The demand for registered nurses in today's healthcare environment is huge and growing quickly! The need for more and more compassionate individuals to become registered nurses (RN) has never been greater.

To meet this demand many schools have opened up their traditional 2 and 4-year degree programs to other types. These include online and accelerated nursing programs and are available for many different nursing degrees.

The Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN), Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN), and Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees are available in various program structures. For every student a convenient and accessible program is available!

To become a registered nurse without any nursing experience the entry-level student will need to complete one of the following:

RELATED: The 6 Most Important Considerations in Choosing an Online Nursing Program

Online LPN/LVN Diploma

The Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) diploma track is becoming outdated but is a great stepping stone to becoming an RN. This is considered the first year of nursing school and graduates become licensed by the state after passing the NCLEX-PN and are able to begin working as a nurse. This can usually be completed in about a year. Vocational schools and community colleges offer these programs. PLEASE NOTE: There are no available "online" LPN/LVN programs. Need more insight into the difference in career profiles? Check out our LPN vs RN overview.

This is a good way for students to get started in the field as quickly as possible. This is because the waiting list is usually shorter than the RN waiting list and employers may offer tuition reimbursement to further education. The drawback of this diploma is the need to advance education to be competitive in the workforce. Luckily, many online LPN to RN bridge programs are available.

Once the LPN/LVN is complete, many schools offer bridge programs that can be completed in as little as 9 months to earn an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), which is the minimum degree required to take the NCLEX-RN. Passing this exam allows for licensure as a registered nurse. This degree is called the LPN to RN Bridge program.

NOTE: There are a few CNA to RN programs and Medical Assistant to RN programs but these programs traditionally are mostly "test out" programs that allow for CNAs to take the NCLEX-RN for certification.

Online ADN Degree

The Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the shortest degree possible to be eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam. Passing this exam allows the graduate to become licensed by the state as an RN. ADN students may need to complete prerequisite courses as well as volunteer hours in a healthcare setting in order to be accepted into a program. Many ADN programs do not require any healthcare experience for admission. However, some programs might request previous licensure. It is very important to research the specific requirements of each school you are applying to.

Vocational schools and, more commonly, community colleges offer these programs, which can be completed in 2 years or less. Some programs may allow the students to work during school, especially if evening classes are offered, but many do not encourage it. After graduation, if the RN wishes to pursue higher education, many online RN to BSN bridge programs are available.

ADN-educated RNs can begin working in many types of healthcare facilities, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Long-Term Care Facilities
  • Skilled Nursing facilities
  • Physicians' Offices

For those who have worked as a paramedic or EMT, you might consider a paramedic to RN bridge program.

Online BSN Degree

The Bachelor's of Science in Nursing degree (BSN) is offered as a traditional 4-year degree or as a bridge program for the ADN-educated nurse. Both of these degrees will allow the nurse to work as a bedside RN.

The role of the bedside nurse is the cornerstone of nursing. In fact, it is often required experience for those nurses who wish to have a non-bedside role in healthcare, such as healthcare informatics or research.

The Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) is available in a few different formats and has different requirements for those who are already RNs versus those who are not.

For Non-RN Entry-Level Students, a BSN Is Available As:

  • Traditional BSN degree
  • Bachelor's Degree to BSN Bridge program (RN-BSN)
  • Accelerated BSN

For RNs, a BSN Is Available

Many RNs choose to pursue higher education to earn a higher salary, change roles, or because their employer requires it.

Traditional BSN Degree

The traditional BSN degree is available through universities and often includes prerequisites. Downsides to these programs are the long waiting lists and high demand which makes them extremely competitive. These are arguably more competitive than bridge programs and ADN degree tracks.

Bachelor's Degree to BSN Bridge Program

Students who hold a Bachelor's degree in a non-nursing area are able to earn a BSN through this bridge program. This track is often offered as an accelerated and/or partially online program or traditional in-classroom program. Clinical hours will be required to become licensed as an RN. This degree track often has a shorter waiting list than traditional BSN programs and is available through many universities.

Accelerated Bachelor's to BSN

For students who hold a non-nursing Bachelor's degree, an accelerated nursing program offers a faster way of earning a Bachelor's degree in nursing. These programs may have a higher standard for admission than traditional programs, such as a minimum 3.0 GPA and a requirement of "hands-on" healthcare volunteer hours, but the waiting list may be shorter than in other programs.

