November 30, 2020 · 9 min read

Your Questions About Nursing School, Answered

Wondering about the difference between an ADN and a BSN and what it could mean for your nursing career? We answer that question—and many more.

Written and reported by:

Chelsea Lin

Contributing writer

intense woman nurse working on desktop
intense woman nurse working on desktop

Deciding where, if, when, and how to pursue a career in nursing is no easy feat. Whether you’ve spent years contemplating the profession or are just getting started in your research, we know it can be confusing to navigate the back-to-school experience.

We gathered your questions shared on social media and in our surveys, and here, we present answers to some of the questions prospective nursing school students most commonly ask.

Don’t see your question here?
Email your questions to questions@allnursingschools.com and we’ll do some research for you.  We’re also on Facebook and Instagram. You can talk to us there anytime.


Education and Training

Can I apply my previous nursing or healthcare experience toward becoming an RN and/or earning a higher degree?

Registered nurses (RNs) must have at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), but some students decide to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you’re already working in the medical field, there are multiple pathways to work toward becoming an RN.

 Here are two examples:

How much math and science do I have to take to become a nurse?

These subjects appear to be a common fear among prospective students, and the answer depends on the type of nursing you pursue. If you’re interested in the LPN/LVN route, your training program will likely include science courses like anatomy, physiology, human growth and development, and basic nutrition. You may need to meet a math requirement to get into an LPN program.

Whether in an ADN or BSN degree program, a prospective registered nurse will likely need to take health-related science courses, as well as meet math requirements (and liberal arts, too).

Don’t let math anxiety keep you from pursuing your career goals. Revisit the basics—fractions are your friends!—if you feel like you’ve forgotten them since school. And don’t be afraid to hire a tutor to help you navigate college-level coursework that seems daunting.

I am a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and a certified medical assistant, and I have practiced in both fields. Do I have to go back to school to become an LPN, or can I just take the LPN exam, get licensed, and start work?

Having experience as a CNA is valuable in terms of knowing that nursing is the right field for you but, unfortunately, most CNA programs don’t apply toward course requirements to become an LPN. To become an LPN, you’ll still have to complete an approximately yearlong training program and then take the NCLEX-LPN exam to qualify for a license.  

Can I really get a nursing degree online?

Since nursing is a hands-on profession, even online nursing programs require in-person clinical training with real patients. Programs that combine online learning with real-world practice are called hybrids.

If you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree and already have a combination of clinical hours and a current RN license, you may be able to find a program that is exclusively online.

Do schools help students find placements to meet clinical training hours, or do I have to do that?

Most schools have faculty advisors who will help find students placements for their clinical training hours. This is definitely something you should ask about, though, as you look at nursing programs.

Registered Nursing

What degree do I need to become an RN?

woman nurse holds ipad

To become an RN, you’ll need either an ADN or a BSN. There are pros and cons to each, of course: An ADN can be less of a time and monetary commitment, making it a good jumping-off point for prospective students with financial concerns, another job, or family to take care of.

A BSN, on the other hand, can lead to a job with more responsibility and higher pay.

If you choose the ADN route now, you can always go after that BSN later. You can even pursue a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing.

What’s the best way to become an RN?

“One of the things I love about nursing is that there are so many doors to get into the nursing profession,” says Beverly Malone, CEO of the National League for Nursing, a membership organization for nurse faculty and leaders in nursing education.

Where to start “depends on your situation,” she says. “Match who you are with what you need,” meaning look for a program that suits your personal and family situation but also helps you achieve the nursing goal you’ve set.

If your goal is to be an RN, you’ll have to complete an ADN or BSN nursing program, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and earn a state license.

An LPN-to-RN program allows LPNs to use their experience and prior coursework toward earning an ADN or BSN. The LPN-to-BSN route will take longer but can pay off better in terms of salary and job opportunities.

International Students

If I’ve already worked as a nurse in another country, what do I need to do to work in the U.S.?

You’ll need to meet several requirements to work in the U.S., a process that can take several years. Before you apply, you’ll need:

  • A degree from an accredited nursing program
  • An RN license in your country
  • An RN license in your country

If you meet these requirements, you can start the application process for a visa. This will involve an English-language test, a review of your credentials, a qualifying exam, and more.

School Search

What should I look for in a school?

Picking a school is not a decision to rush—you’ll want to feel welcomed, inspired, and that you’ve gotten the most for your effort and money. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Admissions requirements
  • Accreditation status, ensuring the program meets requirements for state licensing and professional certificates
  • Graduation rate
  • Pass rates for the NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX-LPN nursing exams, required nationwide
  • Percentage of recent graduates working in nursing
  • Ranking among other state programs

Malone says, besides these factors, “look at the faculty. Examine and investigate what you’re buying. Look to see what kind of relationships (the program) has with the community—that’s even bigger than career placement.

“If you’re looking for a school that recognizes the community and believes in it, you’ll find those kind of relationships (with churches, community centers, and the like.”)

National League for Nursing CEO Shares her Top 3 FAQs

Even after 52 years of nursing, National League for Nursing CEO Beverly Malone still describes her profession with the kind of effervescent joy of a new graduate. “Purpose, passion, and power—that’s what nursing is,” she says. As a nursing advocate, she fields plenty of questions. Here are answers to her top three. 

Is there a shortage of nurses?

“Yes, there’s really a shortage,” Malone says. “Most of us are over 40, even over 50, so there’s this whole issue of how we’re going to replace those who are going to retire or move on.”

Why did you choose to be a nurse?

“I have a great-grandmother who raised me and she was a community healer,” Malone says. “I worshipped the ground she walked on. I thought there was nothing better than to be needed by your community and make a difference in your community,” which Malone says is precisely what nurses do.

Is being a nurse difficult?

