Affordability is a key concern for many students who apply to and enroll in online master of science in nursing (MSN) programs. It's important, however, to look beyond the cheapest online MSN programs in terms of tuition and fees. There are many affordable online MSN programs available that will provide true value and a return on the investment of time and money.

What are the most affordable Nursing programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

  1. University of Louisiana at Lafayette - Lafayette, LA
  2. University of Hawaii at Manoa - Honolulu, HI
  3. California State University - Chico, CA
  4. Stony Brook University - Stony Brook, NY
  5. California State University-Dominguez Hills - Carson, CA
  6. University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh, WI
  7. Thomas Edison State College - Trenton, NJ
  8. Georgetown University - Washington, DC
  9. University of Colorado - Colorado Springs, CO
  10. Eastern New Mexico University - Portales, NM

Accredited online programs are designed to prepare graduates to work as managers, policy experts, or educators in the field. An MSN degree is also a required prerequisite for some doctoral programs in nursing education. Many graduate-level nursing students are registered nurses (RNs). Some MSN programs, however, admit students with undergraduate degrees in other fields. These students from other backgrounds are usually required to take additional entry-level nursing courses.

Most Affordable Online MSN Programs of 2020

Coursework in online MSN programs covers a variety of topics, including healthcare ethics, health care policy, advanced practice nursing, biochemistry, and pharmacology. Additionally, online MSN students pick a specialty in the field, such as health care leadership, nurse-midwifery, gerontology, pediatrics, or psychiatry. The flexibility of online coursework allows students to continue working as RNs or as full-time professionals while they earn their degree.

In the interest of helping students evaluate the most affordable online MSN programs, we use our College Affordability Score methodology to rank programs based on several factors, including financial aid opportunities, the number of students who take out loans, graduation rates, and loan default rates for graduates. The list below is not a ranking of schools by lowest tuition rate; that is, they're not necessarily the "cheapest" online MSN programs. Instead, our rankings reflect the overall economic value these colleges offer online MSN students.

Rank School Location Receiving Loans Description Toggle

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Lafayette, LA Receiving Loans: 31%

Online students at Louisiana Lafayette can earn an MSN to become either nursing educators or family nurse practitioners. As a part of the Intercollegiate Consortium for a Master of Science in Nursing, ULL partners with other public universities in the state to offer an affordable and quality distance learning curriculum.

Other participating schools include McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Nicholls State. All 600 of the program’s required clinical hours must be completed in the state of Louisiana, though you can take classes anywhere with an Internet connection.

MSN students can apply for federal loans and federal grants as well as scholarships for health professionals. The financial aid advisors at ULL help students navigate the process of applying for financial assistance.


University of Hawaii at Manoa

Honolulu, HI Receiving Loans: 37%

All MSN courses at UH are offered in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. MSN students can also take interactive television system (ITV) courses, for added convenience and flexibility. Students can pursue an adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist track or the advanced public health nursing track, allowing online students to find their niche in a rapidly growing field.

The Clinical Nurse Specialist route requires 42 to 45 hours to complete and generally takes two to four years. The Advanced Public Health Nursing option can be completed in 30 to 39 hours (one or two years).

Degree-seekers study either part-time or full-time. The school offers a variety of scholarships and fellowships to new and returning students.


California State University-Chico

Chico, CA Receiving Loans: 46%

Designed to meet the needs of nurses working in rural areas, CSU Chico’s MSN offering is one of the most flexible programs of its kind in the country. Students follow either the nurse educator or nursing leadership track and complete 30 units of coursework over a span of five semesters. All courses are offered online, and do not require in-person clinical hours.

During the first year of this program, enrolled nurses study foundational subjects, such as technology, nursing research, and health care organizational systems. In their second year, they delve into more specialized subjects.

CSU Chico offers nine different scholarships to graduate nursing students, along with 28 donor scholarships. Students are also able to apply for federal loans, grants, and special community scholarships.


Stony Brook University

Stony Brook, NY Receiving Loans: 45%

Dedicated to providing students with convenient online options, Stony Brook offers students the opportunity to choose from nine different specialties. This prepares them to become nurse leaders, nurse educators, nurse practitioners, or to practice advanced midwifery. MSN students complete their degrees, which range from 36 to 45 hours, part-time and remotely. Distance learners must attend an orientation on campus.

