Best Online Nursing Degrees

An online bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) can prepare a learner for a career in nursing and related fields by developing foundational knowledge and promoting a core set of hard skills specific to the industry. The industry itself continues to grow at an exceptional rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses enjoy the highest employment of all healthcare occupations, a trend that solidifies the profession's position as a recession-proof occupation. Salary prospects are promising, as well. A recent CNBC report lists nursing among the fast-growing, top-paying jobs available today.

This page discusses how earning a BSN online can help a student entering this thriving industry by looking at some of the top online BSN programs, including their requirements and curriculum. It will also explore some common careers available to degree holders, answer a few frequently asked questions, and discuss what to expect from a typical course of study.

How Much Can You Make in a Nursing Career?

While earning a degree does not guarantee a given career or salary bracket, it will increase earning power and open up many job possibilities. Nursing benefits from this education boost more than other industries. In a recent study, the NCES found that working professionals holding bachelor's degrees in nursing enjoy above-average annual earnings and below-average unemployment rates when compared with their peers in other job sectors.

This section introduces a few common jobs available to learners pursuing online BSNs. Though some careers pay more than others, each listed role is expected to grow faster than average from 2016-2026, according to the BLS.

Registered Nurse

Nurses at this level coordinate and implement patient care in a variety of medical facilities and healthcare contexts. Their work includes educating patients about health conditions, prognoses, and treatment plans, along with providing emotional support when needed. Most registered nurses work full time, and some work on call, when necessary. This position requires a bachelor's degree in the field from an accredited school.

Median Annual Salary: $71,730

Job Growth: 15%

Nurse Practitioner

Often referred to as advanced practice registered nurses, these professionals also provide and coordinate patient care. Many of their duties mirror those of registered nurses, but they also receive training in additional functions like test evaluation, patient referral, and diagnosis. Many nurse practitioners choose to focus on specialized areas, including anesthesiology and midwifery. This position requires additional training in the form of a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $113,930

Job Growth: 31%

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants typically work as part of a team, along with surgeons, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Their duties include examining, diagnosing, and treating patients to alleviate ailments. Most physician assistants work full time in hospitals, doctor's offices, outpatient clinics, and other medical facilities. A professional interested in this position generally holds a master's degree in a specialized field.

Median Annual Salary: $108,610

Job Growth: 37%

Occupational Therapist

Healthcare professionals in this field treat patients by helping them develop better strategies for performing everyday activities. As therapists, they aim to assist patients in recovery and improve the skills necessary for daily life. They typically work full time in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other home health providers. Most occupational therapists possess graduate degrees in the field.

Median Annual Salary: $84,270

Job Growth: 24%

Recreational Therapist

These professionals develop, coordinate, and implement recreation-based treatment plans for patients dealing with various disabilities and injuries. Recreational therapists typically rely on special areas of expertise when developing these plans, including art, music, dance, sports, and aquatics. They work in hospitals, nursing homes, and recreation departments and typically hold a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $47,860

Job Growth: 7%

Salary and job prospects for nursing professionals vary by state and region. Important factors to consider when weighing these realities include the overall cost of living and area demand for professionals with core skills in nursing and healthcare.

According to the latest BLS data, California, Texas, and New York employ the most registered nurses each year, while South Dakota, West Virginia, and Mississippi boast the highest concentrations of employment nationwide. California, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia are the top-paying states for the occupation.

FL TX NM AZ AK CA NV UT CO OR WA ID HI OK MT WY ND SD NE KS MN IA MO AR LA MS AL GA SC IL WI MI IN OH TN KY NC WV VA PA NY ME VT NH RI CT NJ DE MA MD DC

What Courses Can Be Taken for an Online Nursing Degree?

Each school develops its curriculum based on the expertise of its faculty and program mission. That said, most online BSN programs share common course objectives and learning outcomes that prepare all degree seekers for successful work in the field. A typical curriculum covers all the basics of nursing and provides learners the knowledge and set of core skills necessary for gainful employment. Prospective degree seekers can expect courses like those listed below but should consult schools directly for more information.

Anatomy and Physiology This course provides learners with an overview of the basic structures and functions of the human body, including the skeletal, digestive, sensory, respiratory, nervous, muscular, and renal systems. Most online BSN programs offer the class in a two-term sequence.
Health Assessment Degree seekers in this course learn to collect the data required to perform individual health assessments in clinical settings. Topics include physical examination techniques, interviewing strategies, communication skills, and patient history intake.
Nursing Research Methodologies This class gives learners a foundational understanding of some of the research conventions specific to the field. The course covers the steps of the research process, refines information literacy skills, and instills a sense of ethical obligation.
Technology and Information Management Learners in this course can engage with basic nursing informatics designed to support patient safety and promote quality of care. Topics include data collection, storage, and retrieval, ethical and legal issues, and information assurance.
Clinical Microbiology This course introduces degree seekers to the common concepts, methods, and applications of microbiology used in clinical contexts. Learners can discuss the transmission and prevention of diseases, as well as the pathological and epidemiological factors often associated with them.

