Nursing Education in 2018
Online nursing program enrollment is on the rise as employer demand increases for BSN and MSN-educated nurses. Due to an aging population, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job opportunities for nurses in the U.S. will grow 15% over the next 10 years, a much faster rate than other employment sectors.
A recent study conducted by the AACN found that 77% of employers prefer candidates who have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing; the same study found that the number of RN to BSN programs has increased significantly over the last decade. Today, more than 400 programs are offered full or partially online.
Completing a nursing degree online gives students the opportunity to obtain credentials, increase their salary, and advance their careers, all while meeting existing work and family obligations. Ideal candidates for online nursing programs are students with professional and family obligations who are looking for a highly flexible option to further their studies and improve their nursing career prospects. Though most online nursing degree programs still require a clinical component, this can be completed in-person, close to home.
Why Enroll in an Online Nursing Program?
The IOM is calling for more BSN-educated nurses
80% BSN-educated nursing workforce by 2020 needed
A recent Institute of Medicine study found that our healthcare system needs an 80% BSN-educated nursing workforce by 2020 to cope with changing demands.
We have a national nursing shortage
55% of current nursing workforce age 50 or older
With 55% of the current nursing workforce age 50 or older, a large segment will be retiring soon, leading to a steep drop in employment numbers.
Employers are requiring more advanced degrees
10% increase in BSN nurses on a hospital staff
Studies show that for every 10% increase in BSN nurses on a hospital staff, patient mortality drops 7%.
Increasing number of bridge nursing programs
679 RN to BSN programs available nationwide
679 RN to BSN nursing programs are available nationwide, with 400 online or partially online.
At a Glance: Trends in Nursing Programs
RN to BSN Enrollment
Minority Enrollment in BSN Programs
Male BSN Students
Enrollment in DNP Programs
Enrolled in Baccalaureate Programs
*All figures from AACN data
Online Nursing Degrees
There are many different degrees available to nursing students, each providing their own employment opportunities. The most popular are RN to BSN online programs and RN to MSN online programs, both of which allow students to continue working as registered nurses while gaining the knowledge and practice necessary to move up in their careers. Since overall demand for online nursing degree programs has risen so dramatically in recent years, there are online options for every level of academic study, from associate to doctoral degrees. Below is an outline of each of these options and what graduates can do with them.
An online associate degree in nursing encompasses a variety of courses of study: associate of nursing (AN), associate degree in nursing (ADN), associate of science in nursing (ASN), and associate of applied science in nursing (AASN). All options typically include similar core coursework, though practicum, clinical, and/or internship requirements vary by degree. Associate degrees are ideal for students seeking a quick and affordable path toward becoming a registered nurse.
Associate degrees in nursing typically take one to two years to complete. Courses introduce students to anatomy and physiology, expository writing, and nursing leadership, management, and practice. Earning an associate degree prepares graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam; students who pass the exam are eligible to start work immediately as an RN. Graduates can explore the field without committing to a four-year program, though their credits will transfer easily to a bachelor’s degree if they change their mind. Associate-level graduates can become travel, psychiatric, school, and neonatal intensive care nurses.
The most popular and in-demand online nursing degree program, the RN to BSN prepares students for a variety of professional opportunities and higher salary potential. Like the associate degree in nursing, BSN graduates are qualified for the NCLEX-RN exam, but are also eligible to become nurse anesthetists and flight nurses. A BSN is also the entry-level requirement for administrative and managerial positions in the field.
BSN coursework is similar to that of the ADN but explores key nursing concepts more in-depth. Students will develop a more comprehensive understanding of nursing fundamentals while also incorporating some specialized study in nursing the infant, child, and adolescent patient, women’s healthcare, and nursing informatics. Since the bachelor’s degree in nursing takes four years to complete and is more expensive than the ADN, ideal candidates should be committed to sustaining a long-term nursing career.
An online master’s degree in nursing is ideal for nursing professionals looking to advance their careers in a specialized area of practice. Most online master’s in nursing degrees take two to three years to complete and require a BSN for admission, though there are a few bridge programs available. Graduates from an online master’s in nursing are prepared to enter a particular niche or specialty practice within the nursing field, such as oncology or women’s health.
MSN-educated nurses enjoy the broadest scope of career possibilities. They are eligible not only for all of the same employment opportunities as bachelor’s degree holders, but are also qualified to be nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and clinical nurse specialists. Graduates of a master’s in nursing, or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), have a more comprehensive understanding of advanced concepts including healthcare resource management, pharmacology, and health and illness across the human experience. MSN students can expect to gain practical experience in their specialty of choice to meet their clinical rotation requirement.