In addition to affordable tuition, SBU provides graduate nursing students with a number of financial aid opportunities. Grants, loans, and employment opportunities are all available to qualified students. Additionally, a limited number of scholarships are available to graduate-level health professionals through private foundations and government agencies affiliated with the school. Students can apply for scholarships once they have been accepted to the university.


California State University-Dominguez Hills

Carson, CA Receiving Loans: 38%

The online program at CSUDH prepares registered nurses to practice as nurse educators, nurse administrators, clinical nurse specialists, or family nurse practitioners, depending on their preferred academic track. Some degree requirements must be completed on-campus, but most courses are offered online.

Students must complete between 30 and 40 units of coursework, in addition to clinical hours, within five years in order to graduate. Fifteen of the 30 units cover foundational subjects, such as health care policy and nursing research.

CSUDH offers the CACN Nurse Educator Scholarship, the Deloras Jones RN Scholarship Program, and the CampusRN Scholarship Program for qualified MSN students. Additional financial assistance opportunities are provided by the school’s financial aid office, and the university gladly helps students identify external scholarship opportunities as well. The financial aid office also offers exit counseling services to graduating students to help them learn about their loan repayment options, and how to manage student debt.


University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Oshkosh, WI Receiving Loans: 54%

Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s MSN degree is available entirely online. Students can pursue nurse educator and clinical nurse educator specialties, and those seeking careers in nursing leadership or nursing education are particularly well-suited for the program. Both specialties require 37 credit hours and either two years of full-time study or three years of part-time work.

UW-Oshkosh offers a limited number of need and merit-based scholarships, and fellowships are available to help students as well. Additionally, distance learners can easily obtain federal loans and grants with the help of the school’s financial aid office. Students from Minnesota are eligible for tuition rates that are only slightly higher than in-state tuition rates. Qualifying students from other Midwestern states may also be able to pay reduced tuition.


Thomas Edison State College

Trenton, NJ Receiving Loans: 14%

Thomas Edison State provides convenient and flexible learning opportunities to adult and professional learners. Students are taught by experienced faculty members, teachers familiar with online education and practical experience in the field.

Students can take MSN courses entirely online, and pursue concentrations in nurse education, nursing informatics, and nursing administration. Each concentration requires students to complete 36 credits. The nurse educator and nursing informatics concentrations require students to complete 120 hours of clinical experience; the nursing administration concentration requires 150 clinical hours.

Prospective and current distance learners at TESU receive a financial aid shopping sheet that helps them estimate academic costs and identify federal funding opportunities. Through the Thomas Edison State University Foundation, donors and corporate partners also offer a limited number of scholarships to qualified graduate nursing students.


Georgetown University

Washington, DC Receiving Loans: 27%

Georgetown’s online MSN offers cutting-edge online coursework taught by nationally renowned faculty members. The program also facilitates a hands-on clinical practicum that conveniently fits into online students' schedules. Students pick one of four specialty areas that prepare them to become nurse practitioners who serve aging populations, families, or women.

Depending on their specialty, degree-seekers complete between 40 to 49 credit hours and between 650 and 1,000 clinical hours. Students can take classes full-time or part-time and complete the program in 19-27 months.

Distance learners can apply for federal student aid, Graduate PLUS Loans, National Health Service Corps Scholarships, federal grants, state scholarships, and scholarships for minority students. Additionally, MSN graduates are eligible to participate in nursing education loan repayment programs and public service loan forgiveness programs. All students who receive financial aid in the form of loans are required to complete loan entrance counseling, which prepares them to manage the costs of their education.


University of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs, CO Receiving Loans: 47%

UCCS offers an entirely online program for prospective nurse practitioners. Online graduate students can choose from the following specialties: primary care adult/gero nurse practitioner, primary care family nurse practitioner, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner.

Depending on the MSN specialty, the program requires between 46 and 48 credit hours to complete. Students can take courses part-time but must graduate within six years.

