Best Online Nursing Programs 2020Flexible Learning for Meeting Future Healthcare Demands

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for registered nurses (RNs) to grow 12% from 2018-2028, which is much faster than the projected 5% growth for all occupations. This robust growth projection translates to many opportunities in the nursing field. An aging U.S. population and the rapid rate of nurses entering retirement also contribute to the need for qualified nursing professionals. Nurses work in hospitals, private clinics, military facilities, and healthcare organizations. They face a healthy job market with plenty of room for professional advancement and opportunities to help others.

This guide details online nursing programs, including how to evaluate online nursing schools. Whether you seek a nursing certificate, a bachelor's degree, or postsecondary options, you can use this page as a resource for exploring online colleges for nursing.

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Online Nursing Degree Options

Several colleges and universities throughout the country offer online and on-campus nursing programs. By increasing the number of qualified nursing graduates, schools help mitigate the nursing shortage. See below for some online nursing programs available at many accredited U.S. schools.

Online Degree Description
Associate Degree A two-year program typically offered by community colleges, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) presents the quickest path to a nursing career. Those with an ADN can take the NCLEX-RN. In most states, passing the exam leads to RN licensure. An ADN not only jumpstarts a nursing career, but also provides a solid foundation for further study and advanced degrees.
Bachelor's Degree Like most bachelor's programs, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) takes four years to complete. Large teaching hospitals usually prefer to hire BSN-trained nurses or require ADNs to complete a BSN after being hired. Students without a bachelor's degree in another field or those with an RN license typically pursue a traditional BSN program, which many accredited schools offer both online and on campus. BSN graduates usually sit for the NCLEX-RN after graduation to earn their RN license.
Master's Degree The length of time to complete a master's degree in nursing depends on a student's academic credentials coming into the program. Most MSN programs for BSN-trained students take two years to complete. It may take longer for RNs who only have a diploma or associate degree. Most states require MSN-trained nurses to acquire advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) and RN licenses. An MSN provides training in one of four specific nursing roles: nurse midwife, registered nurse anesthetist, nurse specialist, and nurse practitioner (NP).
Doctoral Degree Nurses who wish to pursue a doctorate in the field can earn either a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) or a doctor of philosophy in nursing (Ph.D.). Both programs are rigorous and share many elements. However, a DNP generally maintains a practice-focused approach, while a Ph.D. is often a research-heavy program preferred by researchers or nurse educators. A nursing doctorate can take 4-6 years to complete.
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Online Nursing Bridge Programs

Schools offer a variety of on-campus and online nursing programs to accommodate a variety of students, including professional learners or non-nursing professionals shifting to the nursing field. Nurses' educational background plays a major role in the duties and responsibilities they take on. The table below shows the various pathways aspiring nurses can pursue.

Online Bridge Program Description
LPN-to-ADN A non-degree diploma, a licensed practical nurse (LPN) program usually requires only one year of study. In California, Texas, and Vermont, an LPN is called a licensed vocational nurse, or LVN. Large teaching hospitals, vocational schools, and community colleges often offer LPN/LVN programs. LPNs/LVNs must pass the NCLEX for practical nurses (NCLEX-PN) to earn their license before they can practice. Many LPN-to-ADN and LVN-to-ADN programs take up to two years to complete. ADN graduates can take the NCLEX-RN that leads to RN licensure.
LPN-to-BSN It can take up to four years for an LPN to earn a BSN degree. LPNs pursuing a BSN can continue working in the nursing field while pursuing their bachelor's degree online. This practical work experience helps nurses better understand their program's nursing theories and scientific principles. Earning a BSN qualifies LPNs to take the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed RN.
RN-to-BSN Many RN-to-BSN programs take two years to complete. Students can usually keep working as RNs while they pursue their bachelor's degree. BSN-trained nurses possess a broader knowledge base and more extensive medical training. Because of this, they often assume increased professional responsibilities, qualify for more advancement opportunities, and earn higher salaries. Many hospitals and healthcare organizations require applicants to hold a BSN from an accredited institution.
RN-to-MSN Students who enroll in an RN-to-MSN program can earn their master's without first completing a bachelor's program, which can save both time and money. The length of time it takes to complete an RN-to-MSN program varies and depends on a student's academic background. As a rule, RNs who already hold a non-nursing bachelor's degree take an average of two years to complete their MSN. RNs with only an ADN may take longer.
RN-to-DNP Most RN-to-DNP programs take 3-5 years to complete, depending on students' educational level. Some schools require applicants to have a bachelor's degree while other schools accept RNs who only have an ADN. However, ADN-trained RNs who pursue a DNP will likely take longer to earn the degree because they must fulfill BSN requirements first. Some RN-to-DNP programs confer an MSN degree, while others do not. Many schools only offer on-campus or hybrid DNP programs.
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Best Online Nursing Programs for 2020

Because of the urgent need for well-trained nurses, many schools offer online nursing programs to allow non-traditional learners to pursue a nursing career. Often taught by the same professors who teach on-campus courses, accredited online nursing programs differ only in the delivery of course materials and, in some instances, program start dates.

