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Despite being one of the country’s largest professions, we need more nurses. Some say an aging population is the culprit; others cite higher birth rates and greater access to healthcare. Regardless of the why, it’s the how that dictates the number of RNs, LPNs and NPs who make a difference in hospitals and other medical facilities across the country.

How can a country in need of nurses get more qualified RNs, LPNs and NPs into hospitals, urgent care and other medical clinics? The expansion of higher educational options is part of the answer. The flexible and convenient nature of online nursing programs makes educational attainment easier than ever for those interested in becoming a nurse. Learn more about online nursing programs, including what’s available, how they work, and what you should evaluate before enrolling.

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Online Nursing Degree Options

There are online educational options for nurses at just about any stage, from those just starting out to experienced nurses who want to pursue graduate-level study and become advanced practitioners. Take a look at the various online degrees available in nursing as well as the outcome of each.

Online Degree Description
Associate degree (ADN) The online ADN is the quickest path to becoming a nurse, taking about two years to complete for candidates without any prior higher education. People who wish to enter the workforce as soon as possible often choose this degree, and then pursue more advanced education after they have gained some professional working experience.
Bachelor’s degree (BSN) Online bachelor’s degrees in nursing typically take four years to complete for full-time students. Online, it can be pursued at an accelerated pace, but many RNs work toward their BSNs part-time while continuing to work. In addition to core coursework in nursing and science, the BSN mandates that students take liberal arts courses to round out their education. While not immediately relevant to everyday nursing duties, the broader education can open doors to leadership positions. Moreover, several states either require (or are in the process of requiring) that RNs hold at least a BSN.
Master’s degree (MSN) Those who wish to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)—such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners—must earn at least a master’s degree. Full-time online MSN programs, roughly 60 graduate-level credits, take about two years to complete. MSNs are ideal for nurses who want to specialize, even in nonclinical healthcare roles.
Doctorate degree (DNP or PhD) The doctorate is a terminal degree for nurses who want to be independent practitioners; programs typically, but not always, require a bachelor’s for entry. Because there are different specializations for APRNs, the length of time to complete a doctorate varies. Three years is a reasonable time frame for a student beginning with a BSN; those with a master’s might finish in two. Although a doctorate is not necessary for most careers, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommends that DNPs (Doctor of Nursing Practice) be required for APRNs. Another option for doctoral study is the PhD degree; the key difference between a DNP and PhD is that the former focuses on clinical practice while the latter is a research-oriented degree.
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Online Nursing Bridge Programs

Students who already have a nursing diploma or degree can also pursue online bridge programs, which eliminate redundant coursework and speed up the process of earning a degree:

Online Bridge Program Description
LPN to ADN While RNs work independently, licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of RNs. Becoming an LPN, which typically takes two years of full-time coursework, can be considered a stepping stone to becoming an RN. LPNs can expect to spend an additional one to two years completing coursework to achieve an associate degree in nursing (ADN), which will qualify them to sit for the RN exam. Some programs have specific course prerequisites, and require that students have taken them within a certain time frame and achieved a minimum grade.
LPN to BSN Full-time students in an LPN to BSN program can finish their studies in two to four years, depending on how many prerequisites they have completed in advance. Some online programs, such as the one at North Dakota State University, stipulate that LPNs enter with an associate degree in nursing. Others, such as Indiana State University’s online LPN to BS program, only require that students have completed nine nursing prerequisite courses.
RN to BSN As of March 2015, there were more than 400 fully or partially online RN to BSN programs, all of which are designed for RNs who hold an ADN. Standard programs are 120 semester credits (180 quarter credits); schools have individual policies about transferring credits.
RN to MSN In most RN to MSN programs, nurses who hold ADNs can earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously over two to three years (some programs skip the BSN). Students begin with undergraduate work and progress to master’s studies in the latter half of the program. RN to MSN programs are time-efficient because they consolidate redundant coursework required at both the baccalaureate and graduate levels, quickly propelling students into specialized tracks such as nurse educator, nurse midwife, and diabetes nursing.
RN to DNP RN to DNP programs are a bit uncommon, but they do exist. Generally, RNs entering these programs already have BSNs, but many schools will admit students with ADNs if they have a bachelor’s degree in some area. These students, however, can expect to take more classes at the start of the program. Length of these programs varies and is usually offered in a hybrid format. For example, the hybrid RN to DNP program at MGH Institute of Health Professions, takes four to five years to complete; the first half of the curriculum is taught on campus and leads to an MSN; the second half is completed online for a DNP.
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Best Online Nursing Programs

While earning a degree in nursing will prepare students to becoming an integral member of a medical team, it can be difficult to find the time to actually attend traditional in-person courses. Fortunately, there are several schools around the country that offer their nursing programs in an online format, allowing busy students to work towards their career goals without disrupting their present obligations. We’ve taken the time to look at each of these programs and have weighed them against one another, basing our analysis on information including tuition costs, class size, and acceptance rate. Check out our ranking list for online nursing schools and programs.

