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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.
Growing concerns over accessible healthcare and ongoing nursing shortages have resulted in several initiatives to expand nursing education, including a surge in online undergraduate and graduate nursing programs.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for registered nurses (RNs) to grow by 12% from 2018-28, much faster than the anticipated growth for all occupations. Projections for graduate-trained advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners (NPs), nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives, reach a 26% growth rate in the same period.
Online nursing programs address the urgent need for qualified nurses and provide a flexible alternative to campus-based programs. These degrees allow nurses to receive advanced training while they continue to work or tend to family responsibilities.
This guide ranks the best online bachelor’s and master’s programs in nursing, based on several key factors, including academic quality, affordability, online learning experience, and return on investment.
AdvertisementNurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.
Aspiring nurses can choose from several online nursing programs that lead to an associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree. Compared to a nursing diploma or associate degree, an online bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) prepares graduates for broader career opportunities and higher salaries. A master of science in nursing (MSN) provides the educational credentials to move into advanced practice nursing and supervisory roles.
While the curriculum for online nursing programs varies according to the degree level, students typically take core courses through distance learning but must also complete in-person clinical hours. Unlike campus-based programs that feature face-to-face interaction with faculty and classmates, online formats rely on web-based lectures, chat sessions, and assignments, along with virtual simulations.
Online nursing degrees deliver many classes asynchronously, which works best for self-motivated learners who prefer to access coursework at their convenience. However, distance learners should also expect to take some classes synchronously, requiring them to log in at specific times.
Types of Online Nursing Programs
Online ADN nursing degrees offer the fastest route to a nursing career and provide the preparation for essential patient care and the NCLEX-RN exam. Most ADN programs require 60 credits through two years of full-time study, although some students pursue accelerated formats to complete their degree in 16-18 months. Nurses who have earned an associate degree often pursue an ADN-to-BSN program to expand their career and salary prospects.
While an RN can find employment with an associate degree, a BSN prepares a candidate to enter more challenging and lucrative positions. Many healthcare organizations prefer to hire RNs with BSNs, even for entry-level positions. An online BSN program requires up to four years of study, incorporating coursework and in-person clinical requirements. Online second degree BSN programs provide an accelerated option for students entering the field with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.
The most in-demand positions in advanced practice nursing, nursing education, and management require an MSN. Distance learners seeking career advancement can choose from several MSN pathways, depending on their educational background.
Degree requirements for online MSN degrees comprise 30-50 credits. Completion times vary depending on the advanced practice nursing roles and population focus of the program. Online MSN programs enable RNs who hold ADN or BSN degrees to pursue graduate training while continuing their employment.
As the highest-level nursing degree, the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) prepares graduates for advanced practice nursing roles and leadership positions in administration, education, and research. Unlike research-oriented Ph.D. programs, this practice-focused degree has become the standard educational credential for advanced practice registered nurse certification.
Nurses may choose from several online DNP tracks, depending on their educational background. While RNs and BSN degree-holders may take 4-6 years to fulfill all requirements, graduates of MSN programs may complete their doctorates in about two years.
Nursing Licensure Requirements
The nursing career you plan to enter determines which degree and nursing license you need to pursue. Although regulations vary across the country, licensing boards in every state require nurses to apply for the appropriate license for their practice level. Each nurse must complete their training at an accredited school, along with passing the applicable national council licensure examination (NCLEX) and approved certification exams for specialty areas.
Licensed practical nurses and licensed vocational nurses must complete a postsecondary training program that prepares them for the NCLEX-PN exam. An RN must hold at least an ADN to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. Advanced practice nurses and NPs with a graduate nursing degree must hold RN licensure and certifications appropriate to their specialties.
For nurses to update their practice skills, they must renew their licenses periodically and complete continuing education credits. Failure to renew may result in loss of employment and fines.
Job and Salary Outlook for Nurses
RNs and advanced practice nurses can count on a healthy job market. The BLS projects a 12% growth rate from 2018-28, with the best job and salary prospects for those holding a BSN degree. California reports the highest RN employment levels and salaries, offering a mean annual wage of $113,240.
The BLS projects employment for graduate-trained NPs to grow by 28% from 2018-28. New York and California employ the highest level of NPs, with most working in medical offices, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. NPs rank among the best-compensated nursing professionals. California pays NPs the highest salaries in the U.S., offering a mean annual wage of $138,660, with the highest-paid NPs earning over $189,000.