The following ranking for the best online nursing programs for 2020 includes only accredited U.S. institutions of higher learning. In examining the benefits of online learning for nursing students, we considered several factors, including tuition cost, class size, acceptance numbers, and NCLEX pass rates. You can use the list below to begin your search for the ideal online nursing school.

1. Eastern University

Eastern University offers an online RN-to-BSN program designed to help working nurses advance professionally. Students complete the program entirely online and asynchronously.

The degree requires 42 major credits, and most learners graduate in 14 months. Core courses include healthcare informatics, scholarly writing in nursing, physical assessment, population-focused nursing, and nursing research.

Students must complete 46 hours of clinical experience, and the program culminates in a nursing capstone course. The curriculum meets requirements for two certificates, the Sigma Theta Tau nursing manager certificate and the end-of-life trained certificate of completion.

Eastern University charges an affordable per-credit tuition rate. Applicants must have a current RN license and a minimum 2.0 GPA in previous college coursework. Eastern University accepts up to 89 transfer credits.

2. Misericordia University

A private university located in Dallas, Pennsylvania, Misericordia University offers an online accelerated RN-to-BSN program ideal for working nurses. Misericordia delivers the program primarily online. However, some students may need to complete on-campus requirements.

The curriculum includes general education coursework and 22 cognate credits in the major. Core courses explore topics in nursing research for evidence-based practice, nursing concepts, and pediatrics. Learners take one clinical practice course in community health, and most students graduate in seven semesters.

Applicants must have a registered nurse license and a cumulative GPA of at least 2.75. Misericordia waives general education requirements for students who hold a bachelor's degree in another field. The university accepts transfer credits and Advanced Placement exams.

3. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey Camden Campus

Rutgers-Camden offers an online RN-to-BSN program for licensed registered nurses who want to advance their education and professional skills. Students can pursue the bachelor's degree entirely online, and the university maintains partnerships with local community colleges to offer the program in a hybrid format.

The RN-to-BSN program requires 121 credits, including 27 major credits. Full-time students typically complete the program in one year. Core courses include wellness and assessment, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and global health. Learners must complete at least 30 credits through Rutgers-Camden.

Applicants must have an associate degree in nursing from an accredited institution, a minimum 2.7 GPA, and an RN license. Admitted students receive 33 credits for passing their NCLEX licensing exam and can apply up to 60 transfer credits from their associate degree.

4. Concordia University, St. Paul

Nursing professionals can pursue an online RN-to-BSN program from CSP. The university offers a low per-credit tuition rate, making its offering one of the most affordable online BSN degrees.

The program requires 120 credits, including 36 major credits. Learners explore topics in transcultural nursing and health assessment, evidence-based practice, ethics and decision-making, and nursing informatics. The curriculum includes required field experiences and culminates in a capstone course. According to a survey by the university, 95% of CSP graduates receive a job offer within one year of graduation.

Applicants must hold an associate degree in nursing from an accredited institution, a minimum 2.75 GPA, and a valid nursing license. Students with a license issued by a state other than Minnesota should contact an enrollment counselor to ensure they qualify for admission.

5. North Dakota State University

The online RN-to-BSN program from NDSU builds on the previous training of working nurses. The university offers the program in a blended learning format. Students take eight-week classes online and complete an on-campus immersion each semester.

The 120-credit RN-to-BSN program requires 30 major credits. After completing general education requirements, most students earn their bachelor's degree in five semesters. Major courses include the essence of nursing, chronicity throughout the lifespan, quality and safety in healthcare, and transcultural nursing care. Students can apply up to 60 transfer credits toward the degree.

Applicants must hold an associate degree in nursing from an accredited institution, a current RN license, and a minimum 2.75 GPA. North Dakota residents pay a discounted tuition rate.

6. Vermont Technical College

Vermont Technical College offers an online bachelor of science in nursing program that allows registered nurses to advance their education while working. Students complete coursework entirely online and experiential learning requirements in their community or workplace.

