Top North Carolina Nursing Schools and Programs

by NurseJournal Staff

Top North Carolina Nursing Schools, Colleges & Degree Programs. North Carolina is seeing a significant growth in the demand for nurses, which has led to a nursing shortage. At the same time, barriers that prevent people from getting the education...

Schools, Licensing Requirements, and Resources

Completing a nursing program is the first step to pursuing a nursing career. North Carolina features hybrid online nursing programs, offering a mix of on-campus and online studies. In these programs, nursing students complete some or all of their courses online while earning in-person clinical experience.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), North Carolina is one of the largest employers of registered nurses (RNs). This resource covers online nurse programs in North Carolina for four different nursing types: RNs, certified nursing assistants (CNAs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and nurse practitioners (NPs).

Why Attend Online Nursing Programs in North Carolina?

Aspiring nurses should study in the state where they plan to work. Fortunately, North Carolina is one of the most affordable states for higher education, offering lower average in-state tuition costs than neighboring states South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Outlook for nurses in North Carolina is positive. According to a recent report, North Carolina could see a shortage of RNs by 2030, reflective of the state's overall projected growth. The BLS also reports that North Carolina employs more RNs per capita than the national average. ​

Featured Online Programs

How to Become a Nurse in North Carolina

Individuals need a nursing license to become a nurse in North Carolina. Students can pursue three potential paths to licensure: a nursing diploma, an associate degree in nursing (ADN), or bachelor's in nursing (BSN). All first-time LPN and RN licensees must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), a standardized exam that qualifies nursing candidates to enter the field. The North Carolina Board of Nursing regulates the practice of nursing in North Carolina.

1. Choose the Path That's Right for You
The online nursing degree you choose depends on your career goals. To practice nursing in North Carolina, you at least need an ADN or nursing diploma. If you want to work in a specialized area, you may want to earn a BSN or a master of science in nursing (MSN). Those who aspire to teach nursing should set their sights on a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) or a nursing Ph.D. You can earn a BSN at any point during your career. Most online RN-to-BSN programs in North Carolina allow you to earn your degree in just two years while continuing to work full time.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
Many nursing programs in North Carolina have acquired technological advancements that make it possible to offer distance learning programs. Accelerated nursing programs in North Carolina allow aspiring nurses to earn an ADN in just two years or a BSN in four years. Online programs also allow students to enroll in nursing programs outside their geographical area. Location no longer limits students, even for a degree that requires clinicals. Proctored exams, local internships, and asynchronous learning make it possible for future RNs to pursue online nursing degrees in a manner that best suits their personal schedule and life commitments.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
North Carolina nursing schools prepare students to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination. Within five hours, students must answer 75-265 multiple-choice questions. After the test-taker answers the first 75 questions, the exam calculates a score on a pass or fail basis. If the computer cannot determine an answer, students must continue answering questions until a definitive score returns. Due to the $200 exam cost, many learners pursue additional forms of study to ensure they are fully prepared.

Online Nursing Degree Programs in North Carolina

Not only is education required to work as a nurse in North Carolina, but furthering your education could mean higher wages. According to the BLS, RNs in North Carolina earn an annual mean wage of $64,850 while NPs earn $104,100. Online degrees offer an affordable, flexible way to further your education and career.

What Courses Are Part of an Online Nursing Degree Program in North Carolina?

Courses vary depending on your chosen school and nursing program. Still, many bachelor's programs feature similar courses that teach important skills for day-to-day nursing activities. Potential courses in North Carolina nursing programs include:


A follow-up to biology and chemistry, this course focuses on the microbes that exist around us and how they affect us. This course often covers changes in microbiological theory.


Sometimes combined with physiology, anatomy covers the basics of the human body, from cells and tissues to the skeletal and muscular system. Nurses need a strong understanding of human anatomy to perform effectively.

Nursing Research

This course applies evidence-based scientific practices with nursing science. Students cover the various ethical problems they may encounter as a nurse and methods of conducting nursing with ethics in mind.

How Do Online Nursing Degree Programs Work?

Online nursing programs only offer courses online. To work as a nurse in North Carolina, students must earn in-person clinical experience. However, not all online nursing programs in North Carolina require clinical experience. In some instances, students who already have professional nursing experience may enroll in degree completion programs. Some programs also offer some courses in a hybrid format.

