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Top Pennsylvania Nursing Schools and Programs

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Schools, Licensing Requirements, and Resources

Online nursing programs in Pennsylvania offer various nursing credentials, including certified nurse aide (CNA), licensed practical nurse (LPN), registered nurse (RN), and certified registered nurse practitioners (CRNP). Our guide examines criteria and careers for these credentials, along with information on salaries and employment for those in the field. We also explore online nursing programs in Pennsylvania, including hybrid programs that require campus visits, in addition to professional resources for nurses in the state.

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Why Attend Online Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania colleges and universities offer lower out-of-state tuition than institutions in the nearby states of Delaware and Virginia. Non-resident learners can prepare for state licensure by choosing online nursing programs in Pennsylvania without overpaying.

Earning Pennsylvania nursing credentials can lead to comfortable living wages, particularly since U.S. News & World Report ranks Pennsylvania as the 10th best state for affordability. Other state recognitions include ranking 13th for opportunity and 21st for healthcare. Pennsylvania also counts a shortage of nurses, as of 2019. Combined, these factors indicate career opportunities for candidates who pursue Pennsylvania nursing licensure.

How to Become a Nurse in Pennsylvania

Aspiring nurses across the U.S. must follow essentially the same steps to earn licensure, with some minor state-specific differences. Each state’s board of nursing (BON) reviews applications, sets fees, and establishes application deadlines. The BON oversees any other state-specific variations to normal procedure. For example, the Pennsylvania BON reviews new graduates’ temporary practice permit applications and NCLEX-RN registrations. Keep reading to learn more about the path to nursing licensure in the Keystone State.

  • 1. Choose the Path That’s Right for You

    Candidates should consider all nursing degrees in Pennsylvania to determine which option fits their goals. An associate degree in nursing (ADN), for instance, requires about two years of coursework. ADN graduates may earn entry-level positions or take the NCLEX.

    A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) often calls for four years of classes and fieldwork, and prepares students, including out-of-state students, for registered nurse (RN) licenses. Individuals who already hold RN licenses may choose RN-to-BSN programs to secure nursing positions with managerial or observational tasks.

    Candidates can pursue a master of science in nursing (MSN) to work in advanced roles, such as an NP. MSN degrees may take two or more years to earn. However, the minimum requirement for NPs may increase to a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) by 2025. The DNP may take up to six years to finish.

  • 2. Earn Your Nursing Degree

    Whether you are new to nursing or hoping to advance your career, nursing schools in Pennsylvania offer campus-based or online nursing degrees at every academic level. Consider online nursing degrees that match your career goals and make sure you meet prerequisites for entry. Hands-on learning experiences remain key in nursing education.

    Individuals should note that clinical requirements often vary significantly. Investigate onsite requirements carefully and ensure that you can manage them, particularly if you plan to attend nursing school online. Most online nursing degrees allow you to complete clinical hours at a nearby medical facility. Accelerated nursing programs in Pennsylvania can lead to a degree in a few months. An online BSN program in Pennsylvania typically lasts four years.

  • 3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License

    Nursing schools in Pennsylvania design their curriculum to prepare graduates for the NCLEX-RN exam after graduation. The computer-based exam consists of multiple-choice questions that respond to your performance as you progress through the material. The exam’s intuitive structure results in tests of varying lengths, but no exam lasts longer than six hours. After you finish an RN or BSN program in Pennsylvania, you must apply online for Pennsylvania professional licensing. You may register for the NCLEX-RN exam when you receive approval. Passing the exam grants you license to practice, but it does not guarantee your employment.

Online Nursing Degree Programs in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania nursing licensure typically requires you to complete a nursing degree or program. Choosing online nursing schools in Pennsylvania helps degree-seekers ensure that coursework reflects state standards for licensure or certification. In-state healthcare organizations may also recognize Pennsylvania schools for quality more easily than out-of-state options, particularly if these organizations have positive experiences with previous graduates.

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

Coursework for on-campus and online nursing programs in Pennsylvania varies among institutions and may reflect degree level and specialization. As examples, a doctoral student explores more advanced concepts than a bachelor’s learner, and a pediatric specialty addresses early development more than a geriatric focus. The following topics, however, appear in most types of online RN or nursing programs in Pennsylvania.

