The Top Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs of 2023

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Updated January 9, 2023

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If you have a non-nursing bachelor's degree and want to pursue a master's in nursing, a direct-entry MSN program could be a good fit. Find the best programs here.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Credit: GaudiLab / Freelance / shuttershock

Are you interested in a nursing career, but your bachelor's degree is in a non-nursing field? Consider a direct-entry master's in nursing. This degree, also known as a master's entry program in nursing, or MEPN, prepares you to become a registered nurse (RN) and provides training for advanced practice nurse roles.

Our guide of the top-ranking direct-entry MSN programs helps you decide what schools best fit your needs, how to qualify for admission, and what to look for in a program.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best direct-entry MSN programs programs, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including: Academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

Keep reading to learn more about the key factors to consider when choosing a program or go straight to our ranking of the best direct-entry MSN Programs.

Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in a Direct-Entry MSN Program

We base our top direct-entry MSN program rankings on what matters most to students, including academic quality, admission and program requirements, and accreditation. When choosing an MEPN, consider these key metrics to find a school that meets your needs.

Admission Requirements

Direct-entry MSN programs use admission requirements to determine if applicants have the right background for graduate-level work. While some schools require GRE scores, other programs base their decision on your overall academic record.


Specializations

Each direct-entry MSN offers different tracks, preparing students for careers as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse leaders, public health nurses, and other nursing specialties. Make sure you choose an MEPN with the specialty area that leads to your intended advanced practice role.


Program Curriculum

When selecting an MEPN, look at each school’s required courses, electives, and clinical areas. Choose a program with a curriculum that reflects your interests and prepares you for specialty licensure.


Clinical Experience

Each direct-entry MSN program handles clinical requirements differently. Some programs place students directly in pre-approved sites while others allow them to find their own placements and preceptors to supervise their clinical experiences.


Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that a nursing program meets nationally established academic and professional standards. You should only consider regionally or nationally accredited direct-entry MSN programs to ensure you receive the same level of education as nurses across the country.


Program Length

Designed for students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, an MEPN offers an accelerated pathway to a nursing career. Depending on program requirements, you may complete all coursework in as little as 15 months.


School NCLEX Pass Rate

The NCLEX-RN pass rate tells you how well a nursing school prepares graduates for the RN licensure exam. A higher-than-average pass rate suggests better program quality and teaching effectiveness.


School Graduation Rate

Graduation rates show the percentage of students who completed a degree within the expected time frame. A high graduation rate indicates a supportive learning environment that successfully prepares graduates for nursing practice.

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Why Is Direct Entry MSN Program Accreditation Important?

Accreditation is one of the most important considerations when choosing a direct-entry MSN program. The accreditation process ensures that programs meet high academic standards.

All the nursing programs selected for our rankings have earned accreditation by either theCommission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or theAccreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

A program's accreditation status affects your eligibility for financial aid and licensure plus your future educational and career plans. Consider the following benefits of an accredited direct-entry MSN program:

  • The NCLEX-RN exam and certification for advanced practice nursing roles require candidates to hold degrees from accredited nursing schools.
  • Federal financial aid can only be applied to accredited nursing programs.
  • If you need to transfer schools or plan to apply for a doctor of nursing degree or other graduate program, many schools will not accept credits earned at non-accredited programs.
  • Graduating from an accredited program signals to employers that you received a high-quality education, making you more competitive in the job market.
  • Some employers do not consider graduates from non-accredited schools.

Learn More About the Best Direct-Entry MSN Programs & Schools

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.

#1 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2023

Vanderbilt University

  • Nashville, TN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Vanderbilt University offers a three-semester prespecialty year for individuals without a nursing background, but who want to earn their master's degree in nursing. The on-campus program prepares students to take the NCLEX to become a registered nurse. Students engage in at least 700 clinical hours in settings, such as hospital inpatient units and mental health centers. 

After students complete the prespecialty year, they can apply for a master of science in nursing (MSN) in a speciality area, such as family nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery, or women's health/gender-related nurse practitioner, among others. 

