An online nursing program is a great option for anyone seeking a degree in nursing from an accredited school. Obtaining a degree in nursing is the next step for registered nurses (RNs) to further their credibility in the field. The flexibility of an online nursing program makes it easier for working students to get started in the nursing field or for working nurses to further their careers with an advanced degree.
Students should think about degree options, tuition and admission requirements, among other considerations when choosing a school. With numerous schools gaining accreditation for their online nursing programs, students should research what each school has to offer.
Top 10 Best Rated Online Nursing Programs
Established in 1993, Capella is a regionally accredited leader in online learning and competency-based education. Its online nursing program focuses on helping registered nurses advance their careers and education.
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Western Governors University is an online, nonprofit university that got it’s start in 1997. Supported by 19 U.S. governors, it offers multiple online degree options including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing.
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Walden University is a regionally accredited online institution that has been helping adult learners achieve their goals for 45 years. Today, it provides undergraduate and graduate degrees in many disciplines, including nursing.
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South University was established in 1899 in Savannah, Georgia as a business college. Since then it has opened 15 campuses and launched its online courses, including undergraduate and graduate nursing and public health degrees.
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Kaplan University has been a provider of educational programs for over 75 years. As a leader in online education, it offers doctoral, master’s, bachelor's and associate degrees to over 1 million students throughout 30 countries.
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The University of Phoenix was established in 1976 and is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona. Among other degree options, it offers a flexible online nursing program that allows nurses the chance to work towards an advanced degree.
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Penn State World Campus is Penn State University’s online college, which opened in 1998. Students have 125 career-enhancing programs to choose from, including advanced degrees and certificates in nursing.
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Chamberlain College of Nursing is located in Downers Grove, Illinois and has been providing nursing education since 1889. Today, they offer multiple academic programs for people looking to start or advance their nursing career.
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Founded in 1891, Drexel University has been offering online undergraduate and graduate nursing programs since 2002. Drexel offers current nurses many options in master’s programs to further their career in healthcare.
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Gardner-Webb University started in 1905 as a boarding high school and later became a college in 1928. The nursing program began in 1965 and has since expanded to include online undergraduate and graduate nursing programs.
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Important information about online nursing programs
What is the difference between a RN and BSN?
People who have their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or people who have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are both considered registered nurses (RNs) once they pass the NCLEX exam. However, hospitals are starting to look for more people with a BSN. With a BSN, nurses can further their credibility in the field by getting advanced degrees in focused areas and have more job opportunities to choose from. Almost all online nursing schools offer RN to BSN degree programs.
- RN: To become an RN, students must take the NCLEX exam. To be eligible to take the exam they must first earn their ADN or BSN. Students can earn an ADN and become an RN in about two years. Once an RN, they can perform typical nursing duties such as operate medical equipment, chart symptoms and educate patients about an illness.
- BSN: Many RNs choose to get a BSN degree to further their career in the nursing field. Typically, a BSN takes around three to four years, however, RN to BSN programs can be completed in about two years because RNs already have half of the credits needed for a BSN. Once a BSN is obtained, nurses can go on to get master’s and doctorate degrees in specialized areas of nursing. Hospitals are starting to look for nurses with a BSN as part of their hiring practices. RNs with a BSN can expect to earn more than RNs with an associate degree, and they will be eligible for managerial roles.
What programs do online nursing schools offer?
Generally, most online nursing schools offer the same types of degrees. As students start looking into more advanced nursing degrees such as a Master of Science in Nursing, they will see varying options in degree specialties and focuses. Master’s degrees in nursing are the most popular and diverse degrees offered by online nursing programs.
- Certificates: Many online nursing schools offer certificates that focus on specific areas in the nursing field. Certification degrees are offered on a state-to-state basis due to licensing requirements.
- Undergraduate: The most common undergraduate degree offered by online nursing schools is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN). This degree is designed for registered nurses who are pursuing a bachelor’s in nursing.
