Make Online Nursing Programs Work for You

Nurses who enjoy a challenge can take their nursing careers to new levels through the numerous education advancement opportunities available to them, including online nursing programs.

Basics of online nursing programs

Now more than ever, employers are requiring new nurses to possess a strong academic background. In a 2018 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) called “Employment of New Nurse Graduates,” 46% of employer respondents said they required a bachelor’s degree and 88% showed strong preference for “baccalaureate-prepared nurses.”

So how do busy nurses with demanding jobs find time to pursue higher education? For many, online nursing programs have provided that path.

Instead of going into the classroom, an online program brings the classroom to you. Whether you’re seeking a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a doctoral degree (PhD or DNP), there’s a wide variety of accredited online programs at colleges and universities around the country.

All you need is a computer and an internet connection to log in to the virtual classroom. Many classes are taken online, but some programs require you to take tests in person.

The popularity of accredited online nursing programs is growing because they are a convenient way to access higher education. Tuition varies so always compare prices when researching schools, especially for out-of-state tuition fees.

While some schools will not charge higher tuition for non-residents, many do.

To become a licensed registered nurse, a licensure credential received after passing the NCLEX exam, pick an accredited school for BSN or associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs. NCLEX, which is governed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), requires nursing education to originate from accredited schools.

Online BSN programs

If you’re thinking about applying for an online BSN program, remember that each state has varying rules and regulations. Here are some general guidelines from online nursing schools.

  • Minimum GPA for RN to BSN program ranges from 2.0 to 3.0; and MSN programs, and higher, usually require 3.0 minimum GPA.
  • Background checks and drug screenings are required at some schools.
  • Some states require fingerprinting for nursing licensure. Check with your state board of nursing.

If you aspire to work at a Magnet facility, a BSN degree helps improve the chances of getting hired. Facilities such as this typically require new hires to obtain a BSN within a specified timeframe of accepting the job.

On average, BSN-prepared nurses earn about $73,000 annually, compared to RNs with an ADN, who make about $65,000 in average annual income, according to the Nurse.com 2020 Nurse Salary Survey Report.

If you hold an RN license and want to pursue an online BSN degree, chances are it may not take as long as you think.

Each program varies, but research indicates RN to BSN online programs generally require 120 credits total, of which 48.5 are BSN and 71.5 are ADN credits. Students are usually enrolled full-time, and already hold an ADN.

Selecting an online MSN program

Making a choice about whether to pursue higher education and take your education past the bachelor’s degree is one of the biggest career decisions you will ever make. Education is an investment in time and money, so it’s important to know if you’re ready to hit the books hard.

In 2018, 17.1% of U.S.-based RNs held a master’s degree, while nearly 2% held doctoral degrees. Demand for nurses with master’s and doctoral degrees for positions in advanced practice, clinical or academic settings, currently exceeds supply.

Taking on bigger career opportunities in nursing calls for giving online MSN programs some serious thought. Before you dive in headfirst, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the cost of tuition?
  • Are there out-of-state fees?
  • What are the terms of my employer reimbursement benefits?
  • Does my employer offer a loan forgiveness program?
  • How long will it take?
  • What specialty tracks are offered?
  • How flexible are part-time, online nursing programs?

The career path for nurses with accredited MSN degrees varies widely. Nurses with this degree can choose from the following positions:

  • Clinical nurse leader
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist
  • Administration and informatics
  • Family nurse practitioner
  • Neonatal and women’s health nurse practitioner
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Nurse-midwife

Depending on your MSN academic track, the required coursework can include statistics for evidence-based practice, ethics, advanced practice nursing and management. Many programs also offer coursework on health promotion and disease prevention, healthcare policy or information technology.

Tuition for accredited MSN graduate programs can range from $1,688 per credit at a top ranked private school to upwards of $44,000 per year at a highly ranked public university.

Online DNP, PhD nursing programs

Nurses with PhD credentials are considered clinical experts in their own right, as are DNPs. The key difference is that PhD-trained nurses take a more research-focused path, whereas DNPs thrive in clinical roles.

The PhD online education track can set up nurses for careers in education, research and leadership. More academic nurses are needed because of the faculty shortage in nursing schools.

Admission to a PhD program usually requires a master’s degree as a prerequisite, unless it’s a BSN to PhD or DNP program. Applicants typically have an RN license and may be asked to submit GRE exam results, along with college transcripts and references.

The number of DNP programs is currently outpacing PhD nursing programs in the U.S according to the AACN.

That’s because nurse practitioners are in high demand, and jobs such as nurse anesthetists and nurse-midwives are projected to grow 26% between 2018 and 2028.

There are many varieties of online programs designed for aspiring nurse practitioners. At some universities, nurses can register for a BSN to DNP family nurse practitioner program, which only takes two more semesters than an online MSN program. Upon completion, nurse graduates hold a BSN, MSN and DNP.

Accelerated online nursing programs

Accelerated online nursing programs sound great to a lot of people. What’s not to love about getting your degree faster? And if it saves money, that’s even better. But, before making the decision, do some homework to see if this type of learning and quick pace suits you.

Accelerated online programs can take a 16-week course and condense it to eight or 10 weeks. While some students love the idea of fast tracking their education with accelerated programs, and it works for their learning style, others take issue with not having as much interaction or communication with professors.

On the flipside, some accelerated programs claim to cost less than other schools because they charge by semester, not by credit hour. Each program varies widely, so it’s important to thoroughly research each program before making a final decision.

Before applying to any accelerated program, either BSN or MSN, it’s helpful to check the required list of prerequisite classes to speed up the application and acceptance process.

Accelerated BSN program prerequisites

If you opt for the accelerated BSN, some prerequisite courses that may be required prior to starting the program include:

  • Chemistry
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics
  • Psychology

Accelerated MSN program prerequisites

For the accelerated MSN program, many of the above prerequisite BSN classes may be required, in addition to the following:

  • Biochemistry
  • Research methods
  • Communications
  • Biology or microbiology with lab
  • Human growth & development
  • Nutrition
  • Sociology

Final note

For both BSN and MSN accelerated programs, several programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA. For nursing students that fall shy of the GPA cutoff, remember that a strong essay about why you’re a good fit for the program can improve your chances of getting an acceptance letter. And the same is true with strong letters of reference from previous supervisors and colleagues.

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