Growing up in the Midwest, private school was not something I naturally considered attending. Both of my parents attended public, Big 10 universities, so it only felt normal to attend one myself. Although I started my first bachelors in a private school, I ended up transferring to a Big 10 university for both my first bachelors and my BSN. In fact, I never even understood the hype of private schools until I moved to the East coast. The East coast loves their private schools, beginning from kindergarten. It seems youth are strongly encouraged to attend private universities from conception. So, what does this mean for nursing students? Well, I will relish you with some facts and also some experience.

What is in a rank?

According to the US News and World report rankings 2016-2017, 7 of the top 10 bachelors of nursing schools are private. What does a ranking mean exactly? The first concept to note, is that schools are not automatically entered into the rankings. Administration from universities makes a decision whether or not to enter the ring. Therefore, do not forget there are still quality schools that have not been entered into the competition. Otherwise, rankings are typically based on a combination of the following factors:

• Admission selectivity, meaning the average GPA of the students admitted.
• Faculty credentials, universities with more instructors holding terminal degrees (PhDs and DNPs) will rank higher.
• Technology, meaning schools with simulation labs and access to large teaching facilities will be more competitive.
• Peer reputation, meaning “word of mouth.” This data comprises surveys from high-ranking nursing officials that basically says, “I hear (insert school name here) has a great nursing school.” Schools with a better reputation will rank higher.

Surprisingly, peer reputation accounts for 20% of the US News and world report ranking. I can see the benefit of the peer reputation portion to account for concepts that cannot be measured through data collection, I can also see a great potential for bias. Schools with big names will likely always be at the top perpetuating each other’s reputations. Also, regarding the faculty credential portion, terminal degrees are important. However, the best instructor I’ve ever had was Master’s educated. She accomplished more in her career than most could ever hope. Not only that, she cared about my class as future nurses and people. On the flip side, I have had doctorally prepared professors who could not relate or adequately profess much of anything. Therefore, I’m not trying to say one is better than the other, but I am trying to say, consider the big picture. For what I consider a more non-bias ranking system, consider these school rankings which are based on affordability, accessibility, quality, and NCLEX pass rate.

What is in a name?

I started working at a very fancy institution three years ago and worked there for about two years in the cardiovascular surgical intensive care unit as an RN. I did not think much about the name when I started working there, it just happened to be where I was able to get a job. Then, when I started telling people where my job was, I heard things like, “wow, what an incredible institution,” and people would email or call me asking me about the research and practices of this institution. Additionally, my brother, who lives on the West coast, could tell people where I was working, and everyone automatically placed my intelligence one step higher than the rest without ever meeting me. So, these are the great things about a name. Normally, big names are doing big things and at the forefront of research and education. But also, you get a little extra credit for the label.

However, playing devils advocate again, I have some experiences to share. First of all, big names come with big egos. It’s a rough world to play in a pen of super chickens hiding behind their fancy name tags. It’s easy to get wrapped up in competition and also easy to forget about providing the best patient care. I have worked around a lot of incredible providers in my fancy hospital, but I have worked with equally as incredible ones at smaller institutions. Once again, I’m not discouraging it, I did it, just be aware.

It’s about the money honey and the diversity

College, in general, is exceedingly expensive. However, many private schools have a hefty price tag in more than one way. Private nursing schools typically cost between $1,000-$2,500 per credit hour. Upon graduation, tuition and living expenses can equal over $150,000. That’s some serious coin, when you consider upon graduation you will likely be making $50,000-$65,000 per year as a new RN.

Another benefit to consider when attending any school is diversity. Schools publish the diversity of their populations and I would encourage you to look. One reason, I have enjoyed the state schools I’ve attended is because the population is generally more diverse than my friends who have attended private schools. When seeking a graduate program, I considered the diversity of the students and my professors. I learn so much more when I am around people unlike myself. Surrounding myself with different backgrounds and cultures makes me a better person and a better nurse.

Once again, this is in general. I do realize Harvard’s admitting class of 2017 is more diverse than ever before, but several of the top, private, nursing schools host predominately white students. So, if this is important to you, be sure to inspect the overall diversity including ethnicity, gender, location, age, and LGBTQ statistics. Also, if you are considering a less diverse university, look into resources to maintain and sustain diversity. For instance, the top ranked nursing school, Johns Hopkins, has a moderately diverse population, but has many resources to make the university inclusive.

Finally, I have another story to top it off. I worked with a nurse once who was notoriously neurotic and particularly abrasive in a fancy hospital. One night shift, myself, another RN, and the cranky RN were charting next to each other. Myself and the other RN both attended public universities for our BSNs, the cranky nurse attended a private school. A conversation arose about methods for paying off student loans, for which I have a plentiful amount. We learned why the cranky nurse was so cranky. She attended a fancy accelerated BSN program and had accrued $125,000 of student loans for the same degree we all had. We were all working on the same unit in the same hospital, with the same letters after our names. She said her student loans were completely humiliating and she was so upset with herself for falling into the private school trap. After listening to her, I really felt for her and think a lot of us feel this way. I certainly do, even with my loans from public schools, but I can’t imagine how I would feel with loans from private schools.

So, what’s the verdict?

There is no doubt that private schools will provide a more than adequate educational experience. If I could have received a scholarship to one, I probably would have attended because, there is no doubt, a name can give you a smidge of extra credit. However, in no way am I disappointed with my education. Full disclosure, I attend a top 10, public university for my graduate program and my complaints are the same as my friends who attend top 10, private schools.

The data is conflicting and not specific to nursing. Some studies say students who attend private school will be more successful. Some studies say it is just because private schools attract more talented students, with better parents, who come from higher socioeconomic statuses. Some studies say public schools are better. However, some data states, it is what you make of yourself and I truly believe this.

The most beautiful ideal of nursing is that you can go from CNA to LPN to ASN to BSN to MSN to DNP/PhD in any manner you choose. You can earn a decent living to maintain a household and help people at the same time. Each degree will fulfill different nursing needs in different institutions in diverse areas all over the country. If you choose, you do not have to pursue further education after becoming an RN because you are just as valuable in different ways than an NP. I cannot express to you enough that it is not about the letters after your name or the privilege of attending a fancy school. It is about your grit, passion, determination, and love for the profession. There will be some nurses who attend private schools who will do extraordinary things, but there are plenty of nurses who attend public schools who will also do extraordinary things. Choose what is right for you, your budget, and your life, and you cannot go wrong.

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