Online Nursing Degrees

Pursuing a nursing degree online is a quick and effective way to take the next step in your professional career. Regardless of whether you eventually want to become an RN or hold a PhD, you can find an online nursing program that suits your career ambitions.

An online nursing degree allows distance learners to study at their own pace and to take classes without disrupting their current professional obligations or personal responsibilities. Most programs offer courses asynchronously, which gives students the flexibility to study and complete assignments at their own convenience.

Students in a distance learning nursing program will find that the skills required to succeed in online education mirror those needed in nursing. Online students must have the dedication to study and engage with difficult material, and the self-discipline to work hard with minimal supervision. Successful online students must be detail-oriented, strong communicators, and critical thinkers. All of those attributes will also serve graduates well in their careers.

Graduates will leave school prepared to enter a growing industry. As the Baby Boomer population ages, positions in nursing are expanding rapidly: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that resident nursing positions will grow by approximately 16% through 2024. To learn about the degrees available, and the positions you can fill once you obtain certification, be sure to check out our guide below.

Meet our expert

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Jonathan Steele Nursing

“The online format taught me to self direct my personal study, something that I still do to this day.”

Online Nursing Degree Overview

Nursing Degrees at a Glance

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $12,216 17.75% 2+ years $52,200 $64,500 4.8%
Bachelor's $16,348 9.42% 4+ years $56,600 $73,600 2.1%
Master's $17,419 7.57% 2+ years $82,000 $89,000 1.8%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Nursing is one of the top-paying fields for recent graduates; the average starting salary for associate and bachelor’s degree holders exceeds $50,000 per year. Registered nurses (RNs) check patients’ symptoms, administer medications, and perform diagnostic tests. Nurses with a master’s degree have more responsibilities than RNs. They diagnose and treat illnesses, order X-rays, and write prescriptions. While some states require nurse practitioners to work under licensed physicians, others allow them to work independently.

Online Nursing Degrees

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Online Associate’s Degree in Nursing

Pursuing an online associate degree in nursing (ADN) is the quickest way to become a nurse, and online nursing degree programs take roughly 2-3 years to complete. ADNs typically include courses in both nursing and liberal arts. After earning an ADN, students must pass the NCLEX-RN to work as a resident nurse.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Anatomy, Psychology, Chemistry, Nutrition, and Emergency Care

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Nursing

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Hospital Nurse, Clinic Nurse, Home Care Nurse, Travel Nurse, and Ambulance Nurse

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $52,200

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    16% growth from 2014 to 2024

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

An online bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) typically takes four years to complete. Many RNs earn their online BSN part-time while they work. As with the ADN, BSN students must take liberal arts courses in addition to their online nursing degree classes. RNs with BSNs and ADNs perform similar work. However, nurses holding a BSN have better employment opportunities, especially in states that require RNs to hold a BSN. The BSN is also useful for nurses looking to advance to leadership positions.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Health Assessment, Physiology, Biochemistry, Pharmacology, and English

  • COMMON MAJORS

    Nursing

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Private Hospital Nurse, Physician Office Nurse, Home Health Care Nurse, and Public Hospital Nurse

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $56,600

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    16% growth from 2014 to 2024

Online Master’s Degree in Nursing

Students hoping to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) must earn a master’s degree. There are four types of APRN: Nurse Practitioners (NP), Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM), Certified Nurse Specialists (CNS), and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA). Full-time, online Master’s of Science in Nursing programs take roughly two years to complete and are ideal for professionals wanting to specialize in a specific branch of nursing.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Healthcare Systems, Research Design, Legal and Ethical Issues in Health Care, Pathophysiology, and Nursing Education

  • COMMON SPECIALIZATIONS

    Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Education, Health Promotion, Leadership and Administration, and Family Nurse Practitioner

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner, Nurse Administrator, and Nurse Informaticist

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    $82,000

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    31% growth from 2014 to 2024 because of recent healthcare legislation, an increased emphasis on preventive care, and demand for healthcare services from the aging baby-boom population

Online Doctorate Degree in Nursing

The terminal degree in the field, students pursuing a doctorate generally want to become independent practitioners. Because there are various specializations, the length of time required to complete these nursing degrees online varies. There are 3 types of doctoral online nursing degrees: (1) Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP); (2) Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS); and (3) Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD). The DNP focuses on patient health and welfare, while the DNS and PhD are are more research-oriented.

