The 25 Best Online MSN Programs

Are you ready to take your nursing career to the next level with a master’s degree? Online MSN programs provide an opportunity for nurses to get the education they need to advance their career while continuing to earn an income. Read on to learn more about what you can do with an online MSN degree, and find the program that best aligns with your career goals.

With new healthcare legislation, increased emphasis on preventative medicine, and aging baby-boomers, demand for healthcare services for MSN graduates is expected to grow 31% between 2012 and 2022.

Are you ready to take your nursing career to the next level with a master’s degree? An online master of science in nursing (MSN) degree will help distinguish you from your bachelor’s-holding colleagues and allow you to advance in your career more quickly. An online master’s in nursing will also prepare you for higher-level nursing roles that normally require a graduate degree, such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners.

Master’s in nursing online programs are geared toward nurses who plan to take on managerial or administrative roles at hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities. The curriculum combines classroom-based studies with practicum training at the hands of certified nurses. Most MSN programs require a two-year commitment, and allow you to earn a degree specialization in areas like clinical leadership or healthcare administration. You may also choose to complete an accelerated RN to BSN program; these programs are aimed at students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, and generally take three years to complete.

If you want to increase your earning power and ramp-up your skill set while you continue to work, an online MSN program is the first step to moving forward in your career. Read on to learn more about choosing an online MSN program and the career opportunities you can look forward to with an online master’s in nursing.

WILL AN ONLINE MSN PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY NURSING CAREER?

In most cases, students who are accepted into an MSN program have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The MSN builds on undergraduate studies by allowing you to develop expertise in particular areas of nursing. Generally, you can expect to take classes like statistics and data analysis, nursing research, nursing theory, medial information technology, health promotion, and clinical decision-making. Throughout the course of your MSN program, you will contribute to healthcare research, grow your professional network, and gain skills in management and leadership. You also get plenty of hands-on training from clinical practicum sessions.

WILL AN ONLINE MSN WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

MSN online programs are designed for convenience and flexibility; you can access course lectures and readings, submit written assignments, take exams, and communicate with your professors any time of day from the comfort of your home computer. Current technology also enables you to study on the go using a laptop, tablet, smartphone, and other devices with Wi-Fi. When it comes to completing the practicum component, many programs will help you get set up at a site that’s close to your residence.

WHAT CAN I DO WITH AN MSN?

MSN graduates will qualify for dozens of jobs after graduation. Depending on your specialization, you may pursue work as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist, or other specialized roles. You will also be well-positioned to pursue employment as a registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, medical and health service manager, and other titles that require a bachelor’s degree. Please note that most nursing roles that deal with patient care require state-issued licensure; more information about licensing requirements and procedures can be found in the ‘Careers’ section below.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MSN PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online MSN programs in the United States. If you are considering an online master’s in education, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific MSN requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Georgetown University 81.60 4/5 94% Washington, DC

Georgetown has offered innovative education at its historic Washington, D.C. campus since 1789. Drawing on its rich Jesuit heritage, the university encourages its students to serve disadvantaged members of their communities. Georgetown serves just over 2,000 graduate students each year, providing its extensive research opportunities in an intimate and personalized setting. The university offers degrees in nine unique schools, and its School of Nursing and Health Studies has trained exemplary nurses since it was founded in 1903.

Georgetown’s online masters nursing program (known as Nursing@Georgetown) includes highly specialized concentrations, such as women’s health, midwifery, and adult gerontology. Distance learners in Nursing@Georgetown enjoy a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Classes can be attended through live, real-time sessions, but are also recorded and are available for 24/7 review. Some in-person requirements must be fulfilled, either through clinical placement experience or on-campus intensive learning immersions. All distance learners will benefit from extensive support through resources such as online webinars and virtual access to the Georgetown University Libraries. Nursing candidates must have either a bachelor of nursing degree or a CNL, and they also must complete a live recorded interview during the application process.

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2 Johns Hopkins University 77.83 4/5 92% Baltimore, MD

Johns Hopkins is located in Baltimore, Maryland, and has been an innovative leader in teaching and research since its inception in 1876. Johns Hopkins is often called “America’s first research university,” and the institution lives up to its reputation by conducting research and academic activity in over 150 different countries across the earth. Over 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the university’s nine unique schools.

