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Home Blog Online vs. On-Campus RN to BSN Programs: What’s the Difference?

Online vs. On-Campus RN to BSN Programs: What’s the Difference?

July 6, 2024

Contributing Author: Alley Bardon

9 mins read

If you're currently working as a registered nurse (RN) but looking for something that offers a little more autonomy, then it may be time to pursue your Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN). Without any prior nursing education or experience, a BSN can easily take four or more years to complete. However, if you already have your RN license and an associate degree under your belt, then you may be eligible for an RN to BSN program that can be completed in as little as 12 months. 

When it comes to choosing an RN to BSN program, there is no shortage of options to choose from. One of the most important decisions you'll need to make is whether you'll enroll in an online or on-campus program. 

Overview of Online RN to BSN Programs

In recent years, RN to BSN online programs have become increasingly popular as a means of empowering students to pursue their BSN degrees with greater flexibility than is offered with traditional RN to BSN programs.

Introducing Online RN to BSN Programs

Online RN to BSN programs are a common option among RNs who are already working full-time and may have other important obligations that prevent them from returning to the classroom. Often, an RN to BSN online program involves incorporating an RN's existing studies and real-life experiences into their formal studies. The result? A bachelor's degree that can be completed in one to two years instead of the "typical" four years. 

Online RN to BSN Format, Structure, and Delivery Methods

Even within the realm of online RN to BSN programs, there are different formats and delivery methods available. Generally, an online nursing program is either synchronous or asynchronous in nature. 

With synchronous learning, students meet with their instructors or professors in real-time at set dates/times during the week. This may include meeting for lectures or discussions via video chat to mimic the traditional classroom experience as closely as possible. 

With asynchronous learning, on the other hand, classes do not meet at specific dates/times. Instead, students have access to all course material, including pre-recorded lectures, and can work at their own pace with greater flexibility. 

Flexibility and Convenience of Online Learning for Working Nurses

Online RN to BSN programs offer a great deal of convenience for working nurses who may otherwise not be able to fit the demands of a degree program into their busy schedules. Instead of being tied to weekly classes on a physical campus, students can simply log into their accounts and work at their own pace. 

Meanwhile, online nursing degrees with virtual classrooms offer greater accessibility for those who may not live near a physical nursing school campus. With an online degree program, students can typically enroll from anywhere in the United States if they have an active RN license. This gives them a greater sense of freedom when it comes to choosing the specific school and program that is right for them. 

Overview of On-Campus RN to BSN Programs

Of course, distance learning may not be the ideal option for all students. In fact, some students may benefit from a more traditional classroom experience that offers face-to-face interaction. 

Traditional On-Campus RN to BSN Programs

With a traditional on-campus nursing program, students meet in-person during set times and dates each week. During these classes, students may engage in real-time discussions with instructors and professors, sit through lectures, or take part in special activities or projects. 

Often, RN to BSN classes are offered during less conventional hours to offer flexibility to students who may also be working full-time as nurses. In these instances, classes may be offered on evenings, weekends, or both. 

Benefits of Face-to-Face Instruction, Campus Resources, and Networking

There are some notable benefits to choosing a traditional on-campus nursing program over an online option. This begins with access to face-to-face instruction that can deliver better learning outcomes to some students. Meanwhile, in-person programs provide nursing students with more opportunities to network and connect with other nursing students and professionals when compared to an online program. 

Being on a college campus also makes it easier for students to utilize certain resources that support their learning, such as libraries and writing centers. 

Comparing Program Formats

As you consider whether an online or in-person RN to BSN program is right for you, it's crucial to look at both the advantages and potential drawbacks of each option. From there, you can compare the curriculum and course options with your own needs and reach a more confident decision. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Each Format for Registered Nurses

Online and in-person programs offer their own unique advantages and disadvantages. With on-campus programs, the main benefit is being able to engage in the "traditional" classroom experience that involves more interaction with peers and faculty. On the other hand, commuting to campus and being in the classroom at set dates/times can be difficult for RNs who are already working full-time hours.

In the interim, online programs offer the versatility and convenience that many busy RNs are looking for. At the same time, students in an online program with less structure may need to be extremely self-motivated and able to manage their own time, which can be a challenge for some. Some of these programs may also lack the interaction and networking opportunities offered by an in-person program.

