Best Nursing Certifications Online

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Updated on April 2, 2024
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Graduate nursing certificate programs allow registered nurses (RNs) to advance their nursing careers. Postgraduate certificate programs in nursing typically focus on advanced practice areas for professionals looking to specialize as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, or nurse practitioners. Online nursing certificate programs are open to nurses who hold bachelor's and/or master's degrees in nursing. Some programs are also open to nurses with doctorates.

Registered nurses who complete a nursing certificate program to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can expect a big boost in income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for an RN was $75,330 per year in May 2020, compared with $117,670 for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.

What Is a Graduate Certificate in Nursing?

There are two types of graduate certificate programs in nursing: postbaccalaureate and post-master's. These give nurses who hold bachelor's or master's degrees another way to pursue a specialty or expertise.

Many nursing certificate programs focus on advanced practice areas and prepare RNs to become APRNs. Students who are already ARPNs can gain experience in an additional practice area, which opens up more career options. Other postgraduate certificate programs in nursing focus more on administration. Graduate nursing certificate programs are offered both online and on campus.

Postbaccalaureate nursing certificates require students to possess a bachelor's degree in nursing. These certificates are usually administrative in nature. For example, you can get a postbaccalaureate nursing certificate in nursing administration, health information management, or nursing education.

Post-master's nursing certificates require a master's degree in nursing. These certificates often focus on APRN practice areas. For example, you can get a post-master's nursing certificate while preparing to become a family nurse practitioner (FNP), adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner (AGACNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

Featured Nursing Certificate Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Can I Expect From an Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Program?

Online nursing certificate programs typically have the same requirements as on-campus programs, except that many online programs allow students to set their own schedules. Instead of meeting at a specific time, for instance, you may just need to listen to a recorded video lecture by a certain date.

Online graduate certificate programs may give students the flexibility to work and attend school at the same time. Most programs take about one year to complete and consist of 12-24 credits. Some have in-person requirements, such as labs or practicums. Be sure to check for in-person requirements before enrolling in an online program.

Many nursing certificate programs require hands-on clinical experiences, as well. Depending on the school, you may be able to complete these experiences through a healthcare provider in your area. Make sure you find out where your clinicals can be held before enrolling.

Discover Similar Nursing Programs.

What Are the Types of Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs?

There are many different types of online nursing certificate programs, from advanced practice specialties to health information management. Some certificates can lead to the APRN credential if students also pass the appropriate certification exam.

Different schools offer different certificates, so check several schools to see what programs they offer. Some of the most common nursing certificate programs focus on nursing education or nursing informatics, or prepare students to become family nurse practitioners, nurse administrators, and pediatric nurse practitioners.

Nursing Education

A post-master's nurse educator certificate program prepares graduates to develop curricula, define course objectives, and plan content and learning experiences. Students learn how to incorporate technology into their lesson plans. They develop tests and other evaluation methods to check their students' progress.

Nursing Informatics

A graduate certificate in nursing informatics program prepares nurses to manage the health information systems within their organizations. Students practice entering and managing data in simulated healthcare information systems. They gain experience in clinical workflow, interoperability, and meaningful use initiatives.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioner certificate programs prepare students to take the American Nurses Credentialing Center's family nurse practitioner board certification exam. Coursework typically covers professional issues for nurse practitioners, primary care of patients across the lifespan, diagnostic reasoning, clinical health assessment, and advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology.

Nurse Administrator

Registered nurses who want to advance their careers may be interested in a post-master's certificate in nurse administration. This certificate program prepares students for leadership roles in nursing. Students learn how to monitor quality and improve outcomes, lead organizational dynamics, and manage financial and human resources in healthcare.

Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

The pediatric nurse practitioner post-master's certificate prepares students to become certified pediatric nurse practitioners. The program focuses on management of chronic and acute conditions in pediatric patients, as well as disease prevention and health promotion for patients from infancy through early young adulthood.

