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Best Online MSN Degree Programs

Explore the types of online MSN programs that are available to students of various educational backgrounds. Learn what concentrations, courses and clinical hours are involved, as well as what career opportunities are available after graduation.

Top Schools with Online MSN Programs

When determining which schools have the best online MSN programs, students should consider things like cost, flexibility, residency requirements and program length. Listed below are 50 of the top schools for online MSN programs.

1. University of Iowa

Location Tuition & Fees
Iowa City, IA $11,336

The University of Iowa has an online MSN program that is fully accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The program has a focus called Clinical Nurse Leader and consists of 39 credit hours and 490 contact hours. Students can complete the program in either two or three years and have an in-state tuition fee per credit of $454. The program is open to registered nurses with at least one year of work experience who have previously earned a bachelor's degree in nursing.

2. Stony Brook University

Location Tuition & Fees
Stony Brook, NY $13,007 (in-state)

Stony Brook University has a BS/MS program for RNs with an associate's degree or diploma in nursing (with 57 credits of specific pre-admission coursework required) that enables students to complete their MSN in 71 credit hours. The MSN programs at SBU consist of 36 to 45 credit hours and have a full-time tuition fee of $5,655 for in-state students ($11,550 for out-of-state students). Students can pursue their degree with one of the following concentrations:

  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Midwifery
  • Family Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Leadership
  • Nursing Education

Stony Brook University also offers several online advanced certificate programs such as adult-gerontology nurse practitioner, neonatal nurse practitioner and nursing leadership.

3. George Washington University

Location Tuition & Fees
Washington, DC $30,834

George Washington University has a student-to-faculty ratio of just 13-to-1 and offers programs taught by many nationally recognized nursing leaders, 65% of whom are active practitioners. Registered nurses who have not previously earned a BSN can complete the fully-online, 36-credit-hour RN to BSN program to prepare for the MSN program. After completing their bachelor's degree, students can pursue an MSN through the primarily online programs in one of the following focus areas:

  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (Acute or Primary)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse-Midwifery
  • Nursing Leadership and Management

Depending on their specific program, students are required to complete 36 to 50 credit hours and 600 to 720 clinical hours (the nursing leadership concentration contains 300 clinical hours).

4. Winona State University

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Winona, MN $7,998

Winona State University is one of the most affordable MSN providers, offering residents of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota tuition rates of $416 to $450 per credit; non-resident graduate students have a tuition rate of $627. Winona State's MSN programs are available with a concentration in nurse educator or nursing and organizational leadership. Students are required to complete between 43 and 48 credit hours along with 300 to 420 clinical hours and can finish in as few as two years. Upon completing their MSN, students can pursue one of several hybrid graduate certificates including adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner and adult-gerontology clinical nurse specialist.

5. Maryville University of Saint Louis

Location Tuition & Fees
Saint Louis, MO $15,646

The MSN programs at Maryville University of Saint Louis consist of 41 to 47 credit hours, have a tuition rate of $813 per credit for all students and require zero on-campus visits. Students have plenty of options to complete clinical hours in locations that are geographically near. Maryville boasts a 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The online MSN program is available with the following concentration options:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (Acute or Primary)
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
  • Leadership

