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Online Nursing Degree Programs

Earning an online nursing degree may be a great way to get started on the path to a nursing career—especially nowadays, when you may have a lot of options for where to earn ...

Earning an online nursing degree may be a great way to get started on the path to a nursing career—especially nowadays, when you may have a lot of options for where to earn your degree. You can find online nursing programs at community colleges, state colleges, private universities and business schools. But how do you determine which online nursing programs may be right for you? Here are a few things to think about during your search for an online nursing program!

We asked experienced professionals: What inspiration would you share with aspiring nursing students? 

"While nursing occasionally seems like a thankless job, it is just the opposite. I have an endless list of first hand experiences when I have been so thankful for my training and career as a nurse. If you are considering this path, I can truly say, you will feel invigorated and so inspired when you are able to put into practice what you learn and I am certain, like me, you will discover… CPR really does work."

Lorna Johnson - is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, advocate and diplomat
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- Lorna Johnson - MSN,NM,NP, Founding Partner and CFO of Advanced Family Care Medical Group

Things to find out about online nursing programs

  • When looking at online nursing programs, make sure that the school is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in NursingIII and/or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. They are the two recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.xiii
  • Find out if the state in which you plan to work will accept an online nursing degree from the school for your state nursing license.
  • Ask how clinical experience requirements are handled in online nursing schools. Will clinical work be done through the school, or will you need to arrange clinical rotations on your own?


The first aspect you may want to consider is accreditation. Accreditation demonstrates that an online nursing degree program meets the standards of a governing body. To get accredited, a college has to go through a rigorous application process. And to stay accredited, it has to reapply for accreditation every 5 years [i]. You may want to look for online nursing programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN) is another accreditation organization.[ii]

Types of Nursing Degrees and Online Nursing Programs

As nursing becomes more specialized and technologically advanced, nurses are becoming more educated. In 1980, only 36.3 percent of registered nurses had at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. As of 2008, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services survey showed that figure had more than doubled to 79.6 percent.[iv]

If you plan on landing a career in this field, pursuing a nursing degree may be the first step. There are many different types of nursing degrees and programs that may fit your career and life goals.

  • Licensed Practical Nursing Programs

You could become a licensed practical nurse (or licensed vocational nurse) through an accredited program, either on campus or online. Passing a certification test and state licensing are required to work as a licensed practical nurse.[v]

  • Associate's Degree in Nursing

Earning an associate’s degree in nursing could be a great first step if you want to become a registered nurse. Your course load will likely include science and social science courses, as well as your school’s liberal arts requirements and clinical experience. Most associate degree programs can be completed within two to three years.[vi]

  • Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing

If you’d like to broaden your career options, you may wish to consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. In these programs, you will get more instruction in social sciences, communications and critical thinking. You can also look into online bsn programs. Most bachelor’s degrees can typically be completed within years.[vi]

  • Master of Science in Nursing

If you’re a registered nurse looking to move into a specialty, you may want to consider pursuing a master’s degree. Some examples of nursing careers that, for the most part, require a master’s degree are clinical nurse specialist,Vnurse midwives,VI and nurse practitioners.[vii] According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, finishing a master’s degree requires 18 months to two years of full-time study or more if a student does not study full time[vii]

  • Doctorate in Nursing

There are several types of nursing degrees at the doctoral level. One is a traditional doctorate degree, either a Ph.D., doctorate of nursing science (D.N.S. or D.N.Sc.), or a doctorate of education (Ed.D.). The doctorate degree is for nurses who wish to pursue a career in clinical research, administration or education, while a doctor of nursing degree is more practice-focused and may be better suited for someone looking to pursue becoming a specialized nurse.

Preparation for the Nursing Exam [iii]

Another important consideration when choosing an online nursing degree program is whether the school may help prepare you to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The exam is established to help determine if a nursing school graduate has the knowledge, skills, and ability to practice nursing. If you don’t pass the exam, you can’t get your nursing license! So it might be a good idea for you to consider a program designed to help prepare you to sit for the exam. You may also want to ask a representative of your prospective program how its statistics compare with the national averages, which you can find here.

How Long Could It Take To Become A Nurse?

According to the Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)X

  • Fast-track bachelor’s programs generally take between 11 and 18 months to complete.
  • Fast-track master’s programs typically take about 3 years to complete.
  • Accelerated nursing programs are offered in 43 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam.

Online Nursing Programs - how long could it take to become a nurse

First Step

The first step to pursuing an online nursing degree is to be accepted into one of many online nursing programs. Among the nursing school requirements, you may have to take certain courses and pass an admission exam. Here are some ways to prepare for your nursing education program.

  • Volunteer: Check with local hospitals and health care organizations for opportunities to volunteer. This is an excellent opportunity to observe and learn first-hand how to be a nurse.
  • Study on your own: Your local library is a great resource for learning about nursing. A prep book for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, also known as NCLEX-RN, may give you an idea of what to expect from your nursing education.
  • Get yourself together: Between the classes in online nursing programs and clinical work, nursing school can be demanding. Use this time to make the most of your nursing school experience. Focus on sharpening your study and time management skills.
  • Talk with the pros: If you want to know how to become a nurse, try speaking with one. you You can may benefit from their experience and advice.
  • Connect with the nursing industry: Find nearby chapters of national nursing organizations, where there may be events or conferences
  • Many colleges offer a pre-nursing program to help you meet the prerequisites for an online nursing degree. In these courses, you can take some of your required liberal arts and introductory life sciences courses. A pre-nursing program can also help prepare you to pass a nursing school admissions test.


Nursing is a challenging field. So you should look for a program committed to helping its students with their education and their careers. Consider looking up the statistics of a prospective program’s retention rate, graduation rate, job attainment rate of graduates, and loan default rate. These numbers may help you determine whether the school does a good job of keeping its students and helping them towards their goals. Also look into flexibility. If you are considering an online nursing degree program, are there set class times, or will you be allowed to complete your coursework at your own convenience? Finally, see what you can learn about the helpfulness of the faculty. Ask about the student-to-faculty ratio — a good way of guessing how much access you will have to your instructors. And don’t hesitate to ask a current student about his or her experiences! Learning as much as you can about your prospective online nursing programs could help you make the best decision.

[i] | [ii] | [iii] |[iv] | [v] vocational-nurses | [vi] | [vii] article | [viii]  | [x] | [xii] | [xiii]

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