- Graduate: Online nursing schools offer the greatest number of options for a Master of Science in Nursing degree. Nurses looking for a master’s degree typically focus on a specific area of study within the nursing field, such as pediatrics or gerontology. Many schools offer doctoral degrees, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Ph.D. in nursing.
How are online nursing schools accredited?
Accreditation shows employers and licensing agencies that a school meets minimum academic standards. Each school typically has some type of accreditation, and each program within a school can have a more specified accreditation for that area of study. For example, most nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
- Regional accreditation: All online nursing schools are regionally accredited with one of the six regional accreditors. The accrediting organization largely depends on the state in which the school is located.
- National accreditation: National accreditation is typically used by vocational and trade schools and is not limited to a particular geographical area. Although some schools may advertise national accreditation as superior to regional accreditation, it does not offer any additional advantages for students.
- State certificates: Many online nursing programs are approved by multiple state licensing boards, allowing students to use their degrees across a broad list of states.
What are the tuition costs and fees for online nursing schools?
Tuition for each type of degree varies between schools. Each school will have different regular fees and program-specific fees that can make the overall tuition go up. If a school isn’t upfront about all of the fees associated with its nursing school, students should ask for a full list before making a final decision on a degree option.
- Tuition: Tuition depends on many factors including degree type (BSN or MSN), whether a student is full-time or part-time and how many transferrable credits they have. Most online nursing programs have a breakdown of tuition costs for each program online, or students can request more information to get the cost of a program.
- Additional fees: Students should be aware of additional fees that will be added to their overall tuition cost. Additional fees for nursing students can include application fees, books and supplies, course resource fees, and any material and supplies for clinical.
- Tuition reimbursement: Nursing students working towards advanced degrees should talk to their employer about tuition reimbursement. Some schools work with employers by accepting third-party checks for tuition.
What are the admission requirements for online nursing schools?
Schools have different admission requirements, not only for acceptance into the school but for the nursing program within the school. Online schools typically have admission requirements outlined in each course description as well as readily available admissions counselors to answer any general requirement questions.
- Standardized tests: Nursing programs require specific scores on the SAT or ACT as a general admission requirement.
- GPA: Minimum Grade Point Average for admission consideration will vary depending on the school. In most cases, students applying for a graduate degree will need to have a specific GPA in their undergraduate nursing courses.
- Registered nurses: Students will need to produce a current, active and unrestricted RN license when applying for a bachelor’s degree with the RN to BSN option.
What kind of financial aid do online nursing schools offer?
Figuring out how to pay for school is a daunting task, especially if this is a student’s second degree. Nearly all online nursing schools provide some type of financial aid students can apply for.
- Scholarships: Schools normally provide many scholarship options to help students pay for tuition. Students can look online for a list of scholarships and requirements for each one. Students with children should look for Working Parent scholarships that are available to registered nurses with children.
- Grants: Students seeking federal aid should consider all the grant options each school provides. Federal Pell Grants and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) are for undergraduates seeking a bachelor’s degree. Pell Grants have a maximum award of up to $6000, and FSEOGs are $375 per semester for those who qualify.
- Work study: Some online nursing schools give students the option to utilize the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program. FWS allows students with financial needs to earn part of their educational expenses. Students can earn an hourly minimum wage by working for the school or a nonprofit.
What kind of technology is used by online nursing schools?
Online classes and programs rely heavily on technology to communicate course material, homework and lectures to students. Flexible, easy-to-use programs are essential when it comes to online learning.
- Mobile app: Mobile apps give students the flexibility to access class assignments, participate in live discussions, send emails, review discussion boards and track academic progress from a mobile device.
- Easy-to-use programs: The programs that students use to complete their coursework, watch/listen to online lectures and take tests should be user-friendly.
- Live chat: Live chat features are becoming more popular with online classes. Students can ask questions during lectures and participate in live, online discussion groups. Many schools even have academic counselors available on an online chat platform.
Different types of online nursing degrees
Some online nursing programs offer associate degrees as an option to become a registered nurse. As an RN, students can go on to pursue advanced degrees in the nursing field, starting with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.