How to Choose the Best Online Nursing Program

Below are answers to several common questions that come up when choosing a BSN online program. Several major factors will affect this decision, including school reputation and faculty expertise, program requirements, possible concentrations, accreditation, and tuition rates. While all programs tend to follow similar learning objectives with the same outcomes, each school will differ a bit on these points. This means that all degree seekers can choose an option that will meet their individual needs.

Q. What are the average tuition rates for online BSN programs?

A. Total tuition for most programs ranges from $36,000-$95,000, according to data provided by U.S. News & World Report. Cost of tuition varies widely, depending on the school and geographical location. Enrollment status can also affect these costs. Accelerated programs, for example, offer a fast track to graduation but tend to be more expensive. Other factors can also reduce costs. For instance, learners who select a program within their state of residence typically pay less in tuition.

Q. Will the course of study involve field work or clinical placements?

A. Specific details on this depend on individual program requirements, but the best online BSN programs do offer clinical components. These placements typically occur near the end of the program, after coursework is complete. Online learners can expect the same experience as residential students with the added value of receiving placement in their local area. Professionals already working in the field can typically keep their current jobs in most cases.

Q. How long does a typical program last?

A. Most programs require 120 total credits. Timeframes for completion vary widely, however, due in large part to specific program requirements and individual rate of pace. While most learners can complete their course of study in 2-3 years or less, part-time enrollment can take longer. Conversely, some schools offer online accelerated BSN programs which expedite completion. Transfer learners who already carry academic credits will also finish much quicker.

Q. How does accreditation work, and why is it important?

A. Accreditation, a major factor for consideration, acts as a quality control measure designed to ensure excellence in higher education. The best schools obtain national or regional accreditation from an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Individual programs within an accredited institution sometimes receive programmatic accreditation, as well. Bodies like the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education offer this credential to online BSN programs.

Q. Do these programs provide licensure or professional certification?

A. Online BSN programs do not grant professional licensure directly, but they do equip learners for the credential. Degree seekers can obtain licensure as a registered nurse by successfully passing the NCLEX, a nationwide exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Learners typically begin this process near the end of their programs, or after graduation. All programs develop the knowledge and skills necessary for licensure, and some may offer preparatory resources for the exam.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Nursing Programs

Prospective learners can pay for their online BSN education in many ways, including student loans, scholarships, and work-study opportunities. Scholarships are especially beneficial in this regard because they provide financial assistance in the form of an award that does not need to be repaid. Several scholarship opportunities like those listed below are available to a degree seeker pursuing a BSN online.

Caroline E. Holt Nursing Scholarship

Sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution, this one-time $2,500 award supports three nursing learners each academic year. An eligible applicant must retain enrollment in an accredited nursing school and submit evidence to that effect, either in the form of transcripts or a letter of acceptance. They must also complete a short application.

Apply for Scholarship

Foundation of the National Student Nurses Association Scholarships

Awarded by one of the country's premier nursing organizations, these scholarships provide aid to learners pursuing education and training in the industry. Interested degree seekers must be enrolled at least part time in accredited, state-approved programs and demonstrate clear financial need. Successful applicants can receive up to $7,500 each academic year.

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TYLENOL Future Care Scholarship

Sponsored by Tylenol, a Johnson and Johnson subsidiary, this non-renewable scholarship offers 25 $5,000 and 10 $10,000 awards to qualifying learners each year. Eligible applicants must demonstrate enrollment in accredited programs with active professional goals of treating patients in clinical and other healthcare settings. They must submit a brief application and provide academic transcripts.

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Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship

Supported in part by the American Red Cross, this award provides financial assistance to graduate and undergraduate nursing learners who demonstrate their commitment to the field through volunteer service. Eligible applicants must demonstrate evidence of volunteer service through, or employment by, an American Red Cross unit.

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Hurst Review Services AACN Scholarship

Funded through a partnership between the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and Hurst Review Services, this scholarship supports qualifying learners pursuing professional education in the field. Applicants must be in the prelicensure stage of their education at AACN-approved schools. The scholarship provides two $2,500 awards twice each year.

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