Your Guide to Online Nursing Programs

As the world progresses, it’s clear that technology is becoming an undeniable part of our life in every way. While this can seem frustrating at times, especially as we see interpersonal connections dwindling and children becoming obsessed with the latest game or social media, making use of technology can help us reach our goals in life, as long we know where to look.

Recently, online education has gained a lot of traction. Not only is there pressure for people to get their degrees to become more employable, but there are also a lot of roadblocks that prevent people from taking part in traditional education. Online courses offer an affordable way to increase education and get marketable skills. It is ideal for single parents or those students who have strict work schedules.

For many people looking into nursing programs, there are quite a few options for online education. Here’s the breakdown of everything you need to know about online nursing school.

Can I actually complete a nursing program online?

Essentially, the answer to this question is yes. There are several online nursing schools that allow students to study nursing via the internet. This is perfect for nursing students looking to get their associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in nursing. These courses function normally as they would in person. There will be an instructor, other students, textbooks, assignments, etc., just as you would experience in a more traditional setting. You may need to join a digital classroom to participate in discussions with your professor and classmates.

However, keep in mind that most online nursing programs will require clinical hours to be done in-person. Don’t forget that while you can read, discuss, and take tests online, the most important part of becoming a nurse is learning how to actually do the work with patients in a facility. Thus, you will be required to complete these hours in a healthcare facility that is approved by your instructor or program director. So while you can do nursing school online, it is more accurately described as a “hybrid program,” consisting of both online and in-person learning.

So I don’t need to go to campus?

Well, that depends. As we mentioned above, there are several programs that only require clinical hours to be done in person while coursework is completed online. However, there are several programs that require student presence on campus once or twice a week. This will allow students more facetime with instructors, which could lead to better learning outcomes and higher confidence for practice.

If you’re trying to decide between programs, consider your current work and family situation. A program that doesn’t require students to ever come to campus for classes is most suitable for those who already work full time or have a lot of family demands that require physical presence in the home. However, if you thrive in a classroom setting but cannot commit to being in a physical classroom every day of the week, you’d likely do well in a combination class where you do occasionally have to be on campus.

Can I go at my own pace, or do I have strict timelines to complete the course?

This is a hard question to answer because it very much depends on the individual student’s needs and preferences. Many online nursing students do agree that there is a lot of freedom to be able to go at your own pace, within reason. How much freedom you have depends on the structure of your chosen program. A course that requires occasional on-campus attendance will likely have stricter regulations regarding the pace of coursework since you’ll be more accountable for your learning more often. Generally speaking, it will still take you about the same amount of time to complete a nursing course online as it would a traditional program. There are several degree programs that will allow you to complete them at an accelerated pace, but even these often have a minimum length. For example, you may be able to complete the course in 3 years instead of 4, but you have to take at least 2 years, no less.

What’s the difference between online and on-campus programs?

Many people go into online education with the incorrect assumption that it will be easier than attending a traditional nursing program on campus. The fact is that online courses will be just as demanding as in-person courses. You’ll still be expected to know the same information, be able to complete the same tasks, and pass the same classes.

The most obvious difference between the two types of programs is the fact that you’ll have less constant access to professors and peers. This can be challenging especially if you have pressing questions for assignments or exams. However, this is usually abated by discussion forums, digital classrooms and chats, and very frequent email communication. This can actually be pretty helpful to have all of the answers to your questions in writing for you to refer to later.

Online programs also differ in that they allow students to continue on with life’s demands without interrupting too much. With an on-campus program, you’ll be spending a lot of time commuting to and from classes, which means you have less time for work or family. If you’re studying online, though, you’ll be able to work a full-time job and save money. You’ll get to live wherever it is most convenient for you without worrying too much about proximity to campus.

A final added bonus that many people forget about is the fact that you don’t have to take notes! All of the lectures and information will be available for you in full online. No more hand cramps during class!

How much do online nursing programs cost?

Like with most of the answers to these questions, it mostly depends on the school you choose, the level of the degree, and the pace that you go at. Generally speaking, the cost of online nursing programs will be pretty similar to traditional programs. Occasionally it will be a bit less because instructors are not required to be in class and paid for their time, along with the fact that you won’t be required to pay for on-campus resources. However, you may also deal with technology fees.

Can I get financial aid?

Even though the cost of online programs might be slightly less than on-campus, you might find that you need some financial assistance to pay for the program. As with traditional courses, you can apply for federal grants, various scholarships, work-study programs, and student loans. Working in a nonprofit organization after graduation could qualify you for some amount of loan forgiveness.

How do I know if it’s a good program?

Just like with traditional programs, you’ll want to do some research to find the online nursing program that’s right for you. As stated above, you’ll want to find a program that suits your life’s needs regarding work and family obligations as well as potential financial issues. This will help you decide whether you might want a mostly online program where only your clinical hours are done in person or a half-half online/on-campus program.

You should also consider the specific courses that are offered in the program. If you want to get into a specific specialty but the online course doesn’t offer it, you’ll probably want to look at a different course. Also, think about your own personal needs with how much communication you’ll have with your instructors and fellow students since different programs might not put emphasis on collaboration online.

Here are a few more questions you might want to consider when choosing an online nursing program:

  • How closely will I get to work with an academic advisor?
  • Are the online classes available at all times, or do I need to be online at specific times?
  • What have other students said about this program?
  • Does the school or course help with job placement after graduation?
  • Do most students pass the course and go on to become certified nurses?

 

What do I need to do before I sign up?

Ah, the prerequisites. These are the courses that are required for your specific program that are needed before you can begin the course. They’ll vary depending on the specific program that you choose, so make sure to do your research and know what they require.

In general, you can expect to need the following as prerequisites for most online nursing programs:

  • A passing score on your chosen school’s entrance exam for the nursing program.
  • A good GPA from high school (usually at least 2.5)
  • Passing courses in the core classes: English, math (usually algebra), biology, and chemistry.
  • Good scores on SAT or ACT tests, especially if you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree.
  • An RN license if you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

 

How long does an online nursing program take to complete?

Depending on which course you choose, completing an online nursing program could take anywhere between a year and a half to four years. There isn’t that much difference between online and traditional courses in this respect unless your school allows an accelerated route that takes less time.

If you are seeking an associate’s degree in nursing, you can expect it to take 18 months to two years. Meanwhile, a bachelor’s usually takes four years, but you might be able to do it in three. Finally, a master’s degree in nursing generally takes 18 months to 3 years.

Does my work experience count for anything?

If you want to shorten the time it takes to complete an online program, you might consider looking into whether work experience counts towards your credit requirements.  If you have experience working in any part of healthcare, compile a complete portfolio detailing your experience and what courses it might be applied towards.  Another option is to see if the school or program has any proficiency exams that you can take. These are most common for general education classes. For example, if you excelled in English in high school but your program still requires you to take an English course as a prerequisite, check and see if they have an exam that will allow you to show that you are already proficient in the subject and don’t need to take the class. This will help you cut costs and time off of your program.