Nurses are in high demand throughout the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for registered nurses is projected to grow by 15% over the next 10 years, well above the national average. Nurses work on the front lines of the healthcare industry, dealing intimately with patients one on one and in small groups to coordinate and administer treatment and recovery programs. They also advocate for disease awareness and control, giving nurses a chance to make a real difference in their communities.
Applying for college is a complex process; the more you know about your potential program, the better! Those considering an online degree in nursing should explore how many years it will take to complete a degree, what specialties are offered, and in which state they want to be registered. These are some of the most important issues to consider when choosing a program that best meets your life goals.
Sometimes, the first program you select does not turn out to be the right fit. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, nearly 10% of all enrolled students change institutions over the academic year. Reasons to change schools or programs are numerous, and include personal or family commitments, financial restrictions, and relocations. It is also common to start a specialized program (for example, psychiatric nursing) only to realize that your passion lies in another branch of the field (like pediatrics or oncology). Don’t be afraid to change your mind; pursue the area that most interests you!
How to Choose an Online Nursing Program
As you return to school, reflect on your personal objectives and lifestyle standards. For example, consider how the length and intensity of a program may impact whether you can continue to work full time. One of the key advantages to an online program is its flexibility, letting you access course materials and submit assignments while managing a busy work and family schedule. If you desire flexibility but would also prefer a classroom setting, consider a hybrid program, which offers a mix of online and on-campus courses and laboratories. These programs provide students a sense of community while also allowing space for work and home life.
Another area to consider is the type of nurse you want to become. Nurses work in every subfield of healthcare, including emergency units and hospitals, birth and family planning centers, drug rehabilitation facilities, and physical therapy institutions. Nurses collaborate with individual clients, with groups in scientific testing programs, and act as liaisons between patients and government or institutional bureaucracies. Consider where your skills are best suited, and where can you make the most difference in healthcare.
Once you have identified programs that meet your lifestyle requirements and areas of interest, confirm their accreditation status. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education is recognized as a national accreditation agency by the U.S. Department of Education, which accredits nursing degree programs nationwide.
Type of Nursing Degrees
Programs that train nurses can be found in multiple venues, from hospitals and healthcare institutions, to two- and four-year colleges and universities. If you are interested in hands-on training, a diploma in nursing program (DN) provides real-world experience in a hospital setting. DNs, like associate degrees in nursing, take approximately two to three years to complete, and prepare you to work as a registered nurse (RN). The difference between an associate of science in nursing (ASN) and an associate degree in nursing (ADN) comes down to coursework: The ASN focuses exclusively on the sciences, while the ADN encourages a liberal arts education, and includes courses in the humanities.
RNs with a DN qualify for in-patient responsibilities, such as compiling patient histories, assisting diagnostic tests, and teaching patients to manage post-treatment care. With an associate degree, you can also enter more specialized areas such as rehabilitation and pediatrics.
Increasingly, healthcare agencies and institutions encourage RNs to continue their education and earn a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN). Those with a DN or associate degree can enroll in accelerated BSN programs, and complete this upper-level degree in as little as one or two years. Earning a bachelor’s degree puts management and advanced nursing job opportunities within your reach.
Average Salary by Degree and Years of Experience
|Degree||1-4 Years||5-9 Years||10-19 Years||20+ Years|
|Diploma of Nursing (DN)||$46,979||$56,712||$65,539||$68,886|
|Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)||$59,695||$64,109||$70,053||$70,955|
|Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)||$60,733||$65,684||$69,503||$71,853|
|Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)||$70,172||$74,801||$80,841||$84,090|
Typical Nursing School Entry Requirements
Given the range of nursing degree opportunities across the country, numerous online and on-site programs options are available. A diploma in nursing (DN) requires applicants to possess a high school diploma or GED, and students are strongly encouraged to complete courses in biology, chemistry, algebra, and English. Since DNs receive training directly at hospitals or healthcare institutions, DN programs are the least likely to be offered online. The better choice for a flexible, two- to three-year program is an associate degree in nursing. A nursing school application at the associate level typically requires a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 3.0 or higher (though some schools accept a 2.5 GPA). Prior to admission, many programs insist that students pass the Test for Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, offered by the Assessment Technologies Institute. Similar to the ACT or SAT exam, the TEAS tests your math, English and reading skills, as well as your basic understanding of biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Applicants to nursing schools typically must earn a minimum score of 60 on the TEAS to be a competitive applicant. To apply for an RN to BSN program, applicants must hold an RN license and provide transcripts from all previous education.
