Online Colleges for Nursing

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If you have a passion for health and serving your community, a career as a nurse may be perfect for you! The demand for educated and qualified nurses is at an all-time high across the country.

Online Colleges for Nursing

As our population grows, and individuals live longer and face new and diverse ailments, the need for specialized care increases. If you have considered this field, you may be overwhelmed by all the options!

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The nursing field is designed to encourage on-going growth and professional development. While you can enter the field with an associate degree, a more advanced degree can maximize your career and salary potential. Bridge programs allow you to move from one degree level to the next – and even skip degree levels – at a very fast pace.

Types of Online Nursing Degrees

The field of nursing is competitive, and most RNs look to further their education as they begin working in the job force.

After you have your nursing license, additional studies will help you to hone your skills and develop specialized knowledge within a particular subfield of nursing.

Associate Degree in Nursing

students taking Associate Degree in Nursing

Earning an Associate in Nursing is often the first step in becoming a nurse. It provides the foundation and can lead to a number of career opportunities.

There are four associate degree options available in this field, including:

  • Associate of Nursing (AN)
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
  • Associate of Applied Science in Nursing (AASN)

The difference between these is minor, and they can each put you on the fast track to a career in the healthcare industry.

How Long Will It Take?

The number of credit hours you need to earn your associate degree in nursing will depend on the school and program you pursue, but generally it is between 60 and 72 hours. If you attend as a full-time student, it will take about 2 years to complete these hours.

What Will It Involve?

Your program will include general education (English, math, history, etc.) and nursing courses. In your first year, you will learn the fundamentals of nursing. In your second year you will focus heavily on the necessary skills, and will have opportunities to put your skills to the test in a clinic setting.

Can I Earn This Degree Online?

Student taking her Associate Degree in Nursing online

For the most part, yes. You can complete the bulk of your coursework online, but you will need to complete your clinical rotations in person.

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If you are enrolled online at a school in your area, you will need to report to campus or a nearby hospital to complete your in-person training. If you are enrolled online at a school that is farther away, you will complete your rotations somewhere local to you and your school will help you coordinate that.

What Kind of Job Could I Get?

Once you have completed this program, you can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN) to become either a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a registered nurse (RN). This will open up a lot of doors! As an LPN or RN, you could work in a physician’s office, hospital, psychiatric facility, nursing home, school or even in a private residence, for example.

Why Would I Choose this Over a BSN?

If you don’t have the time or money to spend on a bachelor’s degree, or if you need to get into the workforce quickly, an associate degree may be the best option for you. This is the fastest way to enter the nursing field and can lead to a variety of valuable positions.

The degree certainly doesn’t have to be the end of your educational pursuits. Many people who earn their associate degree later pursue a more advanced degree (a bachelor’s, master’s or even higher), often through bridge programs, which are discussed in-depth below.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Three students of Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing will provide you with more comprehensive understanding of the field, and will better equip you to oversee fellow nurses in the workplace. You will be able to secure a position with greater responsibility and a higher pay grade than if you held an associate degree. The initial RN program is typically equivalent to a two year associate’s degree program.

Once you have your RN license, you can work towards a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) by completing the coursework online. This flexibility allows you to continue working as a nurse throughout your studies, making it an ideal choice for those who are balancing the demands of work with continuing education. There are several topics that you will cover throughout your RN to BSN program, including:

  • Medical law and ethics
  • Transcultural care
  • Health informatics
  • Specialized nursing skills

Although the coursework can be completed online, depending on the program, you will still be required to attend on-site training as part of your degree program. Typically, 400-900 hours of clinical rotation hours are required over the course of two years.

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When you are participating in an online program, you may have the option for flexible rotations and summer internships to help you successfully complete the requirements and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

How Long Will It Take?

Depending on the school and program you choose, you will need to complete between 120 and 128 credit hours to earn a bachelor’s in nursing. As a full-time student, this typically takes about 4 years.

Keep in mind, this is a rigorous and demanding program. If you have a family or job, it will take you longer to complete.

What Will It Involve?

Your program will include general education (English, math, history, etc.) and nursing courses. Most programs are designed to teach general nursing and in-depth nursing theory, but some programs will allow students to specialize in a particular area. For example, you might specialize in neonatal care, psychiatric care, or even management.

