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Online RN Nursing Programs & Schools

Online registered nurse (RN) programs consist of online coursework and on-site practice. Continue reading to find out what programs lead to RN licensure, how long it takes to finish them, and what you can expect as an RN.

Overview of Online RN Programs

Registered nurse (RN) programs are offered on-site or in a hybrid format, with classes completed online. Because of the online components, these programs usually require students to purchase a computer and maintain internet access. Students often need to complete an orientation or tutorial in their learning portal, which may be provided by a third-party website. Depending on the balance of on-site and online components, students might use the learning portals for assignments, tests, and class communications. Some programs require students to log in at certain times while others enable students to complete online coursework at their convenience, as long as items are submitted according to their due dates.

Common Courses

Depending on their program, students could be required to study a variety of topics. Most programs will include general education courses such as algebra, composition, and communication. The courses listed below are often included in LPN, ADN, and BSN programs.

  • Anatomy - Students can acquire an understanding of the human body including the nervous system, skeletal system, and muscular system.
  • Medical Terminology - Students learn various medical terms, including roots, suffixes, and prefixes, developing the necessary vocabulary for nursing.
  • Microbiology - In this course students explore topics such as microorganisms, genetics, and metabolism, and may focus on their relation to health and humans.
  • Intro to Psychology - Students learn the basic psychological processes and implications in humans, including development and challenges.
  • Pathophysiology - A course in pathophysiology explore the physiological processes of disease and illness, and may teach students methods for identifying illness as well as disease prevention..
  • Foundations of Nursing - Students learn about nursing practices, including patient care, regulations, and working with diverse populations.
  • Pharmacology- This course explores pharmaceuticals and their uses as well as their limitations, and the principles and regulations of their administration.

RN programs do not typically offer specialization areas, since they provide generalized nursing preparation. After licensure, RNs who return to school for a BSN or graduate degree might be able to select a concentration in areas such as mental health, leadership, or telemedicine.

Practical Requirements

Practicum requirements can vary with program and student experience, but could include 700 or more contact hours. These hours consist of on-campus lab experiences as well as clinical practice in healthcare settings. Student without prior nursing experience or education will usually be required to complete more clinical hours. These contact hours could be required throughout the program or in the final year, but typically occur during two or more semesters. Students might need to complete some of their foundational courses prior to beginning their practicum hours, such as introduction to nursing and anatomy.

Schools with Online RN Degrees

Many schools have programs that consist of primarily or entirely online coursework with on-campus or on-site clinical components (such as practice hours). The table below represents some online RN programs that are available in the U.S. as well as their expected lengths and costs.

School Name On-Campus Locations Programs Offered & Length Per-Credit Tuition NCLEX Pass Rate (2018)
Rasmussen College 19 campuses, including Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin LPN - 12 months
ADN - 12 to 18 months
BSN - 18 to 33 months
LPN: $325-$375
ADN: $350-$395
BSN: $325
76% to 100% (varies by campus)
Nightingale College 18 campuses, including Indiana, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, and Pennsylvania ADN - 20 months
BSN - 32 months
ADN: $825
BSN: $590
82.46%
University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
(clinicals near student)
LPN to BSN - 2 to 3 years $298 97.9%
Western Governors University 52 campuses, including Florida, California, Indiana, Utah, and Texas BSN - 2.5 years $4,800 (per term, flat-rate) 90.7%

Online Nursing Program Comparison

Listed below are the various types of nursing programs that prepare students for RN licensure.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN): LPN programs lead to LPN licensure rather than RN licensure and can usually be completed in one year. Students can take LPN courses online, but will need to complete practicum components on site. LPN programs typically cost less than standard RN programs (ADN and BSN), and enable program graduates to have shorter RN programs by entering as a practice nurse.
  • Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN): In ADN programs, students develop the basic knowledge and skills needed to work as registered nurses. High school graduates can complete an ADN program in 2 years, while LPNs can often complete their program in one year. Upon completing an approved ADN program, students are qualified to take the RN licensure exam.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Graduates of BSN programs have a deeper understanding of nursing and healthcare topics and more hands-on practice hours than graduates of LPN or ADN programs. High school graduates can finish these programs in three or four years of full-time study while LPNs may complete their program in 2.5 years. Students will have clinical practice requirements but can complete general education and non-clinical nursing courses online. BSN programs can prepare and qualify students for RN licensure and provide more preparation for those who want to pursue a graduate degree in nursing.

Program Degree Length Credit Hours (varies) Practical Hours (varies)
LPN Diploma 1 year 40-60 credits 400-500
ADN Associate of Science in Nursing 2 years 50-70 credits 500-800
BSN Bachelor's Degree 3 to 4 years 120 to 130 credits 800-900

Choosing an Online RN Program

There are a variety of factors that students should consider when choosing an online RN program, several of which are discussed below.

Practicum Requirements

Online RN students complete are required to complete practicum components in person. When reviewing your school choices, ask if the on-site components need to be completed at specific locations or if the school works with students to find locations near them. Some schools only allow these practice hours to be done near the school, whereas other schools review potential sites near students for approval.

Programs Offered

Most online RN program options will be open to LPNs, but there are other programs available to CNAs and high school students. Ask your school what prerequisites are required for the program you're considering.

