Accreditation and Licensure: What You Need to Know

One of the best ways for a nurse to earn more money is to go back to school. If you are currently a licensed practical nurse (LPN), either becoming an RN or getting a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is a great idea. Many online schools offer LPN to BSN programs which allow you to earn your degree without repeating any classes. Whether you choose to attend classes online or off, it is important to understand how program accreditation works, and how to earn your license after graduation.

What is accreditation?

While researching schools you may have noticed that many colleges and universities advertise their accreditation status. Accreditation is a designation of quality conveyed upon a school by an independent authority. This accreditation mark ensures that students are receiving a first-rate education.

There are two basic types of educational accreditation: 1) institutional, and 2) specialized. Institutional accreditation applies to the entire school, while specialized accreditation applies to a particular program or academic department. For nursing students, accreditation is extremely important because people’s health will be in your hands. You may not learn proper medical techniques if you go attend an unaccredited school. Licensing departments check accreditation when you submit your education information as confirmation that you are prepared to work as a nurse. Many nursing programs are accredited by more than one agency due to the various specializations in the field.

In the United States there are many accrediting agencies. The government maintains a list of regional accrediting organizations as well as a list of nationally-recognized agencies. There are five national agencies and six regional agencies. The map below illustrates the different territories for regional accrediting organizations.

National Agencies

Regional Agencies


You must also make sure that your school is accredited by a nurse-specific agency such as the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Many programs are actually accredited by both. BSN students should simply look for the seal of approval from the NLNAC or the CCNE. Master’s degree candidates may also find specific accrediting agencies for the different MSN  nursing programs. Make sure to verify any accreditation claim you find, especially with online colleges.

How do I know if a school is accredited?

  1. Look at the school’s website and see if they claim to be accredited by any agencies. Go to the contact information to locate the school’s location.
  2. Visit the United States Department of Education’s database of accredited post-secondary institutions and programs. Select the state in which the school is located. Search for the school’s name to determine if the institution is accredited and by which agencies.
  3. Search the database by the accrediting agency. This is the best way to verify that the online school is accredited. If you want to know if an online school is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, visit the association’s website and view their list of accredited schools.

Every state requires students to pass an RN exam before becoming officially certified. If you went to an accredited school, you’re on the right track to passing. Accredited nursing schools prepare graduates for the national licensing exam known as the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. If you did not attend an accredited institution, you may not be equipted with specific skills necessary to pass the exam and obtain certification.

How do I become licensed?

Each state controls it’s own specific nursing license requirements. However, all states require that you present passing test scores on your RN exam. After passing the test, you will also need to submit your accredited college’s educational information. This ensures that you have fulfilled all requirements specific to your state. Most state’s will also require that you have completed a certain number of clinical hours. Contact your state’s board of nursing for details or locate their website to find up-to-date information on licensing requirements, rules, and regulations.

Going to an accredited school can mean the difference between long-term success or paying for an education that turns out to be worthless. Use this information to help you in your search to avoid making a costly mistake. Our list of schools below will also help you find accredited programs in your area and online.


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