Nursing Schools of the Future

Nurses provide critical care in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities around the country. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports a nursing shortage, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% growth in registered nurse positions between 2016 and 2016 — a rate much faster than the average growth rate of the economy as a whole. As an in-demand field, nursing provides opportunities for job growth with above-average salaries. Many prospective nurses rely on online nursing schools to earn their degrees and advance their careers.

With a nursing shortage, the future for online nursing school graduates appears strong. This article introduces you to the best online nursing schools and everything you need to know as a prospective online nursing student.

The Best Online Nursing Schools

1 – Capella University

Like other accredited online nursing schools, Capella provides programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. For registered nurses (RNs) with diplomas or associate credentials, the university provides direct paths to a BSN or an MSN. Distance learners can pick the GuidedPath, which sets assignment deadlines but lets distance learners develop their own study habits. They may also choose the FlexPath, which empowers students through entirely self-paced academics. By choosing the FlexPath, RN-to-BSN candidates can earn their degree in as few as nine months. RN-to-MSN students benefit from specializations in care coordination, nurse education, nursing informatics, and nursing leadership and administration.

Capella also offers online DNP programs through its GuidedPath delivery method for BSN and MSN holders. Professionals with non-nursing master’s degrees can pursue the DNP preparatory program. Through three prerequisite courses in nursing theory, leadership, and evidence-based practice, students gain the fundamental skills needed to pursue their formal doctoral education.

2 – Walden University

Founded in 1970, Walden enrolls over 51,000 students annually, the majority of whom pursue distance education powered by Blackboard. The university offers 13 online nursing programs, including two RN-to-BSN completion tracks. Students pick from either a conventional, semester-based degree plan or the self-paced tempo learning option. In either case, coursework consists of topics such as U.S. healthcare system, epidemiology principles, and improving patient quality and safety.

For graduate candidates, this online nursing school offers MSN programs in nine specializations. Options include public health nursing, leadership and management, adult-gerontology care, and family nurse practitioner. Walden provides master’s tracks for BSN and MSN holders. RNs with a hospital diploma, associate in nursing, or bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field benefit from an accelerated dual-degree program that enables them to earn their BSN and MSN in under four years.

Walden also provides doctoral education with its online DNP and Ph.D. in nursing programs. The former emphasizes practical training and prepares nurses for leadership roles as chief officers, training consultants, and risk managers. The latter program focuses on research and enabling students to shape the future of healthcare science, education, and policy.

3 – Grand Canyon University

GCU supports distance learners with flexible asynchronous coursework and competitive tuition rates that disregard residency status. The university delivers comprehensive online nursing programs, including an accelerated RN-to-BSN pathway. By transferring up to 90 credits and taking five-week classes, candidates can earn their bachelor’s in just one year. GCU also provides a dual-degree fast track program for experienced nurses that enables them to obtain a BSN and an MSN in less than three years.

Graduate students who prefer a slower pace can pick from seven, two-year MSN programs in areas like healthcare informatics, nursing education, and acute care nurse practitioner. GCU stands out from other accredited online nursing schools by offering a dual MSN-MBA pathway. This 66-credit program prepares students for management positions through classes in accounting practices, organizational development, and healthcare research analysis and utilization. For RNs who want to become practice-focused leaders, GCU provides a 36-credit DNP program. In addition to advanced classes, DNP candidates take on a three-part project in which they translate evidence-based research into advanced nursing procedures.

4 – University of Chicago at Illinois

The UIC Extended Campus delivers distance education through Blackboard. The online degree catalog includes an RN-to-BSN completion program that boasts nationally recognized faculty and a 94% graduation rate. Students take 120 credits in classes like nursing care of populations, evidence-based research and practice, and health assessment and communication. To apply, candidates need an active RN license and at least 57 transferable credits earned at a minimum 2.5 GPA. For applicants who do not possess the necessary prerequisites, the university offers low-cost general education classes through its online pathways program.

The UIC online nursing school accepts applications on a rolling basis and offers January, June, and August start dates. All distance learners benefit from the same affordable tuition rates. Students can take conventional 16-week classes or accelerate degree completion with eight-week courses. For BSN graduates with a 3.25 GPA or higher, UIC guarantees admission into the on-campus advanced generalist MSN program. Professionals can also advance their careers through online school nurse and teaching/learning certificates.

