Best Online Master’s in Nursing Administration Programs of 2021

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October 11, 2021

reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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A master of science in nursing (MSN) degree is an advanced degree for registered nurses (RNs). Although all MSN programs prepare nurses for career advancement and greater professional responsibility, some may focus on readying students for particular roles. Master's in nursing administration programs often appeal to RNs interested in careers as nurse managers, clinical nurse leaders, and other administrative roles.

A master's degree in nursing administration typically includes around 35-48 credits and takes students 1-2 years to complete. Most programs also include clinical practice hours.

Tuition rates vary, but the total cost of a two-year master's in nursing administration program typically ranges from $35,000-$70,000. However, some online programs at state schools may charge in-state residents considerably less.

Nursing administration professionals are in high demand, and many earn six-figure salaries. If you're considering earning an online master's degree in nursing administration, keep reading. This guide highlights common admission requirements, standard courses, and career options for graduates.

Related Nursing Master's Programs That Might Interest You

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

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Nursing Administration Program?

Nurse administrators draw on their knowledge of the nursing profession to make informed decisions about how healthcare facilities should operate. To succeed in the field of nursing administration, you need clinical expertise, managerial skills, and business savvy.

Online MSN in nursing administration programs typically include 35-48 credits of coursework in clinical practice management, health information technology, quality measures, and related subjects. Some programs require students to complete 300-500 supervised clinical hours; however, other programs may not have clinical requirements. RNs who hold a BSN can usually earn a master's degree in nursing administration within two years.

Many schools offer programs entirely online. However, students must complete clinical hours at a facility where they are licensed to practice. Some online programs require students to visit campus to take tests, attend orientations, or complete other requirements. Before graduating, students often complete a final project involving research, writing, and fieldwork.

Types of Nursing Administration Programs

RN-to-MSN/ADN-to-MSN Programs

RN-to-MSN and ADN-to-MSN programs allow registered nurses to earn their MSN degrees without first earning their BSNs. Depending on their speciality, these programs may prepare students for careers as advanced practice registered nurses, nurse educators, and nurse administrators.

Although program lengths vary, full-time RN-to-MSN students in nursing administration programs can often earn their degrees in four years or less.

BSN-to-MSN Programs

BSN-to-MSN programs are traditional MSN programs catering to licensed RNs who already hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. Many programs allow students to choose a concentration, such as nursing education or nursing administration. Nursing administration master's programs typically include 35-48 credits of coursework, and some programs include clinical practice hours. Full-time students can earn their degrees in less than two years.

Direct-Entry MSN/Accelerated MSN Programs

Direct-entry MSN and accelerated MSN programs allow students who studied subjects other than nursing in college to earn an MSN degree. Applicants are not required to hold bachelor's degrees in nursing. However, before enrolling, prospective students may need to complete undergraduate courses in relevant subjects, such as human anatomy, physiology, and statistics. They also need to secure an RN license at some point before or during the program.

Direct-entry MSN programs in nursing administration usually include 50-70 credits of coursework and clinical practice hours. Students in direct-entry MSN programs can typically earn their degrees in 2-3 years.

Learn More About Similar Nursing Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Nursing Administration Program?

Healthcare Administration

Healthcare administration courses focus on improving students' leadership skills. Participants learn to communicate effectively, collaborate with individuals and teams, resolve conflicts, and build relationships. Coursework also addresses ethical issues in healthcare and nursing administration.

Health Policy

In this course, learners study healthcare regulations, legislation, and the political processes that shape the healthcare system. Health policy coursework also addresses how nurses can impact policy decisions to redress disparities in healthcare access and quality of care.

Health Systems Management

Health systems management courses provide practical training in managing healthcare systems. Students learn to implement system-wide changes, evaluate healthcare delivery models, and manage staff. Faculty also introduce students to theoretical frameworks, such as organization and management theory and systems thinking.

