The Excelsior College Distance Learning ADN Program: Facts, Answers, and Links

Ever want to see some of the tips, advice, and ins-and-outs of navigating Excelsior College's Distance Learning ADN program? Here's a start: 50 things to know! Enjoy. Students Excelsior Article


  • Editorial Team / Moderator
    Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN.
The Excelsior College Distance Learning ADN Program: Facts, Answers, and Links

I thought I'd compile some basic information/answers to the questions we see here over and over. This is a work in progress. Please feel free to point out any errors. Thanks!

1. Excelsior College (EC) ADN grads are not eligible for licensure in all states, and some states have additional requirements before NCLEX: Excelsior College | State Board Requirements. Obtaining a BSN after your RN will not necessarily negate the issues in states that will not recognize EC's education; those states always consider the source of your RN, which would be EC.

2. The school's ADN program page has great information, including the School of Nursing catalog. Download it and READ it so you know what to expect: Excelsior College | Associates Degrees Nursing | Nursing Degrees, Programs | Distance. Seriously, read it. There should be no surprises anywhere along the way. EC does not have "hidden" fees or requirements. They put it all out there for students.

3. There is a tuition estimator on the site: EC Cost Calculator. Use it. This way there are no surprises, like when students say they didn't know about the $495 student services annual fee or the $495 graduation fee.

4. There is an application fee, currently $50 (note: this used to be $100, looks like the price has decreased). This provides a transcript review and an evaluation of which courses you'll need to complete to graduate.

5. There is an enrollment fee for the exam-based curriculum, currently $1065. Until you pay this enrollment fee, you will be subject to any curriculum changes that may occur between your transcript evaluation and enrollment.

5a. There is an option that doesn't have an enrollment fee, and that is the course-based option - so if you're taking online courses instead of the test-out exams, you do not pay an enrollment fee. However, you'll pay $1,530 per course instead of the $355 exam fee. There's a trade-off. Also, students who do courses are eligible for financial aid.

6. There is a student services annual fee (SSAF), currently $495. This is due annually on your enrollment anniversary date. If you take at least 12 Excelsior online course credits each year of your enrollment, the SSAF for the following year will be waived.

7. You have seven years to complete the program. If you do not complete it within seven years, you will be dropped from the program and will have to re-enroll with all associated fees and repeat the exams.

8. There is a graduation fee, currently $495. You receive $15 off of this fee for each course credit earned. Before you get too excited about this and think that EC will owe YOU money before graduating (like I did, haha), this is only for COURSE credit, not exam credit. I took the Information Literacy (INL 102) through EC. That one-credit course knocked $15 off of my grad fee.

9. Costs increase every year -- fees and tuition, usually, though some fees stay stable from year to year. Only recently (like in the past 3 years or so) has the SSAF increased, for example.

10. Contrary to what people might think, this is not "the easy way" to become an RN. If you are not a highly motivated individual who can self-teach, think twice before going this route. If you start EC and find that you aren't suited to distance learning, there is no shame in that! Everyone learns differently.

11. There is a clinical exam at the end of the program -- the Clinical Performance in Nursing Examination (CPNE). It is very stressful for most people. If you fail the CPNE three times, you will be dismissed from the program. It is easy to fail for the little things, and some people who have years and years of experience will fail this exam. It is not difficult in execution -- it requires basic assessment and basic management -- but if you do not study because you think you already know how to be a nurse, then you are setting yourself up for potential failure. Learn the "EC way." Edited to add that I have written an article specifically about the CPNE:

I will say this about the CPNE: you will find websites with people hating on the CPNE, but it is difficult for a reason -- this program does not have traditional clinicals, and EC must ensure safe and competent nursing practice. At the end of preparation and passing my CPNE, I didn't love the CPNE but I sure as heck respected it and saw the reason for it being what it is.

12. There are third-party publishers who have no relationship with the school, but who will encourage students to sign contracts for study guides. These contracts are binding and add thousands to the bottom line. Do not sign unless you intend to pay. The school discusses these companies and their lack of affiliation and endorsement here: Excelsior College | Advisory

13. There are free exam content guides for each exam. These guides contain sample test questions, an outline of material that students are expected to know (your syllabus, essentially), as well as suggested texts and reading assignments. This is really all you need to do well on these exams, in addition to...

14. The EC practice exams! Worth their weight in gold, if you could print them out and lift them. ? There are practice exams for each corresponding EC exam. Each practice exam currently costs $75, and you get access to two exams: Form A and Form B. These are excellent gauges to see where you are in your studies, as well as valuable study tools in themselves.

15. You many only register for four nursing theory exams at a time.

16. Effective September 2015, students have three attempts to pass an exam. A third failure will result in dismissal from EC's program.

17. If you fail an exam, you must wait 60 days to retake it the first time, and 120 days after any subsequent failure.

18. Students have three chances to pass the Focused Clinical Competencies Assessment (FCCA), which is a two-part, computer-delivered exam that covers 1) head-to-toe assessment and the nursing process and 2) managing multiple patients and working in interdisciplinary healthcare teams. If a student fails the FCCA three times, he/she is dismissed from the program. There is a page about the FCCA: Excelsior College | FCCA®

19. Students who are enrolled in the FCCA may NOT collaborate on the FCCA. This violates the school's academic honesty policy. This information comes directly from EC faculty, and we take it seriously at allnurses. Do NOT discuss FCCA content or mechanics. We mean it.