This affordable program offers great value to distance learners, especially students who live in states that participate in the Western Regional Graduate Program. These students receive discounted tuition, even if they are not Colorado residents. Scholarship, grant, and loan opportunities for online MSN students are also available through the financial aid office. Students are required to submit separate applications for certain scholarships.


Eastern New Mexico University-Main Campus

Portales, NM Receiving Loans: 33%

ENMU strives to provide registered nurses with the opportunity to become nurse educators and to help fill the nationwide gap in nursing education. Students take a combination of nursing education classes and nursing professional development classes. Graduates must pass 36 credit hours to graduate. Students are encouraged to take six hours in the fall, spring, and summer semesters in order to complete their coursework within two years.

ENMU offers the second lowest tuition for graduate students in the state. Additionally, out-of-state students are eligible for in-state tuition rates if they initially enroll in six or fewer hours per semester, making ENMU one of the most affordable schools in the country.


Tennessee Technological University

Cookeville, TN Receiving Loans: 45%

TTU partners with other universities in Tennessee to deliver its state-of-the-art online MSN program. TTU offers four MSN specialties: RN to MSN, family nurse practitioner, nursing administration, and nursing education. The core and specialized academic components of the program can be taken entirely online. Additionally, TTU students can choose to complete their clinical hours at approved local facilities.

The mission of TTU’s online MSN program is to “use technology to improve access to high-quality, affordable, student-centered graduate nursing education opportunities.” With reasonable tuition and 33 school-sponsored scholarship opportunities available to distance learners, TTU is a leader in affordable distance education. Beyond scholarships, MSN students also often receive sizable grant and loan packages from the federal government. Their federal loans are eligible for a few loan forgiveness programs if they decide to work in the public sector after graduation.


University of Delaware

Newark, DE Receiving Loans: 52%

Students at Delaware complete complete all degree requirements in a hybrid online and on-campus format. They must take six “Core Graduate Courses” online and then complete nine clinical courses onsite at UD.

On-campus clinical courses are offered in the evenings Monday through Thursday. MSN degree-seekers can study to become family nurse practitioners or adult gerontology practitioners. Full-time students graduate in two and a half years; part-time students will need another year.

UD offers all admitted students scholarships that cover 55% of their tuition. Additionally, students receive up to 60% off tuition costs if they work for partnering facilities and hospitals, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia employees are also given partial tuition remittance.


McNeese State University

Lake Charles, LA Receiving Loans: 41%

Like the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, McNeese State belongs to the state’s Intercollegiate Consortium. MSN students take classes offered by faculty from MSU, ULL, Nicholls State, and Southeastern Louisiana to complete their degrees. They can earn an MSN from MSU in one of several concentrations, including family nurse practitioner, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner, nurse educator, or nurse executive.

Depending on their concentrations, students take between 34 and 43 hours of courses. Most distance learners graduate in four to six semesters, depending on their schedules and specialties.

MSU provides a number of financial aid plans and resources, while also offering relatively low tuition to all students. The program is particularly affordable for Louisiana residents, who only have to pay approximately $1,800 per semester in tuition. The school also offers tuition fee deferral for students looking to pay in installments.


University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND Receiving Loans: 51%

North Dakota offers an entirely online MSN degree with five concentrations. Most courses are available online, although students in many of the concentrations are required to spend a week on-campus twice over the course of their program. Some concentrations can be completed in just two years; students must complete 42-59 credits, depending on their specialization, which include:

    Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
  • Nurse Educator
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Advanced Public Health
  • Adult-Gerontology

All distance learners pay in-state tuition regardless of where they live. Scholarships, grants, and loans can further help students defray tuition costs.


Montana State University

Bozeman, MT Receiving Loans: 47%

Montana State offers a master of nursing (MN) program to students. The material presented is nearly identical to that found in most MSN programs, and the degree prepares graduates for equivalent professional work.

Montana State’s MN program prepares students to become nursing leaders and educators. Once they’ve completed the program, students are also qualified to take certification examinations to become clinical nurse leaders. The MN degree requires at least five semesters of study, and students must complete 34 credit hours to graduate. Classes are offered in online, videoconference, and teleconference formats. Clinical hours are not required, but students must complete a professional project that aims to affect the state of health care in their communities.