Offering some of the top online nursing programs across degree levels, Johns Hopkins strives to meet the needs of diverse student populations, featuring master's, doctoral, and post-master's programs through flexible online formats.
An enrollee can earn an online master of science in nursing and pursue a health systems management track. Master's students studying online can also consider a health systems management/master of business administration dual degree.
Learners at the doctoral level can earn an online doctor of nursing practice with concentrations in family care nurse practitioner, pediatric primary care nurse practitioner, and adult-gerontological health clinical nurse specialist, among others.
Johns Hopkins also offers online post-master's certificates in health systems management, nurse educator, pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Master's and doctoral students can also explore the "areas of excellence" in mental health and behavioral interventions; cardiovascular, chronic care, and symptom management; aging and dementia care; and community, global, and public health.
Simmons, located in Boston, Massachusetts, offers some of the best online nursing programs in the United States. Educating and empowering nurses since 1902, Simmons features an online master of science in nursing (MSN) family nurse practitioner program for licensed registered nurses who already hold a bachelor of science in nursing degree.
The nursing school allows students to participate in research opportunities and clinical experiences, along with their course requirements. Enrollees benefit from the school's relationships with research facilities and teaching hospitals, such as Boston Children's Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Nursing students follow an acute care curriculum, including clinical education elements and simulation labs. Degree-seekers learn in both classrooms and labs, with a focus on clinical experiences. In addition to the online MSN, nursing students can earn their doctor of nursing practice degree online. The college also offers an online MSN geared toward working registered nurses.
With one of the best online nursing degrees in the nation, BU focuses on shaping the next generation of nurses. Degree-seekers who hold a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree and want to advance their education and career opportunities can enroll in the university's online master of science in nursing (MSN) program. The rigorous online curriculum combines evidence-based nursing practices with advanced nursing theory, teaching enrollees how to translate their skills across nursing administration and nursing education careers.
Online learners can consider concentrations in nursing education or nursing administration. Students who complete their BSN at BU can seek a 10% tuition discount when they enroll in their online MSN program. The nursing school also offers two post-master's certificates for nurses who hold an MSN from professionally accredited programs.
The post-master's certificates explore fundamentals of organizational management; theories, principles, and methods of education; and healthcare financing and economics.
Students exploring nursing programs online can enroll in the online master of science in nursing program within the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work Department of Nursing at USC. Accredited by the California Board of Registered Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, this online program allows students to pursue a family nurse practitioner specialization.
Its rigorous nursing program, designed for registered nurses, features some of the most respected nurse practitioner instructors in the country. The online curriculum combines a robust social work foundation with advanced nursing concepts, teaching students to work as family nurse practitioners who consider all aspects of patient care.
Degree-seekers can enroll part-time or full-time to complete 49 credits of coursework. Along with classes, each enrollee completes 784 clinical hours and on-campus intensives. Full-time students typically satisfy their program requirements in about five semesters, taking around 21 months to graduate, while part-time learners may take up to 33 months.
With one of the top online nursing programs in the U.S., CSP offers registered nurses (RNs) the opportunity to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) sooner than they would in a traditional program through the online RN-to-BSN bridge option.
With fully online courses and practical experiences within the student's community, the online program features accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The 36-credit curriculum advances students' knowledge and skills in nursing, combining concepts of theoretical inquiry and practical application. Courses last seven weeks and explore care coordination and community health, professional and evidence-based practice, and ethics in healthcare.
Eligible applicants must hold an associate degree in nursing and an unencumbered RN license. The bachelor's program builds on students' previous nursing experience and advances their competencies across patient populations and healthcare settings.
USF, as one of the top schools for nursing students across degree levels, offers some of the best online nursing programs. Dedicated to meeting the needs of diverse student populations, the university's Leach College of Nursing offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) with several specialization options.
Online students can follow the family nurse practitioner track to prepare for patient care across the lifespan. Enrollees who want to focus more on nursing theory can earn their MSN in nursing administration. Other online specializations include nursing education and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Learners can also explore an RN-to-BS-to-MSN program and pursue the same specialization options.
To adhere to the state's nursing board requirements, degree-seekers interested in the MSN education, family nurse practitioner, or the doctor of nursing practice degree must live in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana. In addition to the degree opportunities, nursing students can explore certificate options across nursing specialties.
Students exploring an online nursing degree can enroll in the online RN-to-BSN bridge program at CSS. This track allows registered nurses who hold an associate degree in nursing to earn their bachelor's degree faster than they would in a traditional program.
