Earning an Online Nursing Bachelor’s Degree

Online nursing programs prepare students for careers in a growing field. Over 3 million registered nurses work in the U.S., a number that is projected to grow 15% by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Nurses earn an average salary of $70,000 a year; nurses with a BSN qualify for advanced positions and higher salaries. The flexibility of online nursing schools means that RNs can attend school while working. By researching online programs, prospective nurses can find the best fit for their career goals.

Overview of Nursing Degrees

Nurses care for patients of all ages, providing primary care, assisting patients during emergencies, and caring for post-surgery patients. Most nursing jobs require an RN license, but nurses with a bachelor's degree qualify for more positions than RNs without a bachelor's degree. A BSN can lead to leadership opportunities, such as nurse supervisor or team leader. During a bachelor's program, nursing students gain valuable healthcare experience through clinical hours and expand their training.

Online BSN programs typically do not set in-person requirements for students. Nursing students complete their clinical hours through an approved healthcare facility in the student's location. Students work under a preceptor who monitors their progress. Working nurses may be able to meet the clinical requirements at their current workplace.

The BLS reports that employers will hire more than 435,000 new registered nurses by 2026, making nursing one of the fastest-growing fields. Prospective nursing students with an RN, professionals considering a career change, and first-time college students all benefit from the flexibility of online nursing programs.

Application Process

Prospective nursing students typically submit an application, transcripts, and standardized test scores for admission to online nursing schools. Applicants can also list volunteer and professional experience on their application. Some nursing schools set a minimum GPA for admission, which is usually a 2.5 or higher. However, many schools provisionally admit students who do not meet the GPA requirement. Schools use transcripts to determine whether applicants meet all prerequisite requirements.

Depending on the program, nursing schools may ask for SAT or ACT scores, or they may request TEAS scores. The TEAS, or test of essential academic skills, assesses prospective nurses on basic skills, such as math, reading, and science. Schools may also request letters of recommendation, an essay or personal statement, and proof of a registered nurse license. Second degree BSN programs may require additional proof from the applicant's bachelor's program. The application process and requirements vary by program.

What Will I Learn?

Students enrolled in online nursing programs to earn a bachelor's degree must complete about 120 credits, which typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. Most bachelor's programs incorporate 50-60 credits of general education courses, 30-35 credits within the major, and 25-30 credits for electives or a minor. Nursing students can take electives within the nursing major to specialize their degree.

Nurses may also enroll in online accelerated BSN programs to complete their degree faster. Nurses with an RN, for example, can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program to earn their degree in as little as one year. Prospective nursing students with a bachelor's degree may consider a second degree BSN, which typically takes 12-18 months to complete. The following list includes common BSN courses, which many online nursing programs include in the curriculum. Specific courses vary by program.

Introduction to Nursing

Students examine basic nursing practices and concepts. The course covers healthcare systems, nursing processes, and how to apply research to nursing practices. Students may also explore theories on nursing practice, nursing specializations, and leadership skills. Students with an RN may not need to take the course.

Evidence Based Practice

This course examines best practices in nursing and healthcare. Nursing students study how to provide exceptional patient care and apply research to clinical practice. Students also learn how to collect and examine evidence to strengthen their nursing practice.

Health Assessment

Students explore the methods and concepts behind conducting a comprehensive assessment of a patient's health. The course may emphasize the importance of data collection and interpretation. The course covers health assessments for people of all ages.

Primary Care Nursing

BSN programs often incorporate coursework on specialties within nursing, such as primary care nursing. Students study best practices in primary care and learn how to care for families of all ages in a primary care setting. The course may also incorporate a clinical component to build hands-on experience.

Acute Care Nursing

In acute care nursing courses, students strengthen their skills in acute care, such as providing postoperative care or caring for a patient with a chronic illness. Nursing students study best practices for interventions and build assessment skills. The course prepares students for careers as acute care nurses.

Nursing Leadership

Courses on nursing leadership train nurses to act as leaders within a healthcare setting. Students learn how to improve patient outcomes, oversee a team of nurses, and identify the best leadership techniques in healthcare settings.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?

Nurses who earn an online BSN may pursue careers in acute care, oncology, emergency care, pediatrics, and other nursing specialties. While nurses can earn an RN license without completing a bachelor's degree, many career paths require a bachelor's, including leadership roles in nursing. This section reviews the core skills gained during a BSN program, potential careers and salaries for nurses with a BSN, and in-demand nursing specialities.

Core Skills

Online BSN programs provide education and training for future nurses. During an online BSN, nursing students learn how to conduct health assessments, design care plans based on patients' needs, and provide medical treatment. Nurses also learn how to operate medical equipment, analyze the results of diagnostic tests, and administer medical treatments. This training gives nurses the core medical skills needed to perform their jobs.

