We’ve done the research and created comprehensive guides to online schools for nursing. Continue below and dive into the details on nursing degree programs, tuition and fees, related career outlooks, employable skills and much more.
Nov 05, 2018 | By OnlineColleges Editors
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the health care world. From critical care to trauma care, oncology to pediatrics, anesthesia to infection control, nurses can be responsible for just about any aspect of health care. The career can be both exciting and fulfilling, but it certainly requires understanding of many different topics to get started, such as pharmacology, anatomy and patient care, to name a few.
In many cases, registered nurses begin their career with an associate degree, which allows them to jump into patient care but might not offer many opportunities for advancement. That's where a good "registered nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing" degree program (often shortened to RN-to-BSN) comes into play. However, if you're already a working nurse, how can you find the time to take such a program without quitting your job? Perhaps an online RN-to-BSN program might be able to assist you.
Online Colleges for Nursing in 2019-20
It's no secret that there are hundreds of online colleges for nursing out there, and narrowing down the options can be tough. Fortunately, we're here to make it a bit easier with our comprehensive list of the 10 best online nursing degree programs. We reviewed over 250 schools to come up with our list, using data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and a methodology that took into account graduation rates, admission rates, tuition costs and more.
The internationally recognized Stony Brook University was established in 1957 and is widely considered to be the flagship campus of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. The university offers comprehensive study in nursing, on both the graduate and undergraduate level. Undergraduate students can pursue three different kinds of nursing bachelor's degree programs -- basic, accelerated and registered nurse -- as well as a bridge program. Meanwhile, graduate students can engage with Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs, doctoral-level programs and advanced certificate programs, covering a bevy of nursing specializations such as gerontology, nursing education, pediatrics and nurse midwifery.
*NOTE: Kaplan University has merged with Purdue University Global since this list was made. Please contact Purdue Global University-Omaha to learn whether the merged school can still fulfill your needs.
Purdue Global University is the online division of Purdue University, which expanded its regional and global reach by acquiring the campuses of Kaplan University in 2017. Working together, Purdue and Kaplan are able to offer online nursing education at a variety of educational levels, from associate, BSN and MSN programs all the way up to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program. The university also offers an accelerated, competency-based bachelor's degree program that particularly hard-working students may be able to complete in as little as one year.
This private university was founded in 1877 by a group of exiled Italian Jesuits, and as of 2018 remains the only Jesuit Catholic university in the Rocky Mountain West. It is named for St. Jean-Francois Regis, the patron saint of lace makers, and it strives to follow his example by serving the marginalized via education.
However, it is not lace making that lands Regis University on this list, but instead online nursing degree programs. Regis features an array of online nursing programs, primarily at the master's degree level but with bachelor's and doctoral options available as well. Various specialties are available, though most of them pertain to either nursing education or nursing management.
Grand Canyon University is a private Christian university located in Phoenix, with additional campus locations in Scottsdale, Sun City and Albuquerque. A Christian-focused worldview is woven throughout university's curriculum. The university's Student Success Center offers a wealth of resources to both on-campus and distance learners, including writing help, tutorials and more.
While GCU focused only on religious studies and education programs when it was first founded, its repertoire has broadened over the years, and one of the many fields it has come to offer is nursing. GCU features an RN-to-BSN bridge program for undergraduate students, and multiple master's degree programs for graduate students, with emphases in topics such as informatics, gerontology, public health or acute care.
While George Washington University's on-campus experience features proximity to world-class museums, shows at the Kennedy Center, and many international organizations and institutions, the distance learner's experience boasts all the rights, privileges and honors of a traditional GWU education along with all the flexible benefits of an online education.
Such benefits extend to the university's online nursing degree programs, which come in a multitude of concentrations: family nursing, psychiatric mental health, gerontology and executive leadership, to name a few. While most opportunities are available at the graduate level, an RN-to-BSN program and a handful of undergraduate certificate programs present options for entry-level nursing students as well.
This private health care science college was founded in 1888 as the first nursing school in Nebraska. While it was once limited to teaching students in the Omaha area, the advent of online education has allowed the college to educate aspiring nurses around the globe.
Clarkson offers several different study options when it comes to nursing, including a BSN program and several online bridge programs, including LPN-to-BSN, RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing program -- which was, in fact, the first program ever offered at Clarkson -- has start dates in January, May and August and requires 130 credits to complete, but students can transfer non-core and general education credits into it from other institutions.
The Maryville University of St. Louis takes great pride in the educational norms it has challenged over the years, starting when it was founded in 1872 as a women's college during a time when educating women was still controversial. One of the standards Maryville has challenged is the idea of traditional campus-based education: the university has committed wholeheartedly to online education, understanding the benefits it can offer to the nontraditional student.
In the 1970s, Maryville merged with the nursing program at Mercy Junior College, leading to the creation of the Walker College of Health Professions. Through this college, students can participate in fully online nursing degree programs with various concentrations. Of particular note is the university's BSN-to-DNP bridge program, an accelerated program that can help experienced nurses take "a giant leap forward" in their education… from the bachelor's level all the way up to the doctoral level!
