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RN Programs

Registered nurses (RNs) care for patients in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and home healthcare settings. They specialize in areas such as emergency care, pediatrics, hospice care, and informatics. An RN program prepares graduates for high-paying nursing careers.

During an RN program, nursing students learn how to conduct a patient health assessment, identify patient needs, and apply evidence-based practices. They also complete clinical hours to strengthen their patient care skills. After earning a BSN, nurses qualify for RN licensure and entry-level nursing careers.

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RNs benefit from strong demand and an above-average salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earn a median annual salary of $73,300. The BLS projects nearly 222,000 new RN jobs between 2019-2029.

Our list ranks the best online nursing programs for 2021. Prospective nurses can use the rankings to identify the right fit for reaching their professional goals. This article also introduces the benefits of earning an RN degree online, admission requirements, and scholarships for nursing students.

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Top 10 Online RN Programs

? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
Rank School Avg Net Price ? This represents the average net price of attendance for full-time students as gathered by the National Center for Education Statistics. Individual costs may vary. Costs per credit hour may also vary by program or degree.
1 North Central Missouri College $8131
2 Allegany College of Maryland $9509
3 Minnesota West Community and Technical College $10068
4 Northwest Technical College $11348
5 Excelsior College $

Questions to Ask when Becoming an RN


  • What is the difference between an RN and a BSN?

    An RN provides patient care in a healthcare setting. RNs enter the healthcare field with an associate degree in nursing or a BSN degree.


  • Do you need a bachelor's degree to be a nurse?

    Some employers hire nurses with an associate degree and an RN license. However, a growing number of employers prefer to hire nurses with a bachelor’s degree.


  • What kind of nurses get paid the most?

    Advanced practice RNs, like nurse practitioners, earn the highest salaries in nursing. A BSN degree meets the requirements for graduate programs in nursing.


  • How do I start a career in nursing?

    A BSN represents the typical entry-level education for registered nurse careers. The degree trains graduates for an RN license and nursing jobs.


What Are the Goals of an RN Degree?

A registered nurse program builds the knowledge and skills required for RN careers. During an RN degree, nursing students take classes in anatomy, pharmacology, physiology, and health assessment. They also gain hands-on training through clinical practicums at hospitals and other healthcare settings.

RN students strengthen their core nursing skills while also specializing in areas including pediatrics, emergency care, and surgical nursing. A BSN degree meets the requirements for these nursing specialties and more. After completing coursework and clinical requirements, RN students take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for a nursing license.

Why become a registered nurse?



With an RN degree, graduates can pursue careers in an in-demand, high-paying field. An RN degree offers several other personal and professional benefits:

Earning Potential
RNs earn an above-average salary. The median annual salary for RNs exceeds $73,000, according to the BLS. A BSN degree increases nurses’ earning potential.
Specialities
During a BSN program, nursing students specialize their skills through electives and clinical rotations. Nurses specialize in areas such as pediatrics, acute care, and oncology.
Demand
The demand for RNs continues to grow. According to BLS projections, the workforce will add nearly 222,000 new RN jobs between 2019-2029.
Flexibility
An online learning format prioritizes flexibility. In an online nursing program, learners often complete coursework around other obligations, making it easier to earn a degree.
Accessibility
RN degrees online offer greater accessibility compared to in-person programs. Degree-seekers can choose a top-ranked program outside their local area without relocating.

What Are the Requirements for an RN Degree?

Applicants to an online nursing program must meet certain prerequisites. Typically, an RN program offering BSN degrees expects a high school diploma or equivalent and standardized test scores. Schools may also ask for recommendation letters, a resume, and a statement of purpose. Some online RN programs interview applicants during the admissions process. During the interview, nursing faculty learn more about the applicant’s background and preparation for an RN degree.

After gaining admission, RN students take courses in health assessment, evidence-based practice, and patient care. Nursing students also complete clinical hours to build hands-on skills. After earning an RN degree online, nurses take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for an RN license.

Professional Organizations for RN Students

Professional organizations help RN students transition from their BSN program into the workforce. These associations provide professional development resources, career counseling, and continuing education opportunities. Nursing students also network with experienced nurses through local events and national conferences. Many professional organizations offer student membership discounts.


  • American Nursing Association Founded in 1911, the ANA represents the 3.4 million RNs in the U.S. The association sets nursing practice standards and a code of ethics. Members also benefit from continuing education opportunities, professional journals, and a career center with job postings and career counseling support.

  • Sigma An international honor society, Sigma dates back to 1922. The association recognizes exceptional nursing students and supports nursing research. Members participate in networking opportunities through local chapters, pursue leadership roles in Sigma, and access career advising and coaching information. The organization represents 135,000 nurses worldwide.

  • National Student Nurses' Association NSNA offers mentorship opportunities for nursing students pursuing initial RN licensure. The association promotes clinical and patient care skills, publishes data on nursing, and hosts a career center with online education tools. NSNA also provides resources on the NCLEX-RN exam and career planning support.

