Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare industry. Additionally, with people living longer than ever before, the demand for skilled nursing professionals continues to grow. Thousands of students each year choose to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and pursue a nursing career. Online associate degree in nursing programs are ideal for many individuals because they are flexible and allow students to balance coursework with their busy lives.
Whether you are a young adult entering the job market for the first time or a working professional ready for a career change, nursing may be a good field to consider. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 16% job growth for registered nurses from 2014 to 2024, which is much higher than the national average for all occupations. However, competition for jobs is also growing; candidates with an ADN or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) have an edge over individuals without a college degree.
An online associate degree in nursing provides students with information and hands-on experience, preparing them for entry-level positions in a variety of healthcare settings. Programs typically require two years to complete, although part-time students take longer. All degree candidates must pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam to practice as a registered nurse. ADN-credentialed nurses who want to increase their job prospects and earning potentials can enroll in a BSN program and earn their bachelor’s degree in 18 months to two years.
ADN online programs are popular and many colleges and universities offer them. Students can work on assignments at their convenience and complete degree requirements at their own pace. Distance learners also save time and money by not commuting to campus to attend class; however, they must still travel to healthcare facilities to complete supervised clinical rotations. Before making a final decision about where to go to school, prospective students should verify that an online associate nursing program is nationally accredited.
Questions to Ask Before Applying to an Online ADN Program
As with any degree program, students pursuing an online associate degree in nursing should conduct research about a program’s offerings before applying. Nursing is a challenging but rewarding career, and earning an associate degree in nursing online requires discipline and commitment. There are many associate in nursing online programs to choose from; finding the best one for you can seem daunting! To help ease your search, start by asking yourself the questions below before applying.
Is an Online ADN the Right Choice For Me?
Students pursuing an online associate degree in nursing receive a strong foundation of the medical knowledge and technical skills required to enter the nursing profession. Online learning is popular among working professionals because it allows them to schedule classwork around job and family commitments. The best distance learners are self-disciplined and comfortable working independently. Studying at home instead of commuting to a traditional campus is one of the advantages of distance learning, but online programs also require hands-on training in labs or clinical settings before graduation. Students should make sure they can travel to an approved healthcare facility for on-site training so they can log the required clinical hours.
An online associate degree in nursing program trains students to carry out some of the most essential day-to-day duties in patient care. Students learn to log patient symptoms, take vital signs, teach patients how to manage their illnesses, inform doctors about patient conditions, and provide emotional support to patients and their families. Healthcare employers prefer job seekers with an ADN over those without a degree, and degree-holding individuals are also paid more. An online associate degree in nursing is a good stepping stone for those who aspire to a long career in the profession. Once a student has completed their ADN and earned some on-the-job experience, they may decide to pursue further education. Advanced degrees open the door to more job opportunities, nursing specializations, management-level positions, and higher salaries.
Are There Prerequisites for Online ADN Programs?
Prerequisites are the foundation courses students take before beginning their nursing curricula, and they vary from school to school. Online associate degree in nursing programs may require an applicant’s high school coursework to include four years of English, two years of math, and a year each of biology and chemistry (with accompanying lab components).
Once enrolled, nursing students are typically required to take one to two semesters of college-level English composition, college algebra, and introductory courses in sociology, psychology, microbiology, and medical terminology. Some programs may also have prerequisites in pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, and nutrition. Transfer students may be required to have taken background classes in math, a lab science (such as chemistry or anatomy and physiology), and a social sciences course (such as psychology or sociology).
When evaluating potential associate degree in nursing online programs, it is prudent to check with each institution to verify its enrollment requirements and/or specific prerequisites to find a school that meets your needs.
What Will I Learn in an Online ADN Program?
Typically, online associate nursing degree programs include courses that develop students’ communications and patient assessment skills, help them understand human anatomy and disease management, and teach them how to create a patient care plan. Before students begin clinical rotations, they learn how the body works and how medications treat disease. Learners also master the proper medical terminology to describe a patient’s condition.
While the curriculum varies by school, online programs blend medical, technical, and clinical learning to prepare students for work in the real world. Students can expect to take the courses listed below at most accredited online associate nursing programs.
Anatomy and Physiology
This course covers the cells, tissues, organs, and systems in a healthy human body. It also discusses how these components work together to maintain homeostasis, which is the stable internal environment needed for cells to function correctly.
