How to Select a Nursing Program

How to Select a Nursing Program

This guide offers information on choosing a nursing program, including online education, accreditation, degree levels, and licensure. Picking a nursing program is a crucial step toward becoming a registered nurse (RN). Your program choice can greatly impact your future career, so it’s essential to research your options thoroughly.

To pick the right program, you can ask yourself various questions. For instance, do you prefer online or on-campus nursing programs? How much can you afford to spend on education? Are you eligible for scholarships? By considering questions like these, you can narrow down your options to a few programs that align with your academic and career goals.

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Explore topics like online education, accreditation, degree levels, and licensure in nursing. If you still have questions after reading this guide, you can contact the admissions departments of the colleges and universities you’re interested in.

Choosing Between Online and On-Campus Programs

Nursing programs come in two main types: online and on-campus. On-campus programs involve attending classes by living on campus or commuting.

Online programs have gained popularity due to their affordability. They usually have lower tuition and fewer student fees. Online students save money on housing and commuting.

Online programs also offer flexibility. Students can watch lectures and do coursework when it suits them. This is great for those working or taking care of a family. Thanks to improved online learning tools, online programs are as rigorous as on-campus ones.

However, online learning comes with challenges. Students need to manage their time well and stay motivated to complete assignments and keep up with the material.

Factors to Consider in an Online Nursing Program

When choosing an online nursing program, consider factors like your learning style, course schedules, class size, clinical rotation requirements, and personal learning preferences.

Hybrid/Blended Learning

Hybrid programs mix online and in-person components. Students might need to go to campus for labs or activities. These programs work well if you live near the campus.

Hybrid programs let you interact with peers and professors in person, offering unique experiences. However, be sure to check what the in-person activities are like.

For instance, if the in-person part is mostly lectures, it might not be worth it. If you can’t travel to campus, avoid this type of program.

Synchronous or Asynchronous Learning

Synchronous and asynchronous schedules affect how and when you study. In synchronous learning, all students meet online with their professor at the same time. This is like on-campus learning.

Asynchronous learning lets you watch recorded lectures when you can. You still interact with peers and professors through email and message boards.

Both require meeting deadlines. Choose based on your schedule. If you work during set lecture times, synchronous learning might not be a good fit.

Class Size

Class size matters for quality education, online or on-campus. If a class has more than 30-40 students, you might not get good feedback. Smaller classes mean more attention from professors.

Check if a program limits class size. Even if not, it can still provide a great education. Teaching assistants might help with questions and grading in larger classes.

Personal Learning Style

Some learn best by reading or seeing, others by listening, and some by moving. Think about your style before choosing an online program.

Programs with recorded lectures suit auditory learners. Visual learners might prefer self-study programs. Kinesthetic learners benefit from hands-on activities.

Ask the program how they use different styles. Good programs balance them for all learners.

Clinical Rotations or Internships

Hospitals hire grads with good training, often from clinical rotations or internships. Schools help you find places for these experiences.

You usually do rotations in your last year. This is important for job recommendations or offers after graduation.

Choosing an Accredited Nursing Program

Accredited schools meet certain standards set by accrediting bodies. This is important, especially in nursing. Some states only license nurses from accredited programs. Schools without accreditation might not prepare grads well.

If a school is regionally accredited, it applies to online programs too. Other types of accreditation might apply too. To check, use the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s database.

See differences among national, regional, and program accreditation below.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation is better. The Department of Education watches over seven agencies that accredit regions. Top schools have this.

National accreditation is for specific programs, like online ones. Accreditation from Distance Education Accrediting Commission is best.

Credits from regionally accredited schools transfer easier. Credits from nationally accredited schools might not. Check before enrolling.

Nursing Program Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation focuses on specific subjects. CCNE and ACEN accredit nursing programs. They ensure curricula keep up with nursing practices.

These accreditations make programs better. Aim for programs with these and regional or national accreditation.

Career Goals in Nursing

Think about where you want to be in 10 years. This helps pick a program.

Advanced degrees open doors. You can become a nurse practitioner or teach. Having clear goals helps.

Degree Levels in Nursing

Nursing degrees vary. You can get an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Higher degrees lead to better opportunities and more responsibility.

Associate Degree in Nursing

This takes 2 years. It might not let you be licensed everywhere. You can apply credits to a bachelor’s later.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

A BSN lets you get licensed anywhere. It’s 4 years and has advanced nursing classes.

Master’s Degree in Nursing

An MSN lets you be a nurse practitioner. You can specialize in education, administration, or healthcare informatics. It’s 1-2 years more.

Doctoral Degree in Nursing

Get a Ph.D. or DNP. Ph.D. is research-focused, DNP is practical. It takes 2-6 years.

Bridge Programs for RNs

RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN are for working nurses. RNs can earn higher degrees without quitting jobs.

Read more below. You’ll find curriculum, length, and tuition info.


For associate degree RNs. Takes 1-2 years and offers specialties.


For RNs who want advanced practice nursing. Get a master’s faster.