Rank School Name Location Tuition & Fees
6 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond, VA $14,496
7 DeSales University Center Valley, PA $20,160
8 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus Cincinnati, OH $14,468
9 Cox College Springfield, MO $12,430
10 Samford University Birmingham, AL $17,865
11 Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN $9,662
12 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health Omaha, NE $12,877
13 Catholic University of America Washington, DC $46,800
14 Georgia College & State University Milledgeville, GA $7,206
15 The University of Texas at El Paso El Paso, TX $6,170
16 Xavier University Cincinnati, OH $11,716
17 Southwestern Oklahoma State University Weatherford, OK $6,996
18 The University of Texas at Arlington Arlington, TX $9,672
19 Texas A & M University-College Station College Station, TX $9,812
20 Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ $23,422
21 Barry University Miami, FL $17,820
22 Texas A & M University-Corpus Christi Corpus Christi, TX $7,328
23 The University of Texas at Tyler Tyler, TX $7,126
24 University of Mary Bismarck, ND $15,630
25 Duquesne University Pittsburgh, PA $23,112
26 Wheeling Jesuit University Wheeling, WV $9,710
27 Gwynedd Mercy University Gwynedd Valley, PA $11,286
28 MCPHS University Boston, MA $22,530
29 Jacksonville University Jacksonville, FL $14,274
30 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS $11,027
31 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville Edwardsville, IN $9,030
32 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI $18,132
33 Illinois State University Normal, IL $9,509
34 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ $10,593
35 University of Mississippi University, MS $8,660
36 Texas Woman's University Denton, TX $7,336
37 Bellin College Green Bay, WI $20,684
38 Clarkson College Omaha, NE $11,178
39 University of Detroit Mercy Detroit, MI $28,422
40 East Carolina University Greenville, SC $7,485
41 Davenport University Grand Rapids, MI $15,126
42 University of Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN $37,234
43 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD $8,875
44 The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Edinburg, TX $6,889
45 Fitchburg State University Fitchburg, MA $3,828
46 Baker University Baldwin City, KS $10,368
47 Pittsburg State University Pittsburg, KS $8,164
48 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ $13,044
49 Loyola University New Orleans New Orleans, LA $16,190
50 Wichita State University Wichita, KS $6,904

All table statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Choosing the Right Online MSN Program

There are several things that you should keep in mind while considering an online MSN program. You'll need to think about your time commitments, self-motivation habits and learning style, as well as how quickly you'd like to finish.

Programs Available

The most important consideration when reviewing your school choices is what programs are available. Some of the schools that offer online MSN programs may not offer all of the MSN options online. For example, they may only offer BSN-entry programs or they may only have one or two MSN concentrations online with the rest on-campus.

Flexibility Options

The flexibility of an online MSN program is important; it'll help you balance your coursework with your professional and home life. Some programs are only available as part-time or full-time options, while other programs are available as both. Also, many online courses offer asynchronous learning, meaning that you can log in at your convenience, and some courses require synchronous (scheduled) components.

Program Length

Depending on the program flexibility and your previous education, your program could take as few as two years or as long as four years or more. If you are open to both full-time and part-time options, consider how long you wish to work toward your degree. Ask your schools what your estimated completion date would be with your prior coursework included.

Residency Requirements

While many MSN programs offer completely-online coursework, some programs require students to attend campus sessions. These sessions may occur only once per program, or several times per semester. Review the program requirements for your school choices to see what, if any, on-campus requirements are involved.

Practicum Requirements

MSN programs require students to complete a significant number of clinical practice hours, with the specific amount varying by program. Although many schools work with students to find practicum sites that are close to where students reside, some programs can require students to complete their practicum at pre-approved sites.

Program Cost

Online MSN program costs can vary greatly depending on the school as well as your previous education, experience and state of residency. When estimating your program cost, you should look for the total costs involved in earning your degree. Some programs offer flat-rate fees that include most, or all, of the cost of the program. Most schools, however, will separate program costs into tuition and various other fees. Although cost is important to consider, keep in mind that MSN students are eligible for various types of financial aid.

Accreditation

There are two types of accreditation that you should look for when choosing an online MSN program: institutional and program accreditation. Schools can be accredited by numerous organizations, typically based on their physical region. School accreditation is necessary for you to be eligible for financial aid. Program accreditation is separate and may be necessary for applicable advanced practice nursing licensure, depending on your state. MSN programs can be accredited by one of the following agencies:

  • The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • The American College of Nurse-Midwives Division of Accreditation (ACNM)
  • The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • The Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Education Programs (COA)

What to Expect from an Online MSN Program

Online MSN programs typically include online coursework along with clinical practice hours, which can often be completed near students' locations. The sections below discuss online MSN program options and components.

