How to Choose the Best Nursing Degree Programs

Selecting a career in the growing field of nursing will provide you with a huge choice of exciting career options that will allow you to earn a great income and also to help make a difference in the lives of many people. Whether you choose to become registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, nurse practitioner, or something else, you will be working in a booming career field with no end of job demand.

To get your nursing career off to a strong start, you need to decide what type of nursing degree to focus on and where to obtain your education. The type of university that you choose will depend upon which degree you want and what you want to do in your nursing career.

First, you need to think about how long you want to be in school before you are able to earn a living. Some nursing degrees, such as an associate’s degree in nursing, will take approximately two years to complete. At that point, you will have your RN diploma and can work as a licensed practical nurse or LPN.

Or, you can earn your bachelor of science in nursing, which takes four years to complete. You can then work as a registered nurse. After you become an RN, then you can if you choose, earn a master of science in nursing, which takes another two years to complete. Then you can work in many advanced practice nursing careers, such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader or nurse midwife.

Many aspiring nurses opt to earn their associate’s degree or BSN, and then they work for a few years to gain clinical experience. Many nurses make an excellent career with this level of education.

However, you then can, if you choose, opt to earn your master’s degree or even a doctor or nursing practice (DNP) degree, which readies you for even more advanced clinical work, or possibly to work in teaching and research at the university level.

Featured YouTube Video

What Is Your Degree Area of Interest?

The most vital factor in choosing a nursing degree is deciding what exactly you want to do with your career. Depending upon the type of work you want to do and how long you want to be in school, you can select the best nursing degree for you. Below are some of the most common career paths for aspiring nursing professionals.

  • LPN to Associate’s Degree in Nursing: You can become an LPN with semester or two of nursing study, and gain experience in the field, then move up to an associate’s degree. This option is usually a two year program that is geared towards the student who wishes to become an entry level RN. This career path is often a stepping stone to obtaining a four year bachelor of science in nursing. Your employer may provide some tuition reimbursement if you are an LPN working to become a full RN with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Associate of Science in Nursing: This is a more technical two year degree that is a good nursing degree option if you did not work before an an LPN. It takes approximately two years of study. This type of degree will allow you to become a two year RN and start to earn money faster than with a four year BSN degree.
  • LPN to BSN: This nursing degree program is for the worker who has LPN work experience. It may take less than four years to complete, if you have sufficient work experience You then will have your BSN and allows you to work at higher wages as an RN. This is a solid option if you plan to get another nursing degree later.
  • BSN: This is a four-year nursing degree that will allow you to work as a full registered nurse. Earning a BSN is usually essential for advancing in the nursing field, so you will probably want to earn your bachelor’s degree eventually.
  • MSN: A Master of Science in Nursing allows you to specialize in a certain advanced practice field of nursing, such as nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader, nurse midwife and others. Earning this degree will allow you to earn a higher salary with higher responsibilities. If you decide to become a nurse practitioner, you can eventually focus on many subspecialties, such as acute care, pediatrics, cardiac care, emergency care, geriatrics and more.
  • DNP: This is a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree that takes at least three or four years after your MSN. This program will prepare you for a career in nursing education, research or administration.

Online Nursing Degree Options

Many nursing degrees today are offered with online options. That is, you can take most or all of your required classwork online. Whether you choose an online program or a campus-based program will depend on your needs and where you live. Some students prefer to take their classes in person in their community and interact with students and professors.

Other students prefer an online program for their nursing degree because they have more flexibility on when they take their classes and where. You do not need to live near the university to take an online program. Many nursing degree programs will require you to make some visits to campus at some point, but not all require this.

Whether you choose an online or campus-based nursing program, you will need to complete several hundred clinical hours in a local hospital or health care setting. If you are in an online program, you must coordinate your clinical hours with a local health care facility.

Our recommended online universities for nursing degrees include:

Chamberlain College

Chamberlain College has a more than 125-year history and has become a leading provider of online nursing degree programs. It has a strong reputation for preparing talented and dedicated nurses to succeed in today’s changing and competitive healthcare environment.

It offers a full array of nursing programs that can provide students with the education they need, regardless of their background or current education. Current program offers are:

  • Three Year Bachelor of Science in Nursing: This an accelerated bachelor’s or BSN program that allows some students to receive their degree in only three years. This is done by taking the program straight for three years and not having summers off.
  • RN to BSN: This is a nursing program designed for current nurses who have either a diploma or an associate’s degree. This program can be taken entirely online, with some students finishing the BSN in only three semesters.
  • Master of Science in Nursing: This is a two-year online program that is intended for experienced nurses with a bachelor’s degree. Specialty tracks are nurse educator; nurse executive; family nurse practitioner; health care policy and informatics
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: This program is appropriate for nurses who have their RN, are current practicing nurses and have an MSN degree.

These programs can entirely be taken online, with the clinical portion of each program completed at a clinical site near you.

Details

  • University Type: For-Profit
  • Campus Location: Downer’s Grove, Illinois; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: BSN, MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, work study, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Classes start every eight weeks, so students can begin their coursework quickly

Simmons College

The online nursing degree programs at Simmons College are designed for currently licensed and practicing RNs. Through intense scholarship, clinical expertise and collaboration, nursing students at Simmons will be prepared to be top level nursing leaders who can treat patients and families from all walks of life.