5 – Georgetown University

Based in Washington, D.C., Georgetown provides five online graduate nursing programs. The catalog includes MSN tracks as a family nurse practitioner, in women’s health, nurse midwifery, and adult gerontology acute care. The degree plans range from 40-49 credits, which takes students approximately two years to complete. Unlike most online nursing schools, Georgetown operates live classes during which students collaborate through video conferencing software. They also participate in intensive learning immersions on campus. Furthermore, MSN candidates must complete clinical placement experiences with designated preceptors in their area. Total training ranges from 600 to over 1,000 hours, and is based on the student’s MSN track.

Georgetown also offers online BSN-to-DNP programs in the same four specializations detailed above. Students can attend full time and complete their degrees in eight terms, with each term being fifteen weeks long, or they can enroll part time and earn their credentials in 11 terms. In addition to 69-74 credits of coursework, DNP candidates must complete 1,000 clinical hours. Graduates are prepared to sit for advanced professional certification from organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses.

6 – Indiana State University

Indiana State offers more than 100 academic programs, many of which students can access remotely through Blackboard. The online nursing school catalog includes two undergraduate and three graduate programs. Opportunities include an RN-to-BSN completion track that prepares students for generalist roles providing direct and indirect care. The 35-credit degree plan consists of reflective nursing practice, health biostatistics, and community health nursing. Degree candidates can transfer up to 10 credits through professional portfolio evaluation. Indiana State also offers a BSN program for licensed practical and vocational nurses. All students complete clinical training in their area.

Experienced RNs with bachelor’s credentials can pursue an MSN online in either nursing education or on a family nurse practitioner track. Students in the former track take 37-40 credits in classes like advanced physical assessment and curriculum process in nursing, and those pursuing the latter program take 47-50 credits in courses like health promotion and diagnostic laboratory methods. Finally, Indiana State operates an online DNP program consisting of 39 course credits, 1,000 hours of supervised clinical preceptorship, and a capstone project.

7 – Drexel University Online

Drexel provides over 140 distance education programs, including a comprehensive list of nursing degrees.The university delivers two bachelor’s programs, and the RN-to-BSN track totals 180 quarter credits and consists of classes like healthcare economics, transformational leadership, and complex systems of care. By taking 10-week classes and transferring up to 135 credits, BSN candidates may earn their credentials in one year. Drexel also provides an RN-BSN-MSN program for nurses with bachelor’s degrees in an unrelated field that allows them to earn their degrees on an accelerated basis.

Graduate students who prefer a less intensive degree plan can pursue two-year MSN programs in areas like clinical nurse researcher, nursing innovation, or healthcare quality. They may also pick one of eight nurse practitioner MSN tracks including pediatric primary care and psychiatric mental health. Drexel delivers a DNP program that prepares students for leadership roles through 46 credits of advanced coursework and 500 hours of clinical training. Lastly, the Drexel online nursing school provides certificates at the post-bachelor’s and post-master’s levels.

8 – University of Colorado Denver

Founded as an extension school in 1912, CU Denver now enrolls 19,000 students annually. Through the Desire2Learn platform, the university delivers 28 fully online degrees and additional hybrid/low-residency options. The catalog comprises seven nursing programs, including an RN-to-BSN completion pathway. Totaling 30 credits, which students complete in 16 months, the curriculum consists of courses such as introduction to informatics and population-based nursing. The school operates spring, summer, and fall admissions with respective deadlines set for January 1, May 15, and August 1.

Graduate candidates pick from master’s programs in informatics, a family nurse practitioner track, and nursing leadership. CU Denver stands out from other accredited online nursing schools by offering a master of science in veteran and military health care. Through a 32-credit curriculum, students develop the skills to provide direct and indirect care related to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide, and end-of-life chronic conditions. Seasoned nurses who wish to occupy high-ranking positions may pursue the DNP and Ph.D. programs.

9 – The George Washington University

GWU operates fully online nursing degree and certificate programs, including an RN-to-BSN completion track. This part-time, four-semester program consists of 21 credits in classes like population health concepts, patient safety, and nursing advancement professional portfolio. BSN graduates can apply nine credits toward their master’s degree by enrolling in the bridge program.

GWU also provides six conventional online MSN programs in areas such as adult gerontology, nurse midwifery, and nursing leadership and management. Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Doctoral candidates pick from post-BSN or post-MSN opportunities. On top of advanced coursework in their specialization, DNP students must complete at least 1,000 practice hours with an approved preceptor. GWU also delivers online nursing certificates including one in health policy and media management. To ensure a successful professional future for online nursing school graduates, the university provides career services such as cover letter critique, personalized interview practice, and a job search portal.

