September 26, 2022

10 Best Nursing Schools in Illinois

To become a nurse, individuals first need to earn an education. Students that choose to earn a nursing degree in Illinois are in luck since it’s among the top states in the nation for nurses.

There’s no shortage of quality schools in Illinois. Illinois’ prime location in the middle of the nation and on Lake Michigan has made it a center for business. The state’s rich history also includes many renowned schools, many of which have top nursing programs.

But before you can begin your nursing career in Illinois, you need to become a registered nurse (RN). And to get the best jobs, it’s smart to get a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), at the very least. To maximize your chance of a job in Illinois, it’s best to study in the state to gain valuable connections and complete state-specific requirements.


This is a panel-reviewed selection based on a number of factors including,

  • Reputation

  • NCLEX pass rate

  • Tuition

  • Acceptance rate, when available

  • Only ACEN or CCNE accredited schools are eligible 

Nurse Panel

Our selection panel includes 5 Registered Nurses with over 55 years of combined nursing experience and 7 nursing degrees.

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS

  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN

  • Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN

  • Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

  • Leah Helmbrecht, BSN, RN

Because nursing careers take different forms, the top 10 Illinois nursing schools are ranked in no particular order.

Top 10 Nursing Schools in Illinois 

Chicago is home to many private schools that have developed a strong reputation for their nursing programs. A few state schools have also established themselves as regional and national leaders for nursing education.

Here is our selection of Illinois' top 10 nursing schools. 

1. DePaul University

Annual Tuition: $42,411 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 90%

Traditional: No

Online: Yes

Accelerated: No

Bridge: Yes

Based in the middle of Chicago, DePaul University is the nation’s largest Catholic school. Their mission statement says they focus on education, and while that might sound obvious, their nursing schools show why. Though DePaul does not offer a traditional BSN program, it does offer a five-year combined BS and MSN program. Current RNs can also choose to bypass their BSN entirely and enroll in the RN to MSN program, something that most schools don’t offer. You’ll have to pay to go to this private school, but the nursing options are vast.

2. Saint Xavier University

Annual Tuition: $34,640 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 77%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: Yes

Bridge: Yes

As you might have guessed, Saint Xavier University is another Chicago-based Catholic school. And, as you might also have guessed, SXU is home to one of Illinois’ top nursing programs. Students can choose from a traditional BSN, an online RN to BSN, or a second degree BSN. An MSN is also offered by SXU, both as an entire program and as graduate certificates. Nursing scholarships are offered to help cover tuition, too, so this can end up being an affordable degree for some students. Saint Xavier University has earned the prestigious center of excellence in nursing education from the national league of nursing every year since 2007.

3. University of Illinois at Chicago

Annual In-State Tuition: $11,900 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 80%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: No

Bridge: Yes

Not only is the University of Illinois at Chicago home to one of the top nursing programs in the state, but they also offer in-state tuition to Illinois residents. That makes earning a traditional BSN here much more affordable than other schools. There are also six campuses available to nursing students spread out through Northern and Central Illinois including Chicago, Peoria, Quad Cities, Rockford, Springfield, and Urbana. Some first-year students can also get guaranteed admission into the College of Nursing, so you could know if you’re set to become a nurse before you start your freshman year. Also, don’t worry about the relatively low NCLEX pass rate; this doesn’t represent the overall quality of the program. 

4. Elmhurst College

Annual Tuition: $39,862 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 77%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: Yes

Bridge: Yes

As a college (rather than a university), Elmhurst is going to have much smaller class sizes than you’d see at other schools. However, as a college, you can practically be guaranteed that what they offer is well worth the tuition. Elmhurst’s Department of Nursing has six main programs including three at the undergraduate level and three at the graduate level. These programs include, 

The MENP is meant for students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree who would prefer to earn a master’s degree instead of another bachelor’s degree. 

5. University of St. Francis

Annual Tuition: $36,000 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 86%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: No

Bridge: Yes

Yet another Catholic school, the University of St. Francis sets itself apart from others in two ways: they aren’t based in Chicago and they have a unique BSN program. The traditional BSN boasts an impressive NCLEX pass rate, likely due to the emphasis on experiential learning. Students are connected to the field they’re most interested in, such as long-term care or mental health, and are allowed to gain clinical experience. If there’s a specific nursing niche you’re interested in, then St. Francis is definitely worth considering. 

6. Loyola University Chicago

Annual Tuition: $48,100 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 89%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: Yes

Bridge: Yes

Yes, the tuition rate at Loyola University Chicago is quite steep, but that’s the price you pay when you want to study at one of the top private, Catholic schools in the nation. Loyola Chicago has an incredible network of local hospitals and healthcare facilities you can gain clinical experience at while earning your BSN. However, clinical locations are assigned at random, so don’t go in expecting to wind up at your favorite childhood hospital. Also, if you plan right or take an extra semester, you could even spend some time studying at Loyola Chicago’s campus in Rome, Italy! Most recently, the Sisters of the Resurrection gave a $4 million endowment that supports scholarships for students in the CARE (Collaboration, Access, Resources, and Equity) Pathway increasing the ability for students from diverse backgrounds to attend this prestigious program. 

7. Illinois State University

Annual In-State Tuition: $15,416 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 96%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: Yes

Bridge: No

Illinois State University is relatively small for a public school with only 18,000 undergraduate students. This means students can get a small school atmosphere without the high costs of private schooling. For nursing students, particularly BSN students, small classes often mean more attention from professors. Of course, small classes won’t mean much to students earning the online RN to BSN, online Master’s in Nursing Systems Administration, or online DNP. But the small class sizes could be one of the reasons graduates tend to pass the NCLEX at such a high rate.

8. Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing

Annual Tuition: $20,430 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 82%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: Yes

Bridge: Yes

The name says it all. Not to be confused with another school by a similar name on this list, Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing offers just about every type of nursing degree you can think of. But before you apply to the BSN program, you should be aware that SFMC doesn’t offer any of the required liberal arts courses. Instead, students will need to complete all of their pre-requisite courses at a different accredited institution. After two years of school, students can transfer into SFMC to complete a comprehensive nursing degree. The college also offers the opportunity for qualified students who have completed their junior year of high school to apply for early acceptance to the College.

9. Lewis University

Annual Tuition: $36,320 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 97%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: No

Bridge: Yes

With a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1, nursing students will get a more personalized education at Lewis University. The highlight of Lewis’ nursing program is the traditional BSN, a program that consistently sees graduates pass the NCLEX with a rate of over 90%. Lewis gets to tap into Chicago’s extensive network of healthcare facilities, so students could end up getting the clinical experience that relates directly to their career goals. Also, considering Lewis University is a private, Catholic school based in Chicago, the annual tuition rate could be much worse. 

10. Illinois Wesleyan University

Annual Tuition: $53,610 | NCLEX Pass Rate: 74%

Traditional: Yes

Online: Yes

Accelerated: Yes

Bridge: Yes

The tuition looks high, but, on average, Illinois Wesleyan University students earn enough in scholarships and grants to cover over half the tuition. This can make earning a BSN from Illinois Wesleyan pretty affordable. But the coolest thing about the school is the BSN program. The curriculum is structured so nursing students can study abroad and still graduate on time. Minors in health, human services management, and Hispanic studies are also available to BSN students. This degree is unlike any other, and plenty of students can find a reason to like what Illinois Wesleyan is offering. 

4 Key Factors That Affect Nursing School Tuition

Keep in mind that colleges and universities reserve the right to change tuition rates at any time. The yearly tuition rates listed here will vary for each individual student depending on various factors including,

  • Transfer credits

  • Completed competency exams

  • Amount of credits taken per year

  • Financial aid awards

Check with the specific school for current tuition rates.

Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

  • There were 129,260 registered nurses (RN) employed in Illinois in 2021 making it one of the top employers for nurses.

  • Nurses in Illinois earned a median wage of $78,260, slightly higher than the national median of $77,300. 

Students that choose to study in Illinois are priming themselves for a career in-state in two ways:

  1. Illinois schools structure their curriculum to meet Illinois’ standards for nursing.

  2. Many universities have close connections with local hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Also, many schools are in the Chicago area, easily the largest city in Illinois. Living in urban areas can make networking and finding a job much easier.

However, before starting a career in Illinois, nurses must first pass the NCLEX to become an RN. Also, many hospitals and healthcare environments are expecting nurses to have a minimum of a BSN.

Next Steps:

After reviewing colleges and finding some that feel like a good fit, you’ll want to begin the application process. This can be a long process, but you’ll want to make sure you’re picking the perfect school for you.

  1. Contact each school’s admissions offices. You won’t want to waste any time applying to schools you won’t be eligible for. Get in contact with admissions representatives early to make sure you’re eligible.

  2. Check each nursing programs’ admission requirements. Typically, students will have to meet additional requirements to be eligible for nursing school. You will probably be expected to have a GPA of 2.75 or higher, and you’ll need to complete prerequisite courses prior to applying. 

  3. Prepare your application. Application requirements will vary from school to school, but most schools will require:

  • ACT and/or SAT scores

  • High school transcript (GPA)

  • College entrance essay(s)

  • Letter(s) of recommendation

Additional materials may be required, so check with the admissions office early on during the process.

If at any point you feel confused or lost, contact an admissions representative. Their job is to help you through the application process. 

Important considerations when comparing schools: 

A high NCLEX pass rate may be tempting, but that doesn’t guarantee that any graduate will pass the NCLEX the following year. It’s tempting to judge schools exclusively on one or two factors, but you need to spend time looking at each school’s benefits. Some factors to consider include:

  • Annual tuition and total nursing program cost

  • Financial aid, scholarships, and grants offered

  • Cost of living on-campus or in the area

  • Distance from hospitals

  • School and nursing program acceptance rate

  • NCLEX pass rate

  • Type of program (BSN or associate degree)

  • Program outcomes

  • School’s accreditation (regional and national)

Why you should care about the nursing program’s accreditation  

To be eligible for federal financial aid and the NCLEX, you need to earn a BSN from an accredited university. Earning a degree at a non-accredited school could make finding a job incredibly difficult. 

The two nursing accreditation organizations to look for are

If a school is accredited by one of these institutions, then its nursing program adheres to strict national standards.

Getting a License in Illinois

Illinois isn’t yet part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) but their legislation is pending, so the licensing requirements already meet eNLC standards. 

To become licensed, you’ll need to:

  • Take and pass the  NCLEX-RN

  • Pass a criminal background check

  • Apply to become a nurse in Illinois

While you can become a nurse in Illinois while studying in another state, the safest bet is to study at an Illinois school. Until Illinois officially becomes a member of the eNLC, studying out of state isn’t worth the risk if your goal is to work in Illinois. However, it is important to note that if you do attend an accredited university out of state you can take the NCLEX in Illinois. Just to keep in mind!


Thousands of nurses work in Illinois, and many more jobs are going to open up in the future. Students who earn a degree in Illinois typically gain clinical experience at some of the top healthcare institutions in the area, helping them form connections that could lead to a job. There are tons of great schooling options, so it’s up to you to pick the program that’s best for you!



State of Illinois Nurse eLicense