Inside Online LPN
and LVN Programs

A detailed look at top schools, online program details, and the key steps to turning the right LPN education into a solid career. Get your practical nurse training started today.

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Written By
Shannon Lee

Expert Review

Norma-Battaglia
Norma Battaglia

Bio

Norma is a Master’s prepared Registered Nurse with over 35 years of clinical and leadership experience. With education long being a focus of her career, she has worked teaching and coordinating programs for students, EMS providers, nurses, physicians, and community groups. Norma has been able to combine her knowledge and experience in EMS, acute care, and public health to mentor others to become part of the healthcare solution.

last updated

Last Updated: 09/21/2021
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Licensed practical nurses (LPNs), called licensed vocational nurses in Texas and California, work with patients in a variety of routine care and emergency medical settings. Although they perform many of the same duties as certified nursing assistants (CNAs), their scope of work goes beyond CNAs to include minor surgeries, injections, dressing wounds, and other more intense procedures. LPNs often work under the supervision of a registered nurse.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), LPNs and LVNs earned a median annual salary of $48,820 as of May 2020. The top 10% of LPNs took home a reported $65,520. Job openings for practical nurses are expected to grow by 9% from 2019 – 2029, much faster than the average rate for all occupations.

To become a licensed practical nurse, students must complete an accredited higher education program. Shorter programs can take as little as nine months, while longer and more robust programs can run up to 18 months.

For students juggling multiple responsibilities, or who simply want more flexibility with their education, more and more schools have incorporated online learning into their practical nursing curricula. Online LPN programs use distance learning tools for their academic courses, and either host patient-facing opportunities or coordinate them with third-party facilities.

Does an online LPN program seem like a good fit? Read on to learn the ins and outs of LPN programs online, including key details of top schools, how the curriculum works, accreditation, and even how to pay for your program once you enroll.

Best Online LPN Programs in 2021

Dozens of colleges and universities have LPN programs, many of which offer online programs. But which schools have the best online LPN programs available, with quality instruction, affordable cost structures, and top-notch student and career support? Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and from more than 7,700 accredited colleges across the U.S., EduMed.org has identified some of today’s best LPN programs with online learning components. See who made top marks in 2021.

or
About the ranking

X

Methodology for EduMed’s 2021 Best Online Programs

1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

2. Assign Weightings

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.

Affordability

  • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

# School Name Type Cost Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 Del Mar CollegeCorpus Christi, TX Public $ 1

The vocational nurse education certificate at Del Mar College is not available entirely online, but some of the required nursing courses are. Though considered online classes (85%-100% online), they may still require students to come to campus for class orientation and testing. The certificate program is four semesters long and consists of 48 credits. Students take human anatomy and physiology, general psychology, professional nursing concepts, health care concepts, introduction to ethics, and the capstone course called Leadership and Professional Development. These, along with other classes, are in addition to clinical hours students spend outside of the classroom.

Program Highlights:

Vocational Nurse Education-Level II, Certificate

  • Credits: 48
  • Length: 4 semesters
  • Cost: $69/credit (in-state); $250/credit (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: Texas Board of Nursing
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
23%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
or
About the ranking

X

Methodology for EduMed’s 2021 Best Online Programs

1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

2. Assign Weightings

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.

Affordability

  • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

# School Name Type Cost Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 Montana State University-BillingsBillings, MT Public $ 1

Montana State University-Billings offers an online LPN certificate of applied science (CAS) through its City College. Most coursework can be completed online, and clinical requirements will be completed partially online, on campus, and in an approved facility near where the student lives. Students residing in Montana can expect tuition to cost approximately $6,653 for the program. The LPN certificate can be completed in three semesters and covers 40 credit hours. Required courses include basic human biology, fundamentals of nursing, pharmacology, gerontology and community nursing, and nursing care of women and children. Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN exam to receive certification. The City College practical nursing program is fully accredited by the Montana State Board of Nursing.