Applying to Nursing School
Whether applying for a nursing program for the first time or planning a transfer between institutions, many schools require similar application materials. The following list details some of these common requirements you will likely provide.
- College Application: The general application for a nursing program requires you to declare your personal information and academic history, and often includes a personal statement explaining your reasons for applying to the program.
- High School Transcript: A transcript is a summary of your high school education history that lists courses completed and final grades. This is provided directly from your high school. If you have a GED, you can request a GED transcript from the GED Credentialing Service.
- Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation provide the human story behind the quantitative numbers on your transcripts and exams. Most schools require recommendation letters from your high school teachers and counselors, though coaches and activity organizers may also provide compelling statements.
- SAT or ACT Scores: The SAT and ACT are entrance exams used to verify a college applicant’s foundational skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. While the SAT focuses on a student’s critical analysis and reasoning, the ACT emphasizes memorized information. Most schools accept either exam as a qualifying metric. Take the exam that best fits your natural skills.
- College Transcript: Students transferring schools are required to provide a college transcript, in addition to their high school transcript. Like the latter, the college transcript details your coursework to date, and grades earned at your previous institution. The college transcript is vital to the process of transferring credits between schools.
- Application Fees (or Fee Waiver): Most programs require non-refundable application fees to cover the cost of application assessment. Some schools allow fee waivers for prospective students, particularly applicants in financial hardship. Be sure to check out the online FAQs and application instruction pages of the institutions where you intend to apply for more details.
When Should I Begin the Application Process?
The application process is often long for nursing programs; schools typically take months to select and notify students. To successfully complete your application in time, new students and transfer students alike should begin an application a year in advance. If you plan to start school in September, begin your application around September of the year prior. This early start ensures a smooth beginning of a two- or four-year program. Most importantly, early preparation gives you time to apply for financial aid. Make sure to apply for all the funding to which you are entitled!
How to Transfer Colleges
For those already enrolled in a nursing program, the prospect of changing schools can be daunting. Transfer applications require more work than new applicants, as students need to demonstrate prior coursework and apply for credit transfers. The following checklist details how to begin the process of transferring nursing schools.
- Research Your Prospective Transfer Schools
- Check Accreditation Status and Articulation Agreements
- Contact School Advisors
- Confirm That Your Credits Will Be Transferred Over
- Research Financial Aid Options
- Begin Application Process
What Are Nursing School Transfer Requirements?
Transfer requirements vary by school, and spots are often highly competitive — schools seek students with strong academic and volunteer records. General requirements include a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA at your previous institution, and prerequisite courses in introductory chemistry and biology. Most two- and four-year institutions also require proof of your previous school’s program accreditation. Check your school’s accreditation status directly on the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing website (ACEN).
Types of Transfer Students
Multiple reasons can lead a student to transfer institutions. Changes in your personal life, new job opportunities, and evolving career objectives can all impact your decision to change schools. The following list details some common transfer situations. If you are contemplating a change in schools, consider your personal situation in light of these scenarios.
- Community College to Four-Year College Transfer: Many students embark on their post-secondary education at a community college to before transitioning to a four-year institution. With two years of community college under your belt, you can enter a four-year institution to complete your bachelor’s in as little as two additional years.
- Four-Year College to Four-Year College Transfer: Not all bachelor’s programs are alike. If your four-year bachelor’s program does not teach the specialty that you desire, or if you need to relocate for personal or professional reasons, you may need to transfer to find a better fit.
- Military Transfer: If you have completed some degree coursework while in the military, you may qualify to transfer directly into a two- or four-year institution. Credits earned can be applied to a civilian college or university to speed up completion of your degree (for more information, check out the military transfer guide of the American Council on Education website).