Health Assessment

Degree-seekers learn to evaluate patients’ health through medical records and physical examinations. Courses prioritize problem-solving and analytical skills and may explore cultural, social, and psychological elements that impact care.

Pharmacology

Courses address classifications of medication. Students may also examine side effects, reactions, purposes, and safety concerns related to each medication. Other course topics include dosage calculations and the nurse’s role in healthcare.

Nursing Research

Students learn about qualitative and quantitative research for nursing practices. Departments cover the significance of research on nursing professions, highlight evidence-based practice, and require a research project.

How Do Online Nursing Degree Programs Work?

Online nursing schools in Pennsylvania offer online and hybrid programs. Hybrid programs offer most courses online but may require on-campus attendance for certain classes, seminars, labs, or orientations. Both program types call for in-person clinical experience and can prepare for Pennsylvania nursing licensure.

Online programs offer professionals with family and community commitments more flexibility than on-campus programs. This flexibility increases if the program includes asynchronous courses without set attendance times. Pennsylvania schools offer online BSN, MSN, and DNP programs.

Virtual programs typically require the same admission and graduation components as traditional options. Program duration depends on the degree level. An associate takes around two years to complete, while a bachelor’s requires four years. Graduate programs can add 2-9 additional years of education. However, learners should strongly consider advanced degrees for higher licenses, especially since the minimum educational requirement for NPs may increase to a doctorate.

Nursing Licensure in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing oversees Pennsylvania nursing licensure and certification. These credentials qualify individuals for careers as RNs and NPs. As of May 2018, the mean annual wage for all careers in Pennsylvania was $50,030. RNs in the state averaged over $20,000 more than this, and NPs averaged almost twice as much. These salaries indicate that pursuing licensure or certification in the state can lead to a lucrative career.

Each nursing credential includes unique application requirements. Candidates should research required licenses for their career goals to determine which credentials they need.

Applicants should also consider professional opportunities within the state to determine which careers best suit their goals. For instance, NPs in Pennsylvania experience reduced practice rights, which indicates limits on professional practice. Reduced rights states, however, allow more practice freedom than areas with restricted rights.

State Requirements by Nursing Type

Requirements for Pennsylvania nursing licensure and certification vary by credential. The following chart illustrates application and renewal criteria for the CNA, LPN, RN, and CRNP credentials.

  • Certified Nurse Aide

    Earning a CNA credential in Pennsylvania requires a training program. Training must involve at least 80 hours, including 37.5 hours of clinical fieldwork with supervision.

    The board also requires criminal background checks through the state police and FBI background reports for individuals who have lived outside of Pennsylvania within the last two years. Applicants must also undergo a check-up to verify they have no contagious diseases or tuberculosis.

    Certification calls for passing scores on Pearson Vue’s NNAAP examination. This test includes multiple-choice questions and physical demonstrations of nursing skills. Applicants have two years after completing the training program to take the NNAAP Examination, but must be at least 16 years old before testing.

    NNAAP registration costs $102. Candidates who do not pass the exam after three attempts must re-enter a training program.

    Successful applicants receive registry cards to verify placement on the state’s registry. This credential expires after two years.

    Pennsylvania Licensure Requirements

  • Licensed Practical Nurse

    Applicants for an LPN license must complete a board-approved practical nursing program that includes 1,500 hours earned within at least one year. Candidates may complete these programs at locations such as schools and medical facilities. Each applicant must be at least 18 years old, boast U.S. residency or evidence of pursuing citizenship, submit an application with a $95 fee, and complete at least three training hours related to child abuse.

    The board considers the applicant’s character when making licensing decisions. Candidates must also submit to criminal background checks for all states of residency from the previous 10 years or supply an FBI report with a background check from their current state.

    Other LPN requirements include passing NCLEX scores. The practical nurse version of this exam includes 85-205 questions that test-takers must complete in five hours. Registration costs $200. LPN licenses expire every other year. Renewal applicants whose licenses have been inactive for five years must verify competency, based on the board’s current standards.