Accreditation

Accreditation can apply to both schools and RN programs. While various organizations accredit institutions, only two agencies specifically accredit registered nursing programs. Associate's degree RN programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Bachelor's degree RN programs are accredited by ACEN and/or the Commission on the Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Accreditation is necessary for qualifying for licensure; check with your state board of nursing to see if you need a specific program accreditation or school-wide accreditation.

Cost

RN program costs can vary substantially depending on the student, school, and degree earned. Students with less prior coursework will likely be required to complete more courses, increasing their total costs. Additionally, some schools may have a flat fee for an RN program that includes tuition and various fees, while other schools may separate tuition and fees. When reviewing your program choices, ask about the total costs that apply to your program.

Flexibility

One of the most important considerations in choosing a program is if it has the flexibility to meet your needs. RN programs may take two years of full-time study (for high school graduates) or as little as one year of full-time study (LPN-entry students), with more time allotted for part-time students. Not all programs offer full-time and part-time options, so it's important to check with your school choices to see if they have the program format that you need.

License Requirements for RNs

Licensure is required for all registered nursing positions in all states. The registered nurse licensure exam is called the National Certification Licensure Exam, or NCLEX-RN. In order to take the exam, students must complete a qualifying preparation program which includes knowledge development and practical hours. Upon completing their program, they will schedule their exam at an approved site. U.S. students have a $200 registration fee for the exam, and will have varying fees for licensure depending on their state.

The NCLEX-RN utilizes Computerized Adaptive Testing, which updates questions based on student responses. This is so that students are getting questions that are applicable to them, rather than wasting time on questions that are too easy or too difficult. Although there isn't a specific passing score, students must show a basic knowledge and skillset through their answers. Students who don't show sufficient understanding of nursing topics receive a candidate performance report that explains what areas need improvement and how close they were to passing.

Nurse Licensure Compact

Most states in the U.S. participate in the Nurse Licensure Compact, which enables nurses to work in states outside of their home state. There are currently 35 states in the NLC, and several more states are pursuing legislation for membership. NLC member states automatically provide RNs with the NLC recognition, allowing them to work across state lines without obtaining a new license. This saves expenses for nurses and organizations, and allows care to be provided more quickly in emergent situations.

Registered Nurse: Job Description and Outlook

Completing an RN program and passing the NCLEX enables individuals to work as registered nurses. Key information about registered nurse positions is discussed below.

What Does an RN Do?

Registered nurses work firsthand with patients in various settings. They provide patient education, emotional support, and patient care. RNs review medical charts, assess patient conditions, take patient medical histories, and administer treatments. RNs typically work with other healthcare providers, and might choose to work in certain practices or with certain populations. Registered nurses might pursue roles as:

  • Addiction nurses
  • Critical care nurses
  • Emergency room nurses
  • Pediatric nurses
  • Geriatric nurses

Some employers require nurses to have a certain number of years of experience. Nurses in nursing care facilities and hospitals work various shifts, including overnight, to ensure patients are cared for around the clock. In 2018, 60% of registered nurses worked in hospitals (state, private, and local), 18% worked in ambulatory health care services, and the rest worked in nursing and residential care facilities (7%), government (5%), and educational services (3%).

Pay and Outlook

In 2018, all registered nurses had a median annual salary of $71,730. Those working in government roles had the highest salary of $78,390, while those working in hospitals had a salary of $73,650. The highest 10% of all RNs earned over $106,530. The lowest earning nurses were those working in educational services, who earned a salary of $61,850.

The number of RN positions is expected to increase 12% from 2018 to 2028. As more and more people age, the demand for healthcare professionals continues to grow. The industries with the highest expected growth for registered nurses are shown in the table below.

Industry (with highest growth) Expected Job Growth (2018-2028)
Offices of Mental Health Practitioners (except physicians) 55.8%
Home Healthcare Services 47.2%
Specialty Hospitals, State, Local, and Private
(except psychiatric and substance abuse)
37.5%
Outpatient Care Centers 37%
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 36%
Services for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities 35%
Ambulatory Healthcare Services 31%
Residential Mental Health and Substance Abuse Facilities 31%
Individual and Family Services 29%
Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly 27%

RN Advancement

Registered nurses can advance their careers with additional education and/or nursing experience, enabling them to earn higher positions and salaries. Nurses may also become nursing administrators or nurse practitioners, as described below.

  • Healthcare Administrators - Healthcare administrators manage departments (such as nursing) or facilities, overseeing daily operations and staff. RNs can qualify for these positions if they have work experience, and most need a bachelor's degree in a field such as nursing or business administration. Medical and healthcare administrators had a median salary of $99,730 in 2018, and are expected to see job growth of 18% from 2018 through 2028.
  • Nurse Practitioners - Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who perform various nursing duties in collaborative and primary care settings. Nurse practitioners often specialize in certain fields, such as pediatrics or family care, and they need to have a master's degree in their field with applicable licensure. Registered nurses can enter RN-MSN programs if they have a diploma or associate's degree in nursing, or an accelerated MSN track if they have already completed a BSN. In 2018, nurse practitioners had a median salary of $107,030 and could see 28% job growth between 2018 and 2028.
  • Nurse Midwives - RNs interested in nurse midwifery need to complete a master's degree program and obtain relevant licensure. Nurse midwives care for expecting mothers and women, deliver babies, and provide reproductive counseling. The field of nurse midwifery is expected to grow 16% from 2018 to 2028, and these professionals made a median salary of $103,770 in 2018.

All salary, career, and outlook information provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics