Your Complete Guide to

Online Nursing Degrees

The best nursing programs, benefits, list of universities, rankings, FAQs and everything you ever wanted to know.
Grant Aldrich
Grant Aldrich on March 04, 2021

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Traveling the path of higher education offers you the amazing potential to change the trajectory of your life and improve your family’s financial security. But choosing the right degree is the first step.

If you’ve thought you’d enjoy a career in healthcare, obtaining a nursing degree is a great option for prospective students. In fact, nursing is one of the best career paths in the industry because it offers job stability, a great salary, and numerous opportunities for growth and advancement.

I hope you’ll read this ENTIRE article because I’m going to cover everything, and I mean EVERYTHING you need to know about earning a nursing degree. We’ll explore the 7 best nursing degrees you can obtain, compare online programs with traditional campus programs, and look at the difference between Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral and PhD degrees.

Oh, and I’m also going to give you some tips on how you could save time and money  on your tuition. So you’ll definitely want to read this article all the way through to the end.

Ready? Let’s get started!

7 Best Online Nursing Degrees

Before we dive into the specific degrees, I want to share with you why I believe these degrees are your best option.

They are Economically Viable

These 7 online nursing degrees can set you on a lucrative career path. No matter what the economy is doing, these degrees will provide you with the skills and knowledge that healthcare facilities are looking for.

Perfect for a Career Change

Sometimes working adults are looking to make a career change that offers them job security, financial stability and professional fulfillment. These degrees can help you tick all of those boxes.

Flexible Learning

I’m sharing specific nursing degrees that can be learned online because they offer busy adults a flexible learning schedule. You can learn on your own time, whenever is convenient for you. This allows you to continue to work a full-time job if need be and never have to miss an important family event.

Now that you know why we chose the online nursing degrees we did, let’s dive in:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

It’s generally a widely accepted fact that registered nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system. These professionals are the ones that offer the most hands-on care to patients in need.

If you have always wanted to make a profound difference in people’s lives, then this nursing degree is a great option because it prepares you to take the NCLEX exam, which is the national exam that leads to licensure as a registered nurse.

Career Outlook

There are a couple of reasons why the career outlook for registered nurses looks very good. To start, the healthcare industry is the fastest growing industry in the country. Thanks to an aging baby boomer population and people having more access to health insurance, there is a need for registered nurses to meet this new demand.

In addition, we have been experiencing a nursing shortage over the last few years. This is in part because of the increased demand coupled with many nurses aging out of the profession. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 7% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for registered nurses was $73,300 in May 2019.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified nursing assistants, also sometimes called nursing aides, play a valuable role in the healthcare industry, supporting the efforts of the registered nurses who supervise them. On any given day, these professionals help patients with their day-to-day personal, health and grooming tasks. CNAs work in hospitals and nursing homes caring for patients who are unable to care for themselves due to disease, disability, or injury.

Career Outlook

As the healthcare industry continues to grow, demand for CNAs will grow as well. According to the BLS, employment of nursing assistants is projected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for nursing assistants was $29,660 in May 2019.

LPN/LVN

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) provide basic medical care to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, and doctor’s offices, as do Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs). Different states in the country use different language to describe the same professional role.

LPNs and LVNs help doctors and registered nurses care for patients by offering basic care tasks. These tasks include monitoring patients’ vital signs, delivering prescribed medications, assisting patients with bathing and bathroom use and more. This is a very rewarding profession because often LPNs have more contact with patients than any other medical professional during a hospital stay. Because of this, they get to closely know and car for their patients and make a big impact on their recovery.

Career Outlook

As with other nursing professions, LPNs and LVNs can expect increased demand. In fact, the BLS projects that employment of LPNs is expected to increase 9% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations. Candidates holding this degree should have no trouble finding good job opportunities. And once you land a job you can enjoy a healthy salary, as the BLS has also reported the median annual wage for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses was $47,480 in May 2019.

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

This degree is a two-year program that nursing students can choose to complete instead of the 4-year BSN degree I’ve already covered. Even though this degree is only 2 years, graduates can still sit for the NCLEX exam and become a registered nurse.

So what is the difference really about then? Why spend 4 years, and more money, earning a BSN when you can become a registered nurse through an associate degree? The answer to that really boils down to salary. Typically speaking, candidates who hold a BSN degree will command a higher salary.

That said, an ADN will help you land a job quicker. Once you’ve become registered, you can always decide to get your BSN or earn any other career-advancing certifications that would increase your professional standing and earning potential.

Career Outlook

An ADN will lead to licensure and becoming a registered nurse, and that means you can expect excellent job prospects!

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses that have obtained additional training beyond their BSN degree to be able to provide more advanced care to their patients. NPs typically specialize and work with one specific group of people such as children, seniors, diabetics, etc. And, while physicians tend to focus on treating diseases, NPs focus on preventing them in the first place.