- International Transfer: Relocate internationally does not mean that you have to sacrifice your educational progress. Transferring to an online program gives you the freedom and flexibility to live abroad and keep up with your classes.
When moving to a new school, it is vital to investigate which college credits will transfer between institutions. Not all schools accept coursework that you completed on a different academic schedule (semester versus quarter systems, for example), or different course designations (“experimental chemistry” versus “fundamentals in chemistry”). Credit acceptance is entirely at the discretion of the transfer institution. In general, transferring between public schools within the same state system will accept the most credits because the institutions are related. The more different the institutions, the more questions may arise. Below are a series of common course transfer situations that may arise as you search for your new program.
- Course Equivalency: As more students transfer institutions each year, colleges and universities work hard to accept equivalent coursework from a student’s previous institution. With your transcript, your new institution compares the classes you completed with their own courses; for example, your introductory psychology class from a community college or university would likely count for a similar intro to psychology course at your new school. Even so, not all coursework will automatically transfer; a general education writing composition course, for example, may qualify only as a general elective.
- Course Level: The eligibility of transferable courses often depends on the course’s level. Some 100-200 level coursework and general education requirements are often acceptable; however, higher course numbers and specialized courses may be less applicable to your new institution. Junior and senior seminars, along with laboratories offered by your original institution, may not transfer to your new school and your final degree.
- Quarter vs. Semester Transfers: As you transition from one school to another, be aware of the term system of each school, even if you pursue a degree 100% online. The difference between the quarter system and the semester system usually amounts to the time that students commit to a single course. Schools on a semester calendar generally accept two quarter classes for every single semester requirement. Therefore, two chemistry courses completed on the quarter system usually count as one chemistry semester class. Check out this synopsis for more details.
What if My Credits Don’t Transfer Over?
Unfortunately, not all coursework completed will follow you to your new institution. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, students transferring institutions between 2004-2009 lost an average of 43% of previous coursework credits. The vast majority of transfer students — those moving between public institutions — lost around 37%. By contrast, students transferring from private for-profit schools to public institutions lost an average of 94% of previous credits. These losses translate into wasted time and money. This is why students must to do their homework ahead of time to ensure that your previous accomplishments are recognized in your transfer institution.
Today, nursing programs that accept transfer students often have transfer advisers who can work with you to transfer credits. Increasingly, schools also provide online search engines to check previous coursework against school programs. As mentioned earlier (see “transferable credits”), some classes completed will transfer directly, while others will count as general electives. Overall, schools require course grades of a 3.0 or higher (though some schools will accept a “C” depending on whether the course is a major requirement or general elective).
Transfer students can appeal transfer credit decisions in various ways. Typically, appeals require students to complete a form such as this one, or submit a formal written appeal. However, there is no guarantee that these appeals are successful, particularly with regard to nursing major requirements. Schools usually insist that transfer students complete all upper-level major requirements at their institution. Non-transferable courses must be retaken.
In-State vs. Out-of-State Transfers
Transferring institutions often comes at a cost. Moving from an in-state institution to out-of-state can be the most costly, in part because of out-of-state tuition costs are usually steeper, regardless of whether students are enrolled on campus or 100% online. Transferring in-state is far less expensive. In fact, many four-year state institutions cultivate relationships with two- and four-year community colleges to encourage students to continue their education. Typically, these special partnerships ensure more transferable credits between institutions, saving you both time and money.
The following table compares the different average tuition prices for various types of institutions. Before making a final decision about transferring schools, be sure to check out the tuition costs for online versus on-campus enrollment, and calculate the cost of re-taking non-transferable coursework. Make sure that the school you ultimately choose works for you and your budget!
College Tuition Prices
|Public 4-year In-State College||$9,670||$9,970|
|Public 4-Year Out-of-State College||$24,820||$25,620|
|Private 4-Year Nonprofit College||$33,520||$34,740|
Benefits of Transferring From a Community College to a Four-Year School
As tuition costs climb at four-year institutions nationwide, many students are turning to community colleges to receive a more economic education. On average, an associate degree takes two to three years to complete, and tuition prices at community colleges can be a fraction of their four-year counterparts. Having completed your two-year associate degree, you can then continue on to a four-year institution and complete a bachelor’s degree in as little as two years. Transferring from a community college to an affiliated four-year program will also ensure that the majority of your coursework will transfer, allowing you to complete your degree expediently.
