American Sentinel University, a leading online accredited university, has developed a Nursing School Comparison Worksheet tailor-made to help registered nurses (RNs) compare the nursing programs and amenities of different schools, side by side to help ease the confusion and anxiety that accompanies this important decision.

The health care industry's push for nurses to be educated at the Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) level offers experienced RNs the opportunity to leverage this opportunity to help accomplish their career goals. But before an RN decides to make the jump back into education, they first must explore nursing schools and decide on the BSN program that's right for them.

"Health care is a fast-paced environment and advanced online degree programs are the perfect choice for mid-career nurses who want to remain competitive and improve their prospects for career mobility and security," says Devon Putnam, lead student success advisor at American Sentinel University. "The Nursing School Comparison Worksheet is a great tool for nurses to use to help them find not only a program, but also a university whose culture and resources are a perfect fit for a nurse who's returning to school later in life."

Putnam offers some tips that an experienced RN should consider before enrolling in an online BSN program:

  • Determine the value of more education. Examine the thoughts and feelings you have about going back to school for a baccalaureate degree.
  • Find out what other nurses gained from the BSN experience. Many middle-aged or experienced RNs who return to school to fulfill an employer's requirement or an industry recommendation do not believe that their new BSN degree will change the way they practice nursing. Read up on other nurses who have reached a goal, transformed their life or made a dream come true through more education.
  • Make a list of priorities. Not all students value the same things in a school. Several important factors can influence your decision, such as: price, number of transfer credits, accreditation and length of courses.
  • Follow your instincts. When speaking with admissions advisors, students should get the sense that the admissions team is offering honest information to gauge the compatibility of the program to the student - and the student to the program or school. Nurses should not feel like they have been aggressively pushed into enrolling.
  • Speak with current students and graduates. Talk with them about their experiences and ask about what kinds of support, resources and personalized attention they should expect to receive.

Putnam notes that although the online learning environment is flexible, it can also feel very isolating for adult students. It's the role of the university's student advisors, she says, to spend as much time with the student as the student needs, teaching them how to register for classes and order books, offering writing tips and resources, planning out courses and schedules and more.

"Adult students have jobs, families and life commitments, so in order for them to stay motivated and graduate, they need a degree plan designed to fit their individual needs - and a 'partner' who helps make the transition to going back to school as smooth as possible," Putnam explains.

"Having a friendly voice on the other need of the phone that you know and can trust to help with your academic decisions and the barrier that you face can make all the difference in the world," says Putnam.

  • Overcome the barriers that might stand in the way. Many RNs let their fears about going back to school stand in their way.

To help mid-career nurses overcome perceived barriers and ensure their success and support their goals, Putnam says that each student at American Sentinel is paired with their own personal student success advisor who serves as mentor, advisor and advocate.

"We are the first point of contact for anything they need and we as advisors enjoy offering encouragement or easing anxieties students have about upcoming courses," she says. "When we finally meet our students at graduation, we really do feel like we know each person and are thrilled to celebrate in their successful journey."

Putnam notes that many RN's have admitted they feared they wouldn't have enough time to balance school with work and family. But then they discover that the online learning experience gives adult students a tremendous amount of scheduling flexibility and the ability to pursue programs and national networking opportunities that might not be available locally in a traditional classroom setting.

"Online classes can virtually erase time and space challenges, making it possible for nurses to gain tremendous amounts of knowledge from a personalized work station at home," Putnam adds.

She points out that another common barrier nurses run up against when contemplating more education is a fear of going back to school and all that entails - writing term papers, using computers, and fitting in with other students.

Putnam says the good news is that a great online nursing school will use an adult learning model , provide a visual and verbal orientation to online learning and offer many resources to assist adult students, such as one-on-one guidance from a dedicated advisor, webinars and live student chat forums.

  • Choose a school with a culture that is a good fit. A common anxiety held by RNs is the fear of being plunged into a foreign culture - a classroom filled with 18-year-old nursing students or old-fashioned nursing instructors who may treat students as 'lesser' peers. But with the current push for nurses to advance their education, Putnam says, large numbers of nurses in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are returning to school, discovering that online programs and faculty have evolved to meet the needs of today's nurses.