Nurses work in hospitals and doctors’ offices, offering vital medical care for patients. Graduates with an online associate degree in nursing pursue in-demand careers that offer lucrative salaries. Registered nurses benefit from high pay and strong job growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning an average of $70,000 a year. Nurses with an associate degree meet the educational qualifications to earn an RN license. The flexibility of an online program makes it easier than ever for prospective nurses to join the profession. Our ranking introduces the most affordable online associate nursing programs.
Registered nurses benefit from high pay and strong job growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning an average of $70,000 a year.
The Best Online Associate in Nursing Programs
|Value Score 6.75||
Excelsior College is a nonprofit institution focused exclusively on online education. The school offers undergraduate and graduate programs across business, health, liberal arts, public service, technology, and nursing.
Students can choose an online AS or AAS in nursing. Both online associate degree in nursing programs require a minimum of 67 credits, including 31 general education credits. General education courses cover English, information literacy, and humanities, among other subjects. Students devote the remaining 36 credits to nursing-specific courses. The bulk of nursing credits come from eight nursing theory requirements, which students can complete in three formats. They may take eight-week online courses, which require around 18 hours of work per week. Alternatively, students can satisfy theory requirements through Excelsior College Exams. They can also participate in preparation conferences or study for the exams independently.
Excelsior's associate in nursing students do not receive clinical instruction as part of the curriculum. Instead, they demonstrate their clinical abilities through the Clinical Performance in Nursing Examination. Students take the eight-credit exam at an acute care hospital under the supervision of a clinical examiner.
Excelsior's associate-level nursing programs serve students with backgrounds in healthcare. To qualify, applicants require a practical or vocational nurse license, a paramedic certification, or an equivalent classification from the U.S. military. Applicants must also verify that they currently work in a healthcare setting and have completed at least 200 hours at their place of work in the year prior to applying. Before applying, prospective nursing students must take the TEAS exam.
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Minnesota West Community and Technical College
|Value Score 6.04||
Minnesota West Community and Technical College offers programs in more than 60 disciplines through several campuses and learning locations. The college also offers dozens of web-based diplomas, certificates, and degrees through its Online Campus.
Minnesota West's AS in nursing serves licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and graduates of the school's practical nursing program. Applicants must earn a 3.0 cumulative GPA in prerequisite courses in anatomy, physiology, English composition, and developmental psychology. Applicants who did not complete Minnesota West's LPN program must score at least an 80 on the Nursing Acceleration Challenge Exam.
The program comprises 64 credits, including prerequisite courses. Notably, the program includes a class on family-centered care for special populations. In addition to online classes, students must complete three clinicals totaling six credits. The school hosts clinicals at healthcare facilities in southwest Minnesota, and students should expect to travel to clinical sites regularly. At the conclusion of the program, students take the ATI and NCLEX exams., students can also complete an optional nursing preceptorship worth 1-2 credits at the end of their studies.
Minnesota West delivers online courses through Desire2Learn. Courses typically include discussion forums and assignments with specific deadlines. For a typical three-credit course, students should expect to spend 6-9 hours per week studying both online and offline.
Online students can take advantage of many virtual services. Through the library website, distance learners can access more than 20 databases of scholarly articles and reference resources. Through the school's online advising service, students can learn about degree requirements, tuition information, and course registration. Before beginning their studies, distance learners may choose to complete an online orientation or meet with a student services adviser.
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North Central Missouri College
|Value Score 5.77||
Based in Trenton, Missouri, North Central Missouri College (NCMC) serves around 1,500 students through numerous degrees and certificates. The school offers eight fully online programs spanning business, criminal justice, and healthcare.
NCMC offers a practical nurse (PN)-to-ADN program online and at two campus locations. The program features a fully online format, save for some in-person labs and clinicals. The 45-credit curriculum includes classes on microbiology, pharmacology, maternal nursing, and nursing leadership. Students can complete the PN-to-ADN program in nine months. They must finish all courses with a "C" or higher to graduate.
