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Inside Top Online RN Programs & Nursing Schools

Explore program options, vet the best schools, and see what it takes to earn and pay for your online nursing degree. Take your first steps today.

Last Updated: 08/18/2020
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Online nursing programs have become valuable training options for new and veteran nurses alike. Many nursing schools have added partially online programs for students just entering the profession, or fully online bridge programs for nurses looking to acquire new skills and advance. This increased variety and flexibility has made easier for current and aspiring RNs to get the education they need.

But when it comes to online RN programs, or online nursing programs in general, how do you find the right one? Which schools have the quality and accreditation you need while staying affordable and flexible with course delivery? Using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, and from more than 7,700 schools across the U.S., we’ve found the nursing programs with the best combinations of cost, quality, student services, and online learning options. Review and compare 2020’s best online nursing programs below.

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About the ranking

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Methodology for EduMed’s 2020 Rankings

To be considered for this ranking, each school must have the following:

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Program(s) offered at least partially online.

School Metrics Explained

EduMed.org data scientists analyzed government higher education data and created a proprietary algorithm to rank each U.S. postsecondary institution and its online programs using 5 primary factors:

  • Cost: Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Online Program Availability: Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to Department of Education.
  • Academic Counseling: Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement: Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid: Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Most recent data pull: February 2020

# 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 California State University-Dominguez HillsCarson, CA Public $$ 4

Cal State Dominguez Hills offers two nursing degree options featuring online study. The RN to BSN program is for current RNs or students about to complete an ADN program interested in earning their nursing bachelor’s degree. Most courses are delivered online in an asynchronous format, although students may be required to take some tests at a specific time and date. Students are required to attend two consecutive lab days on the school’s campus, and must also complete clinical courses that require in-person clinical hours at an approved location, typically in the student’s home community. CSUDH’s online MSN program features specialization options in Nurse Educator, Nurse Administrator, Family Nurse Practitioner, and both Pediatric and Adult/Gerontology Clinical Nurse Practitioner. In addition to didactic coursework, students must complete an in-person clinical hour requirement at an approved facility within the State of California. The MSN program culminates in the completion of a Portfolio/Presentation project.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
69%
AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges
2 Utah Valley UniversityOrem, UT Public $$ 3

Both bachelor’s and master’s online degree options are offered through Utah Valley University’s Department of Nursing. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing Completion Program is designed for ASN-prepared nurses seeking to earn their BSN by completing 31 credit hours of advanced coursework which is then added to the student’s previously-completed general education and nursing credits to earn the 120 total credits needed for the degree. The program can be taken either full-time or part-time, and all classes are offered in fully-online and hybrid (online/on-campus) formats. UVU’s Master of Science in Nursing prepares current post-baccalaureate students to become skilled nurse educators. This 34-37 credit hour program features online coursework that can be completed with either full-time or part-time study. The program culminates in the completion of either a master’s thesis or project.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
39%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
3 Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca Raton, FL Public $ 2

Florida Atlantic University offers several degree options for online nursing students. FAU’s RN to BSN Completion Track program allows current RN license holders with either a nursing diploma or associate’s degree to earn their BSN through 100% online coursework. Students must also complete in-person practicum/clinical hour requirements, normally at a site within the student’s local area. FAU additionally offers its MSN degree with three online tracks. The MSN Nurse Educator track is available in a hybrid format that combines both online and on-campus courses, while both the Advanced Holistic Nursing MSN and Administrative and Financial Leadership MSN tracks can be completed entirely online.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
4 Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY Public $$ 21