10 – Loyola University, New Orleans

For more than 30 years, Loyola has provided training for prospective and experienced nurses. Today, the university delivers fully online degree opportunities through Blackboard. The catalog includes an RN-to-BSN path for professionals with their associate or diploma in nursing.

At the graduate level, Loyola facilitates MSN programs in a nurse educator track, nursing leadership, and family nurse practitioner track. The first two degrees consist of 36 coursework hours and a 180-hour practicum. Students pursuing the family nurse practitioner track must take 48 credits and complete 720 hours of supervised practicum work. Additionally, the university offers two RN-to-MSN programs: one for nurses with their associate credentials and a bridge option for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field.

For doctoral students, Loyola’s online nursing school provides three DNP programs. Students pick from a post-baccalaureate track in a family nurse practitioner track and two post-master’s options in executive leader and nurse practitioner tracks. Of the three programs, the family nurse practitioner degree is the most intensive, requiring 78 credits and 1,260 practicum hours.

11 – Gonzaga University

Gonzaga offers 42 programs, including online graduate nursing degrees facilitated by Blackboard. The catalog includes a 51-credit RN-to-MSN track that most students complete in nine semesters. In addition to classes like contemporary health environment and nursing leadership development, students pursue 495 hours of clinical work. For nurses with their BSN, Gonzaga delivers three MSN programs in health systems leadership, a family nurse practitioner track, and psychiatric mental health.

Like other accredited online nursing schools, Gonzaga operates DNP programs. The post-baccalaureate option totals 75 credits and allows candidates to pick from either family or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner tracks. The 31-credit post-master’s program requires 1,000 practicum hours and two sets of three-day immersions on the Spokane campus. DNP coursework includes population-focused care, clinical program development, and evidence synthesis for practice. To apply for the doctoral programs, candidates need a minimum 3.3 GPA.

12 – Sacred Heart University

SHU operates remote classes, certificates, and degrees through Blackboard, including five online nursing programs. At the undergraduate level, students can pursue the 120-credit RN-to-BSN track that covers topics like bioethics, nursing assessment, and care management. The program emphasizes accessibility through six yearly start dates and generous transfer policies, which allows students to earn up to 90 credits toward degree completion.

At the graduate level, SHU delivers two master’s degrees and one doctoral program. The RN-to-MSN option enables students to specialize in a clinical nurse leader track, nursing education, or nursing management and executive leadership. In addition to distinct advanced coursework, each specialization comes with its own clinical practicum requirement that ranges from 120-348 hours. BSN holders can pursue the MSN in a family nurse practitioner track. Finally, the online nursing school provides a DNP program that part-time students can complete in three years. The curriculum includes 27 credits of core classes and 12 credits dedicated to the development and completion of a scholarly project.

13 – Clarkson College

Located in Omaha, Nebraska, Clarkson enrolls more than 1,200 students every year. The school offers nursing degrees and certificates that students can pursue part time or full time. As is common with other accredited online nursing schools, Clarkson delivers an RN-to-BSN track. The 130-credit degree plan includes classes like physical assessment and principles of leadership and management. Students benefit from a nursing workforce education grant that provides discounts on the already low tuition.

At the master’s level, Clarkson operates an RN-to-MSN program for associate degree holders, and two-year MSNs for nurses with their bachelor’s credentials. Both tracks enable students to specialize in adult-gerontology primary care, nurse education, nursing healthcare administration, or a family nurse practitioner track. The college also provides post-master’s certificates in these areas.

Doctoral candidates can choose from one post-master’s DNP program and two BSN-to-DNP options. To apply, candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA and a valid, unencumbered RN/APRN license. Core classes include organizational systems and behavior, healthcare economics, and biostatistics and epidemiology.

14 – Saint Xavier University

As a leader in online nursing education, SXU offers two degree and two certificate programs. For nurses with their associate credentials, the university provides an accessible RN-to-BSN track. The 55-credit major consists of classes in pathophysiology, mental health nursing, and population-focused care. SXU accepts applications year round and facilitates start dates in the fall, spring, and summer. Courses run in accelerated, seven-week sessions that enable candidates to earn their bachelor’s in 4-5 semesters.

SXU facilitates online MSN programs in clinical leadership, executive leadership, and a nurse educator track. Programs range from 35-38 credits, and core classes include topics such as nursing injury, healthcare financing, and information technology and healthcare outcomes. To apply, candidates need a programmatically accredited BSN earned with minimum 3.0 GPA. Those pursuing the executive leadership track must possess 3-5 years of management experience. To further strengthen the future for online nursing school graduates, SXU delivers a post-master’s nurse educator certificate and a certificate in clinical leadership.