Malone thinks it’s the blood people worry about the most, and maybe dealing with accidents where there are multiple things going on at the same time. “But what you find is that you get into your helping mode,” she says. “‘We’ve got to save lives here, colleagues, let’s do it.’ Nurses are such doers, completers of actions. We’ll accompany you through some of the worst things that can happen, and what an honor that is! It’s worth the challenges; it’s so fantastic. We’re one of the few who wake up in the morning and know exactly why we’re here.”

General

Is there a nurse’s oath like the one for physicians?

Yes—while doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, nurses take the Nightingale Pledge, named for Florence Nightingale, who is considered the founder of modern nursing. The pledge calls on nurses to elevate the standard of their profession.

Licensing

Who grants nursing licensure and who can take it away?

After you complete your training, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for a nursing license in the state in which you plan to work. You’ll send your transcripts, application, and fee to the state board that handles licensing. Each state has its own requirements.

If your nursing license is revoked due to violations of your state’s Nurse Practice Act, you might be able to petition the state board to reinstate it

What if I let my license lapse? What do I need to do to start working again?

If you let your license lapse for just a short time, you can generally renew it—perhaps by paying a late fee—without much trouble. But an extended inactive license could require refresher courses. Check your individual state requirements.

Can an LPN with an expired license become a CNA without further training?

While a CNA is a level down from an LPN, you might still be required to take CNA training, which is set by federal law, and a certification exam to be placed on your state’s CNA registry.

If you aren’t on the registry, nursing homes and Medicare and Medicaid facilities can’t hire you, according to Genevieve Gipson, RN, MEd, RNC, and director of the National Network of Career Nursing Assistants and Career Nurse Assistants Programs Inc.

Your state may have a waiver program or make exceptions, however, so check with your board of nursing or state health department to see if it has special requirements for trained LPNs who want to be CNAs.

Costs and Financial Aid

How much is tuition for nursing programs?

Tuition costs vary widely depending on the type of program you choose—private university versus community college, for example. Another factor is what kind of nurse you want to be.

For example, if you want to be an RN, you can choose a two-year ADN program or a four-year BSN program. Your best bet is to reach out directly to the schools you’re interested in and get the most up-to-date costs.

Are there additional costs to nursing school?

Yes—tuition isn’t the only cost you’re looking at. Here are a few others:

  • Scrubs and equipment
  • Textbooks
  • Additional tests and screenings (background check, drug screening, etc.)
  • Licensing fees

How do I get financial aid?

To qualify for financial assistance, including grants and loans, your school must be accredited, and you’ll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But that’s not the only avenue to financial aid.

male nurse with stethoscope holds ipad

Look into scholarships that you may qualify for—there are many options out there, including scholarships specifically for nursing students, single parents, first-generation college students, and more.

Can I go to school for free? I’ve heard about loan forgiveness—how does that work?

“Free” may be a stretch, but there are programs out there, like Nurse Corps, that will pay your tuition, fees, and other educational costs. In return, you must commit to working in an area where there’s a critical shortage of nurses for a set period of time, once you graduate.

Another government program, the Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program, has similar terms. It requires nurses to work for up to three years in an area with an underserved population and, in return, it’ll pay off up to 85% of your loan balance.

How do I get tuition reimbursement from my employer?

If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, talk with your benefits representative about the organization’s reimbursement policy. It might have very specific terms for reimbursement, including the types of classes you take and whether you complete a program. Your employer also might require documentation from the school you attend.

Salary

Will earning a BSN make a difference in my RN salary versus whether I just have an associate degree?

Earning a BSN can definitely have a positive impact on your salary: It can make you more desirable to employers, qualify you for a wider variety of jobs, and open doors to leadership opportunities.

Careers and Jobs

What’s the role of a CNA, and can the job vary by state?

Educational and licensing requirements for certified nursing assistants (CNAs) do vary by state, but the role is generally the same everywhere: helping patients with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, grooming, toileting, and moving around. It can be a physically demanding, though rewarding, profession.

What’s the difference between the roles of an LPN and RN?

The differences are distinct. LPNs provide basic medical care for patients, like checking their vitals, ensuring their comfort, and discussing healthcare issues with them. RNs, on the other hand, may perform diagnostic tests, administer medications, put together treatment plans, and supervise other medical workers, including LPNs.

Can travel nurses work with an associate degree, or is a bachelor’s required? Do they need a specialty?

Travel nurses, who work temporary positions in areas with shortages, must have an RN license, which means an ADN is fine. Having a specialty is not necessary, though it may lead to more destination options and higher pay. 

Applying and Enrollment

I’ve requested information from some schools but haven’t heard back. Who do I contact?

Reach out directly to the nursing programs, if that’s an option. A quick phone call usually will yield better results than an email, especially if you’re following up with specific questions.

Otherwise, contact the program’s admissions department—and remember, staff is there to help sell you on the school, so get your questions answered!


beverly malone

With professional insight from:

Beverly Malone

CEO of the National League for Nursing

.


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October 13, 2020 · 7 min read

Is a DNP the New MSN?

A doctorate may be replacing the master’s as the go-to degree for some advanced nursing programs. Is yours one of them?

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Behring

Contributing writer

woman works on laptop in dimly lit office
woman works on laptop in dimly lit office

Working toward advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) licensure is a common goal for many nurses looking for an elevated position that offers increased autonomy, more opportunities to advance, and potentially better pay. For years, the Master of Science in Nursing—or MSN— has been the go-to degree for nurses seeking these advanced roles.

But change is in the air. A doctoral degree will be the entry-level degree mandated for nurse anesthetists (one of several APRN nursing roles) by 2025. Requirements for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists may not be far behind: while the MSN is currently the standard, many nursing associations are recommending a move to a doctorate as the entry-level degree requirement for these advanced nursing roles.


What’s a Doctorate and Why the Shift?

A doctoral degree—most often, the Doctorate of Nursing Practice in the nursing profession—is an advanced degree that allows nurses to broaden their scope of practice. The degree takes a few years longer to earn than an MSN, but it also goes more in depth than an MSN degree. A doctorate will build on the nursing knowledge you already have and can prepare you for high-level and leadership roles.

