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Accelerated Nursing Programs Online

Discover what to expect from online accelerated nursing programs and what prerequisites you'll need to get in. Learn how long they take, what classes they include and what careers they lead to.

Overview of Online Accelerated Nursing Programs

There is a range of online accelerated nursing programs available, each with varying admission requirements, lengths and options.

Accelerated Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Online accelerated BSN programs offer direct entry to students who have already earned a bachelor's degree in another field. These programs can be completed in around 1.5 years and usually have a general nursing focus, preparing students to sit for the NCLEX-RN upon graduation. Students may need to attend on-site laboratory or other clinical experiences as well as complete clinical practice hours at preceptor sites near where they live. Depending on how their program is set up, students may complete around 700-800 clinical hours throughout their program.

Accelerated Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

There are accelerated online MSN programs for both nurses and non-nurses, each of which has different program lengths and admissions requirements.

Accelerated Direct-Entry MSN Programs

These programs are catered to non-nursing students who have previously earned a bachelor's degree in another field. Some programs lead to both a BSN and MSN while others lead directly to an MSN degree; those that are MSN only can be completed in around 2 years of full-time study while those leading to both BSN and MSN take around 3 to 4 years to complete. Students who complete a generalized direct-to-MSN program can pursue a post-master's certificate online to develop their skills in a specialized area, such as:

  • Nurse Leadership
  • Nurse Educator
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Students in BSN-MSN programs can often obtain their RN licensure after completing the BSN portion of their programs and then choose one of the above specialization areas within the MSN portion of their programs.

Accelerated MSN for BSN-Prepared Students

The most commonly offered online accelerated nursing program is that of the MSN for BSN-prepared nurses. The accelerated format allows students to quickly earn their degree and further expand their existing knowledge and skills. Students can finish these programs in as little as one year, completing both online course work and around 400 to 500 hours of clinical practice, if applicable, for their concentration. Students may be able to choose from concentration options like those listed above, or their program may have a default curriculum to allow for the accelerated format.

Accelerated RN to MSN Programs

Accelerated online MSN programs for registered nurses are open to nurses who have a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field and a valid RN license. These programs include some undergraduate coursework and significant graduate coursework, totaling around 50 to 70 credit hours. Students usually earn both a BSN and MSN upon completing their program, and are able to choose from several concentration options. While some programs may require little to no clinical practicums, those with a concentration in a practice-focused area will require some number of clinical hours.

Program Prerequisite Credits Required Practicum Hours Program Length (full-time) Concentration
Bachelor of Science in Nursing Bachelor's degree ~50 credits 700-800 1.5 years *General nursing
Direct-Entry Master of Science in Nursing Bachelor's degree ~70-80 credits 700-800 2 years *General nursing
Direct-Entry BSN and MSN Bachelor's degree ~100 1300-1400 3-4 years *Nurse Leadership
*Nurse Educator
*Family Nurse Practitioner
*Nurse Midwife
*Clinical Nurse Specialist
*Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
*Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
Accelerated RN to BSN/MSN Bachelor's degree & RN license ~50-70 Varies 3 years *Nurse Leadership
*Nurse Educator
*Family Nurse Practitioner
*Nurse Midwife
*Clinical Nurse Specialist
*Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
*Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Common Courses for Online Accelerated Nursing Programs

Although the exact courses within accelerated online nursing programs vary, some of the commonly included courses are listed below.

  • Foundations of Nursing - students are introduced to basic principles of nursing, including bioethics, informatic, nursing practices and communication.
  • Pharmacology and Pathophysiology - explores pharmaceuticals, their uses and limitations as well as physiological effects of illness and disease.
  • Health Assessment - provides an overview of necessary skills for assessing patient health, including nursing frameworks for systematic examinations.
  • Healthcare Policy - students learn the primary regulations and policies affecting nursing and healthcare and may also review major policy changes from history.
  • Chronic and Acute Care - explores the key differences and similarities between chronic and acute conditions as well as commonly affected populations.
  • Nursing Leadership - students learn important characteristics for effective leadership in nursing, usually with an emphasis on quality care improvement.
  • Evidence-Based Practice - explores proper research methods and how to effectively apply research findings to improve nursing practice.
  • Mental Healthcare - students learn key principles and concepts of psychiatric and mental health in order to effectively approach mental healthcare.
  • Maternity and Women's Healthcare - focuses on maternal, reproductive and female healthcare concepts including applicable illnesses and methods for health promotion.
  • Pediatric Healthcare - students review health and illness principles that are unique to children, with a focus on patient education and family-centered care.
  • Community Nursing - explores healthcare based on populations, including those based on social and economic variables.
  • Transition to Nursing - prepares students for practice as nurses by reviewing important responsibilities and resources.

Costs for Online Accelerated Nursing Programs

Online accelerated nursing programs can range from less than $20,000 to $100,000 when you add both indirect and direct program costs.

Indirect Costs

There are a few indirect costs for online accelerated nursing students, which are expenses that do not go directly towards their programs. Students are required to have a computer that meets specific technical requirements so that it can load applicable websites and programs. In addition, students need to have regular internet access if they don't already; this can cost students around $50 each month. Students might also need to purchase access to additional websites, such as online lab sites, or software to complete required assignments. For programs with practical requirements, indirect costs can include travel expenses and any additional materials (such as nursing scrubs, stethoscope, etc.).

Direct Costs

Direct costs are directly connected with online accelerated nursing programs and typically consist of tuition and other fees.