John Hopkins’ master's in nursing online is an MSN health systems management track, and it aims to prepare students for leadership roles in health education, program development, and administration. Graduates of the program are eligible to apply for further certifications through the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Organization of Nurse Executives. The program’s curriculum covers courses, including program development and evaluation in healthcare, that provide essential skills in health care administration. Students are sure to benefit from resources provided by the School of Nursing’s many faculty-led research centers, including the centers for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care and Innovative Care in Aging. Applicants to the program must have at least a 3.0 GPA and Maryland RN licensure.

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3 George Washington University 75.37 4/5 80% Washington, DC

Located just four blocks away from the White House, GW’s Washington, D.C. campus was chartered in 1821. The university celebrates a diverse graduate student body, and it offers numerous academic programs, including more than 100 programs for distance learners.

George Washington’s online nursing master's program has several unique features and options, such as the RN-MSN track, which is designed for students who have completed their associate degree in nursing. The track allows students to earn a bachelor of science in nursing in four semesters, and an MSN degree in three years. The program trains students to work in one of several unique specialization fields, including family nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery, and nurse coaching and leadership. While all coursework in the program is delivered online through Blackboard, students are also required to complete clinical practicum work in their respective communities. Though each specialization has unique curriculum, students in all concentration tracks are required to take unique standard courses, including some biostatistics and health policy classes.

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4 University of Maryland Baltimore 73.80 3/5 61% Baltimore, MD

The University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus is Maryland’s only law, human services, and public health university. Over 80% of the school’s student body comprises graduate students, and nursing is the school’s third most popular graduate program. The university hosts numerous resources for students, including digital writing workshops for its distance learners.

Ranked among the top ten nursing programs in the country, the University of Maryland’s nursing informatics degree teaches students to care for patients by developing and implementing information technology. Students in this online master's degree in nursing program can complete all classes virtually, although they will be required to meet with advisors in person to complete practicum requirements. In addition to standard nursing curriculum, students will delve deeply into the realm of information technology through innovative classes such as healthcare database systems and human-technology interaction in healthcare. Two dual degree offerings exist, allowing students to complete this degree in tandem with either the nursing and business administration degree or the nursing and public health program. Under certain circumstances, students living in member states of the Southern Regional Education Board can request to pay in-state tuition.

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5 University of Central Florida 72.33 3/5 65% Orlando, FL

UCF is a major research university in Orlando, Florida. The school serves more than 60,000 students annually, nearly half of whom graduate debt-free. The university currently offers over 200 degrees, including 75 online bachelor’s and graduate degrees in a variety of fields.

The University of Central Florida’s nursing online master's degree aims to prepare students for leadership positions in healthcare through three unique tracks: nursing leadership and management, nurse educator, and nursing and healthcare simulation. Each of these tracks can be completed in 30-38 credit hours, and the curriculum incorporates courses that focus on each track’s highly unique field. The nurse educator track, for instance, includes courses in education theory and either an internship or residency requirement, both of which are 300 hours. Classes are completely online, but students will be required to make a few visits to campus for orientation and some project presentations. Distance learners at UCF have access to plenty of resources, including a 24/7 Virtual Career Center and online peer-assisted learning through the Student Academic Resource Center.

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6 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center 71.30 3/5 62% Lubbock, TX

Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas has trained over 10,000 health care professionals and served over two million Texas residents. The institution is particularly committed to conducting research in reproduction, cancer, aging, rural health, and other critical healthcare fields. The center offers many distance learning degrees through its schools of Health Professions and Nursing.

Texas Tech’s online master's in nursing can be completed in 42 credit hours and focuses on preparing students for careers in nursing education. More specifically, students are trained to develop nursing curriculum and employ advanced technology in the classroom. While most classes can be taken entirely online, students will have to complete some on-campus requirements, such as the advanced health assessment lab. This nursing program will accept transfer credits from most accredited universities, provided that the applicant’s transfer grades are a “B” or above. Distance learners at Texas Tech will benefit from a variety of resources, such as off-campus access to library books, journals, and databases, along with health and wellness services for those who live close to the institution’s regional campuses.

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7 The University of Texas Medical Branch 70.25 3/5 41% Galveston, TX

The UT Medical Branch has provided quality education for more than a century. This Galveston-based institution has become a global leader in the academic health sciences, and it contributes cutting-edge research through innovative branches such as the Global Health Center and the Institute for Medical Humanities. The university’s academic departments range from anesthesiology and cardiothoracic surgery to nursing services.