15 – Kent State University

Established in 1910, KSU enrolls 40,000 students annually and offers over 300 academic programs. The university facilitates distance education including online nursing degrees and certificates through Blackboard. The RN-to-BSN program consists of 10 classes in subjects including health promotion, evidence-based practice, and health maintenance and restoration. Classes span an accelerated seven weeks, enabling candidates to earn their bachelor’s in one year, and there are no on-campus requirements. KSU accepts applications on a rolling basis.

At the graduate level, the online nursing school provides four MSN programs. Students pick from a nurse educator track, nursing healthcare management, women’s health nurse practitioner, and adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist. Applicants need an accredited bachelor’s degree with minimum 3.0 GPA and a valid RN license in the state where they will complete clinical training.

KSU delivers an MSN-to-DNP pathway that students can finish in under two years. Required courses include organizational systems, clinical analytics, and healthcare finance and economic policy. Nurses also benefit from online certificates programs.

16 – Liberty University

Based in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty is one of the best accredited online nursing schools. RNs receive at least 39 transfer credits without any prior learning assessment and benefit from reduced tuition rates and scholarships. The university operates two RN-to-BSN programs — one for generalists and another in global studies for professionals who want to pursue international nursing positions. Students can complete either option in under three years by taking eight-week courses through Moodle.

Liberty delivers seven online MSN programs including one-year tracks in nursing informatics, nursing administration, and nursing education. Graduate candidates can also pursue dual-degree plans and earn an MBA or an MS in healthcare administration on top of their MSN. Furthermore, Liberty offers an accelerated 151-credit RN-to-MSN program that students can complete in under five years. Lastly, online doctoral candidates enjoy a generalist DNP program and the choice between a family nurse practitioner track or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner track.

17 – University of Cincinnati

UC delivers more than 40 distance education programs. The catalog includes online graduate nursing programs accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Degree candidates pick from MSN programs in nurse midwifery, a women’s health nurse practitioner track, a family nurse practitioner track, and an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner track. Distance learners can pay the affordable tuition on a full-time semester or part-time, per-credit basis.

To apply, candidates need a BSN earned with minimum 3.0 GPA and an active RN license. The online nursing school prefers candidates with at least one year of career experience. MSN degree plans range from 44-57 credits and include core topics such as healthcare policy, biostatistics for evidence-based practice, and advanced physiology and pathophysiology. Students also need to complete 42 hours of laboratory training and up to 784 hours of supervised clinical work. Professionals who already possess their MSN can pursue specialty training through online certificates as a family nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

18 – Western Governors University

WGU delivers eight online nursing programs, including an RN-to-BSN completion track. The 24-course degree plan consists of classes in care of older adults, information management, and health and wellness through nutritional science. By transferring up to 90 credits, students can earn their bachelor’s in less than two years. WGU stands out from other online nursing schools by offering a pre-licensure BSN program. Offered to California, Texas, Florida, Indiana, and Utah residents, this hybrid pathway combines asynchronous classes with clinical training through one of the university’s healthcare partners.

WGU provides MSN opportunities to associate and bachelor’s degree holders. Graduate candidates pick from programs in nursing education, leadership and management, and nursing informatics. The professional nursing core contains classes like comprehensive health assessment, pathopharmacological foundations, and translational research for practice and populations. RN-to-MSN candidates typically earn their credentials in under four years, and BSN-to-MSN students can finish in less than two.

19 – Nebraska Methodist College

Founded in 1891, Methodist College delivers online nursing programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The academic catalog includes a part-time and full-time RN-to-BSN program. The 126-credit degree plan comprise classes in community health nursing, research principles, and collaborative nursing leadership. To support underserved populations, BSN students may minor in either healthcare sign language or Spanish for healthcare professionals. The online nursing school offers low tuition rates that disregard residency status.

Methodist College provides MSN programs in nurse educator, nurse executive, and nursing informatics tracks, and degree plans exist for students with associate or bachelor’s credentials. Students can complete the RN-to-MSN tracks in 30 months by taking five- and ten-week classes. Before pursuing advanced nursing topics, these students must complete a five-course bridge program. To apply to any MSN program, candidates need at least a 3.0 GPA and a current unencumbered RN license. Methodist College also delivers online post-master’s nursing certificates.

20 – University of Saint Mary

Based in Leavenworth, Kansas, Saint Mary enrolls 800 students annually, many of whom earn their degrees remotely through one of four distance education programs. The catalog includes an online RN-to-BSN that learners can complete in just one year, and there are no residency requirements. Online courses span eight-week terms. Degree candidates take 10 major classes in such areas as nursing informatics, population health, and leadership and management care. Training culminates with an integrative senior seminar that tackles current challenges in the field. BSN graduates can transfer up to nine credits toward their master’s education.

The online nursing school operates an MSN program that enables students to pick from two career-building specializations. The nurse educator track totals 31 credits and consists of courses like teaching with technology and curriculum design and evaluation. The 38-credit nurse administrator option includes classes such as organizational management and fiscal resource management. All MSN candidates must complete two, 120-hour practicums.

21 – Robert Morris University

RMU delivers over 50 distance education programs, including fully online nursing degrees. The 120-credit RN-to-BSN program consists of classes in healthcare financial administration, legal issues in healthcare, and health promotion and assessment. To apply, candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Like other accredited online nursing schools, RMU provides an RN-to-MSN program for associates degree holders. Professional nurses with their BSN can pick from standalone MSN programs in six areas: nursing education, care coordination, global healthcare, nursing informatics, nursing management, and simulation. With the exception of the nursing education track, curricula total 36 credits and include core classes such as organizational change and healthcare negotiation.

RMU also offers an online dual-degree option that enables students to earn an MBA on top of their MSN. At the doctoral level, nursing students pick from either a MSN-to-DNP pathway or a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner specialized DNP track. The latter program requires on-campus immersions.

22 – Benedictine University

Located in Lisle, Illinois, Benedictine offers remote certificates and degrees through the Desire2Learn platform. The academic catalog includes three online nursing programs. The RN-to-BSN program totals 37 credits, which students can finish in one year. Classes consist of comprehensive health assessment; collaborative health promotion; and healthcare policy, regulation, and advocacy. Degree candidates must also complete self-selected and scheduled clinical experiences centering on evolving nurse leadership and community health.

The Benedictine online nursing school delivers a two-year MSN program that enables students to pick either a nurse educator or nurse executive leader concentration. Degree plans range from 36-39 credits and comprise foundational courses in evidence-based nursing practice, as well as quality improvement and safety in healthcare systems. MSN candidates must complete a 140-hour practicum experience. Benedictine also offers a three-year MSN-MBA dual-degree program. Graduate applicants need to have an active RN license and a BSN earned with a minimum 2.75 GPA.

23 – Anna Maria College

Based in Paxton, Massachusetts, AMC enrolls 1,500 students in over 55 academic programs every year. The school delivers distance education opportunities that include an online RN-to-BSN program. The 120-credit degree plan comprises classes such as public health nursing, managing resources within the organization, and contemporary issues in pharmacology. Degree candidates round out their undergraduate training with an interdisciplinary capstone project that explores urgent challenges in the nursing field.

The online nursing school facilities six entry dates per year. To apply, candidates need a current RN license and an associate or diploma in nursing earned with at least a 2.0 GPA. AMC supports online learners with low tuition rates and financial aid. Nursing students earn 30 transfer credits for their license and can receive up to 45 more for prior academic work. By taking two courses each eight-week term, candidates can earn their BSN in as few as 18 months.


Online Nursing Schools: An Overview

An online nursing school differs from an in-person program in several important ways, but both provide the training necessary to become a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, or other nursing professional. While the specifics vary depending on the school and program, this section introduces the structure and format for online nursing schools.

How Do Online Nursing Schools Work?

Accredited online nursing schools offer a more flexible format than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Online programs provide coursework in either a synchronous or asynchronous format, meaning that you can attend class at a set time each week or complete the material at your own pace, working individually. Programs offer students either cohort-based classes, which move through the material with the same start date and end date, or individually-paced online classes, where students complete the program at their own rate. As an online nursing student, you will complete clinical hours just like in-person students; online programs arrange local clinical preceptors to monitor your training.

Why Pursue Nursing School Online?

When it comes to employment opportunities, the future for online nursing school graduates looks strong. AACN nursing data demonstrates the high demand for nurses across the country. Between 2014 and 2024, the BLS projects over one million job openings for nurses due to demand and the need for replacement nurses. The current nursing shortage affects patient care and the quality of care patients receive, leaving many employers eager to hire more nurses. As a high number of working nurses reach retirement age, nursing school enrollment simply cannot keep up with demand.