Can I Earn this Degree Online?

Man getting Bachelor in Nursing degree online

Your general education courses as well as many of your nursing courses can be completed entirely online, but you will need to complete an in-person clinical rotation. Clinical rotation hours may be from 400 to 900 hours of practice at a local healthcare facility, such as a hospital.

If your online courses are through a local college or university, you will complete your in-person training on campus or at the school’s hospital. If your online courses are through a school that is far away, the school will help coordinate your training with a school or hospital in your area.

What Kind of Job Could I Get?

Once you have completed this program, you can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a registered nurse (RN).

Students who have earned associate degrees can also take this test and become RNs, but it’s important to understand that many hospitals and other employers prefer (or only hire) nurses with bachelor’s degrees. You will be able to apply for a broader range of positions because of your more advanced degree.

Master in Nursing (MSN)

Head nurse, staff nurse, and doctor talking

The online master’s degree in nursing program focuses on specific concentrations that provide you with the skills needed to move up in your career.

There are several options available for online master of nursing degrees, and these courses are typically comprised of general studies, leadership training, and comprehensive skill training in your chosen specialization.

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If you desire a shorter time frame to advance your nursing skills with a graduate-level education, there are also options available for online graduate certificates in the concentrations of Family Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Educator.

Some top colleges offer online master’s degree programs that allow you to pursue higher levels of education in the future. These include the MSN and MBA dual degree program if your interests lie in the business end of the medical field, or a MSN to DNP path that paves the way to pursing a doctorate level degree.

What are the Prerequisites?

There is no hard-and-fast rule about what is required to enter a Master in Nursing program. However, it is common for schools to require the following:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Registered Nursing License (RN)
  • Minimum GPA and GRE scores
  • Clinical experience

    The scores and experiences necessary will vary by program (and some may not even have those requirements), so be sure to look around as you begin to consider and evaluate schools.

    How Long Will It Take?

    The duration may vary by school and/or program, and depends on your prior educational and professional experience.

    If you are able to attend full-time, it will likely take you 1 to 2 years to earn this advanced degree. As a part-time student, the program could take as long as 4 years.

    What Will It Involve?

    A nurse taking his masters degree online

    Master’s in nursing programs are divided between general nursing courses and courses related to your chosen concentration. You will cover advanced topics such as resource management, ethics, pharmacology, and acute and chronic illnesses.

    Can I Earn this Degree Online?

    Because so many nurses who are pursuing this degree are already busy working in the field, many schools offer the program online. In fact, it is probably one of the most common online degrees offered!

    What Kind of Job Could I Get?

    With a master’s degree in nursing you could become a nurse anesthetist helping surgeons, a family practitioner, a nurse-midwife or a critical care nurse, for example. Or you could work in a leadership or administrative role, as a nurse administrator, research nurse or nurse consultant.

    Doctorate in Nursing

    Student nurses during CPR training

    If you are already a seasoned nurse and want to advance or alter your professional path, you may wish to pursue a doctorate. This is the highest level of education available in the field.

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    Throughout the course of the DNP program, you will learn how to utilize evidence-based research within your nursing practice to improve patient safety and quality of care.  Topics that you can expect to be covered throughout your online DNP program include:

    • Research methods
    • Statistics and data analysis
    • Evidence-based practice
    • History and philosophy of nursing science
    • Advanced leadership skills

    With the continual advancement of the medical profession, nurses with high-level graduate degrees are in high demand. The advanced coursework associated with the DNP degree program will prepare you to have a positive impact on a larger scale within the community and medical field.

    There are two distinct doctorate paths:

    • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – professional degree for someone who wishes to advance his or her clinical skills in a specific area of nursing or in a leadership role
    • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) – research degree for someone who wishes to pursue a position in an academic or research setting

    Both are equally prestigious, but provide different training for vastly different career paths.

    What are the Prerequisites?

    Most programs will require you to be a registered nurse and hold a master’s degree. However, there are programs designed to accept students who hold a bachelor’s degree, and those programs will typically take longer to complete.

    How Long Will It Take?