UT’s online masters nursing program prepares students to influence the world of healthcare and healthcare policy while also demonstrating cultural competency and integrity. The program allows students to choose from seven tracks, including the family nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader, neonatal nurse practitioner, and executive nurse leader concentrations. Most of the program’s concentrations share a common core curriculum that emphasizes courses like innovations in community health practice, while specialized courses such as healthcare economics prepare students for unique leadership responsibilities. In general, students must complete clinical requirements on site at their chosen clinical location. All students will have access to specific nursing career services, which support master’s candidates through resume help, internship and career placement, and more.

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8 Stony Brook University 70.03 3/5 70% Stony Brook, NY

Though it’s a relative newcomer to the world of higher education, Stony Brook is already considered to be among the best colleges in America. The Stony Brook, New York campus is home to over 25,000 students and more than 100 graduate programs. Faculty members at the university include Nobel prize, Guggenheim fellowship, and Macarthur grant winners.

Stony Brook’s online nursing master's degree is meant for future nurse educators who aim to instruct the next generation of nursing professionals in both academic and clinical settings. The program combines scheduled on-site educational experiences with computer-delivered courses. Classes focus on the theory and foundations of nursing education, and standout courses include curriculum design, implementation and evaluation in nursing education. In addition to the education concentration, Stony Brook also offers unique specializations in psychiatric/mental health, family health, neonatal health, and more. Applicants to the MSN education program should have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and applicants who have at least one year of working experience are preferred. Students who have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and would like to earn a nursing degree quickly can complete the university’s accelerated, 12-month bachelor of science program.

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9 Allen College 69.70 2/5 82% Waterloo, IA

Located in picturesque Waterloo, Iowa, Allen College benefits from a small town atmosphere within a thriving metropolitan area. The college enjoys an intimate student body population of around 600 students, and it focuses specifically on healthcare education, offering degrees that range from the associate of science to the doctor of nursing practice.

Allen College’s master's in nursing online relies on a liberal educational foundation that promotes research, lifelong learning, and service to diverse communities. This master’s program incorporates six broad concentrations, many of which incorporate further specializations. The nurse practitioner concentration, for example, allows students to choose from five unique tracks. Additionally, students can choose combined programs in fields such as community/public health nursing and family nurse practice. Also, by participating in the early entry doctor of nursing practice, students can progress easily into a doctoral program after completing their master’s degree. Most nursing concentrations can be completed in between 36-42 credit hours, although most tracks include 300 or more hours in clinical or practicum experiences. All Allen College students can benefit from online writing assistance, time management, and note-taking strategies.

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10 Ohio State University-Main Campus 69.54 3/5 82% Columbus, OH

OSU in Columbus, Ohio is among America’s top 20 public universities. The university serves more than 60,000 students and is home to renowned institutes, such as the Wexner Medical Center.

Ohio State’s online master's degree nursing program is a highly unique program with numerous tracks and specialities that represent the countless field of the nursing profession. There is a traditional master’s program with specialty tracks in women’s health, nursing science, pediatrics, and more. Additionally, several alternative tracks serve a variety of student needs. The graduate entry track allows students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees to earn their MSN, while the master of applied clinical and preclinical research program, offered through the colleges of nursing, pharmacy, medicine, and veterinary medicine, prepares students to work on cutting-edge interdisciplinary research teams. Finally, Ohio State offers a post-master’s option for nurses who already have a graduate degree but need further academic support to prepare for advance certification. The university supports an extensive career services system for all students, including the AfterCollege Nursing Career Network. If you happen to be a resident outside of Ohio, OSU offers the same rate for in-state tuition to those who are taking exclusively online courses.

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11 Clarkson College 67.83 4/5 71% Omaha, NE

Clarkson College was founded in 1888 as Nebraska’s first school of nursing. This Omaha, Nebraska-based college is committed to providing quality healthcare education, and it supports programs in health care services, radiologic technology, nursing, and more. Additionally, Clarkson is a pioneer in online education, with about 90% of the student body taking at least one online course.

Clarkson’s nursing online master's degree prides itself on being patient-focused. The master’s program allows students to choose from four unique specializations, including nursing administration and nursing education. The program can be completed in 38-75 credit hours, depending on a student’s chosen concentration, and as many as nine credit hours can be transferred from another accredited university. The curriculum for the concentrations varies, but all of the program’s unique tracks require an evidence-based research project, which effectively enables students to develop healthcare strategies in addition to providing holistic patient care. Clarkson’s distance learning nursing program is ranked among the best online graduate nursing programs by US News and World Report.