Nursing Specialities

Nurses can specialize. Consider your passion when choosing. Some programs offer multiple specialties.

This is crucial for MSN students who must choose. Don’t choose programs that don’t match your goals.

Nursing Licensure

Check your state’s licensure rules before starting. The NCLEX-RN exam is a must. Programs with high pass rates prepare you well.

Graduate admissions also consider licensure. Many MSN programs need an active nursing license.

Education and Training Requirements for Common Nursing Careers
Occupation Minimum Degree Required License/Certification Median Salary
Registered Nurses Associate Licensure required; specialty certification may be required or prefered by employers. $77,600
Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVNs) Postsecondary nondegree Licensure required; certification may be required or prefered by employers. $48,070
Nurse Anesthetists Doctorate RN license required; CRNA and additional certification may be required or preferred by employers. $195,610
Nurse Midwives Master’s RN license required; CNM and additional certification may be required or preferred by employers. $112,830
Nurse Practitioners Master’s RN license required; additional certification may be required or preferred by employers. $120,680
Nursing Instructors or Teachers, Postsecondary A master’s degree may be the minimum requirement at some community colleges; however, postsecondary teachers at four-year universities usually require a doctoral degree. A nursing license may be required. $159,400 (for all postsecondary teachers)


Cost and Financial Support for Nursing School

The cost of your nursing education depends on a few factors:

How long the program is
The number of credits you take each semester
Other fees that contribute to the total cost

The biggest factor might be the degree you need for your desired career. More advanced degrees usually cost more.

Good news is that nursing is a growing field, so many organizations offer financial aid to help nursing students pay for school. Below, you’ll find different ways to save on tuition. You can also see various scholarships for nursing students.

Tips for Delivering Online Nursing Class Presentations

Public vs. Private Nursing Schools

Deciding on a nursing program often means choosing between public and private schools. Public schools get money from the state and offer degrees at all levels. They usually have more students than private schools.

Public schools are usually cheaper, especially for in-state students. They often have more degree choices, which is good for students who don’t know their career path yet.

Private schools get less state money. They use donations and higher tuition. Even though they cost more, many private schools give financial aid to good students or those with financial need. Private schools might be harder to get into, but they usually have smaller classes and more professor attention.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Schools

Public schools are cheaper than private ones, but some students pay more than others. Public schools charge less for in-state students.

In-state students might also get special scholarships. Out-of-state students pay 2-3 times more. Public schools usually accept fewer out-of-state students.

Good public schools do this to get fewer out-of-state applicants. But if you’re out-of-state and attend a public school for a year, you can get in-state tuition if you prove residency.

In-State versus Out-of-State College Tuition Prices
School Type 2020-2021 2021-2022
Public Four-Year In-State College $10,560 $10,740
Public Four-Year Out-of-State College $27,020 $27,560
Private Four-Year Nonprofit College $37,650 $38,070

Source: The College Board

Two-Year vs. Four-Year Schools

When choosing a nursing program, you need to decide between a two-year or a four-year school. Associate programs, usually at local community colleges, take two years. They often charge by credit hour.

To save money on a bachelor’s degree, many students get an associate degree at a community college and then transfer to a four-year college. If you live at home during community college, you save money on housing.

Four-year programs give you a more typical college experience. You can live on campus. These schools charge full-time students by term and part-time students by credit. Full-time students pay less per credit than part-time students.

School Type 2020-2021 2021-2022
Public Two-Year In-District College $3,570 $3,800
Public Four-Year In-State College $9,870 $10,740

Online vs. On-Campus Programs

In many colleges and universities, online students pay less tuition than on-campus students. Some public schools charge online students in-state tuition rates, regardless of where they live.

Online students can also save on certain fees. When comparing online and on-campus programs, think about tuition and housing costs. Four-year colleges often have high room and board fees, and some even require undergraduates to live on campus.

Online students also avoid commuting and childcare expenses. The table below shows the average room and board fees for public and private colleges. Keep in mind that your school’s costs might be quite different.

Room and Board Fees
School Type 2020-2021 2021-2022
Public Four-Year In-State/Out-of-State College $10,800 $11,950
Private Nonprofit Four-year College $11,740 $13,310

Nursing Program Reputation

The final thing to think about when choosing a nursing program is its reputation. While the program’s reputation might not directly affect your classroom experience, it can be crucial for your job search after you graduate.

Employers often prefer candidates who have graduated from well-regarded schools. To find a reputable school, look for accredited programs with a high pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) and faculty who are experienced and well-credentialed.

Accreditation: Schools and nursing programs with multiple types of accreditation generally have good reputations among employers. You can find a complete list of a school’s accreditation status by searching through the databases and directories provided by CHEA.

NCLEX Exam Pass Rates: Every registered nurse must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to get state licensure. Programs with over a 75% pass rate for their graduates on the first try are often considered among the best in the country. Programs with high pass rates usually share this information online.

Faculty Qualifications: Professors with advanced degrees and substantial nursing experience make for the best instructors. When researching a program, visit the faculty page to learn about the educational background and experiences of each professor.

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