Choosing an RN Program in North Carolina

The North Carolina Board has approved plenty of nursing programs and provided plenty of materials for comparing them. From program level to pass rates, here is a guide to evaluating them.

Degree Options

North Carolina nursing students may opt for associate (ADN) or baccalaureate (BSN) programs. There are also two hospital-based diploma programs that prepare students for licensure as professional nurses.

North Carolina ADN programs are typically five semesters in length, but may be shorter or longer ( Some have summer scheduling or operate on a nontraditional calendar.

Students who enroll in university programs often have more opportunities to involve themselves in professional associations and nursing-related honor societies. They are also at a hiring advantage.

More North Carolina students do their pre-licensure education at the associate’s level than the baccalaureate level. Younger students (20 to 30) are more likely to choose pre-licensure baccalaureate programs than older students are.

North Carolina NCLEX Pass Rates

Individual states may set the standards for nursing education, but all have adopted the same board examination: the NCLEX-RN. This assures a basic level of competency and also provides some objective data for comparing programs.

Prospective students can access three years of NCLEX pass rates on the Board site ( North Carolina’s professional nursing programs are, as a whole, slightly above the national rate. Some programs post very high rates.

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Nursing Program Completion Rates in NC

The Board also posts on-time completion rates for approved programs. While these may be more of a concern to those working on assuring an adequate nursing supply, they may also be of interest to students. Low rates sometimes signal a lack of academic support.
On-time completion rate is higher for baccalaureate programs than associate ones, but varies widely from program to program. Some programs post aggregate rates of 30-40%, some 90-100%.

Considering the Admission Process

Students should be aware that spots are limited. One limiting factor is faculty. The Board reported that as of October 1, 2012, there were 115 full-time vacancies and 125 part-time vacancies in pre-licensure nursing programs (

Another limiting factor for state-funded schools is the state budget. Nursing programs are always somewhat selective in admissions, but when supply and demand get too out of balance, they become more so. A 2011 article in the Charlotte Business Journal noted that the UNC-Charlotte nursing program had raised GPA minimum from 3.0 to 3.6 (

Students should recognize that the profile of the typical admitted student varies from school to school and should not get too discouraged. Some schools have advisors who can help them become more competitive.

Some North Carolina schools do have wait lists, but they do not necessarily carry over from year to year. In some cases, these represent a second tier of candidates: those who are qualified but not among the top contenders and who may be admitted if space becomes available.

Enrolling in an Out-of-State Program

It may be an option to enroll in an out-of-state program, including one that includes online coursework ( The program must be approved in its own jurisdiction.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) System places some restrictions on those that carry out educational activities in North Carolina, thus candidates may have some limitations on their choice of programs. A prospective student may check on a program’s status (

Financing Nursing School in North Carolina

The cheapest option is the community college. Tuition rates are set by legislature and are kept low. Universities and proprietary schools cost more.

Scholarship opportunities will also vary. Universities can boast a lot of grants and endowments. Students at most nursing schools are also eligible for federal financial aid like the Pell Grant – provided they themselves meet eligibility requirements.

Additional Resources

RN License Requirements in North Carolina

North Carolina Board of Nursing

North Carolina Nurses Association

Becoming an RN in South Carolina: RN Career Paths

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