    Pennsylvania Licensure Requirements

    • Education: Candidates must complete a practical nursing program that includes 1,500 hours or a program of similar quality.

    • Additional Clinical Hours: The board requires no additional clinical hours for licensure.

    • Exams: Individuals can take the NCLEX.

    • Renewal Frequency: The board requires LPN renewal every other year.

    • Continuing Education: Candidates must verify competency through board-approved means after five years of inactivity.

  • Registered Nurse

    The RN license requires graduation from a related program, such as a bachelor-level online RN program in Pennsylvania. For out-of-state applicants, the board accepts a master’s, associate, or diploma that reflects nursing bachelor’s criteria. Applicants must also complete approved training related to child abuse recognition.

    Requirements also include criminal background checks from all recent residency states or a report from the applicant’s current state with an FBI report. Individuals must also submit an application and a $95 fee to apply for the RN license.

    The board requires NCLEX-RN scores for this Pennsylvania nursing licensure process. Test-takers complete as many as 265 questions in six hours during this test, but can only register after earning board-approval. Registration for the NCLEX-RN costs $200.

    Licenses expire every other year and require 30 continuing education hours for renewal.

    Pennsylvania Licensure Requirements

    • Education: RN licenses require applicants to finish RN programs. For out-of-state candidates, programs must include BSN components.

    • Additional Clinical Hours: Candidates do not need additional clinical hours.

    • Exams: Applicants should pass the NCLEX.

    • Renewal Frequency: Renewal occurs every other year.

    • Continuing Education: The board requires 30 continuing education hours for renewal.

  • Nurse Practitioner

    RNs can apply for the CRNP credential after earning a nursing degree, such as a master’s. The CRNP also calls for certification through a national agency like the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the National Certification Corporation, or the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation. National NP certifications often reflect specialties, such as geriatrics or pediatrics, and require criteria like standardized tests and field experience.

    CRNP applicants must also complete training for child abuse recognition, undergo criminal background checks, and submit a $100 application fee.

    To obtain initial prescriptive authority, individuals must apply with a $95 fee and complete coursework related to opioids and pharmacology. This authority also requires a collaborative agreement with a licensed doctor. This agreement outlines what medications the NP can prescribe and how involved the doctor will be with the NP’s patients.

    Renewal must occur every other year and mandates 30 continuing education hours. For candidates with prescriptive authority, 16 of these hours must relate to topics like pharmacology, addiction, and opioids.

    Pennsylvania Licensure Requirements

    • Education: CRNP applicants need an advanced degree and a national certification.

    • Additional Clinical Hours: National certifications may call for clinical hours.

    • Exams: Candidates should take the NCLEX. National certifications may also mandate certification exams.

    • Renewal Frequency: Nurses must renew every two years.

    • Continuing Education: Candidates must complete 30 continuing education hours.

Online Nursing Degree Programs and Licensing in Pennsylvania FAQ

  • What Is a Good Specialty for Nursing?

    The right specialty depends on career goals. For example, a psychiatric specialty prepares graduates for mental health nursing jobs. Other options include pediatrics, geriatrics, and family practice. The ideal specialty prepares a candidate for their intended career.

  • How Should I Choose What Nursing Field to Go Into?

    Individuals should choose a nursing field that reflects their objectives and interests. Candidates can also consider job growth and average salaries to determine which nursing fields are generally the most lucrative.

  • Does an Online Nursing Degree Have the Same Value as an On-Campus Degree?

    On-campus and online nursing programs in Pennsylvania typically require the same courses and field experiences. Degrees and transcripts from online programs may also look the same as traditional documents, with no mention of online delivery, so employers value both delivery methods equally.

  • How Hard Is It to Get Into Nursing School in Pennsylvania?

    Admission requirements vary by school and degree level. However, bachelor’s and graduate programs often mandate an RN license and a minimum GPA of 2.75-3.0. Other requirements may include clinical experience and recommendation letters.

  • Is Pennsylvania a Nurse Compact State?

    Pennsylvania does not currently participate in the nurse licensure compact (NLC) but currently awaits legislation for entry. Should the state enter this agreement, Pennsylvania nurses could practice in other NLC states, and vice versa.