Distance learners can take advantage of online resources such as academic tutoring. The school's writing lab lets students send in writing assignments for review. In addition, the writing lab offers numerous online handouts that cover citations, grammar, structure, and argumentation.
Prospective students must submit an application along with a high school transcript or GED certificate. To apply for the ADN program, students must report TEAS exam scores of 58.7% or higher. Applicants must score at least a 67.1% to qualify for early acceptance. In addition, applicants should hold a 2.0 GPA and a current PN license. They also require a "C" or higher in prerequisite classes in anatomy, physiology, psychology, speech, and English. The online program begins in August and caps enrollment at 25 students. Students transferring to NCMC from other schools must complete at least 15 credits at NCMC.
NCMC makes it easy for nursing students to transfer to a bachelor's program at a four-year institution. The school maintains articulation partnerships and course equivalency agreements with 20 schools, including the University of Central Missouri, Lindenwood University, and Franklin University.
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Northwest Technical College
|Value Score 5.72||
Based in Bemidji, Minnesota, NTC offers more than 70 certificates, diplomas, and degrees to around 2,200 students each year. The school was established in 1965 and is one of 24 community colleges in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. The college features 10 online degrees, including two online associate in nursing programs.
Students with no prior nursing experience can pursue the generic track, while licensed practical nurses (LPNs) can opt for the LPN "Step-In" track. Both programs require 64 credits and prepare students for RN licensure. The programs also offer courses like psychosocial nursing, maternal-newborn nursing, and advanced physiology. However, the generic track incorporates more foundational coursework. LPNs can complete the program in one year, while other students take two years to earn the degree.
The generic track requires three clinicals, while the "Step-In" option requires only two. The first clinical requirement introduces students to the nurse's role in long-term care facilities. The second clinical emphasizes therapeutic communication, evidence-based practice, and critical thinking. In the final clinical component, students apply all the skills they learned to care for patients in a variety of environments.
Admission requirements vary slightly between the two associate in nursing tracks. Both programs require a 2.76 GPA in prerequisite courses in microbiology, college writing, and anatomy and physiology. The "Step-In" program also expects prerequisite coursework in psychology, mathematics, and chemistry, but generic track students complete these courses during the program. Applicants to the generic track must earn at least a 64% on the TEAS exam. The "Step-In" program begins in the spring term, while the generic track starts in the fall.
NTC maintains a transfer agreement with Bemidji State University. Graduates of either nursing track qualify for the university's BSN program.
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University of Arkansas Community College-Batesville
|Value Score 5.40||
UACCB is a public institution that offers degrees spanning business, technology, public service, science, healthcare, and other disciplines. The school offers an online associate degree in nursing for licensed practical nurses (LPNs). The program comprises 58 credits, including prerequisite courses. In addition to standard coursework, students must complete a clinical rotation each semester.
Students must report to various clinical sites in Batesville, Searcy, and Little Rock for several 12-hour shifts each term. The spring term includes eight clinical days, the summer term includes seven clinical days, and the fall semester requires five clinical days. In the final semester, students complete a 96-hour preceptorship. In addition, students should expect to meet with instructors on campus several times over the course of the program.
The online associate degree in nursing features an instructor-paced format. The program follows the campus academic calendar, and students meet weekly exam and assignment deadlines. The program lasts 11 months, beginning in the spring term and ending in the fall. The intensive program requires a significant time commitment, and the college recommends that students work no more than 24 hours per week while pursuing the nursing degree.
To qualify for the online nursing track, applicants must take the Kaplan nursing admissions exam, which tests students' skills in reading, writing, math, and science. Students must also be Arkansas residents and hold an Arkansas LPN license. Applicants must earn a "C" or greater in six prerequisite courses spanning English composition, algebra, computer software applications, and anatomy and physiology. Prospective students should also submit an online application and official transcripts.
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What Else Can I Expect From an Online Associate in Nursing Program?
Nursing students gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become registered nurses. During an associate program, students complete required coursework and clinical hours. Curricula vary by school and program. The following sections outline common course offerings and the length and cost of an online associate degree in nursing.