1. Linfield College

Located in Portland, Oregon, Linfield's School of Nursing hosts an online RN-to-BSN program that serves nurses around the state. The program offers a flexible, mostly online format, with several annual start dates to accommodate working nurses. Admission is open to registered nurses of all experience levels, and Linfield prides itself on offering multi-generational classes that bring together nurses of all backgrounds. Online learners can take advantage of dedicated academic advising, tutoring, and library services.

The online nursing degree requires a total of 125 credits, including 24 credits of nursing major courses. The program emphasizes diversity, multicultural awareness, social justice, care for vulnerable populations, and health promotion. Required courses include professional communication in healthcare, evidence-based nursing, population-based nursing, and nursing leadership. Linfield offers a generous transfer credit policy, and students can also earn academic credit for prior professional experience.

Service learning plays a large role in the curriculum, and students complete a nursing practicum in their community, working with a vulnerable population. Alternately, students can participate in Linfield's International Service Learning Program, completing a three-week practicum in a foreign country. Linfield maintains partnerships with several international organizations, including Health Bridges International and the Global Engagement Institute. Students have traveled to countries including Guatemala, Kenya, Haiti, and Nepal.

Linfield College is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

2. University of Rochester

A private college located in western New York, Rochester enrolls approximately 11,000 students annually. The school's online RN-to-BSN program emphasizes the use of technology in healthcare, providing all students with an iPad to complete online coursework and other interactive assignments. The program offers rolling admission deadlines, with start dates in the fall, spring, and summer. Most students complete their online nursing degree in 16 months of part-time study.

Rochester's nursing curriculum requires learners to earn a total of 64 credits, though most students transfer in 32 nursing credits from their RN license. Courses use a modular format, with all students completing one course at a time in a set sequence. The curriculum includes topics in biopsychosocial health assessment, nursing leadership and management, pathophysiology and pharmacology for RNs, and population health. Students conclude the program with a capstone that focuses on developing a project that improves nursing safety or performance.

Students who live around Rochester may be eligible for the Finger Lakes Regional Scholarship, which offers a 50% tuition discount for healthcare providers who work in the area. The school also offers an Affiliate Professional Development Grant for nurses who work with an affiliate organization of Rochester, such as Highland Hospital, Noyes Memorial Hospital, and the Thompson Health System. Eligible nurses receive a 55% tuition discount.

The University of Rochester is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

3. Sacred Heart University

A private Catholic college based in Fairfield, Connecticut, SHU ranks among the top Christian schools in the region, serving around 8,500 students annually through campus-based and online programs. SHU's online RN-to-BSN program stresses clinical leadership development, care assessment and evaluation, bioethics, and the use of information technology to improve nursing practice. The program offers six start dates each year, and students can transfer up to 90 credits toward their degree.

SHU's online nursing degree requires 57 major credits. Most RNs enter the program needing to complete 27 nursing major credits, including courses in health assessment, evidence-based practice, care management for individuals and families, and leadership in contemporary nursing practice. Depending on their previous classes, some students may need to take additional courses in chemistry and anatomy/physiology.

SHU grounds its nursing coursework in a Catholic liberal arts foundation, and all students complete courses in philosophy, ethics, and literature. A course in bioethics focuses on common ethical issues in the healthcare professions, such as truth-telling, professional codes of conduct, and decision-making. An English course in literary expressions of illness and healing examines the role of storytelling in healthcare, highlighting patient and professional perspectives and the influence of race, class, gender, and religion on healthcare.

Sacred Heart University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

4. Quinnipiac University

Based in Hamden, Connecticut, Quinnipiac offers on-campus and online programs to more than 10,000 students each year. The college's online nursing degree trains healthcare professionals to provide care to diverse patient populations in all types of clinical environments, building versatile skills and leadership abilities. The program uses a mix of synchronous and asynchronous course materials.

The nursing major requires 32 credits, including 29 credits of nursing classes and one free elective. The nursing curriculum includes 13 courses that cover general and specialized topics, such as nursing science and information literacy, educational principles for the healthcare professional, integrative health and healing, and introduction to informatics. Candidates typically transfer into the program with 68 nursing credits. Those with fewer credit equivalences may compete additional advanced nursing courses to fulfill credit requirements.

All students complete two one-credit field experiences as part of their major curriculum requirements, each lasting one semester. Emphasizing concepts in research, evidence-based practice, and community/public health nursing, these field experiences facilitate the synthesis of theoretical coursework with professional nursing practice. Students work in a supervised clinical setting, implementing and evaluating a nursing project that addresses an identified problem or issue in the field.

Quinnipiac University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

5. Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

A Boston-based college focused on medical education and health sciences, MCPHS enrolls around 7,000 students annually. The school offers an online RN-to-BSN program that focuses on healthcare technology and professional development. While students must visit campus at the beginning of the program for an orientation session, all other coursework is delivered entirely online. Program applicants need at least one year of work experience as an RN by the program's start date.

The online nursing degree requires 27 credits of professional nursing courses and 29 credits of general education courses. The nursing core includes eight courses, exploring topics such as chemistry of nutrition, health assessment and promotion, scholarly inquiry, and nursing informatics. General education requirements include courses in healthcare ethics and statistics, which many students fulfill before transferring into the program. The general education section also requires 17 credits of health sciences electives.

