Online Nursing Programs

Nursing Degrees in 2019

Nursing remains a demanding profession, and one that continues to grow as the population ages and experienced nurses retire. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of registered nurses (RNs) will rise about 15% between 2016 and 2026. Despite a 3.6% increase in enrollment in 2016, nurses and nursing students remain in high demand.

To address the shortage, hospitals and educators strive to increase funding and provide more opportunities for nurse education. Over the last decade, the number of RN-to-BSN programs and other options for nurse education have steadily increased. Nurses can choose from more educational and degree options than ever before.

An online nursing degree is one such strategy, as online nursing degree programs give students more options for finishing their degree in a timely and cost-effective manner. Online nursing schools allow students to pursue their degrees while working or to receive an education at a lower price. Getting your nursing degree online can launch an exciting career or help you advance your current career. You can refine your skills and specialize without having to sacrifice several years of your life.

Online Nursing Degrees

You can find online nursing programs for every level of degree, from associate to doctoral. Bachelor's degrees remain the most popular as they exist as the most in-demand level of education for most nursing positions. Many online nursing programs exist to help RNs advance their education by completing a bachelor's or master's degree.

An online nursing degree contains clinical components, which students usually complete by working with local hospitals or other medical providers. For RNs who are currently employed, this might even include hours worked in their normal position. Online nursing schools also provide options that on-campus programs don't always offer, including more flexible schedules or cheaper tuition. Some online programs allow for greater flexibility in order to work around established schedules. Others are intensive or accelerated in order to get nurses educated and back to work.

Associate Bachelor's Master's Graduate Certificate Doctorate

DEGREE Associate

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An online associate degree in nursing (ADN) requires 90 credits and usually takes 1-2 years to complete. You can finish in less time by taking more than a full course load each semester or taking summer courses. You generally will not need to complete a clinical rotation, but in order to work as a nurse in any capacity, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam once you finish your program. Regardless of your specific degree, this exam makes you an RN.

This degree prepares you for entry-level nursing positions, but does not provide the training necessary for most specializations. Students learn the basics of nursing, anatomy, and other skills required to do the job. Once in the workplace, individuals bolster their knowledge with hands-on experience.

An online associate degree in nursing allows you to enter the workforce with less of a time or financial investment, so you can see if nursing is a good fit for you. Nurses with a bachelor's degree (BSN) remain in higher demand and offer higher salaries. Many ADNs go on to become BSNs, but this is not always necessary. If you pursue this route, you can likely transfer credits earned during your ADN toward a BSN program, allowing you to finish sooner.

DEGREE Bachelor's

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An online bachelor's degree in nursing is a popular choice because it provides detailed training and a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Students also must have a bachelor's degree to enter more advanced programs. Nurses who desire greater responsibilities and wish to specialize should start with this degree. Typically, a bachelor's degree takes 3-5 years to complete. However, students can often complete an online bachelor's degree in nursing sooner through accelerated and intensive courses.

The BSN remains in greater demand than the ADN. A bachelor's allows you to specialize during your program, which can lead to more niche nursing positions. Beyond what you might learn in an ADN, a BSN explores leadership, the role of information technology in nursing, and administration. Regardless of specialization, BSNs tend to make more money than ADNs. Like the ADN, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam in order to practice in the field.

If you already have an ADN and you're an RN, many schools offer online RN to BSN programs, which help registered nurses finish their bachelor's degree. You must be an RN to qualify for these programs.

DEGREE Master's

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An online master’s in nursing (MSN) is perfect for nurses who want to advance their career or pursue greater specialization within the field. An MSN degree gives you the opportunity to earn a higher salary. Many nurses with an MSN complete the degree to further specialize. Specializations, such as nurse anesthetist, midwife, or nurse educator, allow individuals to further develop skills around their passions. MSN programs cover topics such as clinical decision making, advanced pathophysiology, and nursing over the lifespan of patients. Individuals also takes courses required for a given specialization. The MSN gives nurses a broader knowledge of the medical practice, and also a deeper understanding of the topics they must already know. An MSN is frequently required, or at least preferred, for various leadership positions within nursing. These nurses must be able to manage others and help these nurses continue their educations.