Earning a graduate certificate in nursing online can be a quick and affordable way for MSN-educated nurses to gain specialized skills in an area such as nursing education or informatics. The curriculum in a graduate nursing certificate typically incorporates the same coursework that can be found in an MSN program, except for the capstone or clinical requirement. Most practical experience courses are optional.
Most graduate certificates in nursing can be completed entirely online in one year or less. The program typically spans three semesters, at only one to two courses per term. While the graduate certificate is an ideal way to demonstrate speciality nursing skills in a niche area, it is intended to be supplemental only; applicants to a certificate program must already have a master’s degree and current RN licensure for admission.
A terminal degree in the field, an online doctor of nursing (DNP) degree builds upon the specialized curriculum of the master’s program. Not to be confused with the PhD, DNSc, or ND, which focus on research and scholarly positions in the field, the DNP degree prepares graduates for the highest levels of nursing practice. Some programs will accept applicants with a BSN, though most DNP programs require an MSN as a prerequisite for enrollment.
Coursework in the online DNP explores statistics and data analysis, leadership, advanced clinical skills, and nursing philosophy. Ideal candidates for the DNP are interested in advancing their nursing practice into an executive position, or incorporating specialized study in nursing leadership, systems management, quality improvement, or data-driven decision making. The DNP typically requires 1,000 clinical hours and a capstone project. Students may take anywhere from three to six years to complete the degree.
Online Nursing Bridge Programs
Online bridge programs are ideal for nurses with an associate or bachelor’s degree who are seeking a quicker path to their next degree. Bridge programs can also benefit students with an undergraduate degree in another field who are interested in earning a graduate nursing degree, as well as associate-educated nurses who experienced a lapse in education before seeking an advanced degree.
There are several types of online bridge nursing programs: LPN to BSN, RN to BSN, and RN to MSN.
The LPN to BSN allows those who hold licensure but are not RNs to earn their BSN through an accelerated program. Graduates of an LPN to BSN bridge program are eligible to seek the RN credential once they have earned their bachelor’s degree. Online RN to BSN programs are an option for registered nurses to quickly and conveniently earn a bachelor’s in nursing online, increasing their eligibility for higher-earning advanced nursing positions. The RN to MSN is for nurses who hold current RN designation and have a bachelor’s degree who are looking to earn a graduate degree in the field. The curriculum typically includes prerequisites for BSN-educated students entering an MSN degree. Like the traditional MSN, many bridge programs offer a range of concentrations to allow students to enter a specialized field of nursing upon graduation. Bridge programs typically take two or three years to complete; RN to BSN candidates without an associate degree may take four years to earn the BSN.
Accelerated Nursing Programs
Accelerated nursing programs are a great option for students looking for the fastest path toward advancing their nursing career. While traditional BSN degrees take at least four years to complete, fast-track programs require just one to two years. MSNs require two years in a traditional program but can be completed in just 18 months or less in an accelerated format. Accelerated bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs require the same advanced coursework and clinical experience hours as a traditional degree. The program operates along a fast-paced, rigorous schedule. Students take the maximum course load and have full-time status, while simultaneously maintaining a nursing job to gain necessary work experience in the field.
Nursing Program Concentrations and Careers
There are a variety of different concentrations that a nurse can choose from. While the primary core curriculum of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing emphasizes concepts like communication, critical thinking, and compassionate patient care, the skills required of nurses in each particular specialty are unique. Each area of concentration will encompass its own specialized coursework requirements to match the industry’s expectations. Below are just some of the concentrations and careers available to qualified nursing students.
- Clinical: Clinical nurses have advanced expertise in a broad spectrum of skills. Clinical nurse specialists are qualified to work as primary care physicians in health centers, schools, hospitals, and private practices. They often have specialized expertise in a niche area such as pediatrics or emergency care. Clinical nurses must have at least a master’s degree to enter the field.
- Midwifery: Midwives are experts in pregnancy and childbirth. They are responsible for caring for expectant mothers during pregnancy, labor, and childbirth, as well as caring for mothers and their babies postpartum. Certified nurse-midwives must have at least a bachelor’s degree and pass a certification exam to become licensed to practice in their state.
- Pediatrics: Pediatric nurses are RNs that 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. Pediatric nurses should have at least a master’s degree and current RN licensure.
- Psychiatric: Psychiatric nurses are RNs or APRNs who help to 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 to 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?