The RN to BSN program from Stony Brook University allows current RNs with either an associate degree or diploma in nursing (or those about to graduate) to earn their BSN by completing the necessary upper-division coursework through a combination of on-site and online study. Additionally, Stony Brook offers seven Master of Science programs in nursing that feature a combination of distance education and on-site requirements: Adult-Gerontology Primary Care NP; Neonatal NP; Pediatric Primary Care NP; Psychiatric Mental Health NP; Nurse Midwifery; Nursing Education; and Nursing Leadership. All master’s programs are open to applicants with either a nursing or non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Those with a non-nursing bachelor’s are required to submit a clinical practice portfolio to determine baccalaureate-level nursing competencies to be accepted into the program.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
5 The University of West FloridaPensacola, FL Public $$ 2

The University of West Florida’s School of Nursing offers two degree programs featuring online study. The RN to BSN program prepares graduates to become clinical generalists as managers, leaders, and lifelong learners in the nursing profession. The program is open to current United States RN license holders with either an ASN or nursing diploma, along with an associate’s degree or completed general education curriculum. UWF’s Master of Science in Nursing degree is available in Nurse Executive, Nurse Educator, and Family Nurse Practitioner specializations. All three MSN tracks are offered in a full-time format only, but are designed to accommodate both full-time and part-time employed nurses. All MSN coursework is delivered online. However, students are required to attend a four-day orientation on UWF’s Pensacola campus in the second year of study prior to beginning their clinical courses, as well as complete 630 in-person clinical practice hours.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
6 University of Central FloridaOrlando, FL Public $$ 2

Distance education nursing degree options on the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels are available from the University of Central Florida. Online undergraduate degree programs include the RN to BSN program, which allows currently-licensed RNs to earn their BSN through fully-online coursework, as well as a Concurrent ASN to BSN program for ASN students who have completed their first semester of ASN studies and wish to continue on to earn their nursing bachelor’s degree. Online nursing graduate degree options include an MSN degree with Healthcare Simulation, Leadership & Management, and Nurse Educator specializations. Doctoral nursing students can choose between fully-online Advanced Nursing Practice and Nurse Executive DNP’s, and Nursing PhD and BSN to PhD programs, along with hybrid-format BSN to DNP programs in Adult/Gerontology Primary Care NP, Adult/Gerontology Acute Care NP, and Family NP specializations.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
41%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
7 University of North FloridaJacksonville, FL Public $$ 2

Four nursing degree programs that feature online coursework are available from the University of North Florida. The RN to BSN program is open to current RNs throughout the United States. The curriculum features fully-online coursework along with an in-person community experience requirement, and is designed to be completed in one year (three semesters) of study. UNF’s Executive Master of Health Administration (EMHA) degree is for nurses interested in taking on administrative and business challenges within the profession. This mostly-online program is designed to be completed in approximately 20 months and includes three on-campus sessions (four days each) attended throughout the course of study. Additionally, UNF offers an online Post-MSN DNP degree for APRNs in five practice areas (nurse executive, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, certified RN anesthetist, and nurse practitioner), as well as a Post-MSN DNP in Psych-Mental Health.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
8 University of ArizonaTucson, AZ Public $$$ 6

The University of Arizona offers two pathways to earning a BSN degree, both featuring a combination of online and on-campus course study. The Conventional BSN is a 126-credit program that includes general education and both basic and advanced nursing-related coursework. On-site program requirements are completed on UA’s Tucson campus. The Integrative Health BSN also requires completion of 126 credits, with on-site coursework attended on the school’s Gilbert campus. Students interested in a master’s level degree can opt for the online RN to MSN in Clinical Systems Leadership. This program is designed for current RNs with either a BSN or ADN degree, and can be completed in a few as 15 months of 100% online course study. Finally, doctoral-minded nurses can choose from either the completely online Nursing PhD or the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, which consists of a combination of online coursework, on-campus (Tucson) intensives, and an in-person practicum and clinical placements.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
9 University of Alabama at BirminghamBirmingham, AL Public $$ 3

