2022 Best Online Master's in Nursing (MSN) Programs (2023)

MSN Program Overview

An MSN is a post-graduate degree program that helps students with a strong professional or academic background in nursing to broaden their knowledge of the field and advance their careers. RNs usually undertake this level of education with some years of work experience already under their belt. In general, individuals with field experience and a bachelor’s degree, already have the prerequisite knowledge to pursue further education.

Overall, an MSN degree program focuses on developing leadership and research skills to prepare students for advanced positions in the workplace and higher levels of responsibility. Master’s programs offer courses in advanced biochemistry, advanced pharmacology, and medical equipment operation, to name a few. Coursework also expands its scope to cover management tactics, healthcare policy, and nursing specializations.

Pursuing a master’s degree in nursing allows you to gain knowledge and experience in a more specific area of nursing, opening up opportunities to explore more job options and achieve higher pay.
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Some nursing specializations include critical care, medical-surgical nursing, public health, gerontology, and mental health. Pursuing a master’s degree in nursing allows you to gain knowledge and experience in a more specific area of nursing, opening up opportunities to explore more job options and achieve higher pay. If you’re interested in moving into a new area of nursing, consider a master’s degree program.

What Are the Requirements for Online MSN Programs?

Although it depends on the type of nursing program, most online MSN programs have the same requirements: a college degree in the nursing field, an RN license, and work experience. Some programs, however, also require an interview, letters of recommendation, and a statistics course. Check the admission requirements of the programs you’re interested in to find their specific criteria.

How Long Does It Take To Complete an Online MSN?

Many programs have full- and part-time options. Since most online MSN programs take one to two years to complete with a full-time schedule, if you’re interested in working toward your degree part time, it may take upwards of three years. These programs may also require a thesis or capstone project, which can add a semester or two to your program.

Although some universities offer entirely online programs, they may still include an in-person practicum or lab. Some universities also require clinic hours, which entails working in-person as a nurse. Check with the programs you are interested in to see how many in-person hours they require. If you obtain your MSN while working, your work hours may count toward your practicum hours.

Three Main Types of Master's Degrees

There are three primary types of master's degrees in nursing for aspiring students to consider: (1) RN to MSN programs, (2) Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to MSN programs, and (3) direct entry MSN programs.

1

Online RN to MSN programs are the most common degrees because they are designed for individuals who are already RNs but would like to further their knowledge in the field. Applicants need to hold a valid RN license and have — at least — an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma. In many cases, RN to MSN programs also confer a BSN upon students once they complete the undergraduate portion of the coursework. These programs allow students to accelerate the process of earning their BSN and MSN degrees, as compared to enrolling in separate BSN and MSN programs. Online RN to MSN programs may take approximately two years of study.

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2

Online BSN to MSN programs are geared toward students who already have an accredited bachelor's degree in nursing. Applicants must have a valid RN license in addition to their BSN, and they often need to have experience working as a nurse to be eligible. Aspiring nursing master's students with a BSN will want to look for this type of online MSN program.

3

Online direct entry MSN programs are designed for students who already have an accredited bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing. These degree programs enable students to fast-track their nursing careers by allowing them to skip the process of earning a BSN before enrolling in a graduate nursing program. Direct entry programs are not intended for students with an RN license or a BSN.

Is Getting an MSN Worth It?

In the past few years, the field of health care has been pushed to the limit. As a result, nurses are in high demand, especially RNs, travel nurses, and those with MSNs who have specialized knowledge and can support doctors and health care facilities with their expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the role of specialized nurses — such as nurse practitioners, anesthesiologists, and midwives — is projected to grow by 45% through 2030.

This is over five times the US national job growth average across occupations. And the BLS' grouping of these roles presents an annual median salary of $123,780. Specifically, nurse practitioners are projected to increase by 52.2% over the next decade.

In addition to a promising job outlook, nursing can be a satisfying and fulfilling career. Nursing allows individuals to work closely with patients and guide them through their recovery. If you’re someone who enjoys helping people and supporting them during trying times, consider pursuing an MSN online and furthering your education.

There are a few possible cons to consider as well, however. Nurses work in a high-risk environment, spending a lot of their time around people with illnesses. The same compassion that provides satisfaction and fulfillment may lead to emotional exhaustion. It can be difficult to provide for others in distress so often. Nurses and health care workers are also at higher risk for injuries. Registered nurses take a median of 12 days off each year due to injury.

In general, the health care field is rapidly growing, and it’s projected to continue expanding. While there is the risk of injury, there are also reasons to enter the field of nursing. Your choice largely depends on your personal circumstances, and it's important to weigh the long-term impact of such a large financial investment, which is why we base our rankings list of online nursing schools on salary score.

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What Can You Do With an MSN?

Once you’ve earned your nursing masters, several career paths become available. An RN with a master’s in nursing is referred to as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). They are eligible for many positions such as a nursing consultant, research nurse, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse administrator.

