Those interested in starting a rewarding career in healthcare can complete a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocation nurse (LVN) program in two years or less. Serving as an LPN/LVN can open the doors to other career opportunities, including a registered nurse (RN). Students planning to maintain a part-time or full-time job while completing their education can enroll in an online LPN/LVN program to achieve their educational goals. The following page outlines the career paths for LPNs/LVNs and the online program options available to students.
Qualified health care professionals are in demand and the first step to entering the field is an online degree for LPNs. Whether the degree is a stepping stone for further education or where you want to grow your career, you can find flexible and quality opportunities at a wide range of schools. First, you need to do your research to ensure the program you choose meets the licensure requirements in your state. We’ve done some of that work for you, looking at a variety of services and features to bring you a list of the best online LPN programs for 2017.
|Rank||University||Location||Score||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||Hannibal-LaGrange University||Hannibal, MO||94.07||$18,680||1||84%||4:1||51%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
The LPN certificate program at Hannibal-LaGrange University (HLGU) is has an excellent NCLEX-PN pass rate, at just over 95 percent, along with a 100 percent placement rate for graduates. For admission, students must pass an entrance exam, and be at least 17 years old, with either a GED or high school diploma. The program begins each August, and it takes 12 months to complete the 62 credit hours and 1500 clock hours required. Graduates will then be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-PN exam and start their career in the nursing field. If desired, graduates can further their education in another HLGU nursing program. While in the program, LPN students have the option to live on campus and participate in several campus clubs and organizations, including the Student Nurses Association. HLGU also provides several opportunities for service and volunteering. Since HLGU is a Christian college, nursing students can attend chapel services or access chapel audio files online.
|2||University of Arkansas at Monticello||Monticello, AR||93.86||$4,230||1||51%||3:1||23%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
University of Arkansas at Monticello has several nursing programs, including the 42-credit technical certificate in practical nursing through its College of Technology-Crossett. The college itself is accredited by the Commission of Higher Learning, and the PN program is approved by the Arkansas State Board of Nursing. Admission requires passing the ACT, ASSET, COMPASS or SAT with program-specified scores and passing the prerequisite courses within the last five years, with a grade of at least a “C.” Students are then ranked based on specific criteria - including academics - to determine admission, which happens once a year in the fall term. This program is eligible for financial aid, and students can apply for loans, grants and scholarships, including those offered by the University of Arkansas and outside organizations. To make things easier, students can fill out a general application through the university and be matched automatically to scholarships for which they may be eligible.
|3||University of Arkansas-Fort Smith||Fort Smith, AR||93.79||$3,336||1||47%||3:1||25%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
University of Arkansas-Fort Smith (UAFS) offers a technical certificate in Practical Nursing (PN) through its College of Health Sciences Carolyn McKelvey School of Nursing. Acceptance into this program is competitive, so students must meet specific criteria, including an overall score of 105 or higher on the PAX PN pre-admission exam. The curriculum is competency-based, and combines classroom time with clinical experience, which students will receive through rotations in local medical facilities. Students also take a series of standardized tests throughout the program to better prepare them for the NCLEX-PN exam. Practical nursing students will spend time at the Health Learning Resource Center, which houses the human patient simulator lab, textbooks, study areas and helpful staff consisting of student workers and resource coordinators. Nursing students are encouraged to join the Student Nursing Association, an on-campus organization and that provides access to helpful resources.
|4||Arkansas Tech University||Russellville, AR||93.70||$5,016||1||56%||2:1||41%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Students looking for a well-rounded PN program should check out the Practical Nursing program at the Arkansas Tech University Ozark campus. Students can earn a technical certificate while learning a holistic approach to treating patients. Students will get plenty of hands-on clinical experience with required rotations through a variety of clinical and hospital settings, in areas such as maternity, pediatrics, mental health, geriatrics and adult health. The program accepts students twice a year, and takes three semesters to complete, with an extra semester sometimes needed for completion of prerequisites. Students must maintain at least an 80 percent grade average in all areas of the program, which includes classes, lab and clinical time. When students graduate, they can apply to the Arkansas State Board of Nursing, which is the final step before taking the NCLEX-PN exam to become licensed to work as a Practical Nurse (LPN).
|5||Florida Gateway College||Lake City, FL||92.02||$2,369||1||33%||3:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Florida Gateway College (FGC), located in Lake City, is a community college that serves five counties in the north central Florida area. The Practical Nursing program is one of over 60 programs students can choose from at FGC. This is a 12-month occupational certificate program, with students starting once a year in the spring. With admission being limited to a specific number, students may be chosen based on their scores on the Practical Nurse Entrance Test (PNET). Once graduates' applications are approved by the Florida Board of Nursing, they can take the NCLEX-PN, which is the national certification exam required to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). FGC offers nursing students some fantastic, stress-relieving resources, such as 24-hour access to personal counseling, a family-friendly study space, study rooms in the library, tutoring, academic advising, career services and several financial aid options.
