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.
|#||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||Lake Area Technical InstituteWatertown, SD||Public||$$||1|
The Lake Area Technical Institute offers its Practical Nursing Diploma E-degree program in an online/on-campus hybrid format. Students complete all practical nursing coursework online. General education required courses in English, math, psychology, and anatomy may be completed at LATI or another properly-accredited college or technical school. Students may take one or more general ed courses each semester of the program, but are encouraged to complete these courses prior to starting the practical nursing curriculum. Online availability of general ed courses varies by school and course. In addition to didactic coursework, students are required visit the LATI campus in Watertown, South Dakota to complete all clinical experience requirements. Both part-time and full-time study is available.
Practical Nursing Diploma (E-degree)
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
|2||Northwest Technical CollegeBemidji, MN||Public||$$||1|
The Practical Nursing Diploma program available from Northwest Technical College is a one-year, two-semester program that provides the knowledge and skills needed to perform a number of assistive nursing tasks under the supervision of doctors and registered nurses. The program is offered primarily on-site requiring class attendance on NTC’s Bemidji, Minnesota campus. However, some required non- PN courses may be completed through distance learning. Be sure to speak with a program advisor to determine which courses are available online. Program applicants may be subject to Accuplacer assessment prior to admission to determine college readiness, and required to enroll in college- readiness courses in reading, writing, and math. Graduates of the program qualify to sit for the NCLEX-PN exam, leading to licensure and entry-level employment as an LPN.
Practical Nursing Diploma
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
|3||Holmes Community CollegeGoodman, MS||Public||$||1|
The Career Certificate in Practical Nursing offered by Holmes Community College prepares students to sit for the NCLEX-PN exam, leading to entry-level LPN positions under the supervision of physicians, dentists, RNs, APRNs, and others in a range of practice environments. The curriculum is available in a hybrid format option that combines online courses and in-person clinical experiences on the school’s Goodman, Mississippi campus and off-site facilities. The hybrid program is designed to be completed with five semesters of part-time study. Admission requirements include a high school diploma or GED, and a minimum composite score of 20 on the ACT (with minimum scores of 12 on the reading and math subtests).
Practical Nursing Career Certificate
|AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges|
|4||Northland Community and Technical CollegeThief River Falls, MN||Public||$$||1|
Northland Community and Technical College’s partially-online Practical Nursing Diploma program prepares students to become LPNs and start their nursing careers in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, home care, and more. The 44-credit hour program is presented in a hybrid format over three semesters, with start dates in both spring and fall. General education course requirements can be finished in one semester, while practical nursing courses are completed in the remaining two. All general education (biology, English, math, and healthcare) courses and theory practical nursing courses are accessed and completed entirely online. Additional requirements include labs and 192 clinical hours which students complete at the East Grand Forks campus. Program graduates are eligible to sit for the NCLEX Practical Nurse examination.
Practical Nursing Diploma
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
|5||North Central Missouri CollegeTrenton, MO||Public||$$||1|
North Central Missouri College’s Practical Nursing Certificate is a three-semester program offered in a primarily on-site format. The program can be taken on either NCMC’s Trenton or Maryville campus (day classes) beginning in the fall and continuing in the summer and spring, or on Bethany campus (evening and weekend classes) beginning in the spring and continuing through the summer and fall. The curriculum consists of 22 credit hours of practical nursing courses, four of which are completed online. Students must additionally complete one course each in English, speech, and psychology either prior to or concurrent with their PN studies. An additional 11 credits of readiness coursework must be completed prior to starting the certificate program. Graduates are eligible to apply for the NCLEX-PN examination leading to LPN licensure.
Practical Nursing Certificate
|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 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:
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.
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.
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.