Accelerated BSN programs can be completed faster because they omit breaks and often have more intense courses so that they can be completed in a shorter amount of time. Since the same amount of clinical hours is required for any entry-level RN program, they may be scheduled at a grueling pace. For these reasons, many students find this type of program more challenging than traditional programs. Balancing family life and keeping up with friends may also be difficult. However, for the ambitious student who is good at setting priorities, the reward is working as an RN quickly!

Learn more about accelerated BSN programs.

Online MSN Degree

Earning a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree is a popular choice for students interested in being advanced-level healthcare providers, educators, or researchers. Clinical hours or a preceptorship are required as part of the program. For more on this, see online RN to MSN bridge programs.

Direct Entry MSN

Direct Entry Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) degrees are intended for entry-level students who have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing major. This is a faster route to earning an MSN than having to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing before applying for graduate school. These programs are offered by universities and are often very competitive. These programs tend to be accelerated and can be completed in about 15 months, including clinicals. Employment is not recommended during the program due to its intense pace.

Interested in an online NP program or MENP?

Online Nursing Bridge Programs

Registered nurses seeking to increase their salary or change roles often seek higher education.

For RNs who hold an ADN at a minimum and wish to pursue a BSN, many fully online bridge programs and accelerated Bachelor's programs are available. These are available through online universities as well as brick and mortar universities and often have a short waiting list.

Bridge programs for RNs are:

  • RN to BSN
    • Online
    • Accelerated
    • Traditional in-classroom
  • RN to MSN
    • Online
    • Accelerated
    • Traditional in-classroom
  • DNP and PhD


This program is often referred to as the RN to BSN bridge program and is a fast and convenient way for nurses to earn a BSN. Full-time employment is often required throughout the program to satisfy practicum requirements.
This degree is available completely online through many schools, as an accelerated program, and as a traditional in-classroom program.

Online RN to BSN

The completely online RN to BSN is possible because registered nurses do not need to complete clinical hours as they have already done so during the Associate's degree program. Clinical hours are "real world" experiences for students to gain hands-on knowledge in the healthcare setting with an instructor or preceptor.

Accelerated RN to BSN

Accelerated Bachelor's programs are available to RNs as well as entry-level students and those who hold a Bachelor's degree in a non-nursing major. Some programs offer an accelerated BSN in as little as 11 months. The cost of these programs may be a bit higher than non-accelerated programs because students will complete them faster. Over 150 schools nationwide currently offer an accelerated BSN.

Traditional In-Classroom RN to BSN

For those students not interested in online learning, traditional programs are available in most areas. Many students seek evening classes or a school which has some classes available online to make it convenient to continue working as an RN. Traditional in-classroom programs allow for more networking and face-to-face interaction with others in the field.

Learn more about an RN to BSN.


Graduate degree programs culminate in a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN). Most commonly, registered nurses pursue this degree to change their roles in nursing, earn more money, or plan to advance to a post-Master's degree, such as a DNP or Ph.D.

Specialties for the MSN include:

Employment during these programs is not usually encouraged and some programs simply do not allow it. The demands of the program, especially those specialties which require a preceptorship, are too great to maintain both work and school.

Online RN to MSN

The online RN to MSN program is usually reserved for specialties that do not provide direct patient care, such as:

The cost of these programs varies by school and financial aid is usually available. Many can be completed in as little as 9 months for students with a Bachelor's degree.

Accelerated RN to MSN

Accelerated RN to MSN programs are a faster way to complete a graduate degree in nursing. The programs will satisfy all state requirements and usually accomplish a faster pace by omitting breaks.

Accelerated nursing programs have grown in popularity over the years. Most attractive to many students is the streamlined approach to education allowing for the fast completion of nursing degrees. Some accelerated bachelor's degree programs can be completed in as little as 11 months.

This degree is available to students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree as well. Because all the prerequisite English, math, and science classes have been completed, the student can simply focus on nursing courses and graduate quickly!

Learn more about accelerated MSN programs.

Traditional In-Classroom RN to MSN

Graduate degree programs that require clinical hours or preceptorships, such as Family Nurse Practitioner or Clinical Nurse Specialist, often offer traditional in-classroom formats. Some schools may have certain classes available online, such as statistics or nursing ethics.

These programs are usually priced competitively, as there are many available, and the student should consider the salary increase which comes along with earning the MSN.

Learn more about an RN to MSN and RN to NP.

Online APRN Programs

Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (also known as APRNs) are nurses with graduate-level degrees (either an MSN or DNP) including Nurse Practitioners, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs), and Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs). RNs looking to specialize further and advance their careers seek APRN roles and specialties for the increased autonomy and salaries they provide. With increasingly busy lifestyles, online APRN programs have become a lifesaver for RNs who want to fit an advanced nursing degree into their schedules.