|6||Pensacola State College||Pensacola, FL||90.40||$2,051||1||23%||2:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Admission to the Practical Nursing (PN) program at Pensacola State College is is determined by specific criteria, including entrance exam scores and based on a first qualified, first accepted policy. Whether or not a student gets in is limited by student-to-faculty ratios and availability of clinical resources. A 2.0 GPA is required for admission and progression through the program. In addition to coursework and lectures, students will get plenty of hands-on experience through the patient simulation lab and time spent training in a hospital setting. Upon graduation, students earn a vocational certificate and are eligible to take the NCLEX-PN certification exam. While students are going through the PN program, they have access to some great resources through the Health Sciences Learning Center, such as open lab, workshops and demonstrations. PN students can also apply for Career and Technical Education (CTE) Student Resources, as they may be eligible for certificate reimbursement, textbook loans, scholarships and all things career-related.
|7||SUNY College of Technology at Canton||Alfred, NY||90.11||$6,170||2||16%||3:1||32%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Canton State University of New York is part of the SUNY system, and offers several nursing programs through the School of Science, Health & Criminal Justice, including a Practical Nursing certificate program. This is a one-year program, in which students must carry at least a 2.0 GPA while earning the required 36 semester hours for completion. PN students learn through lectures, lab time and clinical rotations in local hospitals, community health clinics and long-term health care facilities, with possible day, evening and weekend hours. The curriculum combines general education with nursing courses, and while in the program, students take a series of standardized tests to help prepare them for the NCLEX-PN certification exam. In addition to patients, nursing students need to take care of themselves. The Canton campus has this covered, with student resources such as a health clinic, free counseling and free usage of the fitness center, pool and several wellness programs offered through a campus-wide wellness initiative.
|8||Indian River State College||Fort Pierce, FL||87.97||$2,496||1||11%||1:1||N/A||No||Yes||Yes|
The Practical Nursing certificate program at Indian River State College's St. Pierce campus is considered a Quick Job Training program, which means it is designed to prepare students to enter the workforce as quickly as possible and focuses heavily on developing hands-on skills needed in the real-world. This is a full-time program, with about 35 hours a week dedicated to classes, and is offered once a year during the spring. Students must meet several specific requirements prior to admission, plus earn a qualifying score on the National League of Nursing pre-admission exam, which is available online. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and prepares students for the NCLEX-PN exam, which is required to begin working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). The PN program is eligible for financial aid, so students can apply for several types of aid, including in-house scholarships, through the Office of Student Financial Aid or set up an interest-free tuition payment plan.
|9||Pennsylvania College of Technology||Williamsport, PA||87.91||$12,960||2||9%||3:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Pennsylvania College of Technology offers an accredited 17-month Practical Nursing program approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing. Students will earn an associate of applied science degree with a Practical Nursing emphasis and can then apply to take the national certification exam to begin working as a Licensed Practical Nurse in a variety of settings. For admission, students will need a high school diploma or GED certificate. Potential PN students must also take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) prior to admission, which is offered several times each semester. Once in the program, students are expected to maintain a GPA of at least 2.0. Transferring credits from another institution may be possible as long as credits are approved by Penn College nursing officials. PN students have the option of joining two campus professional organizations dedicated to nursing students: The Organization of Associate Degree Nursing and the Student Nursing Association.
|10||Trocaire College||Buffalo, NY||86.73||$15,500||1||64%||4:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
The Catherine McAuley School of Nursing at Trocaire College in Buffalo is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), and offers nursing degrees at the certificate, associate and bachelor's degree levels. The Practical Nursing certificate program is a great way to get a foot in the door, and the quickest way to enter the nursing field and begin working as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). This program can be completed in three semesters, which includes prerequisite general education courses. Students will need to get accepted in two academic stages: first, they apply at the pre-professional level, and after general education courses are completed, apply for admittance into the professional portion of the program. PN students get a well-rounded education with classes and labs during the day, and clinical rotations two times a week in a variety of Buffalo area health care facilities. Clinical rotation locations change each semester.
