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Choosing Your Online Nursing Degree Program

Whether you are looking for a career change, just starting out with your career plans as you approach high school graduation, or are already some time into your career as a nurse, online nursing degrees are available at every level and in a variety of different forms today, and are definitely worth looking into. Whether you have decided that nursing is your calling and want to get into nursing school after graduating high school, are tired of your current career and want to become a nurse or are working as a nurse currently and want to climb the career ladder with the help of an online degree program, there are several options available for you to consider when it comes to online study. Once the exception to the rule and only available for certain students, online nursing degree programs have now become much more mainstream and are available to almost anybody who wants to become a nurse or improve their nursing resume. 

With so many options available, choosing the right online nursing degree program for you is not always an easy task. There are several different factors that you should keep in mind when choosing the right program including the school that provides it, how the learning materials are delivered, which clinical settings they partner with for on-the-job experience, tuition fees and financial aid, and more. 

Why Get a Nursing Degree Online?

An increasing number of students are turning to online degree programs in nursing and many other fields. With tuition fees and student debt levels currently at an all-time high, many students find that studying online is one way to reduce the overall cost of studying, along with enjoying more flexibility and freedom to fit their lives around their education rather than vice versa. Some of the top reasons to consider an online nursing degree rather than attending a traditional nursing school include:

  • Flexibility

The high level of flexibility that often comes hand-in-hand with studying for your nursing degree online is one of the main reasons why more students are deciding that this is the right type of program for them. If you have other commitments that you won’t be able to get away from while you are studying, like working or raising a family, then an online degree can be far less stressful since it gives you the option to figure out how and when you would like to study based on what you have to do in a given day, rather than rearranging your days to ensure that they fit in with scheduled and inflexible lecture and class times. While most online nursing degree programs will have some dates for exams, assignments and clinical experience placements that you’ll need to be available for, the rest of the time it’s usually left up to you. 

  • Save Money

The cost savings of studying online are just another reason behind why it’s such an attractive option for many students today. Despite tuition fees being similar or the same for online programs, many students who decide to get their degree online find that it actually allows them to save a substantial amount of money compared to getting their degree from a traditional nursing school or college, as there are fewer associated costs involved. If you are planning to get a four-year degree, then costs like commuting to campus, gas, parking tickets, or public transport will add up a lot over that time period. In addition, studying online reduces or even completely eliminates the often-costly expense that comes with relocating if you’re going to be studying at a college located in a different city. 

  • Employer Support

For students on advanced nursing degree programs who are already working in a full-time career as a nurse, employer support is another good reason to consider getting a nursing degree online. Many employers are more willing to support online students since it causes less disruptions to their work, allowing many to continue working full-time as normal while studying. If you are hoping for your employer to support you with your advanced nursing degree with a tuition assistance program, for example, then you may have more luck if you decide to get your degree online. 

  • Build Your Professional Network

While it might not be as easy to meet others face-to-face when you are studying for your nursing degree online, there will still be plenty of options for you to build your professional network at nursing school. In fact, studying for your nursing degree online might help you build an even wider network since you will be in contact with students from a wide variety of different locations. Most online programs offer a lot of options for students to connect with one another. Chat rooms, social media groups, and group chats are often common ways for students to interact and get to know one another, and many will offer several opportunities to attend in-person events to meet your peers in person. 

Which Nursing Degree Programs Can You Get Online?

Choosing the right nursing degree program for you to study online will depend on a number of factors, including where you want your nursing career to go and what you want to eventually do with the qualification. You will also need to consider your current qualifications and what you currently meet the entry requirements for. The main nursing degree programs that are offered online at nursing schools like Wilkes University include:

  • BSN

The BSN is arguably the best nursing degree to get if you want to start a new career as a nurse. While you will be able to qualify as a registered nurse with an associate degree in nursing, this might hold you back in the future if you want to progress. In addition, since New York State introduced the BSN-in-10 regulation that requires all registered nurses to gain a bachelor’s degree within ten years of getting their license, it’s likely that other states will follow suit and you may be forced to take time off work to study for your BSN in the future if you do not already have one. 