Bachelor of Science degrees
Most online nursing schools offer a couple of undergraduate options in the nursing field. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can have an RN to BSN option or an accelerated option. RN to BSN programs are designed for registered nurses pursuing a bachelor's degree in the field. The accelerated programs are fast-tracked degree options for students who have more time to devote to their studies.
Master of Science degrees
A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is the most common degree pursued by nursing students. The flexibility of having master’s courses online accommodates working nurses better than traditional learning. Students can pursue an MSN with a variety of focused options in the nursing field such as pediatrics, gerontology or nursing administration.
A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the most common advanced nursing degree offered by online nursing programs. This program is designed to give advanced practice nurses the scientific knowledge and expertise to deal with the increased complexity of the nursing field.
People who need an online nursing program
High school graduates
High school graduates who already know they want to pursue a career in nursing may find an online nursing program attractive, especially if they will be working part-time or full-time while earning a degree.
An online nursing program is a flexible option for registered nurses who want to pursue an advanced degree in the field of nursing. In some cases, nurses who are actively employed can use their work experience towards course credit.
Adults looking to switch their current career path to one in the nursing field may find online nursing programs a convenient option. This will allow them to continue working at their current job while pursuing a nursing degree.
Reviews of online nursing schools
As a nonprofit online university, WGU offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in nursing at lower costs than many other online universities. Students pay the same flat-rate tuition each six-month term, no matter how many courses they complete during that time. WGU offers courses in all 50 states and overseas for those in the United States military.
- Best for students looking for an affordable online nursing program.
South University College of Nursing and Public Health
South University offers nursing degrees on campuses across seven different states. It launched its online nursing programs in 2004, offering people flexibility when pursuing a degree. Students interested in a degree and multiple course options can find a list of graduate and undergraduate nursing programs on their website.
- Nursing programs: South University offers graduate and undergraduate nursing programs online. Undergraduate programs include a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Nursing RN to BSN Degree Completion. Graduate courses include multiple Masters of Science in Nursing, including RN to MSN degree options with specializations in nursing informatics, nurse educator, nurse administrator and gerontology. Students can view each program in more detail online.
- Accreditation and licensing: South University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Its Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Nursing degrees are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and approved by multiple state nursing boards.
- Application process: South University has admissions representatives to help students understand the application process and requirements for each type of nursing program. Once a representative has reviewed degree programs with a potential candidate, they will walk them through the online application process. Finally, a financial aid officer will discuss options and qualifications for candidates seeking financial assistance.
- Tuition and financial aid: South University doesn’t make their tuition costs readily available on their website. Prospective students can request information regarding tuition and fees by filling out an online form on each desired program's informational page.
- Online Doctor of Nursing Practice: South University offers an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Designed for working practical nurses, this course can be completed in two years. The DNP online program combines classroom coursework with field experience where the student works. The DNP program allows students to specialize in Administration, Information Technology, Leadership or Public Health.
- Best for students looking for options in online nursing programs or current nurses looking to advance their careers.
Kaplan University School of Nursing
The Kaplan University School of Nursing is designed around working nurses who have to manage their family and job schedules. From various nursing certificates to a doctorate in Nursing Practice, Kaplan can help nurses advance their careers and further their education.
- Nursing programs: Kaplan offers online bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in nursing as well as various nursing certificates. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) is for registered nurses looking to obtain a degree. It is 90 credits at $315 per credit. The Masters of Science in Nursing is 60 credit hours at $385 per credit. Kaplan’s Doctor of Nursing Practice is 60 credits at $700 per credit. Students can check online for details on curriculum, program length and start dates for each program.
- Accreditation: Kaplan University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Their nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Iowa Board of Nursing, the Maine State Board of Nursing and the Nebraska Board of Nursing.
- Tuition and financial aid: Total tuition and fees will depend on the desired nursing program. The Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) tuition is $28,350. The Master's of Science in Nursing tuition is $23,100, and the Doctorate in Nursing Practice tuition is $42,000. Students with transfer credits will save the most on tuition. Kaplan offers financial aid, including grants, scholarships and loans.