Skills Gained: Students learn how the body works and the impact of diseases on the body’s systems. They also learn to use accurate medical terminology to describe their patients’ conditions.
Students study some of the more commonly used medications, including how they affect the body and treat illness and disease. Topics include drug actions and interactions, how the body processes drugs, and drug classifications.
Skills Gained: Students learn how the body absorbs pharmaceuticals and why it’s important to administer these drugs properly. They also learn how to educate patients about their medication.
This course focuses on the basics of healthy nutrition and its effect on the mental and physical well-being of a patient. It examines the relationship between diet and physical activity, nutrition’s impact on illnesses and diseases, diet modifications, and weight management.
Skills Gained: Students can alert patients to potentially dangerous food-drug interactions and recommend healthy nutritional choices to help them manage chronic diseases and maintain a healthy weight.
Are There Clinicals in an Online ADN Program?
Supervised clinical hours are part of all accredited online associate nursing programs, and students must complete these hands-on experiences before taking the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. Clinical hours give nursing students the opportunity to apply textbook learning to real-life situations and develop practical skills. Each state requires clinical rotations; however, most state nursing boards do not specify how many hours students must complete. This number depends on each program’s curriculum and varies widely; thus, you should ask a school about its specific requirements before enrolling.
Clinical rotations may take place in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and/or rehabilitation facilities. First year rotations give students a solid foundation in basic skills such as assessing patients, taking blood pressures, and providing proper hygiene. Second year students master more advanced skills including starting an IV, drawing blood, and giving injections. A school typically sets up clinical rotations for distance learners. Ask for a list of rotation locations to make sure they are within a reasonable travel distance from your home.
How Do I Choose an Online ADN Program?
There are many factors to consider before choosing an online associate degree in nursing program; however, the primary factor for many students is the cost. Tuition is the largest expense, but students also need to budget for fees, books, uniforms, nursing equipment, physicals, and a criminal background check. Distance learners studying at home can avoid the room and board fees associated with living on campus and the transportation expenses incurred by commuter students. However, they still need to budget for transportation to clinical rotations.
Fortunately, many resources are available to help reduce college costs. Online nursing students can apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to find out if they qualify for federal loans, grants, or other options. There are also many scholarships available, which students can find and apply for through our scholarship database.
Students can complete most online associate nursing degree programs in two to three years, depending on whether they attend classes full-time or part-time. Many programs offer online courses that are taught asynchronously, allowing distance learners to access course readings, complete assignments, and take exams at their convenience. However, this may not be the case for clinical rotations; the school may set the schedule for students or allow them to select their own dates and times. Before committing to an online nursing program, find out whether a school takes care of setting up clinical rotations, how scheduling works, and whether the healthcare facilities they use are within a reasonable commuting distance.
Nursing Specializations After Earning an Online ADN
There are many career options for graduates who earn an online associate degree in nursing, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and obtain valuable on-the-job experience. In nursing school, you may find a specific area of nursing that you want to pursue as a career.
Below are a few specializations registered nurses (RNs) with an ADN degree can consider. Earning a specialty certification is also an option worth pursuing; this can set you apart from your colleagues and lead to higher pay.
Labor and delivery nurses care for moms-to-be before, during, and after childbirth. They monitor the mother’s and baby’s vital signs, time contractions, help administer medications, and assist with complications. To earn the inpatient obstetric nursing certification, RNs must have two years of experience and log at least 2,000 hours in this area.
Cardiac care nurses treat heart patients of all ages in hospital coronary care units or at cardiac rehabilitation centers. They conduct patient health assessments, cardiac monitoring, and care for patients following heart procedures and surgery. RNs need at least two years of experience, 2,000 hours of clinical experience, and must pass an exam if they want to earn cardiac care nursing certification.
When patients need to be airlifted to a hospital emergency room, a flight/transport nurse provides lifesaving care enroute. An RN who wants to be a certified flight registered nurse must have three to five years of critical care experience and may need emergency medical technician certification before taking the exam.
Rehabilitation nurses work with patients living with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses, helping them adapt to their limitations and develop a new daily routine. RNs can get experience through an internship or entry-level position in a rehab facility. After two years on the job, they can sit for the certified rehabilitation registered nurse exam.
