Best Online CNA Programs

Oct 19, 2021

What is an Online Certificate Program in CNA?

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) help registered nurses (RNs) and other healthcare professionals care for patients in different health-related settings. Students in these programs learn how to provide patients with quality care and could work as a CNA in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and other locations after their program. Typically, CNA certificate programs are designed to equip students with basic nursing skills and prepare them to meet their state's requirements for becoming a CNA, which commonly includes a state exam or the National Nursing Assistant Assessment Program (NNAAP) Examination.

Due to the hands-on nature of the field, most online CNA certificate programs are offered in a hybrid format with some online coursework and in-person clinical experiences. Clinical experiences provide students with the hands-on learning and experience that they need to enter the field. CNA certificate programs vary in length and admissions requirements. Here, we will discuss some of the features of these certificate programs, as well as possible career options.

What is the Difference Between an Online Certificate and an Online Degree in CNA?

There are not typically online degree programs available in CNA, as a certificate is usually the required education to become one. However, students can pursue an associate, bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in nursing to further advance their skills and knowledge in the field. Certificate programs are generally much shorter than these degree programs, where even the shortest degree program takes about 2 years to complete. Degree programs at the undergraduate level usually include general education courses, which makes them broader than a CNA certificate program. Graduate degree programs typically allow nursing students to start focusing their skills in a particular area of nursing but require more advanced coursework and nursing skills than those of a CNA certificate program.

Accreditation for Online CNA Programs

Accreditation is one way for students to ensure that they are receiving a quality education, as it indicates that a school or program has met academic guidelines put in place by an outside organization. Schools that offer CNA certificate programs often have regional accreditation from organizations such as the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). Regional accreditation is general and applies to the various degrees and programs that an institution offers. Students at accredited schools like this can accept financial aid and transfer their credits more easily than if they attended a non-accredited school.

Some programs also have program-level accreditation from an organization related to the subject area. In the case of nursing, CNA programs do not usually have this level of accreditation, but other nursing degree programs at the undergraduate or graduate levels may be accredited by groups such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Should I Get an Online Certificate in CNA?

There are several different reasons that students may decide to pursue an online CNA certificate program. One of the first reasons being students' interests. Becoming a CNA usually means that students are interested in helping people and providing quality healthcare to those who need it.

Students may choose to begin their career as a CNA because it is one of the quickest ways to enter the field of nursing. This not only saves the student time with a shorter certificate program and enables them to start working faster, but also saves money. These certificate programs are usually much cheaper than a full degree program.

Students who are working other jobs, need to study from home, or desire flexibility in their certificate program may decide to pursue their certificate in an online format. As mentioned, most of these certificate programs are offered in a hybrid format, so online students still receive vital hands-on training for the field.

Career Options After Completing an Online Certificate Program in CNA

Most students who complete an online certificate program in CNA go on to become a CNA. Some of these professionals may work as CNAs in long-term care, hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, and other settings. They generally work under the supervision of RNs and other healthcare professionals as they help provide basic care for patients and assist patients with daily activities.

With these basic skills in caregiving and nursing, there are other related career options available for students with their certificate in CNA. Some of these positions are discussed in further detail below, but in general, students can work different entry-level positions related to healthcare, such as aides and assistants in different areas.

Nursing Assistant

An accurate overview of a career as a CNA must point out that each state has different education requirements for these professionals. However, they usually have to complete a state-approved program with clinical work and pass a state competency exam to be placed on the state's registry. CNAs may perform job duties such as bathing patients, checking vital signs, turning and moving patients as needed, and listening to patients' questions and concerns. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual CNA salary was $30,850, as of 2020.


Orderlies require slightly less education than a CNA and only need a high school diploma. Although these positions do not usually require a license, some orderlies need to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS). These professionals help ensure that facilities and treatment areas are clean, supplies are stocked, and move patients throughout the facility as needed.

Home Health or Personal Care Aide

Home health or personal care aides typically need at least a high school diploma and some may be required to complete a formal training program before passing a competency exam. Different states have different licensing or certification requirements for these professionals that must be met and most of these aides undergo some on-the-job training. Home health and personal care aides help patients continue to live in their homes by helping coordinate schedules and transportation, assisting with household chores, and caring for patients as needed, such as helping them dress.

Continued Education After an Online CNA Certificate Program

As discussed, a certificate program in CNA is the terminal requirement to become a CNA, but students who wish to continue their studies in nursing can pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees in the field. Associate and master's degree programs in nursing commonly take 2 years to complete, while bachelor's degree programs take 4 years and doctoral programs vary. Most nursing programs require some clinical experience for hands-on learning. Undergraduate degree programs in the field usually prepare students to become an RN. Graduate degree programs in the field help students specialize in specific areas of the field and advance their careers to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse practitioners.

Courses for an Online Certificate Program in CNA

Most online CNA certificate programs are divided into two different CNA courses. The first course provides an overview of the career and provides the foundational knowledge and skills students need. Some programs may break this course down into two main sections, such as anatomy and physiology and fundamentals of patient care. These courses are typically lecture-based and available online. The second course consists of clinical work and provides students with hands-on training. Some online CNA certificate programs require additional courses, such as medical terminology, biology, and psychology. These programs take a little longer to complete, but coursework can still primarily be completed online outside of clinical experiences.

