The 2021 Guide to Online Bachelor's in Nursing Programs

You’ve thought seriously about earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and about what it would mean to be able to use your medical knowledge and interpersonal skills with patients on a daily basis. However, a full-time, on-campus nursing school might seem out of reach due to family or financial obligations. 

Another option to explore is an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. An online BSN program can launch your nursing career by preparing you for licensure, which all states require registered nurses (RNs) to obtain. A bachelor's degree in nursing can also help you compete with registered nurses who only hold an associate degree in nursing.

What is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)?

While it is possible to become a nurse with an associate degree, the more advanced Bachelor of Science in Nursing has benefits. An associate degree prepares nurses with the clinical nursing skills they will need, while a bachelor’s nursing degree also emphasizes research, leadership and management components.

Can You Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Online?

Absolutely. Online degrees in nursing are an option for many, especially with RNs returning to school mid-career, single parents, individuals for whom mobility is an issue, or anyone who has competing demands on their time.

Accredited Online Nursing Degree Programs

To earn a valid bachelor’s in nursing degree, the school you attend online must be accredited, meeting state and federal standards. Any online nursing program must meet the standards of either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing Admissions Requirements

Before you apply to a nursing school, you should have graduated from high school or passed the General Education Development (GED) test. There are a number of nursing school requirements. As part of the application process, you will likely need:

  • High school transcript or GED completion certificate.
  • Your GPA. The minimum GPA for many bachelor’s in nursing programs is 3.0. If yours is too low, consider taking a few community college courses that are relevant in some way to your future career to raise your GPA.
  • Test scores from the SAT, ACT, or TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills), depending on the school’s requirements.
  • Results from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if applicable.
  • A completed admissions application, which will include a personal essay or statement. Some programs will give you a specific direction; you usually will choose your topic. You should include the reasons you want to pursue nursing, examples from your life that show how you can meet the challenges of the program and career, relevant courses you have taken, any work experience that shows your character or relevant growth, and anything unique that will make you stand out to the admissions committee.
  • Recommendation letters from teachers, especially those in relevant subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, health, nutrition, etc.
  • History of volunteer experience, especially in health care, if applicable.
  • Your application fee (varies by school).
  • Interview. In some cases, a personal interview is part of the process. 

Online Bachelor in Nursing Curriculum

Course offerings vary by nursing school, but typical offerings for students earning bachelor’s degrees in nursing include anatomy and physiology; microbiology; psychology; pathophysiology; evidence-based nursing practice and statistics; health care information and technology; quality care and patient safety; health across the lifespan; topics in clinical nursing; advocacy through health care policy; and family theory. 

Also possibly required are general courses required of any bachelor’s degree: English/composition, history, communications, social sciences, literature, art and physical education.

Students in online Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs also can take elective courses of interest. These can be in disciplines such as gerontology, pediatrics, women’s health, pharmacology, mental health, ethics in nursing, faith-community nursing, holistic nursing, leadership management, population health or clinical theory.

You will be required to do a certain number of clinical practice hours to earn your degree. But there is some flexibility in how these hours can be accomplished, including virtual simulation exercises. It’s common for online nursing programs to help their students find preceptors—established nurses—who function as teachers/mentors/leaders during clinical practice. 

There are Many Paths to Online BSN Programs

There is no one-size-fits-all path to earning a bachelor’s in nursing degree. You can apply right out of high school, or you can return to school after earning your RN, LPN or associate degree and working in the field for a number of years.

High School to Undergraduate Nursing School

From high school (or completion of your GED), you can apply directly to online nursing schools. You’ll want to research the programs that fit your needs best, not only in curriculum and faculty but also in cost/financial aid and scheduling. If you work full time, for example, a school with flexible scheduling may be what you need.

RN to BSN

If you are a registered nurse who wants to pursue an online BSN program, you still must apply (with all the documents and information listed above) and be accepted. Your personal statement or essay should reflect your workplace experience, and it can help if your letters of recommendation are not just from former teachers, but also medical professionals who have been colleagues or supervisors. 

LPN to BSN

As a licensed practical nurse, you are ahead of those applying directly from high school, but your BSN will likely take longer than it would for an RN. Like an RN, though, when you apply, at least some of your letters of recommendation should be from your health care workplace, and your personal statement or essay should reflect something about your experiences there. 

ADN to BSN

If you have an associate degree in nursing (ADN), you’re halfway to a BSN. The difference between you and an RN is that your degree is a college degree, while the RN tends to be a nursing-school degree. 

FAQ

How Long Does it Take to Get a Bachelor of Nursing Online?

If you are already an RN or an ADN, a bachelor’s program in nursing will probably take about two years. If you are starting straight out of high school or from an unrelated degree, it will probably take closer to four years, depending on how many prerequisites you have. There are some accelerated nursing programs online, which can take 18 months to two years; your clinical practice takes place at a facility in your area.

How Much Does an Online Nursing Bachelor’s Degree Cost?

It depends primarily on two factors: the school you choose, and how many credits you need to graduate. Online nursing programs can cost as much as $40,000, but vary by cost per credit hour. Bachelor’s degrees in nursing can require between 90 and 120 credit hours to complete. Many schools offer financial aid. 

What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With an Online BSN Degree?

You can qualify for a variety of jobs in different workplaces and in specific areas of medicine. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses can work in many settings, including hospitals, schools, public health clinics, private practices, elderly care facilities, or home health care agencies. You can specialize in emergency room care, pediatrics, health education, trauma, women’s health and reproduction, and more. 

What is the Bachelor’s in Nursing Salary and Career Outlook?

The need for registered nurses is expected to increase 12% from 2018 to 2028, an increase of 371,500 jobs and a rate the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) considers much faster than average. The median annual pay for registered nurses in 2019 was $73,300, according to the BLS, this salary can vary depending on whether you have BSN or an Associate’s. 

Nurses who continue on to their master’s degree in nursing (MSN), which can lead positions like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, or nurse anesthetist, are looking at a must faster than average 26% increase in jobs available, and a 2019 median annual salary of $115,800. Salaries do vary depending on position and state, so be sure to research your area.

What Advanced Degrees Are Available After Completing an Online BSN Program?

If you complete an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, you can pursue earn a master’s degree (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). These degree all are advanced-practice nursing certifications and allow you to specialize even more and qualify for positions with more responsibility and autonomy, such as clinical nurse specialist (CNS), nurse practitioner (NP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), certified nurse-midwives (CNM) and certified nurse anesthetists (CAN).

Why Pursue an Online Nursing Program?

An online Bachelor of Science in Nursing program offers more flexibility and gives you more options—you aren’t restricted to schools simply because they’re in your area. You can take a shorter or longer time to get your degree, depending on your scheduling needs. And while nursing school can be expensive, online programs don’t have the extra costs of housing or campus fees necessary with in-person schools. An online program allows you to pursue your dream of being a nurse without the traditional restrictions of a full-time, location-based nursing program.

Last Updated July 2020