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12 Mount Carmel College of Nursing 67.71 3/5 72% Columbus, OH

The Mount Carmel College of Nursing is a private Catholic institution in Columbus, Ohio. Slightly over 1,000 students are enrolled at the college, 40% of whom are nontraditional students. Mount Carmel offers nursing programs at the baccalaureate, master’s, and graduate certificate levels. The college’s 11,000 square foot Center for Innovative Learning is particularly renowned, as it employs innovative simulation technology to help students adapt to real experiences with patients.

Mount Carmel’s online master's in nursing education prepares students to design educational programs that serve diverse populations and collaborate with other academic disciplines. The 34-credit hour program can be completed in seven semesters, and the curriculum includes two required clinical experiences: a 50-hour family health practicum and a 150-hour educator practicum. In order to graduate, members of the program must complete 10 hours of community service that utilize the specific skills of a registered nurse to assist at-risk populations. All Mount Carmel students enjoy full off-campus access to the library, with personalized information resources and services for the College of Nursing.

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13 University of South Carolina-Columbia 67.66 3/5 72% Columbia, SC

USC’s Columbia campus has an enrollment of over 30,000 students, including over 8,000 graduate students. The university provides plenty of career resources to support its nursing students; through its Office of Pre-Professional Advising, for example, students can access an online database of jobs in the healthcare sector and many other professional resources.

South Carolina’s online masters nursing program is focused on nursing administration, organizational leadership, and preparing students to manage healthcare services in a variety of settings. The curriculum prides itself on its practical nature, and courses like facilitative process in nursing administration teach students to develop a systematic and effective environment for professional nurses. While the program is 100% online, two leadership classes require some field work, although this requirement can be completed at the student’s place of employment. The program requires 30 credits hours to graduate, and out-of-state students are charged the same amount as in-state students. This master’s program can be completed in as few as 12-18 months.

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14 Michigan State University 67.59 3/5 79% East Lansing, MI

Located in East Lansing, Michigan State is America’s original land-grant university. The school’s campus covers over 5,000 acres and serves approximately 50,000 students through more than 200 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Students have an exceptional track record in winning prestigious international awards, with many of them earning Rhodes, Marshall, Goldwater, or Mitchell scholarships.

Michigan State’s master's in nursing online with a concentration in clinical nursing and nursing education has two main objectives: to prepare nurses to become clinical nurse specialists and to prepare them to work as nursing educators. Upon graduating from this highly specialized track, students will be able to both provide advanced care to adults and instruct other nurses. Students will complete a balanced curriculum that include both clinical internship and clinical immersion experiences, along with an academic teaching internship. The College of Nursing offers numerous continuing education resources, including free online courses and Ce-Web, an all-encompassing online resource for nurses trying to further their education.

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15 University of St Francis 67.58 3/5 56% Joliet, IL

The University of St. Francis is one of Illinois’ premier institutions for higher learning. The Joliet-based university enrolls almost 4,000 students and offers more than 20 master’s and doctoral programs. St. Francis’ curriculum is especially guided by compassion and service, core elements of its Catholic and Franciscan heritage.

The St. Francis Leach College of Nursing offers multiple tracks for its online master's degree nursing program, including family nurse practitioner, nursing education, nursing administration, and mental health nurse practitioner concentrations. Additionally, applicants who have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree can apply for the RN-BS-MSN track to earn accelerated bachelor and master of science degrees. Depending on the concentration, students can complete their MSN at St. Francis in 36-56 credit hours, and the majority of specialty tracks require a 3-4 credit practicum, clinical, or capstone experience. The program is offered completely online, although the the program’s availability varies depending on the state, making it necessary for students to check what curriculum is available in their state of residence. The Career Success Center is available for all St. Francis students and provides vital assistance in job searches, resume and cover letter writing, and more.

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16 East Carolina University 67.57 3/5 58% Greenville, NC

Though ECU serves almost 29,000 students and offers over 70 master’s degrees, the school also manages to maintain an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The Greenville, North Carolina university supports many libraries and research centers, including the Laupus Library, a specifically healthcare-related resource that offers extensive electronic databases and online writing and tutoring support.

