Nursing School Accreditation: What It Means & Why It Matters

nursing student in classroom
nursing student in classroom

Attending nursing school is a fundamental first step toward achieving future success in your career. Your education is an investment of your time, money, and effort, so it’s important to feel confident in the program you choose.

If you’re thinking about attending nursing school, you’ve probably already started some research. You may have compared factors such as curriculum, tuition, and rankings. Maybe you’ve even visited some schools. But have you thought about accreditation? This credential can be crucial to choosing the right school and saving you time and money in the end.

So, what is accreditation and why is it so important? Read on for the details.

What Is Accreditation?

Accreditation is a process that ensures all schools and programs are held to the same high-quality standards. This means that no matter where you go to school, or whether you attend an online or on-campus program, there are certain criteria that must be met. These include things such as faculty qualifications, course content, and program quality. Attending an accredited program ensures that you’re getting the education that’s necessary to start your career.

Why Nursing School Accreditation Matters

Nursing school accreditation is essential for several reasons. First, accreditation keeps nursing school graduates across the country educated at the same level. This means that patients can count on the getting the same level of care no matter where they live.

Accreditation can also be important for your career goals and financial needs. Attending an accredited program means you’ll be able to:

  • Receive federal financial aid: Students attending non-accredited schools aren’t eligible to receive financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Transfer schools or advance your degree: Many schools refuse to accept credits from non-accredited programs. If you need to change schools or you want to pursue an advanced degree, you might have to start all over from scratch.
  • Be competitive in the job market: Graduating from an accredited program can make your resume stand out as employers will automatically know that you’ve received a high-quality education. Additionally, there are many employers who will only hire nurses who have completed accredited programs.

Accrediting Bodies

An important note is that there are different levels and types of accreditation. Nursing program accreditation isn’t the same as the overall accreditation for your school, meaning that the accreditation of one doesn’t automatically ensure the other.

Approved by the U.S. Department of Education, there are 2 primary bodies that accredit general nursing education on the national level:

  • The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN): The ACEN is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National League for Nursing (NLN) and is also recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The ACEN accredits all levels of nursing education from practical to clinical doctorate including post-masters and DNP specialist certificates. In addition, post-graduation Transition-to-Practice (TTP) programs can be accredited by the ACEN.
  • The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): The CCNE is the accrediting branch of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and accredits nursing programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and postgraduate levels, including postgraduate certificate programs.

The Department also approves the following accrediting bodies for specialties within the field:

Each of these accrediting bodies maintains a directory of the programs they’ve approved on their website.

A quick tip: Accreditation isn’t earned and maintained in perpetuity. Accreditations are usually handed down for a certain amount of time, usually between five and 10 years, and are different for each school. It’s a good idea to check with your potential program about the length of time it’s accredited for.

Approval by Your State Board of Nursing

Nursing programs also need to be approved by their state’s Board of Nursing. You won’t be able to take the NCLEX exam for licensing if your program isn’t approved.

Something to keep in mind, however, is that state approval and national accreditation aren’t the same thing. Though all nationally accredited schools will also be approved by their state, it’s possible for a school to be approved but not accredited. The difference comes down to what accreditation offers in terms of financial aid, using your credits, and career competitiveness.

National Accreditation

  • Prepares you for licensure and practice
  • Allows you to sit for the NCLEX exam
  • Qualifies you for federal financial aid
  • Lets you transfer schools or apply credits to an advanced degree

State Board Approval

  • Prepares you for licensure and practice
  • Allows you to sit for the NCLEX exam

Attending a Non-Accredited Program

Attending a non-accredited program doesn’t necessarily mean the level of education will be any less or that it will affect your chance at a career. If the program is approved by your state, you can still sit for the NCLEX exam and earn your license as a nurse.

However, choosing a nationally accredited program can provide you with valuable advantages. Ultimately, the choice you make will be a personal one that considers your financial situation, plans for your education, and future career goals.

Ready to Find a Nursing School?

Finding a nursing school that meets your needs and aligns with your goals is the first step to starting your career. Along with your new knowledge on accreditation, our guide on How to Choose the Right School offers a list of other things to consider as you set out to make an informed choice.