10 Questions to Ask Before Applying to an Online Nursing Program

If you’re interested in earning a nursing degree, you might consider an online program. Before you enroll, there are several questions to ask yourself or the prospective school. Your answers will help decide if an online nursing program is right for you and how to choose the right one to fit your academic needs and preferences.

Question #1: How Important Are Face-to-Face Interactions with Professors and Classmates?

One of the biggest drawbacks to online learning is fewer opportunities for direct contact and interaction with professors and classmates. These interactions may still occur during on-campus labs and clinicals, but some students may prefer to have more in-person learning and socializing opportunities than these events can provide.

If you’re the type of person who wants as many opportunities as possible to interact with others, consider a traditional on-campus nursing program or an online nursing program that organizes its students into cohorts and offers synchronous online classes.

Question #2: Do I Need a Set Schedule to Keep Up with Classwork?

Online learning requires significant self-discipline and motivation. Without a set time to show up to a classroom or sign in to an online class, it can be easy to not keep up with assignments and lectures. Before you know it, you could find yourself hopelessly behind your classmates and scrambling to find a way to catch up.

Question #3: Should I Look for Synchronous or Asynchronous Classes?

There are two primary methods for online course delivery. Synchronous learning involves live online classes, meaning you will show up for a lecture or class discussion held in real time. The benefit of this format is that it’s easier for interactive learning and provides more structure to your learning schedule. The drawback is that you have to accommodate the class schedule which, for some, defeats the purpose of enrolling in an online program.

Asynchronous learning means you don’t have a preset time to “attend” class. Lectures are prerecorded and assignments are available for completion at any time, or at least there’s a large window for completing them. The advantage of asynchronous classes is that it’s easier to complete classwork at a time that’s best for you. The disadvantage is that interacting with classmates can be more cumbersome.

Question #4: What Are the In-Person Learning Requirements?

Despite what many school websites say, very few online nursing programs are truly 100% online. Usually when a school says its nursing program is fully online, they’re referring to the didactic learning components, like class lectures.

Most online nursing programs will have at least some in-person learning requirements, usually presented as clinicals. Depending on your personal and work schedule, as well as where you live, you’ll want to find out how these clinicals work.

Are they available in the evenings or weekends? And can they be completed at any approved clinical site or are there only a select group of locations and all of them are located nearby the school’s campus? The answers to these questions will determine whether you can complete a program’s clinicals.

A program could have additional in-person requirements, such as skills labs, which are usually held on campus. Or there might be campus residencies where you’ll be expected to be on campus for a few days. Depending on the program, campus residencies are usually held only a few times during the course of a program.

If you’re thinking about a graduate program, there could be a dissertation, thesis, or capstone project requirement. You’ll want to confirm if you need to show up on campus to complete these. For example, you might need to defend your dissertation or present your capstone project on campus. But some programs may allow for these to be done remotely.

Questions #5: What Are the Admission Requirements?

At a minimum, most nursing programs will ask that you complete an online application and provide a resume and academic transcripts to apply to their program. But some might have additional requirements that make it less convenient to apply. These requirements could include in-person interviews, entrance exam scores, or essays.

You’ll also want to see if there are any prerequisite courses you need to take and if there are minimum GPA requirements for these classes or any other prior coursework you completed.

Questions #6: What’s the Program’s Licensure Exam Passage Rates?

A good way to measure a program’s overall quality is to compare the first-time exam passage rate for licensure exams (such as the NCLEX-RN or one of the many nurse practitioner certifications) with national and/or state averages. Programs with passage rates that exceed state and national averages is a good sign. The greater this difference, the better.

Higher exam passage rates means the program is more likely to do a better job preparing you for the exam and providing you with the support you need to pass it.

Questions #7: Are the Programs Accredited?

Before applying to any school, you should confirm it has institutional accreditation. With nursing programs, you’ll also want to confirm it has programmatic accreditation. This is important because nursing program accreditation means you’ll be eligible for one or more licensure exams after you graduate.

The three biggest nursing program accrediting bodies are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (NLN CNEA), and Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Questions #8: What Student Support Services Does the Program Offer?

You won’t be on campus much (if at all) during an online nursing program, so access to the usual academic, IT, and career services may be more difficult as an online student. If you think you may need technical support with the online learning platform or extra academic help for your coursework, check to see if the nursing program can provide you with the assistance you need.

Question #9: How Much Will My Degree Cost?

Considering a program’s tuition rate is important, but you should also think about the availability of scholarships, grants, and other forms of gift-based aid. A school with a higher tuition rate could still be a better value if they award more generous financial aid packages.

Also, think about whether a program will allow you to continue working while in school. An otherwise unaffordable nursing program can become affordable because it provides greater learning flexibility that allows you to work while earning your degree.

Question #10: Does the Nursing Program Use a Cohort Model?

Some nursing programs are set up so all students in a particular class progress as a group. This cohort model makes it easier for you to learn as a group and establish stronger professional relationships. The drawback is that it’s more difficult to proceed through the program at your own pace. This could be a deal-breaking factor if you have an unpredictable schedule that you need your school to accommodate.