An online nursing master's program usually takes two years to complete for students with a BSN. Students can also choose an RN-to-MSN online option, which typically follows an RN-to-BSN-to-MSN model; this can take 3-4 years. Some students opt to pursue an MSN without having been an RN, which takes about the same amount of time as an RN-to-MSN program, but requires an intensive overview of the foundations of nursing in order to prepare for the NCLEX-RN exam.

DEGREE Certificate

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Some online nursing schools offer graduate certificates, which allow you to specialize your education without the same investment as an MSN program. A graduate certificate focuses on one narrow aspect, generally the equivalent of taking courses for a specialization or concentration. This helps advance your career by providing additional qualifications and skills. However, you don't receive the same broad education as an MSN.

You can complete a certificate in less time than an MSN. Certificates require 9-21 credits to complete, depending on the certificate and where you get it. Students can sometimes complete a certificate in as little as one term of full-time coursework. You can earn a certificate alongside an MSN or another program by simply taking the required courses alongside your other classes, or you can pursue the certificate only. The former allows you to further specialize, especially if you choose a certificate that pairs with your MSN concentration, while the latter allows you to quickly gain new skills.

Certificates vary by nursing school, and not all schools offer them. Students can often pursue a certificate at more traditional schools, especially in on-campus programs. Accelerated programs are less likely to offer certificates. Searching for programs that specifically offer certificates might limit your choices for where to apply, but applying to programs which also offer certificates gives you more options to customize your MSN or doctoral program.

DEGREE Doctorate

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The highest degree granted by online nursing programs remains the doctor of nursing practice (DNP). This degree helps nurses who wish to be at the forefront of the field. Nurse practitioners can perform much of the same work as doctors, such as diagnosing patients and prescribing medicine. These professionals require a DNP, which also exists as the preferred degree for many nurse educators. Earning your DNP can greatly impact your earning potential; DNPs make significantly more than other nurses. While the DNP remains the highest degree granted in nursing, many nurses pursue certificates or other professional development after graduating. DNP programs usually also offer or require individuals to choose a specialization, much like those found in MSN programs. Individuals can specialize in nurse education or midwifery to customize the program to their existing skills or interests.

A DNP usually takes 3-4 years to complete if studying full time. These programs focus on the clinical study of disease and disease prevention. Students explore leadership and other administrative responsibilities as well, since DNPs and especially nurse practitioners hold leadership roles within hospitals and other medical environments. While individuals usually must have an MSN before enrolling in a DNP program, some schools offer BSN-to-DNP programs. These cover the MSN content before moving on to more advanced topics.

Why Enroll in an Online Nursing Program?

At a Glance: Trends in Nursing Programs

RN to BSN Enrollment

10.4% Increase

MSN Enrollment

6.6% Increase

Minority Enrollment in BSN Programs

30.1% Increase

Male BSN Students

11.7% Increase

Enrollment in DNP Programs

26.2% Increase

Enrolled in Baccalaureate Programs

320,074 Students

Nursing Bridge Programs Online

A bridge program, such as online RN-to-BSN programs, allows nurses to further their education by building on what they already know. Several kinds of programs exist. LPN-to-RN programs allow licensed practical nurses (called licensed vocational nurses in several states) to complete the education requirements needed to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Meanwhile, RN-to-BSN programs allow registered nurses to earn a bachelor of science in nursing, which is the most commonly desired nursing degree. Online nursing master's programs and RN-to-MSN programs allow registered nurses to complete the requirements for the BSN and then a master of science in nursing.

Many online nursing programs follow this model, which proves especially useful to nurses already in the workforce. These programs help nurses expand their knowledge and skill sets faster than traditional programs. Nurses remain in demand, and changes in medical care, technology, and distribution require not only more nurses, but highly trained nurses. Bridge programs tend to offer flexibility, making use of working nurses' experience. They also offer clinical rotations. If you are already working in the field and desire to stick with it for the long term, then a bridge program might be the best way for you to advance your career and become a better nurse.