ECU offers five MSN tracks to distance learners. The university’s nursing online master's degrees cover a variety of concentrations, including the neonatal nurse practitioner and nurse midwifery tracks. These two tracks are offered fully online and assignments and classes are completed through Blackboard, but limited on-campus or in-person interaction is required through the completion of clinical experiences. Generally, the program aims to choose a clinical site as close as possible to students’ residences. East Carolina’s nursing curriculum includes many standout courses focusing on everything from the financial and economic underpinnings of health care to nursing at all stages of life. Many of the university’s online nursing tracks will waive entrance exams for students who have qualifying cumulative GPAs or who hold memberships in select honor societies, and most concentrations can be completed in 2-3 years.

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17 Chatham University 67.04 3/5 59% Pittsburgh, PA

Selected as one of The Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges, Chatham University is recognized as a sustainability pioneer, a quality that filters into its more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. This Pittsburgh university enjoys a 9.5:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and over 90% of its full-time faculty hold PhDs or terminal degrees.

Chatham’s online master's in nursing is primarily focused on developing nursing leaders, educators, and information science specialists. Students can choose to pursue tracks in leadership, informatics, or education. The final two semesters of the program are devoted to completing practicum experiences of at least 120 hours in their field of concentration. The hours devoted to finishing these final practicum requirements count toward the 500 practice hours required for admission to a doctor of nursing practice program. In addition to the three main specializations, students can complete a number of supplementary or accelerated tracks, such as the two-year nurse educator certificate and the BSN to DNP executive track programs. This latter path allows students to finish the MSN and DNP in 56 credit hours. Standout courses include the nursing leadership track’s leadership for change program, which aims to help students develop the future of healthcare through innovation.

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18 Gonzaga University 65.29 4/5 81% Spokane, WA

Located in Spokane, Washington, Gonzaga bases its academic philosophy in the Ignatian model, which aims to educate the mind, body, and spirit. Gonzago supports online programs in theology, communications, nursing, and more.

Gonzaga’s online masters nursing program aims to prepare its graduates to be career competitive amidst a growing demand for healthcare professionals. The MSN degree program allows students to choose from three concentrations: health systems leadership, family nurse practice, and psychiatric mental health practice. While the program prefers that applicants hold a BSN degree, it is not an admission prerequisite. Admitted students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree will need to complete foundational nursing courses before moving on to their master’s curriculum. Classes are completely online, but students will be required to complete 360-600 hour practicum experiences, potentially at their place of employment. The curriculum for each track includes between 1-6 on-campus immersions, which include structured clinical evaluations and scenarios dealing with a scripted model patient.

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19 University of North Carolina at Charlotte 64.81 3/5 53% Charlotte, NC

Located within close proximity to both the mountains and the ocean, UNC serves almost 30,000 students and has a campus of 1,000 acres. The school supports over 80 master’s and doctoral programs, and is classified as a doctoral/research intensive institution. The university offers online degrees in engineering, education, teacher licensure, and health and human services.

UNC at Charlotte offers three MSN tracks for distance learners: community/public health, nursing administration, and nursing education. The online nursing master's concentration in community/public health is particularly innovative, as it prepares students to identify vulnerable communities and develop culturally competent nursing interventions.The curriculum includes exemplary courses such as health disparities and nursing, which examines elements such as ethnic heritage and cultural environment in advance nursing practice, as well as ways nurses can employ culturally competent interventions and work with diverse populations. Through the “Online Backpack,” distance learners can take advantage of disability, library, writing, and tutoring services, along with many more supportive resources.

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20 Nova Southeastern University 64.70 4/5 42% Fort Lauderdale, FL

With a main campus in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Nova Southeastern enjoys a high research activity classification from the Carnegie Foundation. The university offers more than 150 degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Nova Southeastern’s master's in nursing online program includes a dual degree BSN and MSN program, allowing students with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees to earn a master’s in record time. The university also has concentrations in nursing education, health systems leadership, nursing informatics, and specific clinical tracks through the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse program. In general, all of Nova Southeastern’s nursing concentrations can be completed in eight semesters or less. All of the program’s highly unique tracks include a three-credit-hour mentored practicum experience, which can take place in the student’s local area of residence. The curriculum for the program combines traditional courses with innovative classes such as fiscal management in complex health systems and human-computer interaction in healthcare settings.

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21 University of North Carolina at Greensboro 64.06 3/5 54% Greensboro, NC

UNC’s Greensboro campus has been ranked among The Princeton Review’s top 381 colleges for almost 20 consecutive years. The university supports online graduate degrees in dance education, peace and conflict studies, nursing administration and education, and more. Distance learners will benefit from several support services through the Learning Assistance Center, a holistic academic support aimed at developing independent learners, and extra support for transfer and adult students, especially in the development of short and long term goals.

