An In-Depth Look at Online Fast-Track Degrees for Nurses

BSN and MSN degrees help practicing RNs and other professionals advance their careers. Many programs admit students without a nursing background. Degree-seekers can explore different nursing specializations. Online accelerated nursing programs allow learners to continue working while in school and graduate as soon as possible. These advantages make an accelerated BSN or MSN program attractive to dedicated students.

This guide answers frequently asked questions and covers curricula for BSN and MSN programs. The following sections also explore admission requirements and accelerated online learning formats. Prospective students should research program websites or contact an admissions advisor for more details.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Accelerated Nursing Programs

true Q. What GPA do you need for accelerated nursing?

Many of the top online accelerated nursing programs require at least a 3.0 GPA. However, applicants with a lower GPA may receive conditional admission if they have healthcare experience.

true Q. Can I get an MSN without being an RN?

Admission requirements vary by institution. Some accelerated MSN programs only accept RNs. Applicants may also need an associate degree, a BSN, or relevant work experience.

true Q. How long are accelerated MSN programs?

Most accelerated MSN programs take two years to complete. RNs and BSN holders may need less time to graduate.

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Choosing the Best Fit: Online vs On-Campus

Online

  • Schedule

    Students in synchronous programs attend online lectures during scheduled class times. Students in asynchronous programs watch lectures at their convenience.

  • Classroom Participation

    Students can participate in classroom discussions through email, message boards, and instant messaging.

  • Accessibility

    Learners can attend schools in any geographic location. They do not need to commute or relocate.

  • Clinical Experience

    Online students who live near the school may participate in clinical labs on campus. Other learners may complete clinical experiences locally.

On-Campus

  • Schedule

    Students must attend lectures at the scheduled class time.

  • Classroom Participation

    Students participate in the class discussions in person.

  • Accessibility

    Degree-seekers attend a school in person and must commute to class.

  • Clinical Experience

    Students gain clinical experience on campus or at healthcare facilities near the school.

Why Pursue an Online Accelerated Nursing Degree?

Online accelerated nursing programs prepare students to enter a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for RNs with an associate or bachelor's degree to increase 9% from 2020-2030. The BLS projects employment for nurse practitioners, who need a master's degree, to increase 45% during the same time. RNs and nurse practitioners earn median annual salaries higher than the median for all occupations.

Employers value an online degree the same as an on-campus degree. Online schools must hold regional and national accreditation. Nursing programs should earn programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). The ACEN accredits associate, bachelor's, and master's programs.

Learners in online accelerated BSN programs generally take 3-4 courses each semester. MSN students without a nursing license take a similar course load. Some degree-seekers continue to work full or part time. Balancing work and studies requires strong time management skills.

How Do Accelerated Online Programs Work?

Degree-seekers in accelerated online programs take 1-2 extra courses each semester. Learners must be able to balance work, school, and personal responsibilities. Accelerated programs benefit degree-seekers who need to graduate quickly. Although these programs feature online coursework, students complete in-person practica in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

The time needed to complete an online accelerated nursing program depends on the degree. The learner's education and professional background also impacts degree-completion time. Incoming students work with an academic advisor to create a graduation timeline. Institutional resources such as tutors can help learners stay on track.

Online Accelerated BSN

Learners with a bachelor's degree in another field can complete online accelerated BSN programs in as little as 16 months. Many programs feature asynchronous courses, which allow students to schedule coursework around other responsibilities. However, these programs require many in-person clinical rotations.

Tuition rates vary by school. Learners typically pay the lowest tuition rates at in-state public institutions. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition and fees at private schools was $32,770 for the 2019-20 academic year.

Graduates of BSN programs can take the NCLEX-RN exam. After passing the exam and a criminal background check, learners may qualify for a nursing license and RN positions.

Admission Requirements

Typical admission requirements include a non-nursing bachelor's degree and a minimum GPA. Applicants typically need prerequisite chemistry and biology coursework. Some schools also require an entrance exam, such as the HESI A2. These institutions usually provide exam study materials. Applicants may also interview with an enrollment advisor or faculty member.

Accelerated BSN programs may not offer traditional specializations. However, students become familiar with various nursing specializations during clinical rotations. These experiences and career advisors help learners develop a career plan and network with potential employers.