Healthcare Financial Management

In healthcare financial management courses, students learn how to make financially informed decisions regarding patient care programs. Coursework emphasizes the importance of efficiency and effectiveness in managing healthcare resources.

Organizational and Human Resource Management in Nursing

Students in this class learn how individuals in organizations behave and adapt to change. Degree-seekers study managerial principles and consider employee rights, responsibilities, and resources.

What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Nursing Administration Program?

In general, admission requirements for online and on-campus master's in nursing administration programs are the same. Applicants to traditional online and on-campus MSN programs must be licensed RNs with BSN degrees. However, RN-to-MSN programs accept students without bachelor's degrees, and direct-entry MSN programs may admit students without licenses or BSN degrees.

Many programs require students to have a minimum 3.0 GPA. Programs may also ask applicants to submit a resume, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose, and some invite select candidates to interview with admissions department members.

Test Scores

Many online master's in nursing administration programs do not require applicants to submit standardized test scores. However, programs that do may require GRE test results. Additionally, students with lower GPAs can sometimes submit test scores to boost their chances of being admitted.

Letters of Recommendation

Online master's in nursing administration programs typically require 2-3 recommendation letters from professional or academic references. Applicants should request references from supervisors familiar with their clinical experience and instructors who can attest to their potential to succeed in graduate school.

Resume

MSN programs in nursing administration often require resumes. Some programs prefer applicants to have at least one year of nursing experience before pursuing an MSN. An applicant's resume should reflect this experience, along with other relevant accomplishments.

Essays

MSN programs often ask prospective students to write essays detailing their interests, qualifications, and goals. In this essay, students should explain why they're pursuing a career in nursing administration. They should also demonstrate interest in the program by discussing what sets it apart and how they would contribute to the program if admitted.

Official Transcripts

Prospective students are required to submit academic transcripts when applying to MSN programs. Transcripts help admissions departments determine if an applicant has completed the necessary prerequisites and if the program should grant the applicant any transfer credits.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Nursing Administration Degree?

Career Outlook

Nurses with MSN degrees work in some of the fastest-growing occupations, including medical and health services management. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that positions for medical and health service managers will increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than average.

Nursing administration professionals include nurse managers, clinical nurse leaders (CNLs), and chief nursing officers (CNOs). According to PayScale, CNOs are among the highest-paid workers in the field, earning an average annual salary of $134,600 as of September 2021.

Graduates of nursing administration MSN programs can work in many different settings, such as hospitals, private clinics, nursing homes, and residential care facilities. Some also work in government agencies and for insurance offices.

See where a master's degree in nursing administration can take you. Learn more about nursing careers.

Career Paths

Nurse Administrator

Nurse administrators supervise nursing staff in healthcare facilities. They also manage budgets, monitor resources, and implement nursing procedures. Nurse administrators may seek various certifications. For example, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the nurse executive-board certified (NE-BC) certification, which some nurse administrators pursue. However, not all nurse administrator roles require certification.

Average Annual Salary: $89,570 (September 2021)

Nurse Manager

Nurse managers are involved in the day-to-day operations of a nursing unit. They assign tasks to nursing staff and monitor their performance. Some nurse managers also work as educators. Although it is not always required, nurse managers may seek certifications, such as the certified nurse manager and leader (CNML) certification offered by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).

Average Annual Salary: $80,950 (September 2021)

Nursing Director

Nursing directors are typically responsible for entire departments. They supervise nursing managers and advise healthcare administrators on issues related to nursing services. They write and interpret staff policies, weigh in on budgetary decisions, and resolve conflicts among employees.

Not all nursing directors seek certification. However, nursing directors may apply for the NE-BC certification offered by ANCC. Alternatively, they may pursue director of nursing services-certified (DNS-CT) certification through the American Association of Directors of Nursing Services.

