Best Online BSN Degree Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Bachelor's Degree in Nursing?

Earning your bachelor's degree in nursing can be one of the first steps to starting a career in the field of nursing. An online Bachelor of Science in Nursing, or BSN, is a four-year program that prepares students to pass the board exam to become a registered nurse (RN), take on other roles like nurse educator or nurse administrator, or work in pharmaceuticals or insurance. An online BSN program gives students the flexibility many need to complete a degree. There are other ways to become a registered nurse, such as earning an associate degree in nursing, but earning your bachelor's degree in nursing may open up more doors for your future career. Having your BSN may also be preferred by future employers. If pursuing a career as a registered nurse, you may choose to earn either your RN or BSN first, so it is important to know the difference between an RN and BSN. Some students also choose to transfer a non-nursing degree to an online BSN program.

The Best Online BSN Degree Programs

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 University of Maine at Fort Kent $8295 99% 36% 94% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
2 Radford University-Carilion $11350 28% 53% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits
3 Indiana University-East $7527 63% 40% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits
4 University of Southern Indiana $8546 93% 50% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits
5 Ball State University $10020 77% 67% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
6 King University $30616 62% 59% 92% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
7 Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis $9701 81% 50% 89% Yes Yes AP Credits
8 Indiana State University $9236 90% 41% 92% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
9 Rutgers University-New Brunswick $15407 61% 84% 71% Yes Yes AP Credits
10 Millersville University of Pennsylvania $12250 79% 56% 88% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
11 Union College $24620 93% 46% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits
12 Purdue University Northwest $7542 29% 38% 82% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit's ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Nursing Specializations/Concentrations

While specialization is not available for future nurses obtaining their bachelor's degree in the field, you can specialize in nursing if you decide to earn your master's degree. Some specialization options include Forensics Nursing, Informatics, Administration and Management, Nursing Education, and Public Health. Some nurses who have earned their BSN decide to become Nurse Practitioners later on in their careers.

Curriculum/Coursework for a Nursing Degree

While most or all classes in online BSN programs do occur online, you will be required to complete in-person clinical training as part of your bachelor's degree in nursing. There are common prerequisites for online nursing programs to be aware of. There are also common course requirements for online BSN programs. You will be required to complete both general education classes and degree-specific classes.

Some common general education courses of online BSN programs include:

  • Communications
  • Biology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • English
  • Psychology
  • Mathematics
  • Sociology

Some common degree-specific courses of online BSN programs include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Foundations of Nursing
  • Health Assessments
  • Community Health Nursing
  • Adult Health
  • Pediatric Health
  • Maternal Health
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Nursing Clinical Practicum

Prerequisites for an Online Bachelor's in Nursing Degree

You can apply for an online BSN program out of high school. However, there are typically two steps to being fully accepted to a nursing core program. First, you will need to be accepted to the college or university where your online BSN will be completed. Then, you will need to be accepted to the nursing program within the college or university. There will be a list of prerequisites that you must have completed prior to admission into the school.

Some common prerequisites for acceptance include:

  • A completed application
  • High school and/or college transcripts as applicable
  • A minimum GPA as required by the school
  • A personal statement
  • College entrance exams
  • Letters of recommendation

Common prerequisites required for acceptance into a nursing core program:

  • A minimum GPA as required by the nursing program
  • Minimum scores in English, Math, Anatomy & Physiology, and other courses
  • A background check
  • An interview
  • Immunizations
  • Completion of general education courses, including English, Humanities, Psychology, Sociology, and Microbiology

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Nursing?

The length of your online bachelor's degree in nursing will depend on any prior education and the type of program you are completing. An accelerated online program takes about two and a half years or less, while a more traditional online BSN program will take the usual four years. To complete an accelerated BSN program online, you will need to already have an associate degree or some college credit already completed. A traditional online BSN is typically for students with no college experience. For either type of program, you will need to complete about 120 credits before graduation.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Nursing Degrees

Accreditation is an important factor to consider when choosing the best online BSN program for you. Although accreditation is voluntary, completing an accredited BSN program ensures that your education has met certain important standards. Also, attending an accredited program means you will have access to federal financial aid options. Accredited nursing programs have been approved by a state board, as well as by a nursing accreditation agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. The majority of bachelor's degrees in nursing programs are accredited by the Commission of Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), while others are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Nursing Education Accreditation. In order to become accredited by the CCNE, a program must apply for accreditation, pass an on-site evaluation, and submit progress reports to the CCNE. You should be able to learn if a program you are interested in is accredited by one of these organizations through the program's website or informational brochure.

Nursing Licensure & Certification

To work as a registered nurse, you will need to earn the required Registered Nurse (RN) credential. The first step to earning your RN is to complete at least an associate degree program or bachelor's degree program in nursing. Some students with prior college credit or a degree will be eligible to complete an accelerated nursing program. Once your degree is complete, you will need to pass the national nursing licensure exam (NCLEX) to officially become an RN. It's important to note that your state may have additional licensing laws that you should be aware of while obtaining your RN credential. States also have different criteria for their continuing education requirements as well as how often RN licenses need to be renewed. On average, states require RN licenses to be renewed every two years. There are fees to take the NCLEX exam, HESI exam, TEAS exam, obtain continuing education credits, and renew an RN license.

Nursing Career Information

The job description, duties, and salary of a registered nurse appear rewarding and promising. Registered nurses provide patient care and education, as well as emotional support for patients and families of patients. There are many job duties of a registered nurse, including:

  • Assess and observing patients
  • Administer medications and treatments
  • Execute patient care plans as provided by the physician
  • Collaborate and communicate with patient care teams
  • Perform and analyze diagnostic tests
  • Provide patient education regarding preventative care and management of illnesses

Most registered nurses work in hospitals, but others work in outpatient centers, long-term care facilities, schools, or for the government. The BLS projects RN jobs to grow 7% from 2019-2029, which is above-average growth. As of 2020, the BLS reported median pay for RNs as $75,330 per year, with those working for the government making the highest annual salary of $84,490.