The nursing program includes two major experiential components. A four-credit coordinator of care course requires students to complete a five-week clinical immersion in a chronic or acute care setting, providing care for patients with complex health problems, such as cancer and infectious diseases. The program ends with a professional capstone that helps students transition into advanced nursing practice through the development of a nursing project in a clinical setting. These two courses comprise a total of 135 clinical hours.

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

6. Labouré College

A private Catholic college focused on healthcare education, Labouré serves around 850 students from its campus in Milton, Massachusetts, and online. Students pursuing the school's online nursing degree benefit from many academic support services and some of the most affordable tuition rates in the state. Labouré offers several start dates throughout the year, and courses use an accelerated seven-week format, enabling many students to complete their degree in just 16 months.

Candidates complete 28 credits of required nursing courses and 18 credits of general education courses. The nursing major section includes nine courses, covering key topics such as health assessment, pathophysiology, and nursing communication and informatics. General education courses include foundational topics in statistics, ethics, and science. The program ends with a capstone course that requires students to demonstrate mastery of major program concepts and reflect on their professional growth.

Labouré emphasizes experiential learning for nurses, and a six-credit practicum serves as one of the program's defining components. Working closely with a mentor, students identify a substantive, research-based nursing problem and spend their practicum attempting to devise a solution. The practicum includes a significant clinical component, in which students apply solutions based on their research. The practicum also requires students to attend at least one meeting of the State House or MA Board of Registration in Nursing.

Laboure College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

7. New England Institute of Technology

A private college in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, NEIT offers technical and vocational programming to around 3,000 students each year. The school's online nursing degree emphasizes practical skills and theory, recognizing nursing as both an art and a science. Using a part-time format to accommodate working nurses, the program also uses an asynchronous model. Courses last 10 weeks, and candidates can complete the program in 18 months.

NEIT hosts the oldest RN-to-BSN program in Rhode Island, offering a time-tested curriculum that highlights the growing use of technology in the healthcare field. Aligned with the National League for Nursing's Core Competencies, the nursing major requires 67 quarter credits spread across 16 courses. The program covers topics including ethical issues in nursing, health assessment across the lifespan, principles of population and prevention health, and applied research statistics. Candidates must also complete two electives in the humanities.

The program concludes with an experiential capstone that takes place in a professional healthcare environment — typically at a student's current place of employment. Nurses apply program concepts to observation and practice, working closely with an experienced preceptor to gain a deeper understanding of nursing leadership practices.

The New England Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

8. Loyola University of Chicago

A private Jesuit college, Loyola enrolls more than 16,000 students annually, boasting a major medical center and top-rated programs in nursing and health sciences. Loyola's online nursing degree offers a highly flexible curriculum model that serves the needs of working nurses. Students benefit from a fully online format and opportunities to expedite graduation by earning credit for professional experience. Students can complete the program in three semesters.

Nursing students complete 24 major credits, 6-18 credits of university core requirements, and a nursing portfolio worth up to 25 credits. The nursing core includes eight courses and covers topics such as community health, nursing research, and leadership for professional nursing practice. The university core covers general topics in art, history, literature, ethics, and statistics, along with a course in Ignatian traditions. Core requirements may be fulfilled through transfer credits, but nursing students must complete at least six core credits online through Loyola.

Candidates can submit a portfolio of professional nursing experiences, earning up to 25 credits based on prior learning. The portfolio offers several pathways to earn credit, including work experience, professional certifications, membership with professional organizations, community service, and participation in nursing research. Different experiences equate to different credit amounts. For example, 3-4 years of professional experience equals two credits, while a professional certification can equal up to four credits.

Loyola University of Chicago is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

9. Pace University

A private college with campuses in New York and Westchester County, Pace offers an online RN-to-BSN program that stresses evidence-based theory and clinical practice. Most nurses graduate in about two years, though students with ample transfer credit can earn their degree in one year of full-time study. Candidates interested in pursuing a master of nursing can also earn up to nine graduate credits while completing their BSN.

The online nursing degree includes 21 credits of core nursing courses, nine credits of nursing electives, and 26 credits of arts and sciences courses. The program core includes seven courses, covering topics such as evidence-based practice for healthy aging, population health in the global environment, improving the health of a population, and innovation in the art of leading and management.

Electives cover a variety of specialized topics, and students with a minimum 3.0 GPA can complete some graduate courses for elective credit, including pathophysiology for advanced nursing, leadership for advanced nursing, and advanced nursing in primary healthcare. These courses count toward undergraduate and graduate requirements for nurses who earn a master of nursing at Pace. Students with a GPA of 3.0 or higher can also complete an independent study course on an approved nursing topic of their choice.

Pace University is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

10. Pennsylvania State University

Penn State's online nursing degree includes 22 credits of prescribed nursing courses, six credits of support and related courses, and up to 33 portfolio assessment credits. The prescribed core includes courses in family and community health concepts, nursing informatics, and advanced health assessment. Several courses fulfill the support credit requirements, including trauma/critical care nursing and nursing management of human resources. Students can also complete an internship or independent study.

The portfolio component enables nurses to gain credit for relevant experiences in the field. Valid experiences for portfolio credit include mental health nursing, pharmacology, and client care through the adult lifespan. Candidates compile their experiences into a portfolio, which faculty evaluate for approval. Students can earn up to 33 credits from their portfolio and complete electives to fulfill any remaining credits.

