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Top Online Nursing Programs for Non-Nurses: Launch Your Career

Just because you aren’t currently a nurse doesn’t mean you’ll never become one. Learn how online RN programs for non-nurses can help you embark on the career of your dreams.

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Author: Angela Myers
Editor: Mikalee Byerman

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If having a high-paid, in-demand job is your goal, nursing may be the field for you. A recent study of the U.S. job market found that more jobs are available in nursing than in any other profession. Pair that with a median pay of $81,220 a year, and it’s easy to see why many people are considering heading back to school and changing their careers.

If you’re interested in nursing programs but have a lot of work and life responsibilities or struggle with in-person learning, pursuing an online degree may be one way to remove these obstacles. Compared to degrees earned on campus, online RN programs for non-nurses offer more convenience, flexibility, and control over how and when you learn.

This guide makes it easy to find the top online nursing programs for non-nurses. We’ll also present options to help you determine if an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree is right for you, and we’ll reveal some of the top skills nursing employers are seeking in their new hires. If it’s time to change your career in favor of high income, high job growth, and high impact, keep reading.

Online ADN Programs for Non-Nurses

If you haven’t had any previous college experience, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) may be the right fit. These two-year, online nursing programs for non-nurses provide an overview of the field and lay the foundation for nurses to become licensed RNs in many states. When looking at different online ADNs, consider if an accelerated or traditional program is better for you.

Accelerated

While a traditional ADN takes about two years to complete, some programs allow students to graduate faster. In an accelerated online ADN program, students take a heavier courseload and can graduate in just 12 to 18 months.

These programs are great for those who want to get their degree faster, but they may be too work-intensive for those who want to work a part-time or full-time job while getting their degree.

Schools with stand-out accelerated ADN programs include Moberly Area Community College and Valencia College.

Traditional

In a traditional online ADN program, students complete the same coursework as in an accelerated ADN program but at a slower pace. This allows students to balance their coursework with work and life obligations. Typically, a traditional ADN takes two years to complete.

These programs are great for those who need more time and flexibility in their program. If someone wants to start working as a nurse faster, traditional ADN programs may not be the best option.

Some schools with notable traditional ADN programs include Baptist Health System School of Health Professions and Western Kentucky University.

Online ADN Program Spotlights

Herzing University

Herzing University offers a high-quality, fully online ADN degree. Students can graduate in as little as 16 months, making this an accelerated option. As a school accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Herzing offers a rigorous curriculum. The program combines general science with nursing-specific courses to give students a foundational understanding of the health sciences. Course topics include nursing pathophysiology, pharmacology, and nutrition principles. Online classes in this ADN program consist of synchronous class lectures at flexible times and independent class assignments that are submitted through an online learning portal. Students also have access to virtual support through online tutoring, career development, and library services. If students wish to continue their education, they can secure a spot in Herzing’s BSN program upon graduation from the 60-credit ADN. This ADN costs about $615 per credit, though the school does have financial aid available.

Rasmussen University

Prospective students in Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin should consider the ADN from Rasmussen University. This program is among the best online RN programs for non-nurses, though it is a hybrid option, meaning applicants should live in one of the five states where Rasmussen has in-person campuses. Along with in-person labs, ADN students take online lectures and submit coursework virtually in their foundational nursing classes. Unlike other ADN courses, students don’t take pre-nursing coursework, meaning the time to graduation is usually shorter than two years (21 months on average). Topics covered include mental health nursing, providing nursing care for older patients, and nursing practice dimensions. Students also take classes on topics such as nursing roles, nursing leadership, and quality of care in professional nursing. By the end of the program, students are prepared to sit for the RN nurse licensure exam and have developed vital professional traits such as clinical confidence, the ability to provide patient-centered care, and critical thinking skills.

Online BSN Programs for Non-Nurses

The best online RN programs for non-nurses who have some college experience but no nursing background are typically bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSN). According to a 2021 study, many employers prefer to hire BSN nurses because they are better equipped to solve healthcare problems and provide excellent patient care. You’ll find different types of BSN programs to consider, so it’s important to find the right one for you.

