7 Truths About Online Nursing School

For the first time in more than two decades, student enrollment in Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs dropped from 2021 to 2022, according to the most recent survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. These enrollment rates also declined in master’s and PhD programs. There are various potential explanations for this decline, and because it’s just one year, the declines don’t necessarily indicate a trend.

However, perhaps one contributing factor is that prospective nursing students have the wrong impression of what nursing school is like. To minimize any surprises, here are seven things about nursing school that administrators and faculty members may not always tell you.

Fully Online Isn’t Always 100% Online

To make learning more convenient, many nursing schools offer most or all of their didactic instruction online. Many of these online classes are available asynchronously, meaning you can “attend” class at any time as there is no set schedule. But in addition to these online classes, there will likely be in-person requirements, too. These can include on-campus intensives and clinicals.

These in-person learning requirements are what some nursing schools don’t readily reveal to prospective students. They may claim they have a fully online program, but they’re only referring to the class requirements. So in reality, their fully online program is actually a hybrid program consisting of online classes and in-person clinicals or other on-campus requirements.

It’s a Lot of Work

Your course schedule may look reasonable and similar to what you had as a freshman. Yet once you start your nursing major classes, you should expect to spend a lot more time doing school work. You’ll have more labs, assignments, and reading to do for each class, especially the more advanced ones. Then there are the clinicals, where you’ll spend an entire workday at your clinical site.

Don’t be surprised if you have to sacrifice some things from your personal life. This could include taking shorter vacations (or skipping them) or having less of a social life. Just don’t neglect your wants and needs altogether; self-care is necessary to keep your sanity and help you be ready for challenges you’re likely to face in class and clinicals.

Given how much you need to get done for just school, don’t be surprised if you learn to triage, not just medically, but academically. For example, there will be reading assignments that you can’t complete on time or that are filled with so much information you can’t remember everything you read. This is normal, and you can find ways to deal with it by asking for additional guidance from your professor or instructor and paying special attention to what your professor covers during lectures.

It’s Academically Challenging

In addition to the curriculum requiring a lot of time and effort, you should also be ready for some additional class challenges. For example, a D or C- is likely no longer a passing grade. Many nursing schools only give credit for passing a class if you get a C or above.

Also, while many nursing course exams are multiple-choice, they tend to be very tricky. You won’t be looking for the right answer, but the best answer. So don’t hesitate to get extra help with your studies, whether it’s consulting with your professor during office hours or creating a study group with your classmates (or both!).

And here’s a tip about making the most of your academic studies: ask your professor for help whenever possible. You not only get the answers from the “primary source,” but it can make a positive impression. Having your professor think highly of you will be useful later on, whether it’s having a 74.4 final grade bumped by 0.1 points (because you need a 75.0 to pass) or getting a stellar recommendation letter for a job or graduate program you’re interested in.

It’s Stressful

Given the time requirements and academic challenges of nursing school, there will be a lot of stress. It’s common for nursing students to feel like they’re drowning in work and information. It’s even more common for nursing students to, at least once, think about changing majors or quitting. Either situation is common, so don’t think you’re the only one feeling this way.

You may also feel guilty for spending less time with family, friends, and/or your significant other. Again, this is normal. Just remember that you can survive, and you will soon have more time for your relationships and doing more fun things.

There Are Additional Education Expenses

Nursing school isn’t cheap, but there are scholarships and student loans to help you pay for tuition, books, and fees. There are two categories of additional costs that nursing schools sometimes don’t always readily explain. First, there are transportation expenses. Even if you’re in an online program, you may have to make the occasional campus visit. Then there are clinicals or practicums that you may have to drive to.

Second, there are costs relating to the equipment and supplies you’ll need for clinicals. Scrubs, penlight, stethoscope, suture scissors, and supportive nursing shoes are some of the expenses to prepare for.

You’ll Feel Like You Know Everything, But You Won’t

The amount of knowledge you have to learn in a nursing program will be immense. You will learn most of it, which is great. But it may lead you to feel like you know more than you really do. This can sometimes cause problems, especially during clinicals. In a best-case scenario, you just come across as a know-it-all. In a worst-case scenario, a patient is harmed because you thought you knew something you didn’t.

Even after you graduate and start practicing as a nurse, there will be advancements in nursing practice that you’ll have to learn and stay current with.

Clinicals Teach More than Just Medical Skills

Clinicals and practicums offer you the chance to learn hands-on skills and apply what you learned in the classroom to real patients. But some of the most valuable experiences you have during these experiential learning courses will be the “soft” skills.

For instance, you’ll learn interpersonal skills to balance the various personalities of those who you work with and around, such as doctors, fellow nurses, and administrators. You will probably encounter a doctor or nurse supervisor who acts like they don’t like you. If this happens, they probably like you just fine and are frustrated with a patient, another coworker, or having to supervise another nursing student. In other words, don’t take it personally.

You may also deal with difficult patients. Maybe they don’t like you or perhaps they’re frustrated with their medical issue and taking it out on you. Either way, you’ll learn how to handle these patients and still maintain a good bedside manner.