  • Program(s): MSN with prespecialty entry
  • Campus: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education; Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges 
  • Tuition: $1,883 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA; prerequisite courses in physiology, nutrition, statistics, and psychology; statement of purpose; three letters of academic or professional recommendation
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021): 94% for MSN graduates
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $93,249 for MSN graduates, according to College Scorecard 
Average Tuition
In-state
$52,781
Out-of-state
$52,781
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
12%
Students Enrolled
13,537
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
83% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#2 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2023

Fairfield University

  • Fairfield, CT
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

At Fairfield University, students can earn their MSN in two years, even without a nursing background. The program prepares students for general advanced practice and nursing leadership. Prior to admission, learners must complete 33 credits of prerequisite courses in subjects like anatomy and psychology. 

The program comprises 76 nursing credits and 800 clinical hours in an accelerated format. The curriculum culminates with a master's leadership practicum, and then nursing candidates take the NCLEX.

  • Program(s): MSN - entry into the practice of nursing
  • Campus: Fairfield, Connecticut
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): New England Commission on Higher Education; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education 
  • Tuition: $925 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited university; minimum 3.3 GPA
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $104,749 for MSN graduates, according to College Scorecard 
Average Tuition
In-state
$50,550
Out-of-state
$50,550
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
56%
Students Enrolled
5,513
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
36% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

#3 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2023

University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Birmingham, AL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Aspiring nurses at the University of Alabama in Birmingham can enroll in the school's accelerated master's in nursing pathway. This program allows students to study their pre-nursing licensure requirements in three semesters, or one year. After completing the pathway, they can sit for the NCLEX and move into the regular MSN curriculum. 

The program includes on-campus courses and clinical placements. It not only covers the fundamentals of nursing practice, but also teaches advanced theory and leadership. 

  • Program(s): Accelerated master's in nursing pathway
  • Campus: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education 
  • Tuition: $595 per credit for Alabama residents; $1,418 per credit for nonresidents
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA; combined score of 296 on the GRE, 410 on the MAT, or 480 on the GMAT; at least a "C" in designated prerequisite courses; three letters of professional reference
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2021): 90.03% for BSN graduates
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $95,215 for MSN graduates, according to College Scorecard 
Average Tuition
In-state
$8,568
Out-of-state
$20,400
Retention Rate
86%
Admission Rate
81%
Students Enrolled
22,563
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
65% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#4 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2023

Samuel Merritt University

  • Oakland, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Samuel Merritt University runs its entry-level master of science in nursing with two specializations: family nurse practitioner (FNP) and nurse case management. The FNP track prepares students to provide primary care across a patient's lifespan, focusing on health promotion and disease prevention. Students who choose the nurse case management concentration learn how to practice in a variety of settings with an interdisciplinary approach.

The case management specialization lasts about 2.5 years, and the FNP track typically takes 3.5 years. The FNP concentration also requires 420 clinical practicum hours and 210 internship hours. 

  • Program(s): Entry-level master of science in nursing
  • Campus: Oakland, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and Universities Commission; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education 
  • Tuition: $1,647 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA; either HESI A2 or TEAS exam scores; two reference letters
  • Minimum Time Commitment: About 27 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes  
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2022 ): 80.58% for MSN graduates
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $139,136 for MSN graduates, according to College Scorecard 
Average Tuition
In-state
$49,125
Out-of-state
$49,125
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
2,050
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

#5 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2023

Methodist College

  • Peoria, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Enrollees in Methodist College's master of nursing prelicensure degree dedicate the first 20 program credits to foundational coursework. These courses prepare students to sit for the NCLEX before they move on to the MSN curriculum. 

The full program comprises 70 credits, which learners can complete in five semesters on a full-time basis. The college delivers the curriculum in a blended or online format, plus clinical and lab hours on campus and at local healthcare facilities in Peoria.

  • Program(s): Master of nursing prelicensure program
  • Campus: Peoria, Illinois
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Higher Learning Commission, Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education  
  • Tuition: $677 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; two reference letters
  • Minimum Time Commitment: About 22 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $57,619 for BSN graduates, according to College Scorecard 
Average Tuition
In-state
$16,248
Out-of-state
$16,248
Retention Rate
75%
Admission Rate
88%
Students Enrolled
595
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#6 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs of 2023

California Baptist University

  • Riverside, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

California Baptist University offers a master's degree in nursing for learners who lack previous nursing educational or a professional background. The program begins by training learners for the NCLEX before building up to master's-level coursework. 

Students enroll in 106-108 units, which can last 10-11 semesters or 3.5 years. Nursing candidates also meet California's clinical hour requirements at the university's Clinical Simulation Lab and Resource Center. The school requires full-time commitment from students attending at the main Riverside campus. 

