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Nursing, like healthcare in general, is a rapidly growing field that attracts people who want to make a difference in their communities. Nursing can be hugely rewarding and provides a satisfying professional experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor’s level nurses make an average salary of $77,600 per year, with many making more.

A career in nursing can offer great variety. You might work in a large hospital NICU, for example, with at-risk infants or at a small rural clinic providing health services to families. Specific populations, such as older adults and those with mental health issues, also need skilled nursing care.

For those considering an online nursing degree without prior nursing experience, this article offers a comprehensive overview of the various levels of nursing education accessible to you.

Is a Career in Nursing Right for You?

Only you can determine if a career in nursing is right for you. A strong sense of caring and compassion may make you a good nursing candidate. Nurses need to be organized and detail-oriented but still be able to assess the overall health of their patients. Nurses who continue on to post-graduate work may earn leadership positions in their organizations, teach at the college level, or help develop policy in the public sector.

If you’re new to nursing and starting with the basics of nursing care, earning a degree will require commitment and motivation. You may need to commit several years to your education, which can be challenging if you have work or family commitments.

Nursing is a field that is growing. The BLS says that the field will increase by about six percent over the next decade, while the need for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners will grow by an astounding 40 percent by 2031.

The Different Types of Nursing Degrees

There is no single degree in nursing. Nurses may start their career with an associate degree or diploma course that takes two years or less if attending full-time. As they grow in skills, they may decide to continue to further their education. Here are some of the programs available to aspiring nurses:

Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

An associate degree in nursing is the first step for many individuals who wish to enter the field. An associate degree will prepare you for taking the NCLEX-RN exam. You must take this test to become a registered nurse in the U.S. and Canada.

To be admitted to an ADN program, you will need to provide high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. There may also be other requirements, but this varies from school to school.

An ADN takes roughly two years if you attend full-time, although there are accelerated programs that allow you to graduate in as little as 18 months. Your program will likely include basic nursing courses such as anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and chemistry. You may also take courses in communications, English language, or other humanities-based courses.

Most ADN programs require clinical hours. If you are taking your program online, you should be able to schedule your clinical time in a healthcare location near your home.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Increasingly, healthcare facilities are requiring nursing job applicants to possess a bachelor’s degree in nursing, making this a logical next step for RNs after they earn their associate degree.

Most BSN programs will accept transfer credits, making it possible to finish your degree in two years of full-time study or less if you choose an accelerated degree program. These accelerated programs are also called direct-entry BSN programs and are designed to help students who have a bachelor’s degree in another field quickly earn their nursing degree.

Traditional BSN programs, for those with a high school diploma but no higher education experience, generally take about four years of full-time study. RN-to-BSN programs are for those who already have a nursing license. Accelerated BSN programs are designed to help students with bachelor’s degrees in another field quickly earn their nursing degrees. For these programs, you will need to take nursing classes and undergo clinical training, but you can earn your degree in as little as a year.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A master of science degree is for those who wish to take on more responsibility in their careers and become leaders and managers. Most nursing master’s programs require you to already possess a BSN degree, although some RN-to-MSN programs allow licensed nurses to move right from their associate to a master’s program. Accelerated or direct-entry master’s programs also exist for those with a bachelor’s degree in another field. Applicants may need to take coursework such as chemistry or physiology before applying.

To apply, most schools require you to submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal essay. You can expect to take courses such as pathophysiology, physical assessment, and statistics. Clinical and research work may also be included in your program.

At the master’s level, you will likely have the opportunity to specialize in an area of nursing that interests you. You may choose to become a certified nurse midwife, for example, or a mental health care nurse. Many specialties at this level feature six-figure salaries. The median pay for nurse anesthetics, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, for example, is $123,780 annually, according to the BLS.

Should You Earn Your Nursing Degree Online?

Earning your degree online can be an excellent choice if you are looking for flexibility. Many programs are geared toward those with daytime jobs or family commitments, allowing you to take courses asynchronously whenever you are free during the day.

On the other hand, earning your degree online can require a higher level of motivation and dedication to your studies. You will need to stay on track without having a professor standing over you and regular classes at the same time every day. Unless you dedicate time and effort to your studies, you may struggle to stay on top of your coursework. For those with other commitments, studying part-time rather than full-time can help you to juggle multiple priorities.

Our Research

This list features some of the country’s best online nursing degree programs for non-nurses. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution, either public or private, with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of the best online nursing degree programs for non-nurses to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, such as U.S. News & World Report, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

Read More about Online Nursing Degrees

The 50 Best Online Nursing Degree Programs for Non-Nurses

Best Online Nursing Programs for Non-Nurses Badge 2024

Emory University's Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing

UW Oshkosh

Kent State University

University of Texas at Arlington

Herzing University

Wilkes University

Marymount University

Methodist College

Roseman University of Health Science