How Do Online Nursing Programs Work?

Online nursing programs, which some schools mix with traditional on-campus classes, can provide students the flexibility they need to pursue a degree

By Neil Johnson
Posted 2012

Online Nursing Programs
Online Nursing Programs

Maybe you’re an RN who wants to get a BSN but can’t quit your day job to take classes. Or you could be just starting your nursing education and can’t commit full-time to classes or aren’t sure that’s the course you want to follow.

Maybe you are seeking a graduate degree in nursing but still working, or the nearest nursing program or the one you want could simply be too far away.

These are all reasons students look at online nursing programs. The ability to take classes on your schedule is one of the main attractions. That flexibility means you don’t have to quit your job or spend time and gas money getting to a campus.

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Online nursing programs can offer some savings, especially if text books are available online. You won’t have commuting costs of driving to class. Some schools may not charge out-of-state tuition for online programs.

However, the basic tuition cost of an online degree and one from a brick and mortar school can be about the same.

Online Learning. Learn at Your Own Pace

For many online classes you can move at your own pace, though students in some programs closely tied to a traditional college still must follow the school’s semester schedules. Some also require attendance on campus at some point during the course.

Online, or distance learning, can provide benefits. However, studying on your own also requires discipline and the ability to find the time amid a hectic schedule in which many are already balancing work, family and personal time.

Most online programs also don’t offer in-person interaction with the instructors and other students while learning, though some courses let you communicate through email or online discussions.

And nursing offers another challenge for online degrees because many associate’s or bachelor’s degree programs require clinical time and hands-on training with patients and procedures you can’t do through a computer screen.

Online Nursing Programs - Mixing Traditional and Online Learning

Some schools offering traditional nursing programs have expanded to include a mix of online courses and traditional classes and still require you to do the clinic work in person. Some may let you do the clinical work at a facility closer to your home, the site said.

For this reason, while you might be able to do all or most of the classwork and instruction online, you will probably have to meet hands-on clinical requirements in person.

For a student just starting, an online program for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing lets you take many of the required general subjects online as well as basic nursing courses, then handle the clinical work in person.

When picking an online nursing program, be sure it’s accredited by either the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Nearly 1,000 programs, from the associate’s through the master’s level, have the NLNAC accreditation, and some offer online nursing degrees.

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In addition to an accredited program, check how long the school has been offering online nursing classes. Not all classes are designed to be suitable for online teaching.

Considerations for Online Nursing Classes

Any school you pick for an online program should have the institutional knowledge and technology to support online classes. Someone advancing from an RN to BSN degree will find more than 400 programs (out of a nationwide total of 646) that are available at least partly online, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website.

You should be prepared to spend two or three years getting an online nursing degree, according to a U.S. News & World Report ranking of online graduate nursing programs.

With scheduling flexibility of online programs, nurses seeking graduate degrees can take advantage of online courses to obtain a master’s in nursing that opens career paths into certification for an advanced license, the U.S. News & World Report ranking reported.

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