In the following table, you can see the difference in average costs between two-year and four-year institutions over the past two academic years. Consider these numbers while exploring potential college programs.
|Public 2-Year In-State College||$3,470||$3,570|
|Public 4-year In-State College||$9,670||$9,970|
Other Factors to Consider When Transferring
While beginning your education at a community college can provide many financial benefits, there are some drawbacks to transferring schools. While two-year programs can offer more assistance academically and economically, transfer students inevitably face more stress because they have to apply for college twice: once to attend community college, and again to transfer institutions. Transfers can also suffer from a lack of community; entering an institution at the junior level means that you have lost the freshman- and sophomore-year experience when many students form their campus communities. Even so, as transferring schools becomes more common, four-year institutions are providing more resources for new transfers.
When looking for online schools, it is very important to check for an institution’s accreditation. Accreditation is like a stamp of approval on your diploma, attesting to the quality of your education to future institutions, employers, and colleagues. If your school is not accredited, your coursework may not be accepted at a transfer institution, and your education will not qualify you to take the RN exam. A lack of accreditation may also cost you government and private financial aid support.
Two organizations accredit all nursing schools in the U.S.: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Additionally, the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs specifically accredits programs in anesthesia, as the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation addresses midwife and doula programs. To find out if your potential institution is accredited, check out the websites of these programs, and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s national database of accredited institutions.
Scholarships for Transfer Students
Scholarships abound in the field of nursing. Funding opportunities exist for new students entering DN, ASN, and ADN programs, as well as scholarships for RNs and transfer students interested in continuing their education with a bachelor’s degree. The following list details just a few of the scholarships available. As you apply for funding, be sure to also check out scholarship opportunities offered directly from your prospective college or university.
Offered by the Cherokee Uniforms corporation, a major producer of nurse uniforms, this application is open for any nursing student at any phase of their education. Applications require a 300-word essay that responds to a prompt that changes each year.
Amount: $1,000 for undergraduates; $2,000 for graduate students
The American Indian Science and Engineering Society supports members of indigenous communities nationwide. This scholarship is for Native Americans pursuing a degree in the sciences, including nursing. Applications require letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal essay.
Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, this need-based scholarship supports disadvantaged students enrolled in an accredited nursing program. Recipients receive tuition support and a monthly stipend to support full-time enrollment (2018-2019 academic year monthly stipend: $1,363).
This scholarship applies directly to state residents of Georgia, and prioritizes students working in this state post graduation. Applicants must be a state resident of Georgia, be a registered nurse with a GPA of 2.5 or higher in previous education, and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Sponsored by B4 Brands, this scholarship supports non-traditional students returning to school for a nursing associate or bachelor’s degree. Applications require a completed form, an essay, three letters of recommendation, and verification of enrollment from your institution.
Provided by the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR), this scholarship is for students in financial need enrolled in an accredited nursing institution. Applicants must submit a standard scholarship packet to the DAR along with verification of enrollment from your nursing institution (membership in the DAR is not required).
The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) provides various scholarships for nurses and medical professionals in emergency care. Applicants must hold BCEN credentials and must pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).
Promoted by the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, applicants must be enrolled in an accredited, state-approved nursing program at any level of post-secondary education (from DN to Ph.D.). This program also supports RNs interested in completing a bachelor’s degree. Selection is based on academic achievement, financial need, and involvement in the field.
This scholarship is supported by Scrub Shopper, a medical apparel company. All students enrolled in an accredited medical program are eligible to apply. Applicants must provide transcripts from their current institution and two essays: one addressing financial need, and the other on how the applicant intends to become a leader in their local community.
Amount: $5,000 for three consecutive years (totalling $15,000)
The National Association of Hispanic Nurses scholarships cover all levels of nursing education for members of this association. Funded specifically by the United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative, selection for this award is based on need, academic standing, and area of focus. This award specifically seeks to address underserved communities.