson VUE and pay a testing fee of $200.

Step 3

Complete and submit paperwork to the Wisconsin Board of Nursing

The application includes numerous forms to complete and submit. It also includes official transcripts sent directly from your nursing school.

Step 4

Pass the NCLEX-RN

The NCLEX-RN is an adaptive computer test with the difficulty of questions changing as you get questions correct or incorrect. The four main topics covered are a safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. Most of the exam is multiple choice.

Step 5

Pass the background check

Before the Wisconsin Board of Nursing issues your RN license, you must pass a criminal background check. This requires the submission of fingerprints.

Job Outlook for RNs in Wisconsin

The need for new RNs in Wisconsin is strong with an average of 3,600 annual projected openings through 2028. In addition, Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development anticipates Wisconsin will have a shortage of between 4,200 and 20,400 RNs by 2040. Much of this need will be at hospitals, which often rely on nursing schools in Wisconsin to provide a steady supply of new RNs.

Employment Projections for RNs in Wisconsin

New Jobs (2018-2028)Job Growth Rate (2018-2028)Average Annual Openings (2018-2028)
United States371,50012.1%210,400

Source: Projections Central

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

RNs in Wisconsin can expect a salary matching the national median income. However, median earnings increase for nurses working in metropolitan areas like Madison and Milwaukee. At $73,540, RNs in Wisconsin make significantly more than those in Iowa ($61,130) and are in line with what nurses in nearby states like Illinois ($72,610) and Michigan ($73,040) make.

Annual Earnings for Registered Nurses in Wisconsin

10th PercentileMedian Earnings90th Percentile
United States$53,410 $75,330$116,230
Appleton, WI$55,310$67,980$85,570
Eau Claire, WI$52,050$63,980$88,000
Fond du Lac, WI$54,460$62,690$78,480
Green Bay, WI$54,840$68,520$82,180
Janesville-Beloit, WI$54,410$71,250$94,030
La Crosse-Onalaska, WI-MN$57,250$74,680$99,770
Madison, WI$62,860$80,820$105,410
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI$57,000$75,980$101,340
Oshkosh-Neenah, WI$54,750$71,380$94,800
Racine, WI$55,480$71,760$93,800
Sheboygan, WI$55,720$66,980$85,380
Wausau, WI$54,620$68,360$89,860
Appleton, WI$55,310$67,980$85,570

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020