Available online nursing degree programs are:

  • Master of Science in Nursing – FNP: Designed for the current nurse with a bachelor’s degree who want to become a family nurse practitioner, one of the most in-demand advanced nursing roles in the country
  • RN to MSN – FNP: Designed for the non-BSN holder who wants to transition into the nursing field
  • Post BS to DNP: Designed for the current BSN holder who wants to earn her doctoral degree
  • Post-MSN to DNP: Designed for nurses who hold their MSN and want a doctoral degree

The same faculty teaches the online degree programs as the ones taught on campus. So you can be confident that you are obtaining a high-quality nursing education.

Details

  • University Type: Non-Profit
  • Campus Location: Boston, Massachusetts; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: BSN, MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, federal and private loans, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Degree programs are offered in cohorts, meaning that you will participate in live online coursework with the same students each term

Adventist University

Adventist University of Health Sciences specializes in largely online nursing and allied health education. The university has a close partnership with Florida Hospital and has for more than a century. This is a globally recognized medical center that is the biggest of more than 350 healthcare facilities that are operated around the world by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The university currently has 45 hospital campuses in 10 states, so online nursing students may be able to complete their clinical hours at an Adventist hospital. Otherwise, you may complete clinical hours at a site in your area, contingent upon approval by your academic supervisor.

Details

  • University Type: Non-Profit
  • Campus Location: Orlando, Florida, other locations; online
  • Accreditation: ACEN
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: BSN
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Nursing program can be taken either online or at one of several campuses across the country

Keiser University

Keiser University was founded in 1977 and has for the last 40 years become the third biggest non-profit university in Florida. It currently has 20,000 students and 66,000 alumni.

Keiser University currently is ranked #13 overall and the first in Florida in Regional Colleges South by US News and World Report. In 2016, the university was tied at #23 in the southern US region.

Current degree programs in nursing are:

  • Associate’s in Nursing: Designed for the new nursing student who wants to enter the nursing profession with a two-year degree.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing: Designed both for the experienced nurse and non-nurses who are entering the profession from another field. Includes accelerated, RN to BSN, FastTrack, and traditional programs.
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Designed for the nurse with a BSN who wants to become a family nurse practitioner.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: Designed for the experienced nurse with a master’s degree.

Details

  • University Type: Non-Profit
  • Campus Location: West Palm Beach, Florida, other locations; online
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: ADN, BSN, RN to BSN, MSN-FNP, MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: $44 million scholarship funding is offered each year to both academic and needs-based students.

Capella University

The nursing programs available at Capella University are based upon only the very best clinical and academic practices. Nursing graduates from this accredited university are trained to meet the complex health care needs of patients today in a variety of healthcare settings.

Available online nursing degrees at Capella include the following:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing: You may earn your bachelor’s degree in nursing in as little as 18 months. It is available as either an RN to BSN or an RN to BSN/MSN program. Intended for the experienced nurse who is an RN with a diploma or associate’s degree.
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Designed for the experienced nurse with a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree/diploma. Those with just an ADN or diploma can earn their BSN and MSN in the same program.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: DNP degree that is designed for the highly experienced nurse with an MSN degree.

Details

  • University Type: For-Profit
  • Campus Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota; online
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: BSN, MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Grants, loans, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: Nursing programs are accredited by CCNE, which is the standard bearer in accrediting nursing education programs.

Kaplan University

Kaplan University is an online and campus-based university offers a full array of online nursing degree options, including associate’s, BSN, MSN and DNP degrees.

This university has helped tens of thousands of nurses over the years to advance their careers. Whether you choose the bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral program, you will be taking a program that offers you the flexibility and rigor to complete the program on your time and schedule.

The most commonly-chosen nursing program at Kaplan is the MSN degree leading to the family nurse practitioner career, which is one of the best paying and in-demand specialties in America today.

Kaplan recently was acquired by Purdue University, so it will convert to non-profit status in the future.

Details

  • University Type: For-Profit; Non-Profit (in future)
  • Campus Location: Online
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Degrees Offered: ADN, BSN, MSN, DNP
  • GMAT/GRE Required: No
  • Financial Aid Offered: Federal and pell grants, loans, military discounts, internal and external scholarships
  • Other Information: MSN program is available these concentrations: adult NP, family NP, executive nurse leader or nurse educator

Accreditation

It is important for your nursing degree program and university to be fully accredited. This means that a highly respected education accreditation body has evaluated the university and program to ensure that it meets high standards for nursing education.

The most respected and best-known accreditation body in the nursing field is the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, which has the accreditation agency the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or CCNE. This organization is recognized by the US Secretary of Education as a national accreditation agency for nursing programs. If your nursing degree program has been accredited by the CCNE, you can be confident that it has met very high-quality standards.

You also should look for accreditation of the university itself. There are six regional accreditation associations that are recognized by the US Department of Education:

Summary

Earning a nursing degree is a great investment in your future and career. Consider all of the above factors to find the best nursing degree and university for you.