If you’re interested in community education, consider public health nursing. These nurses advocate for community-led health education programs. They visit medical centers and work within the community to provide health care. Another job option for MSN graduates may involve research and clinical trials. For example, clinical research nurses aid doctors during studies and trials by finding participants, analyzing data, and synthesizing results into formal reports.

Nurses with an MSN may also pursue administrative and management roles. Nursing directors, for example, run the nursing departments at hospitals, medical centers, and other health care facilities. They lead teams of nurses and coordinate between departments to provide the best care possible for their patients. If you’re interested in a specific area of medicine, it’s also possible to specialize in a field like oncology, pediatrics, or orthopedics.

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Do you already know your career goals? Check out our articles about how to become a neonatal nurse, pediatric nurse, or nurse anesthetist.

What Is the Best Online MSN Program?

To find the best online MSN degree, it's important to first consider the cost of the program and potential financial aid options in order to alleviate the burden of student loan debt. The cost of an MSN program includes tuition, any necessary supplies, and time investment — including practicum and/or clinic hours. The university may provide financial aid directly, but there are also independent scholarships and grants for those pursuing advanced nursing degrees.

In order to find the right school for you, consider several other components besides cost:

How Much Does an Online MSN Cost?

According to our internal data, the most affordable MSN programs range from approximately $295 to $350 per credit hour. Depending on the program, some online colleges base tuition on a monthly rate, such as charging $250 per month. Even at these cheaper-than-average tuition rates, it's still helpful to thoroughly research available financial aid options.

Financial Aid for Online MSN Programs

Several organizations provide financial aid for online MSN programs. For example, the Oncology Nursing Foundation offers awards, grants, and scholarships each year for MSN students, specifically. Additionally, the Health Resources and Services Administration offers a monthly stipend for tuition, fees, and learning supplies. There are also organizations, like Johnson & Johnson, that assist students in finding financial aid programs that provide tuition reimbursement and other forms of financial assistance.

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FAQs

How long are most MSN programs? ›

How Long Is a Master's in Nursing Program? The time investment will vary depending on the nurse's educational path, but MSN programs typically take between 18 months and three years to complete.

How long is Duke MSN program? ›

The MSN can be completed in three years. A gap analysis will be completed for the Post-Master's Certificates, therefore time to completion will vary, however, the expected duration is two years.

Is a MSN in nursing worth it? ›

An MSN can significantly boost your earnings

In fact, nurses in various advanced practices earn median salaries of nearly $124,000 per year in 2021, almost 60% higher than the $77,600 median salary for registered nurses who generally don't have advanced degrees.

Is MSN higher than NP? ›

One of the most common graduate degrees pursued by aspiring nurse practitioners is the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which is really going to be the lowest level of education you can complete and work as an NP.

Will MSN NP be phased out? ›

Proposing Change. In 2018, The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) committed to assisting all entry-level nurse practitioner (NP) programs with shifting to the DNP by 2025. In other words, the MSN exit point will dissolve and the DNP will become the common endpoint.

Is MSN harder than BSN? ›

The reason is simple: MSN programs better prepare students to become RNs by offering a more rigorous curriculum — often covering advanced topics BSN programs only touch on.

What is a good GPA for MSN? ›

Nursing schools expect applicants to have successfully completed various prerequisite courses during their undergraduate years and often require a 2.5 or 3.0 GPA in these classes.

Do MSN get paid more than BSN? ›

MSN Salary Differences. Advanced education is often accompanied by higher annual salaries. According to PayScale, as of June 2021, nurses with a BSN had a median annual salary of around $86,800, while nurses with an MSN had a median salary of around $96,300.

Do RNs with an MSN make more money? ›

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) reports that MSN-prepared nurses make, on average, $42,000 more than RNs.

Does MSN make you a NP? ›

So, the answer to the big question—yes, you can become a nurse practitioner with an MSN degree. In fact, since NPs are part of APRNs (advanced practice registered nurses), an MSN is the minimum educational requirement.

What's next after MSN? ›

Nursing professionals who want to continue their education after an MSN degree, or are interested in a particular advanced practice specialization, would then pursue the DNP degree. There are two options for a DNP degree: DNP and DNP-NP.

Is it better to have a MSN or DNP? ›

MSN programs prepare you for advanced practice roles, administrative and leadership positions and specialized roles. A DNP, or Doctor of Nursing Practice, is considered a terminal degree in nursing. Depending on the track you choose, a DNP program can prepare you to advance patient care in a primary care setting.

What takes longer MSN or DNP? ›

As for the length of completion, this DNP path will generally take the longest, as many RN to DNP students must complete a bridge year before starting the MSN curriculum.

How long does your MSN take? ›

Depending on which program you choose and how many clinical hours are required, you can usually earn an MSN degree in 2 years.

Is BSN or MSN harder? ›

An MSN is more advanced, but that doesn't necessarily make it better. Choosing between a BSN and an MSN can be tough: both come with a salary increase, boost your hireability, and qualify you to work in specialty areas of nursing like acute care or pediatrics.

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