Nurses work on the front lines of the healthcare industry. They deal with patients one on one and in small groups to administer treatment. Nurses can also make a real difference in their communities advocating for disease awareness and control.

Applying for college is a complex process. The more you know about your potential program, the better! Those looking for an online degree in nursing should explore the program's length, the specialties offered, and where they wish to work. These are some of the most important issues to consider when choosing a program that best meets your goals.

Sometimes, the first program you select does not turn out to be the right fit. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center states nearly 10% of all enrolled students change programs. Reasons to change are many: personal or family commitments, financial restrictions, and relocations. It is also common to start a specialty (for example, psychiatric nursing) only to realize that your passion lies in another field (like pediatrics or oncology). Don't be afraid to change your mind. Pursue the area that most interests you!

Featured Online Programs

How to Choose an Online Nursing Program

As you return to school, reflect on your personal goals and lifestyle. Consider how the length and program's intensity may impact whether you can work full time. One of the key advantages to an online program is flexibility. Flexibility allows you to access a course and manage a busy work and family schedule. If you desire flexibility but would also prefer a classroom setting, consider a hybrid program. Hybrids offer a mix of online and on-campus courses and lab work. These programs offer students a sense of community and space for work and home life.

Another area to consider is the type of nurse you want to become. Nurses work in every aspect of healthcare. These might include emergency departments, hospitals, family planning centers, drug rehabilitation facilities, and physical therapy programs. Nurses work with clients, research groups, and act as liaisons among patients, other healthcare workers, and agencies. Consider where your skills are best suited, and where can you make the most difference in healthcare.

Once you have chosen programs that meet your lifestyle and interest, confirm their accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education as an accreditation body. The commission evaluates and accredits nursing degree programs nationwide.

Type of Nursing Degrees

You can find programs that train nurses in many settings: hospitals, healthcare systems, community colleges, and universities. A diploma nursing program provides real-world experience. A diploma, like associate degrees in nursing, takes approximately 2-3 years to complete. With a diploma, you can work as an RN. The difference between an associate of science in nursing (ASN) and an associate degree in nursing (ADN) comes down to courses. The ASN focuses on the sciences, while the ADN encourages a liberal arts or humanities education.

RNs with a diploma compile patient histories, assist with diagnostic tests, and teach patients to manage care after treatment. With an associate degree, you can also enter more specialties such as rehabilitation or pediatrics.

Increasingly, healthcare agencies and institutions encourage RNs to continue their education and earn a bachelor's in nursing. If you have a diploma or an associate, you can enroll in accelerated bachelor's programs and complete this 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


Typical Nursing School Entry Requirements

You have a range of options to choose from since so many programs across the nation are available online or on campus. A nursing diploma asks for a high school diploma or GED. Students are strongly encouraged to complete courses in biology, chemistry, algebra, and English. Since diploma programs receive training directly at healthcare facilities, like hospitals, they might not be online.

The better choice for a flexible, two- to three-year program is an associate degree in nursing. For an associate program, you will need a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 3.0 or higher (though some schools accept a 2.5 GPA). Before admission, many programs insist that students pass the Test for Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam. Assessment Technologies Institute handles the TEAS which tests your math, English and reading skills. It also evaluates your basic understanding of biology, chemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Applicants to nursing schools must typically earn at least a score of 60 on the TEAS to be competitive. 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

Application Materials

Whether you are applying for the first time or planning a transfer, you will need to submit similar application materials. The following list details some of these common requirements you will likely provide.

College Application
You must provide personal information and academic history here. You often include a personal statement explaining why you want to apply to the program.
High School Transcript
An official transcript lists courses completed and your final grades. Your high school provides it directly to the program. If you have a GED, you can request a GED transcript from the GED Credentialing Service.
Letters of Recommendation
Recommendations give personal context and a human story behind official documents. Most schools require recommendation letters from your high school teachers and counselors. Coaches and activity organizers may also provide compelling statements.
SAT or ACT Scores
The SAT and ACT 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 memorization. Most schools accept either exam. Take the exam that best fits your natural skills.
College Transcript
If you are transferring schools, you will need to provide a college and high school transcript. College transcripts detail your current coursework 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. 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; schools typically take months to select and notify students. Whether you are a new student or transferring, start a year in advance to successfully complete your application on time. If you plan to start school in September, begin your application around September of the previous year. 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 qualify!

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. These students need to show prior coursework for credit transfers.

The following checklist details how to begin the process of transferring nursing schools.

  • 1. Research Your Prospective Transfer Schools
  • 2. Check Accreditation Status and Articulation Agreements
  • 3. Contact School Advisors
  • 4. Confirm That Your Credits Will Be Transferred Over
  • 5. Research Financial Aid Options
  • 6. Begin Application Process

What Are Nursing School Transfer Requirements?

Transfer requirements vary by school. Spots are often very competitive. Schools seek students with strong academic and volunteer records. Most two- and four-year institutions also require proof of your previous school's program accreditation. Check your school's accreditation status on the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing website (ACEN).