Accelerated

Typically, a BSN takes four years to complete. In an accelerated BSN, students can complete their coursework faster, often within two years. These programs are ideal for those who want to start their nursing career faster or already have some nursing or health science courses under their belts. Accelerated programs are not ideal for those who want to work while completing their degree.

Universities with standout accelerated programs include Kent State University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Direct-Entry

At many universities, students take general education courses for one to two years before starting their nursing classes. If you don’t want to wait, consider direct-entry online RN programs for non-nurses. Direct-entry BSN programs let students hit the ground running and are ideal for students with high GPAs and a competitive application. They may not be as well suited to students with a lower high school GPA or for those who took fewer health science courses before applying for their BSN.

Top-rated direct-entry programs are found at the University of New Mexico and the University of Hawaii.

Traditional

Traditional online nursing programs for non-nurses are exactly what you would expect: four-year programs that cover health science and nursing essentials. Traditional online BSN programs are designed for students with a limited background in health education and can be balanced with work and life obligations. These programs are not ideal for those who want to graduate faster, since they take four years to complete.

Two of the best traditional programs are housed at Canton State University of New York and Clarkson College.

Online BSN Program Spotlights

Baylor University

Texas residents looking for online nursing programs for non-nurses should consider the BSN at Baylor University. This program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and many faculty members are considered leaders in nursing education. It’s also a hybrid program, so students take online courses in nursing foundations and complete in-person clinical experiences at local hospitals and with Texas healthcare providers. Class topics include analysis of complex human needs, professional development for nurses, and techniques for providing excellent nursing care. You’ll also have room for electives in topics such as healthcare issues and policy, and you can also specialize in fields like gerontology care or behavioral health nursing. Students take online classes and complete in-person clinical experiences that allow them to practice what they learn in the classroom and network with local nursing employers. This is an accelerated program, meaning students can graduate in one year. Students are well-prepared to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and become licensed nurses in Texas upon graduation.

Regis College

Those who want to become a nurse in the next 24 months should consider the BSN from Regis College. The program consists of 12-week semesters where students take online courses in foundational nurse topics. Classes cover issues such as acute care nursing and nursing leadership. Students also dive into specific areas of nursing, such as gerontology or behavioral health, which provides a better idea of what type of nursing they want to pursue. Along with online coursework, students complete in-person labs at Regis College’s Boston campus and clinical experiences with local healthcare partners. Both provide hands-on experience to practice what students learn in lectures, and the clinicals provide networking opportunities with some of the best healthcare employers in the area. Because there is an in-person component, applicants should live in or be willing to relocate to the Boston area. Applicants should also have a previous bachelor’s degree in a different field.

Online MSN Programs for Non-Nurses

To enter nursing as a leader and expert, consider getting a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These programs are designed for students who already have a bachelor’s degree and have taken foundational courses like anatomy and biochemistry as part of their bachelor’s. Like the process of finding the right ADN and BSN, you’ll also have various types of MSN programs to explore before applying.

Accelerated

Typically, an MSN takes two years to complete; accelerated MSNs, on the other hand, can be completed in one year or less. These programs are perfect for those who want to get their degree faster, but they may not be ideal for those with other work and life responsibilities.

When looking at accelerated MSNs, it’s important to note most are for those who already have a nursing license. Make sure to find a pre-licensure program.

Direct-Entry

If you have no prior nursing experience but want to enter the field, consider direct-entry MSN programs for non-nurses online. In these direct-entry MSN programs, students can get an advanced degree in nursing, even though they don’t have a nursing license before starting the program.

These programs are ideal for those who took health science courses in their undergraduate program; they may not be right, however, if you majored in an unrelated subject — like English or business — and now want to enter nursing.

Traditional

Traditional online MSN programs take two years to complete and often offer specialized knowledge in one area of nursing, such as nurse education or gerontology nursing. These programs are designed for those who know what area of nursing they want to pursue, but they may not be ideal for those who hope to get a more general nursing degree.