Example Courses in an Online Associate in Nursing Program
- Fundamentals of Nursing Nursing students earning an associate degree often begin with an introductory course that covers nursing fundamentals. Topics include patient-centered care, evidence-based nursing, collaboration between patients and medical professionals, and quality improvement.
- Health Assessment In health assessment classes, nursing students learn how to collect, organize, and interpret information about a patient’s health. The course trains nurses to conduct physical assessments, patient interviews, and mental health checks. The class may also cover the best methods for communicating with patients.
- Human Anatomy Many programs incorporate classes in human anatomy, providing students with basic knowledge of human biology. The class may provide a structural and functional approach to anatomy. Nursing students learn about vital systems, including the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems, and their connections to health.
- Nursing Ethics Students learn the theory and practice behind ethical nursing, receiving guidance and advice from experienced nurses. The class may cover broad ethical issues in healthcare and moral issues that professional nurses face, preparing nurses to provide ethical treatment.
- Family Health Classes on family health train nursing students in providing healthcare to infants, children, and pregnant women. The class may cover nutrition, infection, stress, and other health issues. The class prepares nurses to work in family clinics, pediatric doctors’ offices, and other settings where they work with children.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Associate in Nursing?
Earning an online associate degree in nursing typically takes two years of full-time study. Nursing students may be able to complete their degree in less time by enrolling in an accelerated program. Some programs offer the option to enroll part time, which adds time to the degree. An associate degree requires around 60 credits.
Several program characteristics affect the length of an associate degree in nursing. For example, most programs incorporate clinical hours, allowing students to gain hands-on experience. This requirement may add time to the degree. Online programs that permit students to move through coursework at their own pace may allow advanced students to complete their degree in less time. In a cohort learning program, nursing students advance at a set pace, which is the same for all learners in the group.
How Much Does an Online Associate in Nursing Cost?
The cost of online associate nursing programs varies depending on the type of school and length of the program. Students attending an online community college may pay $6,000 for the two-year degree, while private schools can cost $30,000 or more. Nursing students attending a public college in their state can save by paying in-state tuition rates. Some programs offer a flat tuition rate for online students, regardless of residency, which can save thousands of dollars compared to out-of-state tuition. Online students may need to pay technology and assessment fees, depending on the program.
Accreditation for Online Associate in Nursing Degrees
Prospective nursing students should choose an accredited program. During the accreditation process, independent agencies evaluate a nursing program’s graduation requirements, student learning outcomes, and faculty qualifications to ensure the program follows the best practices for training nurses. Two accrediting agencies review nursing programs: the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The ACEN accredits associate nursing programs, while the CCNE accredits BSN and graduate programs in nursing. Nurses need a degree from an accredited program for a registered nursing license.
In addition to programmatic accreditation, the colleges that host associate degree in nursing (ADN) programs can hold regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation remains the highest standard, meeting the requirements for the most licenses and certifications. Students at regionally accredited programs qualify for federal financial aid and typically receive more employment opportunities than students from unaccredited schools.
Multiple accrediting agencies operate in different regions of the country for various disciplines. The Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) certify accrediting agencies that meet rigorous standards for independence and quality. Both the ED and CHEA offer lists of accredited schools on their website. Because accreditation plays such an important role in academic quality and employment prospects, our rankings only include accredited online associate degree nursing programs.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Nursing Degree?
After earning an online associate degree in nursing, graduates can pursue careers in all areas of healthcare, working as ER, neonatal, pediatric, and OR nurses. For many nurses with an ADN, a registered nursing license offers the best path toward high salaries and career advancement. The high demand for registered nurses makes the field particularly appealing. With an ADN, nursing students can also become licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, licensed vocational nurses, or nursing assistants.
RNs work in hospitals, doctors’ offices, outpatient clinics, and other medical settings. They provide patient care, coordinating between physicians and patients, and offer emotional support to patients. RNs also educate patients about their health conditions and how to treat them. An online associate degree in nursing meets the educational requirements to become an RN.
Projected Growth Rate 15%
Licensed Practical Nurse
LPNs offer basic medical care to patients, often working under the supervision of RNs and physicians. They monitor patients’ health; provide basic care, such as changing bandages; and create patient health records. Graduates with an ADN take the NCLEX-PN to become an LPN.