Types of Transfer Students

Students may want to transfer for many reasons: changes in your personal life, new job opportunities, and evolving career objectives. 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 first. 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 more 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 in the military, you may qualify to transfer directly into a two- or four-year institution. You can apply credits to a 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


If you are relocating internationally, you do not have to sacrifice your past education. Transferring to an online program gives you the freedom and flexibility to live abroad and keep up with your classes.

Transferrable Credits

When moving to a new school, it is vital to investigate which college credits will transfer. Not all schools accept coursework that you completed. For example, some schools may not accept courses completed on a different academic schedule such as semester versus quarter systems. Others may reject credits if they have a different course title. An "experimental chemistry" course might not be the same as "fundamentals in chemistry." Credit acceptance is entirely at the discretion of the transfer institution. In general, public schools within the same state system will accept the most credits. The more different the institutions, the more questions may arise. Below are a series of common situations that may arise as you search for your new program.

Course Equivalency

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. Yet, higher course numbers and specialized courses may be less applicable. Junior and senior seminars, along with laboratory work, may not transfer to your new school and your final degree.

Quarter vs. Semester Transfers

Be aware of the term system of each school, even if you pursue a degree completely online. Students commit to a single course for a different amount of time between the quarter system and the semester system. Schools on a semester calendar generally accept two quarter classes for every single semester requirement. Thus, two chemistry courses completed on the quarter system usually count as one 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. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that transfer students lost an average of 43% of previous coursework credits between 2004-2009. 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 you should do your research to ensure that transfer institutions recognize your previous work.

Transfer advisers often can work with you to transfer credits. Schools also provide online search engines to check previous coursework against school programs. As mentioned earlier, some classes will transfer directly, while others will count as general electives. Overall, schools require course grades of a 3.0 or higher. 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. 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. Out-of-state tuition costs are usually higher, whether students enroll on campus or 100% online. Transferring in-state is far less expensive. Many four-year state institutions partner with community colleges so students can continue their education seamlessly. These partnerships ensure more transferable credits between institutions, saving both time and money.

The following table compares different average tuition prices for various types of institutions. Before making a final decision, check the tuition costs for online versus on-campus enrollment. Calculate the cost of re-taking non-transferable coursework. Finally, make sure you choose what works for you and your budget!

College Tuition Prices for 4-Year Schools

School Type 2016-2017 School Year 2017-2018 School Year
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
Source: CollegeBoard

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 an affordable 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 quickly.

In the following chart, 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.

College Tuition Prices for In-State Schools


Other Factors to Consider When Transferring

Beginning your education at a community college can provide many financial benefits. However, there are some drawbacks to transferring schools. While two-year programs can offer more help academically and financially, transfer students face more stress. Transfers have to apply for college twice: once to attend community college and again to transfer institutions. They can also suffer from a lack of community. Entering an institution at the junior level means you have lost the freshman- and sophomore-year experience. Even so, four-year institutions are providing more resources for new transfers as transferring becomes more popular.

Accreditation

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. It attests to the quality of your education to future institutions and employers. If your school is not accredited, your coursework may not be accepted when transferring. Your education will also not qualify you to take the RN exam. A lack of accreditation may also cost you government and private financial aid.

Two organizations accredit all nursing schools in the United States: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs specifically accredits programs in anesthesia, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation evaluates midwife and doula programs. To find out if your institution is accredited, check out the websites of these programs or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's national database.

Scholarships for Transfer Students

Scholarships are plentiful in the field of nursing. Funding opportunities exist for new students entering diploma and associate programs. Scholarships for RNs who want to continue their education and for transfer students are also available. The following list details a few of the available scholarships. Be sure to check scholarship opportunities offered from your prospective college or university.

  • Amount: $2,000

    The Cherokee Uniforms corporation, a major producer of nurse uniforms, offers this scholarship to all nursing students no matter the degree level. Applications require a 300-word essay that responds to a given prompt.

  • 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.

  • Amount: Varies

    The Health Resources and Services Administration administers this need-based scholarship. It supports disadvantaged students enrolled in an accredited nursing program. Recipients receive tuition support and a monthly stipend to fund full-time enrollment.

  • Amount: $500-$1,000

    This scholarship applies to residents of Georgia and prioritizes students working post graduation. Applicants must be a state resident of Georgia, a registered nurse with at least a 2.25 GPA, and pursuing a bachelor's degree in nursing.

  • Amount: $1,000

    Sponsored by B4 Brands, this scholarship supports nontraditional 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.

  • Amount: $2,500

    Provided by the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR), this scholarship is for students in financial need. Applicants must submit materials to the DAR along with verification of enrollment. (Membership in the DAR is not required.)

  • Amount: $2,000

    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).

  • Amount: $1,000-$7,500

    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.

  • Amount: $2,500

    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 should address 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 its members. Funded by the United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative, selection for this award is based on need, academic standing, and area of focus. This award seeks to address underserved communities.

Feature Image: Chaay_Tee / iStock / Getty Images Plus

NurseJournal.org 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.

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.

Popular Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other Nurses like you.