The move to a DNP and other doctoral degrees reflects both the increasingly complex knowledge APRNs need and the increased role of nurses in healthcare leadership.

The move to a DNP and other doctoral degrees reflects both the increasingly complex knowledge APRNs need and the increased role of nurses in healthcare leadership. Because of this, “it makes sense for nursing to have its own practice doctorate, especially for those who are working in advanced practice, leadership levels, and teaching,” says Sara Hunt, DNP, MSN, FNP-C, PHN, a family nurse practitioner who holds a doctorate.

Patient safety and quality of care are other huge factors in the push toward doctorates, especially following an influential report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) back in 1999 that highlighted the significant physical and monetary cost of errors made in hospitals and suggested ways to mitigate them. Hunt believes the IOM recommendations have made a significant impact on the growing push toward doctoral degrees.

Some other factors driving the shift, according to Hunt, are:

  • The rapid expansion of knowledge in the field of nursing
  • The increased complexity of basic patient care
  • Shortages of nursing personnel
  • Demands for a higher level of preparation for leaders who can design and assess care
  • Shortages of doctorally prepared nursing faculty

What APRN Roles Are Affected?

Nursing association recommendations that encourage nurses pursuing an advanced practice role consider a doctorate instead of a master’s can be confusing. Is a doctoral degree required or not? The answer depends on the nursing role you’re seeking. 

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs)

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are the only APRN-level job with a definitive change in directive. Right now, an MSN degree is sufficient, but you’ll need a doctoral degree to earn APRN licensure in the field after 2025. While a DNP is a popular option, students can also choose to earn another doctoral degree, including:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS or DNSc)
  • Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice (DNAP)
  • Doctor of Management Practice in Nurse Anesthesia (DMPNA)

Because of this change, all CRNA nursing programs are making the shift from MSN programs to doctorate programs starting January 1, 2022.

Nurse Practitioners

Right now, aspiring NPs can graduate with an MSN and earn their APRN license. An MSN will allow you to take a certification exam in any specialty from any licensing board and apply for licensure in any state. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has been advocating DNP degrees for NPs since 2004, and in 2018, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) backed up this position and committed to DNPs as the new entry-level standard for NPs by 2025. That said, the nurse practitioner community has not taken the final step of requiring the DNP as the entry-level degree for nurse practitioners—yet.

Clinical Nurse Specialists

Clinical nurse specialists can still enter the field with an MSN. This could change in coming years, however, given the movement toward doctoral degrees for nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. In fact, the National Association of Certified Nurse Specialists has recommended the DNP as an entry-level degree for CNSs by 2030.

Nurse Midwives

The MSN has been—and remains—the degree requirement for nurse midwives, with no active movement to shift to a doctorate. The American College of Nurse-Midwives does not endorse any proposal that the DNP become a requirement for entry into midwifery practice. Their position statement emphasizes that “no data are available addressing the need for additional education to practice safely as a midwife” and that “the requirement of an additional degree would result in a substantive increase in expense and time to students and educational institutions.”


What if I’m Already Enrolled in an MSN Program?

Don’t worry: You can finish any MSN program you’re already in, earn your APRN license, and be able to practice. This includes students currently enrolled in MSN-level CRNA programs. Your program meets the current standards, and you’ll be able to apply for licensure with your state as well as certification when you graduate. Both an MSN and a doctoral degree will prepare you to work as an APRN.

However, keep in mind that if your goal is to be a CRNA, you’ll only be able to start an MSN program through the end of 2021. You’ll need to enroll in a doctoral degree program if you start your CRNA program in 2022 or later. All other aspiring APRNs have a choice.

APRN Degree Requirements: At a Glance


Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA)

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: A doctoral degree will be required by 2025

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Until the end of 2021

When you need to enroll in a doctoral degree program: 2022 and later

When you’ll need a doctorate to practice: 2025 and later


Nurse practitioner

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: The DNP is recommended as the entry level standard by 2025

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Anytime

When you need to enroll in a DNP program: No date set currently

When you’ll need a DNP to practice: No date set currently; recommended by 2025


Clinical nurse specialist

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: The DNP is recommended as the entry level standard by 2030

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Anytime

When you need to enroll in a DNP program: No date set currently

When you’ll need a DNP to practice: No date set currently; recommended by 2030


Nurse midwife

Current degree requirement: MSN or higher

Upcoming changes: No changes announced

When you can enroll in an MSN program: Anytime

When you need to enroll in a DNP program: N/A

When you’ll need a DNP to practice: N/A


What If I Just Earned My MSN?

You should be all set if you’ve already earned your MSN. The coming degree changes won’t affect the license you already have. Even current MSN-level educated CRNAs will be able to keep practicing, but all CRNAs who apply for licensure in 2025 or later will need a doctorate.

Firm doctorate requirements for other APRN professions haven’t yet been announced, but it’s a good idea to keep up-to-date in your specialty to keep an eye on the rules and recommendations. There are many ways to make sure you know what’s happening currently, including joining nursing organizations, staying in touch with your alumni association, and following nursing news on social media. You can check out our resources guide for more ideas.


So…Should I Earn an MSN or a Doctorate?

It’s up to you. Right now, you can complete an MSN program and earn the same APRN licensure as if you’d completed a DNP. You may want to consider cost, time, and future goals as you make your decision.

“There are a lot of factors for a student to consider when choosing a healthcare program,” says Hunt. “The role needs to align with (a student’s) personal needs and wants, and the education needs to be realistic for the personal circumstances and finances. Getting an MSN or a DNP can be very expensive, both with time and money, so they need to decide what works best for them.”

Hunt, who earned a DNP as a family nurse practitioner, explains she decided what was best for her career by looking at the current market and trends in nursing.