The time it takes to complete an online nursing degree varies depending on the level of experience you want. Current nurses who do not have time for traditional schooling take advantage of these online programs. Online courses offer flexibility and are often more affordable than their on-campus counterparts. Entry requirements for online programs are typically similar to those for on-campus nursing programs.

Nursing Licensure in North Carolina

Not all nurses in North Carolina need a license. North Carolina defines these nurses as Unlicensed Assistive Personnel (UAP). UAP positions include CNAs and nurses' aides. However, some CNAs study through a program approved by the North Carolina Board of Nursing (NCBON) to become a Nurse Aide I or II. For all other nursing careers in North Carolina, the NCBON grants licensure and approves nursing programs.

Unlike some states, two boards govern NPs in North Carolina: NCBON and the North Carolina Medical Board. As a restricted practice state, NPs in North Carolina cannot provide patient care unless they meet strict requirements. NPs need physician supervision to offer full patient care. Licensure requirements vary by nursing type.

State Requirements by Nursing Type

From education to exams, every nursing type has specific requirements. See below for requirements for each type of nursing license in North Carolina.

Certified Nurse Assistant CNAs in North Carolina can choose from two roles: Nurse Aide I and Nurse Aide II. Nurse Aide I nurses prepare meals, clean healthcare rooms, and help patients with personal hygiene. North Carolina's Division of Health Service Regulation approves Nurse Aide I educational programs and grants licenses for these professionals to work in specific industries such as adult care and nursing homes. Depending on where they work, Nurse Aide I nurses may need a specific license or certification. Nurse Aide II nurses perform Nurse Aide I tasks plus caring for patients, including administering IVs, oxygen, and catheters. To be Nurse Aide II eligible, applicants must be current Nurse Aide I nurses and complete an approved Nurse Aide II program. RN or LPN students may apply for Nurse Aide II licensure while completing their degree.

North Carolina Licensure Requirements

  • Education: Complete either a Nurse Aide I or Nurse Aide II approved program, depending on which licensure the nurse assistant wants
  • Additional Clinical Hours: Fulfilled in Nurse Aide II program
  • Exams: None
  • Renewal Frequency: Every 24 months
  • Continuing Education: None
Licensed Practical Nurse LPNs must complete an approved nursing program in North Carolina. Out-of-state students must send an official final transcript to NCBON directly through their institution. LPNs usually complete associate degrees which take three semesters to complete, including all clinical hours required for licensure. Applicants seeking licensure for the first time must pass the NCLEX-PN and apply for licensure at least four weeks before graduating. LPNs pay a $75 application fee. During the application process, students submit their fingerprints and undergo a criminal background check. Some previous convictions lead to application denials, though applicants may appeal the denial.

North Carolina Licensure Requirements

  • Education: ADN
  • Additional Clinical Hours: Fulfilled in degree program
  • Exams: NCLEX
  • Renewal Frequency: Every two years ending on the last day of your birth month
  • Continuing Education: Fifteen credits within the past two years if a nurse works for 640 hours; 30 within the past two years if not
Registered Nurse RNs follow a similar track as LPNs in North Carolina, though they may complete more schooling. Instead of enrolling in a practical nurse program, students enroll in a two-year RN associate degree or four-year BSN degree. Accredited, in-state programs satisfy all prerequisites for NCLEX-RN eligibility and licensure eligibility. As with the LPN application process, RN applicants apply for and take the NCLEX-RN at least four weeks before graduating. Nurse applicants who do not pass the NCLEX-RN on their first try are eligible to take the NCLEX-PN. Before doing so, applicants must complete an NCBON workshop on practical nursing. Next, applicants submit fingerprints, undergo a criminal background check, and pay a $75 application fee.

