Prerequisites for Online RN Programs: Info for Aspiring Students

Dec 03, 2019

Essential Information

To become an RN, individuals must first earn an associate's or bachelor's degree or a postsecondary diploma in the field. The American Nurses Association asserts that the most common option is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) followed by the Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN). However, many nursing degree programs require that applicants complete some prerequisite coursework before they can be admitted. These courses can be taken online, and they may involve web conferencing. Applicants to these courses must have taken high school science classes.

Common Prerequisite Coursework

According to a study published by the Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges, students who satisfied core prerequisites completed nursing degree programs at higher rates than those who did not. The study also reported that common prerequisite courses include the following:

  • English
  • Math
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and physiology

RN Degree Program Prerequisites Options

Students desiring to complete RN program prerequisites through distance learning have multiple options. One is to enroll in individual online courses. Many institutions offer prerequisite nursing classes online, although they may not be listed as such. For example, completing any introductory anatomy class should suffice, even if it is not listed as a nursing prerequisite class.

In some degree programs, prerequisites are built into the curriculum but can be completed online before the student visits campus to enter the main component of the registered nursing training program.

However, there are also dedicated pre-nursing programs on the Web. These typically cover all of the coursework needed to satisfy prerequisites, apart from a nursing degree program, but may be more costly or offer less scheduling flexibility than independent courses or taking prerequisites within a nursing program.

Admission Requirements

Regardless of which distance learning option students choose to complete their nursing prerequisites, two-year community colleges and four-year universities are the common institutions where this type of coursework can be found. These schools generally require students to have a high school diploma or GED in order to be eligible for admission. In some cases, online classes in fields like anatomy and physiology may require that students have successfully completed high school-level science courses in biology or chemistry.

Learning Methods

Taking nursing degree prerequisites online may mean that individuals can complete their studies more quickly once they enroll in an RN program. Distance education allows for scheduling flexibility, and enrollees are able complete their work from the comfort of home. They log on to a virtual classroom, administered by their school, to view lectures, work on assignments and take assessments. Discussion boards, web conferencing and chat rooms may be available for distance learners to interact with peers or instructors.

Education & Career Outlook

Registered nurses currently form the largest segment of healthcare workers combined, but there may be a shortage in the near future that will further provide opportunities for aspiring nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), factors contributing to a persistent shortage of nurses include low nursing school enrollment to keep up with demand. In response, national initiatives have included offering accelerated degree programs for those with a bachelor's degree in another field, as well as scholarships and federal loan forgiveness programs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects favorable job growth across the healthcare industry due to increasing access to healthcare services and the medical needs of the large elderly population ( The agency projects that employment of registered nurses will increase 12% in the 2018-2028 decade, which is much faster than average when compared to other occupations. The median annual salary of RNs was $71,730, according to 2018 BLS data.

Before enrolling in an RN program, aspiring nurses need to have completed a certain amount of prerequisite coursework, much of which can be found online.

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