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is home to 20 MSN degree options that can be completed through a blend of online and on-site coursework. MSN subspecialties include, among others, Nurse Educator, Advanced Forensic Nurse, and Registered Nurse First Assist. Nurse Practitioner specializations include Family NP, Adult-Gerontology NP (primary and acute), Pediatric NP (primary and acute), Neonatal NP, and many more. Nursing Health Systems Leadership MSN pathways include Nursing Health Systems Administration, Nursing Informatics, and Clinical Nurse Leader. An online RN to MSN pathway option for RNs without a previously-earned BSN is also available. In addition, UAB offers four online DNP options also in blended formats that include online coursework and in-person clinical practicum experiences: BSN to DNP Nurse Anesthesia; BSN to DNP Nurse Practitioner; MSN to DNP; and MSN to DNP for Nurse Executives. On-campus components and in-person clinical hour requirements vary by specific program.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
74%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
10 New Mexico State University-Main CampusLas Cruces, NM Public $$ 3

There are three nursing degree options featuring distance learning available from New Mexico State University. NMSU’s Online RN to BSN program is open to current RNs and is designed to be completed with four semesters of part-time study. The majority of course assignments are presented and completed online, but students will have to attend some course sessions on the school’s Las Cruces campus. Students also complete 840 in-person clinical contact hours. Current RNs with a previously-earned BSN degree can opt for the 36-credit hour MSN in Nursing Administration program that features 100% online didactic coursework. NMSU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice is offered with two specialty tracks: Family NP and Psychiatric/Mental Health NP. Both specialties offer fully-online coursework, but additionally require over 1000 in-person contact hours.

Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
11 Missouri State University-SpringfieldSpringfield, MO Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
12 University of Mississippi Medical CenterUniversity, MS Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
71%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
13 University of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotte, NC Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
45%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
14 Idaho State UniversityPocatello, ID Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
69%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
15 The University of Texas at TylerTyler, TX Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
16 East Carolina UniversityGreenville, NC Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
17 Southwestern Oklahoma State UniversityWeatherford, OK Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
66%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
18 University of Colorado Colorado SpringsColorado Springs, CO Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
53%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
19 Angelo State UniversitySan Angelo, TX Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
60%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
20 Ohio State University-Main CampusColumbus, OH Public $$$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
21 University of Missouri-St LouisSaint Louis, MO Public $$$ 7 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
22 Texas Tech University Health Sciences CenterLubbock, TX Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
23 Indiana University-Purdue University-IndianapolisIndianapolis, IN Public $$ 4 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
24 University of Oklahoma-Health Sciences CenterOklahoma City, OK Public $$ 4 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
25 Boise State UniversityBoise, ID Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
76%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
26 Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaff, AZ Public $$$ 4 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
27 Capella UniversityMinneapolis, MN Private, For-Profit $$$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
50%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
28 Old Dominion UniversityNorfolk, VA Public $$$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
29 University of North GeorgiaDahlonega, GA Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
9%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
30 University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
31 The University of Texas Medical BranchGalveston, TX Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
32 Ball State UniversityMuncie, IN Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
51%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
33 Upstate Medical UniversitySyracuse, NY Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
34 Grantham UniversityLenexa, KS Private, For-Profit $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
17%
AccreditationDistance Education Accrediting Commission
35 Kent State University at KentKent, OH Public $$$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
79%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
36 University of West GeorgiaCarrollton, GA Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
15%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
37 Western Carolina UniversityCullowhee, NC Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
68%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
38 Columbus State UniversityColumbus, GA Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
21%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
39 Thomas Edison State UniversityTrenton, NJ Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
40 University of Cincinnati-Main CampusCincinnati, OH Public $$$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
41 The University of Texas at ArlingtonArlington, TX Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
42 University of Central MissouriWarrensburg, MO Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
43 Park UniversityParkville, MO Private, Not-for-Profit $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
47%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
44 Winona State UniversityWinona, MN Public $$ 9 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
45 Ohio State University-Newark CampusNewark, OH Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
46 Southeastern Louisiana UniversityHammond, LA Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
56%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
47 West Texas A & M UniversityCanyon, TX Public $$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
37%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
48 Texas A & M University-College StationCollege Station, TX Public $$$ 2 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
49 Troy UniversityTroy, AL Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
50 Indiana State UniversityTerre Haute, IN Public $$ 3 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
64%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission

As nursing student needs diversify, schools are expanding how they deliver their higher education programs. While face-to-face remains the norm, more and more schools have incorporated online learning into their nursing curricula. It’s convenient, more affordable, and many students can use online RN programs to help balance school, work, and family responsibilities. This holds true for all nursing programs, including the ADN, RN bridge programs, and other higher education opportunities for current and future RNs. Want to learn more? Explore nursing programs online and find the educational path that’s right for you.

Popular States with Online Nursing Programs

Q&A with an Online Nursing School Director

As you’re exploring online nursing programs, getting information directly from schools is extremely helpful. We reached out to universities with online nursing schools from across the nation to give them a chance to share what makes their programs stand out. Here’s a recent conversation we had with Rebecca H. Le, director for the School of Nursing at Regent University.

University name location School type online programs Get more info Program Description
Regent University location: Virginia Beach, VA School type: Private not-for-profit online programs: 2 Get more info
Laurus College Logo

Interview with Rebecca H. Le, Ph.D., MSN, RN, IBCLC

Director for the School of Nursing
RN-to-BSN and MSN Nursing Programs

What’s your involvement at Regent University with online learning?

I am currently serving as Director for the School of Nursing at Regent University. I have had the privilege of working collaboratively with other nurses to create the online nursing curriculum for the Master of Science in Nursing degree program at Regent University. This endeavor required utilizing the knowledge, skills and values that I obtained during my experience serving as nurse, educator, administrator, and mission worker.

All of this experience has brought me to the place of desiring to mentor nurses in their advanced careers as professional nurses, educators, administrators, and mission workers. Students can gain the same knowledge, skills, and values through Regent’s nursing program!

What makes your online nursing programs stand out from others?

The Regent University School of Nursing degree programs are Christ-centered. We offer professional excellence with holistic care. This includes the commitment to be a light to those hurting and to expand the Kingdom through the nurse’s healing touch.

Our programs are fully online in 8-week course sessions. Students have the ability to choose specialties and personal practicum locations for both the RN to BS in Nursing and the MSN program. Students may choose the Nurse Educator or Nurse Administrator track in the MSN program, which positions them to become a leader on the frontlines of nursing.

How do your online nursing programs prepare students for successful careers in the field?

Regent University nursing programs prepare students for successful careers by incorporating important topics within the curriculum to prepare graduates for the workforce. These topics are chosen by representatives from the nursing workforce, including professional organizations and employers who know what knowledge, skills, and values are needed to be successful. A few examples of these topics are aggregate research outcomes, resolve practice outcomes, healthcare informatics and emergent technologies, advocacy of policies, leadership, communication, collaboration, consultation skills, quality and safe care, culturally competent and ethical care, and advanced level of understanding of nursing.

Furthermore, students learn to effectively assess health systems and the forces that impact patient care, recommend evidence-based healthcare improvements, apply ethical and responsible leadership behaviors to social, psychological, and health-related situations, and expand nursing knowledge and career opportunities with the potential to advance as a nursing scholar.

What support services do you offer students enrolled in your online nursing programs?

The university’s student support services provide support for the nursing degree programs through advising, faculty support, library, and other academic services for tutoring and success coaching. Because the programs are fully online, students may access these services electronically or by phone. Local students may come to campus or may access resources remotely. The university also maintains all services and web-enabled services, which allow students to register for classes online, check financial accounts, access electronic information from the University Library, and engage in distance education. Blackboard provides technical support to students, faculty members, and staff.

Any other information you’d like prospective students to know about your nursing programs?

We are currently offering discounted cohort opportunities to maximize staff development and reduce costs. We are competitive in cost with other nursing programs and offer corporate partner discounts. Students may transfer up to 90 credit hours towards the RN to BS in Nursing program. There are no nursing prerequisite courses required, and students will receive prior learning assessment credit for Anatomy & Physiology. Learn more at regent.edu/nursing.

How Does an Online RN Program Work?

Online RN programs combine the flexibility of distance learning with classroom work and hands-on clinicals. Many of the more academically-oriented courses take place online, while group and/or patient-centered activities occur at medical facilities. This combination makes online RN programs “hybrid” or “blended” in nature. While some post-licensure programs can be taken fully online, nearly all pre-licensure nursing programs with an online component are partially online. Let’s see how these hybrid programs work, and if online learning could make sense for your registered nursing education.

Taking Nursing Classes Online

The online portion of nursing programs consists of classroom style instruction. Each program has its own way of delivering the course material, but most use a type of course management software or learning management system, such as Blackboard. Whatever a particular school uses will be compatible with most computer operating systems, such as Mac OS and Windows. Students also need to have specific computer applications to help view the course material, such as a PDF reader or a program to watch videos and play audio files.

The course management software also helps facilitate group learning by allowing students to interact with each other in real time or in a time delayed format. Depending on the class and program, communication might be through online chats, message board discussions, or video conferencing using software like Skype or Facetime.

Classes with hands-on learning elements will not be able to provide the necessary learning through online exclusive means. Therefore, nursing students have to gain their in-person instruction through the use of clinicals.

The In-Person Clinicals

Online nursing programs that prepare students to become registered nurses almost always require completion of various in-person clinicals or practicums. This is because much of what a registered nurse needs to know involves hands-on skills. How students decide to complete their clinical requirements depends on where they plan on taking them. Nursing schools have arrangements with medical facilities near the school’s physical location, but things are more complicated with online students who may be thousands of miles away.

To accommodate these students, many online nursing programs allow students to work with program administrators to choose a clinical facility close to the student’s location. But distance students can’t just choose any hospital or clinic; they’ll need to find one that can provide the educational and training opportunities that warrant a nursing program’s approval. Fortunately, program administrators are usually well-versed in helping students choose the medical setting that suits their clinical requirements.

Nursing Programs & Accreditation

Accreditation refers to the independent review of a school or program to ensure it meets certain educational standards. This is particularly important with online nursing programs, where it can be very tempting for schools to cut corners to make it easier for students to graduate. When researching campus or online nursing programs, make sure the schools on your shortlist have (1) regional accreditation and (2) programmatic accreditation specific to nursing. The following accrediting bodies are key:

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN): The ACEN is a US Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognized accrediting body for nursing programs in the United States and its territories. The ACEN accredits the full spectrum of nursing programs at the certificate, undergraduate, and graduate level.
  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): As the second major US Department of Education recognized accrediting body, the CCNE focuses on accrediting nurse residency programs as well as traditional academic programs at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Why NCLEX-RN Pass Rates Matter

Accreditation confirms a nursing program meets basic education standards, and it’s a sign that the program readies its students to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Passing this exam is required to work as a registered nurse in all 50 states.

The NCLEX-RN exam is managed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and administered by Pearson VUE. It uses computerized adaptive testing, which means the test taker completes the exam on a computer, with the computer deciding which questions to provide the test taker based on how they answered the prior question. This means the exam may be different for every person, including the number of questions they must answer. Most test questions are in multiple choice format.

Because there’s so much weight on passing the exam, NCLEX-RN pass rates should be a key component in your nursing program search. Higher pass rates mean that a program’s curriculum is complete and its educators are well-versed in the nursing profession and education standards.

To learn how to pass the NCLEX on your first try, check out our guide on acing the exam.

Can You Get into an Online RN Program?

Exact requirements to gain acceptance into an online nursing program depends largely on the type of program. For instance, for a post-licensure program, incoming students need to already have a registered nursing license. This requirement does not exist for students entering a pre-licensure program. In contrast, students entering a pre-licensure program do have certain academic prerequisites that registered nurses enrolled in a BSN completion program won’t need to complete. In addition to academic prerequisites, incoming students also need to meet other admission requirements.