Admission to Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

The graduate admissions process is generally the same whether you plan to earn your graduate nursing certificate in person or online. You'll need to prove that you've graduated with either a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in nursing, depending on which certificate you're pursuing.

You'll probably need to provide one or more references or letters of recommendation. You should ask someone who is familiar with your work, such as your immediate supervisor.

Admission Requirements

Application

First, you'll need to fill out the required application form and return it with your application fee. Most schools offer online applications. You may need to create an account in order to fill out an application. This will allow you to log in later and finish the application if you can't complete it in one sitting.

Transcripts

You'll need to submit official transcripts from any colleges you've attended. Some schools may also require your high school transcripts. The admissions committee may evaluate your transcripts to determine whether you have any credits you can transfer to your certificate program.

Application Fees

Most graduate schools charge fees ranging $40-150 per application. These fees can add up, so check with an admissions officer first to see if there are any fee waivers available. You can also reduce the amount you spend on application fees by limiting the number of schools you apply to. If you feel like you have a good chance of acceptance, you probably don't need to apply to more than three or four schools.

Nursing Degree

Depending on the type of nursing certificate you're pursuing, you'll need either a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in order to enroll. A postbaccalaureate certificate requires a bachelor's degree, a post-master's certificate requires a master's degree, and a postdoctoral certificate requires a doctoral degree. You'll also need a valid nursing license.

Minimum GPA

Most doctoral and master's-level programs require a minimum GPA of at least 3.0. However, some schools, especially those offering online nursing certificate programs, consider a student's GPA as part of a comprehensive admissions policy, focusing more on variables like experience and leadership ability.

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Students pursuing careers as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists will need to become certified after they earn their graduate certificate.

The BLS projects a 45% increase in nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, and nurse practitioner jobs between 2020 and 2030, resulting in over 121,400 new positions. This is a much faster projected growth rate than the average for all occupations.

Employment and Salary Outlook

Whether you attend school on campus or online, you should be able to earn more money after earning your graduate certificate and the appropriate certification. The BLS reports that nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $117,670 per year in May 2020. Broken down by specialty, nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $183,580, while nurse practitioners earned $111,680 and nurse midwives earned $111,130.

The increasing demand for nurse practitioners is partly due to a shortage of physicians. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the U.S. could see a shortage of 54,100-139,000 physicians by 2033. The growing population of elderly Americans should also contribute to increased demand for nurse practitioners.

Nurses who earn graduate certificates in nursing administration should see an increase in wages, as well. The BLS reports that medical and health services managers, which includes nurse administrators, earned a median annual salary of $104,280 in May 2020. Postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers earned a median yearly wage of $75,470, which is comparable to the median salary for an RN.

Median Salary by Years of Experience for Nursing Certificate Graduates

With a graduate certificate and the appropriate certification, you can pursue a career as a nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife, or nurse practitioner. There are several types of nurse practitioners, including family, neonatal, pediatric, and adult-gerontology acute or primary care practitioners. A graduate certificate could also lead to a career as a nurse educator, nurse administrator, or informatics nurse.

Career: Nurse Educator

  • Recommended Education: Master's or doctoral degree in nursing
  • Job Outlook, 2020-2030: 22% growth
  • Salary Outlook as of September 2021:
    • Entry-Level: $73,000
    • Midcareer: $75,000
    • Experienced: $80,000

Career: Informatics Nurse

  • Recommended Education: BSN, master's degree in health informatics preferred
  • Job Outlook, 2020-2030: 9% growth
  • Salary Outlook as of September 2021:
    • Entry-Level: $70,000
    • Midcareer: $83,000
    • Experienced: $91,000

Career: Family Nurse Practitioner

  • Recommended Education: Master's degree
  • Job Outlook, 2020-2030: 52% growth
  • Salary Outlook as of September 2021:
    • Entry-Level: $92,000
    • Midcareer: $102,000
    • Experienced: $103,000

Career: Nurse Administrator

  • Recommended Education: Bachelor's or master's degree
  • Job Outlook, 2020-2030: 32% growth
  • Salary Outlook as of September 2021:
    • Entry-Level: $73,000
    • Midcareer: $82,000
    • Experienced: $99,000

Career: Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Recommended Education: Master's degree
  • Job Outlook, 2020-2030: 52% growth
  • Salary Outlook as of September 2021:
    • Entry-Level: $87,000
    • Midcareer: $92,000
    • Experienced: $98,000

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

How Do I Choose the Right Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Program?