University of Arkansas

Fayetteville, AR Receiving Loans: 40%

All coursework for Arkansas’ online MSN with a nurse educator concentration can be completed entirely online. Additionally, the university arranges clinical hours with health care providers near the student’s home, allowing them to obtain the clinical experience they need without having to travel.

Students can either take classes along the school’s 39-credit non-thesis track or the 42-credit thesis option. The degree can be completed full-time in four semesters or part-time on a modified schedule.

Students pay just $399.94 per credit hour, and distance learners have access to a variety of scholarships. Many MSN students receive scholarships directly from the College of Education or the university itself. Loan forgiveness programs for graduates working in nursing are also available through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


University of Arizona

Tucson, AZ Receiving Loans: 41%

Arizona’s RN to MSN program gives registered nurses the opportunity to earn their master’s on an accelerated schedule. All distance learners take classes in the school’s clinical systems leadership track, which prepares them for a variety of roles in nursing leadership and education. RNs with associate degrees in nursing complete 44 hours of coursework over two years, while those with a bachelor’s complete 31 hours over 15 months. Courses are delivered entirely online.

A leader in affordable online education, Arizona offers relatively low in-state and out-of-state tuition, along with a variety of scholarships. Federal funding and loans are also available to students who apply, and financial aid advisors at UA can guide students throughout the process. Loan repayment programs for nurses working in the public sector are also available.


West Virginia University

Morgantown, WV Receiving Loans: 52%

WVU offers several online nursing programs. The school’s MSN program delivers a rigorous curriculum in a flexible and convenient platform. Students pursue one of three concentration options: family nurse practitioner (FNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), or nursing leadership. The program consists of 44 credit hours, which can be fulfilled over the course of two years if taken full-time or three to four years for part-time students.

MSN students can apply to 28 different scholarships provided by the school. Additional costs can be covered by both federal loans and grants, which all WVU graduate students are eligible for. WVU provides a helpful cost calculator on its website to help current and potential students estimate their academic costs. Their financial aid office is also dedicated to enhancing financial literacy and financial empowerment among students, before and after graduation.


University of Central Florida

Orlando, FL Receiving Loans: 45%

UCF offers its MSN program in both an online and a hybrid format. Online students can pursue concentrations in leadership and management, nurse educator, and nursing and healthcare simulation. Hybrid degree plans--which can be completed through a combination of online and in-person coursework--include the adult/gero acute care nurse practitioner, adult/gero primary care nurse practitioner, and family nurse practitioner tracks. Depending on your specialization, you should be able to graduate in 30 to 46 hours, over the course of four to nine semesters.


Purdue University

Hammond, IN Receiving Loans: 41%

Distance learners at Purdue can apply to one of the school’s two MSN concentrations: adult-gerontological clinical nurse specialist, and family nurse practitioner. Purdue offers competitive tuition and a program available almost entirely online (students are required to commute to campus during their time in the program). Students must complete a practicum, and technical help is available 24/7. Purdue also offers a master of science with a nursing major and post-master’s certificates.


Indiana University-Purdue University

Indianapolis, IN Receiving Loans: 51%

IUPUI offers a variety of online master’s in nursing options for distance learners:

  • An MSN
  • A master of nursing leadership in health systems
  • A master of nursing education

Online courses at IUPUI are offered asynchronously. Some courses are offered in a hybrid format, which requires some in-person attendance. The nursing education program requires students to complete 42 credits and a 135-hour supervised practicum.

The school has several financial aid options for distance learners to pursue. Prospective students can apply for loans, grants, and scholarships. IUPUI has also put together this informative video to show how graduates can reduce their loans or get them forgiven upon graduation.


University of Southern Indiana

Evansville, IN Receiving Loans: 53%

USI offers students an online MSN program with six possible concentrations. These include:

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGNR)
  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NP
  • Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AGCNS)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Nursing Program?

Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Nursing

To enter an online master's program in nursing, you must hold a bachelor's degree. Most programs require an undergraduate degree in nursing from an institution accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or a similar body. Some schools also require a valid license as a registered nurse.

Professional experience requirements vary from program to program. Some schools cater to recent graduates, while others prefer applicants with at least three years of relevant work experience. Even when not required, experience as a nurse can improve your chances of earning admission into a master's program.