The bureau of labor statistics provides the following data about job growth in the Nursing industry. As well as the following national median salary data for several different careers in the field of Nursing.
|Career||National Job Growth(2012-2022)||National Median Annual Salary||Minimum Education|
|Home Health Care Provider||38%||$24.89/hour||State Licensure|
|Military Nurse||19 to 26%||$37,783||State Licensure|
|Office Manager||17%||$52,852||State Licensure|
|Nursing Facility Nurse||17%||$45,029||State Licensure|
|Mental Health Facility Nurse||31%||$96,460||State Licensure|
Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Becoming a licensed practical nurse or licensed vocational nurse can be a stepping stone towards a nursing or medical career, or be a rewarding career path in itself with opportunities to help patients. Below is a map that highlights key milestones an LPN/LVN may reach along the way:
Excelled in natural science, physics, human anatomy, mathematics, and other science subjects; volunteered at a local hospice or hospital
Completed 12-month training program through accredited online vocational school. two to three years.
completed clinical rotations in various practice specialties to obtain hands-on training in the field.
passed the NCLEX-PN licensing exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
obtained certification in specialty area, such as intravenous therapy, pediatric care, or gerontology.
completed LPN-to-BSN bridge program or pursued a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Even though there are clinical components of LPN/LVN training programs, much of the coursework can still be completed online. Online LPN and LVN programs are designed with the same curriculum as those offered in a classroom setting but students are responsible for logging in to an online platform and participating in online discussions.
Students enrolled in online nursing programs can enjoy the flexibility of studying at times that are most convenient for them while maintaining a job or taking care of a family. Eliminating a drive to campus and spending several hours a week in a classroom can make it easier to manage a busy schedule while completing a quality education program.
Online students must complete clinical rotations that may involve spending several hours a week in a laboratory setting or medical setting to gain hands-on experience. Students are responsible for organizing their schedules to take care of the clinical requirements of the program.
Many schools offer a variety of program types for aspiring LPNs and LVNs to fit the needs of different students. The right program depends on an individual’s educational background, career goals, and available time. For example, an accelerated program that can be completed in approximately nine months may be more appropriate for someone without a full-time job or other responsibilities, while a two-year program may be a better match for someone who is working while going to school. Previously licensed LPNs or LVNs may need to take refresher courses to stay current on the latest developments in the industry and renew their license.
Students who want to complete a nursing training program quickly and at a lower cost can complete a diploma program. These programs provide a specialized introduction to the nursing field and provide students with the very basic, job-specific skills needed to succeed in this field.
Individuals who want a solid foundation in the nursing field can pursue an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). The credits earned with this degree program may be used towards a bachelor’s degree for those who aspire to work as a registered nurse (RN). Associate’s degree programs provide broader skills training and a more in-depth education than a diploma program since they are designed to prepare students for a long-term nursing career. Completing this type of degree program online can make it easier for students to fulfill their educational requirements while working part-time or full-time. However, the degree program does include a clinical component where students need to fulfill hands-on training requirements in a lab or hospital setting.
Completing a licensed practical nurse (LPN) certification program takes about one to two years of training at a community college or technical school, and may be the fast track to entering the nursing field without a degree. Those who successfully complete this program may have the option to enroll in an LPN-to-RN or LPN-to-BSN bridge program where they can become a registered nurse. Completing a certification program can be a shortcut to entering the work force but may not fully prepare a student for a bachelor’s degree later — if a bachelor’s degree is the goal, the student may fare better completing an associate’s degree program first. The student must decide what their long-term educational career goals are before enrolling in an associate’s degree or certificate program.
Previously licensed LPNs and LVNs who wish to continue advancing their careers can complete a refresher course in 12 months. The one-year program typically includes 120 hours of theory and 120 hours of clinical practice. It is complete with a final exam. The theory component can be completed online, giving students the flexibility to study at their own pace. Students must register for this program, provide transcripts showing completion of a previous LPN or LVN program, and verify their current licensure. The clinical portion is completed under the guidance of a preceptor at a clinical site and students must provide clinical experience verification forms, a letter of recommendation, and other materials before they can re-activate their license.
Coursework for aspiring LPNs and LVNs varies by type of training program or degree program. Diploma programs are more specialized in nature, while degree and certification programs take a broader scope and courses dedicated to specialty areas. Examples of courses offered in some of these programs include:
Introduction of practical nursing principles and skills, including the nursing process and implementation of patient care plans.
A comprehensive study of the human body and the body’s systems, including the musculoskeletal and nervous system, endocrine system, and histology. Other subjects may include metabolism, the reproductive system, and electrolyte balance.
Overview of common medical terms and medical terminology used in the nursing industry, including appropriate world analysis, pronunciation, and medical terms used in a lab setting or during a surgical procedure.
Comprehensive study of the legal system and ethical principles that affect nosing care. Students learn about malpractice and negligence, professional liability insurance, confidentiality practices, and review the American Nurses’ Association Code of Ethics.
State laws mandate all patient care must be documented. Students are introduced to the different methods of documentation and process of documenting care in different medical settings, as outlined by regulatory bodies such as the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).