Penn State also offers three optional certifications for nurses: nursing management, nursing informatics, and nursing forensics. The management and forensics certificates require 12 credits, while the informatics certificate requires nine credits. Each certificate builds highly specialized skills. In the forensic track, for example, students complete courses in violence and the impact on society, forensic evidence collection and preservation, and a seminar in forensic nursing.

Pennsylvania State University is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

11. Salve Regina University

A private Catholic college located in Newport, Rhode Island, Salve Regina serves around 2,700 students annually, offering an array of campus-based and distance education programs. The school's online RN-to-BSN program offers flexibility for working nurses and some of the most affordable tuition rates in the state. The school also provides a tuition discount to nurses at partner institutions and military families. Salve Regina offers six start dates throughout the year, and degree candidates can complete the program in one year of full-time study.

The online nursing degree requires 128 credits, 58 of which are based on a student's prior RN education. Students complete 10 required nursing courses and 10 required general education courses. The nursing core explores topics such as public health and disaster response, families in transition, nursing informatics, and research and evidence-based practice. The general education section includes foundational liberal arts courses, along with relevant courses in biomedical ethics, literature and medicine, and global health.

Salve Regina emphasizes service learning, and all students complete multiple nursing immersion experiences. One experience focuses on aging and the end of life, while another focuses on public health and disaster response. Nurses can perform their service learning experiences in a healthcare setting in their own community or abroad.

Salve Regina University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

12. Michigan State University

A public research college based in East Lansing, MSU enrolls more than 50,000 students annually, making it one of the largest schools in the country. Accordingly, the university is a major provider of distance education in Michigan, offering one of the state's top online nursing degrees. Designed to help working nurses advance their careers, MSU's RN-to-BSN program uses a part-time, fully online format. Students typically complete their degree in five semesters.

The nursing major requires 10 courses, exploring topics such as pathophysiology, community and population health nursing, and health promotion. All students also complete a leadership immersion, which requires supervised work in a clinical setting. The immersion synthesizes coursework and professional practice, emphasizing the skills and competencies necessary for effective nursing leadership. Nurses often complete this immersion at their current place of employment.

Applicants need an associate degree in nursing with a minimum 2.75 GPA, an active and unrestricted RN license, and a minimum 2.0 GPA in all science prerequisite courses. Applicants must also submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and an application essay that explains their motivation for pursuing a BSN. MSU does not admit out-of-state students to this online program.

Michigan State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

13. Belmont University

A Christian liberal arts college based in Nashville, Tennessee, Belmont serves around 8,300 students of all Christian backgrounds. The school's RN-to-BSN program has trained nurses for more than 30 years, stressing principles of leadership, management, teamwork, and collaboration. Today, the program uses a hybrid format that mixes online learning with evening and daytime campus courses.

The online nursing degree includes 64 credits of nursing major courses, and licensed RNs can receive up to 30 credits based on previous nursing coursework. Common courses include nutrition for healthcare, adult health nursing, and mental health nursing concepts. The curriculum includes two key experiences: a practicum and a nursing capstone.

The practicum requires supervised work in a clinical setting, enabling nurses to gain specialized experience in a practice area. The capstone emphasizes legal and ethical issues in the nursing profession, preparing students to transition into advanced practice.

Belmont offers multiple pathways for nurses to gain academic credit for prior experiences, including a professional portfolio review and challenge exams. The portfolio enables students to assemble a record of relevant professional experiences, which faculty then evaluate to determine credit equivalencies. Challenge exams assess specific skills and competencies; students who successfully pass these exams can bypass certain courses.

Belmont University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

14. Widener University

Located in the southeastern Pennsylvania city of Chester, Widener enrolls more than 6,000 students annually. The school's online RN-to-BSN program stresses flexibility for working students, offering a fully asynchronous course model that requires no set login times. The program uses an accelerated course format, enabling some students to complete their degree in just one year. Widener's curriculum does not require clinical experiences or onsite residencies.

Widener's online nursing degree stresses advanced skills in evidence-based practice, along with supplementary courses in healthcare policy, regulation, and finance. Students also gain culturally focused patient care perspectives, exploring behavioral, environmental, and socioeconomic factors in nursing. The program's 30-credit nursing core includes eight courses, covering key topics such as nursing theory and professional practice, population health, research design, and gerontology.

Applicants need a valid RN license and an associate degree or diploma from a regionally accredited college, completed with a minimum 2.0 GPA. All applicants must also submit a resume detailing their professional experience and official college transcripts from all previously attended institutions. Incoming students undergo a credit evaluation — carried out by a program manager — to determine credit equivalencies. Licensed RNs typically enter the program with 59 transfer credits, fulfilling most prerequisite credits.

Widener University is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

15. Emmanuel College

A Catholic liberal arts college based in Boston, Emmanuel serves a student body of around 2,500 learners. The school's online RN-to-BSN program uses a flexible hybrid format that mixes campus-based and online courses. Aligned around concepts of belief, professionalism, knowledge, and caring, the program trains students to serve as nurse leaders who provide ethical, responsible care to patients from diverse social, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Many students complete the program in 16 months.