NPs are able to perform traditional nursing tasks as well as tasks more commonly performed by physicians. Beyond collecting medical histories, taking vital signs and listening to patients’ health concerns, they can go further and order lab tests, draw blood, diagnose disease and prescribe treatments.

Every state has its own set of regulations that dictate what specific tasks an NP is allowed to perform. In all states, the NP will work under the guidance of a physician to provide the best care possible.

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for these professionals is expected to grow by a whopping 48% from 2019 to 2029! This is one of the highest growth rates I’ve actually ever seen and it’s certainly higher than the average for all other occupations.  Also reported by the BLS was the median annual salary of NPs of $111,840 in May 2019.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

An MSN degree is for those registered nurses who decide to move into nonclinical leadership roles in research, data analysis, executive management, administration, teaching, public policy, and government. Sometimes a nurse may decide they do not want to work hands-on with patients, but instead make positive changes to patient care through leadership roles. If you see this in your future, then this is the degree you will eventually need to get. But don’t worry about it right now. Obtaining your BSN or ADN is enough to get your foot in the proverbial door, get some experience under your belt, and decide which advanced career path you may want to follow in the future.

Career Outlook

There are many different career paths a graduate with an MSN degree can take. Here are just some of the careers you can enjoy with an MSN degree:

  • Clinical nurse leaders (CNL) 
  • Clinical research nurses (CRN) 
  • Public health nurses (PHN) 
  • Certified nurse educators (CNE) 
  • Executive nurse leaders (ENL) 
  • Clinical genetics nurses (CGN) 
  • Nurse administrators (NE-BC) 
  • Informatics nurse specialists (CIN) 

Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP)

The Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a degree that was designed to develop leaders in the nursing field. Professionals with this degree have obtained the highest level of nursing expertise and may work either in a clinical setting or nonclinical setting, using their advanced knowledge to influence healthcare outcomes through organizational leadership, health policy implementation, and direct patient care. 

Career Outlook

This degree will set you up to advance your nursing career in various directions. Should you desire to take a more hands-off approach to patient care and focus on management, you may wish to go into:

  • Nurse Management
  • Organizational leadership
  • Health policy – state and national
  • Health informatics systems

Those candidates who wish to continue delivering the highest clinical care to patients may want to consider the following career paths:

  • Nurse Midwife (CNM)
  • Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) 
  • Nurse Practitioner (NP) 

Online Vs Traditional Campus Nursing Degrees

You may be wondering why I have highlighted online nursing degrees as opposed to traditional degrees that are earned on a physical campus. There are three excellent reasons why I feel online degrees are the best way to go to begin your nursing career path:

  1. Flexibility

Online learning platforms offer busy adult students the flexibility to successfully obtain their degree. Often, busy adults are not able to attend classes on traditional brick and mortar campuses because of work and family responsibilities. With online degrees, you can study where and when is convenient for YOU.

  1. Affordability

Generally speaking, online degrees are far more affordable than traditional college class tuitions. Not only will you save on the tuition itself, you also won’t have the added expenses of room and board. With online degrees, you won’t even have to pay for gas to get to your classes!

  1. You Can Continue to Work While You Learn

Not many adults have the ability to quit their day job so they can pursue higher education. But online degrees allow adults to continue to work and provide for their family while pursuing a degree that can ultimately lead to career advancement. 

Benefits of a Nursing Degree

Obtaining a nursing degree is like being handed a golden ticket that gets you into the exciting and growing medical field . Unlike other professions, you don’t have to worry about a lack of job opportunities, because as I mentioned, there is not only an increasing demand for nurses, there is also a nursing shortage. So jobs are aplenty!

You’ll also be able to have a career that is entirely rewarding and one that pays very well. You can choose to specialize in a particular area or work with a particular set of patients. And, there are also incredible opportunities for advancement. Once armed with a nursing degree, nurses are able to move into management and even company leadership positions. It is really up to you how far you want to take your career.

Cost and Tuition of Obtaining a Nursing Degree

There’s no denying that going back to school to earn your degree is a big financial commitment, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Many prospective adult students never go for it because they assume they simply can’t afford the tuition. But I’m here to tell you there are a LOT of different ways you can save money on your tuition!

I definitely recommend you take a couple of minutes to read our article on 5 ways you can save on college tuition, and also use our free Smartplan to find ways to save at various schools across the country. I’ll show you exactly how you can take advantage of free courses, discounts and more. In fact, that’s why we created OnlineDegree.com so that everyone could have access to an affordable education.

Choosing the Right Type of Nursing Degree

I’ve covered 7 of the top online nursing degrees you can obtain to start your exciting career in the healthcare industry. But now you may be wondering what the right nursing degree is for you specifically. So let’s take a look at the main degrees again so we can know exactly who those degrees fit best.