While applying to traditional MSN programs, pay attention to admission requirements. You’ll want to apply for a program designed for non-nurses, not one tailored to licensed nurses.

Online MSN Program Spotlights

Elmhurst University

When looking at online RN programs for non-nurses, consider the MSN from Elmhurst University. This program was designed for those who want to switch careers, meaning it provides virtual career development resources and a curriculum designed for those with a bachelor’s degree, but who have little to no previous coursework in nursing. In this online MSN, students study nursing practice foundations, health care system’s organization and policies, family health nursing, biostatistics, and nursing technology. To allow students to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and become licensed nurses as fast as possible, the program is accelerated and can be completed in 20 months. Students are also eligible to take the clinical nurse leader (CNL) certification exam at the conclusion of the program. Elmhurst University recommends students don’t work full-time or part-time while completing this degree due to the program rigor. Applicants should also reside in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, New Mexico, Vermont, or Wisconsin.

Marquette University

Those who already have a bachelor’s degree and are looking for online nursing programs for non-nurses should consider the MSN at Marquette University. The direct-entry program can be completed in 19 to 21 months and provides the foundational knowledge to start a second career in nursing. The curriculum includes nurse theory courses that can be completed online. Virtual courses are asynchronous, meaning students watch lectures and complete course materials at any time that is convenient to them instead of at set class times. They also involve virtual role-playing exercises. Along with 100% online classes, students complete some on-campus labs and simulations. Students also complete clinical rotations in person with local healthcare partners, making this a hybrid MSN instead of a fully online program. Because the program involves some on-campus and in-person requirements, students should reside near Marquette’s Pleasant Prairie campus in Wisconsin.

Skills & Characteristics of Successful Nursing Students

As you transition to a nursing career, you’ll want to focus on developing specific skills to set yourself up for success. We’ve listed six of the most important below, as well as quick and free ways to improve each.

Adaptability

Nursing is a reactive field, meaning nurses are often responding to a patient’s symptoms and providing individualized care. Professionals need to be able to adapt quickly and be flexible to thrive in this environment.

One way to become more adaptable is to develop a growth mindset. Salem State University outlines how nursing students can cultivate a growth mindset and why it matters.

Cultural Competence

Nurses work with patients from a variety of backgrounds, and cultural competence is a key skill to ensure all patients are comfortable and well cared for.

If you feel like your cultural competence is lacking, consider ways you can add diverse perspectives to your daily routine. Three easy ways to boost cultural competence include:

  • Reading books by authors from backgrounds different than yours
  • Following diverse voices on social media platforms
  • Learning phrases that are common to your profession in another language

Detail Orientation

Nurses need to pay attention to the details of a patient’s case in order to provide optimal care. This means non-nurses who are detail-oriented often thrive in nursing programs.

To become more detailed in your approach, check your work before turning in assignments at work or in your nursing program. And pay close attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues when communicating with peers and patients.

Interpersonal Skills

While nurses need technical know-how to provide excellent care, they also should be adept communicators. Strong interpersonal skills allow nurses to communicate with patients, doctors, and other healthcare workers.

Some strategies to improve your interpersonal skills include:

  • Reflecting on how to best communicate a message before sending a text or email
  • Volunteering with a nonprofit or joining a club around your interest to boost your ability to collaborate
  • Reading books on communication or effective writing

Legal and Ethical Awareness

Nurses also need to be aware of legal and ethical issues within healthcare. Typically, programs have courses that cover these issues, but students can also read trade journals about these topics, such as the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Technical Proficiency

Nurses work with new and emerging technologies, meaning they should be proficient at knowing how to learn and use a new technology quickly.

If you don’t yet feel confident in your level of tech savvy, before you start your program, begin by experimenting with non-nursing apps or digital tools. Invest an afternoon in learning something new, like Canva or Notion. This will boost your confidence and train your brain toward an expanding tech awareness.