  • Academic Prerequisites

    Before beginning their nursing education, pre-licensure students must first complete prerequisites, which help provide an educational foundation for more advanced nursing courses. These prerequisite courses may differ slightly between programs, but usually consist of the following:

    • Introduction to psychology
    • Anatomy and physiology
    • Microbiology
    • Introduction to sociology
    • Chemistry
    • English composition
    • Human development and growth
    • Communication and speech
    • One or more general education courses, such as humanities or US government

    Depending on how the nursing program is set up, students may be able to gain acceptance to a school before completing any of these prerequisites. But, these students must then complete them during their first year or two while they apply for admission into the actual nursing program.

  • Physical Prerequisites

    Nursing is a very physical field, so incoming students must demonstrate the ability to meet the physical requirements of the profession. These requirements usually consist of:

    • The ability to lift up to 50 pounds
    • Fine and gross motor abilities
    • Good balance and coordination
    • Visual ability that allows nurses to provide medical care to patients, such as distinguishing colors
    • Stand for extended periods of time
    • Perform lifesaving activities, such as CPR
    • Sufficient hearing to have full awareness of patient sounds and medical instruments
    • Reach above shoulders

    Additionally, students must provide evidence that they are healthy enough to work with patients. This includes proof that they are up-to-date on their immunizations and currently enrolled in a health insurance plan.

For a detailed review of what it takes to get in, check out our expert guide on getting into nursing school.

The Admissions Process

Prospective nursing students need to pay close attention to each program’s admissions requirements, as there are a wide number of variations between programs. In addition to admission to the school, there are also degree-specific admissions requirements. At the very least, students will submit an application and evidence that they meet the physical requirements for the program. Below is a list of other common admissions criteria.

1. Academic history

Most applicants will need to provide academic transcripts and meet minimum GPA requirements. This is one of the key elements of an admissions application, as it provides a relatively objective measure of a student’s academic ability.

How to stand out

Have the highest GPA possible. An average or sub-par GPA usually won’t keep a student out (except at the most prestigious programs), but a GPA that’s high can be one of the single best ways a student can stand out. It also helps to mention extracurricular activities, such as volunteering, to show that an applicant is well-rounded.

2. Work experience

This is important for entrance into post-licensure programs. However, it can be useful for pre-licensure students as it can demonstrate other skills that the applicant may possess.

How to stand out

For pre-licensure students, experience that’s relevant to nursing can serve as evidence of a student’s desire to work in the nursing field. For admission into a post-licensure program, diverse or long-term experience in nursing can help in that it adds to the diversity of the incoming nursing class.

3. Test scores

This includes admissions and entrance test scores. Like the GPA, test scores serve as an objective measure of a student’s academic ability. Schools want their students to do well academically, and excelling on tests provides some evidence that an applicant will be able to succeed.

How to stand out

Applicants shouldn’t just aim to pass the exam or get the minimum score, but to achieve the highest scores possible. Not only does this catch the attention of admissions officers, but high test scores, especially on standardized entrance exams like the ACT or SAT, can help earn merit-based scholarships.

4. Personal interview

An interview helps students provide a personal touch to their application and get more attention in competitive programs.

How to stand out

Acceptance offers aren’t usually given based on the personal interview, but many rejection letters are. The best thing the applicant can do is be themselves and come fully prepared. Applicants should be able to explain why they want to attend that particular school and have good questions ready to provide evidence that their interest in the program is authentic.

5. Personal statement

Personal statements are essays students write to show another side of themselves beyond what a transcript, test score, or resume might provide.

How to stand out

Personal statements are the most common opportunity for applicants to stand out, especially if they don’t have a stellar GPA or test score. If the applicant has a very unique story to explain why they want to become a nurse, the personal statement may be the only opportunity to show this. It’s important to start writing this essay as early in the admissions process as possible to have plenty of time for revisions.

6. Letters of recommendation

Not all applications ask for this and when they do, they’re not the most critical part of the application. This is because they’re always going to be positive. But, they can also reflect subtle reservations from the recommender.

How to stand out

Applicants should find someone who can write a strong letter. To do this, cultivate relationships with certain teachers or mentors well before asking for a letter of recommendation. Nothing tempers a positive letter or recommendation like feeling as though you are an afterthought. Provide plenty of time for the recommender to write the letter.

7. Current registered nursing license

This is usually only necessary for post-licensure nursing applicants, such as those interested in an RN to BSN or MSN program.

How to stand out

Have a current license in good standing. Being a registered nurse won’t help applicants stand out, but not having the necessary licensure will virtually guarantee rejection.

Inside Online RN Programs

One of the strengths of nurses as healthcare professionals is their broad level of knowledge. So it comes as no surprise that the nursing curriculum for training registered nurses covers a wide arrange of subjects and topics. While each program has the freedom to create its own curriculum, all registered nursing students will take courses in several key areas, including:

Evidence-Based-Practice

Evidence Based Practice: All pre-licensure nursing programs require students to complete several courses focused on understanding medical research and how it applies to improving medical outcomes. In these courses, students will learn basic concepts concerning statistical analysis, the research process, and how this information contributes to the creation of policies and procedures in the healthcare setting.

Ethics

Ethics: The general principles of ethics in the medical field are fairly straightforward. But when those ideas intersect with the real world, moral conundrums that can stump even the most seasoned medical professional can arise. Therefore, registered nurses must learn to put the overarching ethical principles within the context of society, legal statutes, regulations, and medical science.

Leadership-and-Management

Leadership and Management: Providing healthcare services is a team effort, with registered nurses being key players. It’s important for future registered nurses to understand how the managing of nurses takes place in a medical facility, such as a hospital. Nursing students will also learn about the financial aspect of providing healthcare services to patients and how economic considerations play a part in healthcare.

Critical-Care-and-Assessment

Critical Care and Assessment: In these courses, nursing students learn how to assess patients and provide necessary medical care, especially for serious or traumatic injuries. One of the key skills of any medical professional is being able to identify a medical issue as quickly as possible. Another equally important skill is being able to take that initial assessment and convert that into actionable behavior, such as a specific intervention or treatment.

Nursing students may develop additional hard and soft skills during their program, as well. This may happen during academic coursework, but likely will be put into practice via in-person clinicals.

Specialization & Career Growth

When it comes to career growth, nurses have a plethora of specializations available to them. Moving into a specific area of practice can increase career prospects due to a higher degree of skill required. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular specializations for registered nurses. For more ideas and to find the right specialization for you, take our Nursing Specialties Quiz.

  • Acute care
    When it comes to serious illness and trauma, acute care nursing is the place to be. Acute care nurses can be found in emergency rooms, intensive care units, or treating patients recovering from surgery. These nurses are usually involved when immediate or urgent medical care is required.
  • Midwifery
    Some registered nurses choose to enter midwifery, where they help expecting mothers stay healthy during pregnancy, labor, and birth. More and more nurses are seeking midwife certification via nurse midwife programs online.
  • Geriatric
    One of the most common types of long-term care nursing involves treating elderly patients. Many of these patients deal with health problems that take a long time to treat or are incurable and must be managed. Geriatric nurses aren’t exclusive to treating chronic conditions and may commonly practice acute care for their patients as well.
  • Neonatal
    For nurses who enjoy working with newborn babies, a neonatal specialization should be considered. Neonatal nurses can work with both fully healthy and extremely ill or premature newborns, or may choose to further specialize and work in just one area. For example, some neonatal nurses find themselves working primarily in the neonatal intensive care unit.
  • Oncology
    Cancer is one of the most common and serious diseases humanity faces. Whole teams of medical professionals focus on this healthcare issue, including registered nurses who specialize in treating it. Oncology nurses work with a wide range of patients, a variety of ages, and deal with many types of cancer.
  • Pediatric
    Pediatric registered nurses work in a variety of settings, but almost exclusively with young children and adolescents. Some pediatric nurses can be found in an acute care setting, such as an intensive care units at a hospital. Others may be found in doctor’s offices providing routine and preventative care.
  • Women’s health
    As its name implies, women’s health nursing focuses on health issues specific to women. Most of the time, these issues involve reproductive and gynecological issues. However, women’s health nursing can also involve diseases that primarily affect women, such as ovarian or breast cancer.