    Doctorate programs programs typically take 3 to 6 years to complete. If you come into the program with a bachelor’s degree, you can expect the program will take longer to complete.

    What Will It Involve?

    Woman completing her Nursing Doctorate online

    For a DNP, you will focus on leadership, evidence-based practice decisions and advanced specialty care. Your classes will cover statistics, diagnosis, management, budget planning, policy and more. Teaching will be an optional component, but you will be required to complete up to 1000 clinical hours.

    The PhD program, on the other hand, will study illness trajectories and care systems. Classes will cover advanced theory, research methodology, data analysis and more. Teaching will be required but there is no clinical requirement. You will write a senior thesis.

    Can I Earn This Degree Online?

    DNP programs are commonly available online, and they are geared toward those currently working in the field. The nursing PhD programs are less often available online.

    What Kind of Job Could I Get?

    DNPs are often employed in leadership positions, sometimes serving in roles previously held by physicians. Also, while nurses with a master’s degree can currently serve as nurse-midwives, nurse aestheticians, nurse practitioners, or clinical nurse specialists, it is believed that eventually these positions will require a DNP.

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    With a PhD in nursing, you could work in an academic position or management role conducting research. These positions are generally on a tenure-track.

    Nursing Bridge Programs

    Nurse in the ER assisting two doctors

    Bridge programs are unique to the nursing field, and allow practicing nurses who hold associate or bachelor’s degrees to bridge to the next degree level in less time than a traditional college program would require.

    In order to speed up the process, bridge programs leverage a student’s educational and professional experience. For example, while traditional nursing degree programs require students to complete many hours of clinical and lab work, oftentimes a bridge program will count your previous professional experience in place of some or all of those clinical hours.

    The goal of a bridge program is to advance quickly without repeating what you already know. Because they are designed for full-time working nurses, most bridge programs are available online. The schedule is flexible, so as to work around irregular nursing hours.

    Take a look at three of the most common bridge programs below to see how you can quickly transition into a higher paying position and/or into a specialized area of nursing.

    RN/LPN to BSN (ADN-to-BSN)

    If you are a practicing LPN or RN but do not yet hold a bachelor’s degree, this bridge program can help you earn your next degree quickly and can open the door to many more job prospects.

    As a full-time student, the RN-to-BSN program typically takes about 1.5 to 2 years to complete. Those with significant professional experience may be able to test out of some classes and finish the program at an even faster rate.

    RN to MSN (ADN-to-MSN or BSN-to-MSN)

    Nurse and doctor talking in the clinic

    The most popular option is the RN-to-MSN bridge program. This program is available to registered nurses who hold either an associate degree (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree (BSN, or a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field).

    The length of the program will depend on your previous education experience. An ADN-to-MSN program will generally take about 3 years to complete. A BSN-to-MSN bridge program will take at least 4 years of full-time study.

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    This is why many students who plan to eventually continue their nursing education opt for their associate degree, rather than continue on to a bachelor’s degree. Both pathways to the MSN typically allow students to choose a specialization.

    BSN to DNP

    Through this bridge program, students who hold a bachelor’s degree in nursing can earn both a master’s and a doctorate at the same time. This means you will have obtained the highest level of education in the field, thus maximizing your career and salary potential exponentially!

    This program will typically take 3 to 4 years on a full-time basis. Some part-time students take as long as 6 years to complete the program.

    Careers in Nursing

    Careers in Nursing

    Nurses are essential to the functioning of any medical facility, and because of this, there are countless ways to create a nursing career that suits your specific interests and skills. Below we have highlighted a few of the popular nursing career paths and their annual median pay:

    Careers Annual Median Salaries
    Nursing Service Directors $205,620
    Nurse Anesthetists $195,610
    Nurse Practitioners $120,680
    Nurse Midwives $112,830
    Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary $102,720
    Healthcare Managers $101,340
    Clinical Managers $99,270
    Nursing Home Managers $83,550
    Registered Nurses $77,600
    Nursing Instructors $77,440

    Nursing Career Outlook and Salary Information

    Healthcare professionals are always in high demand, and the aging population and advancements in the medical field are only increasing the job stability for these professions.

