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What Are the Different Types of Online RN Degree Programs?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

Online RN degree programs offer education at several degree levels and, depending on their focus, prepare nurses for various types of nursing careers. One of the most common types of online RN degree programs is the Bachelor of Science of Nursing (BSN), which is typically available in online format to students who already have an associate’s degree in nursing. Other options include Master of Science of Nursing degrees (MSN) as well as doctoral programs. RNs can also complete certificate programs in areas such as informatics or nursing instruction. Those who are currently working as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) also called licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) can sometimes participate in online programs that prepare them to become RNs.

In many countries, there are several educational paths to becoming licensed as an RN. While it is possible to become an RN after completing a diploma program through a hospital or an associate’s degree through a two-year or community college, career opportunities are better for those RNs who complete a bachelor’s degree. As a result, many online RN degree programs allow registered nurses to complete their bachelor’s degree online. Online RN degree programs of this type allow nurses to continue working in their current positions without having to take time off to go to school.


Nurses who want to advance in their careers to become administrators, teachers or advance practice nurses must often complete a master’s degree. In some cases, however, these nurses may have the alternative of completing a graduate-level certificate in a specific area of nursing practice. For example, nurse practitioners in the United States must usually complete either a MSN or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. Nurses who want to pursue academic research can complete a PhD online as well.

Those who are interested in online RN degree programs should be aware of two things. The first is that these programs typically involve a “real life” component in which a student may be required to travel to a campus to meet with a cohort group or academic advisor, take a laboratory science class or participate in a practicum that requires working in a health care setting. The second is that an education alone doesn’t qualify someone to become an RN or an advance practice nurse. After completing an educational program, the student will need to apply for licensing or certification: Application processes differ by jurisdiction, but typically require passing a licensing examination, a thorough vetting of the application and a criminal background check.

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