Today, an increasing number of healthcare employers are actively seeking nurses with a BSN, with studies showing that when more of the nursing workforce has this degree, patient outcomes are improved significantly with lower patient mortality rates, fewer readmissions to hospitals, and fewer complications such as hospital infections. In addition, the BSN is often a minimum entry requirement for more advanced nursing programs like the MSN. You will need this degree if you want a future career in nursing management, nurse education, or as a nurse practitioner, for example. 

  • Accelerated BSN

If you already have a degree in a different subject and want to get qualified as a registered nurse as quickly as possible, the accelerated BSN could be the right online nursing degree program for you. These programs are designed for people who are already degree-educated and most often used by career changers looking to get into nursing. Instead of the traditional four years that you would usually expect a BSN program to take, the ABSN is designed to last around half this time. There are many benefits to this including getting qualified with your BSN faster, and saving money on tuition fees. 

  • MSN

A Master of Science in Nursing will usually require that you are already BSN-educated, and some will expect students to have already gained some experience working in a nursing role. This program is now widely available to study online, making it the perfect opportunity for those who are already working as a nurse to improve their resume and qualify for working in a wide range of more advanced nursing roles. With an MSN, you can get a career as a nurse practitioner, nurse educator, nurse manager, nurse leader or even a nurse executive along with a wide range of further specialist nursing roles that you may be interested in. Of the MSN programs that are available you will usually be able to choose from a general degree covering all topics or a degree that focuses more heavily on the specialty area that you are interested in. 

  • DNP

The Doctor of Nursing Practice program is one of the most advanced nursing qualifications available. A DNP is an ideal option for many nurses who want to focus more heavily on the practice areas of nursing, while a Ph.D. might be a better option for you if research is something that you are more interested in. To enroll on a DNP program, you will usually need to have already gained advanced qualifications in nursing such as an MSN, and most will also require applicants to have gained significant experience in the nursing field. 

  • Nurse Practitioner Programs

More and more BSN-educated nurses are interested in the opportunity to work as a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are currently in very high demand, particularly family nurse practitioners who are often found stepping in to fill the gap that has been left by a shortage of primary care physicians that we’re currently experiencing. With fewer medical students deciding to get into primary care, family nurse practitioners take on many of the same responsibilities as a GP. In most US states, nurse practitioners have full practice authority, which permits them to diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, and more without supervision. They may be able to run their own clinics, including retail clinics which are often headed by nurse practitioners and have become a popular, convenient way to get basic healthcare and advice. Nurse practitioner training programs are available online in the form of specialist master’s degree programs or post-graduate certificates for those who already have an MSN. 

What to Consider When Choosing Your Online Nursing Degree

With so many degree programs to choose from, students and nurses at every level have a lot of choice when it comes to improving their qualifications and career online. If you’ve decided that an online nursing degree is right for you, here are some of the main factors to consider when choosing where to enroll. 

  • Your Future Goals

Firstly, choose the right type of nursing degree for you by determining which qualification you need right now and what your future goals are. Where you want to take your nursing career in the future might impact the degree choice that you make now. For example, if you know that you want to be a nurse practitioner eventually, a BSN is a better choice to make compared with an associate degree since this is typically a minimum entry requirement. 

  • School Rating

It’s important to be careful when choosing an online nursing school as they are not always legitimate. Before enrolling, do your research into the school to ensure that they offer accredited degree programs and have a good reputation. While school rankings may or may not be important to you, finding out what other students think about the school is always important. If possible, consider attending an in-person or virtual open day so that you can learn more about the school and what they offer, and meet the staff. 

  • Flexibility

How flexible a certain online nursing degree program will be is another major factor to think about before signing up. Consider how much flexibility you will need and make sure that you choose a program that accommodates for this. Some programs offer complete flexibility where it’s up to you to choose when you access lectures and learning materials that will be uploaded into the student portal for you. On the other hand, others will expect you to be available at certain times for virtual lectures and classes. If you prefer the option to study either online or on-campus, a flexible hybrid program where you’re free to attend campus classes when you prefer to might also be something worth considering. 

  • Employer Support

Finally, if you’re studying for an advanced nursing degree and want employer support, check with your employer first as some healthcare employers are partnered with certain schools. 

Whether you’re just starting out on your journey to become a nurse or want to take your nursing career to the next level, online degree programs are becoming increasingly important for nurses today.

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