Best Online Nursing Schools and Programs

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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.

The nursing field offers great opportunities for individuals seeking a stable career in a growing profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of registered nurses (RNs) should increase by 7% from 2019-2029. The BLS also projects that the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) profession may grow by 45% in that same time period — much faster than the national average for all occupations.

Nurses must hold the proper degree before they can obtain licensure. RNs must earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). APRNs need a master of science in nursing (MSN).

Many students attend online nursing schools instead of traditional, on-campus programs. Distance learners enjoy greater flexibility, logging on and studying when convenient. Online students also save time and money on transportation, materials, and housing.

The following list outlines the best online nursing programs for aspiring nurses.

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Top 10 Online Nursing Schools

Rank School Location
1 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
2 Simmons University Boston, MA
3 Baker University Baldwin City, KS
4 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
5 Concordia University, St. Paul Saint Paul, MN
6 University of St. Francis Joliet, IL
7 College of St. Scholastica Duluth, MN
8 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington, IN
9 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
10 Lewis University Romeoville, IL
Read about our ranking methodology here.

The Top Online Nursing Schools in 2020

  1. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD

    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.

  2. Simmons University

    Boston, MA

    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.

  3. Baker University

    Baldwin City, KS

    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.

  4. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    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.

  5. Concordia University, St. Paul

    Saint Paul, MN

    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.

  6. University of St. Francis

    Joliet, IL

    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.

  7. College of St. Scholastica

    Duluth, MN

    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.

  8. Indiana University Bloomington

    Bloomington, IN

    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.

  9. Drexel University

    Philadelphia, PA

    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.

  10. Lewis University

    Romeoville, IL

    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.

Applying to an Online Nursing Program

Applicants to BSN programs should possess a high school diploma or an ADN, although some schools will consider GED-holders. Admission committees often prefer candidates with a minimum high school GPA of around 2.0. Undergraduate applicants should expect to submit their previous educational transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, recommendation letters, and a personal essay.

MSN programs typically look for applicants with RN licensure, and many prefer candidates who already possess a BSN. However, some RN-to-MSN programs accept students with associate degrees, as long as they begin the program with RN experience.

MSN programs also set a minimum GPA, which might range from 2.5-3.0. The higher the GPA, the more competitive the candidate. Applicants may also boost their chances of admission by earning a high score on the GRE or MAT. They are often asked to submit a personal essay and recommendation letters, and may participate in an admission interview.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a nurse?

That depends on what type of nurse you want to become. Licensed practical or vocational nurses can complete training programs in about one year. RNs can enroll in two-year ADN or four-year BSN programs. Even those timelines vary, as some schools offer accelerated programs or allow students to complete their studies part time. Finally, advanced practice nurses must earn a two-year master’s degree in addition to an undergraduate degree. In all, it can take anywhere from 1-6 years to become a nurse.

What is accreditation and why is it important?

Accreditation agencies evaluate higher education institutions and academic programs through the accreditation process. Accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) ensures that a program offers a quality education. Additionally, nursing licensure candidates must hold accredited degrees.

What can I do with an MSN?

Many people pursue an MSN to become an APRN. These advanced practice nursing professionals can work as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners (NPs). NPs can further specialize in areas like mental health, geriatric care, or neonatal care. These nurses earn more than RNs, and hold additional responsibilities like diagnosing patients and prescribing medication.

What does a DNP prepare graduates for?

Prospective APRNs can enroll in a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program, although many pursue this terminal degree for other reasons. Some go on to become university professors, researchers, or leaders within the nursing profession.