The University of St. Francis is a Catholic liberal arts university located in Joliet, Illinois. If you are working as a registered nurse (RN) but earned your bachelor's degree in a subject other than nursing, and are worried that your lack of a nursing degree might impede your ability to earn a higher-level nursing degree, USF might be the right school for you. The university offers multiple bridge programs for nursing, but its specialty is the RN-BS-MSN option. These programs are specifically made to transition RNs with a bachelor's in a field outside of nursing into a Master of Science in Nursing curriculum. They even offer specialties for these programs, such as nursing administration, nursing education or family nurse practitioner.
The university supports distance learners with full access to its academic resource center, where students can participate in workshops and learning sessions to improve their note-taking, reading and study habits, and test-taking skills.
Gardner-Webb University is a private Christian Baptist-related college located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. Development of student spiritual formation is a primary focus of the university's mission and curriculum -- in fact, GWU's online program for registered nurses is centered on holistic Christian values.
Graduate students at Gardner-Webb can select one of three different tracks for their online MSN program: nursing administration, nursing education or family nurse practitioner. Post-graduate certificate programs in nursing administration, nursing education and family nurse practitioner are also available.
To support its distance learners, GWU maintains key online resources such as counseling, personal and professional development, and academic and technological support.
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
The University of Mary is a small private university in Bismarck, North Dakota that's rooted in Christian, Catholic and Benedictine traditions, though the university welcomes students of all religious faiths and backgrounds. The curriculum of Mary's undergraduate nursing degree program (an RN-to-BSN program) emphasizes leadership, global stewardship, spirituality and ethics. Students looking for an online Master of Science in Nursing can specialize their degree program further, choosing from specialties in nursing leadership, nursing informatics or nurse education.
Nursing students at Mary have the opportunity to complete clinical work at CHI St. Alexius Health in Bismarck, but can also fulfill their hands-on practical degree requirements through regional schools, nursing homes and similar facilities.
Higher Learning Commission
Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Levels of Nursing Degree
As the front line of patient care, nurses have a demanding job that requires rigorous, specialized training. Those who hope to follow in Florence Nightingale's footsteps are in the right place: in this section, you can get a sneak peek at some of the courses that nursing programs commonly include in their curriculum, as well as possible skills graduates will want to cultivate.
The curriculum offered in online education for nursing depends on the degree level. Although specific programs differ, the following provides a look at what kind of coursework students may find from the associate to the doctoral level.
A nursing associate degree program is intended to give students the foundation of the concepts they will need to obtain a state license and an entry-level job. On this level, the coursework may include topics such as pharmacology, nutrition and diet therapy, anatomy and physiology, developmental psychology and adult health.
Those who are just starting their nursing careers or registered nurses who want to advance their careers can pursue an online bachelor's degree program to be exposed to a more in-depth perspective on nursing. Students in such a program cover topics such as how to conduct a patient assessment, work with people in different age groups, dispense medications, and communicate effectively with patients and other medical professionals.
Workers who want to enter advanced nursing should consider a master's degree program. Students in these programs may choose a concentration to focus on, depending on their career goals: examples range from pediatrics, mental health, gerontology, primary care or public health nursing.
Doctoral nursing programs are generally completed by professionals who want to contribute to the future of the field by either teaching potential nurses or conducting medical research. Students in these programs typically explore qualitative and quantitative research methods, the history of nursing theory, health care informatics and health policy.
Skilled Nursing - Skills to Develop
Nurses need to be highly skilled to successfully deal with the rigors of their job. Below are some of the skills students may want to focus on developing while they complete an online program for nursing.
Physical stamina: Nurses not only spend a lot of time on their feet, but they also have to be able to move patients as they treat them. The clinical part of a nursing program is likely to give you a decent idea of the kind of physical expectations you will experience; if it is exhausting to you, it might be a good idea to improve your stamina before starting your career.
Listening: Sometimes a patient's understanding of their own body can lead to a much quicker and more accurate diagnosis. Nurses need to actively listen to patients in order to accurately assess what's wrong with them and make appropriate decisions about their care.
Verbal communication: Nurses are tasked with explaining complicated medical information to others, which requires strong verbal communication skills. From instructing patients on how to take their medication to discussing someone's condition with family members, nurses need to know how to speak to people in a way that can be understood.
Critical thinking: A patient's condition can rapidly change, so nurses must have the critical thinking skills needed to assess someone's visible symptoms and make decisions on how to provide the best treatment.
Nursing Careers - Specializations
In order to work legally, registered nurses must obtain a license from their state. Although the standards for licensing may differ from one state to the next, generally prospective RNs are required to earn a degree from a school accredited by the board of nursing in their state. In addition, they must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) — a computerized, multiple choice test that has between 75 and 265 questions on topics such as client rights, disease prevention, crisis intervention and pharmacological pain management.
Similarly, vocational nurses and practical nurses are also required to earn a state license in order to work in the field. These professionals must successfully complete a state-approved degree program and pass the NCLEX-PN.