The 128-credit program requires 32 credits of nursing major courses. Students explore topics like nursing informatics and computer applications, diversity in healthcare and contemporary healing, community health, and research in nursing practice. Emanuel typically awards 40 credits for an associate degree in nursing, and students can transfer up to 96 credits into the program. 

Students who reside in the Boston area receive a unique opportunity to participate in a residency program at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The program enables students to work at Beth Israel's Academic Medical Center while completing their BSN, earning a competitive salary and participating in onsite educational activities, including cohort meetings and mentorship opportunities. Students outside of the Boston area can also participate in a practicum in a healthcare environment within their own community.

Emmanuel College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

16. Rider University

Hosting more than 5,000 students each year, Rider operates a main campus in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, as well as a popular distance education program. The school offers an online nursing degree with flexible course formats and multiple start dates each year, serving the needs of working nurses. Rider offers tuition discounts to nurses employed at several partner healthcare organizations, including Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, Kennedy Health, and the Princeton Healthcare System.

The nursing major requires 30 credits that cover topics including professionalism and professional values, information management and patient care technology, population health and clinical prevention across the lifespan, and cultural diversity in a global society. Students can complete the entire major sequence online. The curriculum also includes 40-42 credits of free electives, some of which can be fulfilled with nursing courses.

Near the end of the program, all candidates complete a capstone course in evidence-based microsystem practice change. Synthesizing key concepts in assessment, design, planning, and implementation of nursing practices, the capstone emphasizes the leadership roles of professional nurses. The course also focuses on nursing safety principles, stressing the skills necessary to recognize, evaluate, and correct errors in healthcare practice. Nurses typically perform most capstone work at their current place of employment.

Rider University is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

17. Saint Louis University

A private Jesuit college that serves more than 12,000 students annually, SLU ranks among the oldest Jesuit schools in the country. Students enrolled in the school's online RN-to-BSN program benefit from a curriculum grounded in the liberal arts, which frames nursing alongside the humanities and sciences. Online learners can also take advantage of faculty mentorship, personalized curriculum plans, tutoring services, and library resources. SLU offers both full-time and part-time enrollment options, enabling students to complete their degree in 1-2.5 years.

Candidates complete a minimum of 24 nursing major credits, covering topics such as leadership and management, heath assessment for RNs, conceptual frameworks for practice, and research and evidence-based practice. Courses last either eight or 16 weeks and are offered in a rotating sequence — not all courses are available each semester. Students may need to complete up to 55 credits of pre-nursing courses depending on their transfer credits. SLU does not accept transfer courses completed with a letter grade lower than "C".

SLU offers tuition discounts for employees of several St. Louis healthcare organizations. Nurses who reside in and around the St. Louis area should check with their employer to determine if they are eligible for partner tuition discounts. The school also offers several scholarships for nurses and employment training grants for applicants who are unemployed, underemployed, or economically disadvantaged.

Saint Louis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

18. Molloy College

A private Catholic college based in Rockville Centre, New York, Molloy enrolls about 5,000 students annually through on-campus and distance education programs. The school offers an online RN-to-BSN program that emphasizes public health, population health, and world health issues, training students to assume advanced nursing positions or pursue graduate study. Students typically earn their degree in two years, though accelerated summer courses and earning credit based on prior learning enable some candidates to graduate faster.

The online nursing degree requires 128 credits, including 24 credits of nursing major courses and a three-credit residency. The nursing core consists of eight courses, covering key topics like humanistic nursing concepts, environmental issues, health assessment in the community, and culture of health in chronic illness. Students also complete an academic minor to augment their nursing skills, such as social science or nutrition.

Molloy recognizes the experience of practicing professional nurses, offering several opportunities for students to earn credit for prior learning, such as trainings, certifications, and job experience. Students can also pass challenge exams for credit, which assess knowledge related to specific subjects. Additionally, students can submit a professional portfolio detailing their nursing experiences. Department members evaluate a learner's portfolio and award academic credit based on relevant training.

Molloy College is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

19. Becker College

A private, Massachusetts-based college with campuses in Worcester and Leicester, Becker serves almost 2,000 students annually. The school offers an online RN-to-BSN program that focuses on 10 key competencies, including leadership, professionalism, patient-centered care, quality improvement, and evidence-based practice. Integrating studies in the humanities, social science, natural science, and nursing, this fully online program uses a flexible, asynchronous delivery model that helps practicing nurses balance school with work.

Becker's online nursing degree requires 51 credits and typically takes four semesters to complete. Common courses include informatics and patient care technology, pharmacokinetics in nursing practice, intercultural communication, health assessment and promotion across the lifespan, and community nursing. All students need an associate degree in nursing, which equates to 69 undergraduate credits. Becker accepts up to 90 transfer credits, enabling some students to complete the program in one year.

Nursing candidates also complete several clinical experiences, which can take place online or at a healthcare facility in the student's community. Virtual clinicals offer simulated nursing experiences, while in-person clinicals allow students to apply course concepts to nursing practice directly. Students perform in-person clinical work under the supervision of a preceptor, often at their current place of employment.