Academic requirements also vary. Generally speaking, graduate schools of nursing look for candidates who maintain an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0, though some programs conditionally admit students with a slightly lower average. Schools may also ask that you submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. GRE scores remain valid for five years.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master's Degree in Nursing

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners train to treat certain medical conditions without the supervision of a doctor. They may focus on caring for a particular population, such as adolescents or the elderly, or specialize in a particular area of health, like providing mental health therapy to patients.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For: General nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner

Public Health Nursing

Public health nurses work to address issues of health and healthcare access, most often in communities underserved by private healthcare organizations. Generally, they work for either nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Students specializing in public health nursing often take coursework in both direct health service and program administration.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Population health nurse, program director

Leadership and Management

The quickly evolving fields of nursing and healthcare need dynamic leaders. Nurses who choose a concentration in leadership and management often take courses in areas like planning, finance, human resources, and decision-making. They take on roles leading nursing departments and smaller healthcare settings. They may also act as consultants to multiple organizations.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Nurse manager, clinical nurse leader

Nursing Education

Many students seeking a master's degree in nursing hope to educate the next generation of healthcare providers. Through coursework in adult learning, curriculum development, and the integration of technology into the classroom, a concentration in nursing education helps them develop the knowledge and skills to become educators.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Assistant professor of nursing, assistant dean of nursing

Nursing Informatics

Nursing informatics involves the enhancement of patient care through the use of technology. For example, students specializing in this area may learn how to develop patient databases that help improve the accuracy of diagnoses, eliminate redundancy in care, and lower overall cost. Students who choose this concentration often possess a strong academic or professional background in a field like computer science or information technology.

Careers This Concentration Prepares For: Clinical informatics specialist, chief nursing informatics officer

Sample Courses for an Online Master's in Nursing Program

Your exact course of study in an online master's in nursing program varies depending on the electives and concentration you choose. However, five courses commonly offered in these programs appear below.

  • Biostatistics: This course introduces students to the principles and practices of collecting and analyzing data for use in health-related contexts. Topics covered include probability theory, hypothesis testing, probability theory, confidence interval testing, and multivariable methods. This course helps lay a foundation for students pursuing a thesis option or who plan to continue their education and earn a doctorate in nursing.
  • Healthcare Quality and Improvement: In this class, students explore the current healthcare environment in the United States, including its evolution over time, the impact of shifting demographics in the country, and potential solutions to pressing issues. The course also looks at how healthcare technologies can promote quality at the organizational and systemic levels.
  • Advanced Nursing Concepts: Students in this course analyze the history of the nursing profession and various conceptual models and theories related to it. They apply these theories to real-world nursing situations through communication, critical thinking, and decision-making. They may also collect quantitative and qualitative data in a healthcare setting, aiding in future research projects.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology: Building on undergraduate coursework in pathophysiology, this course explores the relationship between normal physiology and the changes caused by disease and injury, helping to enhance clinical reasoning skills. The course focuses on topics like pathogenesis, environmental influences, and the clinical manifestations of major health problems.
  • Global Health and Diversity: Students in this class examine issues related to global healthcare delivery systems. They analyze political, financial, and social constraints on those systems and learn how to both work within those constraints and press for change when needed. This elective provides invaluable training for nurses who plan to work internationally.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master's in Nursing?

Most full-time students earn their online master's in nursing in about two years. However, several factors can affect the amount of time it takes to earn your degree.

For example, if you did not earn a bachelor's degree in nursing, programs require that you complete this coursework before you enroll in graduate-level classes. If you plan to study on a part-time basis so that you can remain in your current job, you may need up to four years to complete your program's graduation requirements.

Some self-paced programs do allow you to earn your degree in less than two years. On these accelerated tracks, students can advance through their course material as soon as they demonstrate mastery of the core concepts. While graduating sooner appeals to working professionals, remember that self-paced programs do not offer the same level of support as more traditional, cohort-based master's program.

Skills and Competencies Gained in an Online Master's in Nursing Program

Nursing requires a wide range of skills and deep expertise in a variety of content areas. To succeed as a nursing professional, you need to hone all of the skills listed below.