The 120-credit curriculum includes 45 major credits. Learners study topics in nursing informatics, pathophysiology and assessment, nursing leadership and management, and community health. Students must earn a grade of "C" or better in nursing courses to receive credit.

Students who earn the associate degree in nursing from Vermont Tech can pursue the BSN degree after obtaining an RN license. The college accepts transfer students and maintains articulation agreements with community colleges in Vermont and other states.

7. Davenport University

Davenport University offers an online BSN completion program that prepares registered nurses to advance in the field. Nursing students can pursue an optional specialization in medical case management.

The BSN degree requires 121-134 credits and includes coursework in healthcare research, health promotion and education, and health assessment in nursing. The case management specialization covers topics in insurance reviews, casework reporting techniques, and case management for special populations.

Applicants must have an active registered nurse license, a minimum 2.5 GPA, and a current CPR card. Admitted students receive 30 credits for passing the NCLEX exam and can apply up to 60 credits from an associate degree in nursing.

The university charges a per-credit tuition rate, and Michigan Hospital Association employees receive a 20% tuition discount.

8. The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington offers an online accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program for students who have previous college experience in the field. UTA delivers the program in a hybrid format that blends online courses with supervised clinical experiences in hospitals throughout the state.

The accelerated BSN program requires 51 credits and takes 15 months to complete. Core courses include pharmacology, pathophysiology, holistic health assessment, nursing of adults, and pediatrics. According to UTA, more than 90% of the university's nursing students graduate and pass the NCLEX exam.

Applicants must have at least 70 previous credits. Prospective students can complete certain prerequisite requirements during the semester in which they apply or one semester after the application deadline.

9. University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

UW-Oshkosh students can pursue a BSN in an online accelerated format. One of the most affordable online BSN degrees, the program is ideal for bachelor's degree-holders who plan to transition into the nursing field. UW-Oshkosh delivers the program in a hybrid format. Students take online courses and complete three on-campus residencies. Learners progress through the curriculum in cohorts, which encourages networking among peers.

The BSN program requires 52 credits, and students can earn the degree in 12 months. Core courses explore topics in health assessment theory, evidence-based practice, mental health theory, and legal and ethical care. The curriculum also incorporates six clinical rotations during which students complete 728 clinical hours.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA. Prospective students must have a 3.0 GPA in prerequisite courses and a current nursing assistant certification.

10. University of Maine at Fort Kent

UMFK offers an online RN-to-BSN program designed for working nurses. The university delivers the program entirely online in seven-week asynchronous courses. Full-time students typically earn the degree in 10 months.

The 120-credit curriculum includes 30 credits of core nursing coursework, in addition to general education requirements and electives. Learners study topics in holistic health assessment, transcultural care, and healthcare policy. Students also complete a practicum course during which they design, plan, implement, and evaluate a community nursing intervention.

Like many affordable nursing schools, UMFK charges online students a low per-credit tuition rate. Applicants must either hold a current registered nurse license or hold an associate degree and have scheduled their NCLEX exam.

Online Nursing Degree Essentials

Accredited U.S. schools offering online programs work hard to guarantee the quality of their online offerings. Usually, on-campus and online programs differ only in the mode of delivery. Students who graduate from an online program receive the same diploma as learners who complete an on-campus program, with no indication that they earned an online degree.

Nevertheless, sometimes in-person programs differ from online programs. Understanding these differences and similarities can help you choose between an online or an on-campus program.

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Class Sizes

Online classes can admit as many students as the learning platform can accommodate. Conversely, the physical dimensions of a classroom or auditorium determines the number of students in onsite classes. Regardless of course format, only one professor teaches the course. For this reason, the size of online and on-campus classes remains similar.

Cohort Start Dates

Students enrolled in a program following a cohort model of education begin and end a program as a group. Online learning supports the cohort model of education by offering multiple start dates throughout the year, with each start date accommodating a new cohort. Traditional on-campus programs typically offer start dates during the fall, spring, and summer semesters. The University of Texas at Arlington, for example, offers several online nursing programs with multiple start dates for each one.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Learning

Most online learners enjoy the flexibility of attending classes at their convenience rather than commuting to campus for classes at set times. Some online classes meet synchronously, meaning at the same time but from different locations; others meet asynchronously, meaning at different times and from anywhere. Asynchronous classes, while convenient, can sometimes make students feel isolated and disconnected from other learners and the teacher.

Full Time vs. Part Time

While enrolling in an online program part time may appear cost-effective, learners should examine factors that impact the overall program cost. Some schools charge a flat-rate technology fee for full-time and part-time students. This means part-time learners pay full-time fees. Additionally, some schools charge full-time students a flat rate for each term, while part-time students pay per credit, which can sometimes cost more in the long run.