Nurses can also earn voluntary certifications to demonstrate their expertise in a specific subsection of the field. For example, certifications are available for ambulatory care, forensic, gerontological, informatics, pediatric and mental health nursing.
Nursing Career Outlook
Licensed Practical/ Vocational Nurses (LPN/LVN)
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
Postsecondary nondegree award
Licensed practical nurses (also known as licensed vocational nurses in California and Texas) provide basic medical care for patients. They take vital signs, change bandages, collect samples for testing and more. LPNs and LVNs also see to the comfort of patients -- changing bed linens, helping the patient to the bathroom, helping them bathe and dress, etc. They might have other duties as well, depending on where they work. For instance, those who work in a maternity ward might instruct new mothers on personal care, feed infants, help with labor and delivery, etc.
LPNs and LVNs are required to complete an approved nursing education program. These are available through some high schools and hospitals, but are more commonly found at community colleges. As with registered nurses (RNs), LPNs must be licensed in order to practice.
Registered Nurses (RN)
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
Registered nurses (RNs) are on the front lines of the health care field. These professionals supply care and advice to help patients and their family members handle illnesses, injuries and/or chronic conditions. They may also spearhead preventative care initiatives for individuals or to assist in their larger community.
Career opportunities for RNs can be found in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, schools, physicians' offices, correctional facilities or nursing care facilities. Some RNs may concentrate on specific patient care areas, such as rehabilitation, neonatology, addiction or critical care.
Before starting in this field, RNs must complete a higher education program in nursing, resulting in a diploma, associate degree or bachelor's degree. In addition, RNs must earn a license in their state in order to practice.
Nurse Practitioners (NP)
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
Registered nurses who want to advance in their career might consider becoming a nurse practitioner (NP). In order to pursue a nurse practitioner career, RNs must first complete a master's degree program. They must also pass a national certification test and be licensed by their state.
These health care professionals may also decide to specialize in a subsection of the field — such as acute care, oncology, gerontology, family or mental health nursing — which requires specific training in that area.
NPs may act as a patient's primary care provider, and in this role they are responsible for performing diagnostic tests and interpreting the results, providing treatment for chronic illnesses, prescribing medications and providing routine patient checkups.
Projected Job Openings
Projected Job Growth
The primary goal for clinical directors is to ensure that medical facilities run properly and provide quality care to patients. From hiring staff to managing money to creating patient programs, these professionals are responsible for every aspect of running a health care facility.
Specific job duties of those in clinical director careers include coordinating and supervising patient care services; hiring and training employees; creating budgets for each department in the facility and ensuring they are adhered to; and maintaining patient records and other documents.
The required education for this position depends on the specific facility a clinical director works for. In some cases, a job candidate can get hired with a bachelor's degree, while other employers may require a master's.
Nursing Career - Related Programs
If nursing doesn't sound like the right fit for you, you don't have to give up dreams of a career in healthcare just yet. Check out these related fields and see if one of them might suit you better.
Mount Carmel College of Nursing, Online RN-BSN Completion Program, http://www.mccn.edu/academics/online-programs/online-rn-bsn-completion-program
College of Coastal Georgia, School of Nursing & Health Sciences, https://www2.ccga.edu/Academics/SchoolNursing/rntobsn.asp
Cox College, RN to BSN Program, http://coxcollege.edu/home/programs/rn-to-bsn/
South Dakota State University, Department of Undergraduate Nursing, https://www.sdstate.edu/undergraduate-nursing/rn-bsn
Ameritech College of Healthcare, RN to BSN Degree Completion Program, https://www.ameritech.edu/programs/rn-bsn-degree-completion/
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, What's an NP?, https://www.aanp.org/all-about-nps/what-is-an-np, accessed April 2017
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Registered Nurses, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
CareerBuilder, Clinical Director, http://www.careerbuilder.com/insights/clinical-director, accessed April 2017
GlassDoor, Clinical Director Jobs, https://www.glassdoor.com/Job/clinical-director-jobs-SRCH_KO0,17.htm, accessed April 2017
O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for Registered Nurses, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.00, accessed April 2017
O*NET OnLine, Summary Report for Nurse Practitioners, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1171.00, accessed April 2017
PayScale, Clinical Directory Salary, http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Clinical_Director/Salary, accessed April 2017
Rasmussen College, What Does a Registered Nurse Do?, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/blog/what-does-a-registered-nurse-do/, accessed April 2017
Associate Degree in Nursing - ADN Nursing Program, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Accessed June 2017, http://www.chamberlain.edu/academics/nursing-school/associate-degree-in-nursing
Registered Nursing, City College of San Francisco, Accessed June 2017, https://www.ccsf.edu/en/educational-programs/school-and-departments/school-of-health-and-physical-education/registered_nursing.html
Excelsior College, Associate Degree in Nursing, Accessed June 2017, http://www.excelsior.edu/programs/nursing/nursing-associate-degree
Academic Programs, University of Mary, https://www.umary.edu/academics/programs/index.php
About the University of Mary, University of Mary, https://www.umary.edu/about/
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, April 13, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/licensed-practical-and-licensed-vocational-nurses.htm#tab-1