Graduates of UNC at Greensboro’s online master's degree nursing program enjoy a job placement rate of more than 90%. The program has a focus on nursing administration, and it prepares students for leadership and executive roles in nursing and healthcare professions. To achieve this goal, the program provides a balanced array of classes, including the role of nursing administration in quality and safety. Students can complete this online nursing program in 37 credit hours, or three years of study. All classes are delivered fully online in an asynchronous or synchronous format, and enrollment for each course is capped at 25 to promote an individualized learning experience.

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22 Samford University 63.76 4/5 71% Birmingham, AL

Situated on a lush, historic campus in Alabama, Samford University is Alabama’s premier university and one of the best institutions of higher learning in the South. The school offers 30 undergraduate and graduate degrees, and it has graduated illustrious alumni who have gone on to win Rhodes Scholarships, Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, and more. Distance learners are sure to benefit from the library’s Online Education Support guide, which help students access books and journals off-campus, as well as providing recommendations for websites relevant to students’ academic needs.

Samford University’s nursing online master's program prepares its graduates to work as nursing faculty in academic settings. Students can fund their education through the school’s nurse faculty loan program, and nearly all of this loan will be forgiven if graduates spend four years teaching nursing full time. The courses are delivered in a completely virtual format, although students will have to visit the campus in Birmingham three times. Samford’s curriculum is practicum-focused: students must complete both a clinical education practicum of 60 hours and a teaching practicum of 120 hours. Applicants to the program must have at least a “C” in an undergraduate nursing research course, and at least a “B” in an undergraduate health assessment course.

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23 Sacred Heart University 63.69 5/5 63% Fairfield, CT

In addition to its main campus in Fairfield Connecticut, Sacred Heart has extended campuses in many diverse locations, including Cambridge, Griswold, Luxembourg, and Ireland, and the school enjoys an international impact despite its small size.

Sacred Heart’s online master's in nursing program aims to develop nursing leaders in a variety of healthcare sectors. The program includes four distinct tracks: clinical nurse leader, nursing education, nursing management and executive leadership, and family nurse practitioner. If students are unsure which concentration best fits their needs, they can wait until the program’s halfway point to make their decision, thus making sure that they choose the best path possible for their goals. Students can spend as many as six years finishing the program, and distance learners will enjoy access to a Student Services Coordinator and technical support at any time of the day. The program’s website also maintains helpful, nursing-specific resources and information to help guide and support their students.

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24 The University of Alabama 63.54 4/5 67% Tuscaloosa, AL

Located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, UA serves nearly 40,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students each year. The university offers more than 150 degree programs at the graduate level, and its online degree offerings include programs in business, education, social work, nursing, and more.

The University of Alabama’s online masters nursing program includes three tracks: case management, clinical nurse leader, and nurse practitioner. The highly unique case management track prepares students to assume nursing leadership positions and to oversee macrosystems case management. The curriculum for each of the tracks includes unique clinical/practicum experiences, including the 60 clinical hour case management course and the 22 hour per week primary care for rural families residency. To graduate from any of the three concentrations, students can either choose to complete an individual research thesis project, or to participate in a series of faculty-led classes and seminars focusing on research methods. Distance Learners will benefit from Alabama’s innovative Gadsden Center, which helps online students with degree selection, admission, class enrollment, getting connected to faculty, and more.

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25 Florida State University 63.40 3/5 75% Tallahassee, FL

FSU is recognized as a preeminent university by the state, and its faculty earns more than $500,000 in research grants each day. The university offers more than 300 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, professional, and specialist levels and is designated as a highest research activity university by the Carnegie Commission. The Tallahassee, Florida based institution serves over 40,000 students each year.

Florida State’s online master's nursing program can be completed in 32 credit hours for a total of six semesters. Though all courses are offered fully online through Blackboard, students must live in Florida, and all clinical requirements must be completed in Florida. In this nurse leader program, students will prepare to attain leadership roles in many parts of healthcare practice. The curriculum includes a unique clinical leadership practicum experience, which provides students with experience in managing healthcare micro- and mesosystems using bioethics. Students in this program will have access to extensive online resources, including the Reading-Writing Center, the Academic Center for Excellence, the Career Center, Disability Resource Center, and more.