Becker College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

20. Curry College

Located in Milton, Massachusetts, Curry enrolls almost 5,000 students annually through on-campus and distance education programs. Curry's online RN-to-BSN program emphasizes community health, managed care, and health promotion, offering a fully online format as well as hybrid options that combine online learning with on-campus sessions. Accelerated eight-week courses enable students to complete their degree quickly, even while enrolled part time. Curry also offers extended 15-week courses.

Students earning this online nursing degree begin the program with a course in RN transition to baccalaureate nursing, which serves as a bridge between RN and BSN courses. Upon completing the transition course, students receive 34 transfer credits based on their associate degree in nursing. Remaining courses cover topics including pathophysiology, pharmacology, population health in the community, evidence for nursing practice, and health policy and finance.

All students complete clinical experiences and a senior capstone. Clinical immersions give students hands-on experience in a professional healthcare environment, often with their current employer. The senior capstone, which typically occurs during the final semester of the program, synthesizes major topics and provides a space for students to reflect on their learning. The capstone emphasizes professional values and leadership roles in the healthcare field.

Curry College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

21. University of Wisconsin Madison

The flagship institution of the University of Wisconsin System, UW enrolls more than 44,000 students annually, making it the largest college in the state. The school's online RN-to-BSN program explores the intersection of science, nursing, and communication, preparing graduates for management roles or further education. Full-time students can complete the program in 1.5 years, while part-time students typically take around 2.5 years to graduate.

The UW System offers this online nursing degree cooperatively through six campus locations, including Madison, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, and Stevens Point. All students choose a "home campus" — typically the school closest to their residence — through which they enroll and apply for financial aid. Most coursework for this degree takes place online, but any campus requirements occur at the student's home campus. For example, UW requires students to attend half-day campus sessions at the program's beginning and end.

The curriculum requires 24-30 nursing major credits. Course topics include chronic care management, leadership and management, and information and health technology. All candidates complete a capstone clinical as their final course. Taking place in a professional healthcare setting, the capstone synthesizes key program concepts and applies them to supervised clinical work.

The University of Wisconsin Madison is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

22. Fisher College

A private college in Boston, Fisher also operates satellite campuses in Brockton, New Bedford, and North Attleboro, along with a distance education program. The school's online nursing degree stresses improved clinical practice and novel care delivery methods, training students in information literacy, leadership, nursing research, and population-based practice. The program uses a mix of synchronous and asynchronous coursework that includes independent assignments and live video conference sessions.

The curriculum requires 30 credits of nursing major courses and 12 credits of electives in the social sciences and global awareness. The nursing core covers topics such as physical assessments, gerontology, nursing research, and nursing informatics. The program concludes with a capstone, which requires students to complete a comprehensive research project and a practicum experience in one of three nursing areas: management, education, or practice.

The practicum experience allows students to apply new skills to professional nursing environments. Students typically complete the practicum in a healthcare setting near their home, such as a school, visiting nurse agency, public health department, or primary care clinic. The practicum offers experience in treating patients across the healthcare continuum, while also building professional connections and competencies.

Fisher College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

23. University of Massachusetts Amherst

The flagship institution of the University of Massachusetts System, UMass Amherst is the largest college in the state, enrolling more than 30,000 students annually. The school's fully online RN-to-BSN program trains students to serve as nurse leaders and advocates for underserved populations, stressing collaborative care practices, professional ethics, and a spirit of inquiry. The nursing program offers start dates in the spring and summer. Full-time students typically graduate in one year.

Students pursuing this online nursing degree pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of their state of residence. However, out-of-state students should check with their state licensing board to determine if the school's curriculum meets their state's licensure requirements.

The online nursing degree requires 60 major credits, with students earning 30 transfer credits from their associate degree and an additional 30 credits through courses at UMass Amherst. Course topics include nursing care of families, professional roles in nursing, writing in nursing ethics, and cultural diversity in health and illness.

All students complete a practicum that focuses on vulnerable/underserved populations. Typically performed at a community health organization or a similar environment, the practicum combines professional practice with the program's values of social justice and patient advocacy.

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

24. Columbia College of Nursing

Based in Glendale, Wisconsin, CCON was founded in 1901, making it the oldest nursing college in the state. The school offers an online RN-to-BSN program that stresses evidence-based practice and patient advocacy, training students to assume nursing leadership positions or pursue graduate study. Online learners benefit from a flexible, primarily asynchronous course format that only requires one campus visit, which is held during the first semester. Full-time students can graduate in one year.

The nursing curriculum includes 30 required credits, covering topics such as cultural diversity and social justice, statistics for health professions, informatics and technology, and bioethics. At the end of the program, students complete a capstone that synthesizes major program concepts and includes a care quality improvement project. Experienced nurses can receive up to 30 credits for prior learning, which CCON evaluates through a professional nursing simulation.

CCON maintains a professional partnership with Ascension — a leading nonprofit healthcare provider. Nurses employed at any of Ascension's 100+ hospital campuses and healthcare facilities around Wisconsin receive a 20% tuition discount as well as tuition assistance. CCON's partnership with Ascension provides several other benefits for nursing students, including priority for clinical placements at Ascension healthcare facilities, priority hiring for CCON graduates, and access to Ascension's professional simulation labs.

Columbia College of Nursing is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

25. University of Pittsburgh

One of the largest colleges in Pennsylvania, Pitt offers a fully online nursing degree that prepares working nurses for professional advancement. For students interested in pursuing a graduate education, Pitt offers a pathway to early admission into the school's master of science in nursing and doctor of nursing practice programs. The master's program is available online, while the doctoral program is only available on campus.

The general RN-to-BSN program requires 52 major credits, including 40-42 credits of nursing courses and 10-12 credits of electives. The graduate pathway program also requires 52 credits but uses a different curriculum model, with 28 credits dedicated to BSN courses and 24 credits dedicated to graduate bridge courses. Students in both pathways complete many of the same general courses, such as nursing informatics and nursing ethics. Graduate pathway students work with an advisor to determine course selections based on their professional goals.

Applicants to either program need an associate degree in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA and a current RN license. Applicants must also submit a statement of intent; a resume or CV; and three letters of recommendation from a faculty member, current supervisor, and professional colleague. Applicants to the MSN or DNP pathway must submit a longer statement of intent outlining their professional aspirations and research interests.

The University of Pittsburgh is regionally accredited by the Middles States Commission on Higher Education. The school's nursing program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

The Nuts and Bolts of Online Nursing Degrees

Online education is a great option for a lot of students, but before embracing the format, applicants should consider the ways online classes and programs differ from their on-campus equivalents.

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Class Sizes

There is ongoing debate about what an appropriate online class size is, with some arguing that class sizes should be limited regardless of the format, and others pointing out that large class sizes are consistent with the self-starter ethos of online students, who are expected to take greater responsibility for their distance learning. Some online schools have addressed the issue by creating cohort programs so students can take classes with a smaller group of students who stay together throughout the entire program.

Cohort Start Dates

Unlike traditional college programs, in which all students start classes at the same time, online programs are able to offer more choices. Many online nursing degree programs offer multiple start dates, which means aspiring nurses can apply throughout the year. For example, the RN to BSN program at the University of Texas at Arlington, has 11 start dates, meaning that students can be attending classes within a month of applying.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Learning

Although online programs are touted for their flexibility, it’s important to pay attention to each program’s instructional methods. Some courses—and even some entire programs—are asynchronous, meaning that students are provided with materials via online tools, and given a time frame, usually about a week, to complete assignments. They then choose when to log in and do work, using discussion boards or collaborating via wikis and other online tools. Synchronous online classes, on the other hand, require students to log in at a predetermined time and contribute via video conferencing, a chat application, or some other medium. Such classes more closely resemble classroom-based courses, with information being delivered and discussed in real time.

There are benefits to both course types. Synchronous courses give opportunities for student interaction that aren’t available to the same extent in asynchronous courses, whereas asynchronous courses are, by nature, flexible and allow students time to process what they have learned before contributing. In an effort to reap the benefits of each approach, teachers are beginning to incorporate both elements into their courses.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time

Online schools have pioneered the idea of flexible, part-time study schedules, and have advertised that fact. However, there is a catch: The cost of part-time enrollment (usually anything less than three classes a quarter for undergraduate students) is calculated on a per-credit basis, whereas full-time study tends to be counted at a flat rate. Students who attend part-time, then, generally pay a bit more over the course of their degree and, by nature, will take longer to complete the program.

Tuition and Financial Aid

As with on-campus programs, tuition for online programs depends on two factors: residency and enrollment status. Students attending an in-state program at a public university benefit from lower in-state tuition costs, whereas out-of-state students typically do not (although this depends on the individual college or university). This designation does not matter for private colleges, which make no geographical distinctions. Second, per-credit tuition can make a degree much more expensive than full-time study, depending upon how the school tiers its tuition rates.

There are also costs common to online programs that may not show up in a traditional campus program, and vice versa. For example, applicants should calculate the technology fee levied for online courses, as well as any expected travel expenses for academic residencies or clinical rotations. These may cut into the savings from on-campus fees such as parking or room and board.

To fund their education, online students have the same access to financial aid as their on-campus counterparts. Schools themselves are a good source of funds, but by far the biggest provider of financial aid is the federal government, which disburses nearly 75 percent of financial aid funding. Students should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®); the U.S. government uses the information applicants provide to calculate how much students or their families are expected to contribute toward their education. The school’s financial aid office will work to make sure the rest is covered by grants or loans.

Online students should pay special attention to the timing for filing the FAFSA®. Because it was initially designed for campus-based students, its filing deadline corresponds to that, with students having to send in their FAFSA® between January 1 and June 30. Thus, online students should keep in mind that although they can start school at any time, the funding may not be ready by their start date if they did not file the FAFSA® by its set deadline.

Technology

Online learning relies heavily on the use of information technology, and nursing students should be comfortable using a variety of tools. Here are a few they can expect to use in a virtual classroom:

Learning Management System

An LMS is software specifically designed for delivering courses online. Learning management systems, such as Blackboard and Moodle, are used on a daily basis because they facilitate communication and content sharing between teachers and nursing students or among students themselves.