Program Highlights:

Practical Nurse-Certificate of Applied Science

  • Credits: 40
  • Length: 3 semesters
  • Cost: $6,653 (resident); $13,162 (non-resident)
  • Mode: Fully Online, except for clinicals which can be completed locally
  • Accreditation: Montana State Board of Nursing
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
2 Schoolcraft CollegeLivonia, MI Public $ 1

Schoolcraft College is located in Livonia, Michigan, and offers a practical nursing certificate that consists of 44.5 credits. Though it’s not technically considered an online program, many of the required courses are available in an online format. Students are admitted to the nursing career ladder curriculum (NCLC) once a year in the fall and can receive a practical nursing certificate at the end of the first year. If they wish to take the NCLEX-PN at that point they will need to take the Advanced Concepts in Practical Nursing class at the end of the first year as well. After that, if students choose to continue their education and complete the associate degree in nursing, they may do so without having to reapply to the NCLC.

Program Highlights:

Nursing-Practical Certificate (PN)

  • Credits: 44.5
  • Length: one year
  • Cost: $126/credit (in-state); $262/credit (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: Michigan Board of Nursing, ACEN
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
36%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission

How Do LPN & LVN Programs Work Online?

The practical nursing field is predominantly hands-on. Online LPN and LVN programs reflect this reality, and thus will usually consist of both online and in-person curriculum requirements. Schools across the U.S. have therefore created LPN paths that include a heavy dose of online coursework, including those in popular states like Texas, California, Florida, New York, and Georgia. Let’s look at how this all works.

Online vs. Hybrid

Before applying to a practical nursing program, it’s important to remember the nature of the work of LPNs – that most of it is very hands-on. Given that, any reputable program that prepares students for licensure and the NCLEX-PN will not be 100% online. It will contain several in-person clinical requirements, which help students put what they learned during their classes into action.

Most online programs are actually “partially online” or “hybrid” programs. This means that the vast majority of classroom-based courses – or perhaps all of them – will be entirely online, while the clinical work will be in-person. Though the student might not be required to complete clinicals at the school itself, they will be required to find an approved healthcare facility that is willing to work with the school to allow the student to complete clinicals there.

Online Coursework

Online courses allow LPN students to complete their classwork when it’s convenient for them. This might be early in the morning, late at night or on the weekends. Each program will have its own system of providing the curriculum online, most with varying degrees of asynchronous learning. Though there might be occasional “real time” meetings conducted online through video chat or discussion boards, students will not have to go to campus to attend class.

Regarding the specifics of a program’s online LPN curriculum, students can expect to take the following courses or something similar to them:

Nursing-Fundamentals

Class #1: Nursing Fundamentals – One of the first courses a practical nursing student will encounter, this is the course where they learn more about the role of nurses in the healthcare setting.

Adult-Nursing-Car

Class #2: Adult Nursing Care – Students learn the basics of providing healthcare to adult patients, which includes understanding and dealing with the variety of illnesses and issues that can affect those in their middle age.

Practical-Nurse-Leadership

Class #3: Practical Nurse Leadership – The ethical, moral and legal issues practical nurses may face are examined in this course.

Pharmacology

Class #4: Pharmacology – This class goes over fundamental knowledge concerning administration of medications to patients.

Geriatric-Nursing-Care

Class #5: Geriatric Nursing Care – This class introduces students to special considerations and issues that arise when treating older patients, including those who need extensive medical interventions.

Face-to-Face Clinicals

Online LPN programs contain several in-person clinicals (sometimes referred to as a practicum) where students receive hands-on training under the supervision of a medical professional. Most schools will have special arrangements with healthcare facilities near the campus where students can obtain this necessary experience.

Clinicals are training opportunities that include both observational and hands-on components. These experiences provide an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in the classroom. Students are then assessed by their instructors as to their performance and must obtain certain scores before getting credit for completing the clinical.

As a student progresses through their clinicals, their training will become more advanced. The first clinicals will focus on basic healthcare techniques and skills, such as basic medicine delivery and patient education. Later clinicals will include more advanced training, such as situations where students must demonstrate effective problem solving and solid medical judgment in decision making. Students will also encounter patients with more serious medical conditions.