Average Annual Salary: $88,130 (September 2021)

Clinical Nurse Leader

CNLs evaluate nursing practices and recommend changes to improve patient outcomes. They work in many different settings, including hospitals, private clinics, and research facilities. CNLs are certified by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Average Annual Salary: $83,490 (September 2021)

Chief Nursing Officer

A chief nursing officer (CNO) is usually the highest-ranking nurse administrator at a hospital, clinic, or healthcare facility. CNOs direct nursing and patient care operations, working to increase efficiency and improve patient outcomes. They work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, insurance offices, and rehabilitation facilities.

There isn't a certification specifically for CNOs. However, some seek the NE-BC certification or the nurse executive, advanced-board certified (NEA-BC) certification offered by ANCC. Other professionals pursue certification as CNLs or CNMLs. In addition, AONL offers a certified in executive nursing practice (CENP) certification that is appropriate for CNOs.

Average Annual Salary: $134,600 (September 2021)

Nursing Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Licenses and Certifications

Nurse administrators are licensed RNs with advanced nursing degrees. Most nurse administrators seek licensure before pursuing graduate study. To obtain your RN license, you must first earn a nursing diploma or degree, such as an associate degree in nursing or a BSN. You must then pass the NCLEX-RN exam and meet any additional requirements specified by your state's nursing board.

Not all nurse administrators need to obtain certification. However, additional credentials are required for some roles. For example, most employers require CNLs to receive certification from AACN. Candidates for CNL certification must be licensed RNs and graduates of a CNL MSN program (or in their last semester of study). They must also earn a score of at least 350 on AACN's CNL exam.

The following are a few popular certifications for which nurse administrators may be eligible:

Continuing Education

The number of doctoral programs in nursing is increasing. For example, according to AACN, there are more than 350 doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) programs nationwide and over 100 new DNP programs are currently in the planning stages.

Some graduates of nursing administration master's degree programs go on to earn either a DNP or a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing. While DNP programs focus on developing students' expertise as practitioners, Ph.D. programs emphasize research. Earning your DNP can prepare you to take on senior roles in nursing administration. In contrast, by earning your Ph.D., you can pursue a career as a researcher, policymaker, or educator at a college or university.

Many nurses also complete regular continuing education units to maintain their licenses and certificates. Requirements may vary depending on a professional's field, role, and state.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Nursing Administration Program?

Cost

The true cost of earning your MSN in nursing administration depends on several factors. In general, public schools are more affordable than private schools. Some public universities offer lower tuition rates to in-state residents — distance learners in some programs may qualify for these less expensive rates, even if they live out of state. Online students can also save on transportation and other costs associated with earning a degree on campus.

Program Format

Online programs adopt different formats, such as asynchronous or synchronous delivery. Synchronous programs require students to attend class virtually at specific times, while asynchronous options tend to be more flexible. Both formats have advantages and disadvantages. When choosing an online master's in nursing administration program, consider which format you prefer.

Location

Consider the location of the programs you're interested in, even if you plan to earn your degree remotely. Some state schools offer reduced tuition rates to in-state residents. Also, some online programs may still have occasional on-campus requirements, such as orientations and intensives.

Students who plan to practice in a state outside of where their school is located should look into reciprocity agreements. Regulations governing nursing education vary by state, and some online MSN programs may not meet your state nursing board's educational requirements.

Accreditation

Choose an online master's in nursing administration program that holds the appropriate accreditation. Attending an accredited school and MSN program helps ensure that the education you receive meets established standards within the nursing profession. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredit most MSN programs.

Clinical Experience

Most MSN programs require students to complete a certain number of supervised clinical practice hours. Online students attending programs with clinical practice requirements complete these hours at a facility in the state where they are licensed. Some online programs assist students in securing a clinical placement.

Student Support

Consider programs that offer different forms of support to online learners. Some programs assign master's in nursing administration students an academic coach to help guide them through their studies. Many schools offer online academic advising, clinical placement assistance, and career services.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Nursing Administration Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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University of Michigan-Ann Arbor true View School Profile Ann Arbor, MI

University of Michigan offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) in leadership, analytics, and nursing. This nursing administration program features fall and winter cohorts for incoming students. While the program is primarily online, U-M requires students to attend a two-day in-person orientation and annual four-day intensives on campus where students can meet classmates and participate in activity-based learning.