Projected Growth Rate 12%
Respiratory therapists help patients who have trouble breathing. They may work with premature infants, elderly patients, and patients with chronic respiratory diseases. Respiratory therapists may also provide emergency care to patients. Their job duties include administering breathing tests, developing a treatment plan with physicians, and monitoring patient progress.
Projected Growth Rate 23%
Licensed Vocational Nurse
LVNs provide basic medical care under the direction of RNs and doctors. Like LPNs, they care for patients by helping them bathe or dress, checking vital signs, and keeping records. After earning an ADN, graduates can take the NCLEX-PN to become an LVN.
Projected Growth Rate 12%
Nursing assistants, also known as nursing aides, provide basic care to patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities, like nursing homes. They may dispense medications, help patients with bathing and dressing, and record health concerns. Nursing assistants may also check vital signs and provide other basic care.
Projected Growth Rate 11%
Educational Paths for Graduates of Associate in Nursing Degrees
With an RN license, nurses can complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing in as little as one year by enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program. Other bachelor’s degree options include majoring in healthcare administration, public health, or another health-related field. Students can transfer their credits from an accredited associate in nursing online toward a bachelor’s degree, saving two years on the four-year degree.
Bachelor’s in Nursing
RNs can earn their BSN in as little as 12-15 months by enrolling in an RN-to-BSN program. Nurses with an associate degree do not take general education courses in these programs; they take advanced nursing coursework.
Bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration
With an associate degree, nurses can transfer into a healthcare administration program to build managerial skills. This degree prepares graduates for careers in healthcare management and administration.
Master’s in Nursing
Many online programs offer RN-to-MSN bridge programs, which let candidates with a registered nursing license earn a master’s degree in less time than most bachelor’s programs.
Earning Power for Associate in Nursing Graduates
Associate in Nursing Salary Expectations
Nursing graduates can pursue lucrative careers in all areas of healthcare by becoming a registered nurse. After graduating, nursing students pursue an RN license by completing the NCLEX-RN exam and applying for a state license. Registered nurses earn an average salary of $70,000 a year, according to the BLS.
Nursing salaries vary by location. The top-paying states for RNs include California; Hawaii; Washington, D.C.; Massachusetts; and Oregon. In California, the state’s 282,000 registered nurses earn an average salary of over $102,000 a year. The following table shows average salaries for different RN specializations and salary growth potential.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)||Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)||Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)|
|Emergency Room Nurse||$63,777||$57,000||$64,000||$77,000|
|Operating Room Nurse||$68,014||$59,000||$66,000||$77,000|
Professional organizations help nursing students and professionals connect with colleagues and mentors. Many organizations offer networking opportunities through conferences and events, host continuing education or certification programs, and provide other career advancement opportunities. Members also benefit from scholarship opportunities, career services, and job boards. Joining a professional organization can help nursing students transition from their program to the workforce.
- American Nurses Association Founded in 1896, ANA represents millions of nurses, advocating for professional standards and the nursing profession. ANA provides professional development tools, publishes research and news, and offers continuing education classes.
- American Association of Critical-Care Nurses AACN provides resources for critical care nurses, including conferences and events with networking opportunities. Nurses can also earn certifications or complete continuing education credits through the association.
- Emergency Nurses Association ENA represents emergency nurses and promotes policies that improve emergency healthcare. Members benefit from clinical practice information, training resources, and scholarship opportunities.
- Academy of Neonatal Nursing ANN offers conferences, books, publications, and other resources for neonatal nurses. The organization also provides a professional development center with resources on nursing practice and career advancement.
- Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing The honor society dates back to 1922 and offers career advancement support for nurses. Members gain access to career counseling, mentorship, and a job board.
Financing Your Online Associate in Nursing Program
Associate degree students attending an accredited program qualify for federal financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study opportunities, by submitting the FAFSA. Nursing students also benefit from multiple scholarship opportunities in their field, including state grant programs to address nursing shortages. The following list of scholarships offers an introduction to the funding opportunities for nursing students.