Online LPN Programs by Level

There’s more than one academic track to become an LPN. Each path has advantages and disadvantages. Your professional goals and personal resources will help determine which academic path is right for you. These options include the certificate, diploma and associate degree.

Option 1: LPN certificate/diploma

This is the most common and popular track for becoming an LPN. It’s a relatively short program of about one year to maybe 18 months and has widespread availability. The certificate or diploma route is best for those who need to begin their careers as soon as possible or aren’t sure how much education they want to eventually achieve. While certificate and diploma are often used interchangeably, diploma programs may be longer than certificate programs at some schools, choosing to provide a more thorough education in certain aspects of the field.

Option 2: Associate degree

These are less common for LPNs, as they take twice as long to complete as a diploma or certificate. Most students who choose the associate degree will become a registered nurse. However, if your goal is to simply obtain a more well-rounded education and knock out the general education courses in the hopes of eventually earning a bachelor’s degree or entering a bridge program, the associate degree is a good option. To learn more, visit our online ADN programs page.

How Long Does an Online LPN Program Take?

Online LPN programs can take anywhere from just under one year to approximately two years. The exact length will depend on the specific program’s structure, whether you take a full-time or part-time course load and any prior academic college credit that might transfer into the program. There are three typical tracks for LPN students:

  • Accelerated/fast-track: ~ 1 year. This requires full-time student status and year-round class and clinical attendance. Accelerated programs assume incoming students will have some general education or prerequisites already completed before enrollment in the practical nursing program. Alternatively, they will heavily overload each semester, requiring as many as 22 credit hours (including clinicals) in a single semester.
  • Standard: ~16 – 18 months: Standard practical nursing programs last about three semesters spanning across 18 months. Most curriculums allow two semesters for the practical nursing curriculum while the third semester is for completion of prerequisite courses, such as writing, psychology and a college level mathematics course.
  • Extended: ~20 – 24 months: Students who need maximum flexibility will want to attend their program using the extended or part-academic track. This means the course load for each semester is cut roughly in half and may require one or two summer sessions. The exact length of these extended programs will depend on the pace in which students finish their online courses as well as how many prerequisites the student has already completed before entering the practical nursing program.

Are There Any Accredited Online LPN Programs?

Accreditation is one of the most important factors to keep in mind when choosing a program. Accreditation shows that a program or school meets minimum educational standards, giving students who graduate from it the same opportunities as those who graduate from similar programs at other colleges and universities. It’s also helpful for obtaining financial aid and. Many providers of LPN/LVN scholarships and other financial assistance, such as private organizations, state agencies and the federal government, typically award aid only to applicants who attend an accredited institution.

When it comes to finding a practical nursing program, there are two types of accreditation to consider. There’s regional accreditation that pertains to the school as a whole. Then there’s programmatic accreditation that deals with specific programs. In the case of practical nursing, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is the accrediting body.

One thing to keep in mind is that attending an accredited LPN program is not always required to become a licensed practical nurse. Students who graduate from a program approved by their state licensing board may still be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN and become licensed in that state. However, one of the drawbacks of attending a board-approved versus an ACEN accredited program is that it may make it harder for graduates to become LPNs in states beyond where the school is located.

Profiling Online LPN Programs

When researching online LPN programs, you have a lot of things to consider. How much will it cost? How many credits will I need to graduate? Will they help me get hired after school? One of the best ways to answer these questions is to dive deep into the programs. To help, we’ve researched and profiled two U.S. colleges that are making the path to becoming an LPN more flexible and affordable.

Montgomery Community College

Montgomery Community College

Montgomery Community College offers maximum flexibility in its state-board approved Practical Nursing. Consisting of 48 credit hours and lasting just one year (with courses taken over two semesters), students can choose between day and night plus weekend tracks and earn their diploma with a combination of both classroom and online course delivery.

