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Choosing an RN Program in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania nursing students have a lot of choices at the RN level. There are 27 associate programs, 37 baccalaureate programs, and 18 diploma programs. There’s more good news for nursing students as a lot of the programs are located in rural parts of the state.

However, not all programs will do an equal job of meeting individual needs and not all will have spaces available.

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Approval and Accreditation

It is imperative that a program be approved by its state licensing agency. Initial approval means the program is new. Provisional status can mean there are some problems.

Accreditation is granted by nongovernmental agencies. Program-level accreditation is not as fundamental. Still, it is desirable, especially for nurses who may want to continue their studies at a higher level. Most Pennsylvania programs are accredited by the ACEN (http://acenursing.org/) or CCNE (http://www.aacn.nche.edu/ccne-accreditation/accredited-programs).

Degree Options

Diploma programs are typically housed in health care institutions. Associate and baccalaureate programs are housed in colleges and universities. All are license qualifying. However, a baccalaureate degree affords more opportunities for advancement. Graduates often have better employment prospects at graduation, particularly when economic times are bad.

Attrition Rates

The reality is that many students who enroll in nursing programs do not complete them. In Pennsylvania, the attrition rate is higher in associate programs than in diploma or baccalaureate programs. There are a lot of reasons for attrition, but a majority of those who drop out at the associate and diploma levels are not meeting academic expectations. Some schools are better than others at identifying problems early on and offering support.

NCLEX Pass Rates in PA

It’s not enough for a student to pass the educational program itself; licensure is also dependent on passing the national board examination, the NCLEX-RN. The Pennsylvania Board has posted four years of first time pass rate data (http://www.dos.pa.gov/ProfessionalLicensing/BoardsCommissions/Nursing/Pages/Board-Approved-Nursing-Education-Programs.aspx). A prospective test taker can see the total number of students who took the exam as well as the percentage who passed.

Clinical Experiences

You can expect any Pennsylvania nursing program to include clinical experiences. However, there may be significant differences from program to program. Sometimes diploma programs include clinical experiences very early on.

The Admission Process

The 2012 nursing education annual report indicated that only 56% of qualified professional nursing applicants were admitted to Pennsylvania schools. Many schools were at capacity either at their main site or at their clinical sites. On the other hand, a significant number of Pennsylvania nursing programs do have seats going unfilled: 33% at the associate's level and 36% at the bachelor's level. Securing a spot is partly a matter of doing your research, but it can sometimes mean making other sacrifices, like paying more.

Schools have various ways of dealing with a surplus of qualified applicants. Some community college campuses will only admit students from that particular county. Some schools use a point system. Some maintain a wait list. This term can mean different things. In some cases, a wait list is simply a list of alternates. A student who has difficulty finding a school with no wait can try the Johnson & Johnson search tool (http://www.discovernursing.com/schools#no-filters).

Financial Considerations

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Pennsylvania registered nurses average $65,000 (http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm). Actual earnings depend on many factors including experience and education. Students will need to balance earning potential against the cost of education.

Baccalaureate level programs often cost more, even when figured on a per-semester basis. However, schools often boast a number of endowments and private scholarships. Undergraduate nursing students may also be eligible for need-based programs like the Pell Grant.

Nursing schools typically host information sessions. These help prospective students work on making themselves competitive – and even figure out how to pay for their schooling.

Resources

RN License Requirements in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing

Pennsylvania State Nurses Association

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