LPN to BSN

Program Length: 12-18 months

Credits Required: 60-72

Degree Required for Admission: ADN or equivalent

Licensure Required for Admission: Licensed practical nurse/licensed vocational nurse

Career Opportunities for Graduates: Registered nurse, travel nurse, pediatric nurse

RN to BSN

Program Length: Two years

Credits Required: 120-123

Degree Required for Admission: ADN or equivalent

Licensure Required for Admission: Registered nurse

Career Opportunities for Graduates: Flight nurse, NICU nurse, school nurse

RN to MSN

Program Length: Three years

Credits Required: 120-150

Degree Required for Admission: ADN or equivalent

Licensure Required for Admission: Registered nurse

Career Opportunities for Graduates: Nurse educator, nurse administrator, clinical research nurse

Accelerated Nursing Programs

Some online nursing programs are accelerated, meaning they offer the same amount of courses and credits as equivalent programs, but can be completed in less time. Accelerated BSN programs usually take 12-15 months, while accelerated MSNs take about two years. These programs maintain the same requirements and standards as more traditional programs, but students find them more demanding. You complete the same amount of work in about half the time, which is done by taking more classes at once or over shorter terms that cover topics faster.

Students should prepare for additional stress when taking an accelerated program. Schools generally take steps to streamline the process, often requiring students to follow specific plans of study to remove the chance of a student missing required courses. Students benefit by finishing their degree sooner. This is especially useful for those taking time away from work, making a career switch, or trying to reach a certain level of education before joining the workforce.

Nursing Program Concentrations and Careers

Nurses can choose from a variety of different concentrations. While the primary core curriculum of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing emphasizes concepts such as communication, critical thinking, and compassionate patient care, the skills required of nurses in each particular specialty remain unique. Each concentration area encompasses its own specialized coursework to match industry expectations. See below for just some of the concentrations and careers available to qualified nursing students.

Clinical

Clinical nurses gain advanced expertise in a broad spectrum of skills. Clinical nurse specialists may work as primary care physicians in health centers, schools, hospitals, and private practices. They often specialize in niche areas such as pediatrics or emergency care. These individuals must have at least a master’s degree to enter the field.

Midwifery

Midwives stand out as experts in pregnancy and childbirth. They care for expectant mothers during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth, as well as caring for mothers and babies postpartum. Certified nurse-midwives must have at least a bachelor’s degree and pass a certification exam to become licensed.

Pediatrics

Pediatric nurses are RNs who have specialized training in providing healthcare to infants, adolescents, and teenage children. They often assist physicians in administering medications, placing IV lines in patients, and applying other kinds of therapies. These individuals need at least a master’s degree and current RN licensure.

Psychiatric

Psychiatric nurses are RNs or APRNs who help assess and treat the mental health needs of individuals, families, and communities. Nurses pursuing a specialization in psychiatric care should have a general RN credential as well as extensive clinical experience in psychiatric mental health nursing.

Gerontology

Geriatric nurses help address the medical needs of elderly patients at higher risk for certain conditions, including osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. These nurses focus on preventative care. Becoming a nursing specialist in gerontology typically requires the gerontological nursing credential in addition to current RN licensure.

What Types of Jobs are Available to Online Nursing Program Graduates?

FLIGHT NURSE

MEDIAN SALARY
$68,771

MEDIAN SALARY
$61,938

Flight nurses provide care to patients being transported by air. They work with patients in critical conditions. The position remains stressful and highly demanding.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

MEDIAN SALARY
$28,841

MEDIAN SALARY
$25,710

CNAs spend more time with patients than doctors or nurses, helping administer medication, record conditions, and assist with patient mobility.

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

MEDIAN SALARY
$81,952

MEDIAN SALARY
$86,251

A CNS works within a specialized unit, generally in a hospital setting, such as pediatrics or oncology. They also perform research within their specialization.

Labor and Delivery Nurse

MEDIAN SALARY
$61,938

MEDIAN SALARY
$59,011

These nurses help women who are giving birth and help take care of newborn children. They work as part of a team to ensure that both mother and child are cared for during birth.

LPN / LVN

MEDIAN SALARY
$41,080

MEDIAN SALARY
$44,030

Like CNAs, licensed practical (or vocational) nurses work under the supervision of RNs and doctors to assist patients, largely in simpler outpatient situations.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

MEDIAN SALARY
$60,871

MEDIAN SALARY
$60,763

These nurses specialize in taking care of premature or otherwise ill newborns who require closer observation and care. They often must work long shifts to care for such patients.

Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

MEDIAN SALARY
$135,954

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

These nurses prepare, administer, and monitor anesthesia for patients undergoing surgery. They must be versed in chemistry and pharmacology.

Nurse Educator

MEDIAN SALARY
$73,031

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

Nurse educators work to help educate other nurses by developing and managing continuing education programs. They analyze the educational needs of nursing staff to ensure that everyone is up to date.

Nurse Educator

MEDIAN SALARY
$73,031

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

Nurse educators work to help educate other nurses by developing and managing continuing education programs. They analyze the educational needs of nursing staff to ensure that everyone is up to date.

Nurse Practitioner

MEDIAN SALARY
$92,249

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

Nurse practitioners perform many of the same tasks as doctors, but have the time to work more closely with patients to implement care based on diagnosis.

Obstetrics and Gynecology Nurse (OB GYN)

MEDIAN SALARY
$61,640

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

OB/GYNs work with expectant mothers to ensure the health of them and their unborn children. They also continue to work with those mothers and newborn children.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

MEDIAN SALARY
$92,249

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

These nurse practitioners work with psychotherapy wards and focus on issues of mental health, but otherwise serve a similar role to traditional nurse practitioners.

Registered Nurse

MEDIAN SALARY
$62,821

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

RNs work in a variety of medical environments to manage the care and administration of patients. They may be assisted by CNAs or LPNs depending on where they work.

School Nurse

MEDIAN SALARY
$45,568

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

These nurses work within schools to help students with medical problems or emergencies, and also work to help educate students and staff about such matters.

Travel Nurse

MEDIAN SALARY
$65,601

MEDIAN SALARY
$133,341

Travel nurses fill temporary spots around the country, traveling from one position to another and working for a period deemed necessary by the hospital where they are helping.

How to Choose an Online Nursing Program

Choosing the right online nursing program remains a personal decision, but it helps to keep some objective factors in mind. The first is accreditation. In nursing, both the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and the American Commission for Education in Nursing provide accreditation for programs, showing that they are not only allowed to grant degrees, but are held to specific and exacting standards. Programs with these or other accreditation should rise to the top of your school choices.

Other considerations include program length and cost. How will a given program fit into your existing schedule, and how long can you invest in earning your degree? Students who wish to earn their degree quickly might pursue an accelerated program, however students with work or family commitments might not choose this option. College requires a financial investment, but students can explore many options to help pay for their program, including scholarships, loans, and grants.

If you are not yet a registered nurse, you also must keep the NCLEX-RN in mind. Completing a program should prepare you for the exam, but familiarity with it beforehand doesn't hurt.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Nursing Programs

Are there completely online nursing programs?

The majority of online nursing programs contain some sort of clinical component that must be completed in person. Each online nursing program varies, but in general clinicals can usually be completed at one of the following locations:

  • On-campus
  • At an approved lab or hospital
  • At a satellite campus
  • At your hospital of employment

Completely online nursing programs do exist, usually replacing their clinical requirements with an interactive online segment. As online nursing programs evolve, this option is becoming more common. Below we have listed some of the most popular nursing programs that offer 100% online nursing degrees. Be sure to check that you qualify for the program, as they are all different levels of degree.

If we missed your 100% online nursing degree program, please let us know!

Online Only Nursing Programs

Can I become a registered nurse through an online nursing program?

Yes — whether you want to enroll in an ADN or BSN, you’ll be able to do so online. All of these programs will allow you to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam, which you’ll have to pass to become a licensed nurse. There is no disadvantage to studying online when it comes to passing the NCLEX-RN.

Online programs offer an excellent education, on par with what you’ll find in a traditional classroom. Whether you’re pursuing an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or any other degree, you’ll find a detailed and robust curriculum online. As you advance into higher degrees, however, you will have to complete more residencies or campus-based clinicals, and these have to be done in-person. Before applying to a program, make sure that you are in a location where you can complete all in-person work near your home.

