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Online Colleges with an Associate Degree in Nursing: How to Choose

Several nursing schools and colleges offer flexible online or distance learning options for the associate degree candidate; often these programs are hybrid, with some courses taught online and others requiring in-class participation. Continue to read to see how to best choose a school for you.

Students interested in earning an online associate's degree in nursing need to research the type of program offered, as well as the program's accreditation. We discuss these considerations and look at a few schools that offer these degrees.

How to Select an Online Associate's Nursing School

Online associate degree programs in nursing are typically offered through 2-year schools. Internships or work experiences that provide students with clinical training are another common feature of typical programs. Students must consider the accreditation for online programs as well as the different program types - some programs are designed for entry-level candidates, others are designed for working and/or experienced healthcare professionals.

Accreditation for Online Programs

When looking for an online associate degree program in nursing, it's important to discover whether the program has been accredited. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in every state and U.S. territory, those who aspire to be registered nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program before they can take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is the national certification exam for nurses (www.bls.gov).

A good place to find accredited online associate degree programs in nursing is through the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC). The NLNAC is recognized as an accrediting agency by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education. NLNAC accredits nursing programs at the postsecondary and graduate educational levels and has accredited over 600 associate degree nursing programs, including programs with online components (www.nlnac.org).

Types of Online Programs

Online nursing programs are often designed for students who are already working in a hospital or clinical setting or have experience in the healthcare field. In most cases, online instruction in the programs is augmented by supervised training in a hospital or medical clinic. Students usually have to undergo some type of clinical assessment or in-person examination to complete the program.

Other online nursing programs allow students to take online classes to meet some program requirements but require other courses to be taken in person on campus. The online components of nursing programs may include discussions through structured online chat sessions, virtual laboratories where students can perform experiments, weekly tests and assignments and Internet-based clinical simulations.

Overview of Online Associate-Level Nursing Programs

Online Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Nursing

These A.S. and A.A.S. programs prepare graduates to take the NCLEX and become registered nurses. The programs typically take two years, and include general education requirements and supervised clinical training experiences. Typical coursework includes the following topics:

  • Crisis care
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Maternal-infant nursing
  • Human growth and development
  • Microbiology

Online LPN-ADN Degree

This program is geared towards nursing students who have already earned their LPN certificate. Students in these programs typically are granted transfer credits in acknowledgment of the work they've already done to earn their LPN certificate. The next step after graduating from an LPN-ADN program is to take the certification exam to become a registered nurse.

Schools With Online Programs in Nursing

Excelsior College offers an online Associate in Science in Nursing and an Associate in Applied Science in Nursing to nurses with clinical experience. Their programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Students can complete their work in nursing theory through online courses, taking the Nursing Theory Conference Exams or doing independent study which concludes with an exam. The online format consists of 8-week courses, and seating in the online classes are limited.

Northwestern Michigan College also has a hybrid associate's program in nursing accredited by the ACEN. Students must enroll full-time and will have to complete labs on campus and clinicals in the Traverse City area. These requirements are typically 2-3 days a week, If a student falls out of sequence during the program, they default back into the traditional, on-campus program.

Panola College also offers a hybrid associate's program in nursing that is accredited by the ACEN. Students in the hybrid track of the program can complete it in 12 months. The program includes online courses but in-person clinicals in the evenings or on the weekends within 70 miles of Carthage, Texas.

Students interested in earning an associate's degree in nursing online should consider the type of program they plan to enroll in, as most programs come in a hybrid format with in-person requirements. Students should also be aware of program accreditation when selecting an appropriate program.

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