Best Online Nursing Programs 2020Flexible Learning for Meeting Future Healthcare Demands
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.
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.
|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.|
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.|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Healthcare administration comprises a growing sector of the healthcare field with employment opportunities in both private organizations and public agencies. Professionals in this field need a bachelor's in either healthcare administration or healthcare management. Several U.S. institutions also offer a master's program in healthcare administration.
Nurse educators train and educate the next generation of nurses by providing both classroom instruction and opportunities for hands-on practice in a variety of clinical settings. They serve as faculty in teaching hospitals as well as in colleges and universities offering nursing programs.
Nursing informatics integrates nursing practice with computer and information science in order to manage data that can help improve the timely delivery of patient services. In addition to enhancing patient care, nurse informatics specialists analyze data to cut costs, increase efficiency, and manage medical and support staff.
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