- Admissions: Interested students can complete an information request form and speak with an admission advisor who will help them through each step of the admissions process. Potential students will then complete an interview with their admissions advisor to discuss goals and programs. Candidates can go online to see a list of required documents for admission into each nursing program.
- Academic support: Kaplan offers a variety of academic support resources for current students. Students have access to an online library, academic support centers and career planning services.
- Best for current nurses who want to advance their career and education opportunities.
Capella School of Nursing and Health Sciences focuses on helping registered nurses advance their education level and careers. Students will find degree and certificate programs based on up-to-date clinical practices, helping them meet the needs of employers and patients alike.
- Best for registered nurses looking to advance their education level and career in nursing.
University of Phoenix School of Nursing
The University of Phoenix School of Nursing provides registered nurses with flexible bachelor’s and master’s degree options as well as multiple healthcare certificates. Course curriculum is designed with employers in mind and aligns with many professional organizations such as the American Nurses Association (ANA).
- Nursing programs: The University of Phoenix offers bachelor’s degrees in health administration and nursing (RN to BSN). Master’s nursing degrees are offered with multiple concentration options including nurse administrator, nurse education and informatics. In addition to graduate programs, The University of Phoenix offers many different types of post-graduate certifications.
- Accreditation: The University of Phoenix is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Its Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
- Tuition: Tuition for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) is $410 per credit for 100-200 level courses and $510 per credit for 300-400 level courses. Tuition for a Masters of Science in Nursing is $595 per credit. Each degree has a resource fee of $165. Consumers can go online for a full cost breakdown of each type of nursing program offered.
- Prior Learning Assessment (PLA): Students can apply relevant work experience towards college credits through the PLA program. To qualify, students can create a Professional Training Portfolio online describing relevant work experience and write an experience-based essay on an approved topic. The essay should show how knowledge from relevant work experience has been gained through theory and application. There is a one-time submission fee of $150 and a fee-per-credit of $75.
- Admission: Admission requirements differ depending on the level of degree that is desired. Consumers can check online for a full list of admissions requirements for undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree levels.
- Best for registered nurses wanting to get an advanced degree in nursing.
Penn State World Campus
Penn State World Campus provides students with the chance to get a degree from Penn State University with the flexibility of doing so online. Registered nurses can get a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree in nursing as well as four specialized nursing certificates.
- Nursing programs: Penn State World Campus offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) online. Students can choose from a regular or accelerated bachelor’s degree format. World Campus offers a Master of Science in Nursing with two options: Nurse Administrator or Nurse Educator. Lastly, students with an advanced degree can choose to take the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. World Campus also offers nursing certificates in forensics, informatics, management, administration and nursing education.
- Accreditation: Penn State World Campus is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Its Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing (CCNE) and the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing.
- Tuition and financial aid: A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is 120 credits at $542-$584 per credit. A Master of Science in Nursing is 37 credits at $821 per credit and a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree is $821 per credit. World Campus offers financial aid through FAFSA, company reimbursement and scholarships. Students can go online for a full list of financial aid options.
- Admission: Potential students can fill out an application for admission online. World Campus has staff that can help candidates with program selection, program-specific prerequisites and application requirements and deadlines.
- Online chat: World Campus has an online chat feature that allows potential students to speak with an admissions counselor in real time. This can help speed up the admissions process by allowing applicants to ask questions while filling out an application.
- Best for students wanting an online advanced nursing degree from a major university.
Chamberlain College of Nursing
Chamberlain College of Nursing has been providing nursing students with educational programs for 125 years. They offer online undergraduate and graduate nursing programs to anyone looking for a flexible way to advance their nursing career.
- Nursing programs: Students can choose from a group of nursing degrees offered online. Chamberlain offers one undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN). They offer a Master of Science in Nursing with or without the BSN to MSN option as well as an MSN Family Nurse Practitioner degree. Students looking to advance their degree even further can pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Students can go online to view the curriculum for each program.
- Accreditation: Chamberlain College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). They also have state approvals from 24 state boards.