Scholarships for RN Students

RN students qualify for many scholarship opportunities. Professional associations, private foundations, and private donors all award scholarships for future nurses. Nursing students should research scholarships based on their nursing specialty, school, and state. Many states offer grants to fund nursing degrees. Below, we list a few scholarships to start your search.

Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) awards the scholarship to support nursing students with a minimum 3.2 GPA. Applicants must enroll in a BSN program at an AACN member institution to qualify. The scholarship requires good academic standing at the recipient’s current institution.
Amount: $5,000

AfterCollege-AACN Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The scholarship funds nursing students at the bachelor’s and graduate levels. Applicants enrolled in an RN-to-BSN program or an accelerated program receive special consideration. The fund grants a scholarship every quarter.
Amount: $2,500

AACN Scholarship

Who Can Apply: AACN offers the scholarship in partnership with Hurst Review Services, an NCLEX preparation company. Prelicensure students at AACN member schools qualify for the award. AACN and Hurst Review Services select winners twice annually.
Amount: $2,500

Best Online RN Programs

See Our Rankings Methodology
  1. North Central Missouri College
    Location

    Trenton, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Trenton, NCMC offers a nine-month online RN program designed to provide a path for certified nurses to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN). Students must travel to campus two to three times during the program.

    Nursing course requirements include adult nursing, pharmacology, mental health nursing, and leadership in nursing. The program also requires general education courses to finish the associate degree. Required on-campus visits include skills checks and a simulation lab.

    Applicants must provide evidence of graduation from a state-approved LPN program with a minimum GPA of 2.0 to qualify for admission. The program requires the TEAS entrance exam, and students must hold unencumbered licensure with IV certification.

    NCMC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the National League for Nursing Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation.

  2. Allegany College of Maryland
    Location

    Cumberland, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Cumberland, ACM offers an online associate of science in nursing for students interested in becoming registered nurses.

    Students earn a certified nursing assistant or geriatric nursing assistant distinction after the first semester of study. The first year of study plus a five-week summer term awards students LPN licensure upon successfully completing the NCLEX-PN. In the second year, students finish general education requirements and clinicals required to graduate with an associate degree and sit for exams to become a registered nurse. Students spend over 1,400 hours in a clinical setting by the end of the program.

    Applicants need a minimum GPA of 2.5 and a grade of "C" or better in all science courses to qualify for admission. Students must complete prerequisites before beginning nursing courses. The school strongly prefers applicants to finish general education courses before starting nursing courses as well.

    ACM is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

  3. Minnesota West Community and Technical College
    Location

    Granite Falls, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Worthington, MWCTC offers an online associate of science in nursing. Current LPNs can finish coursework online to complete the program.

    Nursing courses include pharmacology, principles of professional nursing, health promotion and role of the professional nurse, and family-centered care. Students must also complete general education courses and electives. Learners must prepare to travel to assigned clinical sites within southwest Minnesota whether part of the on-campus or online cohort. The clinical requirement provides critical hands-on experience in direct patient care.

    Students need LPN licensure by August 1 before their desired program start date. The program requires a minimum GPA of 3.0 in prerequisite courses and a minimum decision score of 80 on the NACE 1 foundations exam.

    MWCTC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

  4. Northwest Technical College
    Location

    Bemidji, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Bemidji, Minnesota, NTC offers an online and hybrid delivery associate of nursing. Students complete the majority of coursework online, with a few on-campus requirements for skills assessment and labs.

    In addition to any general education requirements, students must take nursing core coursework. Notable courses include maternal-newborn nursing, foundation nursing skills, psychosocial nursing, and bioethical issues in contemporary society. Students complete required clinicals on campus to gain hands-on experience and participate in simulations for practice delivering care. Students who graduate can sit for the state registered nurse licensing exam.

    Applicants must take the ACCUPLACER general education placement exam and pass the TEAS exam with a minimum score of 64. The program requires students to possess a "C" or better in all prerequisite courses and an overall GPA of 2.76 to qualify for admission.

    NTC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

  5. Excelsior College
    Location

    Albany, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Located in Albany, New York, Excelsior offers a competency-based associate in applied science in nursing that allows students to transfer in up to 31 eligible credits.

    The program includes general education requirements for completing the associate degree, but students also take nursing-specific core coursework. Notable courses include transition to the professional nurse role, essentials of nursing care and safety, health differences across the lifespan, and reproductive health. Students take clinical practicums to gain real experience delivering direct care to patients and travel to the assigned clinical site to complete the requirements.

    Applicants must reside in one of 17 reciprocal states to apply for the program. The program requires students to possess an LPN license, employment in a healthcare setting, and at least 200 hours of direct work experience. Students must also complete the TEAS exam to qualify for admission.

    Excelsior is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school also boasts programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

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