You also need to confirm that your target schools are properly accredited, and that the school can grant you a degree in the state where you live. If you have any questions or concerns, be sure to reach out to the admissions department at your target schools.

Are online nursing programs easier than campus programs?

Online classes follow the same curriculum — and are taught by the same faculty members — as programs on campus. You’ll still have to pay attention to lectures, take quizzes and tests, write essays, and complete assignments. Your classes aren’t any easier; you just have a more flexible schedule in an online format.

If anything, online classes are more difficult. Without ever seeing a classmate or professor in-person, you have to be very proactive in prioritizing academics.

On average, how much will an online nursing program cost?

It really depends where you go. Like with any degree, you can find a program for a few thousand dollars per year, and you can find schools charging upwards of $10,000 per semester. In general, online nursing programs are a little more affordable than campus-based programs, especially since you won’t have to pay any equipment or technology-related costs.

Students can also pursue scholarships. There are an array of institutional awards at all of your target schools, along with organizational scholarships awarded based on need or merit. We’d also be remiss to not mention that we have our own scholarships as well.

If I'm enrolled in an online nursing program, do I ever have to visit campus?

In many cases, the answer is no. Some schools will want students to commute to campus for an orientation, or for lab work, but most online programs do not.

However, you will need to commute to a nursing facility for your clinical or practicum. A clinical is where nurses develop hands-on experience by shadowing nurses at work and conducting basic tasks under professional supervision. Your program will allow you to do this at an acceptable facility in or near your hometown.

Will my online nursing courses provide me with on-the-job training?

Absolutely! Many students worry that their online nursing degree will not prepare them with on-the-job experience. However, this isn’t the case. The clinical component of an online nursing program is designed to ensure that all graduate are adequately prepared for their first day in the hospital.

…that’s why I really love online program, because I’m able to do my clinicals locally, meet local professionals in the area, and then network for future job opportunities.

In addition, many online nursing students opt to volunteer at a hospital where they want to work. This prepares them with hands-on experience and also puts them in a better position to get hired after graduating from their online nursing program.

If you already know which specialization you want to pursue, focus on researching schools that can accommodate your interests. Nursing programs aren’t all the same: they have different specializations, and you want to find one that caters to your professional ambitions. As you’re doing your research, be sure to reach out to program administrators to find out more about what your target schools offer.

Is it faster to earn your nursing degree online?

Depending on how much time you have to study, finish assignments, and complete your clinical, you could graduate in anywhere from one to five years. Again though, it depends on the type of degree, your previous college experience, and whether or not you want to take classes in an accelerated format.

Associate degree programs generally take two years, whereas bachelor’s programs often take four years, or three in an accelerated format. While the online format gives you some flexibility with regards to when you watch lectures and complete assignments, you can’t necessarily take your classes at a significantly faster pace. For more information about a program’s schedule, be sure to contact your school’s program director, or a department chair.

I'm not sure if nursing is for me. Is there an online nursing program that can get me into nursing faster and with less commitment?

It sounds like an LPN program might be right for you. An LPN (licensed practical nurse) program differs from an RN in a couple of key ways. First, LPNs usually only take a year or so to complete, as opposed to four years for an RN. Graduates also have slightly different job duties: RNs administer medicine, provide instruction on how to manage illnesses, and perform diagnostic tests, while LPNs monitor a patient’s comfort and perform basic medical tasks, like checking blood pressure and measuring heart rate. Finally, LPN programs are usually more affordable, with many costing between $5,000 and $15,000.

The LPN will qualify you for introductory nursing positions, which allows you to get a feel for whether you like the routine and schedule that comes with being a nurse. LPN students can expect to take a variety of classes, including:

  • Intro to Patient Care
  • Nursing Fundamentals
  • Family Nursing Theory

There are plenty of LPN (also called LVN) programs online. These prepare you for the NCLEX-PN exam just as well as traditional on-campus programs.

I already have a bachelor's degree, but I want to go into nursing; are there online nursing programs for this?

There sure are. What you need is a secondary bachelor’s in nursing program — also known as a second degree. These programs allow you to skip the general education requirements and jump right into the meat of the nursing curriculum right away.

Have a question about online nursing programs that you don't see here?

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