Online Accelerated BSN Sample Coursework

Online accelerated BSN programs help learners gain in-demand skills. Degree-seekers prepare to apply proven nursing practices and lead teams. Curricula also foster collaboration abilities and empathy. Clinical rotations allow students to hone these skills while applying knowledge from coursework.

The following sample curriculum includes lower- and upper-division BSN courses. However, each online BSN program uses a different curriculum. Student experiences and graduation requirements also vary by program. Prospective degree-seekers should review each program's website and speak to an enrollment counselor before applying.

  • Foundations and Health Assessment Concepts

    This course introduces knowledge and skills that nurses need to treat patients. Coursework covers lifespan development, interprofessional concepts, and safety best practices. Degree-seekers also analyze healthcare managers' roles in clinical settings. Students learn how RNs assess and identify patients' needs.
  • Care Management Concepts

    Students in this class learn how RNs promote positive healthcare outcomes. Assignments emphasize the CUCON care model. This holistic approach to healthcare includes community, health, and decision support. Degree-seekers analyze how these and other support factors assist patients' healing and recovery. Students practice these treatment techniques while working with patients from minority backgrounds.
  • Population-Based Health

    Learners in this class explore healthcare at the individual, family, and community levels. Degree-seekers analyze public health initiatives' plans and outcomes. Students discuss positive and negative factors influencing public health, such as food banks and pollution. Participants learn to recognize community health needs and advocate for social justice.
  • Professional Concepts: Leadership

    RNs with a BSN often secure leadership roles. BSN holders may mentor licensed professional nurses and RNs with an associate degree. The class explores standards of practice, professional relationships, and leadership competencies. Graduates use these skills to improve clinical outcomes and promote collaboration among RNs.
  • Capstone Practicum

    During a final-semester capstone practicum, degree-seekers demonstrate the knowledge and skills they learned in the program. Students spend 270 hours in a clinical setting, working under licensed RNs. Learners develop fundamental care management skills. Supervisors evaluate participants. Practicum requirements may also include an NCLEX-RN preparation course.

Online Accelerated MSN

Online MSN programs require the same time commitment as other master's programs. These nursing programs blend asynchronous online coursework with in-person clinical rotations. Like a BSN, an MSN qualifies graduates to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and earn licensure.

MSN holders often become nurse practitioners. These professionals can perform tasks such as ordering tests and prescribing medication.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to online MSN programs typically need a bachelor's degree and a minimum undergraduate GPA. Some schools also require prerequisite coursework. Nursing students may undergo a criminal background check, which involves fingerprinting and a drug screen.

Many of the top online programs require an entrance exam. Prospective students may also take an online learning readiness test. New students complete an orientation and work with an academic counselor to select courses and a concentration.

Online Accelerated MSN Sample Coursework

Accelerated MSN programs feature comprehensive curricula that teach nursing best practices and techniques. Clinical rotations help learners hone in-demand skills and learn from experienced RNs. Students gain practical experience during a final-semester practicum. An NCLEX-RN-preparation course prepares degree-seekers to earn licensure.

MSN degree-seekers often take the following courses to learn how to manage teams and treat patients. However, academic requirements and graduate outcomes vary by school. Prospective learners can visit program websites to learn about graduation requirements.

  • Social, Cultural, and Behavioral Determinants of Health

    Learners in this introductory course analyze how internal and external factors influence health. Students examine global trends and political and economic systems. Degree-seekers also explore how race affects healthcare delivery and outcomes. Students learn about the causes of health inequities and prepare to advocate for better healthcare access.
  • Research Quality Improvement and Evidence-Based Practice

    Nursing leaders must understand how information and technology impact healthcare delivery. This course explores nursing safety and quality best practices. Learners master various electronic health record systems to prepare for work as RNs.
  • Foundations of Pharmacology

    A master's degree qualifies RNs to prescribe and administer some medications. This class introduces drug classes and their effects. Coursework prepares learners to help patients find the right medications. Degree-seekers consult medical texts to make simulated clinical decisions.
  • Care of Adults with Chronic Conditions

    Many adults live with a chronic injury or disease. This course explores how chronic illnesses affect people of different ages. Students learn how to communicate with patients effectively. Graduates use these skills to build trust with patients and family members.
  • Family Focused Nursing

    This course prepares students to help families make healthcare decisions. RNs use these skills to educate patients on pregnancy, childbirth, and other reproductive health topics. Coursework trains students to identify common childhood illnesses. Learners prepare to work with parents to create treatment plans. The course features online learning and one clinical rotation.

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