“I saw the trends early on and the DNP looked like it would quickly saturate the market. So, to remain competitive in a competitive market, I knew I would get my DNP,” she says. “The education was in alignment with my personal goals. I have a passion for health policy, teaching, and advocacy and prefer taking a more global perspective on topics. [Plus], I knew a doctorate would open doors for me.”

So, what’s best for you? Only you can decide, but there a few questions to ask yourself that might help you choose:

  • What are the requirements for APRN jobs in my area?  You can search for jobs in your local area and see what the educational requirements are. See how many jobs ask for a doctoral degree and if there is a pay difference for any jobs that do.
  • What type of APRN licensure am I interested in? Right now, CRNAs, NPs, and CNSs are part of the doctoral degrees discussion; nurse midwives aren’t.
  • What are my APRN goals? Consider if you’re interested in nursing leadership roles, in direct care, or both.
  • How much time am I willing to spend in school? The time it will take you to earn doctorate or master’s depends on the degree you start with, but in general, earning an MSN will be much faster.
  • Are there any bridge or fast-track programs in my area? There are some schools that offer a BSN-to-DNP bridge program that can help you complete your education faster.
  • What is the cost of programs in my area? Look into programs you can afford and research what financial aid is available.

“Ultimately, each nurse will have (to) assess what they want and what works for them,” Hunt says. However, in her opinion, if you can make earning a DNP work for your budget, life, and goals, now might be a great time to go for it.

“The longer you wait to go back and get it, the rustier you’ll be as a student, and you may enter a hyper-competitive market when it becomes a mandate.”


sara hunt

With professional insight from:

Sara Hunt, DNP, MSN, FNP-C, PHN

Family Nurse Practitioner


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June 10, 2020 · 10 min read

The Basics of Online Nursing Degrees

From managing your schedule to what classroom delivery looks like, get important tips you need to prepare you for learning online.

By Anna Giorgi

female student video conferencing with teacher
online student on video chat with teacher and classmates

It’s a big decision to decide to go back to school—one that presents a number of challenges for people trying to work one more task into their busy lives. An online degree, which allows students flexibility in where and when they study, is often a great option for nursing students—whether you’re just starting your higher ed journey or you already have some experience under your belt.

Whether you’re going for your associate’s degree, bachelor’s, master’s—or even a doctorate, here’s what you need to know before jumping in.


Is an Online Program Right for You?

Prioritizing and managing course time around an already-busy personal life is the key to success in an online nursing program. The students best suited for online learning are committed, dedicated, and focused.

“You must be goal-driven because it is an environment where you can pick and choose most of the time when you’re going to sign on, when you’re going to do your work,” says Lisa Smith, PhD, RN, CNE, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions at Grand Canyon University. “You can’t be distracted by all the opportunities that come up throughout the week that pull your attention away.”

In addition to having the right mindset and skills, having support from your family or partner is important for your success in online learning.

In addition to a focused mindset, it’s also important to have the support of your employer if you think you’ll need to cut back in work or take time off to fulfill clinical hours. Support from your family or significant other is also critical to success in online learning. Your risk of dropping out increases when family members don’t understand the importance of what you’re trying to accomplish, Smith says.


What Nursing Degrees Can Be Earned Online?

Nursing degrees of all types—from entry-level associate’s degrees to upper-level graduate and doctorate degrees—can be earned through an online format, although there are varying levels of clinical, hands-on requirements that must be fulfilled in person at a clinic, hospital or other brick-and-mortar facility.

Check out the specific online requirements for the following nursing degree programs:


Online vs In-Class: What’s the Difference?

Students seeking their nursing degree online are studying, engaging with instructors, and completing most of their coursework remotely; usually from home. Still, the education you receive with an online program provides you with the same skills and experiences provided to students enrolled in on-campus programs.

The unique characteristic of online nursing programs is the flexibility they provide in allowing you to complete your studies on a timeline that works with your lifestyle rather than following a more regimented on-campus schedule. You’re able to choose when you learn while also gaining flexibility in overall program scheduling, since many online programs aren’t limited to traditional fall and spring semesters.

Degree programs delivered online require considerably more technological know-how than their on-campus counterparts, so it’s important to consider your computer skills in weighing your ability to learn effectively online. To prepare for online learning, you should understand how to upload documents, download software, and navigate your school’s website for classes and other educational resources such as online libraries. You may also have to work with software applications such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, depending on your educational program.

“Since online learning is a very different modality than face-to-face, prospective students need to think about how strong their time management skills are,” says Melissa Burdi, DNP, MS, RN, LSSGB, associate dean for the School of Nursing at Purdue University Global. “Do they have a baseline understanding or comfort with technology?  Are they disciplined? Are they strong at basically carving out time in their day or throughout their week to budget and plan for the completion of certain materials?”

Take Our Quiz: Online or On-Campus? Find out What’s Right for You

Are you destined for distance learning or is on-campus life is your best bet?


If you’re thinking about going back to school and wondering whether learning in a traditional classroom setting or getting your degree online is best for you, our quiz can help nudge you in the right direction.

Which is best for you? Let’s find out.

Read each statement below and respond either: Online, or On-Campus.

Keep track of your answers.


Online

On-Campus

Logistics:

The degree I want isn’t available at a convenient location, but I can complete it online without relocating.

The degree I want is within driving distance to my home or I’m willing to relocate to live near or on campus

Type of Experience:

I have a strong social network and don’t have an interest in experiencing campus life.

I want to experience all the activities that campus life has to offer when I’m not involved with academics.

Timing:

I can finish my degree faster with an online program that allows me to progress at my own pace and take classes year-round.

I prefer traditional semester pacing at this point in my studies.

Schedule:

My work/family responsibilities require that I have the convenience to attend classes 24/7 and complete coursework on my own timeline.

I have the opportunity to be a full-time student or I have family/spousal support that makes it easy for me to adjust my calendar without a conflict.

Study Habits:

I’m self-disciplined and can stay on track in a way that helps me keep current on assignments and other course requirements.