Applicants to U-M's online MSN program need to meet different deadlines depending on if they wish to join the fall or winter cohort. All prospective students must hold a bachelor's in nursing from an accredited program, a minimum B average in all undergraduate coursework, and a valid RN license.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $1,383 (in state); $1,660 (out of state)
  • Program Length: 2-3 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 33 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.95% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Stony Brook University true View School Profile Stony Brook, NY

Stony Brook University offers an online program for students seeking to earn a master of science in nursing leadership. Stony Brook's program focuses on evidence-based practice and leadership development. Students must complete a clinical experience and classes such as advanced theory and practice in nursing leadership, organizational leadership and role transformation, and healthcare policy and advocacy.

Applicants need either a bachelor's degree in nursing or a clinical practice portfolio in addition to a non-nursing bachelor's degree. Applicants also need a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and a current RN license. At least one year of relevant experience is preferred.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $471 (in state); $963 (out of state)
  • Program Length: 1.5 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93.01% (2019)
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
George Washington University true View School Profile Washington, DC

Students who want to complete their degrees completely online may be interested in the master's degree in nursing leadership and management offered by The George Washington University. GW's program features a virtual orientation and no on-campus requirements. It aims to teach students how to act strategically in the workplace and take the lead on making policy decisions. All students must complete two 150-hour practicum courses to graduate.

Applicants need a bachelor's in nursing from a regionally accredited institution and an active, unencumbered nursing license. GW prefers a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 but does not require it.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $1,395
  • Program Length: 1.5-2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
University of Mary true View School Profile Bismarck, ND

The University of Mary offers an accelerated online BSN-to-MSN program that students can complete in as little as 16 months. Students pursuing an MSN in nursing leadership and management take courses in applied healthcare economics, finance, and budgeting; management and organizational behavior; and healthcare law and policy.

The university requires a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75. Applicants also need a current, unencumbered RN license.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $460
  • Program Length: 16 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Liberty University true View School Profile Lynchburg, VA

Liberty University offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) in nurse administration program that takes students an average of 1.5 years to complete. As an Evangelical university, Liberty's programs highlight religious connections to the subject matter. The MSN program features classes in contemporary issues in human resources; organizational design and structure; and financial and resource management for nurse leaders.

Students may transfer up to 50% of all credits into this program from another school. Liberty requires applicants to possess a bachelor's degree from a nationally accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 or above. Applicants must have a minimum of one year of practice as a registered nurse and a current RN license.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $565
  • Program Length: 1-2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences View School Profile Lancaster, PA

The online master's degree in nursing administration program at PA College includes classes in leadership in healthcare; organizational behavior and performance improvement in healthcare; and communication and technology. The program requires two all-day, in-person sessions on PA College's campus.

Applicants need a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited institution with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. PA College requires prospective students to have the appropriate healthcare licenses and certificates before applying for the program.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $896
  • Program Length: 1.5 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 34 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: Yes
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Union University View School Profile Jackson, TN

Union University's master's degree in nursing offers part-time and full-time program options for students pursuing the administration track. Classes for this program include nurse administration and the law; informatics and healthcare; and clinical prevention and population health. Students must complete 360 clinical hours.

Applicants need a current RN license and a GPA of 3.0 or above for the last 60 hours of their undergraduate study. Prospective students who do not have a bachelor's in nursing from an accredited program must possess a non-nursing bachelor's degree and prove that they have completed certain courses. Union University accepts applications between August and June for fall admission.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $645
  • Program Length: 16 months (full time); 2.5 years (part time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 39 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: N/A
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Texas A & M International University View School Profile Laredo, TX

TAMIU's online master's degree in nursing administration program includes classes in transformational leadership; healthcare policy and social justice; and finance for the nurse executive. Students must complete a 180-hour practicum to graduate.