Tuition

Tuition is generally the largest direct cost for programs, ranging from $200 to nearly $2,000 per credit hour. Although many online programs offer a standard tuition rate for all students, some schools have discounted tuition for in-state residents and a higher tuition rate for students who live out of state. Shown below is an example of program costs for the programs shown in the overview section.

Program Level Credits Required Tuition Per Credit Total Tuition
Bachelor of Science in Nursing Undergraduate ~50 credits $500 $25,000
Direct-Entry Master of Science in Nursing Graduate ~75 credits $700 $52,500
Direct-Entry BSN and MSN Combined ~100 $600 $60,000
Accelerated RN to BSN/MSN Combined ~60 $600 $36,000

Other Fees

While specific fees vary, some fees that students may encounter during their accelerated online nursing programs are technology fees, course fees, registration fees and student services fees. These fees can add up to between $500 and $1000 per semester, or several thousand dollars over the course of a program.

Cost Savings

There are a few ways that students can save on their online accelerated nursing programs, including transfer credits and flat-rate tuition.

  • Transfer Credits - Students who have previously earned qualifying college credits or have relevant work experience may be able to transfer some of those into their nursing program. By transferring in credits, students can decrease the cost of tuition as well as the program length.
  • Flat-Rate Tuition - Although not common, some schools have flat-rate tuition that's often charged by semester. The flat rate may or may not include other fees, but might allow students to take more courses for the same rate (where allowed). This decreases the overall cost-per-credit and also enables students to finish their program faster.

Why Accreditation Matters for Accelerated Online Nursing Programs

Accreditation is extremely important for online accelerated nursing program students; not only does it represent specific quality criteria, it may also be required for licensure and financial aid.

Institutional Accreditation

Accreditation that applies to a school itself is referred to as institutional accreditation. This type of accreditation is mandatory for students interested in using federal aid to fund their programs. Additionally, accredited schools generally provide a better educational experience to students than their unaccredited counterparts.

Programmatic Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation applies specifically to academic programs rather than schools. Nursing students may need to graduate from an accredited program to qualify for nursing licensure and obtain work with some employers. Nursing programs are primarily accredited by one of four organizations:

  • The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing - ACEN accredits diploma, associate, bachelor's degree and graduate-level programs.
  • The Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education - CCNE accredits bachelor's degree and graduate-level nursing programs.
  • The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation - ACNM accredits graduate-level nurse-midwifery education programs.
  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs - COA accredits programs for nurse anesthesia (graduate level).

License Requirements for Nurses

Below we'll break down the licensing requirements for nurses by their roles.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses are required to have an RN license and may need additional certifications (such as CPR) depending on their employer. To obtain RN licensure, candidates must first complete a state-approved program (such as a BSN program) and complete the required clinical practice hours within the program. Upon graduation, they need to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Nurses can obtain supplemental certification to articulate a deeper understanding of specific areas, such as pediatrics or ambulatory care.

Advanced Practice Nurses

Students who complete an accelerated online program that leads to an MSN with an advanced practice concentration will need certification to work as advanced practice registered nurses. To obtain certification, candidates should complete a program with a concentration in their area of specialty (such as clinical nurse specialist or family nurse practitioner) and have existing RN licensure. Advanced practice certification is available through several organizations, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Careers for Graduates of Accelerated Online Nursing Programs

Depending on whether students have graduated from a BSN, MSN or BSN-to-MSN program they may be qualified to pursue one of the careers discussed below. All salary and outlook data is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Registered Nurses

Most online accelerated nursing programs are those that prepare students for RN licensure. Registered nurses provide patient care in various settings, often also giving patients support and advice when appropriate. Their duties can include examining patients, updating patient records, monitoring patients and assisting physicians with diagnostic tests. Many nurses work in specific fields, or with specific groups, such as critical care, pediatrics and public health. In 2018 the median annual salary of all registered nurses was $71,730 and the field is expected to see a 12% growth from 2018 to 2028. The median earnings of registered nurses are shown below, separated by industry.

Industry 2018 Median Salary
Ambulatory healthcare services $68,320
Educational services; state, local and private $61,850
Government $78,390
Hospitals; state, local and private $73,650
Nursing and residential $63,990

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Graduates of RN-to-MSN programs, as well as direct-entry BSN and MSN programs, are typically prepared for advanced practice registered nursing roles if their degree has an advanced practice concentration. These roles include nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners. The most common of these is nurse practitioners, who work in their field of specialty. Nurse practitioners provide primary care and/or collaborative care to patients, completing many of the same tasks as registered nurses. Advanced practice nurses have more responsibilities and less supervision, often working independently. The field is expected to grow 26% from 2018 to 2028 and the median annual salary for nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners was $113,930 in 2018.

Job Title 2018 Median Salary
Nurse anesthetists $167,950
Nurse midwives $103,770
Nurse practitioners $107,030

Healthcare Administrators

Nurses can advance to positions in management, especially those who have studied healthcare administration and leadership within their nursing program. Medical and health services managers oversee departments, facilities and even hospitals, depending on their specific position. They had a median annual salary of $99,730 in 2018 and are expected to see an 18% growth in jobs from 2018 to 2028. Their duties can include hiring staff, scheduling, overseeing budgets, conflict resolution and ensuring quality care for patients. The median salaries for medical and health services managers are shown below, based on industry.

Industry 2018 Median Salary
Government $110,460
Hospitals; state, local and private $108,730
Nursing and residential care facilities $84,260
Offices of physicians $90,920
Outpatient care centers $92,390