Median Salary: $61,938
Flight nurses provide pre-hospital care to patients aboard an aircraft. These professionals are uniquely trained to treat patients in need of critical care in an unstable medical environment, including “life flight” patients and military medical evacuees. Candidates should be licensed RNs with at least a bachelor’s degree and one to three years of experience in emergency or critical care nursing.
|Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)|
Median Salary: $25,710
Certified nursing assistants are responsible for treating the physical and mental health needs of individuals who are unable to perform daily tasks for themselves. CNAs may provide home-health or work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities. Some are employed by hospitals, urgent care clinics, and correctional facilities. They must have certification as a registered nurse.
|Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)|
Median Salary: $81,952
A clinical nurse specialist is an MSN-educated nursing professional with advanced training in a specialty practice area such as oncology, women’s health, or pain management. Licensed nurses with CNS credentials are eligible for executive-level positions in nursing leadership, policy management, administration, and education.
|Labor and Delivery Nurse|
Median Salary: $56,858
Labor and delivery nurses assist women throughout the entirety of the birthing experience, from early labor to postpartum. They monitor and coach women through contractions, administer pain relief treatments such as epidurals, and assist in the start of the breastfeeding process. RNs aspiring to this specialty should have extensive job experience and may pursue additional obstetric nursing credentials.
Median Salary: $44,030
Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses work under the supervision of doctors and RNs to provide general medical care to a wide variety of patients. They are required only to hold a diploma, certificate, or associate degree from an accredited program. LPN/LVN professionals must obtain the RN credential through the NCLEX-RN exam to become certified.
|Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse|
Median Salary: $60,763
Neonatal intensive care nurses are trained to provide critical care to vulnerable newborn babies in the NICU of hospitals or with a home-health services team. They are experienced in caring for premature infants who have specific illnesses or birth defects. These nurses monitor vital signs, administer medications, and comfort patients. Professionals must be RNs and may pursue the neonatal critical care nursing credential.
|Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)|
Median Salary: $133,341
Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia to patients. Requirements for nurses in this specialty are very stringent, and they often work independently. CRNAs may specialize in a particular area of practice, such as labor and delivery, podiatry, or plastic surgery. Professionals must have an MSN degree, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) credential, and at least one year of experience in acute or ICU care.
How to Choose an Online Nursing Program
With so many online nursing programs available today, it can be challenging to find a program that suits your needs. However, there are a few simple criteria that can help you choose the right degree. First, check that any school you are interested in applying to is accredited by a reputable regional or national agency. Nursing programs may also be accredited by an agency such as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
Other important factors to consider are time and cost. Are you seeking a traditional, bridge, or accelerated program online? Depending on your experience, you could be eligible for a fast-track program, which would allow you to complete your degree in less time and thus potentially spend less on tuition and fees. The cost of earning a college degree is always a major factor in the decision-making process, so be sure to check whether your school offers special rates for online learning and/or nursing scholarships.
Additionally, consider the options your school offers to online students for completing clinical hours. Most programs allow students to complete clinicals close to their residence. Professional experience is a crucial element of nursing programs; it helps to prepare students for licensure as an RN or nursing specialist through the NCLEX exam. Schools should also be transparent about their graduate job placement rates. Don’t be shy about asking an admissions counselor to help you prepare for your post-college nursing career.
How Do I Apply to an Online Nursing Program?
- Determine which degree you want
- Research quality online programs
- Decide what type of school you’d like
- Evaluate the curriculums at your prospective schools
- Make a list of 3-5 target schools that you want to apply to
- Evaluate your target schools
- Research each school’s program thoroughly on their website
- Reach out to admission officers or department chairs with any questions you have
- Make sure you research whether the program is offered entirely online or in a hybrid format
- Submit application materials
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:
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.
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:
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?|
Let us know! Most likely, you’re not the only one with that question and we’d love to help you better understand online nursing programs and how to succeed in one.
Please report any inaccuracies to the Nursing.org team. Thank you in advance!
Customize Your Online Nursing Program Search
To find the best online nursing programs, you need a customized search. With so many online nursing programs out there, many people become overwhelmed and give up before finding the one that is right for them. Our online nursing programs database allows you to customize your search by College Name, Desired Career, State, Degree Level, Environment, and School Type.
You can choose as many or as few of these factors as you want to broaden or narrow your search in order to find the best online nursing program for you!
NOTE: If you notice any errors in the online nursing programs database below or are a college or university that is not represented here, please contact us. We will get on it immediately!