TAMIU requires applicants to have a bachelor's degree in nursing from a nationally accredited institution with a minimum GPA of 3.0 in all upper-division nursing courses. Prospective students must have an unencumbered nursing license in Texas and one year of work experience as a nurse.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $366 (in state); $1,030 (out of state)
  • Program Length: as few as 10 months
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 31 credits
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Public
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 95.83%
  • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing
  • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Sacred Heart University View School Profile Fairfield, CT

Sacred Heart University offers an online master's degree in nursing with a specialization in nursing management and executive leadership. In this program, students learn how to create and implement administrative processes through classes like creating a professional work environment and management of financial resources. SHU's online MSN program requires students to complete 120 clinical practicum hours.

Applicants need an unencumbered RN license and a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Students must submit a transcript of all prior nursing and academic work.

Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $695
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 36 credits
  • Instruction Style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 99%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
Saint Joseph's College of Maine View School Profile Standish, ME

At Saint Joseph's College of Maine, students can earn a master of science in nursing with an administration track online. SJC offers the program full time and part time, allowing students to spread out courses to fit their schedules. All SJC professors possess practical experience with leadership roles in hospital settings. The administration track can prepare students for many positions, including chief nursing officer.

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited program with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0. Prospective students must also hold an active, unrestricted, and unencumbered RN license. There is no application fee.

Program Snapshot

  • Visit Program
  • Cost per Credit: $683
  • Program Length: 2 years and 3 months (full time); 3.5-4 years (part time)
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 45 credits
  • Instruction Style: Asynchronous
  • On-Campus Requirement: No
  • School Status: Private
  • NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.83%
  • Program Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • School Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master's in Nursing Administration Programs

What does a nurse administrator do? true

Nurse administrators draw on their clinical knowledge to make informed decisions regarding staffing, budgeting, and operations within a healthcare facility. They manage employees, monitor healthcare delivery systems, and serve as liaisons between nursing staff and management. Nurse administrators ensure that healthcare facilities offer cost-efficient, high-quality care to patients.

Is an online master's in nursing administration worth it? true

If you enjoy working in leadership roles, earning your master's in nursing administration could lead to a fulfilling career. If you're currently a practicing RN, it could also boost your salary. According to the BLS, in 2013, nurses with master's degrees earned 19% more than nurses with bachelor's degrees alone.

How much does an online master's in nursing administration program cost? true

Master's in nursing administration programs typically cost $35,000-$70,000. Tuition rates for online programs are not always lower than on-campus tuition rates. However, by earning your degree online, you may save on transportation and other costs associated with attending school on campus.

Are nurse administrators in high demand?

The BLS projects that the medical and health services management profession will add almost 140,000 jobs between 2020 and 2030. Overall, healthcare occupations are projected to grow by 16% over that time span, which is about twice as fast as average.

How much money can I make with a master's in nursing administration?

The BLS reports that health services managers earned a median annual income of $104,280, as of May 2020. Nursing administration professionals include several different occupations, such as nurse managers, clinical nurse leaders, and chief nursing officers. According to PayScale, as of September 2021, nurses in these roles earned an average salary of roughly $80,000-$135,000 per year.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a master's in nursing administration?

Chief nursing officers are among the highest-paid workers with master's degrees in nursing administration. According to PayScale, CNOs earned an average annual income of $134,600 in September 2021.

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Reviewed by:

As an assistant professor of nursing and entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience, Brandy Gleason offers a unique perspective. She currently teaches in a prelicensure nursing program and coaches master's students through their culminating projects.

Gleason brings additional expertise as a bedside nurse and nurse leader, having held past roles at the supervisory, managerial, and senior leadership levels. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

Gleason is also an avid change agent when it comes to creating environments and systems that contribute to the well-being of students and healthcare professionals.

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