Online RN Programs
Registered Nurses (RNs) provide more comprehensive patient care than LVNs/LPNs and command a higher entry-level salary. RN responsibilities include but are not limited to:
- Performing medical history and physical assessments
- Formulating nursing diagnoses and patient care plans
- Administering medications and other medical interventions
- Counseling and educating patients
Additionally, RN responsibilities will vary depending on specialization and workplace setting.
There are multiple pathways to earning your RN license; these nursing education pathways include
- Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): this two-year degree is program offered by community colleges and some universities. It provides foundational nursing education and prepares students to take the NCLEX-RN.
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): a direct-entry BSN degree program typically takes four years to complete at a university or college. It provides a comprehensive education in nursing theory and practice and additional research, leadership, and public health coursework.
- LPN/LVN to RN Bridge: these programs are designed for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) who wish to become RNs. They build on the knowledge and skills of the LPN/LVN and can lead to either an ADN or BSN.
- Accelerated BSN Programs (ABSN): for individuals who already hold a bachelor's degree in another field, accelerated BSN programs offer a fast-track option to obtain a nursing degree, typically in 12 to 18 months.
- Direct-Entry Master's Programs: these programs are designed for individuals with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field who wish to pursue a master's degree in nursing. They combine RN preparation with advanced coursework.
Online ADN Degree
Approximately 1,080 community colleges, vocational schools, and universities confer Associate Degrees in Nursing (ADNs) across all 50 states.1 Earning an ADN from a state-approved nursing program allows prospective nurses to sit for the NLCEX-RN exam. ADNs can be earned in two years for those without a post-secondary education, making it the fastest way to begin a career as a registered nurse.
Overview of ADN Programs
- Coursework: The curriculum will vary by institution and state, but typically, there are nursing courses and general education requirements. Nursing courses contain a theoretical component—including classes like Nursing Fundamentals and Behavioral Health—and a clinical component. The clinical component provides real-world nursing experience with patients.
- Tuition: The national average yearly tuition is $10,726, with some of the cheapest ADN programs coming in below $3,000 annually.
- Length of Program: The actual time to earn a degree will vary based on the institution and pre-requisites. Generally, the nursing courses take two full years of school to complete. For those without any of the general education pre-requisite credits, those classes take roughly an additional year to complete.
- Outcome: Graduates can take the NCLEX-RN and work as a registered nurse.
- Online Component: Most Online ADN Programs offer both general education and theoretical nursing courses online, equating to somewhere between 50-75% of total coursework. Clinical requirements are typically in-person, and there are no schools currently offering a completely online ADN.
The ADN Degree provides essential education in nursing theory and clinical skills. The most common employment for ADN graduates are entry-level roles in a variety of healthcare settings, including clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals.
Many RNs can choose to obtain certifications and pursue advanced degrees that specialize in various nursing fields, such as pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, critical care, and labor and delivery. Employers commonly ask RNs to continue their education with a Bachelor of Science (BSN) degree or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
Online BSN Degree
Roughly 1,060 colleges and universities confer pre-licensure Baccalaureate's of Science in Nursing (BSNs) across all 50 states.1 Earning a BSN from a state-approved nursing program allows prospective nurses to sit for the NLCEX-RN exam. BSNs are typically earned in four years for those without a post-secondary education.
For working RNs with an Associate's Degree, BSNs can be earned through an online RN bridge program. Many RNs attend these bridge programs to earn a higher salary or as a requirement of employment for a specific role.
In terms of pre-licensure programs, there are several differences between an ADN and a BSN with the choice coming down to personal preferences and career goals. Some of the key differences include:
- Duration: BSNs take approximately twice as long
- Cost: BSNs are, on average, nearly twice as expensive
- Outcomes: BSN graduates typically earn more and can apply to a wider range of roles
For many, the question of ADN or BSN is just a question of timing, as there is discussion within the nursing community as to whether BSNs will be required for all nursing roles in the future. Approximately 72% of RNs hold a baccalaureate degree or higher degree.2
Overview of BSN Programs
- Coursework: The curriculum will vary by institution and state, but typically, there are nursing courses and general education requirements. Similar to associate programs, nursing courses contain a theoretical component—including classes like Nursing Fundamentals and Behavioral Health—and a clinical component. With a BSN, there are several, more advanced nursing courses required. Examples include courses such as Advanced Practicums, Population Health Classes, Nursing Informatics, and Nursing Leadership classes. Clinical components are also generally more extensive.
- Tuition: The national average yearly tuition is $18,704, with some of the cheapest BSN programs coming in below $6,500 annually.
- Length of Program: The actual time to earn a degree will vary based on the institution and pre-requisites, but similar to most bachelor degrees, four years is the standard duration.
- Outcome: Graduates can take the NCLEX-RN and work as a registered nurse following a passing score on the exam.
- Online Component: Most Online BSN Programs offer both general education and theoretical nursing courses online, which equates to somewhere between 50-75% of total coursework. Clinical requirements are in-person, and there are no schools currently offering a completely online pre-licensure BSN.