20. The pass rate for the CPNE from 2007 through 2011 was 61% per the school catalog.

21. How is it possible to become an RN without actual clinicals? Because this program is open only to those who are healthcare providers of some sort who have completed clinicals in other programs and hold some kind of certification or licensure. This is not a pre-licensure program. Read the admission requirements here: Associate Requirements - Excelsior College -

22. Under the current curriculum, you must complete pre-reqs before the nursing theory portion. You can take pre-reqs before enrolling; however, if the curriculum changes before you enroll, you are subject to the new curriculum. Usually EC will publish notification on their website before making curriculum changes with an effective date.

23. Why would you wait to enroll? Because paying the enrollment fee starts the clock ticking toward the due date of your SSAF, currently $495. The longer you can delay actual enrollment, the later your SSAF becomes due, giving you more time to complete the exams and program before paying that SSAF. But again, you will be subject to curriculum changes if you are not enrolled. Choose wisely. ?

24. A&P and Micro transfer credits will be accepted if they are no more than five years old at the time of enrollment and are deemed acceptable for credit.

25. A&P and Micro must be completed before students can register for the nursing exams, and the school has added to the list of what must be done before nursing content. This includes sociology, math, and lifespan developmental psychology.

26. We all know the old saying "C = RN," right? Consider the current climate for new grad RNs; one trend for employers to weed out applicants is to set GPA minimums. Don't just study to pass, study to learn and grasp the material and excel.

27. Exams (with the exception of the FCCA and CPNE) are done at Pearson VUE (Computer-Based Test (CBT) development and delivery :: Pearson VUE). If you schedule an exam, show up! You will not be rescheduled or reimbursed if you miss your date/time, unless there are dire circumstances.

28. Some people do have to drive a long distance to get to a Pearson testing center. When I was testing, my closest test location was about 1.5 hours away. I just made a day out of it -- went shopping at the nice mall nearby, treated myself to a nice meal, etc. The site locater page is here: For Test Takers :: Pearson VUE -- for EC exams, click on "Academic/Admissions" in the left column, then choose "Excelsior College" from the right column. (Of course, now there is one within 10 miles of my old house, haha).

29. There is an overview of the CPNE with a lot of helpful information on EC's site: CPNE® - Excelsior College - Explore it!

30. You must pay your graduation fee before EC will send your transcripts to your state's Board of Nursing (BON). Applying for the NCLEX-RN is completed in parts: register with Pearson and pay them, apply to your BON and pay them, and then request your transcripts be sent to your BON from EC via the information in your graduation packet. Some BONs do allow students to take the NCLEX prior to the actual graduation date, but that varies; check with your BON.

31. Have patience! After your CPNE, it takes a few weeks for the school to process you for graduation (though admittedly if you call them, sometimes it seems to take less time, and I think they tell you it'll take 4-6 weeks so that you're pleasantly surprised when it takes 3 weeks). Why does it take so long? EC is a large school with tens of thousands of students, and you are not the only one being processed. Yes, I know that you're the most important one, though. ?

32. Your graduation date is not the date you finish your CPNE. The cut-off dates for CPNE and conferral are on the "Graduation and Beyond" page, accessible after you sign into MyEC:

33. There is no federal financial aid for the exam-based version of the program (though it may be coming). The course-based version is eligible, as is the nursing conference (NTCX) format.

34. Whichever route you choose (exam vs. course), EC does award scholarships based on need as indicated by students' FAFSAs, so be sure to complete a FAFSA each year.

35. There are payment plans that students can use to help stretch those education dollars. Most students I know just pay as they go. Payment plan information is here:

36. It is often less expensive to take CLEPs for some of the requirements, but EC limits the number of ACE transfer credits. Personally I took the Human Growth and Development CLEP to cover the Lifespan Developmental Psychology requirement and the Introductory Sociology CLEP to cover the sociology requirement. EC does have exams for these subjects, but they are much more expensive and you will save money using CLEPs. I had two Associates degrees prior to starting EC, so I didn't have too many general ed requirements to complete. You can find more info about CLEP here:

37. There are no actual Micro or A&P CLEP exams, but EC does have these exams. Just be aware that if you return to school for your BSN, some schools want these classes to have had a lab component, and EC's exams do not have that. Plan accordingly. There are some online versions with labs, or local community colleges are another great option.

38. No one but YOU can determine if EC is the right path for you; strangers on the Internet cannot decide for you. If you're eligible for admission based on the admission criteria and EC is recognized for licensure in your state, then certainly it's an option, but its appropriateness and fit is completely up to you.

39. Do not violate academic honesty by sharing test questions. This leaves you vulnerable to dismissal from the program. Do not ask others to violate academic honesty, either.