    Across all fields of healthcare, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 16% occupational growth for the next decade, resulting in nearly 2.6 million new jobs. Additionally, the BLS projects occupational growth for registered nurses to increase by 9% within this time frame.

    With a much higher than average growth rate, a nursing career is a solid choice for a stable, long-term occupation. As an added bonus, the average annual wage for registered nurses comes in at $77,600 – well above the national average of $45,760 across all occupations!

    Is an Online Degree in Nursing Right for me?

    Nurse taking the vital signs of a patient

    Nursing is a highly respected and rewarding career path. With its solid long-term outlook and expansive choices for specialization, many students find it to be the perfect way to combine their compassion for others with a challenging, fast-paced work environment.

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    Although there is required on-site training to earn your nursing degree, online degree programs make it possible for adult students to continue their education without sacrificing their current career or family obligations. Some of the many advantages to enrolling in an online nursing degree program include:

    • Ability to continue advancing in your current career while furthering your education
    • Flexible options for required on-site training and clinical rotations
    • Overall reduction in tuition for online courses
    • Opportunity to advance self-motivation and work ethic skill sets

    Most students enrolled in advanced nursing degrees are doing so in order to further their career opportunities at their current nursing position. By providing flexible options to earn graduate degrees, top colleges are offering their students the chance to enhance their skills and stay competitive in a demanding workforce.

    Comparing Top Nursing Degree Programs

    As a nurse, you have the lives of your patients in your hands. To be able to give the best care for a wide variety of patients and provide quality treatment in challenging scenarios, it is vital that your nursing education is completed at a reputable university.

    To help you make the decision about whether an online degree program is right for you, consider the following factors during the course of your research.


    University offering Nursing Degree Programs

    With all degree programs, accreditation is important. However, when it comes to healthcare careers, it is even more imperative that you are working towards a degree with a college that has a stellar reputation for quality academics. Avoid the “degree mill” schools by looking for colleges that have had their educational offerings formally reviewed by one of the many recognized accrediting agencies in the United States.

    Below are a few of the names that you can look for when choosing the online nursing degree program that is right for you:

    The U.S. Department of Education’s website offers a comprehensive list of recognized accrediting agencies to get you started in your research. In addition to the names above, you can also look for programs that are accredited by agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Association of Specialized & Professional Accreditors (ASPA).

    Student to Faculty Ratio

    Even with online learning, it is still important that nursing students are able to have extensive interaction with their professors throughout the duration of their degree program.

    One way to ensure that your college is focused on quality education is by looking at their typical student to faculty ratios for their nursing courses. The lower the ratio, the higher the chance you have of getting the individualized education experience that you need to succeed!

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    Many colleges only accept a limited number of nursing students every year due to the demanding nature of the coursework, clinical rotation requirements, and commitment required by the professors. To help you gain a better understanding of the degree program you are interested in, take a look at the “Faculty” section of the college’s website.

    Here you will be able to gain more in-depth knowledge of the credentials and achievements of the medical professionals that will be teaching your nursing courses.

    Academic Advising and Student Services

    Nursing students preparing for the NCLEX exam

    There is more to earning an online nursing degree than simply studying textbooks. In addition to the rigorous courses required, it is important to have a solid understanding of the clinical and on-site training that your college provides.

    The skills of nursing can only be perfected through hands-on training, and top universities work hard to ensure that their nursing students are supported with exceptional advising and student services, including:

    • Organized clinical site training and placement
    • Preparation courses for the NCLEX
    • Flexible scheduling for clinical rotations
    • Job shadowing and internship opportunities in a variety of nursing fields
    • Academic support through online tutoring and mentorship programs

    The medical field is changing, and now more than ever it is important for registered nurses to continue their education by earning higher-level degrees that teach them advanced skills within their field. Through flexible online programs and clinical rotations, online nursing degrees allow working students to achieve their career goals on a time frame that fits into their busy lives.

    Earning Your Nursing Degree Online

    Man completing his Nursing Degree Online

    There are many options to consider as you prepare for a future in nursing. Consider the time and money you have to invest now, and know that this is a field that is ever-evolving. Whatever path you choose, a bridge program can help you advance your career and open new doors.

    Ready to start your journey?
    Elizabeth Abner
    WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

    Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.