How to Become a Registered Nurse

Before starting your journey to become a registered nurse, you should know the steps to take to become an RN, the duties of an RN, and your career outlook. The first step to becoming a registered nurse is to earn a nursing degree. While you can become an RN with an associate degree, earning a bachelor's degree in nursing may open up more career possibilities and higher pay. Once your degree is completed, you will need to pass the national nursing licensure exam (NCLEX) to officially become a registered nurse and begin your career.

Nurses have many job roles, including:

  • Direct patient care
  • Communicating with healthcare personnel as well as patients and families
  • Administering medications and treatments
  • Performing and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Operating medical equipment

In 2020, the BLS reported median pay for RNs as $75,330 per year. Both the highest employment rates and annual salaries belong to registered nurses living and working in California. Registered nurses are always in demand and jobs are expected to grow 7% from 2019-2029, according to the BLS.

How to Become a Nurse Researcher

Another career option for those who earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is in the field of research. This non-clinical role will require additional education after a BSN degree. Nurse researchers earn either a master's or doctoral degree in nursing. You will also still have to take and pass the NCLEX exam and become an RN before you can pursue research jobs. Before you can officially become a nurse researcher by passing the required certification exam, you will need to gain clinical research experience. Nurse researchers can work in hospitals or universities, or for the government or research companies. The job duties of a nurse researcher may include implanting research studies, compiling and analyzing data from the studies, and reporting and explaining research findings to peers. According to the BLS, medical scientists earned a median salary of $91,510 as of 2020.

Career Advancement in Nursing

Earning your credential and getting your first job in nursing could be just the beginning of a long, rewarding career. Nurses can advance their careers beyond patient care in hospital and outpatient settings. One example of career advancement in nursing is to become a nurse practitioner (NP). Becoming an NP takes additional education and clinical training. Earning your NP credential can help you specialize in an area of interest, like mental health, gerontology, women's health, or pediatrics. Unlike RNs, nurse practitioners are able to prescribe medications, create treatment plans, and order diagnostic tests. Those hoping to become NPs must already be a registered nurse and hold at least a bachelor's degree in nursing to be admitted into a required graduate or doctoral level nurse practitioner program. Once the degree is completed, the final step is to take and pass the National NP Certification Board Exam to officially become a nurse practitioner. NP licensure will have to be periodically renewed, as mandated by state requirements.

What Other Kinds of Nursing Degrees Are There?

An online BSN program is not the only option for future and current registered nurses. Those in the nursing field can choose to earn an associate degree, master's degree, or even a doctoral-level degree in nursing. Certificates in nursing are also available. Additional education and training will provide RNs with higher career and earning potential. Conveniently, all of these degree options are available to complete online, but you will need to complete any required hands-on, clinical practice in person.

Online Associate Degrees in Nursing

Earning an associate degree in nursing is the quickest way to become a registered nurse. After completing an online associate degree in nursing, you will be prepared to take and pass the national nursing licensure exam (NCLEX) exam required to become a registered nurse. An online associate degree in nursing will take about two years. There will be both general education and degree-specific courses to take to complete the necessary credits, which is typically 60 or more credits. You will be required to complete hands-on, in-person clinical training as part of an online associate degree in nursing.

Online Master's Degrees in Nursing

You may decide to earn a master's degree in nursing to advance your career as a nurse. Nurses with a master's degree can work as nursing managers, forensic nurses, nurse educators, or in specialized care. Some director of nursing jobs will require a master's degree in nursing prior to hiring. It is possible to be accepted into a master's degree program with either an associate degree or bachelor's degree in nursing. Fortunately, there are many options for completing a master's degree in nursing online, which means you can be flexible in advancing your education and career.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Nursing

To really advance your career in nursing, you can earn your doctorate degree. Registered nurses with this level of degree have advanced clinical skills in various patient populations. Besides clinical advancement, a RN who decides to obtain a doctorate in nursing may do so to work in research, policy, education, nursing informatics, or other fields of interest. Registered nurses can apply for doctorate-level nursing degrees with either a bachelor's degree or master's degree already obtained. A doctorate in the field of nursing will provide RNs with the highest salary potential.

Online Certificates in Nursing

One way to advance a career in nursing is to earn an online certificate. There are several topics and specialties of online certificates in nursing, which can provide RNs with numerous opportunities for their education and career. Examples of certificate topics include care coordination, nursing informatics, leadership, education, healthcare policy, and population health. Certificates are designed for registered nurses who have been working in the field and have already earned at least one degree. Certificates can take as little as six months to complete and can help registered nurses work towards career goals.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Nursing Degrees

There are many financial aid options for nursing students pursuing a bachelor's degree online. Nursing students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) like any other degree-seeking student. By submitting a FAFSA, nursing students may be eligible for federal scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study jobs. There are also additional federal financial aid opportunities for military families and international study. To complete a FAFSA, you will need your social security number, a driver's license number, an alien registration number if necessary, tax information, income information, and your parent's social security number if you are considered a dependent.

Nursing students can also apply for financial aid that does not come from the government. Many schools and associations have their own scholarships and grants for nursing students. Some associations providing scholarships for nursing students include the National Student Nurses Association, the Oncology Nursing Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, Cherokee Uniforms, and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Some financial aid is only available to those pursuing undergraduate degrees, while others are meant for graduate and doctorate students.

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