Today's nurses are expected to be highly educated and to continue to improve skills and develop new ones through lifelong learning Nursing degrees beyond the initial Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN/LVN) or Registered Nurse (RN) degree level are readily available through accredited online nursing schools. In fact, online nursing programs are among the most popular of all online degree programs due to the convenience they offer working nurses. Most nurses work difficult schedules and demanding hours, often while raising families. Online studies can easily be scheduled around work and home responsibilities.
The key to success for online study is to examine your options and career goals in order to decide which nursing degree pathway best suit your needs. Once you have made that decision, it's time to select the nursing school that's right for you. Choosing the right online nursing school is essential to meeting your nursing career objectives as well as providing the foundation for a successful and fulfilling life beyond college, but having so many good online nursing schools to choose between can make selecting the one that works best for your needs seem like a daunting task. It doesn't have to be though!
We're nurses just like you and we've been through it ourselves, so here are some suggestions to help you find the online nursing school that works for you:
Is the Nursing Degree Program You Want Available?
After you've defined your nursing degree objective, begin your nursing school search by searching for online nursing schools that offer the degree program you have chosen. Review the nursing school profiles to ensure that schools that interest you offer nursing programs that are accredited by The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and/or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Also check to see if they are regionally accredited in order to ensure your course work and degree will be accepted by other universities in case you want to go on for a higher degree at some later time.
A Rose By Any Other Name
There are a number of schools offering online nursing programs, and the number grows daily. Some will be familiar to you, some will be well knows Ivy League institutions, and there are some you've probably never heard of before as well. Don't think that you have to attend an Ivy League school to be successful! Sometimes smaller private colleges offer better online student to instructor ratios than the large well known research institutions, for example, which offer a more helpful learning experience. Be sure to ask about admissions to graduation rates when you speak with admissions representatives. You might be surprised to learn that sometimes the smaller college you never heard of actually outperforms the Ivy League schools. Remember that getting into a school is only half of the game. Graduation is the goal that matters most!
Develop Some Questions to Ask Admissions Advisors
1. Is the Program Fully Online, and What About Clinical Requirements? Ask whether all of the academic courses you will need are fully online (no campus requirements), and then find out about Clinical requirements. Will you do your clinical rotations at a convenient local facility and will the school make the arrangements for you? Will you be able to schedule the clinicals around your scheduling needs? Are there any costs or fees involved? Will it be possible to do your clinicals at your current place of employment or will you need to travel to some other place? How many clinical hours do they require for your program? Can you choose someone you know as your preceptor or will they be choosing someone? It's definitely good to ask & be able to compare differences between schools before selecting which one to attend.
2. Transfer Credits- Be sure to ask the advisor about getting an official transfer estimate done so the school will evaluate the courses you've already taken and be able to provide you with an accurate estimate of which credits they will accept, how they will apply them, and exactly what courses you will still need to take through them in order to complete your chosen degree. Specifically ask your advisor how long it will take you to complete your degree!
3. Tuition Rate & Other Expenses- While it is true that earning your nursing degree online generally costs less than through a traditional program, the tuition rate per credit hour will most likely be comparable to the campus based program the school offers. (Your savings from attending online come from other factors). Tuition rates vary between schools, so find out what it is and jot it down in your notebook or spreadsheet to be able to compare & contrast costs between schools. Be sure to ask about any additional fees besides tuition, such as for application, transcript evaluation, clinicals, or other misc. fees so you get a better idea about total costs involved before you start. Don't cross off a school just because the tuition seems high though!
Textbooks - Textbook expenses can really add up. Some online nursing schools include textbooks as part of the tuition, and some will require you to purchase texts or rent them. Ask about the general costs of the textbooks you will need.
4. Are the school and its instructors experienced with online education? - Teaching online is different than teaching in a traditional classroom! Online nursing programs require the instructor to interact much more directly with the students in a variety of ways ranging from live chats to e-mails, forum postings, and even in virtual clinical simulations in virtual worlds like second life. You want to make sure that the school you select has experience in online education and that your instructors are experts in their field and have experience in online education. Also, be sure to ask what the instructor to student ratio will be. The less students per instructor, the more personal attention you will be able to have.
5. Online Program Delivery Type - Another factor to ask about and consider is the method a school uses for its online nursing programs. Some schools will require students to work together in group projects, for example, while others do not. Group projects have advantages and disadvantages, but let's just say that that you should evaluate whether you prefer to work independently at your own pace or prefer to work in conjunction with others (which may leave you doing more than your fair share in order to see to it the group's project gets completed on time). You should ask whether the delivery method used is synchronous or asynchronous.
Synchronous eLearning: Closely resembles a traditional brick and mortar system in that there are set "class times" when students and instructors must be online for lectures, video presentations, chats, assignments, exams, etc. While this type of delivery model is less flexible for working nurses schedule concerns it does allow students to ask instructors questions and get answers in "real time" and also helps foster a sense of community among students.
Asynchronous eLearning: Offering far more flexibility for nurse's work schedules and family responsibilities, this type of online delivery method does not require the instructor or students to be online at the same time or at any specific time. Although work must be accomplished within a given time frame, asynchronous eLearning makes it possible for students to log in to the virtual classroom to download or turn in assignments, message the instructor or check for messages, and network with fellow classmates whenever it's convenient for them to do so. It also allows the student more time to process what they have learned.
6. Student Support Services: - Your online nursing school should offer 24/7 support by phone, e-mail, or both as well as access to online research tools, a virtual library, mentoring or tutoring services and a slew of other support elements to help you succeed. Find out what services the schools you're interested in have to offer. Also ask about career placement and job assistance for graduates.
7. Financial Aid - Accredited online schools are eligible for Federal Financial Aid for students just like their rick & mortar counterparts are. You should ask your adviser about available financial aid programs and application deadlines. Also be sure to ask about grants or scholarships and application deadlines for them as well. Private colleges are generally more expensive to attend than public universities but they also tend to have more private endowments that make it possible for them to offer more generous financial assistance and scholarships to students, so be sure to ask. Also ask about your options for loans and payment plans. Don't forget to check with your employer's HR Department to find out if they offer a tuition assistance or reimbursement plan for employees as well! Where there's a will there's a way to attend any school you set your sights on.
Next - Request Information From Schools That Interest you!
Filling out the information request form allows the school admissions advisers to contact you so you can ask your questions. It doesn't obligate you to anything though, so don't be afraid to submit information request forms for all schools that have programs which interest you so that you'll be able to compare requirements, program specifications, time involved and costs in order to choose the one that suits your needs the best.
Whatever your reason for pursuing an advanced nursing degree, whether for increased earning potential, additional professional opportunities, increased career mobility, or simply the desire to know more about your chosen profession, online courses are a marvelous way to reach your career goals on your own terms!