40. You will find "notes" out there for sale from various sources. You will also find used study guides from third-party publishers on eBay and such sites. This is not necessarily enough to pass the exams, but everyone is different. Find a study groove that works for you.

41. After an exam at Pearson, you find out your grade and receive a printout showing how you did in each section. Don't be thrown off by the percentages on the breakdown page -- not all questions are scored, so the numbers may appear strange.

42. You must achieve a "C" or better to pass an exam.

43. The FCCA and CPNE are pass/fail.

44. Information Literacy (INL 102) is required unless you already have a Masters degree or have taken a class that satisfies EC's (seemingly strict) standards when it comes to this course. Some students have used alternative courses like Davar College's Info Lit. But, take heart: if you take INL 102 from EC, you'll get $15 off your grad fee. Haha. INL 102 is a pass/fail course that can usually be completed in a day or two.

45. CLEPs are also pass/fail, but the score you received (whatever out of 80 possible) does appear on your transcripts.

46. There are many options for finding local study buddies, and geographically diverse students have studied by using programs like Skype. Think outside the box!

47. I found that it was easiest for me to stay motivated by paying for and scheduling my exams, then using that as a deadline -- otherwise I'd just study into oblivion, never feeling quite ready. This method might work well for others, too.

48. You will get a degree in the mail shortly after your grad date. You will probably think it is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. I sure did.

49. After passing the CPNE, the NCLEX is like cake. That's not to say don't study for it, but you'll see what I mean. The CPNE can be life-changing in terms of showing you what you can do when you put everything into it, and you'll probably come out feeling like you can accomplish darn near everything.

50. Excelsior College is ACEN and regionally accredited. I had no problems having my credits accepted by all the RN-BSN programs to which I applied, though one did want me to take Chemistry... ugh!

51. As of March 2016, EC has implemented a requirement for the TEAS as an entrance exam, and also for potential students to submit a supervisor-signed form to verify that they are working in their healthcare field. This information is all here:

I think that's enough for today! ?

(Editorial Team / Moderator)

Pixie.RN: a short green-eyed redhead, very tattooed, former paramedic, ED/trauma RN, educator, infection preventionist/epidemiologist, Army veteran (66T). Avid reader, new mommy, addicted to good shoes, allnurses, and her smartphone.

30 Articles   13,755 Posts

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30 Posts

You put this together nicely I must say!!!


45 Posts

LunahRn, Awesome job!


221 Posts

Specializes in LTC.

Thanks for the info wish it was there when i started!


44 Posts

Our state (MD) BON no longer allows EC grads to sit for the NCLEX. (Maryland Board of Nursing - Nursing Education)

I also heard that Virginia, a neighboring state, has done the same. Do you know why? (just curious)


131 Posts

Specializes in Emergency.

Wow! That was a much needed article about Excelsior! Thank you for writing that!

A big thumbs up for #26: Hoping folks don't forget that there is a need for understanding the material beyond the EC exam... like NCLEX and actual patient care ;)

#48: My EC diploma was even more professional looking than my BS degree from a well-respected state university, lol!


268 Posts

Specializes in geriatrics, hospice, private duty.

This is great info! I really wish I had waited to enroll. I did my prereqs first and you could still take a couple of ECEs before enrolling at the time I enrolled. I would have for sure NOT had to have paid the SSAF fee. I am completing the CPNE a year to the day of my enrollment and I figure I would not have had to enroll before April. In fact my SSAF fee is due in Feb and I'm going to have to charge it on a credit card (yuck). Hindsight is 20/20 and all that! It's about the only thing I wish I had done differently (thus far).

Specializes in Correctional/Psych.

Never in a million years would I do this program. To each their own.

Editorial Team / Moderator

Lunah, MSN, RN

30 Articles; 13,755 Posts

Specializes in EMS, ED, Trauma, CNE, CEN, CPEN, TCRN.
Our state (MD) BON no longer allows EC grads to sit for the NCLEX. (Maryland Board of Nursing - Nursing Education)

I also heard that Virginia, a neighboring state, has done the same. Do you know why? (just curious)

Maryland, like California, has issues with the lack of clinicals concurrent with theory. Virginia does allow EC grads to endorse in with 960 hours of practice as an RN. I am a Virginia resident, but in the Army and stationed in Georgia. I maintain and work under a Virginia license - I finished EC before Virginia changed their requirements.


45 Posts

Lunahrn, do I need to register to take my general ed classes through exe exams? I can only take 2 through Ace and I'm trying to figure the best and fastest options. I am taking bio and a&p through straighterline..I have an English completed through college already


THANK YOU for compiling all this info for potential students! A very comprehensive list, for sure! It will save the newbies from having to read thousands of posts to get started... any way you can make it a permanent file in this site? I'm sure it will be copied and shared over and over... :)

I am reading and rereading # 47... I have paid for Micro and Health Safety, but have not yet scheduled them... I've gotten kinda caught up in studying Micro... there is SO much to learn!

Thank you for all this information!!!!!



17 Posts

This is such great information I am doing my credits that EC told me I need at the community college. Because I need everything thanks for those valuable info now I know exactly what I should be expecting

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