- Tuition: The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) is $14,160 for nursing courses. The Masters of Science in Nursing (BSN to MSN) option starts at $24,455 total with varying prices depending on the specialty track. The MSN Family Nurse Practitioner tuition is $650 per credit hour plus additional fees. The Doctor of Nursing Practice tuition is $750 per credit hour plus additional fees. Students should check online for all additional costs and fees.
- Admissions: Candidates can go online and fill out an application to be considered for admission. Transfer students looking to transfer credits should check out Chamberlain’s transfer requirements, guidelines and procedures. Students looking for proficiency credit must provide a transcript before registration.
- Chamberlain Care: Chamberlain College of Nursing operates under the Chamberlain Care model. It is designed to help students succeed by providing them with customized tools, resources and support to help them finish their degree and become successful nurses.
- Best for students looking for a flexible way to earn an advanced nursing degree.
Walden University provides registered nurses with the convenience of advanced online nursing degrees. Students can choose from multiple options of undergraduate and graduate degrees from advanced certifications to a doctorate in nursing.
- Best for registered nurses seeking multiple options in master’s degree programs.
Drexel University was one of the earliest accredited online nursing schools. Today, it provides bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees to over 1,500 students in the healthcare field. Drexel has many graduate degree options that allow nurses to focus on a certain area of nursing.
- Nursing programs: Along with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program, Drexel offers 16 different Master's of Science in Nursing degrees. Some options include an MSN in gerontology, pediatrics, psychiatry, research and education. If they want to advance their education further, nurses with advanced degrees can choose Drexel’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program. Students also have a variety of post-bachelor’s and post-master’s certificates from which to choose.
- Accreditation: Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Its College of Nursing and Health Professions is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
- Tuition: Drexel’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) tuition is $667 per credit. Students can expect to pay around $900 for most Masters of Science in Nursing degrees and $925 for the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Each program will have additional fees, which are outlined online.
- Admissions: Candidates can fill out an online application located on each program’s information page. Before an application is reviewed, students must submit all supporting documents, including transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, resumes, license copies and test scores. Candidates can go online for the appropriate mailing and email addresses to submit their documents.
- BSN-Co-op: Drexel offers a BSN Co-op option for first-year students. The Co-op offers students the opportunity to learn from major healthcare leaders in the field. Students will have real responsibility allowing them to have confidence when it comes time to enter the workforce. With the Co-op nursing program, students alternate between classroom work and full-time employment.
- Best for current nursing professionals looking for many Master of Science in Nursing program options.
Gardner-Webb University Hunt School of Nursing
Gardner-Webb University Hunt School of Nursing offers nursing program options for people interested in becoming a registered nurse and nurses who want to further their education in a specific nursing field. Its online options let nurses work around their job to pursue a degree.
- Nursing programs: Gardner-Webb provides three undergraduate programs: Associate of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN). Master’s programs include a Master of Science in Nursing in education, administration and Family Nurse Practitioner. Additionally, nurses with a current MSN degree can choose to pursue a degree in Gardner-Webb’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.
- Accreditation: Gardner-Webb University is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of College and Schools and the Commission on Colleges. The Hunt School of Nursing is accredited by the Commission for Education in Nursing Inc (ACEN).
- Tuition: Full-time nursing students can expect to pay around $30,000 per year in tuition, and part-time students will pay $468 per credit. Additional fees for the nursing school include $150 per course of nursing clinical and additional expenses of around $700 throughout the program. Students should check the full list of fees online for any additional cost related to their program.
- Admissions: Admission requirements vary depending on the program. Each program’s informational section online has a tab dedicated to detailing specific admission requirements. Requirements include minimum GPA, minimum standardized test scores, letters of reference and, for master’s programs, the number of years as a full-time active registered nurse. A complete application includes a $40 non-refundable processing fee.
- Success coaching: Gardner-Webb views academic advising as a vital piece of a student's success. Advisors can help students with implementing educational plans that align with their personal values and career plans.
- Best for people wanting to get into the nursing profession and registered nurses looking to pursue an advanced nursing degree.
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