I achieve my academic goals best with the structure and accountability that comes with attending on-campus classes on a set schedule.

Instructor Interaction:

I’m comfortable communicating with my instructor via email, discussion boards, or videoconferencing to clarify content and resolve course issues.

I prefer having the option to interact with my instructor and ask questions in real-time. I comprehend new material best when it’s presented in person.

Classmate Interaction:

I’m comfortable using discussion boards and social media to establish relationships and communicate with classmates that I may never meet in person.

I’m not confident reaching out to strangers in a virtual environment. I communicate best in face-to-face interactions.

Communication Skills:

I feel self-conscious speaking in public and prefer written communication when possible.

I’m not shy about raising my hand in class and asking a question or giving an opinion in front of my classmates.

Technological Skills:

I’m confident using technology to learn, communicate, and conduct research. I can usually resolve technical issues easily.

I have basic computer skills but am not comfortable navigating new software and learning platforms. Dealing with technical issues stresses me.

Home Environment:

I have a dedicated study space and all the tools I need to access online classes and interact with teachers and classmates when necessary.

Attending on-campus classes allows me to focus on my learning in an environment free from interruptions or distractions, which isn’t possible at my home.  


How’d you do?

If you answered, “Online” to seven or eight statements, you’re likely good to go for online classes. You probably have the discipline, confidence, and support system in place to handle an online classroom environment.

If you answered “On-Campus” or not sure to four or more statements, you may not be ready to tackle an online program. If you have concerns about technology or about reaching out to instructors and classmates but really want to make online learning work, instructors and advisors may be able to help you navigate the system and understand what they expect from students.


What to Look for In an Online Program

woman taking class online wearing headphones

You can ensure that you’re receiving a quality online education by checking school and program accreditation. Accreditation is a review process that determines whether your school or program meets established criteria that set educational standards.

You must attend an accredited program to qualify for most state nursing licenses and professional specialty certifications. You also need a degree from an accredited program if you want to transfer credits from one school to another.

School accreditation and program accreditation are awarded separately. You can verify a school’s accreditation on a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education.

It’s also important to verify that your state board of nursing approves the program you’re taking and accepts a degree from there toward the licensure requirements you’ll fulfill later.

You must attend an accredited program to qualify for most state nursing licenses and professional specialty certifications.


How are Online Classes Delivered?

In an online learning environment, students typically access course content at their convenience. This means that some of your work and communication might not take place in real time. Even though you’re not physically sitting in a classroom, online programs offer many ways to engage with your instructor and fellow students.

Using Technology to Create a Connection

Many schools delivering online programs create virtual classrooms where web-based software such as Blackboard or Canvas creates an environment that mirrors a traditional classroom. You’ll access course content, turn in assignments, take quizzes, and interact with your professors and other students through this software.

Collaborating with Classmates and Study Groups

Online programs will often offer ways to help you engage with your instructors and classmates—often in real time. Courses may be delivered live when everyone has to sign on at the same time to a platform like Zoom that allows for real-time interaction through videoconferencing. Other courses may require group projects in which students have to work together. Additionally, many online schools also offer online clubs and organizations so students can socialize and form bonds away from the classroom in the same way they would on a campus.

Many online schools also offer clubs and organizations that allow students to socialize and bond in the same way that they would in a campus format.

Creating a collaborative learning community is critical to online nursing education. “Nursing is not a profession that you can do in a silo, so when you are learning online it’s very important that students have enough opportunity to interact with their classmates and faculty beyond just answering questions and submitting the assignments,” says Grand Canyon University’s Smith. “There needs to be interaction and dialogue.”

Connecting with Your Professor One-on-One

Many online schools require their professors to hold online office hours so students know they can connect as a set time. It will be up to you as an online student to seek out your professors when they’re available and be persistent if they’re not readily accessible. 

Most professors announce their preference for email, discussion boards, or even social media, at the beginning of the course so you know what to expect.

The Best Tech Set-up for Online Learning at Home


Setting up an appropriate at-home learning space can make all the difference in your success as an online student. While you may not have the luxury of designating a separate room for your studies, try to establish a personal workspace that allows you to concentrate.

To set up a home study space that positions you for success:

  • Avoid spaces that have distractions from TVs or central social areas of your home.
  • Consider using headphones if you can’t shut out nearby noise.
  • Choose a spot near a source of natural light, which helps keep you more alert and focused than fluorescent light.
  • Store study essentials like notebooks, pens, and textbooks nearby.
  • Select a chair and writing space that allow you to stay comfortable and focused.

Consult with your school for specific technology requirements and check your equipment against their standards. Most schools operate with high-speed internet. While a phone or tablet may be adequate for checking assignments, a desktop or laptop is recommended for proctored tests and live video. Schools typically provide required software for free or at a discount.


How Much Does an Online Nursing Degree Cost?

The costs of online nursing degree programs vary widely. Many online schools charge by credit hour or quarter credit hour, which is often used for part-time students. Other programs charge by semester. In a program that offers a modularized curriculum, you may be able to progress through as many courses as you can for one flat fee per semester.

In addition, some state schools may differentiate between resident and non-resident tuition for online students while others charge the same online tuition for everyone. Ask the schools you’re exploring for specifics.

To compare prices, use a school’s net price tuition calculator to determine the cost of your degree.

The best way to compare prices among programs is to use a school’s net price tuition calculator tool to determine the total cost of your degree. All schools that participate in the federal financial aid program are required to have a net price calculator on their websites. If you have to complete clinical hours, you’ll likely have to add fees for background checks, fingerprinting, equipment, uniforms, and other supplies.


Can I Get Financial Aid to Help Pay for an Online Degree?

Like traditional on-campus students, those seeking a degree online can also apply for financial aid and income-based scholarships. To qualify, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Schools and financial institutions use this standard form to determine your eligibility for financial assistance and student loans. Other potential sources of financial aid include school or program awards, nursing scholarships, and military service credits.


Will an Online Degree Make a Difference to an Employer?