Online nursing programs help nurses advance their career prospects and lower the barriers for professionals to join the medical field. By offering flexibility and accessibility, online nursing schools help you quickly and seamlessly enter a growing, lucrative field in high demand.

Accredited Online Nursing Schools

Accredited online nursing schools follow the best practices for educating nurses. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredit nursing programs. In addition to programmatic accreditation, colleges and universities hold institutional accreditation, either regionally or nationally. Accredited degrees meet more licensing and certification requirements, qualify students for federal funding, and meet the requirements for more employers. As a result, nursing students should always choose an accredited program and institution.

The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation provide lists of institutionally accredited schools.

Types of Online Nursing Degrees

The most common online nursing degrees include an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate in nursing. The specific curriculum and graduation requirements vary depending on the school.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
During an ADN program, you will gain the skills and knowledge required to become a registered nurse. Community colleges and vocational schools offer ADN programs, which typically take two years. ADN students study the basics of nursing practice, evidence-based nursing, and follow a curriculum that may incorporate courses on anatomy, biology, and nutrition. ADN programs incorporate clinical hours to gain hands-on skills. As an associate degree, the ADN program includes liberal arts requirements, which vary depending on the institution. Graduates typically take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for an RN license through their state nursing board.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
BSN programs provide another route to earning an RN license if you want to earn a bachelor’s degree rather than an associate degree. Most BSN programs, offered by colleges and universities, require four years of full-time study. During that time, students take classes on nursing practice, physiology, health assessment, and emergency care. Students complete clinical hours to gain valuable experience working with patients. BSN students also complete general education requirements, such as humanities and social science courses. Incoming students with an RN license can enroll in RN-to-BSN bridge programs, which take two years and typically do not require general education courses. While an ADN and BSN both prepare graduates to become RNs, nurses with a BSN may find more job opportunities.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
Nurses who choose to earn an MSN typically specialize in a subfield within nursing. For example, MSN programs train nurse educators, nurse administrators, and nurse practitioners, depending on the program. Most MSN programs require two years of study, and many require a BSN before enrolling. RN-to-MSN bridge programs let RNs earn a master’s degree without a bachelor’s degree. MSN students take advanced courses in their speciality, such as oncology nursing, neonatal nursing, or pediatric nursing. During the program, MSN students complete clinical hours under a preceptor’s supervision. Graduates often take specialized exams in their field to earn licenses or certifications, and nurses with an MSN benefit from higher salaries and increased responsibilities.
Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
DNP programs offer the terminal degree for nursing students. These programs build advanced clinical skills and offer leadership training for nurses pursuing the highest-level positions in their field. Some doctoral programs offer specialized training, such as a doctorate for nurse practitioners. While DNP programs emphasize clinical skills, a Ph.D. in nursing program trains researchers and future professors in nursing programs. Depending on the type of program and the focus area, a doctorate may require clinical hours or a dissertation. By earning the highest degree in the field, graduates qualify for advanced positions in nursing.

Accelerated Nursing Degrees and Bridge Programs

Accelerated nursing degrees and bridge programs help licensed or registered nurses advance their educational level quickly. AACN reports that accelerated nursing and bridge programs enroll a growing number of nurses, which includes online options. For many nurses, the future for online nursing school graduates includes these programs.

LPN-to-RN: Registered nurses earn higher salaries than LPNs and benefit from career advancement opportunities. LPN-to-RN programs allow licensed registered nurses to complete the requirements to become an RN. In most programs, graduates complete an associate degree in nursing. Typically, LPN-to-RN programs require 12 to 18 months, with accelerated options that require less time. LPNs can also choose to enter an LPN-to-BSN program if they want a bachelor’s degree. Learn more about the top online LPN-to-RN programs.


LPN-to-BSN: Licensed practice nurses who want to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing for career advancement benefit from LPN-to-BSN programs. Designed for graduates from LPN programs, these programs provide the training that registered nurses and BSN students receive. Most LPN-to-BSN programs require two to three years of study, and some encourage students to work while earning their degree. Learn more about the top online LPN-to-BSN programs.


RN-to-MSN: Registered nurses who enter RN-to-MSN programs can complete a master’s degree without first earning a bachelor’s degree. Most RN-to-MSN programs take two years, while some accelerated programs take even less time. During an RN-to-MSN program, nursing students gain advanced training. RNs who want to advance their career with a graduate degree benefit from these programs. Learn more about the top online RN-to-MSN programs.