  • SAMPLE COURSES

    Scientific Foundations, Epidemiology, Clinical Decision-Making, Health Policy, Legal and Ethical Environment

  • COMMON SPECIALIZATIONS

    Advanced Practice Leadership, Healthcare Systems Leadership, Nursing Informatics, and Nursing Research

  • POTENTIAL JOBS

    Healthcare Administrator, Nurse Scientist, Nursing Faculty, Chief Nursing Officer, and Manager of Informatics

  • AVERAGE INCOME

    Varies

  • EMPLOYMENT PROSPECTS

    Varies

Online Nursing Choose Your Career

Average Nursing Salaries

$153,780
$25,090
$39,035
$54,133
$66,220

Nurse Anesthetist (APRN)

Salary: $153,780
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 38,200 Masters Must be licensed and nationally certified

A nurse anesthetist gives anesthetic care to patients undergoing surgery. As a group, anesthetists earn a significantly higher average salary than other nurses. Their compensation level is due to the unpredictable nature of anesthesia. Every individual reacts differently to being put under, and doses must be calculated precisely by factoring in variables, like weight, age, body fat percentage, and gender. APRNs have a difficult, but highly rewarding career.

Nursing Assistant

Salary: $25,090
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
17% 1,545,200 Associates Must be state certified

Nursing assistants work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospices, hospitals, correctional institutions, and other healthcare settings. They help patients perform daily tasks and work under a nurse’s supervision. Because nursing assistants have extensive daily contact with their patients, they play an integral role in updating supervising nurses on vital patient information.

School Nurse

Salary: $39,035
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
16% 16,506 Bachelor's Must be state licensed and certified

School nurses care for students who get sick or injured at school. They take vital signs, record symptoms, and administer basic medical aid. They also educate students on basic health care issues.

Neonatal Nurse

Salary: $54,133
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 3,100 Bachelor's Must be state licensed and certified

Neonatal nurses care for newborn babies. They may look after healthy infants, provide specialized care for premature or ill babies, or work only with seriously ill newborns. Neonatal nurses must be RNs with a bachelor’s degrees in nursing.

Pediatric Nurse (RN)

Salary: $66,220
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
19% 200,823 Associates Board certification by state

Pediatric nurses provide preventative and critical care to children and adolescents. An associate degree is the minimum required education, though a bachelor’s is recommended. Those with more advanced degrees may earn a higher salary. Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (PNPs) perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses and injuries, and provide education and support to families. Certification is available from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB).

Online Nursing Degree in Action

Jonathan Steele Nursing

Jonathan Steele received his nursing degree online from Regents/Excelsior College. He is certified in bloodless medicine and surgery, and is currently the executive director a WaterCures.org. Here, he discusses the many benefits of online nursing degrees as well as the challenges faced by students who choose to pursue their nursing degrees online.

Why did you pursue your nursing degree online?

For me, the first benefit was cost, as my degree was a fraction of what other colleges cost. Second, I missed all the poor and boring lectures. Unfortunately, I also missed the great lectures. I avoided the politics and the personalities that can slow the learning process down. Most of all, it was pure study and none of the fluff that is often associated with the college experience.

What were the biggest advantages in studying online?

I was able to focus on learning and found that the tests were almost always perfect tests. In the few brick and mortar classes I took, the tests were often poorly written. If I tried to wing an answer based on grammar, I could get it wrong. Also, many tests questions were poorly written and ambiguous. This was not the case with the tests I took through Regents.

Were there any challenges stemming from studying online?

The only challenge was not having a microscope for microbiology. I signed up for a class in a brick and mortar college to get the needed hands-on experience for that particular class.

There were some people who felt my learning experience was subpar. I simply reminded those who question my education to put me next to someone who was not motivated to self-direct their learning and decide who is the better prepared nurse.

How did the online format help prepare you for your career?

