Online Nursing School: 10 Tips for Success

An Elmhurst nursing student doing online coursework
An Elmhurst nursing student doing online coursework

You are just about ready to launch yourself into getting a nursing degree online, but you are wondering what that learning experience will be like. What is the best way to study for nursing school when you are not on the same campus with instructors and other students?

When you earned your first bachelor’s degree, you might not have had very many classes offered online. More recent graduates have likely had some exposure to online coursework. Even before COVID-19 made online learning the norm, some nursing schools redesigned their programs specifically in an online format for distance learners to achieve nursing success. 

That being said, an online learning environment comes with its own challenges and requires you to be disciplined. You can set yourself up for success by following these online nursing school tips for success.


1. Read the introductory material provided by your instructors.

Instructors prepare introductory packets so students can have a clear road map through the upcoming learning journey. Orientation materials set out the requirements and expectations for things like how much time you will need to devote to your studies per week. Read these materials and take note of who to contact if you find yourself struggling or dealing with other personal challenges. 


2. Develop a schedule tailored to your course milestones.

At the beginning of the semester, be sure to review the course schedule and syllabus. As an online student, you will be responsible for all your deadlines for papers and other homework, so enter all due dates into a calendar. You can use a hard copy calendar or use something online. (If the latter, be sure to back it up.) If you have the information about which assignments are the most important or represent a high percentage of your grade, make a notation so you can prioritize that work. 

Every week, build a weekly schedule based on the milestones that are coming due and incorporate any instructor/advisor check-ins and study group time to keep yourself on track. You may also want to add important personal activities to this calendar so you can enjoy your free time knowing your schoolwork is up to date. 


3. Establish a good workspace.

Set up an area in your home where you can work with minimal distractions. This might be at a desk or on the dining table. Make sure you have good light for reading and enough working surface for textbooks, notebooks and study aids in addition to your computer. It’s best if you can have a dedicated space that you don’t have to clear off for other activities—it will help you go into “study mode” when you sit down in that spot to work.


4. Follow a daily routine.

Online nursing school programs can be intensive, requiring 40 hours or more per week for classes, review and quizzes/tests. It may help your mindset to think of your schoolwork as your “job before your job”—your full-time work spent preparing for the nursing career you want.

If you are more active and alert in the mornings, use that time to dive into new material. If you are a night owl—or if there are fewer distractions in your environment at night—tackle difficult or new material when you are at your peak energy point. 


5. Manage your time effectively.

Time management for nursing students is super important. It can be easy to become overwhelmed when you are taking multiple courses. Some people react to stress with anxiety, feeling like their tasks are too big to handle. Other people procrastinate or fall prey to distractions.

One way to overcome this is to use time blocks to divide tasks into manageable chunks. Look at your weekly schedule to check for homework due dates or scheduled tests, then block your time accordingly. Instead of flitting from one task to the next, focus on one subject or activity during its designated block. 

One good time management method is the Pomodoro Technique. It recommends that students study without distractions for 25 minutes with a 5-minute break before starting again. 


6. Stay connected to peers and instructors.

Join an online study group so you can work with and get to know your peers. Reviewing course material in a group can help you synthesize information as people share their understanding of it. You may find that one or more of you have similar questions about the material, and if an answer can’t readily be found, you can designate one of the group members to ask the instructor for guidance and report back.

Speaking of instructors, they will most likely provide an email address and the hours when they can be reached. Seek them out when you have questions about the material, but also when you want to understand a grade or other feedback you’ve received. 


7. Save early, save often.

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another—a computer crash, power blackout or internet glitch stops you cold. Prepare for the worst by backing up your work and calendar on a separate drive or in the cloud. If you’re sharing work through an online discussion board, write out your responses/report in a document and copy the text into the submission forms. That way, if there is a glitch in the system, you won’t have to recreate your work. 


8. Do advance prep for clinical placements.

A big part of your nursing education will come from your clinical rotations, where you will provide care for real patients under the supervision of an experienced RN. This experience will be the time when you utilize the knowledge you’ve gained through classes and the skills you’ve learned in labs and put them to work. Depending on the setting in which you will be working, you can expect to perform certain nursing tasks, such as taking a patient’s vitals or starting an IV. You will learn from other nurses in the setting and report to your preceptor—the nurse in charge of your learning experience and evaluating your performance.

With any new experience, you will have to make adjustments. You will probably be nervous about interacting with patients for the first time. And as you go through each rotation (as you change departments or settings) there will be something new. You will have to meet and work with new clinicians and new patients, so you will have to cope with the stress of different expectations. 

You will also have to adjust in terms of time management. While your clinical work might take place one day a week (depending on how your program is structured) you will still have coursework to attend to on the other days of the week. You have to be sure to keep up with your learn-study-homework routine.

There is a lot of good information online about the importance of clinicals and what to expect, but here are a couple pro tips to remember before you start your assignment: 

  • Familiarize yourself with the setting and patient charts.
  • Review the patient’s condition and any treatments or medications.
  • Understand lab work and diagnostic tests and why they are being performed.
  • Pack a bag/backpack with your key equipment, including (at minimum): 
    • stethoscope 
    • black pen
    • notebook 
    • wristwatch with a second hand
    • identification badge


9. Use nursing exam study guides.

To be licensed as a registered nurse, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Preparing for this big test may be part of your school’s program, but you can also access study guides on your own. A number of publishers have NCLEX-RN study guides, but you can also go to the source: the body that issues the test, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) has a free, in-depth handbook (called the Test Plan) that has an overview of all the test content categories, details about the exam and sample questions and case scenarios. 


10. Take good care of yourself.

All this planning and hard work will go to waste if you don’t take care of yourself. Make time for family and friends, healthy food, good sleep and exercise. These self-care activities will actually help your brain retain all that great nursing knowledge you are pouring into it!


Quality of Online Programs

Some people may be concerned that an online nursing program is not as rigorous as in-person learning. One of the most important criteria is whether the program is accredited by an established organization. The two primary accrediting bodies in the U.S. are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. These accrediting bodies ensure that each program, whether offered on campus or online, meets the same rigorous standards designed to prepare graduates to become nurses.

Moreover, hands-on clinical experience is still the critical element for RN preparation, and high-quality online nursing programs incorporate some on-campus learning along with providing clinical placement support. 


Consider Elmhurst University for Your Online Education

Elmhurst University offers two accelerated programs for prospective nursing students who have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline:

The Online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) is the fastest route to becoming a BSN-prepared nurse and prepares students to graduate in as few as 16 months.

The Online Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice prepares students to take on the role of RN with a Master of Science in Nursing in just 20 months.

Both programs are accredited by the CCNE and have full support for securing clinical rotations near the student’s home base. Both programs use NCLEX-RN test preparation materials throughout the program and model exam questions off of the NCLEX-RN to help students prepare. 

U.S. News & World Report ranks Elmhurst University as a leading Midwest university. Founded in 1871 by the United Church of Christ, the school is committed to civil rights, equality, and the diversity and personal growth of its students and the community. 

An admission team advisor can answer your questions about getting a degree online. Get in touch with one today!