Second Degree BSN: Students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field can enroll in a second degree BSN and complete their nursing training in as little as one year. Because second degree BSN students already met the requirements for a bachelor’s degree, they typically complete 30 to 45 credits of nursing training, making it one of the fastest options to a BSN for career change professionals. Learn more about the top online second degree BSN programs.

Licensing and Exams

Licensing

Every state requires that nurses hold a license in order to practice. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) licenses nurses and offers the exams required to become an RN, LPN, or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). In most states, nurses must graduate from a state-approved nursing education program, which includes accredited online nursing schools. Nursing candidates must pass the required exam, either the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN, discussed below. Some states also require a criminal background check.

Exams

After completing their degree, most nurses must pass an examination before gaining their license. Nurses who become registered nurses or licensed practical nurses take an NCLEX exam, depending on the license. The NCLEX-RN tests prospective registered nurses on their clinical skills and knowledge, while the NCLEX-PN evaluates LPN candidates. The NCSBN designs and administers the exams, and state boards of nursing use the results to grant nursing licenses. Accredited online nursing schools prepare graduates for the exams using the same rigorous standards as in-person programs. In addition to the exams required to become a licensed or registered nurse, nurse practitioners and other specialized nursing graduates may need to take additional exams to practice.

Careers in Nursing

Nurses pursue a variety of career paths, depending on their degree level, specializations, and interests. With so many options, prospective nurses can find a career path that fits their interests and training. Home health aides need a high school diploma, while many registered nurse positions prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree. Nurses with a master’s degree qualify for the highest-paying positions, including as nurse practitioners.

Licensed Practical Nurse

 

  • Degree Required: Nursing diploma or associate degree
  • Median Salary: $45,030 per year
  • Job Growth: 12%

LPNs, along with licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), offer basic nursing care under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. They care for patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities. LPNs must pass an examination and earn a license in order to practice.


 

Certified Nursing Assistant

 

  • Degree Required: State-approved training program plus competency exam
  • Median Salary: $27,510
  • Job Growth: 11%

Certified nursing assistants, also known as nursing aides, provide basic care in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and residential care facilities. They help patients with daily care needs, including feeding, dressing, and bathing. Certified nursing assistants may work under the supervision of a registered nurse.


 

Registered Nurse

 

  • Degree Required: Bachelor’s degree, associate degree in nursing, or nursing diploma
  • Median Salary: $70,000
  • Job Growth: 15%

Registered nurses offer patient care, educate people about health conditions, and coordinate with physicians to help patients. They work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities. RNs must pass an exam and hold a state-issued license in order to practice.


 

Home Health Aide

 

  • Degree Required: High school diploma
  • Median Salary: $23,130
  • Job Growth: 41%

Home health aides assist people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or cognitive impairments. They offer support for their patients’ daily living activities. Home health aides may also help older adults. They work in clients’ homes, nursing homes, and day services settings.


 

Nurse Anesthetist

 

  • Degree Required: Master’s degree
  • Median Salary: $164,030
  • Job Growth: 31%

Nurse anesthetists give patients anesthesia, watch their vital signs, and monitor patient recovery from anesthesia. They often work with anesthesiologists and surgeons in hospitals or other medical facilities. Nurse anesthetists must complete a specialized graduate program to become an advanced practice registered nurse.


 

Nurse Midwife

 

  • Degree Required: Master’s degree
  • Median Salary: $103,640
  • Job Growth: 31%

Nurse midwives care for women throughout the birthing process. They diagnose maternal medical conditions, provide gynecological care, and coordinate labor and delivery. Nurse midwives are considered advanced practice RNs, and must complete a specialized graduate program.


 

Nurse Practitioner

 

  • Degree Required: Master’s degree
  • Median Salary: $107,480
  • Job Growth: 31%

Nurse practitioners diagnose and treat patients. They may prescribe medicine, interpret diagnostic tests, and offer disease prevention guidance. In some states, they can act independently without a physician’s supervision. Nurse practitioners must complete a specialized graduate program.


 

Pediatric Nurse

 

  • Degree Required: Bachelor’s degree or registered nurse license
  • Median Salary: $58,117
  • Job Growth: N/A

Pediatric nurses care for the medical needs of children from birth through adolescence. They may work in hospitals, pediatrician’s offices, and clinics. Pediatric nurses may also specialize in types of pediatric care, such as trauma, neonatal care, or cardiology. Pediatric nurses must hold an RN license.