  • RN-to-MSN Programs: These programs are open to registered nurses, usually those who have a diploma or an associate's degree in nursing. Students are typically required to complete bridge courses to prepare them for the graduate-level coursework. In many programs, students earn both a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as well as a Master of Science in Nursing. These programs can be completed in as few as three years of full-time study.
  • Direct-Entry Programs: Direct-entry MSN programs enable non-nursing students to earn a Master of Science in Nursing in as few as two years. Students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree can prepare for licensure as registered nurses during these programs, developing a broad understanding of basic nursing topics at the graduate level.
  • BSN-to-MSN Programs: These programs are more common online than the other two types of MSN programs, and are available to registered nurses with a bachelor's degree in nursing. They usually take two years (full-time) to complete and offer several different concentration options in advanced practice, leadership and nursing education.

Although some programs may require students to attend one or more on-campus learning sessions, many programs offer courses and collaborations through the online learning portal. Students may use their online portal for tasks such as viewing lectures, completing homework assignments, videoconferencing and taking exams. Most schools provide detailed information about their learning platform on their school websites, and students receive detailed instructions on how to register and use their online portal once accepted into their program.

Online MSN Program Prerequisites

Although specific prerequisites vary by school, several commonly found online MSN admissions requirements are discussed below. Most MSN programs require students to submit a personal essay, resume and references.

  • RN-to-MSN: Students applying to these programs need to have valid licensure as RNs and either a diploma or an associate's degree in nursing. In addition, these programs generally require students to have a certain number of years of experience and GPA in their previous nursing program (such as one year of experience and a 3.0 GPA). Students may need to have previously completed certain courses in areas such as psychology, composition and fine arts.
  • Direct-Entry MSN: These programs typically require students to have earned at least a bachelor's degree in a field outside of nursing with a certain undergraduate GPA, such as 3.0. Students may need to earn a qualifying score on an entrance exam (for example, the Graduate Record Examination GRE). Students may also need to have taken courses such as anatomy, statistics and biology.
  • BSN-to-MSN: The admissions requirements for these programs include a bachelor's degree in nursing and valid RN licensure. Other items that are often required or preferred are one or more years of nursing experience, a qualifying undergraduate GPA (typically around 3.0), and certain prerequisite courses (such as statistics). Some programs may also require students to have earned their bachelor's degree from an accredited program.

Online MSN Concentration Options

Most online MSN programs offer concentration options that enable students to be better prepared for their intended careers. Several concentration options that are often available through online MSN programs are discussed below.

  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP): Graduates of PNP program have extensive knowledge of advanced nursing practice topics relating primarily to children and adolescents.
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP): This concentration option prepares students to care for patients of all ages, from birth to death, in primary care settings as well as collaborative care settings.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): PMHNP programs prepare students to care for patients who are suffering from mental health issues.
  • Nurse Educator: Students learn methods and theories for educating future nurses in educational and practice roles. They take courses in both healthcare and instruction and curriculum.
  • Nursing Leadership: Graduates of nursing leadership MSN programs are prepared for leadership by studying topics such as healthcare economics, leadership theories, and human resources.
  • Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: These programs prepare students to work with adult and aging populations, and are usually offered as either acute care or primary care focus options.

Typical Courses in Online MSN Programs

Online MSN programs usually consist of foundational courses as well as courses that are specific to the program concentration. Several foundation MSN courses that are typically found in online programs are listed below.