Radiology nurses take care of patients undergoing CT scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, or radiation treatment for cancer. RNs who log 2,000 hours in radiology and earn 30 continuing education hours can take the exam to become a certified radiology nurse.
Finding Accredited Online Nursing Programs
Nursing program accreditation ensures students receive a quality education that meets the industry’s and healthcare community’s high standards. The accreditation process is equally rigorous for on-campus and online programs.
Nursing programs can be regionally or nationally accredited. Two organizations award national nursing program accreditation: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The ACEN awards accreditation to all nursing education programs, including doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s, and online associate degrees in nursing. Alternatively, the CCNE only accredits programs that offer doctoral, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees.
When evaluating nursing schools, students should make sure both the schools and their ADN online programs are accredited. Attending a nationally-accredited school has many advantages; it enables students to qualify for federal financial aid, allows them to transfer credits to another nationally-accredited school to continue their education, and gives them an edge in the job market.
How Do I Enroll in an Online ADN Program?
Most associate in nursing online programs require high school graduates to have a minimum 2.0 GPA with four years of English, two years of math, and one year each of biology and chemistry. In addition to submitting an application and official transcripts, prospective students may need to pass an entrance or placement exam. Schools often use the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), the Wonderlic Test, or the HESI Admission Assessment to gauge an individual’s learning and problem-solving abilities.
Accredited associate degree in nursing online programs require students to complete clinical hours. Before enrolling, make sure a school offers clinical rotations at facilities within a reasonable commuting distance from your home.
What Can I Do With an Online ADN Degree?
With the growing demand for skilled healthcare professionals, most graduates with an ADN who become RNs are able to secure an entry-level job. However, competition is increasing and employers are beginning to favor job seekers with BSN degrees. Industry professionals strongly encourage ADN graduates to include an RN to BSN program in their career plans.
Earning an ADN can be the first chapter in a long and fulfilling nursing career. It provides valuable work experience and opens the door to specializations and higher salaries. The table below lists a few careers that can be pursued after earning an online associate nursing degree.
Hospital Staff Nurse
Staff nurses work standard shifts in hospital emergency rooms, labor and delivery, or on general patient floors. They assess patient health problems and needs, develop and implement nursing care plans, and maintain medical records. They also educate patients on healthy living habits and disease prevention.
Average Salary: $64,907
Pediatric nurses provide expert care to children from newborns to teenagers. They may work in doctor’s offices, hospitals, clinics, or surgical centers. They conduct patient assessments, administer medication, and work with families to create care plans for sick or injured youngsters.
Average Salary: $61,332
Home Healthcare Nurse
Home healthcare nurses provide care for homebound elderly or chronically-ill patients, assisting them with daily activities, providing physical therapy, and/or administering total care. Shifts vary for home nurses and can include overnight and weekend care.
Average Salary: $61,575
Hospice nurses work as part of a healthcare team to coordinate and carry out a care plan for a terminally-ill patients. They ensure patients are as comfortable and pain-free as possible and provide emotional support for family members who are facing the death of a loved one.
Average Salary: $62,796
Physician’s Office Nurse
Physician’s office nurses work standard shifts supporting doctors in private practice. They provide routine care to patients such as taking vital signs and patient histories, conducting initial exams, administering medications and vaccinations, and consulting with a physician to determine the patient’s best course of treatment.
Average Salary: $62,120
Modern medicine evolves rapidly and it is essential that nurses keep pace. Many do this by furthering their education; there are many paths for ADN graduates to follow.
- Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN): Nurses with a BSN have better job prospects, can pursue nursing specialties, and qualify for positions in nursing management. A BSN program typically takes four years to complete; however, RNs with an ADN may be able to earn a BSN in half the time.
- RN to BSN Programs: Online RN to BSN bridge programs give practicing nurses the flexibility to complete coursework at their convenience. Most programs take about two years to complete and require clinical rotations.
- Master’s in Nursing (MSN): MSN programs prepare practicing nurses for specialized roles such as nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, or nurse midwifes. An MSN takes about two years to complete.
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): DNP programs emphasize research and scholarly work and prepare nursing executives for leadership roles in clinical practice.
Ask your employer if they offer a tuition assistance program to cover some or all of a program’s costs. Before enrolling in any nursing program, make sure it is nationally accredited and meets licensing requirements in your state.
Database of Online ADN Programs