The 128-credit curriculum does not require learners to complete a statistics prerequisite and instead focuses on career knowledge, teaching students to positively impact patient care. Enrollees can earn credit for their on-the-job knowledge through nursing portfolio credits. These credits also feature a reduced tuition rate, though they are not eligible for federal financial aid.
Online students benefit from transcultural experiences in Alaska and Belize and enjoy a flexible, entirely online course load that allows them to study at their own pace with an individualized completion plan. Degree-seekers experience tuition rates of about $435 per credit. CSS also offers extensive transfer credit opportunities.
Ranking among the top schools for nursing, IU offers one of the most renowned nursing programs online. A degree-seeker who holds a registered nurse (RN) license can earn their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) through the university's online RN-to-BSN bridge program.
The online program comprises 120 credits of coursework, with affordable tuition rates of about $230 per credit for resident students and $330 per credit for out-of-state learners. As a collaborative degree-completion program, the online option serves RNs who want to expand their career opportunities by advancing their education.
The flexible curriculum allows students to complete their course requirements in 12 months of full-time study or 18-24 months of part-time study, with up to nine months of general education coursework. Learners might be able to transfer their associate degree or up to 64 credits from regionally accredited two-year colleges or up to 90 credits from regionally accredited four-year schools.
Online nursing programs allow degree-seekers to enjoy a flexible path toward earning their degree. Drexel offers an online option for registered nurses (RNs) who want to pursue advanced practice nursing roles by earning a master of science in nursing (MSN). The online RN-to-MSN bridge program serves students who hold a bachelor of science in nursing degree and an unencumbered RN license.
MSN enrollees can consider concentration options in leadership in health systems management; quality, safety, and risk management in healthcare; nursing education; clinical nurse leader; and public health nursing.
Courses explore topics in disease management, genetics and genomics, and health prevention and promotion. The curriculum prepares graduates to seek national certification in their desired focus areas.
Each applicant must meet a 3.0 minimum GPA requirement and submit two letters of recommendation with their admission materials. Drexel's nursing school boasts specialized accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
The online master of science in nursing (MSN) at Lewis is one of the best online nursing programs in the nation. At the master's level, nursing students can choose a specialization to better prepare them to pursue a career in their desired focus area. Specialization options include nursing education, healthcare systems leadership, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, among others.
Enrollees can also pursue specializations offered within the MSN degree as non-degree programs or certificates. The curriculum explores topics in theoretical basis for advanced nursing practice; population health; and healthcare organizations, systems, and policy.
Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing with a 3.0 minimum GPA from an Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education-accredited institution. Along with a completed application, candidates should provide ACT or SAT scores.
Located in Spokane, Washington, Gonzaga offers one of the top online nursing degrees for master's students. The online master of science in nursing (MSN) prepares students to expand their knowledge and advance their skills, focusing on preparing them for success in advanced practice nursing roles.
Online MSN students can align their curriculum with their specific career goals by choosing specializations in nursing leadership in healthcare, family nurse practitioner, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.
Boasting accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the rigorous online program requires each family nurse practitioner student to complete 47 credits of coursework and 660 clinical hours. Most degree-seekers satisfy their requirements within about nine semesters.
Learners following the nursing leadership and healthcare track must complete 30 credits of coursework and one on-campus immersion. These students pay around $965 per credit and typically graduate within six semesters.
Regis features one of the best online nursing programs with regional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. The online master of science (MSN) in leadership in healthcare systems allows students to focus on evidence-based research and participate in hands-on practicum experiences.
Learners who want to specialize in business, education, quality and patient safety, or healthcare informatics can consider pursuing an additional certificate program to complement their degree. Enrollees can pursue certificates in healthcare informatics, healthcare quality and patient safety, healthcare business management, or healthcare education.
The MSN's flexible program format features eight-week courses and requires each student to complete 30 credit hours of coursework. Degree-seekers pay tuition rates of about $740 per credit hour. The rigorous curriculum explores ethics for nurse leaders, healthcare policy and issues in practice, and healthcare organizations and systems.
With one of the top online nursing programs available to graduate students, Xavier prepares registered nurses (RNs) to advance into more managerial, educational, or consultative roles. The online master of science in nursing (MSN) serves working RNs who hold a bachelor of science in nursing.
