Becoming a nurse can be an extremely rewarding profession, but there are a few obstacles you need to deal with before you become a registered practitioner. Online degrees are ideal for those who prefer to study on their own. The online option is also good for those who are working at another job while completing nursing school. You'll still need to complete some class time at a dedicated hospital, but this is necessary because employers will want to see that you have gotten some real experience in a clinical setting.
Deciding Whether or Not Online Nursing School is Right for You
Online school is great for students who have been out of college for a few years. These schools offer flexible schedules, so older working professionals can balance college life with their family's needs. If you have a young child at home, then online college may make it easier to cram while dealing with parental responsibilities. Online college courses are not easier than traditional classes in a physical building. You'll still have to deal with professors, deadlines, and stringent grading requirements. Nursing school requires a strong understanding of biological sciences, and nurses are held to strict standards set by state laws and the American Nurses Association. Make sure that you are ready to dedicate 20 or more hours per week to your online coursework. Completing online courses will be a breeze if you take the time to truly study the material, but understand that you will have to put in significant effort to complete an online degree program. An online nursing degree will likely take years to finish, but you will soon qualify for employment in a stable and rewarding career field that offers competitive salaries and substantial benefits.
Selecting the Right Online College or University
You'll likely need to live close to the college or university you attend because you're still going to spend some time completing work in a hospital. Every school has different entry requirements, but you'll typically need to complete some science coursework before the school will admit you. There are a few different types of nursing degrees, and you'll want to select one that suits your particular needs.
You'll need to pass the NCLEX to get your license, so make sure you learn well in an online setting. If you don't master the material, then you won't pass the state examination. 87% of prospective nurses pass the NCLEX on their first try, so you'll do well if you ensure you attend a reputable school and study hard. Some online schools offer coaching and assistance with the NCLEX during the final term, so consider asking the admissions department if they offer any additional help while preparing for this challenging test.
Many online nursing schools offer accelerated degree programs. You may be able to complete a bachelor's degree in nursing in under three years. Don't expect these courses to be self-paced. The school will usually make you complete the work on a rigid schedule because each portion of the degree program must be completed sequentially. It's also very important to consider costs. It is true that you can pay for nursing school entirely through student loans, but federal loans must be paid back and you cannot claim bankruptcy on them. The average nursing school tuition is $70,000, but online schools are often significantly cheaper because many of the professor's responsibilities are automated. Western Governor's University offers a nursing degree for just over $8,000 in total tuition costs. Many public colleges also offer cheap online nursing degrees. Consider attending an online college that costs less than $10,000. The average RN salary in the United States is around $75,000, so you can easily pay off the entire tuition of the degree program within your first year of work.
You'll also want to look at the coursework the college offers. Nursing programs are centered around patient care, but the curriculum should also include a good amount of science content. Your ultimate goal is to be able to work as a nurse the first day you graduate, so consider how applicable the curriculum will be in real-world situations. If you want to ace your first job interview as a Registered Nurse, then you should be prepared to answer any questions the hiring manager asks. A good nursing program should prepare you to administer medication, monitor patients, and provide the degree of care necessary to ensure patients are comfortable.
You'll want to make sure that the school you select is accredited by either The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. A school that does not meet one of these two standards is not considered valid in the United States. The school you attend should also be regionally accredited.
The last thing you'll want to consider is how many people graduate from the college or university you plan on attending. If graduation rates are low, then you may need to work significantly harder to complete school. Some schools simply have poor administration policies that make it harder for students to graduate. You won't typically deal with a lot of professors in an online setting. You may have an occasional video conference, but most of your interactions with the professor will be on message boards. This means you'll need to be prepared to work through tons of material on your own.
Getting Admitted to an Online Nursing School
The requirements for nursing school aren't as stringent as physician medical schools, but you're still going to want to present a good application and transcripts. If you haven't attended college, then they will likely want you to send your high school records. Some nursing schools require a GPA of 3.5 or higher, but many online degree programs are more flexible with the grades. Just make sure that you meet the entry requirements before you submit your application. You can apply to multiple online nursing schools, but keep in mind that you may need to move if you get accepted to a school that isn't in your area. You'll typically be able to complete the online coursework wherever you want, but you must complete the clinical rotations at hospitals authorized by the college. There are no fully online nursing schools, but you'll typically spend less than a month at the hospital during your clinical rotations.
Most hiring managers do not care about the specific college or university you attend. They are more concerned about your license and experience. Employers will assume that you have completed the required coursework if you have the license, so don't sweat it if you don't get into a highly rated school. Your dedication to the profession and professionalism during the interview will do far more than information printed on your transcripts. Simply getting into an online nursing program shouldn't be a huge problem, but make sure you do your research and carefully examine the required coursework. Nursing school requires a huge investment of time and effort on the part of the student, so ensure you're ready to go all-in before you start sending financial aid and attending classes.
Online nursing schools do not typically require in-person interviews for admission, but you should be friendly and professional with the enrollment counselor over the phone. You may need to request a letter of recommendation from some of the staff at the college or university, so building a strong rapport with the faculty may help you land the entry-level nursing position you desire. Just ensure that you meet the minimum requirements for the online nursing school. Schools will rarely admit someone who doesn't meet the GPA requirements, so consider retaking courses and getting better grades if your GPA is too low to be admitted. These schools may also look at your science GPA. Nursing schools typically require an applicant's science GPA to be 3.0 or higher.
Completing the Required Coursework
A standard four-year degree will require 120 credit hours of coursework, but most online programs are accelerated. The content is condensed, so a lot of repetitive or unnecessary material may be omitted. This doesn't necessarily mean that the curriculum will be easier. You'll learn quite a bit about treating patients, but many online degrees require coursework in subjects like ethics and leadership as well. A complete four-year degree program will also require coursework in social science, mathematics, and the humanities. Keep in mind that some online colleges might offer a limited curriculum because they offer a standardized graduation path. This can actually be a good thing because you will always know the path you need to take while completing undergraduate coursework.
Online Nursing Degree Clinical Rotations
If an online nursing school isn't offering clinical rotations, then there's a good chance it isn't regionally accredited. Clinical rotations are necessary because you'll want to have real hospital experience when you apply for an entry-level nursing job. If you haven't worked in a hospital, then employers are going to question the quality of the education you've received. You likely won't have to spend a lot of time attending clinical rotations, but make sure you are paying attention during this part of school because you are going to be shadowing real nurses as they treat patients. The whole reason colleges require clinical rotations is because they want their graduates to be ready for the occupation after they complete school. The clinical rotations will be very similar to the ones you would experience at a normal college or university. They are usually entirely separate from the college courses you complete.
Graduating Nursing School and Considering Additional Online Options
Online nursing degrees are a relatively new concept, but there is an expected nurse shortage in the United States. Not all nurses work in hospital settings. Some work in skilled nursing facilities or provide hospice care. You don't need to worry a lot about your career prospects while finishing nursing school, but keep in mind that there are additional career options for registered nurses. Some nurses continue after their bachelor's program and receive master's degrees and doctorates in nursing. Others may go into a specialization. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists earn an average salary of $160,000 per year. Online master's and doctorate programs likely will not require clinical rotations because you completed those during your first four years of nursing school. These are great options for registered nurses who want a salary boost after completing their initial education program. These programs typically offer a ton of flexibility, so you can complete an additional master's degree program while working as a nurse.