 

Nursing Home Nurse

 

  • Degree Required: High school diploma to bachelor’s degree
  • Median Salary: $23,380-$57,830
  • Job Growth: Varies

Nurses hold several different titles in nursing homes, including nursing aides and attendants, licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses. In these roles, nursing home nurses provide medical assistance for elderly patients, which can include help with daily living needs, taking medication, or checking vital signs. Salaries and responsibilities increase with higher degrees.


 

Nurse Educator

 

  • Degree Required: Master’s degree
  • Median Salary: $71,260
  • Job Growth: N/A

Nurse educators work in nursing programs, colleges, and universities, training students to become nurses. They demonstrate patient care in lectures, classrooms, and in clinical settings. Some nurse educators may also conduct research or practice at a university hospital or clinic.


 

School Nurse

 

  • Degree Required: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median Salary: $45,145
  • Job Growth: N/A

School nurses care for students, including educating students about health problems and designing programs to improve health. They administer medication to students, care for minor injuries and basic illnesses, and attend to students’ other medical needs. Most school nurses hold a bachelor’s degree and an RN license, and some states require a license through the department of education.


 

Travel Nurse

 

  • Degree Required: Bachelor’s degree or RN license
  • Median Salary: $65,601
  • Job Growth: N/A

Travel nurses work on a temporary basis to fill a shortage in a specific area. They may also work in remote areas that lack medical facilities. Travel nurses deliver care to patients, including evaluating and assessing conditions. Because they often work outside of professional medical facilities, travel nurses often bring their own instruments and must ensure that their workspaces are sterile.


Professional Organizations

Nursing students benefit from joining professional organizations while pursuing their degree. Membership in these organizations offers access to educational resources, qualifies members for scholarship opportunities, and lets members pursue certifications at a discounted rate. Many professional organizations also offer conferences and events where nurses can network and run career services centers that help nurses find jobs. Many also provide continuing education programs so that nurses can keep their licenses current.

American Nurses Association (ANA): ANA represents millions of nurses around the country. Dating back to 1896, the organization offers professional development resources, current research and publications, and continuing education courses for nurses.


Emergency Nurses Association (ENA): A specialized professional organization, ENA represents emergency nurses and supports policies to improve emergency care. The association provides clinical practice information, training resources, and scholarships.


American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN): Nurses in critical care benefit from the conferences and events hosted by AACN, which offer networking opportunities. The association also provides certifications and continuing education resources for nurses.

Financing Your Online Nursing Degree

Students pursuing a nursing degree finance their degree through a mix of savings, loans, and scholarships. Many work while completing a degree and use their income to pay for tuition and related expenses. Nursing students at all levels qualify for federal financial aid opportunities by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. These opportunities include loans, grants, and the federal work-study program. You may also qualify for state financial aid programs or funding opportunities through your online nursing school.

Scholarships for Online Nursing School Students

ENA Foundation Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Offered by the Emergency Nurses Association, these five annual scholarships support current emergency nurses with an RN license who enroll in a BSN program or accredited online nursing schools.

Amount: $3,000


AfterCollege/AACN Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students currently enrolled in an accredited nursing program at any level qualify. Applicants receive special consideration if they plan to complete a graduate degree to become a nurse educator, earn an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN degree, or enroll in an accelerated program.

Amount: $2,500


ACLS Medical School Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The award funds current nursing students, including those attending an online nursing school. Applicants should create and upload a 30-45 second video explaining their ideas to improve mental health awareness.

Amount: $2,500


Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Undergraduate and graduate nursing students with a record of volunteering for the American Red Cross or current employees of American Red Cross Units can apply for the scholarship. Nursing students can use the funds for tuition, books, and academic fees.

Amount: $3,000


Healthcare Leaders Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The scholarship funds current and incoming nursing students at all levels, including students in online programs. Applicants write a 600-1,000 word essay on their career goals in nursing and how the scholarship would help fulfill their goals. Students must also show a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $1,000


NBNA Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Nursing students at the undergraduate and graduate levels may qualify for several scholarships offered by the National Black Nurses Association. Applicants must be current NBNA members enrolled in a nursing program, and the application process requires official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, an essay, and a headshot.

Amount: $1,000-$6,000


Elizabeth B. Moore Memorial Undergraduate Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Emergency Nurses Association awards an undergraduate scholarship to a nursing student who plans to work as an emergency nurse. The evaluation process considers financial need, and although non-ENA members can apply, they must provide a letter of reference from a member.

Amount: $5,000


NAHN Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The National Association of Hispanic Nurses offers multiple scholarships for NAHN members, including students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The evaluation process considers financial need, course of study, academic standing, and supporting documentation.

Amount: $1,000-$5,000