Whether you receive your degree online, in a classroom, or a combination of both, isn’t as important to employers as the fact that you attended an accredited program. An online degree prepares you to be just as competitive in the workforce as one earned on campus.

In reality, so much study has been done that validates the quality of online learning that most employers don’t typically consider an online degree as a deterrent to hire, says Smith.


Give Online Learning a Shot!

Online education is becoming more and more mainstream, especially in light of recent global events that shifted the way education is delivered. The proliferation of robust networking and collaboration tools only make pursuing your online nursing degree easier.

“Online learning is an accepted and credible way to earn a high-quality nursing degree,” says Carla D. Sanderson, PhD, RN, provost at Chamberlain University. “Prospective students are encouraged to select the program that best fits their learning preferences and lifestyle needs.”

For even more resources, check out our seven page guide to online learning.

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Nursing Programs You Can Finish in About a Year or Less

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The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has been heralding the warning for years: The U.S. needs nurses and it needs them now. By 2050, the population of people over age 65 is projected to hit more than 83 million, bringing with them an increased need for healthcare related to aging and chronic disease. What’s more, a survey published in 2018 found that roughly half of the nursing workforce is over the age of 50, meaning more than one million nurses are expected to reach retirement age within the next 15 years.

Thankfully, nursing-related jobs that don’t require years of education are rapidly on the rise, and many are among the fastest-growing occupations in the nation. If you’re looking to join the field—whether you have a month or a year or more for your education—there’s a program that’s right for you.


Want to Knock It Out in as Little as 4–6 Weeks? Become a Home Health Aide

Length of Time

1–6 months, with at least 75 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$500–$1,500

Average Annual Salary

$25,330

With a whopping projected job growth of 37% over the next decade, home health jobs are the third fastest-growing occupation in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The hottest job prospects in particular are those that require certification in order for you to work within hospice care or for home health agencies that receive reimbursement from Medicare or Medicaid. Not only are aides in high demand in these services, but some agencies might even pay for the training you need to get certified.

In a home health aide (HHA) program, you’ll learn how to help individuals who are elderly, disabled, or are suffering from a critical illness to take care of daily activities like bathing, dressing, and cooking, as well as health-related tasks such as checking vital signs and administering medication. Your program will also include education on basic nutrition, safety techniques, and infection control.

Though not all states or agencies require certification to work as a home health aide, those that do require at least 75 hours of training in a state-approved program. Depending on the program you choose, you might be able to complete this education in as little as four to six weeks, though semester-based programs could take up to a few months. Online options can be excellent for students who want to take classes at their own pace, but keep in mind that you’ll still need in-person clinical training—at least 16 hours in most states.

Next steps for advancement: As a home health aide, you might choose to pursue a program to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which will give you the chance to take on much more responsibility, oversee nursing aides and assistants, and potentially double your salary.


Have 1–6 Months? Go for Your Nursing Assistant Certification

Length of Time

1–6 months, with between 75 and 180 hours of training, depending on your state

Average Program Cost

$1,000–$1,500

Average Annual Salary

$29,580

A nursing assistant program will prepare you to work in settings where you’ll be responsible for tasks such as taking vital signs, assisting with patient grooming, cleaning rooms, dressing wounds, and helping with minor medical procedures. Your program will also cover basic medical terminology, body mechanics, communication skills, and patient/resident rights.

The job prospects are good here too, with 9% growth predicted over the next nine years. Changes in patient preferences and federal funding have increased the need for nursing assistants who work in home healthcare and community rehab services. Nursing assistants with specialized experience in heart disease, dementia, and diabetes could be especially in high demand.

To work as a nursing assistant, you must be certified by your state’s department of health. But first, you’ll need to complete a state-approved program with at least 75 hours of training, though some states require as many as 180. Because of this broad range, programs can last anywhere from one to six months, with the majority of your time spent in clinical training. No matter the length of your program, you’ll have to pass your state’s certification exam and be able to demonstrate three to six skills in front of a registered nurse (RN).

Next steps for advancement: Without having to change jobs, CNAs can increase their employment opportunities and salary potential by earning a certification as a medication aide (CMA). This allows you to legally administer certain medications and report patient changes to the rest of the staff. Depending on the requirements of your state, you could complete a medication aide course in as little as six weeks before taking the MACE certification exam.


What About 9–12 Months? Consider a License in Practical Nursing

Length of Time

9–18 months, including various hours of clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Average Annual Salary

$47,050

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs)—known as licensed vocational nurses in Texas and California—have much of the same responsibilities as CNAs, but take on advanced duties and work more closely with doctors and senior nurses in specialized areas such as pediatric, medical-surgical, and geriatric nursing. With the aging baby boom population, there’s expected to be a growing need for LPNs—11% over the next nine years—especially in home healthcare and assisted living facilities. Those with specialty certification, particularly in gerontology, could have even greater opportunities.

All LPNs are required to become licensed in the state where they work. Licensing involves completing a board-approved program of roughly nine months to a year, though some might be closer to 18 months. You might have the option to accelerate some of your classroom coursework online, but most LPN programs consist of about 60% clinical training. Once your program is complete, you can earn your license by passing the NCLEX-PN exam given by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

Next steps for advancement: LPNs can often apply the credits they earned in their program to associate’s level coursework, earning a registered nursing degree in as little as a year. By doing so, you can increase your level of responsibility, save money on a higher degree, and give yourself the chance to significantly boost your salary.


Have a Year or More? Earn a Registered Nursing Degree at an Accelerated Pace

Length of Time

At least 1 year, including clinical experience

Average Program Cost

$10,000–$15,000

Average Annual Salary

$75,510

Due to financial reasons, many hospitals are facing increased pressure to discharge patients as soon as possible. They’re moving more patients through the system at a given time, which leads to higher demand for nurses in outpatient and long-term care centers. Facilities that specialize in the treatment of conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease especially need registered nurses.