Email

From news on the latest change in healthcare policies to pushing back the date for a physiology exam, email notifications can keep online nursing students abreast of discussion posts or assignments so they do not have to remain constantly logged into an LMS.

Discussion Boards

Online discussion boards are one useful tool for asynchronous learning and are crucial for a collaborative field like nursing. Many professors make class participation via the discussion board a part of the student’s grade, which means nursing students will be required to share their thoughts on the shifting demographics in patient populations, ask questions regarding new technology, or debate the pros and cons of new health information privacy policies.

Wiki

Whereas discussion boards are designed for communication, Wikis are designed for collaboration. Students may be asked to use a wiki for group projects.

Video Conference

Smaller synchronous courses can use video conferences to hold group discussions during class time.

Podcasts

In addition to regular lectures or videos, professors can use podcasts to discuss special interest issues, such as patient demographic changes, affects of technology, or the consequences of increased healthcare coverage. Such podcasts can serve as supplemental material for nursing students.

Video Presentation

Content delivery is not a one-way street. Nursing students may be asked to record video presentations or to demonstrate an aspect of patient interaction to verify that they understand course materials. For nursing students, video presentations can be particularly helpful in science, biology, and courses that focus on bedside manners.

Clinical and Hands-On Experience

While general education courses often translate easily to online learning, clinical requirements, which require hands-on work with patients in healthcare settings, can prove somewhat of a dilemma for online nursing students. Online nursing degree programs have different approaches to address this challenge.

Some, such as the RN to BSN bridge program offered at the Tyler campus of the University of Texas, have designed their online nursing programs in a way that calls for minimal clinical time, using the reasoning that their students are already nurses employed in the profession. This is common to many bridge programs, which often share the goal of advancing students quickly through the degree process and may allow students to apply work experience toward their clinical coursework.

Nonetheless, clinicals are still a requirement, and students are discouraged from using preceptors from their current workplace. Instead, they must find their own clinical experiences and then confirm with the school that their choices meet program requirements. Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, for example, negotiates each graduate clinical placement after consulting with the student. However, because of the large number of online students throughout the U.S., there is an extensive national pool of preceptors that popular schools can call upon. Some schools, such as Simmons College, employ staff whose sole job is to find preceptors—a service that can be a big selling point for busy online students.

International students should make special note of clinical requirements; they may need to plan for additional time and expense, as clinicals must generally be done in the US. It’s important that students, US-based and international, speak with an administrator to get full details on how clinicals are handled at the school and what would be expected of the student in order to graduate and seek proper licensure for employment.

Evaluating Online Nursing Schools

In order to choose the online nursing school that best suits their individual goals, students would do well to thoroughly investigate the content and overall performance of several programs. Here are five things to keep an eye on while searching:

High NCLEX Pass Rates

A primary goal of any nursing program should be to prepare students to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX PN or RN), which is required to work as a licensed practical or registered nurse. In 2015, 85.5 percent of students educated in the U.S. passed the test the first time. Each state publishes a list of its nursing schools’ pass rates online, typically for the past five years, so prospective students can check how well a particular school stacks up. Students should keep in mind, however, that lower pass rates do not necessarily mean an inferior education, but may indicate admission of students with more academic needs.

Accreditation

Another standard requirement of state licensure is graduation from an accredited school, meaning one that has been evaluated by educators and judged to provide a worthwhile education. There are two layers of accreditation: the school as a whole, as well as the individual nursing program. There are two recognized accrediting bodies for nursing programs. The first is the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (formerly the National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission), or ACEN, which accredits all levels of schooling. The second is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which exclusively handles bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.

Clinical/Hands-on Experiences

Experienced nurses provide a higher overall quality of care, pointing to the importance of clinical hours as a barometer of success in the professional setting. Whereas tests demonstrate that students have attained theoretical and practical knowledge, their ability to apply such knowledge is part of a separate skill set, one that must be nurtured. Current nurses taking part in a bridge program may feel they need fewer clinical hours, but non-practicing nurses will find them vital. The number of required clinical hours may vary significantly between programs, so potential candidates should analyze their needs and choose a program that has sufficient hours. Although accreditors set clinical requirements, only 11 states and territories require a specific minimum number of clinical hours for ADNs.

Specialties

Nurses at all levels have the opportunity to specialize. Throughout the course of a general nursing program, ADNs and BSNs will likely gain specialized experience as they complete rotations through several different wings of a hospital. For example, a new nurse may spend four months at an oncology unit and another four months in the pediatrics unit, before finishing up the year in cardiology and deciding where to work permanently. At the advanced level, nurses seeking MSNs and DNPs are required to specialize. These graduate-level nurses should ensure a program offers a program within their specialty.

State Agreements

Although the lure of online education is that it can be done from anywhere, the reality is that state regulations and variations in educational requirements will affect a student’s choice of school. Completing clinical hours may be a sticking point, as certain states do not have reciprocity agreements allowing for on-ground programs to be virtually administered. Prospective students should always check with the admissions office about state agreements before applying.

Other Popular Online Nursing Degrees

Although most of nursing involves working with patients, there are important roles for nurses that go beyond direct patient care. Below are three examples of popular online nursing degree programs for those who want to gain – or enhance – skills outside the clinical realm.