Nurse Assistant Training

Students in this introductory course learn about the role of a CNA and the basic skills needed for the job. These courses discuss topics such as safety, disease process, infection control, and patient care skills. Some of these courses may include simulations and opportunities for clinical application. Typically, these courses are available in an online format and some programs may offer sessions during the day or in the evenings for further flexibility.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience courses consist of lab and clinical training opportunities that usually take place in a variety of healthcare settings. Students should be prepared to drive around to different clinical sites as needed, but clinical labs on campus may also be included during this experience. These clinical experiences allow students to assist real nurses and gain practical experience.

How Long Does an Online Certificate Program in CNA Take to Complete?

The time it takes to complete an online CNA certificate program varies, but in general, these programs can be completed in much less than one year. Although some longer certificate programs that require around 23 credits may take 2 semesters to complete, most of these programs can be completed between 6 and 14 weeks with clinicals taking up the last week or so. This may add up to a total of 130 to 145 hours of coursework. Usually, clinicals for these programs make up 30 to 50 hours of this total, depending on the program. Students cannot usually transfer in credits or complete the programs at an accelerated rate.

How to Choose an Online Certificate Program in CNA

Students trying to decide between different online CNA certificate programs will likely need to first consider the in-person clinical requirements. Depending on how these requirements are set up, students may need to select an online program that is offered near their home or place of work unless they intend to relocate. Certificate programs are also usually designed to prepare students to meet a specific state's CNA requirements, which can affect students' decisions for the location of a program. Some students may want to see how long the clinical requirements are, as some students may prefer longer or shorter clinical hours. Students can also compare the coursework of these programs and decide if they want to complete a longer program with up to 23 credits of various courses or a shorter program with only two courses. The choice can depend on students' schedules and how quickly they wish to finish their certificate program.

Other considerations for an online certificate program in CNA are more general. For instance, students will likely need to consider and compare the price of CNA certificate programs, as well as any financial aid options. Students should always look for certificates from accredited schools, as accreditation is usually preferred by employers and may make it easier for students to continue their education.

How to Get Into an Online CNA Certificate Program

The admissions process may be slightly different for individual online CNA certificate programs, but there are some common standards and requirements. For instance, most of these programs require applicants to hold at least a high school diploma. Some programs may work with students who are 16 and older but are currently in high school and are interested in becoming a CNA.

It is also common for students to be required to have some basic medical certifications before coursework, such as CPR, BLS, and AED (automated external defibrillator) certification. Clinicals often have additional requirements, such as passing a background check, drug testing, and fingerprinting. Students could be required to meet their state's immunization requirements as well.

The actual admissions process varies by school, but usually, students need to fill out the appropriate application. Questions during the process can typically be addressed to admissions counselors. Students should be notified once they are admitted and will be able to enroll in the CNA course.

Cost of an Online CNA Certificate Program

There are several different types of costs that need to be considered when figuring out how much it will cost to earn an online CNA certificate. The biggest cost is the cost of the program, which varies by institution. Some online CNA programs charge a lump sum for the program, usually over $1,000. Other programs may charge tuition per credit hour, but this rate can vary for in-state vs. out-of-state students. Depending on the school, there can also be additional fees associated with the total cost of the program. For instance, students could be required to pay a program fee, registration fees, and/or various student support fees. Some programs charge additional testing fees.

Other costs to students vary by program. CNA certificate programs generally have several additional costs in required equipment and materials, in addition to any textbooks and course materials. For example, students will likely be required to pay for uniforms, a watch, goggles, face masks, a stethoscope, and a blood pressure cuff. Students are also usually required to pay for their required immunizations, drug tests, fingerprinting, and other requirements for clinicals. Finally, students may want to factor in transportation costs for clinical work and other in-person requirements. Some students may need to pay for parking and/or travel to several different locations during their clinical experiment.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources for Online CNA Certificate Programs

Students interested in earning an online CNA certificate can research available financial aid options to help them pay for their education. Although some programs do not offer any form of financial aid, grants, or payment plans, others do. Typically, certificate students are not eligible for federal financial aid, but there are several financial aid options still available. Many schools offer different kinds of discounts or waivers. For example, schools may offer veteran tuition waivers, senior citizen tuition waivers, or Native American tuition waivers. Depending on the state, some CNA certificate programs may qualify for Workforce 1 Individual Training Grant (ITG) Vouchers. These programs are designed to provide funding for high-demand occupations.

In addition to any school discounts, students can also explore scholarship opportunities. Sometimes these awards are available from schools or outside organizations. Often, organizations associated with a particular field or subject area will provide financial assistance for students. In the case of CNA training, students can pursue several different nursing-related scholarships. Requirements, amounts, and details of these scholarships vary, so students should be careful to explore details for eligibility and how to apply. For example, CNA Plus offers a scholarship for $2,000 for full-time students enrolled in a CNA training course.

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