Designed for aspiring nurses with a bachelor’s degree in a different field, the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) allows you to apply credits from your first degree to a program for registered nursing. Your previous education must have covered the specific science and humanities prerequisites of your program, but if it does you could earn your BSN in as little as a year. These programs are rigorous but let you focus on completing nursing-specific coursework and clinical experience. The amount of clinical hours you’ll need varies, so it’s important to make sure that your program at least meets the minimum requirements for licensing in your state.

Like LPNs, RNs must have a license in the state where they work. Licensing requirements are widely different across the country but all require having at least an associate’s degree in nursing, completing the number of supervised clinical hours as defined by your state, and receiving a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam.

Once you have your RN license, you can work in many medical settings such as emergency rooms, physicians’ offices, outpatient clinics, and nursing homes. If you choose to specialize, you could go into less traditional roles such as legal nurse consulting or forensic nursing. Travel nursing is also an excellent opportunity, letting you explore new cities while bringing your nursing talents to areas in desperate need of care.

Next steps for advancement: If you wish to take on greater responsibility and earn a higher salary, you might choose to pursue a master’s degree to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Depending on what you study as an APRN, you could work as one of the following:



You could also choose to go into administration, such as working as a hospital’s director of nursing, or move into nurse education. While job growth for RNs is projected at 12% through 2028, many roles within advancing nursing are expected to see an average of 26%. What’s more, APRNs make the most of any nurses in the field, often more than $100,000 a year.


Have More Time Than a Year to Earn Your Education?

In just two to three years, an associate’s degree program can help you get the training you need to immediately begin working as an entry-level RN. But keep in mind that as the field evolves, more and more nurses are earning their bachelor’s degrees. In fact, the Institute of Medicine has recommended that 80% have their BSN by 2020, and some employers are demanding that nurses with associate’s degrees go back to school within the next five years. If you want to increase your job opportunities, earning potential, and competitive advantage in the field, use the Find Schools button to research BSN programs in your area.

Source: Salary and job growth data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor States, as of 2018

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Five Important Nursing Upgrades

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Nursing Degrees and Credentials

In the health care market, the more education you complete, the more demand there is for your skills. Right now, there is an incredible demand for nurses with continued nursing education nursing degrees. Here are five upgrades for your nursing education that can help you advance up the career ladder.

However, the majority of new registered nurses (RNs) today come from lower-level programs such as associate or diploma programs. Tuition costs and timing play a central role in the number of lower-level nurses entering the job force each year.

Opting for Nursing Continuing Education

If you are a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a nurse with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and would like to upgrade your nursing education, do not despair! A large number of working nurses eventually decide to go back to school and upgrade their nursing degrees. The reason is simple. With a higher degree you are more employable, you’ll earn a higher salary and you’ll have much more freedom to chart your own nursing career path.

Common Nursing Degree Upgrades

You can upgrade your nursing degree in as many ways as there are nursing acronyms. Regardless of where you’re starting, you are sure to find an appropriate path since many schools have special programs that are customized to meet the needs of students starting from different points. Here are some of the most common upgrades:

1. From LPN-to-RN

To become an RN, you must pass the NCLEX exam in your state after earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you opt for the former, simply go back to a technical school or community college for another year to earn an associate’s degree, then take the exam.

The other way is to enter an LPN-to-BSN program. Some colleges have special programs which will allow you to get credit for some of your prior courses, and then go on to earn a BSN degree and become an RN.

2. From ADN or RN-to-BSN

If you already have a nursing license (having earned a diploma or associate’s degree) then you could qualify for a special program at many nursing schools that will take less than the normal 4 years to complete your nursing degree. Usually referred to as an RN-to-BSN Program, they are typically oriented toward working nurses who must balance school with their job. They offer flexible schedules and credit for previous experience.

3. From Non-Nursing Bachelor’s Degree to BSN

If you have already earned a bachelor’s degree but you now want to become an RN and earn a nursing degree, you can enroll in special accelerated programs designed for people like you. These are called Accelerated RN BSN Programs and they take the form of 1 to 2 years of intense training in nursing.

4. From BSN to Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

An MSN degree is an 18 to 24-month program that allows a nurse to specialize in a particular area—such as an area of advanced clinical training or research. Some students take on joint degrees in related fields like business administration, public health or hospital administration. Most people working toward an MSN already have a BSN, but there are accelerated programs for diploma nurses (to earn a BSN and MSN in one shot) and for non-nursing college graduates.

Typical requirements for admission into an MSN program include a BSN degree from an accredited nursing school, an RN license, minimum GPA and GRE scores and some period of clinical work experience.

5. From BSN or MSN to Doctoral Nursing Degree

You can earn a doctorate in nursing after completing either a BSN or MSN. Like nurses with master’s degrees, nurses with doctoral degrees are expected to have tremendous job demand over the next ten years. These programs prepare nurses for careers in health administration (a PhD is the preferred degree for nursing executives), clinical research and advanced clinical practice. They take from four to six years to complete, so they represent a significant commitment on your part.

In a doctoral nursing degree program everyone receives training in research methods (including statistics and data analysis), education, the history and philosophy of nursing science and leadership skills. But it’s up to you to focus in on a specific research area for your degree. Compared to a BSN or MSN, it’s important to match your particular interests with those of a particular faculty member.

Nursing Education Certifications

Professional Nursing Certifications are specialized exams that you can take to prove your expertise in a specific field, beyond the skills required for an RN license. The exams are provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The ANCC offers generalist, advanced practice and clinical specialist exams in almost 30 areas.

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Nursing as a Second Career

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Is nursing the right career for me?

Whether you are a college student or a seasoned professional in a different field who is looking for a career change, a nursing career can be a very rewarding professional path, and now is a great time to become a nurse with the nursing shortage and demand for qualified nurses all over the U.S. There are many opportunities, not to mention financial aid resources, available to nursing students. Whatever the reason, if you are considering nursing as a second career, get more nursing career information by reading the nursing education Q&A below.