Much of the Practical Nursing program’s curriculum can be completed outside the classroom through distance learning. This provides maximum flexibility for busy students, as it allows them to continue working full or part-time jobs and still attend class. In addition to this flexible schedule, students can expect plenty of focused attention from the instructors, as each incoming class is usually limited to 20 students.

Though there are numerous online classes, practical nursing students will have in-person requirements as well. Specifically, they must complete 480 clinical hours, during which they will work under the direction of a registered nurse and provide direct medical care to patients.

One of the unique features of Montgomery Community College’s Practical Nursing program is its Practical Nursing Club. This organization provides networking opportunities through the attendance of social and civic activities as well as financial assistance for new nurses when taking the NCLEX-PN.

Great Falls College

Great Falls College

The Practical Nurse program at Great Falls College at Montana State University is approved by the Montana State Board of Nursing. This program requires three semesters of full-time study to complete. Graduates will receive a Certificate of Applied Science in Practical Nursing and be fully prepared to pass the NCLEX-PN and quickly begin working as an LPN.

To make it easier to complete course requirements, Great Falls College offers its practical nursing program in a hybrid format, which allows students to take numerous courses online. This means students can fit their coursework into their busy everyday schedule, one that may be already filled to the brim with work or family obligations.

Prior to admittance to the practical nursing program, students must complete prerequisite coursework consisting of general education courses, such as writing, algebra and human anatomy & physiology.

Students are also strongly encouraged to take nursing-related electives, such as Basic Human Nutrition and Medical Terminology. All program-related courses must be completed with a final grade of a C or higher. In addition, all students must complete each of their clinicals with a grade of 75 percent or higher.

Preparing for the NCLEX-PN

To go from a practical nurse to a licensed practical nurse, passage of the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) is required. Every state requires the NCLEX-PN. It is administered by Pearson VUE for a current cost of $200.

Topics covered in the exam include coordinated care, safety and infection control, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity and physiological integrity. The NCLEX-PN is a computer-based, adaptive test, which means the difficulty of the questions will change depending on whether the test taker gets a question right or wrong. The test taker has five hours to complete the exam, which consists of between 85 and 205 questions, most of which are multiple choice.

Given the importance of passing the NCLEX-PN, any LPN program worth enrolling in will emphasize a curriculum that can fully prepare its students to pass this crucial examination. Therefore, one good way to choose a program is to examine the NCLEX-PN passage rates of its graduates.

LPN Bridge Programs Online: What to Know

LPN bridge programs can save time and money when earning additional academic credentials for professional advancement. By taking advantage of an LPN’s prior academic coursework and real world training, students can reduce their curriculum requirements when earning a subsequent degree, certificate or diploma. For additional time savings and convenience, many of these bridge programs are available online.

CNA to LPN

CNAs, or certified nursing assistants, have similar training as LPNs, but it’s not as comprehensive or in-depth and often last just a few months or weeks. However, due to similarities in curriculum, CNA to LPN bridge programs can allow CNA students to bypass certain courses, saving time and money. To learn more, check out our page about bridge programs that can help you go from CNA to LPN online.

LPN to ADN

An ADN or associate degree in nursing is the minimum required to become a registered nurse. Registered nurses have more training and responsibility than LPNs and as a result, earn more money and have greater room for professional growth. LPN students who enroll in an ADN bridge program will still have clinical and classroom requirements, but since they already have some work experience, those hands-on requirements will be drastically reduced. That can save between six and 12 months off the time it takes to get an ADN.

LPN to RN

Registered nurses (also known as RNs) have either a bachelor’s or associate degree in nursing. Depending on the school, the LPN to RN program will result in either an associate or bachelor’s degree. LPN students can expect to save one to two semesters of schooling by enrolling with an LPN degree as opposed to having no prior nursing experience or training.

LPN to BSN

Depending on the school, an incoming LPN who is seeking a BSN (bachelor’s degree in nursing) can bypass about half of the nursing courses they would otherwise have to take if entering a BSN program with no nursing experience or coursework. These programs can reduce the time it takes to get a BSN by about one year. Want to learn more? Check out our page on earning the LPN to BSN online.