It taught me to self-direct my personal study, something that I still do to this day. I am constantly wanting to learn more and explore new areas of nursing research. It prepared me to be able to go into areas of nursing that few had gone before me. As I pioneered the hydration field over the past several years, there are more and more who are jumping on the movement with Saline Salons and various saline products coming into the market place.

I teach people all over the world how to teach others how manage their water and salt intake to optimize their health.

Bridge Programs

Students who already hold a nursing degree but wish to pursue advanced certification can enroll in online bridge programs. By pursuing advanced nursing degrees online, students can avoid superfluous work and earn their degree quickly.

  • LPN to ADN:

    Licensed practical nurses work under the supervision of RNs. LPNs can spend an extra 1-2 years of study to complete an ADN, which qualifies them for the RN exam. Some programs only admit students who have taken certain prerequisites.

  • LPN to BSN:

    Students in an LPN to BSN bridge program typically finish in 2-4 years, depending on whether they study full-time and how many prerequisite courses they’ve completed. Some online nursing degree programs require that students already hold an ADN. Others only require students to complete nursing prerequisites.

  • RN to BSN:

    RN to BSN programs are convenient for working professionals. These students already have an effective grasp of the material they will be working on, and can rely on their experience in the field to help them complete the nursing degree online program and earn advanced certification.

  • RN to MSN:

    Nurses who hold ADNs can earn their bachelor’s and master’s nursing degrees online at the same time in 2-3 years. (Some programs skip the BSN.) Students in these bridge programs start with undergraduate work and eventually progress to master’s level material.

  • RN to DNP:

    An RN to DNP program is an unusual but often useful career path. Typically, students entering these programs already have their BSN, though many schools will admit students with ADNs as long as they hold a bachelor’s degree of some kind. RN to DNP students take an increased number of classes at the start of the program. The length of these programs varies. They’re often offered as hybrid-programs, where the first half leads to a MSN, and the second half to a DNP. These nursing degree online programs typically take 4-5 years to complete.

Online Nursing Professional Requirements

Nursing certifications provide the opportunity to augment professional growth, job satisfaction, salary potential, and professional competency. Certifications vary largely depending on level of degree, population being served, and intended career path. Below are some of the most common types of certifications and tests for nurses.

State Board Certification

State certification grants applicants the legal authority to become a professional nurse. Voluntary certification is available in specialty areas of nursing.

Is it required?

All 50 states require some form of state certification for nurses.

How long will it take?

Varies per state, expect approximately 2 weeks from the time you apply to the time you receive your license.

National Certification

Most national certifications are associated with professional organizations interested in raising professional standards. Individuals achieve certification through an assessment process. National certifications typically must be renewed periodically and acceptance varies from hospital to hospital. The type of certification depends on the profession and specialization.

  • CMCN (Certification in Managed Care Nursing):

    The CMCN is executed by the American Board of Managed Care Nursing (ABMCN). Applicants must demonstrate a base level of knowledge of the following areas of nursing: Managed Care Overview, Health Care Management, Health Care Economics, and Patient Issues. The CMCN certification must be renewed every 3 years.

  • CPHQ (Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality):

    The CPHQ is the only nationally accredited certification in healthcare quality. Healthcare quality professionals analyze data, improve performance, manage risks, and improve patient safety. They play an integral management role in caring for patients.

  • CCM (Certified Case Manager):

    Case Management Nurses organize patients’ long-term care. Case managers have the proficiency and professional experience to care for patients with complex or debilitating medical conditions.

  • CHPN (Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse):

    The CHPN was created for seasoned hospice and palliative care nurses. Candidates must have completed 500 hours of hospice and palliative nursing practice in the previous twelve months or 1,000 hours in the past two years.

  • CNE (Certified Nurse Educator):

    The Academic Nurse Educator Certification Program fosters excellence among academic nurse educators. CNE certification recognizes academic nursing education as an advanced and specialized area of nursing and helps educators continue their professional development.

Is it required?

N/A

How long will it take?

N/A

Maintaining Certification

Certifications must be renewed every five years online or by mail up to one year before the prior certification’s expiration. Applicants may not be eligible practice beyond this expiration date.

Is it required?

Yes

How long will it take?

Varies by certification