Pennsylvania Nurse Salaries and Employment Trends

The average salary for CNAs in Pennsylvania is more than $1,000 higher than the national average. LPNs in the state also average more than their peers across the U.S. However, the average U.S. income for RNs and NPs surpasses wages in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania residents should consider more advanced nursing careers for greater salary and employment opportunities. Specifically, NPs take home mean annual wages of nearly $100,000, and growth projections indicate an increase of more than 30% in these positions. Candidates should also consider LPN positions since Pennsylvania currently experiences a shortage of these workers. However, several factors affect salary and employment growth, and employment or income level is not guaranteed by earning degrees or credentials.

Nurse Salary and Projected Job Growth in Pennsylvania, by Type

  Annual Mean Wage Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)
Certified Nurse Aide $30,630 10.0%
Licensed Practical Nurse $48,120 9.2%
Registered Nurse $70,390 13.4%
Nurse Practitioner $98,250 30.5%

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

Annual Mean Nurse Wages in Nearby States

  Certified Nurse Aide Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse Nurse Practitioner
United States $29,580 $47,050 $75,510 $110,030
New York $37,010 $48,770 $85,610 $120,970
New Jersey $30,380 $56,290 $82,750 $122,100
Delaware $30,780 $52,860 $74,800 $108,340
Maryland $31,310 $63,650 $76,820 $115,060
West Virginia $26,410 $36,770 $61,780 $100,690
Ohio $27,570 $43,430 $66,820 $101,970

Source: BLS

Certified Nurse Assistant


Pennsylvania’s annual mean wages for CNAs surpass related figures for Ohio, New Jersey, West Virginia, and the U.S. However, candidates who pursue more advanced credentials can increase their in-state earnings. RNs in the state, for instance, average more than twice as much as CNAs. BLS projects nurse aide positions in Pennsylvania to grow by 10%, which is a higher projection than for LPNs in the state.

Licensed Practical Nurse


LPNs in Pennsylvania took home mean annual wages of $48,120 in 2018, which is lower than the 2018 average for all careers in the state ($50,030) and the national figure ($52,145). Pennsylvania’s LPNs, however, earn higher averages than their peers in Ohio or West Virginia. Earnings can vary among industries, with the government offering the highest median pay, and also increase with experience.

Registered Nurse


Annual mean wages for RNs in Pennsylvania ($70,390) exceed figures for RNs in Ohio and West Virginia, as well as the 2018 average income for all occupations in the country. However, RNs in Pennsylvania have lower higher mean annual wages than their counterparts in nearby states like New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. To increase earnings, RNs can pursue careers in high-paying industries.

Nurse Practitioner


NPs in Pennsylvania average $98,250, which nearly doubles the 2018 average income for all U.S. workers. The Pennsylvania average does rank lower than RN averages for the U.S. and all other states noted in the previous chart. Candidates should consider that salary expectations increase with experience. For instance, NPs with 20 years of experience average about $15,000 more per year than individuals who are first entering the profession.

Nursing Resources for Pennsylvania

  • Pennsylvania State Nurses Association PSNA members can participate in continuing education opportunities, webinars, and in-person events, along with publishing articles in the Pennsylvania Nurse journal. The group's career center also lists relevant career opportunities.
  • Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners PCNP delivers a yearly conference and a Student Symposium featuring speakers and exhibitors. The coalition's career center lists local positions and offers resume guidance for nursing careers.
  • Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing This resource explains Pennsylvania nursing licensure processes for different credentials. Candidates can apply for these licenses and certifications through the site, and also explore license and certification renewal.
  • Student Nurses' Association of Pennsylvania Members of the association may participate in the LEAD Workshop and attend the Capitol Hill Step by Step program. The group also delivers a yearly conference, with NCLEX preparation and workshops, and offers scholarships and awards.
  • Nursing Foundation of Pennsylvania NFP offers several nursing scholarships, including a military scholarship, and provides the Chad F. Cope Memorial Fund to help organizations that assist veterans. Candidates can also attend the Annual Black and Gold Gala.

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Advertisement NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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