MSN students can specialize in forensics or education to follow the curriculum path that best prepares them for their specific career goals. The 36-credit curriculum focuses on advanced concepts, preparing degree-seekers to provide care for diverse patient populations. Xavier's rigorous MSN is one of only 12 programs in the nation to receive an endorsement from the American Holistic Nurses Certification Corporation.
Approved by the Ohio Board of Nursing and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the online opportunity features tuition rates of about $670 per credit hour. Courses follow an eight-week schedule, with part-time students typically taking one course at a time, and full-time students taking at least two at a time.
Located in Washington, D.C., GWU offers students the chance to enroll in one of the best online nursing programs in the United States. The hybrid master of science in nursing (MSN) includes in-person training in simulation centers, along with online courses.
The progressive MSN allows learners to choose a specialization, including psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, nursing leadership and management, and family nurse practitioner. Some specializations require degree-seekers to complete a certain amount of clinical hours along with their coursework. Students engage with world-class faculty members who inspire enrollees to advance patient care.
Registered nurses (RNs) who hold an associate degree in nursing, along with unencumbered RN licenses, can enroll in the online RN-to-MSN bridge program. These enrollees earn their bachelor of science in nursing degree after 15 months and complete their MSN two years later.
Ranking among the best nursing schools in the nation, Norwich offers online nursing degrees at the graduate level, allowing learners to benefit from a flexible format as they advance their education and expand their career options. Norwich offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN), a post-master's certificate in nursing, and professional development opportunities.
MSN students can explore concentration options in healthcare systems leadership, nursing informatics, nursing education, or nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioner students can specialize their degree in adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, or family nurse practitioner concentrations.
Degree-seekers can choose from four start dates each year, with no entrance exams required. Courses adhere to a maximum of 15 students in each class, and the curriculum aligns with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing's master's-level education preparation standards.
The Trudy Busch Valentine School of Nursing at SLU offers several nursing programs online across degree levels. Registered nurses (RNs) who want to complete their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) can enroll in the online RN-to-BSN bridge program, completing all requirements online, with no on-campus visits required.
The online master of science in nursing (MSN) nurse practitioner program serves BSN degree-holders who want to pursue careers as nurse practitioners. The online program features full- and part-time formats ranging 2-4 years in length. Students only need to make two visits to the campus during their entire program, and they can complete their clinical requirements outside of the St. Louis area.
The online MSN clinical nurse leader program prepares students to work as clinical nurse leaders through a part-time format, taking two years to complete. Online students can also earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) through two different formats, including a BSN-to-DNP bridge program or an MSN-to-DNP bridge program. Doctoral learners can also enroll in an online Ph.D. in nursing program through BSN or MSN bridge options.
Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Samford, located in Birmingham, Alabama, offers one of the top online nursing programs in the country. The Ida Moffett School of Nursing features an online master of science in nursing family nurse practitioner (FNP) program.
During the rigorous curriculum, degree-seekers focus on caring for patients across the lifespan, delivering primary healthcare to individuals and families. Upon completion of the program, graduates can sit for the FNP national certification exam offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses' Credentialing Center. Graduates of Samford consistently report a pass rate at or near 100% on the certification exam.
Led by certified nurse practitioner instructors, the FNP program features start dates in January or August each year and allows learners to complete all courses online with only three required on-campus visits.
Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education as one of the best online nursing programs in the nation, the master of science in nursing (MSN) at APU prepares students to practice in their desired specialized clinical area of nursing. Graduates can apply for a state advanced practice certificate or the credential for their chosen specialty.
MSN students can consider specialization opportunities in healthcare administration and leadership, nursing education, and clinical nurse specialist, among other advanced practice areas. APU also offers an upper-division transfer program for bachelor's students practicing as licensed vocational nurses.
An enrollee who holds a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing can enroll in the entry-level master's program. The nurse practitioner program and entry-level master's program hold approval from the California Board of Registered Nursing. The curriculum combines research, theory, and professional development to prepare graduates for advanced roles.
Online nursing degrees provide learners with the flexibility they need to continue working as they advance their education. Maryville offers online master of science in nursing (MSN) programs for experienced nurses who want to improve healthcare systems as advanced practice registered nurses.
MSN students enjoy an entirely online format with no GMAT or GRE scores or statistics credits required for admission. Enrollees can complete their clinicals in local healthcare settings. Maryville does not have a waiting list for accepted students.
Online students can choose from five concentration options: family nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, or adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner.
Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, Maryville's rigorous nursing programs prepare learners to function as more effective practitioners, nursing leaders, and caregivers.
Duquesne offers some of the best online nursing programs. Its nursing school offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) with six specialization opportunities, including nursing educator, forensic nursing, executive nurse leadership and healthcare management, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner.
Duquesne's MSN helps students understand the business aspects of nursing, including policies, leadership, and finance. Coursework varies depending on the specialization, such as evidence-based nursing practice and policy development, pharmacology for advanced nursing practice, and transitioning to advanced practice nursing comprising the curriculum.
Graduate students can also pursue online post-master's certificates or an online doctor of nursing practice (DNP). The DNP allows learners to consider two track options: clinical leadership or executive nurse leadership and healthcare management. Nursing students do not need to provide GRE scores with their applications.
As one of the top colleges for nursing students, SUNY Poly offers one of the best online nursing programs in the United States. The 39-credit master of science (MS) in nursing education prepares learners for careers as professional nurse educators in staff development or academia. In addition to preparing enrollees for advanced career opportunities, the online MS program equips degree-seekers with the knowledge and skills they need to earn a doctoral degree.
The program includes practical experience through an internship component that provides each student with more than 150 hours of educational experience as nurse educators, primarily focused on teaching. Students benefit from a fully online format that accommodates part- and full-time enrollment.
Although the program features online coursework, each student must complete an internship, study abroad component, field experience, and clinical experience. The nursing programs hold accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing and Allied Health
NMC, as one of the top schools for nursing students across diverse backgrounds, focuses on advancing education in nursing to promote quality healthcare across the country. NMC offers some of the best online nursing programs across degree levels.
Registered nurses (RNs) interested in earning a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree can enroll in the RN-to-MSN nurse educator bridge program to focus on teaching, nursing, and working with students. The online program allows learners to graduate within 30 months.
The RN-to-MSN executive program allows students to pursue careers as nurse executives, preparing them for opportunities in senior management and leadership across healthcare systems. The online RN-to-MSN informatics program is the only MSN degree of its kind in the entire region and allows students to satisfy their requirements within 21 months.
The online MSN nurse educator program prepares RNs to teach nursing and typically takes less than 24 months to complete. Enrollees can also complete MSN nurse executive and online MSN informatics programs.
Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences features one of the most prestigious online nursing degrees. Registered nurses (RNs) who want to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree can enroll in the online RN-to-BSN program to complete their degree with added flexibility.
The rigorous curriculum explores nursing research in evidence-based practice, perspectives on healthy aging, and population health nursing. Boasting accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the online program requires each applicant to hold an unencumbered RN license and a minimum 2.5 GPA.
The curriculum comprises a sequence of study for associate-level or diploma nurses interested in earning a BSN to expand their opportunities. Learners can design individualized degree plans to follow the coursework that best prepares them for their specific career path, building on their skills and knowledge of the nursing discipline.
By offering several nursing programs online, Mary features opportunities across bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. A licensed professional nurse (LPN) who wants to earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) can enroll in the LPN-to-BSN bridge program.
Registered nurses who want to pursue a BSN can consider the RN-to-BSN bridge program. Online learners with a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing can apply to the BSN accelerated second degree program.
At the master's level, online students can enroll in a master of science in nursing (MSN) and master of business administration (MBA) healthcare administration dual degree. Mary also offers associate degree in nursing (ADN)-holders an ADN-to-MSN bridge program. Learners can also consider an online nursing leadership and management BSN-to-MSN program, an MSN nurse educator option, or an MSN in nursing informatics.
As one of the top online nursing programs available to graduate students, the master of science in nursing (MSN) at UI requires each degree-seeker to satisfy 39 semester hours of graduate credits. The program emphasizes a clinical nurse leader focus and builds upon professional and general undergraduate coursework.
Online MSN students complete 21 semester hours of core courses and 18 semester hours of clinical nurse leader courses. To complete the program, each learner must maintain a 2.75 minimum GPA. The curriculum explores clinical education in the care environment, evaluating evidence for practice, and clinical data management and evaluation.
Eligible applicants should hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from accredited programs. Along with a completed application, each candidate must provide a current resume, a goal statement, official transcripts, satisfaction of the legal requirements in place for nursing practice in Iowa, and three letters of recommendation.
Are you considering a nursing career or wondering how to apply to nursing school? Now is a great time to get started. Read this guide to learn how to apply to nursing school and choose a program that suits your professional interests.