Online Nurse Practitioner Programs

Most online nurse practitioner (NP) programs allow students to choose a specialization or population focus, including:

Other Online APRN Programs

Whether an RN chooses to enroll in an NP, CRNA, CNM, or CNS program, distance learning is an option. In many cases, "hybrid" programs are available, allowing students to complete some coursework online, but also incorporating classroom and in-person experiences throughout the course of the degree. In most cases, students pursuing a degree as an APRN will need to hold at least a BSN and have an active, unrestricted RN license in order to be eligible for an accredited online program.

While online APRN coursework is convenient and flexible, students should be aware that programs will typically require a certain number of in-person clinical hours, to be arranged at a hospital or other medical facility. Luckily, most online programs allow this preceptorship to be arranged in the student's local area.

Perhaps you are looking for a Post-Graduate Certificate Programs in Nursing?

What Will the Day-To-Day Be Like in an Online Nursing Program?

Generally online programs require:

  • Participation points
  • Assignments
  • Employment

Participation Points

Most online courses require participation points. This is the equivalent of showing up for class in the traditional setting. The method for earning these points may vary depending on the program, but typically logging in to a discussion board and posting a few questions and answers to a topic of discussion a few times a week is required. This usually takes about 15 minutes to complete.


In addition to participation points, various assignments are required. These are usually projects or papers and may be required every week. This could be in the form of PowerPoint presentations, essays, research papers, Excel spreadsheets, and/or other formats. As the course progresses and the projects or papers get more demanding, many schools make these items worth more points for class credit. These assignments support the required reading from the textbook.


During the RN to BSN program, nurses may be required to remain employed throughout the program to satisfy a practicum requirement. Working a 12-hour shift three days a week, which is the most common schedule of bedside nurses, and fitting in assignments, reading, and participation points are usually manageable for most students.

Read more about working as an RN, RN salary, or find an RN job.

How Much Do Online Nursing Programs Cost?

While the cost of classes and programs varies greatly by school, many students discover that online programs are less expensive than traditional programs after considering the time and money saved on commuting and incidentals. The convenience of completing classes from the living room often outweighs the downsides.

Many schools will require electronic books to be purchased as well as uniforms, stethoscopes, and white nursing shoes or other items needed for clinicals, if required.

Online courses require each student to have access to a computer that is fast enough and has enough memory to support the program. Purchasing a new computer may be required if the standard is not met.

See our guide discussing the cost of RN programs.

Which Nursing School Accreditation Should I Be Looking for In a School?

Accreditation is very, very important. These are issued by regulatory bodies that monitor education quality and maintain high standards for schools. Completing a nursing degree from an accredited school is especially important when hoping to advance education at a different school, as many schools will only accept degrees or credits from schools with certain accreditation.

The government regulatory body of accreditation commissions is the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and they recognize seven agencies when considering schools for regional accreditation as of 2021. Be sure to visit for the most current information.

For more on this see nursing school accreditation.

How Do I Complete Clinicals, Practicums, and Internships During Online Nursing School?

Clinicals, preceptorships, or internships are required for all nursing degrees with the exception of the RN to BSN degree. However, this bridge degree often requires full-time employment as an RN. For these roles, the state requires an exam for licensure, and to be eligible to sit for the exam, clinical hours are required. The requirement varies by state.

For online programs, either the student will be required to find a willing healthcare provider to act as a preceptor, the school will arrange them in the student's local area, or the student must travel to another area to complete the required hours. The school may have resources to help locate a preceptor and tips on the best ways to approach them.

Clinical hours are not required for RN to BSN courses, but many schools do require the student to work full or part-time as a registered nurse throughout the program.

Check out what we have to say regarding clinical hours during RN school.

Do Nursing Programs Accept Credits from the CLEP?

Many programs do not accept credits from the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).

The CLEP is an exam designed to curb the cost of college tuition by allowing students to "test out" college classes. However, looking into each program individually is recommended as these rules are subject to change and programs vary.

How Can I Find Out More About Accelerated Nursing Schools?

For working nurses, don't forget to ask around to colleagues and nurse educators regarding recommended accelerated programs. These programs are becoming increasingly common and many people may know someone enrolled in an accelerated program.

See our guide to accelerated nursing programs as well as our complete school list of accelerated BSN programs and complete school list of accelerated MSN programs.