Critical-Thinking Skills
As the primary monitors of their patients' health, nurses must know when to take corrective action to address a change in a status. For example, a nurse may need to make the call to transfer a patient to emergency care if their condition rapidly deteriorates.
Communication Skills
Nurses must know how to explain medical conditions and proposed treatments to patients and their families. They must also communicate with doctors, explaining patient concerns and needs that may influence care.
Organizational Skills
Especially in larger organizations and urban settings, nurses may work with dozens of patients. Keeping track of charts, medicines, and schedules requires exceptional organizational skills and tremendous attention to detail.
Diagnostic Skills
Nurses sometimes see patients before doctors, meaning they often form the first opinion of a patient's illness or injury. To diagnose and convey this information accurately, nurses must possess expertise in pathophysiology.
Life-Saving Skills
Nurses often must provide emergency care, necessitating training in basic life support, advanced cardiac life support, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and other first-responder techniques. This kind of training often makes the difference between life and death.

Additional Requirements for an Online Master's in Nursing

Most master's in nursing programs do not require an internship or practicum, as students have already completed one during their undergraduate studies. Instead, students can complete either a research-based thesis or a more practice-oriented capstone project as a culmination of their graduate program.

On a thesis track, students collect and analyze data from a healthcare setting and document their findings in a research paper. While some students conduct original research, others may use an existing data set or combine data from multiple sources. Students often work closely with a faculty adviser when writing their thesis.

On a capstone track, students take a course near the end of their studies that allows them to apply their learning to an actual issue in nursing. For example, they may partner with a local hospital to examine its nurse staffing policy and make a recommendation for how to meet the needs of patients.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Nursing Prepares For

  • Registered Nurse License: Registered nurses must hold a license to practice. To receive a license, you must graduate from an accredited nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses. Additional requirements vary from state to state, but often include a criminal background check and an application to a state board of nursing.
  • Neonatal Resuscitation Nursing Certification: Dozens of voluntary certifications exist within the field of nursing. Neonatal resuscitation certification ensures that a nurse possess the skills necessary to provide emergency care to infants, especially premature babies. This certification can help you qualify for jobs in obstetrics and requires passing both a training course and an exam.
  • Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Certification: This certification signals expertise in caring for patients with various forms of cancer. Many healthcare employers look for an oncology certification when hiring nurses for both home and hospital care positions. To qualify, you must complete 1000 hours of work in a field related to oncology, pass an exam, and earn continuing-education credits to remain certified.

RN-to-MSN Online Programs

What are RN-to-MSN Online Programs?

RN-to-MSN online programs allow students to earn both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in nursing, often in less time and for less money than earning these two degrees separately. Generally speaking, applicants to these programs hold an associate degree in nursing or a diploma from an approved nursing program. Before entering an RN-to-MSN online program, you must possess a license as a registered nurse.

Admission requirements for these programs closely resemble those of bachelor's programs in nursing. Schools may require you to maintain a minimum GPA in your undergraduate nursing classes before you enroll in graduate-level courses. Students who want to continue their education and pursue a master's degree often take on roles as nurse leaders, nurse educators, or nurse practitioners after graduating.

If you hope to continue working while completing coursework, make sure that your online RN-to-MSN program allows for part-time study.

How Long Do Online RN to MSN Programs Take to Complete?

The amount of time it takes you to earn your RN-to-MSN online depends largely on your level of education entering the program. For example, if you hold an associate degree in nursing, you can complete all of the requirements for both a bachelor's and master's degree in just four years of full-time study. Part-time students, or those without any undergraduate credits, may need six to eight years to earn both degrees.

Employment Outlook for MSN Graduates

Master's in Nursing Careers

Many career paths exist in the field of nursing. You may want to provide general care to your patients as a registered nurse. You may want to specialize in obstetrics, working as a nurse midwife to aid mothers during pregnancy and labor. You may want to take on greater levels of responsibility as a nurse practitioner, diagnosing and treating patients without the supervision of a doctor. Or you may hope to share your knowledge and passion for healthcare with aspiring nurses, working as a nurse educator.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses provide care to patients in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, and health clinics. They may also educate the public about health issues, provide advice to patients and families dealing with chronic illnesses, and consult with doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Median Annual Salary: $71,730

Projected Growth Rate: 12%

Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia to patients preparing for surgery and other major medical procedures. They also provide care to patients as they recover from the effects of anesthesia. You must hold a master's degree and complete coursework in this area to qualify for a position as a nurse anesthetist.