Comparing the Curriculum and Course Offerings

The overall curriculum and course offerings of an in-person RN to BSN compared to an online RN to BSN is typically quite similar. Both programs should offer coursework in the most essential nursing topics, such as patient safety, healthcare policy, healthcare finance, and community health.

Alignment of Program Content with Nursing Standards and Requirements

The content of any RN to BSN program (regardless of whether it is being offered online or in-person) should also align with nursing standards and requirements to prepare students for their own career advancement. This should include standards set forth by the American Nurses Association. 

Faculty and Instructional Support

Faculty and instructional support can play a significant role in student success as part of an RN to BSN program, regardless of the program format. With this in mind, choosing a program that offers plenty of support for students is essential to your overall experience and success. 

Role of Faculty and Instructional Support

Even in an online program, faculty such as instructors, professors, and academic advisors can provide essential support to students by connecting with them throughout the program. Many colleges, whether online or in-person, also offer tutoring and professional/career development services, helping students succeed both inside and outside the classroom. 

Clinical Practicum and Experiential Learning

Online and in-person programs should (ideally) offer a mix of instructional experience and hands-on clinical experience, so there are a few things to look for when choosing an RN to BSN program. 

Clinical Practicum Requirements and Learning Opportunities

A great RN to BSN program should prepare nursing students for the real demands of jobs in their fields. Usually, this is done through clinical practicum placements, which allow nursing students to gain hands-on experience in their fields while earning credit hours in their respective nursing programs. 

Clinical practicum requirements and other learning opportunities can also help nursing students prepare for the NCLEX examination or other critical licensure exams that may come after completing a BSN program. 

Preparing RNs for Real-World Nursing and Career Advancement

At the end of the day, RNs enroll in BSN programs because they are interested in acquiring more knowledge/skills that they may be able to use to advance their careers. With this in mind, any nursing program chosen, regardless of format, should prepare students for real-world nursing experiences across a wide range of contexts. 

Accreditation and Program Reputation

In addition to program format and learning outcomes, it is also vital for prospective nursing students to research accreditation and the overall reputation of a program before enrolling.

Factors to Consider When Evaluating RN to BSN Programs

A quick online search is often all that is needed to get a feel for the type of reputation a school has. In the meantime, reaching out and speaking to previous students, including recent alumni, can provide you with some valuable insights as you reach your decision as well. 

Importance of Accreditation in Choosing an RN to BSN Program

When choosing any RN to BSN program, selecting an accredited program is a must. There are several accreditation bodies in the nursing field, including the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Choosing a program that has been accredited by one of these bodies means that the school has gone out of its way to voluntarily complete the accreditation process, meeting or exceeding certain standards for quality.

Making an Informed Decision

Deciding between an online and in-person RN to BSN program can be challenging, but with the right resources and consideration, you can reach the decision that best aligns with your needs and career goals. 

Tips for Students to Evaluate Their Options

As you evaluate your options, start by considering whether you prefer the flexibility of an online program or the real-time interaction of a traditional classroom. Take time to think about your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your study habits, too. For example, if you know you struggle with time management and self-motivation, an online program may prove to be a challenge for you. 

On the other hand, if you are self-motivated and have strong time-management skills, then an online program may offer the flexibility you need to continue working full-time as an RN while working towards your degree.

Data-Informed Decision-Making for RN to BSN Programs

Sometimes, looking objectively at each program format can also be useful. Don’t hesitate to make data-informed decisions based on important things like graduation rates, job placement rates, and NCLEX pass rates for a particular program. Ideally, you'll balance this information with your own personal needs and preferences to reach a decision that you can feel great about. 

Which Option Is Right for You?

There's a lot to think about when it comes to choosing an RN to BSN program and format that suits your goals. While RN to BSN programs on campus may offer a more traditional classroom experience, many busy nursing students enjoy the flexibility and versatility afforded by an RN to BSN online program.

If you're looking for a 100% online RN to BSN that offers the flexibility you need to balance your professional and educational goals, Lindenwood University is proud to offer an online RN to BSN that can be completed in as little as 12 months. With coursework focusing on such important nursing topics as patient safety and quality, community health promotion, and policy and finance, this program can prepare you to work confidently in several settings.

Get in touch to learn more about Lindenwood University Online's RN to BSN or start your application today.

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