Can you really get a Nursing Degree Online

There are many programs that allow nursing students to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree online, though not entirely. Because nursing is a hands-on profession, you‘ll still need to gain experience that’ll prepare you to work directly with patients in the field.

In our increasingly fast-paced and busy world, those looking to start or change their careers want as many options as possible for getting their education. It’s more important than ever that schools offer potential students the ability to earn their degree while balancing life’s other responsibilities—especially since recent world health events have changed so much in our day-to-day lives. Whether you’re a single parent or need to work while you finish your education, more and more schools are implementing online options that let students complete their coursework when and where it works for them. Make the change you want to make.

But does this apply to nurses and, if so, how does it work? Read on to get answers to the 10 most common questions about online nursing school.

Can I Become a Nurse Online?

There are many programs that allow nursing students to earn an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree online, though not entirely. Because nursing is a hands-on profession, you’ll still need to gain experience that’ll prepare you to work directly with patients in the field. So, while the majority of your classroom coursework can be taken online, you’ll need to at least complete in-person clinical hours at an approved location. These are known as hybrid programs.

An exception might be if you already have an associate’s degree, a current RN license, and a certain number of clinical hours under your belt. If this is your case, you might be able to find bachelor’s degree programs that are offered solely online. These can give you an advanced education in nursing theory and prepare you to take on higher responsibilities and management roles.

Do I Ever Need to Go to Campus?

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It varies. Some programs require online nursing students to only be present for their clinical hours, while others may require classroom attendance on campus 1 or 2 days a week. The first is especially beneficial for those who are working full-time and have families, while the other could be better for students with part-time jobs or those who still want some of the traditional experience of working directly with faculty and classmates. Other circumstances can come into play, too, which will likely affect your educational experience. When many hospitals were overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, states relaxed or restructured the way students’ clinic hours are completed.

Number 3

Will I Be Able to Complete the Program at My Own Pace?

This depends on the structure of the program you choose. Many programs that are affiliated with traditional colleges and universities still maintain the same quarter or semester schedule as they have for on-campus students. Some degrees can be completed at an accelerated pace, though there’s usually a minimum requirement for length.

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Number 4

How Do Online and On-Campus Programs Differ?

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Taking online courses is no less demanding than attending in person, and you’ll still receive the same level of education as you would in a traditional program. But the two experiences can be vastly different. Online students will get less face-to-face interaction with professors and other students than their in-classroom peers. The online experience also requires a certain level of self-discipline, since the pace of much of the curriculum is dictated by the student. Fortunately, frequent email communication, discussion forums, and online chat sessions help make the online experience just as rewarding.

If you’re not worried about missing out on those in-person interactions, online programs can offer many benefits. One of the most important is that they allow students to earn an education without giving up other things in their lives that matter. Online students can often have full-time jobs, save time and money on commuting, and don’t have to sacrifice their commitments to other obligations. Students who take online courses can also have the advantage of getting their professors’ lectures in written form.

Number 5

What Should I Look for in a Program?

First, and most important, find out if your school is approval by your state’s Board of Nursing, which is required if you wish to sit for the licensing exam. Program accreditation is another thing to consider. While not necessary for licensing, accreditation shows that your program meets standards for the education that’s necessary for you to be successful in the field. It also allows you to qualify for federal financial aid and to transfer credits if you decide to pursue additional education later. Second, decide how much you need the program to be online. Look at your work schedule, family responsibilities, and the other important parts of your life to determine whether a partially or fully online program (minus clinical hours) would be the right fit.

Then ask some additional questions such as:

  • Does the school offer career placement programs?
  • What’s the average student pass rate on licensing and certification exams?
  • Do I need to take online courses at specific times?
  • Does this program offer courses in any specialty that interests me?
  • Will I get to work with an academic advisor?
  • How much communication will I have with faculty and other students?
Number 6

Are There Prerequisites?

woman pointing to education requirements on blackboard

Prerequisites vary greatly based on the school, program, and level of degree you seek. But for many associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs, you can expect to need:

  • A high school GPA of at least 2.5
  • Passing scores on the school’s chosen entrance exam for nurses
  • Prerequisite courses covering English, algebra, biology, and chemistry

Acceptable scores on the SAT or ACT might also be necessary for associate’s degrees but are almost certainly a requirement for a bachelor’s. If you’re entering a BSN program with a previous associate’s in nursing, a current RN license is likely necessary.

For online master’s degree programs, having a BSN from an accredited institution is the most common requirement. However, some accept students with associate’s degrees and allow them to earn a BSN and MSN at the same time. Depending on the program, you might need to submit scores from the GRE or take a different school-specific test. The courses you’ll need to have completed will differ based on the specialty of your degree.

Number 7

How Long Will an Online Program Take?

Again, this depends on the program you enter. In most cases, online options take around the same time to complete as traditional ones, though you might be able to enter an accelerated program that lets you earn your degree more quickly. Any applicable credits from previous degrees could also reduce your time. That said, expect programs to last roughly the following lengths of time:

18 months – 2 yearsAssociate’s degrees

About 4 yearsBachelor’s degrees

2 – 3 yearsMaster’s degrees

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Number 8

Can I Receive Credit for Work Experience?

smiling nursing student standing in hospital hallway

Along with credits from any previous coursework, you might be able to apply work experience and shorten the length of time it takes to earn your degree. Students seeking this option generally have 1 of 2 choices:

  • Depending on the school, students seeking a certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree can complete a school-approved proficiency exam to demonstrate knowledge in coursework areas that have been addressed by your work experience. The American Council on Education maintains a database of recommended exams. Other commonly used tests include those designed by the CLEP and the DSST. There are most often used to earn credit in general education areas such as English, chemistry, biology, and math.
  • Submit an officially documented portfolio listing experiences for which college credit could be awarded.
Number 9

How Much Do Online Nursing Programs Cost?

There’s no easy way to say how much an online nursing program will cost. Rates vary widely depending on the school, the program, the level of degree, and the number of credits you take. Some online programs have different tuition rates for onsite versus online students, and many also have different pricing models that charge by credit hour rather than by semester. Whether the school is public or private will also play a part, however, increased rates for out-of-state public programs often don’t apply to online students as they do for those attending on campus.

Overall, online programs tend to be less expensive than traditional ones as students often aren’t charged additional fees for certain on-campus resources. You may also have fewer textbooks and less transportation time, which can lower cost even further. What’s more, many online programs offer a larger variety of ways to pay your tuition. You might be able to make monthly, interest-free payments or pay less per credit with the more courses you take.

Number 10

Is Financial Aid Available?

young nurse reads over anatomy papers

If you’re worried about paying for your education, rest assured that there are plenty of options out there to help. Students attending an accredited school can get financial aid through the federal government in the form of loans, grants, and work-study programs. There are also many different scholarships available, some for students in all fields and some designed specifically for nurses.

If, after graduation, you end up finding work in a nonprofit organization, government agency, or area that’s considered to have a critical shortage of nurses, you might also qualify for student loan forgiveness after a certain period of time.