Certifications in Nursing

A certified nursing assistant certification is ideal for those students looking to get into the nursing field as quickly as possible. CNAs are great for recent high school graduates who want a nursing career without the need for a 4-year degree. This is also a great option for those people who think they want a career as a nurse, but could use a little hands-on experience to know for sure.

LPN/LVN

This is another great option for those looking to enter the field quickly without need of time and cost of a traditional 4-year degree. An LPN/LVN certification is a bit more advanced than the CNA certification, however. In fact, in many states, LPNs and LVNs qualify to supervise CNAs.

If you are already a CNA looking to advance your career or a prospective nurse preparing to eventually become a registered nurse, then this degree is a good option for you.

Associate Degree in Nursing

An ADN is the minimum degree requirement to become a registered nurse. This is a great degree for those who wish to become a registered nurse without the need to commit to a 4-year degree. Having said this, it should be noted that healthcare employers are increasingly making a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree a requirement for new hires. Also, in some states, RNs with associate degrees will eventually need to earn a BSN in order to maintain their license. The good news is that most BSN programs will allow you to transfer some of your basic credits received through your ADN.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

This 4-year degree is the standard and what most employers are now looking for. A BSN degree is for those who want to work as a registered nurse, have the easiest time finding a job and one that commands the highest salary. You’ll also want to aim for starting out with a BSN if you think that someday you might want to earn your master’s to advance your career.

Master of Science in Nursing

MSNs have been designed for registered nurses who seek to move into research or leadership roles.

Doctoral Degrees 

This degree is usually reserved for those nurses who have already gained their MSN, though some programs allow BSN graduates to apply. Your doctoral degree will give you the ability to influence healthcare outcomes through organizational leadership, health policy implementation, and direct patient care. 

Choosing the Correct University or College for Your Nursing Degree

Now that you have a good idea of which online nursing degree interests you, it’s time to find the right school for YOU. OnlineDegree.com wants to make this part of the process as quick and painless as possible, so here are a few criteria we have found are a MUST for adult students when choosing a college or university:

  • Online Programs
  • $0 application fees
  • Don’t require SAT/ACT testing
  • Faculty and professors understand adult students’ needs
  • Offer discounts or scholarships
  • Convenient enrollment dates year-round (so you don’t have to wait for Spring or Fall)
  • Accredited

Granted, finding adult-friendly schools that all of this criteria can be challenging. And that is EXACTLY why we created our Smartplan.  

We realize that every student has unique circumstances and goals. When you use our Smartplan, we’ll help you find the right school you’re looking for that offers whatever criteria you personally feel you need to succeed.

Register today to get your free Smartplan and compare different colleges! >>

Salary Data for Nursing Professionals

Let’s take another look at some of the salaries candidates holding these degrees can expect, according to national averages reported by the BLS:

CNAs: $30,720

LPNs/LVNs: $48,500

Registered Nurses: $77,460

MSN

  •         Nurse Practitioner: $111,840
  •         Certified Nurse Midwives: $108,810
  •         Certified Nurse Anesthetists: $181,040

 Doctoral

  •         Nurse Educators: $83,000 to $120,000

FAQs

Q: How Reputable are Online Nursing Programs?

A: When considering an online nursing program, it is critical to look for the same high-quality curriculum and accreditation as a traditional brick & mortar college. Accreditation means a school has been examined by a trusted third party that has found that school to be meeting the standards set by a peer review board.

Nursing schools typically have multiple accreditations. There may be regional and national accreditation, usually from either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Some other accrediting bodies for specialized nursing study may include:

  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs (COA)
  • The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM).

Q: Why Is There a Nursing Shortage?

A: As I mentioned, there are two driving forces for this nursing shortage. The first is the fact that the healthcare industry is growing and growing quickly. An aging baby boomer population is causing a huge demand for healthcare workers, including nurses. At the same time, many nurses are retiring out of the profession. This has caused a shortage. That’s good news for graduates!

Q: What Skills Do I Need Before Starting a Nursing Program?

A: Deciding to earn your nursing degree is a BIG decision that will require time and dedication. You may be wondering if you have what it takes. Here are some of the skills that are required to work in the nursing profession:

  •         Clear and effective communication
  •         Critical thinking
  •         Sensitivity
  •         Attention to detail
  •         The ability to work under pressure
  •         Compassion

How to Get Started 

Well I’ve just covered a LOT of information. You may be wondering what you should do next.

I encourage you to take a few moments to use OnlineDegree.com’s Smartplan to find the right school that offers all of the criteria you’re looking for. We’ve provided this helpful and free tool for you to help you make the right decision and save a lot of time and money toward your nursing degree!

Register today for free >>

Full List of Online Nursing Degrees

About the Author
Grant Aldrich
Grant Aldrich
Grant founded OnlineDegree.com with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.

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