Inside Top Online RN Programs & Nursing Schools

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Written By
Edumed Staff

last updated

Last Updated: 09/22/2021
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Nurses are some of the most valuable professionals in a healthcare setting. Registered nurses (RNs) lead patient care plans and manage patient activities in both primary and urgent care settings. They work closely with other nurses, support staff, and physicians to maximize patient outcomes and ensure entire healthcare facilities run smoothly.

In May of 2020, registered nurses earned a median of $75,330, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Top RN salaries reached $116,230. Registered nursing continues to show tremendous opportunity for growth as well, with the BLS estimating a 7% increase in job openings from 2019 – 2029.

Aspiring registered nurses have a variety of degree options from which to choose. An associate degree in nursing tends to be the quickest path to the profession, although many RNs decide to begin with a bachelor’s. Many healthcare facilities often require RNs to hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in order to gain employment.

Online RN programs have become increasingly popular over the past decade, with schools across the country offering them. This includes online ADN programs (2 years) and online BSN programs (4 years). Accelerated programs for certain types of nurses may exist, as well.

Ready to learn more about online nursing programs for RNs? See EduMed’s list of the top schools for 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 University at BuffaloBuffalo, NY Public $$ 12

The University at Buffalo offers a number of nursing programs that are either partially online or completely online. The school of nursing and its programs are accredited by the CCNE so students know whatever nursing program they choose is made with a high-quality curriculum. RN to BSN is 100% online, part-time (2 years) or full-time (1 year) enrollment.

Program Highlights:

RN to BSN

  • Credits: 32
  • Length: 1-2 years
  • Cost: $12,000 (residents), $14,000 (non-residents)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

Post-BSN to DNP

  • Credits: 84-124
  • Length: 3-5 years
  • Cost: $1,047/credit (resident), $1,340/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

Post-MS to DNP

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: 5-7 semesters
  • Cost: $1,047/credit (resident), $1,340/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

Post-BS to PhD

  • Credits: 79
  • Length: 4-7 years
  • Cost: $470/credit (resident), $565/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

Post-MS to PhD

  • Credits: 57
  • Length: 4-7 years
  • Cost: $470/credit (resident), $565/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

Advanced Certificates

  • Credits: 15 to 45
  • Length: variable
  • Cost: $470/credit (resident), $565/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
2 University of Cincinnati-Main CampusCincinnati, OH Public $$ 11

The University of Cincinnati’s Main Campus has great options when it comes to online nursing programs. Students have their pick of online RN to BSN, MSN, DNP, and graduate certificate programs, most of which are available 100% online with few campus visit requirements.

Program Highlights:

RN to BSN

  • Credits: 121 to graduate (many can be transferred)
  • Length: 2-5 semesters
  • Cost: $455/credit (resident), $470/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: HLC, CCNE

MSN

  • Credits: 36-57
  • Length: 2 years
  • Cost: $662/credit (resident), $677/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: HLC, CCNE

DNP

  • Credits: 38-83
  • Length: 2-3 years
  • Cost: $662/credit (resident), $677/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online (except for a campus visit at the beginning and end of program)
  • Accreditation: HLC, CCNE

Graduate Certificates

  • Credits: 11-12+
  • Length: 1-1.5 years
  • Cost: $662/credit (resident), $677/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: HLC, CCNE
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
54%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
3 SUNY Downstate Medical CenterBrooklyn, NY Public $$ 10

The SUNY Downstate Medical Center is a great place for students to complete an online RN to BSN, DNP or Nursing Education graduate certificate. The RN to BSN program is available 100% online, takes 4 semesters to complete, and starts every year in the fall. The post-baccalaureate DNP program is structured in a hybrid format, which mixes online course work with face-to-face monthly onsite seminars. Students who have had any graduate nursing education can be considered for advanced standing, allowing them to complete the DNP in 6 semesters (60 credit hours). The Advanced Certificate program in Nursing Education requires 12 credits to complete and is taught in a hybrid format.

Program Highlights:

RN to BSN

  • Credits: 120 (60+ will be transferred in)
  • Length: 15 months/4 semesters
  • Cost: $295/credit (resident), $353/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

DNP

  • Credits: 60-75 credits
  • Length: 6-7 semesters
  • Cost: $1,047/credit (resident), $1,281/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE

Advanced Certificate - Nursing Education

  • Credits: 12
  • Length: 2 semesters
  • Cost: $471/credit (resident), $963/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: MSCHE, CCNE
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
4 University of IowaIowa City, IA Public $$ 9

The University of Iowa offers on online RN to BSN program that will allow nursing graduates from community colleges around the state to receive their BSN in a single year as part of its 3+1 structure. This will allow students to begin working while they finish up their bachelor’s degree. Individual curriculum plans can be found on their nursing website, depending on the community college the student attends. The number of credits students will complete in the last three semesters of their BSN is about 32. The University of Iowa College of Nursing, along with its nursing programs, is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Program Highlights:

RN to BSN

  • Credits: 32
  • Length: 1 year
  • Cost: $473/credit (online resident and non-resident)
  • Mode: Online
  • Accreditation: HLC, CCNE
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
76%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
5 CUNY Hunter CollegeNew York, NY Public $$ 9

CUNY Hunter College has an online RN to BSN that students with an ADN and a current New York nursing license can attend. The RN to BSN program can be completed on a full- or part-time basis and requires 30 credits for completion. There is one course that is not available online, NURS 480, that requires 45 hours of clinical work, which are not available on the weekends. Students can start the program each year in the fall. RN to BSN major courses include Foundations of Genetics for Nurses, Pathopharmacology, Foundations of Ethics and Palliative Care, and Gerontology for Nurses.

Program Highlights:

RN to BSN

  • Credits: 30
  • Length: 1 year (full-time)
  • Cost: $305/credit (resident), $620/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Online (except for 1 class)
  • Accreditation: School, CCNE
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
17%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
6 Florida International UniversityMiami, FL Public $ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
76%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
7 Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY Public $$ 8 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
8 Kent State University at KentKent, OH Public $$$ 8 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
79%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
9 Upstate Medical UniversitySyracuse, NY Public $$ 8 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
10 University of Missouri-Kansas CityKansas City, MO Public $$ 8 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
71%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
11 The University of Tennessee-KnoxvilleKnoxville, TN Public $$$ 8 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
48%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
12 University of ToledoToledo, OH Public $$ 7 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
92%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
13 Augusta UniversityAugusta, GA Public $$ 7 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
13%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
14 University of Southern IndianaEvansville, IN Public $$ 7 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
62%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
15 University of Maryland, BaltimoreBaltimore, MD Public $$ 7 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
16 University of Nevada-Las VegasLas Vegas, NV Public $$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
32%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
17 University of South Carolina-ColumbiaColumbia, SC Public $$$ 7 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
62%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
18 University of ArizonaTucson, AZ Public $$$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
19 Indiana University-Purdue University-IndianapolisIndianapolis, IN Public $$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
20 Georgia State UniversityAtlanta, GA Public $$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
25%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
21 University of Southern MainePortland, ME Public $$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
85%
AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education
22 University of UtahSalt Lake City, UT Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
71%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
23 CUNY Lehman CollegeBronx, NY Public $$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
8%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
24 University of Missouri-St LouisSaint Louis, MO Public $$$ 6 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
83%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
25 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusPittsburgh, PA Public $$$$ 8 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
43%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
26 University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
27 Binghamton UniversityVestal, NY Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
44%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
28 University of Nevada-RenoReno, NV Public $$ 5 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
44%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
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 Ivy Tech Community CollegeIndianapolis, IN Public $ 1

Ivy Tech Community College offers students a partially-online LPN technical certificate as well as a partially-online Associate of Science in Nursing. Several general education courses that both programs require are available online. Both programs are based on selective admission with a limited number of students accepted each year. After their first year, LPN students will qualify to sit for the NCLEX-PN certification, after which they can decide to start working, continue studying at Ivy Tech to get their ASN, or transfer to a different LPN to ASN program. ASN students will qualify to take the NCLEX-RN certification after they’ve completed their two years.

Program Highlights:

LPN and ASN Programs

  • Credits: 45-71
  • Length: 1-2 years
  • Cost: $2,243.25/semester (resident), $4,388.55/semester (non-resident)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: HLC, Indiana State Board of Nursing & NLN CNEA
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
11%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
2 Quinsigamond Community CollegeWorcester, MA Public $ 2

QCC is a great option for registered LPNs that are looking to advance as registered nurses through an LPN-ASN program. The program can be taken face-to-face or students can choose to complete 50% or more of it online. Admission requires students to already have an LPN certification from any state and a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Students with other certifications or 5+ years of major-related work experience may be eligible to receive credit for prior learning. Example courses students can expect to take include Introduction to Psychology, Anatomy and Physiology I & II, Statistics, Survey of Lifespan Development, and Medical Microbiology.

Program Highlights:

Healthcare - Practical Nursing

  • Credits: 62
  • Length: 4 semesters
  • Cost: $205/credit (resident), $411/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: NECHE, Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing
  • </ul
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
10%
AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education
3 Lone Star College SystemThe Woodlands, TX Public $ 1

The Lone Star College System offers a Certified Nursing Assistant certificate or an LVN/Paramedic to ASN degree program for students looking to enter the nursing field with the flexibility of online classes. Both programs are partially available online, with the rest of the program requirements available on the Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball campuses. The CNA certificate requires 20 credits for completion and will take students 4 months to complete. The LVN/Paramedic to ASN degree requires 60 credits for completion, 22 of which are considered pre-requisite courses and courses that can be transferred from previous education as an LVN or paramedic. It will take approximately 3 semesters to complete.

Program Highlights:

Nursing Assistant Certificate Level I

  • Credits: 20
  • Length: 4 months
  • Cost: $90/credit (in-district), $202/credit (out-of-district), $257/credit (out-of-state/international)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC, Texas Board of Nursing & ACEN

Transition to Professional Nursing for Articulating Students AAS Degree

  • Credits: 60 (22 pre-req and transfer credits)
  • Length: 3 semesters
  • Cost: $90/credit (in-district), $202/credit (out-of-district), $257/credit (out-of-state/international)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC, Texas Board of Nursing & ACEN
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
7%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
4 GateWay Community CollegePhoenix, AZ Public $ 2

Gateway Community College is located in Phoenix, Arizona and offers students a partially-online LPN program that culminates in a technical certificate and eligibility to sit for the NCLEX-PN certification exam. The program offers students two scheduling options: Day Option for regular classes scheduled during the daytime, and the Evening Option that delivers 40% of the curriculum in an online format, with the rest occurring on campus in the evenings. This option will have students virtually attend live synchronous lectures, complete online asynchronous modules, and attend in person as scheduled. However, clinical schedules are not guaranteed and weekday clinicals may be required.

Program Highlights:

Practical Nursing

  • Credits: 22-29
  • Length: 1 year
  • Cost: $85/credit (in-county), $241/credit (out-of-county and out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: HLC, Arizona State Board of Nursing & ACEN
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
28%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
5 Santa Rosa Junior CollegeSanta Rosa, CA Public $ 1

Panola College has an LVN to RN Transition program that will help registered practical nurses earn their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) over a 12 month period. This online program is designed so all classes are available online and face-to-face clinicals and simulations occur in the evenings and on the weekends. There are 60 required credits students must complete—24 of those are considered pre-requisites and additional credits can be completed by transferring them previous LVN education and experience. The LVN to RN program has approval from the Texas Board of Nursing and accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Program Highlights:

LVN to RN Hybrid Transition

  • Credits: 60
  • Length: 3 semesters
  • Cost: $60/credit (resident), $200/credit (non-resident)
  • Mode: Partially Online
  • Accreditation: School, Texas Board of Nursing & ACEN
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
44%
AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
6 Central New Mexico Community CollegeAlbuquerque, NM Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
23%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
7 Panola CollegeCarthage, TX Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
35%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
8 Pratt Community CollegePratt, KS Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
80%
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