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Timeline
2 years for standard MSN programs; 2-3 years for RN to MSN programs
Program Costs
$35,000 to $60,000 in total tuition for a 2-year program
Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study
Nurse Anesthetist, Midwifery, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Clinical Nurse Leader, Gerontology, Family Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Accreditation
Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Job Placement: MSN vs Bachelor of Nursing

Qualified nurses are in high demand across the country. President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has expanded health insurance coverage to millions of previously uninsured American citizens, and an aging baby boomer population has also increased the need for trained nursing personnel. According to U.S. News & World Report, registered nurses with a bachelor’s or higher enjoy a low unemployment rate at only 2.1%; furthermore, the field is projected to increase by 16% — roughly 439,000 jobs — between 2014 and 2024. These figures are even more favorable for other nursing professions; for example, jobs for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are expected to grow 31% during the same period.

According to a recent survey by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), the job outlook is especially good for nurses with a graduate degree. While experienced nurses with a bachelor’s enjoyed a low unemployment rate of 1.9%, those with a graduate degree were even better off at 1.6%. The relatively low number of nurses who earn a master’s is likely one of the main reasons for this disparity. BLS notes that only 9% of registered nurses — fewer than 200,000 — hold a master’s degree; bachelor’s-holding registered nurses, by comparison, represent 46% of the profession.

Earning a Living

In addition to better job placement rates, nurses with a master’s also stand to outearn their bachelor’s-holding counterparts by a considerable margin. The CEW survey found the average nurse with a graduate degree earns roughly $81,000 per year, compared to recent bachelor’s graduates who pull in less than $50,000 on an annual basis. BLS also found that the median salary for a nurse with a master’s was $12,000 higher than that of a bachelor’s-holding nurse, representing a wage premium of 19%.

MSN graduates also stand to make more over the course of their careers. Using data from the 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report, the table below features expected earnings for nurses with an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree at two different career stages.

Degree Average Salary for
Early-Career Employees
(0-5 years)
Average Salary for
Mid-Career Employees
(10+ years)
Associate in Nursing $52,200 $64,500
Bachelor’s in Nursing $56,600 $73,600
Master’s in Nursing $82,000 $89,000

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As indicated in the table above, the average MSN salary at the mid-career mark is roughly 38% more than the salary for nurses with an associate degree and 21% more than the salary for nurses with a bachelor’s. Another key observation: only $4,400 separates the entry-level salaries of associate- and bachelor’s-holding nurses, while more than $25,000 separated the starting salaries for nurses with a bachelor’s and those with a master’s.

Although a master’s degree will boost a nurse’s earning potential, salaries will vary by nursing profession. The rate at which these salaries grow over time will also depend on the specific job. The following table uses PayScale data to break down some of the most common career pathways for MSN-holding nurses.

Job Title Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)
Registered Nurse (RN) $51,491 $60,145 $62,977 $66,318
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) $36,604 $40,016 $41,177 $42,600
Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) $39,477 $44,135 $43,110 $45,446
Nurse Anesthetist $127,272 $136,421 $145,931 $152,286
Nurse Midwife $78,000 $85,000 $96,000 $101,000
Nurse Practitioner $84,090 $90,975 $95,196 $97,261

Source: PayScale

PayScale also notes that the median entry-level salary for a nurse with a BSN is $67,264, while the same employee stands to earn $80,891 after 20 years or more of employment. MSN-holders, on the other hand, brought in a median annual salary of $86,292 after 1-4 years of employment and more than $94,000 per year at the late-career mark.

Career Opportunities

MSN students will be qualified for hundreds of nursing jobs once they graduate, although opportunities will vary by the candidate’s degree specialization. Some pursue niche patient care roles in fields like midwifery and anesthesia, while others assume managerial and/or administrative responsibilities at medical facilities. Some of the most common career pathways for MSN graduates are listed below.

Registered Nurses: According to BLS, more than 2.75 million registered nurses (or RNs) are currently employed in the United States. RNs are responsible for delivering patient care, coordinating treatment plans, and maintaining up-to-date records. They typically work alongside physicians, and may manage teams of nursing assistants and orderlies.
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners: Nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners are collectively known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). They handle niche areas of patient care. Anesthetists specialize in providing anesthesia for patients before surgeries and other procedures. Midwives assist pregnant women during the childbirth process. Nurse practitioners often take on the role of primary care provider, working directly with patients and overseeing the other nursing personnel that care for them.
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses: Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) provide basic medical care to patients under the guidance of nurse practitioners, physicians, and other onsite managers. Day-to-day duties include changing bandages, checking vital signs (such as blood pressure), and assisting patients with basic tasks like eating and bathing.
Medical and Health Services Managers: Medical and health services managers work behind the scenes to oversee the way patient care is coordinated, delivered, and evaluated at different healthcare facilities. They work closely with physicians, nurses, and other personnel to ensure their worksite is sanitary, outfitted with up-to-date equipment and compliant with medical laws and regulations.

