The Best Nursing Courses and Degree Programs to Become a Registered Nurse in the USA


Earning a nursing degree represents a challenging yet rewarding path to becoming a registered nurse (RN) and joining the esteemed profession of nursing. When considering the many nursing programs and courses available, it helps to focus on those that best prepare you for RN licensure and a successful healthcare career. In this comprehensive guide, we explore the top nursing courses and degree programs aspiring RNs should pursue in the United States along with projected costs to earn your RN.

Prerequisite Courses

While specific program requirements vary, most nursing schools require you complete certain prerequisite courses. Prerequisite classes provide the foundational knowledge needed for nursing-specific coursework. Common prerequisites include:

– Anatomy and Physiology – Covers the body’s structural organization and function. Provides in-depth understanding of human systems.

Microbiology – Focuses on microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Teaches infection control concepts critical for nursing practice.

Chemistry – Introduction to matter, chemical reactions, solutions, and acids/bases. Supports pharmacology and related studies.

Nutrition – Details nutritional needs related to health and disease. Nurses must tailor diets to individual patient needs.

Human Growth and Development – Explores stages of growth and developmental tasks through the lifespan. Foundational for pediatric and geriatric nursing especially.

– Statistics – Skills for collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting quantitative data for evidence-based practice.

These courses build core science competencies and cost $300-$1,000+ per course depending on the school. Completing prerequisites takes 1-2 years. Accelerated programs may condense prerequisites into a shorter term.

RN Degree Options

While you can become an RN through diploma programs and associate degrees, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is considered the gold standard. BSN programs expand expertise in areas like research, leadership, and public health nursing. Top RN degree options include:

– Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) – Traditional 4-year program offered at universities. Includes general education and nursing courses. Graduates take the NCLEX-RN exam for licensure.

– Accelerated BSN – Fast-paced 12-18 month program for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field. Prepares graduates for RN licensure.

– Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) – 2 year community college program combining nursing courses with clinical training. Graduates take the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.

– Diploma in Nursing – Usually 3 years at a hospital-based program. Focuses entirely on nursing skills and clinical work. Graduates eligible for RN licensure via exam.

BSN and ADN programs each cost $40,000-$100,000 in total tuition and fees. Accelerated programs cost up to $70,000 total as a second degree. Diploma programs range from $20,000-$50,000 in total fees.

Core RN Curriculum

While nursing programs vary, these core courses consistently appear, providing essential skills and knowledge:

– Fundamentals of Nursing – Foundational nursing concepts like the nursing process, critical thinking, nursing theory, ethics, roles, settings, communication and documentation.

– Health Assessment – Develops clinical interview skills, physical exam techniques, and assessment documentation across the lifespan.

– Pathophysiology – Covers disruptions in normal body functions, disease processes, illnesses and injuries. Guides nursing interventions.

– Pharmacology – Medication classes, uses, dosages, interactions, contraindications, and side effects. Safe medication administration.

– Adult Health Nursing – Focuses on managing care for adult patients with acute and chronic medical-surgical conditions in hospitals and clinics.

– Mental Health Nursing – Understanding and caring for patients with psychiatric disorders. Therapeutic interventions and communication techniques.

Pediatric Nursing – Meeting the unique physical, mental, emotional, and social needs of pediatric patients in various settings.

– Maternal Health Nursing – Prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, high risk obstetrics, and care of newborns and families.

– Community Health Nursing – Public health issues, health promotion/disease prevention, caring for vulnerable populations, and principles of home health and case management.

This nursing curriculum develops the clinical reasoning, assessment, communication, decision-making, and care coordination capabilities essential to RN practice.

Key Electives

While required courses lay the foundation, electives allow you to expand your nursing skills and knowledge in key areas like:

Nursing Informatics – Using data, technology, and information management to enhance nursing care and patient outcomes.

– Nursing Research – Interpreting research findings to inform evidence-based clinical decision making.

– Nursing Leadership and Management- Principles of leadership, budgeting, scheduling, policy, delegation, and resource management in nursing.

– Critical Care Nursing – Caring for patients with complex, life-threatening health conditions requiring close monitoring and interventions.

– Oncology Nursing – Caring for patients with cancers and blood disorders and undergoing related treatments.

– Palliative and Hospice Nursing – Pain and symptom management, psychosocial support, and end-of-life care across settings.

– Travel Nursing – Providing nursing care designed for domestic and international travel settings and mobile patient populations.

Electives allow you to round out your nursing education and develop expertise.

Top Nursing Skills

Beyond degree and course requirements, developing core nursing skills is vital. Top abilities needed for RN practice include:

– Communication – Speaking, listening, writing, nonverbal cues. Communicate effectively with diverse patients, families, and interprofessional team members.

– Assessment – Obtain health histories, conduct physical exams, interpret data, document findings. Assess entire patient situation including psychosocial aspects.

– Critical Thinking – Apply clinical judgement. Analyze complex health data, evaluate interventions, spot changes and recognize problems, use evidence-based practice.

– Technical Skills – Safely utilize nursing equipment and technology. Perform nursing procedures like IVs, injections, catheter insertion.

– Organization and Prioritization – Plan, coordinate, and prioritize all aspects of each patient’s care and needs. Ensure optimal outcomes.

– Emotional Intelligence – Understanding of self and others. Demonstrate compassion and build trusting relationships. Maintain professional boundaries.

– Collaboration – Coordinate care with physicians, therapists, social workers, pharmacists and other team members. Advocate for patients.

Cultivate these essential nursing skills through coursework, lab practice, simulation exercises, hands-on clinical training, and professional experience.

Ideal Programs for Becoming an RN

While many quality nursing programs exist, these schools and degree tracks are consistently ranked among the best for becoming an RN:

– Johns Hopkins – Top ranked nursing school. Renowned rigorous BSN trains elite nurses.

– University of Pennsylvania – Ivy League school offering elite BSN and accelerated BSN. Strong research opportunities.

– Rush University – Highly competitive BSN program affiliated with top Chicago medical center.

– University of North Carolina – High graduation + NCLEX pass rates. Quality traditional and online BSN options.

– University of Michigan – Dynamic BSN covering cutting-edge nursing advances. Robust research component.

– Duke University – Prestigious private university well-known for its challenging ACCEL BSN program.

– University of California – Multiple campuses like UCLA and UCSF offering BSN and ABSN programs with global health focus.

– Georgia State University – One of largest nursing programs in Georgia. BSN can be completed in 15 months with accelerated option.

– University of Texas – Respected nursing school with undergraduate BSN and flexible online RN to BSN program options.

– Northeastern University – Accelerated direct entry MSN ideal for non-nursing majors wanting to transition into nursing leadership roles.

With diligent hard work, passion, and persistence, you can join the ranks of “most educated nurses in the world” as an RN in one of these esteemed programs.


Earning an RN license requires dedication through challenging prerequisite courses, nursing curriculum, clinical training, and board exams. Investing in a rigorous BSN program from a reputable nursing school offers the best education. Prepare for a fulfilling career where you can make a genuine difference as an essential healthcare provider. With patience and commitment to lifelong learning, your RN degree provides the foundation to excel as a nurse.