I have a bachelor’s degree. Can I earn a nursing degree faster?

Yes. Many nursing schools offer Second Degree BSN, Accelerated BSN or Direct Entry MSN programs designed specifically to allow students with previous bachelor’s degrees to complete their nursing degrees on an accelerated schedule. This helps many people expedite their education to begin their nursing as a second career within 1- to 2-years of starting their nursing education.

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Can I work while earning my nursing degree?

Yes. Many nursing schools offer part-time nursing programs designed to accommodate the schedules of working students.

Can I earn my degree faster with medical field experience?

Because each person’s educational and work experience are unique, the best way to figure out if yours will allow you to gain advanced placement in a nursing program is to talk to the nursing schools you’re interested in directly.

I’m over 40. Am I too old to begin a nursing as a second career?

No. While you should keep in mind that nursing is a physically (and at times emotionally) demanding job, if you have an aptitude for math and science, thrive on working in an intense atmosphere, and love working with people, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider nursing as a second career after 40. If you’re not convinced that your age won’t be a handicap, here are some things to consider:

  • According to the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, 45 percent of RNs are 50 years or older.
  • According to the same survey, the average age of all licensed registered nurses is currently 47, and this average is increasing every year—indicating that more and more students are entering the field after having pursued another career.
  • Nursing school administrators report that second-career nursing students typically bring an energy and intensity of focus to their studies that their younger counterparts lack, and are often top performers academically.
  • Potential employers value the maturity, professionalism, and advanced decision-making skills that older workers bring to nursing.

Is it hard for an older student to get into school or find work?

No. It would be illegal for any nursing school or employer to take your age into consideration while evaluating your application. What’s more, with nursing school enrollment just beginning to increase after a long decline and no sign of an end to the nation-wide shortage of nurses, both nursing schools and health care providers are actively seeking to recruit non-traditional nursing students—including second-career students.

What are the physical demands of a nurse job?

Working in a hospital or nursing home may be very demanding, for example, while working in an out-patient clinic, government agency or school may be much less stressful. Similarly, working as a staff nurse may be more physically demanding than working as a nurse administrator. Depending on where you work, some of the physical and mental stresses you’ll face may include:

  • Shift work, working on-call, or working weekends and holidays
  • Being on your feet for long periods of time
  • Moving (lifting and supporting) patients
  • Working in inadequately staffed facilities
  • Working with critically/chronically ill people and their families
  • Working in emergency situations

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Tips for choosing the right nursing as a second career program

To read more on these topics, please visit the Types of Nursing Programs sections of our Nursing School Education Resource Center. To learn more about upgrading your education in the nursing field, please see our Nursing Continuing Education page.

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Yes She Can! Single Mom Balances Work, Parenting, and Nursing Studies

Writer Liz Murtaugh Gillespie talks to Monica Zamora about juggling school, work, and parenthood.

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Author’s title or background

Working parents juggle a lot. Single working parents juggle so much, they tire of answering the question everyone always asks: “How on earth do you do it all?”

Monica Zamora juggles so much, she barely has time to field such a question. She’s a nurse and single mom who went back to school in her early 40s, finished her bachelor’s degree in nursing, and is now studying for her master’s degree at the University of Washington, where she’s on track to graduate as an advanced registered nurse practitioner next spring.

She took the plunge at an extraordinarily difficult time. When she was five months pregnant with her youngest child, now 5, the girl’s father left without warning—no explanation, no good-bye. “I was terrified!” Monica said. “After I made it through the most difficult period, I began to realize that if I had the strength to go through that, at the age of 42, there was no reason that I couldn’t accomplish anything.”

I’ve learned about Monica’s Superwoman life in snippets…as we pick up or drop off our daughters at preschool and on the sidelines at birthday parties. I asked her to share some of the ins and outs of her crazy-at-times juggle, knowing it would inspire others – maybe enough to encourage some of you busy-as-all-get-out working parents to overcome your misgivings about going back to school.

Here are excerpts from an email exchange we had after months of trying to coordinate her impossibly packed schedule with mine:

What time do your days usually start and end?

5:30 a.m. I’m usually in bed by 10:30, but if I am behind on school I can sometimes make it until midnight.

What’s your work schedule?

I’m working 28 hours per week [Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday as a clinic nurse manager at the 1811 Eastlake Clinic, run by Harborview Medical Center and part of a housing program that provides health care and other support services to residents with chronic alcohol addiction; plus a clinic shift at Harborview].

What’s your class schedule?

It’s different every quarter. I have four classes this quarter and spend 10 hours in class total on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus the 8-hour day at my clinical placement on Friday.

When do you study?

Between patients at work, on the couch in the evening while the family is watching TV and at family get-togethers in the middle of the chaos.

What motivated you to pursue your master’s degree?

In my current position, I work independently most of the time and so have learned a lot about providing primary care. Thanks to a wonderful MD who has become my mentor, I decided that the most logical thing to do was to become an ARNP.

How long will it take you to get your master’s?

One-and-a-half years of full-time study for my MSN.

What do you like about nursing?

I love the human connection. I get to hear such great stories from my patients and meet such an interesting array of people that I would never have met in almost any profession. I get to help people through difficult things and advocate for folks who would have no power behind their voices. It really is a privilege that I am constantly aware of, to be present with someone in an intimate time in their life or death, and it’s so rewarding to know that sometimes I make a big difference in their physical or emotional comfort.

What’s not to like?

I guess in the beginning the hours were difficult. It can be difficult to work within a budget- and rule-conscious system, but I feel like if you are good at what you do and passionate about serving the populations you care for, then you can create your own path and end up in positions that allow you to be creative and flexible.

How did you get past the fear that you wouldn’t have the time, money or energy to go back to school?

I just decided not to think about the energy required, and as for the expense, I would rather be in debt in order to have the education and career I want than to have extra money to spend on accumulating more things. It’s all a trade-off.

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