The best online nursing certificate programs are those that fit into your lifestyle. Consider whether you have to attend classes at a set time or if you have a more flexible schedule. Also consider whether there are any in-person requirements, and if so, how you will fit those in. Other things to consider are program length, cost, accreditation, and location.

  • Program Length: Most graduate certificate programs take around one year to complete, although some are shorter or longer. Consider the length of each program you're considering when deciding which one is right for you.
  • Cost: Tuition rates can vary greatly from one school to another. Cost is a primary consideration for most students. In general, public schools are cheaper than private schools, and in-state tuition is cheaper than out-of-state tuition. However, some schools charge in-state tuition to all online students.
  • Accreditation: Most nursing programs are accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Beware of programs that are not accredited by one of these organizations. Also, check to make sure the program you're considering is approved by your state's board of nursing.
  • Location: You might think that location doesn't matter if a nursing program is online, but there could still be in-person requirements. Check the programs you're interested in to find out about any in-person labs, clinicals, or other in-person educational experiences required.

Financial Aid Resources for Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

Private Loans for Nursing Students

For students who don't qualify for federal student loans, private student loans are an option. Credit unions and banks provide these loans to help students pay for their tuition, room and board, and other school-related fees.

Financial Aid for Online Nursing Students

Aside from federal or private loans, online nursing students can qualify for many types of financial aid, including government grants and scholarships. Students should take advantage of aid that does not need to be repaid before considering loans.

Financial Aid for Nursing Students with Disabilities

There are many scholarships available for students with disabilities, including nursing students. You can find scholarships for people with chronic health conditions, hearing loss, and other disabilities.

Nursing Scholarships for Single Parents

Single parents could be eligible for additional financial aid. There are scholarships for single mothers, scholarships for single mothers and fathers, and scholarships for single parents who belong to historically excluded groups.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

There is a lot of financial aid available for veterans and active members of the military. If you are in the military now or have been in the past, you may be able to get additional federal funding for your college education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing Programs

What is a graduate certificate in nursing?

A graduate certificate in nursing is a postbaccalaureate, post-master's, or postdoctoral certificate that advances a nurse's training, education, and career. Nurses can choose graduate certificates in nursing administration and nursing education, or choose certificates that prepare them to pursue careers as nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and more.

Is a graduate certificate considered a degree?

No, a graduate certificate is not a degree. It is an additional credential you can earn after receiving a degree. You must already have a bachelor's degree in order to enroll in a postgraduate certificate program in nursing. You can use a graduate certificate to expand your expertise even further in a specialized area.

Is a clinical nurse the same as a registered nurse?

No, a clinical nurse specialist is not the same as a registered nurse. Clinical nurse specialists are APRNs. Most states require that they obtain adult-gerontology, pediatric, or neonatal nursing certification. Unlike RNs, clinical nurse specialists diagnose patients. They also provide treatment and ongoing management.

What is a nurse educator?

A nurse educator is a nursing instructor who teaches the next generation of nurses. They offer instruction and guidance to aspiring nurses. They often work for universities, but may also work in hospital or clinical settings. They monitor and evaluate students, design curriculum, and apply principles and theories of adult education.

What's the highest-paying job you can get with an online nursing certification?

The highest-paying job you can get with a graduate certificate in nursing varies depending on the location and employer. However, nurse anesthetists are typically very well-paid. According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists earned a median salary of $183,580 per year in May 2020. You can currently become a nurse anesthetist with a master's degree and a graduate certificate, but this is changing. Starting in 2025, you will need a doctorate in nurse anesthesia practice to become a nurse anesthetist.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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