  • Pharmacology: Students learn about pharmaceuticals commonly used for patient care, including appropriate uses, benefits, and limitations for each.
  • Advanced Nursing Practice: This course explores the duties and roles of advanced practice nurses in the current healthcare system and may include ethical and legal considerations.
  • Healthcare Policy: Students learn current and past healthcare policies as well as political, economic, ethical and social environments that affect healthcare and nursing.
  • Quality Improvement and Safety: This course provides students with a review of methods for maintaining and improving the care quality and safety of patients using technology.
  • Population Health: Students explore topics in quality, disease prevention and health promotion within specific communities and populations, including vulnerable and culturally diverse populations.
  • Evidence-Based Practice: This course teaches students how to effectively conduct research and apply their findings to the improvement of nursing practice.
  • Pathophysiology: Students further develop their knowledge of pathophysiological disorders and symptoms for patients of all ages and how to recognize indicators of abnormality.
  • Advanced Health Assessment: In this course, students strengthen their skills and expertise of patient health assessment using expert knowledge and differential diagnosis.
  • Nursing Leadership: Students learn theories in nursing leadership, skill-building, communication and conflict resolution that can be applied in various roles to improve patient care.

Online MSN Required Clinical Practice

Clinical practice hours consist of supervised practice of the topics and skills that students have gained within their program. Nearly all online MSN programs require students to complete clinical practice hours in various settings. Many programs allow students to complete these hours at a site that is near the student, and some even allow students to complete their hours at their place of employment. Students often need to complete some of the foundation MSN courses before beginning their clinical practice hours.

  • Non-Practice Concentrations: MSN programs that do not have advanced practice concentrations generally have lower requirements for practice hours. The most common non-practice concentrations for MSN programs are nursing leadership/administration and nurse educator. Students in these programs may have no clinical hour requirements or more than 300 clinical hours required.
  • Nurse Practitioner Concentrations: Due to the nature of nurse practitioner concentrations, students complete a significant number of clinical hours in their programs. Students are typically required to complete between 500 and 700 hours of clinical practice during their programs.

Licensure and Certification for Nurses

Several types of certification apply to nurses, depending on the program they've completed and their interests. Direct-entry programs qualify graduates for registered nurse certifications and standard MSN programs with advanced practice concentrations prepare students for licensure as advanced practice registered nurses (including nurse practitioners). Please note that advanced practice nursing roles (APRNs) must first be licensed as registered nurses before pursuing nurse practitioner licensure.

  • Registered Nurse (RN): Graduates of direct-entry MSN programs will need to earn licensure as registered nurses. To do this, they'll need to first complete a state-approved nursing program and apply for an authorization to test (ATT). Depending on their state, they may also need to submit a background check. Once they've received their ATT, they will need to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs, or NCLEX-RN. Most nurses will receive their results six weeks after taking the exam, but those in participating states can see their results immediately after completing their exam for a small fee.
  • Pediatric Registered Nurse: Experienced RNs can earn certification for work in pediatrics by passing the Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) exam. This certification demonstrates extensive practice and skills working with pediatrics.
  • Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP): There are a few certifications that nurses can earn to practice as nurse practitioners in pediatrics: Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist (PMHS), Primary Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC), and Acute Care Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-AC).
  • Nurse Anesthetist: Graduates of MSN programs with nursing anesthesia concentrations are prepared for licensure as certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs). They must pass the National Certification Exam (NCE) and renew their certification every four years thereafter.
  • Midwifery: Nurses who have earned an MSN with a nurse-midwifery concentration can earn certification as a Certified Nurse Midwife, Certified Midwife, or a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). These licenses require nurses to have earned a graduate degree in nursing that is accredited by ACME or MEAC (MEAC required for CPM license). Nurses will need to pass the applicable exam and renew their licenses every three to five years.
  • All Other Nurse Practitioners: MSN graduates who have specialized their program in other advanced practice roles can earn certification to demonstrate their extensive understanding and skills applicable to their field of study. These advanced practice certifications include:
    • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC)
    • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (all ages, PMHNP-BC)
    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP-BC)
    • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC)
    • Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist (AGCNS-BC)

In addition, all nurses can earn other certifications through the American Nurses Credentialing Center to articulate their expertise in specific areas. Some of the additional certifications available are Cardiac Vascular Nursing Certification, Pain Management Nursing Certification, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification and the National Healthcare Disaster Certification.

