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Tips to Succeed in an Online Nursing Program


Worried about getting started in an online nursing program? Have a lot of nagging questions and concerns that you're not sure how to resolve? 

Saint Xavier University is here to ease your nerves with expert faculty teaching what U.S. News & World Report ranks as a Top 5 Online Graduate Nursing Program for the last nine consecutive years.

Saint Xavier will guide you through each phase of the program, with help on topics like how to choose the right nursing program, how to stay organized, how to build a portfolio/resume, and more.

U.S. News & World Report Official BadgeTop 5 in the Nation
U.S. News & World Report (2023)

Seven Tips to Guide You to Success!

1. Nursing Programs: Online or Face to Face?

Online nursing programs offer the convenience and flexibility of going to school by allowing students the opportunity to plan course work around their busy schedules. Online learning takes about 5-6 hours a week on average. Some may wonder how does that work when it comes to hands-on experiences? Saint Xavier University offers online nursing program options that faculty will guide you through each step as you identify your clinical practicum site, preceptor and project focus.

2. Select the Perfect Online Nursing Program For You

Selecting an online nursing program requires more than looking at the cost and time for completion. As you research online nursing programs, decide if you want to go straight through a program with no breaks whatsoever, or if you want to have small, short breaks to recharge and still finish your BSN or MSN degree in a timely manner. Selecting an online nursing program should also include a look at the program's preparation for you to further your education toward a doctoral degree. And be sure to ask yourself if the values and mission of the program align with your own. With so many choices, it is important to select an online nursing program with a quality reputation, as that quality strengthens your resume.

3. Transfer to Another Online Nursing Program

Have you thought after a class or two that you might be in the wrong online nursing program? Sometimes it takes three or four classes to decide that the fit between your needs and the program do not fit together.

Most educational institutions will only accept two classes to transfer into their online nursing program. Some of the most common reasons students transfer to a nursing program with another university are because faculty are inaccessible and unresponsive, too much busy work and not learning anything of value. Don't stay trapped in a program that is not right for your needs!

4. Prioritize and Organize Your Online Nursing Coursework

Between the numerous online discussions, your textbook chapter assignments and articles, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. What helps is to prioritize your work, which means reading assigned textbook assignments and articles first, followed by other materials assigned by your instructor for the week. It can also help to read the online comments of your classmates during discussions for a fuller understanding.

Another tip is to focus on the learning objectives and assignments for the week by having assignments and discussion questions in front of you so you can highlight or use a sticky note to annotate while you read.

Keeping track of all the material from online nursing coursework is easiest with an electronic file system. Start with an electronic folder for each course you take. Name the folder with the course number and the course name. Inside that course folder, create files for each week's lesson and associated topic. (Note: If you just name the file folders by week it is more difficult to retrieve the information for future use, like finding information to study for an exam.)

The next thing to do is organize all reference material using software such as EBSCO, a free reference management system, accessible via the SXU Library website. This system allows you to create an online folder while you do your literature searches. You can export articles, selecting APA formatting for your own automatic reference list.

5. Utilize Diverse Communication Tools

When in an online nursing program, students must have strong communication with their online teachers. Find out your instructor's best method and time of response and ask questions at least a week in advance of an assignment due date to allow faculty time to respond.

If you have a complex issue, set up a conference call or online chat, if available, with faculty to communicate, as email may become too difficult. Also, for those who may be auditory learners, one phone call can be more helpful than a dozen emails.

While working ahead is the best safeguard against looming catastrophes in our lives, when something does happen that may interrupt our coursework, contact faculty as soon as possible. Give a definitive time frame for your absence and when you will resume coursework so an appropriate extension is requested.

If you have a question regarding a grade you received, some good ways to phrase these types of questions are to start with: "I am somewhat confused --" and "I was looking for some help regarding --." By acknowledging that there may be a misunderstanding on your part with faculty feedback, you can delicately question a grade.

6. Update Your Resume as an Online Nursing Student

A resume describes your education, work history and other relevant experience in quick bullet points. Many large employers now scan resumes for keywords. To keep from being rejected by screening software, here are six things to consider when updating your resume:

  • Begin with a table of three or four columns and two to three rows that lists all of your skills, especially those related to the current position.
  • Work experience is next; list your employer, position and time frame in that position.
  • Use bullet points, list your accomplishments during that position. This list is different than job responsibilities so focus on what awards, projects, etc. occurred while in the position. If you list basic patient care, try to include things like patient satisfaction scores related to the care you provided.
  • List education and GPA, if appropriate.
  • Most importantly, list your current online nursing program with anticipated graduation date.
  • Finally, list your nursing license(s) including the number for easy verification.

7. Develop an Online Nursing e-Portfolio

Creating a portfolio of your accomplishments is something essential to online nursing students. Collecting all of your work in a portfolio is a good way to show future employers your accomplishments, work ethic, quality of work produced and critical thinking skills. A portfolio is different than a resume; it is more in-depth and supplements, not replaces, the resume. Things to include in the portfolio are:

  • a personal statement of professional goals
  • current resume
  • nursing license(s)
  • school assignments and presentations where you did well and received high marks (Some examples are care plans, brochures, outlines of training sessions, manuals, spreadsheets, memos, that you created yourself or as part of a team.)
  • awards received, either in the community, through school or from work
  • work projects you have been involved with, such as committee work or quality-improvement work

The portfolio is a way to showcase your experience and talents -- a "brag book" of sorts -- and can be a hard copy or electronic. Electronic portfolio formats include web pages, PDF documents and even PowerPoint files. An excellent free option for e-Portfolios is Google Sites, especially the electronic nurse portfolio template.

Learn More!
If you're interested in pursuing an online nursing degree, consider the graduate programs at Saint Xavier University. For more information, please contact the Office of Graduate Admission at 773-298-3053 or graduateadmissionFREESXU.