Online RN to BSN Programs
There are over 550 RN to Bachelor's Programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), covering all 50 states. RN to BSN Programs are offered mostly by universities including online-only schools.
Also known as bridge programs, there are several important reasons for obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) including:
- advancement within current role
- requirement for a new role
- career and income expansion
- increasing clinical knowledge
- acquiring or further developing leadership skills
A survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) showed that 77% of employers strongly prefer nurses with a BSN, while 41% require a BSN for a new hire. Further, the Institute of Medicine’s
(IOM’s) "Future of Nursing report" recommends that 80% of nurses should achieve their to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree level by 2020.
Overview of RN to BSN Programs
- Coursework: The curriculum is highly-dependent upon the nursing students' eligible transfer credits as well as their work history. Exact curriculum will further depend on the institution and state, but some example themes of classes are Nursing Leadership, Nursing Research, and Evidence-Based Practice.
- Tuition: The total program tuition across nearly 200 RN to BSN Programs we reviewed was $12,905 with some of the cheapest RN-BSN programs in the country coming in below $4,000. Exact tuition will vary greatly based on credit hours required, state, financial aid and more factors.
- Length of Program: For prospective students with the maximum transfer credits possible at enrollment, some schools can be completed in as little as 6 months. For most nursing students, a more reasonable timeframe is 12-24 months.
- Outcome: There is no national licensing or certification exam required to earn a post-licensure BSN, rather most schools have a capstone research project, competency assessment, or other requirement.
- Online Component: Of all of the online nursing degrees, the post-licensure BSN is one of the most flexible in terms of location and the majority, if not all, of the coursework can be completed asynchronously online. Most programs still require a hands-on clinical component, which can often be completed at a local healthcare facility. However, there are some accredited schools that don't require any clinicals.
Online ABSN Programs
Online ABSN Programs, or Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs, offer a fast-track route to enter the nursing field. Designed for those who already hold a non-nursing bachelor's degree, these programs provide rigorous online coursework combined with clinical experiences, allowing students to sit for the NCLEX-RN and earn their BSN in a shorter timeframe.
There are over 300 ABSN Programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). These programs are offered at colleges and universities in all 50 states.
Overview of ABSN Programs
- Coursework: The curriculum is centered around advanced nursing classes. Examples include classes around Public Health Nursing, Pathophysiology, Pharmacology, and Nursing Leadership.
- Tuition: ABSN programs are on the higher end relative to other online nursing degrees with yearly costs typically above $15,000. Exact tuition will vary greatly based on instition, state, financial aid and more factors.
- Length of Program: Students enrolled in ABSN Programs, typically complete their studies within 12-24 months
- Outcome: Graduates can take the NCLEX-RN and work as a registered nurse following a passing score on the exam.
- Online Component: Similar to pre-licensure Online BSN Programs a lot of the theoretical classes can be taken online, but hands-on clinical experience will be required.
Online MSN Programs
Nursing professionals looking to advance their careers can pursue an Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), a graduate-level program offering advanced education in theory, research, and clinical practice. There are two common types of RN to MSN programs:
- BSN to MSN: Programs for RNs with a BSN who want to earn their MSN.
- RN to MSN Bridge: Programs for RNs who do not have a BSN but want to go straight into an MSN program. These are often referred to as "bridge" programs and may include an accelerated path to earn both the BSN and MSN degrees.
Those with non-nursing bachelor's degrees can earn their MSN via Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs, or via an ABSN degree followed by an MSN degree.
Overview of RN to MSN Programs
RN to MSN Bridge Programs will vary quite a bit depending on the area of specialization. There's a marked difference between advanced clinical roles, known as Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) degrees, and non-clinical roles such as informatics, research or public health. Non-clinical programs may be able to be completed 100% online, whereas ARPN degrees are typically offered partially online with in-person clinicals required.
Popular APRN Masters Degrees include:
- Nurse Practitioner (NP)
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM)
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)
- Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Within NP Programs students can choose to refine their focus even greater into specialties such as Family NP (FNP), Women's Health NP (WHNP), and more.
Can I become an RN online?
Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) online is a bit of a misnomer because while certain components of nursing education can be completed online, clinical practice is an essential part of nursing education and cannot be done online. However, there are hybrid programs available, frequently referred to as "online" programs, that offer online coursework combined with in-person clinical training.
What are the benefits of online nursing programs?
Online nursing programs offer a variety of benefits to students. Here are some of the primary advantages:
- Flexibility: Online nursing programs offer the ability to access lectures and resources on one's own schedule.
- Accessibility: Students can access coursework from anywhere, which is great for those in rural areas or without a nearby nursing school.
- Diverse Student Body: Online platforms often have a diverse group of students from various backgrounds and locations.
- Cost Savings: Students might save on commuting, parking, housing, and other traditional expenses.
- Pacing Options: Some online programs offer self-paced learning, allowing students to move at their own pace.
- Advanced Technology: Online programs often use the latest educational tech tools for enhanced learning experiences.
- Networking Opportunities: Digital platforms can provide robust opportunities for students to connect globally.
Online Nursing Programs Support