Seven Things To Consider When Picking an Online Nursing Program

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

The high demand for registered nurses along with the improvement in online learning platforms has led to meteoric growth in the number of online nursing programs. Online nursing education has many benefits and is perfect for those switching careers into nursing due to the flexibility, cost-savings and speed of virtual learning. Online nursing programs also appeal to future nurses who want educational options beyond what’s available in their community. 

Due to the sheer number of programs available online, choosing an online nursing school can seem daunting. The following tips are useful when selecting the program that meets your educational needs. 


1. Degree Offerings for Non-Nurses

Choosing the best online nursing program for you depends largely on your professional background and goals. Second-career nurses can get a headstart on their nursing education through accelerated nursing courses if they already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. 

Accelerated bachelor’s degrees in nursing focus on the essential skills for this profession without repeating basic science courses you may have already earned during your first bachelor’s. Direct-entry graduate programs allow non-nurses who want to become nursing leaders to earn their master’s as part of their nursing education. 


2. Admission Requirements and Prerequisites

Nursing school applicants should check degree requirements before beginning their admissions journey. Online nursing programs with accelerated or direct-entry options often require bachelor’s degrees in any non-nursing field as part of their admission standards. This requirement shows academic aptitude as well as the potential for success in online nursing schools.

Undergraduate classes completed as part of previous degrees may fulfill prerequisite course standards. Prerequisites demonstrate knowledge of basic principles that are essential in the nursing profession. Online nursing programs often require completion of the following prerequisites prior to admission:

  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • General Chemistry
  • Lifespan Psychology
  • Microbiology
  • Statistics

Admission departments use minimum GPAs from previous degrees and courses to identify the most promising applicants. Schools evaluate cumulative and prerequisite course GPAs for fuller pictures of prospective students. An understanding of these requirements and prerequisites is helpful when narrowing down your program options.


3. Time to Graduation

Your search for the right online nursing program should evaluate how long it takes to complete the degree. Time is a valuable commodity for professionals, especially those who are switching careers. It is helpful to understand the typical time to graduation for traditional nursing programs for comparison.

An Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is typically completed in two years of enrollment. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs often require four years of coursework for graduation. Nurses interested in leadership roles complete Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) in two years of advanced study.

Online nursing schools are great options for students interested in quicker paths to degrees. Their programs are often designed for career changers with curricula focused on core skills. There are online nursing programs that can be completed in less than two years of full-time study.


4. Virtual Learning Experiences

A key consideration when choosing an online program is whether courses are live or asynchronous. Live courses require attendance at specific times similar to in-person school. Recorded lectures with online assignments and forums provide flexibility for busy students.

The best online nursing schools design their courses for virtual learning rather than repurposing standard lectures. They employ faculty members with clinical experience and proficiency in teaching online courses. These schools also assign dedicated advisors to students for guidance from admission through graduation.


5. Clinical Requirements

Nursing students find out how coursework applies in real-world conditions during clinicals. Each clinical program is supervised by a working nurse and builds valuable experience with patients. Clinical experiences expose nursing students to both routine and unique or difficult situations that provide valuable real-world experience that employers are looking for.

Nursing schools typically require hundreds of clinical hours before students can graduate. Clinical requirements also prepare graduates for exams required for state licensing. Searching for clinical placements on your own can be stressful given their importance to your education.

Students of some schools report a lot of difficulty in securing their own clinical placements. However, many online nursing programs have dedicated placement coordinators who identify clinical settings near where students live and arrange for supervised experiences. This allows you to focus on learning the intricacies of nursing without the added stress of needing to find your own.


6. Exam Passage Rates

Nursing graduates need to pass licensing exams in order to practice in their communities and fill the gap of 510,394 additional nurses the United States estimates it will need by 2030. Prospective nurses should look for online programs with great track records of exam passage and job placement.

The National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses had an overall pass rate of 82.48% for first-time takers in 2021. The passage rate for the Clinical Nurse Leader Certification exam hovers around 70% from year to year. Online nursing programs with graduates who surpass these pass rates are ideal for new students.


7. Accreditations and Rankings

The value of an online nursing degree is confirmed when the conferring school is accredited. Online nursing programs should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). This commission requires programs to complete the following steps to ensure graduates are ready to serve the public:

  • A self-study report by school staff for CCNE
  • On-site evaluation of program operations
  • Completion of continuous improvement progress reports

You can also use U.S. News & World Report rankings of online nursing schools to narrow your search. This national publication has been evaluating universities across the United States since 1983. Their rankings explore aspects of the learning experience from value to faculty reputation.



Online Nursing Programs at Elmhurst University

Elmhurst University designed its online Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) and Master’s Entry into Nursing Practice (MENP) with the rigors of the nursing profession in mind. ABSN students build the skills necessary to provide exemplary care for patients from birth through old age. Coursework, two on-campus residencies and clinical placements can be completed in 16 months.

The online MENP degree is the first fully online program of its kind in the United States with a 20-month graduation timeline. Graduates earn Master of Science in Nursing degrees while preparing for registered nurse and clinical nursing leader exams. This program trains non-nurses for their new careers with courses including:

  • Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Family Health Nursing
  • Foundations for Professional Nursing Practice
  • Technology in Health Care Education and Practice

Nursing students work with Elmhurst’s clinical placement coordinators to complete clinical experiences close to home in one of Elmhurst University’s 11 approved states. This level of personalized learning is one of many reasons why the University is a regional leader in higher education. The University’s nursing students have achieved above average pass rates on the NCLEX-RN exam year after year and the U.S. News & World Report ranked Elmhurst University in the following categories:

  • No. 12 in Best Undergraduate Teaching
  • No. 17 in Best Value Schools
  • No. 17 in Regional Universities Midwest
  • No. 22 in Best Colleges for Veterans

Find out more about how Elmhurst University’s online nursing programs can advance your career.