What Can You Do with an Online Master of Science in Nursing?

There are a variety of positions available to online MSN program graduates, depending on their program concentration, work experience and career interests. Some of the positions commonly pursued by MSN graduates are discussed below.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses provide collaborative care to patients, working alongside other healthcare providers. They assess, consult and treat patients as directed by physicians, and may work in specific areas such as critical care, addiction and public health. Registered nurses can work in many different types of settings including physician offices, nursing homes and hospitals. In 2018, they had a median annual salary of $71,730, with the highest-earning nurses working in government and hospital settings.

Nurse Anesthetists

Nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia-related services to patients such as discussing existing medications, administering anesthesia, and monitoring patients while they are under anesthesia. Nurse anesthetists primarily work in physician offices, outpatient centers and hospitals. In 2018, they had a median salary of $167,950 and jobs in the field are expected to grow 26% from 2018 to 2028.

Nurse-Midwives

Nurse-midwives provide services such as family planning, gynecological care, labor and delivery as well as surgical assistance to women. They may also provide patient education and reproductive counseling to patients and their partners. Nurse-midwives often work in outpatient centers, physician offices and hospitals. In 2018, they had a median salary of $103,770 and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects job growth of 16% from 2018 to 2028.

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners provide advanced care to a variety of patients, and typically work in the field of their educational concentration. For example, an individual who earns an MSN in adult gerontology acute care will typically work as a nurse practitioner of adult and aging patients. Nurse practitioners can work in settings such as physician offices, hospitals, and educational services, and they often provide primary care to patients (rather than under the supervision of other practitioners).

Medical and Health Services Managers

Medical and health services managers oversee facilities, departments and programs, depending on their specific roles. Nurses can qualify for these positions by earning applicable experience as nurses, and those who have earned an MSN with an administration/leadership concentration will be more prepared for the required administrative duties. These managers had a median salary of $99,730 in 2018, with the top 10% earning $182,600 or more.

Postsecondary Nursing Teachers

Postsecondary nursing teachers instruct students in postsecondary settings, whether in universities, community colleges or other professional schools; MSN graduates are typically qualified to teach at junior or community colleges, whereas universities often require doctoral degrees for teaching positions. They may be responsible for developing curriculum, giving lectures, counseling students and providing constructive feedback to help students succeed. The median salary for nursing teachers was $73,490 in 2018, and they are expected to see job growth of 20% from 2018 to 2028.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2018) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Registered Nurses $71,730 12%
Nurse Anesthetists $167,950 26%
Nurse Midwives $103,770 16%
Nurse Practitioners $107,030 28%
Medical and Health Services Managers $99,730 18%
Postsecondary Nursing Teachers $73,490 20%

All career data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Nursing Associations & Organizations

There are numerous professional organizations available to nurses in all roles, several of which are discussed below.

Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA)

This organization seeks to connect healthcare providers and improve the care of aging populations through conferences, networking, publications and continuing education. GAPNA has more than 3,700 members and offers a centralized place for discussion and support in their online forum.

American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA)

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association seeks to provide healthcare providers with the skills and understanding to continually improve the psychiatric and mental care of patients. APNA has over 11,000 members and offers a publication, conferences, and support to both RNs and APRNs.

National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA)

This group is for RN students and provides mentoring, test review, workshops and other services. The group has over 60,000 members and helps students to excel in their educational programs and budding careers.

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)

NAPNAP is focused on maintaining and improving the quality of pediatric care by providing local chapters, special interest groups and patient advocacy. The group has over 9,000 members who can network, access various resources and research and collaborate with organizations to educate patients.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)

This organization gives nurse practitioners access to various resources such as continuing education, networking opportunities and nursing discounts. There are over 92,000 members in the group, including students and graduates, making AANP the largest nurse practitioner organization in the nation.