Tuition and Financial Aid

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) awards more than $122.4 billion in federal assistance each year in the form of scholarships, grants, student loans, and work-study funds. Students can complete the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available, which is usually on the first day of October in the year prior to their initial college enrollment date. The FAFSA deadline typically falls on June 30. Schools have a limited amount of funds which they administer for the federal government, so early application is key.

Some schools give students in online nursing programs the same financial aid opportunities as their on-campus counterparts. However, some scholarship programs maintain a residency requirement, meaning certain funds are reserved for full-time, on-campus enrollees. Even if you qualify for lower financial aid as an online student, remember that being an online enrollee gives you built-in savings on transportation, room and board, and other on-campus expenses.


Schools offering online programs subscribe to a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, or Canvas. An LMS enables schools to launch, track, and support various online initiatives, such as discussion boards, video conferences, and emails. An LMS also helps students access course materials, use digital resources, and remain connected to their teachers and classmates.

Schools invest in setting up, maintaining, and continually improving their technology and often pass on this cost to students in the form of a technology fee. Some schools charge a per-credit technology fee, while others prefer to collect a flat fee from students at the beginning of each term. Some federal nursing grants and scholarship programs cover full tuition and relevant fees, which can include technology fees for online students.

Clinical and Hands-On Experience

Like on-campus programs, online nursing programs require students to complete a practicum or internship. Most schools allow their online nursing students to complete this requirement in their local communities. Some institutions help their students identify suitable internship programs while others expect learners to find internship opportunities on their own.

The number of clinical hours required to earn a nursing degree varies by institution. For a BSN, many schools follow a general ratio of three clinical hours for every hour of classroom instruction. MSN programs often require 200-600 clinical hours, depending on the type of program and the specialization. Schools generally discourage nursing students from completing their clinical hours in their workplace. When learners receive permission to do so, they cannot use their work hours to fulfill their program's clinical-hour requirements.

Evaluating Online Nursing Schools

Before choosing an online nursing school or program, be sure to consider aspects that directly impact education quality. The following list features five crucial areas that learners should consider before making a final decision.

High NCLEX Pass Rates (100:106)

Individuals must pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN to earn licensure as an LPN/LVN or an RN. Each state's school nursing board usually publishes their pass rates online. For example, the California Board of Registered Nursing publishes the NCLEX pass rates for every school in the state.

A school or district with a comparatively low NCLEX pass rate may not always indicate an inferior program. Open admission standards can sometimes contribute to low pass rates. Be sure to examine each criterion on this list to make a fully informed decision.


The ED and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the accreditation process in the United States. The ED maintains a searchable list of accredited postsecondary institutions, as does CHEA. The regional and national accrediting bodies overseen by the ED and CHEA accredit two- and four-year institutions throughout the country. They also oversee programmatic accrediting agencies that focus on specific programs such as engineering, social work, and nursing.

Two accrediting bodies currently guide the accreditation process in the nursing field: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). ACEN accredits nursing programs from all levels, while CCNE only accredits bachelor's and master's nursing programs.

Clinical/Hands-On Experiences

Clinical hours give nursing students valuable first-hand experience. Through clinical hours, learners develop a deeper understanding of the nursing profession. Many schools require students to complete a 600-hour clinical experience.


A broad field, nursing offers several specialization areas. Nurses typically choose a specific category when they enroll in an advanced practice nursing program. They can further concentrate on a specialization under each APRN category. For example, NPs can specialize in one of several areas, such as acute care or family practice. Nurses pursuing a DNP can choose a specialization area including educational educator and nursing administration.

A specialization presents NPs as experts in a specific nursing field. Specializations often qualify NPs for executive or leadership positions with a corresponding increase in responsibilities and salary.

State Agreements

Before you choose a school, research whether the school's state belongs to the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC). The eNLC recognizes states that have chosen to honor each other's RN licenses. This greatly facilitates finding nursing jobs in a different state from where you originally obtained your RN license and increases your employment options after graduation.

Some states grant RNs licensed in another jurisdiction a temporary license that allows them to practice right away within their borders, but these usually expire within a few months. Your school's admissions office can provide more information about state requirements and interstate agreements.

Other Popular Online Nursing and Healthcare Degrees

While many nurses provide direct patient care, not all nursing jobs involve such work. The list below offers examples of positions that nursing graduates may pursue. An individual's list of responsibilities usually depends on their experience and educational background.

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