Choosing an RN Program – Tennessee

Tennessee nursing schools and nursing organizations are working together on everything from planning clinical placements to providing quality simulation experiences. However, cooperation doesn’t mean nursing education ends up being the same at institutions around the state. Here is a guide to some of the key differences.

RN Degree Options

You have a choice of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). If you already have a degree, you can do a master’s (MSN) program for initial licensure; you may enroll through either a private or public institution.

While all pre-licensure professional nursing programs qualify individuals to take the licensing examination at the RN level, they don’t all offer the same opportunities for advancement. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has noted that BSN graduates enjoy a hiring advantage. New BSNs have enjoyed especially good hiring rates in the South, even during lean economic times. For MSNs, prospects are even better. There is still something to be said for the reputation of the individual school.

Program-level accreditation by the CCNE is desirable, especially for nurses who want to eventually advance their education beyond the entry-level.

The Admission Process

A prospective RN should be prepared for a selective admission process. One reason is that the program itself is demanding. Another is that nursing schools face limitations due to budget, classroom space, and clinical partnerships.

Schools often handle demand by ranking candidates; a point system may be utilized. Test scores and academic performance are often weighted heavily, but the criteria are not identical from program to program. Some programs may award extra points to candidates who have prior healthcare experience. Some may conduct interviews. Schools may give preference to residents of the particular county. (This is more likely to happen at the associate level at public colleges.)

Some Tennessee RN programs do waitlist qualified candidates. It is generally not difficult to find a program that will admit you in the next class if your application packet is strong enough. A candidate who is having a hard time finding a program with no wait can try the Discover Nursing search tool (

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NCLEX Pass Rates

The NCLEX-RN is a requirement for licensure. High pass rates are one sign of a strong program, but may reflect admission and graduation policies as well as quality of instruction. Tennessee schools boast, on average, slightly higher pass rates than the nation as a whole. Some schools consistently boasts very high pass rates. A full four years of data is available on the Board site (

Financing Nursing School

Grants and scholarships may be awarded based on need, merit, or some combination of the two.

Filling out an FAFSA is the ticket to need-based financial aid programs run by both the federal government and the Tennessee government.

Students may visit the site of the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation to see information about state programs like the Hope Scholarship They may also drop by the site of the Tennessee Center for Nursing for a discussion of various options for funding nursing education.

The HSRA awards loan scholarships to some professional nursing students who are willing to make a commitment to work in underserved areas. Individual nursing schools often award scholarships that are not dependent on future service.

Beyond Nursing School

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Tennessee RNs earn, on average, $55,800 a year ( Starting salaries are often lower as new graduates have not accrued experience or developed expertise in a specialty area.

Students often worry more about whether they will find a job right away than what their income will be. It can be a good idea to ask about career services and placement rates.


Tennessee Board of Nursing

Tennessee Nurses Association

Becoming an RN in Tennessee: RN Career Paths

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