Median Annual Salary: $167,950

Projected Growth Rate: 17%

Nurse Midwives

Nurse midwives offer care to pregnant women, such as gynecological exams, family planning advice, prenatal care, and support both during delivery and after. Some nurse midwives provide wellness education during infancy. You must hold a master's degree to take on this role.

Median Annual Salary: $103,770

Projected Growth Rate: 16%

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners receive specialized training that allows them to diagnose and treat certain medical conditions without the supervision of a licensed doctor. They may act as primary care providers or focus on a particular area of health, such as geriatric care.

Median Annual Salary: $107,030

Projected Growth Rate: 28%

Postsecondary Teachers, Nursing

Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities instructing students and conducting research. While most of these jobs require a doctorate, nurse educators often qualify for academic positions with just a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $73,490

Projected Growth Rate: 20%

Master's in Nursing Salaries

According to the BLS, the median registered nurse $71,730 per year in 2018. The lowest 10% of registered nurses earned less than $50,800 that year, while the highest 10% of earners brought in more than $106,530.

Earning a master's degree can qualify you for more advanced positions and higher salaries. For example, the BLS estimates that the median nurse anesthetist earned a staggering $167,950 in 2018 more than four times the median salary for all other occupations.

The table below uses data from Payscale to illustrate potential earnings over the course of five different careers in nursing.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Salary for Entry-Level Employees (1 Year Experience) Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-9 Years Experience) Salary for Late-Career Employees (10-19 Years Experience)
Registered Nurse $63,393 $51,520 $60,700 $66,040
Nurse Anesthetist $148,187 $131,000 $151,000 $163,000
Nurse Midwife $93,279 $87,000 $92,000 $99,000
Nurse Practitioner $93,622 $88,000 $97,000 $101,000
Nursing Instructor $61,140 $60,000 $60,000 $64,000

Where Can You Work With an Online Nursing Degree?

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nearly half of all nurses employed in the U.S. work outside of a hospital setting in places like schools, homes, and private businesses. After you earn your online master's in nursing, think carefully about what kind of work environment fits your professional goals. Recent graduates may also consider relocating for a job, as the demand for qualified nurses varies considerably from state to state.

Nursing Homes: Nursing homes, also known as assisted-living facilities or convalescent homes, provide 24-hour nursing care for the elderly, disabled, or chronically ill. In addition to coordinating medical care, nurses who work in these settings must perform administrative tasks related to the housing, feeding, and socializing of their patients. Nurses who prefer to develop closer and long-term relationships with their patients may seek out jobs at nursing homes and other extended-care settings.

Schools: School nurses provide healthcare services to students. The type of care provided depends greatly on the educational setting in which the school nurse works. For example, a nurse employed by an elementary school can expect to deal largely with minor injuries and infectious diseases common among juveniles. A nurse working at a high school may also need to educate students on issues of sexual health and substance abuse. Nurses working at colleges or universities may need to offer or coordinate family planning and mental health services for their students.

Businesses: Many private businesses employ nurses and other healthcare professionals to offer more convenient care for their employees. For example, a construction firm may keep a nurse on staff to respond to minor job-related injuries that do not require a visit to the hospital. Nurses in these roles may also perform a variety of healthcare services for their colleagues, such as administering flu vaccines, offering regular check-ups, or leading a program to help employees quit smoking.

Corrections: The logistical challenges associated with bringing incarcerated individuals to a hospital or health clinic means that correctional facilities often hire nurses to work on staff and provide on-site care. Nurses working in jails, prisons, and rehabilitation centers must know how to treat illnesses and disease, respond to emergency situations, and assist individuals with mental health issues arising from their imprisonment.