North Carolina Licensure Requirements

  • Education: ADN or BSN
  • Additional Clinical Hours: NCLEX
  • Exams: content_here
  • Renewal Frequency: Biennially by the end of your birth month
  • Continuing Education: Either 30 credits within the two-year renewal period or 15 credits and 640 hours during the same timeframe
Nurse Practitioner NPs in North Carolina apply for an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license as an NP through NCBON. While NCBON grants licenses, NPs are jointly regulated by NCBON and the North Carolina Medical Board. Along with possessing a current RN license in North Carolina or a Nurse Licensure Compact state, NPs must complete at least a master's degree or post-master's certificate in a specialized nursing field. Before applying, NPs must also obtain certification for their specialized field through a national credentialing body. North Carolina accepts certification from ANCC, AANP, AACN, NCC, and PNCB. NPs need 50 contact hours each year to renew their license. Of the 50 contact hours, a national accreditation body or an institution of higher education must approve at least 20 credits.

North Carolina Licensure Requirements

Online Nursing Degree Programs and Licensing in North Carolina FAQs

What nursing field makes the most money?

Between CNAs, LPNs, RNs, and NPs, NPs earn the most. NPs who pursue certain specializations can boost their income even higher.

Can someone become a nurse in two years?

Yes, though some nursing positions require more education. In general, RNs must complete two years of schooling. LPNs and nurse assistants require even less schooling.

How should I choose what nursing field to go into?

Depending on the type of nurse you plan to become, you select your nursing field when choosing an educational program. For example, NPs select their specialty when enrolling in a program.

Does an online nursing degree have the same value as an on-campus degree?

Yes, so long as you earn your degree from an accredited and state-approved program. Nurses learn skills during clinical practice, and must complete these hours in person.

How long does it take to get an RN license in North Carolina?

An RN license takes as little as two years to earn in North Carolina. However, many RNs choose to earn a four-year BSN to increase their income.

North Carolina Nurse Salaries and Employment Trends

Regardless of the type of nurse you plan to become, projections show a need for more nurses over the next decade. The nursing shortage is part of the reason North Carolina projects a high growth rate. The nursing shortage is affecting many states, though projections show a need for thousands of qualified RNs in North Carolina by 2030.

According to the BLS, all types of nurses in North Carolina earn less than the average U.S. nurse, though lower wages do not necessarily mean a lower standard of living. Also, mean salaries represent all nurses within that field, so potential wages could be higher.

Keep in mind that potential salaries and projected job growth depend on various factors and no amount of education guarantees a specific salary or job.

Nurse Salary and Projected Job Growth in North Carolina, by Type

  Annual Mean Wage Projected Job Growth(2016-2026)
Certified Nurse Assistant $25,570 8.4%
Licensed Practical Nurse $44,610 5.0%
Registered Nurse $64,850 15.7%
Nurse Practitioner $104,100 35.8%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Projections Central

Annual Mean Nurse Wages in Nearby States

  Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse Nurse Practitioner
U.S. $29,580 $47,050 $75,510 $110,030
Virginia $28,770 $44,850 $69,790 $105,170
Tennessee $26,400 $40,120 $61,320 $95,990
Georgia $25,870 $41,690 $68,950 $106,750
South Carolina $25,390 $40,890 $64,940 $99,910

Source: BLS

Certified Nurse Assistant

CNAs require as little as one month of education, but they earn the least among the four nursing types. In North Carolina, CNAs earn an annual mean wage of $25,570, lower than the U.S. mean wage of $29,580. However, Projections Central projects an 8.4% job growth for CNAs in North Carolina. A nurse assistant position serves as an excellent bridge while completing an RN program.

Licensed Practical Nurse

LPNs need more education than nurse assistants, and the increased wages reflect the additional schooling requirements. According to the BLS, LPNs in North Carolina earn a mean wage of $44,610, though this is lower than the U.S. mean wage for LPNs. Jobs for LPNs in North Carolina are projected to grow 5%, the lowest of any nursing type.

Registered Nurse

Projections Central projects a 15.7% job growth for RNs over the next decade, well above projections for CNAs and LPNs. RNs also earn higher wages than those nursing types. According to the BLS, RNs in North Carolina earn an annual mean wage of $64,850. With the nursing shortage projected to affect North Carolina, some healthcare facilities might pay more for qualified nurses.

Nurse Practitioner

Due to strict educational requirements, NPs earn the highest wages of these four nursing types. While lower than the U.S. mean wage, the $104,100 mean wage for NPs in North Carolina surpasses mean wages for NPs in Tennessee and South Carolina. Projections show a significant increase in NP jobs over the coming decade, making this a safe, high-paying option for nurses.

Nursing Resources for North Carolina

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