Before you can work as a nurse in the United States, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This guide lists the top states with the highest NCLEX pass rates for first-time test-takers, averaged over the past five years.
Compare NCLEX pass rates by state to find out where nurses are best prepared to practice.
What Is the NCLEX Exam?
The NCLEX is a standardized test that measures whether nursing school graduates have the necessary preparation and critical thinking skills to work as entry-level nurses. Candidates take either the NCLEX-PN to become licensed practical nurses or the NCLEX-RN to become registered nurses (RNs) to qualify for licensure by their state regulatory board.
Both exams cover nursing knowledge and practice readiness in four focus areas: safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.
According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the NCLEX pass rate for 2022 was 79.9.%. But, as this guide reports, some states boast much higher first-time NCLEX pass rates.
Top 5 States With the Highest NCLEX Pass Rates Over Five Years
The NCLEX results by state show pass rates for first-time test-takers averaged over the past five years. Although each state sets its own pass rate requirement for licensure, the overall national NCLEX pass rate offers an important benchmark for program quality and nursing preparedness.
The following section highlights the five states with the top pass rates including some of the factors that contribute to their high ranking over the past five years.
1. New Hampshire
- NCLEX Pass Rate Average (2017-2021): 94.58%
- RN-Associate Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 92.8%
- RN-Bachelor Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 93.8%
- Total Number of Candidates (2021): 767
New Hampshire boasts the highest NCLEX pass rate average in the U.S., over 14% higher than the national average. In 2022, five of the state’s eight bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs reported first-time pass rates above 90%, including a 100% rate for Plymouth State University. In the same year, the state’s nine RN associate nursing programs all reported pass rates well above the national average, ranging from 80%-94.87%.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), New Hampshire employed 12,890 registered nurses in May 2021, providing just over 20 nurses per 1,000 residents. The healthy employment outlook for nurses in New Hampshire supports the high NCLEX pass rate, motivating nursing graduates to get licensure and enter the field quickly.
Although New Hampshire has kept pace with the demand for nurses, the U.S. Department of Labor projects the state will add over 880 RN positions between 2020 and 2030, an 8.8% increase. The state projects a 58.7% employment increase for RNs with advanced practice training as nurse practitioners, adding 640 positions through 2030.
The annual RN salary of $78,270 ranks 18th in the nation.
- NCLEX Pass Rate Average (2017-2021): 92.74%
- RN-Associate Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 86.8%
- RN-Bachelor Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 90.4%
- Total Number of Candidates (2021): 2,412
Louisiana ranks second among the top five schools for first-time NCLEX pass rates, while dealing with the highest nursing shortage in the nation. The state offers students several high-quality options for nursing education. Louisiana Technical University reports a six-year average NCLEX pass rate of over 97%. First-time NCLEX pass rates at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette have exceeded 95% for the last 38 years.
Louisiana’s nursing shortfall has worsened since the COVID-19 crisis. Recently, the Louisiana State Board of Nursing has developed initiatives to move nurses into the workforce earlier to meet demand, contributing to the high pass rate, according to its 2021 annual report. The state projects the addition of over 2,270 RN positions each year through 2030.
RNs in Louisiana earn an average annual salary of $70,380, which ranks in the bottom half for the U.S. However, the promising employment outlook and low cost of living offset the less competitive earnings. RNs in Louisiana who pursue advanced nursing credentials as nurse practitioners can boost their salaries by over $42,000 a year.
3. North Dakota
- NCLEX Pass Rate Average (2017-2021): 92.36%
- RN-Associate Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 84.4%
- RN-Bachelor Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 91.5%
- Total Number of Candidates (2021): 650
The North Dakota Board of Nursing reported 100% pass rates in 2020-21 for BSN graduates at the University of Mary and Rasmussen University and a 91.5% overall average for all North Dakota nursing programs offering a BSN.
North Dakota projects a 13.9% increase in RN employment through 2030, adding 700 RN positions each year. In response to nursing shortages since the pandemic, the North Dakota Center for Nursing has established the Nurse Staffing Clearinghouse to recruit nursing students and help connect nurses with employers. The high pass rates and the expected demand for RNs reflect the statewide initiatives to enhance career opportunities for nursing graduates.
The annual average salary of $71,200 for North Dakota’s RNs ranks in the lower third for all states. However, the recent efforts to expand job opportunities along with the state’s low tax rate and low cost of living contribute to a positive career outlook for nurses.
- NCLEX Pass Rate Average (2017-2021): 91.36%
- RN-Associate Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 87.5%
- RN-Bachelor Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 88.3%
- Total Number of Candidates (2021): 1,488
Nevada’s overall NCLEX pass rate average of 91.36% reflects ongoing statewide efforts to improve the quality of its nursing programs. In 2022, Great Basin College led the state with a first-time pass rate of 100%, followed by the University of Nevada at Reno with a pass rate of 94.56%.
The Nevada State Board of Nursing has undertaken several initiatives, including a nurse apprenticeship program, to address its nursing shortage. A 2022 study by the Nevada Health Workforce Research Center reports that the state needs more than 4,000 new RNs to meet the national RN-to-population average and that two out of every three residents live in an area with a shortage of primary care providers. The U.S. Department of Labor projects the number of RN positions in Nevada to grow by 23.3% between 2020 and 2030.
The current job market conditions for Nevada’s nurses translate into higher than average salaries. RNs in the state earn a mean annual salary of $88,800, the 10th highest in the nation. RNs with nurse practitioner credentials make considerably more, averaging $123,680 a year.
5. North Carolina
- NCLEX Pass Rate Average (2017-2021): 91.12%
- RN-Associate Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 87.1%
- RN-Bachelor Degree NCLEX Pass Rate (2021): 87.1%
- Total Number of Candidates (2021): 4,645
Several of North Carolina’s undergraduate nursing schools claim NCLEX pass rates in the 90th percentile. Western Carolina University’s BSN program has a 99% three-year average pass rate. East Carolina University has a 97% three-year pass rate followed by Wingate University’s 96% rate.
North Carolina faces a serious nursing shortage, with the demand outweighing supply by more than 10,000 positions over the next decade. Despite a projected increase of 11.5% in RN positions between 2020-2030, nursing salaries in the state continue to run below the national average. The mean annual RN salary of $71,200 ranks 35th in the nation. North Carolina’s nursing shortage has also been impacted by the declining number of qualified nursing faculty which limits student enrollment.
To meet the expected shortfall, the state’s Education Assistance Authority has established the Nurse Education Scholarship Loan Program (NESLP). The NESLP provides forgivable loans to qualified North Carolina residents committed to work as full-time nurses in the state.
The School of Nursing at the University of North Carolina has also begun to address the nursing shortage by increasing enrollment, offering accelerated doctoral programs to train new nursing faculty, and establishing partnerships with healthcare employers.
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Complete List of Average NCLEX Pass Rates by State
This table provides five-year average NCLEX pass rates and RN salary information. Pass rates provide prospective students and others with a useful benchmark of educational quality and nurse preparedness. Nursing accreditation agencies and regulatory bodies use pass rates as a key performance measure.
When comparing data, keep in mind that pass rates not only vary by state but also by nursing programs within a state. Several factors contribute to salary differences across states, including projected demand, cost of living differentials, and employment settings.
|State (including Washington D.C.)||NCLEX Pass Rate Five-Year Average (2017-2021)||Average Salary (2022)|
|District of Columbia||90.16%||$98,540|