The Top RN-to-MSN Bridge Programs

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Bridge programs allow registered nurses (RNs) with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) without enrolling in both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Sometimes called ADN-to-MSN, RN-to-NP, or RN-to-MSN bridge programs, these plans of study allow ADN-holders to jump straight into a master of science in nursing (MSN) program. Many are available in accelerated formats, allowing degree-seekers to graduate quickly.

Graduates often go on to become nurse practitioners (NPs), a type of APRN who holds greater responsibilities than other RNs. Over 95% of NPs prescribe medications, and nearly 41% of full-time NPs hold hospital privileges, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the NP profession may grow by 45% from 2019-29, making it one of the fastest-growing career paths in the country.

Read on for a list of the nation’s best RN-to-NP programs.

Read about our ranking methodology here.
Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Featured Online Programs

Best ADN-to-MSN Bridge Programs for 2020

Rank School Location
1 University of Mary Bismarck, ND
2 Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Boston, MA
3 Frontier Nursing University Hyden, KY
4 Western University Pomona, CA
5 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
  1. University of Mary

    Bismarck, ND

    A private Catholic university located in Bismarck, North Dakota, the University of Mary offers an online ADN-to-MSN program. This accelerated program enables registered nurses to earn their degrees in just 20 months.

    Among ADN-to-MSN bridge programs, the University of Mary's stands out for its focus on nursing leadership and management. Nursing students complete courses in healthcare administration, nursing research, and nursing leadership. The curriculum blends advanced nursing courses with classes from the business program and 500 hours of practical leadership experience, building professional skills.

    The ADN-to-MSN program requires a minimum 2.75 GPA from the applicant's nursing diploma or associate degree program at an accredited institution. It also requires a current RN license and two letters of reference. The program offers full- and part-time schedules, both of which accommodate working nurses balancing school with their professional careers.

  2. Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

    Boston, MA

    Founded in 1823 as the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), today MCPHS University offers medical programs at its Boston campus and online. Nurses with an ADN qualify for the RN-to-MSN bridge program with a concentration for family nurse practitioners. A part-time program designed for working nurses, MCPHS incorporates four on-campus meetings and a clinical experience, which students complete locally. Nursing students spend one year completing the BSN bridge coursework followed by MSN coursework.

    The curriculum covers advanced pathophysiology, evidence-based practice, advanced health assessment, and family primary care.

    Prospective students must hold an ADN from an accredited college or university with a minimum 3.0 GPA. MCPHS requires current RN licensure and sets prerequisite coursework for admissions. The 62-credit ADN-to-MSN program takes three years to complete for students taking two courses per semester. MCPHS enrolls nursing students for spring or summer start dates.

  3. Frontier Nursing University

    Hyden, KY

    A private graduate school in Hyden, Kentucky, Frontier Nursing University (FNU) dates back to 1939. With an exclusive focus on nursing education, FNU offers an ADN bridge entry option for its MSN program. Nurses with an associate degree spend one year completing BSN coursework before entering the MSN program. Nursing students then choose a concentration; options include family nurse practitioner, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, or certified nurse-midwife.

    The ADN-to-MSN program offers full- and part-time options, plus three brief, on-campus residencies and 675 clinical hours during the MSN coursework. FNU is one of the best ADN-to-MSN bridge programs for nurses considering a doctorate in nursing. After earning an MSN at FNU, nurses only need an additional 19 credits to earn a DNP. Prospective students must have an ADN with a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited nursing program, and FNU requires at least one year of nursing experience for admission.

  4. Western University

    Pomona, CA

    Western University specializes in healthcare education. Its ADN-to-MSN bridge programs prepare RNs for clinical and administrative leadership roles or ambulatory care nursing. The flexible curriculum offers two- and three-year tracks, allowing students to balance their studies with their career and family commitments.

    The WU program utilizes self-directed learning activities through its online learning platform. Students partake in discussion forums, conduct research, and prepare presentations. They must also attend two weekend seminars each semester on-campus in Pomona, California. These intensive sessions allow students to take part in demonstrations and presentations while interacting with their peers and instructors.

    Applicants must hold an associate degree in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA and active nursing licensure. Students should hold one year of clinical nursing experience. Prerequisite courses include nutrition, anatomy, physiology, and microbiology.

  5. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee began offering nursing education in 1908. Its ASN-to-MSN bridge programs offer an innovative path for nurses expanding their education and career opportunities and those seeking a career change.

    The program features a prespeciality curriculum, which prepares students to seek an advanced nursing specialization. Specializations include adult-gerontology, emergency nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, healthcare leadership, nursing informatics, mental health nurse practitioner, and neonatal nurse practitioner. Students can graduate in 2-3 years.

    Vanderbilt welcomes applicants with associate degrees in nursing or bachelor's degrees in other fields. Applicants should hold a minimum 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate coursework. RNs need 78 credits covering courses in human anatomy and physiology, nutrition, developmental psychology, and microbiology. RNs must hold a valid nursing license and qualify to practice in their home states.

    The modified learning format combines distance education with up to four on-campus sessions each semester. The school works with students to identify appropriate clinical sites near their home areas whenever possible.

Applying to an ADN-to-MSN Bridge Program

RN-to-NP programs often feature a competitive admissions process. Applicants should possess an ADN and an RN license, and usually need at least some experience to prove they are qualified to bypass the traditional bachelor’s degree route.

Prospective students must also submit a competitive associate degree transcript. ADN-to-MSN program admission committees like to see a minimum GPA ranging from 2.5-3.0, although the higher, the better. Often, schools list prerequisite courses that interested students must pass before they can apply.

Some bridge programs may require candidates to take the GRE or MAT exams, while others primarily focus on a candidate’s experience. Prospective students should expect to submit personal essays and professional and/or academic recommendation letters.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do bridge programs work?

    Bridge programs serve as accelerated tracks for nursing students, allowing candidates to enroll in higher-level degree programs. ADN-holding RNs, for instance, can enroll in MSN bridge programs instead of earning a bachelor’s degree before a master’s degree.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Accreditation is crucial for any kind of academic program. Accreditation functions as a guarantee that students will receive a valuable education and graduate prepared to enter the workplace. Nurses in particular should avoid non-accredited programs, as an accredited degree is necessary for licensure. Pay special attention to accreditation from agencies like the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  • How long does it take to complete an online ADN-to-MSN program?

    Online ADN-to-MSN programs generally last 2-3 years. Even three-year programs allow RNs to earn an MSN more quickly than the traditional path requiring a two-year bachelor’s degree and two-year MSN. In addition, many online bridge programs usually offer flexible part-time options.

  • What can I do with an MSN?

    MSN graduates go on to become different types of APRNs. While some earn NP licensure, others might choose to become nurse anesthetists or nurse midwives. NPs can also further specialize in areas like neonatal care, women’s health, or family practice. Finally, some graduates become nurse administrators or leaders at healthcare institutions.