Median Annual Salary for Nurse Practitioners by Setting
Hospitals; State, Local, and Private $120,540
Outpatient Care Centers $115,720
Offices of Other Health Practitioners $12,740
Offices of Physicians $111,440
Educational Services; State, Local, and Private $104,310

Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

After completing a BSN-to-MSN online program, you should consider joining a professional organization for nurses. These groups provide a wealth of resources to help you advance in your career, including local and national networking events, online and in-person professional development opportunities, and mentorship programs. Many associations also host job boards and provide guidance to both recent graduates and established professionals looking to change directions in their career.

American Nurses Association:

Founded in 1896, ANA represents more than 4 million registered nurses working in the United States. The association establishes standards and codes of ethics for the field, advocates for more effective healthcare policy, offers continuing-education resources to its members, and organizes networking events and research convenings.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners:

AANP represents nurse practitioners qualified to diagnose and treat medical conditions without the supervision of a doctor. The association uses national conferences, affinity groups, and regional chapters to help its more than 102,000 members network and collaborate.

American Academy of Nursing:

The Academy works to advance the nursing profession by promoting organizational excellence and effective nursing leadership. Through public education programs and expert testimony, the organization plays a key role in advocating for health equity.

National Black Nurses Association:

Since 1971, NBNA has supported the professional interests of African-American nurses. The association publishes a scholarly journal, hosts online training opportunities, awards scholarships to both aspiring and established nurses, and administers a career center.

National Student Nurses Association:

NSNA specifically serves students on the path to a career in nursing. In addition to scholarships, networking opportunities, and a job board, the association provides invaluable advice to students preparing for licensure exams and to those considering graduate-level education.

Financing Your Online Master's in Nursing Program

Students should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grants, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans. States typically also use the FAFSA to award need-based aid to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Many states and private organizations also provide financial aid specifically to students pursuing a career in nursing. For example, certain states forgive student loan debt if you agree to work for a certain number of years in a high-need healthcare setting.

Financing Your Online Master's in Nursing Program

Students should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal grants, work-study opportunities, and low-interest student loans. States typically also use the FAFSA to award need-based aid to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Many states and private organizations also provide financial aid specifically to students pursuing a career in nursing. For example, certain states forgive student loan debt if you agree to work for a certain number of years in a high-need healthcare setting.

Scholarships for Online MSN Programs

Promise of Nursing Regional Faculty Fellowship

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be registered nurses enrolled in a master's or doctoral program in nursing education. Students must also attend school and pledge to work within regions of high need. The foundation offers awards based on academic excellence, established financial need, and commitment to the profession.

Amount: $1,000-$7,500

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American Association of Nurse Practitioners Master's in Nursing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship serves registered nurses currently seeking their master's or planning to enroll in an accredited master's in nursing program. Applicants must be members of AANP. The association offers awards largely on the basis of academic achievement.

Amount: $2,500-$5,000

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Graduate Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Practice

Who Can Apply: To receive this award, you must pursue an advanced degree in nursing with a concentration in oncology. The program caters to international applicants attending accredited institutions, and recipients may qualify to receive up to two years of funding at $10,000 per year.

Amount: $10,000, up to two years

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NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, this program addresses the critical shortage of nurses. Applicants must pursue a degree in nursing and commit to work in an underserved community. The program awards scholarships based largely on financial need.

Amount: Up to the full cost of tuition

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Emergency Nurses Association Scholarships

Who Can Apply: The ENA foundation awards scholarships to aspiring emergency nurses pursuing associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. To apply, you must submit academic transcripts, a professional resume, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation. The foundation prioritizes individuals with a strong record of academic excellence and financial need.

Amount: Varies

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Nurses Educational Funds Scholarships

Who Can Apply: This program serves nurses pursuing an advanced degree. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing, complete at least 12 credits of a master's program by the time of application, and maintain at least a 3.6 GPA in their graduate studies. Applicants must also hold a registered nurse license.

Amount: Varies

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March of Dimes Dr. Margaret C. Freda Graduate Nursing Scholarship Award

Who Can Apply: This scholarship program supports nurses pursuing a graduate degree in either maternal or child care. Applicants must be a registered nurse and a member of a nursing organization partnered with the March of Dimes. The March of Dimes Foundation offers awards based primarily on academic achievement.

Amount: $5,000

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