The Cost of an Online RN Program

One of the major decisions to make when choosing an online registered nursing program is how much it costs to complete it. The exact cost depends on a variety of factors, such as residency status, program type, and the availability of financial aid. However, to provide a general idea of tuition costs, we’ve chosen three sample schools.

1 1. University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing, RN to BSN Program $4,900/year (in-state); $12,975 (out-of-state) or $448/credit (in-state); $1,122 (out-of-state).
2 2. Aspen University, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (pre-licensure) $37,069/year or $309/credit
3 3. Arkansas State University, RN to BSN Online $8,937/year or $248/credit

Paying for an RN Program

A nursing education isn’t cheap. Even though most nurses can expect to make a decent income after graduation, they must still figure out how to pay for the cost of education to get to that point. Like any other student, nurses are eligible for several forms of financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, and loans. But there are also some options tailored specifically to nursing students.

  • Financial aid
    Outside of the student’s own finances, financial aid is the primary method of help to pay for school. Some of the most popular sources of financial aid come from the federal government in the form of need-based grants and loans. To learn more about these options, check out the “Pay Less for Education: How to Take Charge of Your Financial Aid” page.
  • Military discount
    Many programs and schools provide special tuition rates (as much as a 30% discount) to current or former members of the armed forces. This can amount to thousands of dollars in savings over the course of a nursing program. Some schools offer these discounts to a service member’s spouse as well.
  • Scholarships & grants
    Scholarships and grants are the most desired form of financial aid because the money does not need to be paid back. Scholarships and grants can be awarded based on any number of characteristics or traits, including academic excellence, financial need, and membership in a particular group, such being a minority or pursing a specific academic field. Visit our dedicated scholarships and resources page for RN students to find awards you may be eligible for.
  • Transfer credits
    To help facilitate the goal of earning a degree as efficiently as possible, most schools allow students to gain transfer credit for academic work completed at another postsecondary institution. Exactly how the credits will transfer depends on each program’s specific policies. However, most programs allow students to transfer the equivalent of several courses, which can easily shave off a few months and a several thousand dollars from the time and financial cost of pursuing a nursing degree.
  • Prior work experience in healthcare
    In recognition of extensive work experience, some schools provide academic credit based on that work. Many online programs offer this potential, although programs differ on what experience counts toward what type of academic credit. For instance, earning general education credit for work experience is more common than earning academic credit for nursing courses.
  • Discounts for Nursing Students
    Paying for college may require scholarships, financial aid, and working while in school, but you have other ways to drive down the cost, too. Many of today’s nurses and nursing students can take advantage of discounts and freebies to save money, time, and energy. Check out this list of 50 dynamite discounts for nursing students and professionals.

Salaries for Registered Nurses

Great pay is a significant reason many decide to become registered nurses, but as you can imagine, how much a specific nurse makes depends on a variety of factors, including area of specialization, geographic location, and employer. The following is a list of what registered nurses can expect to make as a median salary based on where they work. 

  • Ambulatory healthcare services $66,300
  • Government entities $75,900
  • Residential and nursing care facilities $62,320
  • State, local, and private hospitals $72,070
  • State, local, and private education institutions $60,300