Job Title Median Annual Salary Projected Growth (2014-24) Minimum College Degree Licensure Requirements
Registered Nurse $67,490 16% Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) NCLEX-RN required in all 50 states and the District of Columbia
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives and Nurse Practitioners $104,740 31% Master’s degree with a specialization Varies by state; certification is required in states that recognize APRN roles.
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses $43,170 16% 1-year diploma program at a technical college, community college or high school NCLEX-PN
Medical and Health Services Managers $94,500 17% Bachelor’s degree None

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to nursing is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for professional nurses. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these often prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.

American Nurses Association: The ANA was founded in 1896 to improve the working standards and conditions for professional nurses, and the organization has continued this work to the present day. Members receive access to a vast online resource library, discounted certification and recertification rates, access to five ANA publications and an invitation to the organization’s annual conference.
American Academy of Nursing: The AAN follows a mission of “advancing health policy and practice through the generation, synthesis, and dissemination of nursing knowledge.” The organization today represents more than 2,400 members.
Emergency Nurses Association: Established in 1968, the ENA was created to represent nurses who serve patients in emergency rooms, critical care units, and other highly demanding settings. The organization today advocates for patient safety, as well as optimal emergency nursing practices.

Despite the relative affordability of online MSN programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.

FINANCIAL AID FOR ONLINE COLLEGE STUDENTS

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you’ll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn’t always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and school. Here, we’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. We’ve compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single parents.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

Commercial Links

MOST AFFORDABLE ONLINE MSN PROGRAMS
Many of today’s college students are unable to afford an advanced degree, and those who pursue an MSN are no exception. Our list of the cheapest online MSN programs is geared toward nursing students on a tight budget.

MASTER’S IN HEALTHCARE ADMINISTRATION
Similar to an MSN, a master’s in healthcare administration is designed for students who are interested in pursuing managerial roles in hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities. Check out our list of the country’s best graduate-level programs for aspiring healthcare administrators.

PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT MASTER’S DEGREE
Physician’s assistants — like many nurses — provide critical backup for doctors, surgeons, and other high-level medical personnel. We’ve created a list of the country’s top five online master’s degree programs for aspiring physician’s assistants.

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Best Online MSN Programs of 2016
Rank School Location
1 University of Texas - Medical Branch Galveston, TX
2 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
3 Frontier Nursing University Hyden, KY
4 Graceland University - Lamoni Lamoni, IA
5 Georgetown University Washington, DC
6 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL
7 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Lubbock, TX
8 University of St. Francis - Joliet Joliet, IL
9 University of Mississippi - Medical Center Jackson, MS
10 Regis University Denver, CO
11 Concordia University - Wisconsin Mequon, WI
12 Thomas Jefferson University Philadelphia, PA
13 The George Washington University Washington, DC
14 Medical University of South Carolina Charleston, SC
15 Benedictine University Lisle, IL
16 California State University - Dominguez Hills Carson, CA
17 Samuel Merritt University Oakland, CA
18 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
19 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
20 Lewis University Romeoville, IL
21 Clarkson College Omaha, NE
22 Mercy College Dobbs Ferry, NY
23 Allen College Waterloo, IA
24 University of Texas Arlington Arlington, TX
25 Ball State University Muncie, IN

Best Online MSN Programs of 2015
Rank School Location
1 Georgetown University Washington, DC
2 Duke University Durham, NC
3 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
4 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
5 Ohio State University Columbus, OH
6 The George Washington University Washington, DC
7 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing Omaha, NE
8 Mount Carmel College of Nursing Columbus, OH
9 Bryan College of Health Sciences Lincoln, NE
10 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
11 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
12 Pennsylvania State University University Park, PA
13 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
14 University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
15 Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI
16 Clarkson College Omaha, NE
17 University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
18 University of South Carolina Columbia, SC
19 Texas Christian University Fort Worth, TX
20 Georgia College & State University Milledgeville, GA
21 University of Delaware Newark, DE
23 University of Tennessee Knoxville, TN
24 University of Arkansas Little Rock, AR
25 Gonzaga University Spokane, WA