There are many accredited and online LPN and LVN programs out there and finding the right match can feel overwhelming. Here are some things to consider when searching for the right fit:
Graduates of an accredited nursing school program are eligible to take NCLEX-PN exam, required for state licensure as a practical or vocational nurse. Holding a degree or certificate from an accredited school allows students to attend other accredited schools if they choose to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In addition, employers typically look for candidates who have completed training at an accredited school since this means the candidate was trained under nationally established guidelines and standards in nursing education. Understanding the importance of completing an accredited training program is the first step towards a successful career in this field.
The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is the main accrediting body for nursing education programs at all levels. The ACEN accredits master’s, baccalaureate, associate’s, and diploma nursing education programs across the country.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) only accredits baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing. It is officially recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a national accreditation agency.
One of the best ways to successfully enter the nursing field is to keep track of all education and training requirements needed to apply for a license. Mapping out a calendar of deadlines and forecasting the number of months and years it takes to complete various elements of a nursing education can help to keep students on track. This chart is an example of what a typical student’s timeline might look like:
|Time to Complete|
Obtain High School Diploma or GED
Complete diploma program, associate’s degree or certification program
|1 to 3 years|
Pass licensing exam (NCLEX-PN)
|1 to 3 years|
Secure entry-level job
Take refresher courses to maintain licensure
Individuals who know they want to enter the field of nursing can prepare for enrollment in a diploma, associate’s degree program, or certification program while still in high school. They can focus on excelling in math and science courses and study these subjects on their own during the summer after graduation.
Volunteering at an area hospital, hospice, or similar healthcare setting can be a valuable addition to any student’s resume because it gives them experience working with patients indirectly and working in a medical or clinical setting.
Completing an LPN/LVN program can help an aspiring nurse or medical professional succeed in their field. The following are some career options for practical nurses:
Professionals who are able to travel to a patent’s location and provide home health care services may find this line of work appealing. They are involved with taking care of patients in their home instead of in a hospital setting, educating family members or other care providers, and providing assistance after surgery or during a recovery period.
Some LPNs and LVNs can complete a specialty training program where they can work in the armed services to provide care for injured military members. They may also work in a civilian hospital setting at a particular destination where the military is serving for an extended period of time.
Not all LPNs and LVNs work directly with patients. Some prefer to work behind the scenes on the administrative side, taking care of patient paperwork, filing duties, inventory management, and other administrative tasks for a physician’s practice, hospital, medical center, or healthcare facility. Some LPNs rotate between office tasks and clinical tasks as needed.
Those who wish to work strictly with geriatric patients can find jobs in a nursing facility or hospice. These nursing professionals are responsible for providing basic nursing care to elderly patients, assisting doctors and physicians with assessments and other routine tasks, and overseeing treatment planning processes for their patients.
Residential treatment centers, rehab centers and similar mental health care facilities hire LPNs to develop treatment plans for patients, conduct basic physical assessments, and provide supervision to nursing aides on staff. These nursing professionals need to have very good communication and interpersonal skills to handle patients with mental health problems or those who are chronically ill.
State licensure is required before an LPN or LVN can practice. Every state has its own licensing requirements that are listed on the individual state’s Board of Nursing website. In most cases, individuals can submit an application to the Board of Nursing and pay appropriate fees online.
Specialty certifications are optional and but can increase job skills and credibility. Obtaining additional certification can make the nursing professional more attractive to a future employer.
IV Certification trains individuals to administer various types of drugs and medications intravenously
NAPNES Pharmacology Certification is available to those who hold a current LPN/LVN license. Recertification is required every three years.
Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is offered by the American Heart Association
Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) trains individuals to provide advanced life support to younger patients in critical care or emergency situations.
Wound Care Certification (WCC) provides in-depth training for managing and treating different types of wounds.
After reviewing the guidelines and requirements in this guide, some students may be wondering whether a career as a practical nurse is right for them. If the life of an LPN or LVN sounds interesting but you’d like to explore more options, consider these other similar programs and career paths:
Training to become a certified nursing assistant may be a better match for those who are interested in providing support to a nurse or medical professionals in a clinical setting. Students learn the practical, academic, and social skills necessary to excel in this field and complete CPR/AED or the Healthcare Provider training, as well as First Aid Training and clinical training requirements. A portion of this program can be completed online.
Becoming a registered nurse (RN) may be an attractive career proposition for those who want to treat patients directly and educate the public about various health issues. An online RN program typically encompasses all areas of the traditional registered nurse program and obtain supervised clinical experience at an approved healthcare facility.
Licensed practical nurses who wish to further their education can complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree online. The online LPN-to-BSN bridge program helps students become eligible for licensure as a registered nurse in their state. The majority of coursework is completed online, although some clinical training requirements for this program take place in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and even research settings after graduation.