Nursing students build clinical skills by completing clinical hours in hospitals, doctors' offices, and other medical settings. During these clinical rotations, nursing students practice interacting with patients, collecting medical histories, and working with a team of nurses and physicians to care for patients.

Nursing students may study a specialization such as emergency nursing or pediatric nursing. All nursing students build strong communication skills to interact with patients and their families. Nurses help patients manage chronic conditions and illnesses at home or in a healthcare setting, which requires exceptional communication skills.

Potential Careers and Salaries

A nursing degree prepares graduates for many high-paying career paths. With an online BSN, graduates may work in several specialties, including pediatric nursing, ICU nursing, and hospice nursing. The BLS reports that registered nurses earn an average salary of $70,000 a year, while the highest 10% of RNs earn salaries above $104,000. The BLS projects a 15% increase in demand for registered nurses by 2026.

Nurses work in hospitals, doctors' offices, clinics, and other healthcare settings. Some career paths require travel or expect nurses to visit patients in their homes. Nursing offers multiple specializations based on a nurse's interests and strengths. Some nurses, for instance, may prefer working with children as a pediatric nurse. Nursing salaries vary by career path and location.

Career Profiles

Surgical Nurse

Annual Median Salary: $62,266

Surgical nurses prepare patients for surgery, check vital signs and assist physicians during surgery, and help patients in post-recovery care. Most surgical nurses work in hospitals as part of a nursing team.

Pediatric Nurse

Annual Median Salary: $58,726

Pediatric nurses care for infants, children, and adolescents under the age of 18. They work in pediatricians' offices, clinics, and hospitals. Pediatric nurses may specialize in a medical field, and most positions require clinical experience in a pediatric care setting.

ICU Nurse

Annual Median Salary: $63,079

ICU nurses work in intensive care units, providing medical care for patients in critical condition. They attend to new patients, monitor patients' health conditions, and develop nursing care plans. In an ICU, nurses may care for injured, ill, or convalescent patients.

Obstetric and Gynecological Nurse

Annual Median Salary: $60,016

OB-GYN nurses provide care in women's health clinics or hospitals. They assist doctors caring for pregnant patients, help conduct physicals and women's health screenings, and keep patient medical records. They may also train in labor and delivery.

Hospice Nurse

Annual Median Salary: $63,427

Hospice nurses care for patients with terminal illnesses. They work with other nurses and physicians to create a care plan, communicate with patients and their families, and provide end-of-life care. They may work in a hospice or hospital, or visit patients to care for them at home.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Nursing?

BSN online programs prepare nurses for careers in pediatric nursing, emergency room nursing, and surgical nursing. Graduates with a BSN may also hold leadership positions as nurse supervisors or nursing team leaders. Many of these nursing positions offer above-average salaries. However, some nurses may consider pursuing a graduate degree to qualify for more advanced positions. For example, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists must hold a master's degree or higher in their field.

Nursing offers multiple opportunities for advancement outside of earning a graduate degree. For example, many nurses pursue certifications in specializations to demonstrate their abilities. Professional experience can also help nurses advance their careers. Completing clinical rotations in other departments may allow nurses to transfer to more advanced positions. While certain positions require an advanced degree, nurses who earn a BSN online qualify for many nursing roles.

Accreditation for Nursing Bachelor’s Programs

Accredited online nursing programs meet the highest standards for educating nurses. Nursing programs earn accreditation after undergoing reviews from independent, nonprofit accrediting agencies. These agencies evaluate a program's student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and teaching standards.

Prospective nursing students should choose programs accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. In addition to programmatic accreditation, colleges and universities can earn regional or national accreditation by meeting overall education standards. Students can check an institution's accreditation status by visiting the Department of Education's and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's websites.

Accreditation benefits nursing students in several ways. Many licenses and certifications require an accredited nursing degree, and employers may only hire applicants with an accredited degree. Nurses considering an advanced degree may need an accredited BSN to gain admission to a graduate program.

Nursing Professional Organizations

Nursing students and professional nurses benefit from the resources offered by professional organizations. These organizations provide networking opportunities, publish research, and help nurses stay up-to-date with their field. Many organizations also offer career services, educational resources, and certifications. In addition to certifications, many organizations offer continuing education programs to maintain a current nursing license.

American Nurses Association
Founded in 1896, ANA represents millions of registered nurses, providing resources such as educational materials and professional development tools. The association also publishes research and offers continuing education courses for nurses. Members enjoy free webinars, discounts on certification, and access to a career center.

Emergency Nurses Association
A professional organization for emergency nurses, ENA offers clinical practice resources, trainings, and scholarships for nurses. Members receive access to ENA publications, online courses and toolkits, and continuing education programs. ENA members also receive discounts on certifications and access to the job center.

American Association of Critical-Care Nurses
AACN members can network through the association's events and conferences, earn AACN certifications, and complete continuing education credits. The association's educational opportunities include webinars, online courses, and publications. Members receive discounts on certifications and qualify for AACN awards.