  • Program(s): Entry-level master of science in nursing
  • Campus: Riverside, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and Universities Commission; Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education  
  • Tuition: $791 cost per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Minimum Time Commitment: About 40 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate (2022): 83.78% for MSN graduates
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $111,769 for MSN graduates, according to College Scorecard 
Average Tuition
In-state
$33,930
Out-of-state
$33,930
Retention Rate
76%
Admission Rate
80%
Students Enrolled
11,317
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
83% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Applying to a Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Program

Direct-entry MSN programs are highly competitive. Schools look for applicants with strong academic records, good references, and other indicators of their preparedness for graduate work. While admission criteria vary, the most common requirements include:

Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field
  • Official transcripts
  • Community service or volunteer experience

Admission Materials

  • Completion of prerequisites
  • Resume
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • GRE or GMAT test scores (may be optional); TOEFL scores for international applicants
  • Criminal background check and drug test results

GPA Requirement

  • Minimum 3.0 GPA out of a 4.0 scale

Paying for Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing Programs

Several factors impact the cost of a direct-entry MSN. You should always take into account how many credits you will need to complete the degree, the cost of attending a private school versus a less pricey public institution, and whether you may pay the in-state tuition rate rather than the more expensive rate for out-of-state residents. Because the MEPN requires a significant time commitment and an intensive, accelerated curriculum, you may not be able to work while earning your degree.

However, the MEPN is generally less expensive than completing a BSN and MSN separately. Students should also investigate allfinancial aid optionsavailable to them, including publicly- and privately-fundedscholarships and grants, and subsidized government loans and loan forgiveness programs. You should begin yoursearch for financial aid by applying for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA establishes your eligibility for federal financial assistance. Many states and colleges rely on FAFSA as the basis for their award decisions.

What Can You Do With a Degree from a Direct-Entry Master's in Nursing?

Direct-entry MSN and MSN bridge programs offer an accelerated path to advanced nursing careers. Students complete a demanding curriculum that quickly moves from basic undergraduate courses to higher-level graduate courses geared toward certification in an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specialty.

Direct-entry MSM programs do not offer the same specializations and some limit their focus areas. For example, some programs may not offer the coursework and clinical requirements for CRNA/nurse anesthetist or nurse midwife certification.

The U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of APRNs to grow by 40% between 2021 and 2031, well above the average for all occupations, including general RNs. The median annual salary of $123,780 for APRNs is also well above the national average.

Some of the most in-demand specialty tracks for MEPN graduates include:

Nurse Practitioner

NPs may diagnose health conditions, order tests, prescribe medications, and assist in surgical procedures. NPs' practice authority and autonomy depends on their specialization area, the population they serve, and the state where they hold their license.

  • Median Salary: $123,780
  • Job Outlook: +46%

Clinical Nurse Leader

The CNL practices in both direct patient care and leadership roles with a team with other nurses, doctors, and healthcare professionals. These nurse specialists evaluate patient outcomes, assess risks, and have decision-making authority to alter care plans and implement changes based on best practices.

Public Health Nurse

Public health nurses serve in many practice and administrative roles. They promote and protect the health of populations, preventing disease, disability, and injuries. They typically work for government agencies, neighborhood health centers, and nonprofit organizations to improve and maintain health outcomes for individuals, families, and communities.


Frequently Asked Questions About Direct-Entry Master's Programs

Should I choose a direct-entry MSN or an accelerated BSN?

Choosing between an ABSN vs. MEPN degree depends on your career goals. While both degrees prepare you for nursing careers, the ABSN takes less time to finish than a traditional bachelor's in nursing.

A direct-entry MSN combines undergraduate and graduate-level coursework culminating in a master's degree. Both degrees prepare you for the NCLEX-RN exam, but only the MEPN qualifies you for certification in advanced practice nursing roles.

Are MEPN programs hard to get into?

Direct-entry MSN programs are highly competitive and selective. Admission favors applicants with strong GPAs, especially in prerequisite courses, and other indicators of preparedness for graduate-level work. You may also have to document community, volunteer, or healthcare-related experience to demonstrate your interest and commitment to a nursing career.

Is a direct-entry MSN worth it?

If you want to transition into a nursing career but do not have a BSN, a direct-entry MSN allows you to finish a master’s in less time and money than a second bachelor’s degree or separate BSN and MSN degrees. The MEPN qualifies you for RN licensure and APRN certification, preparing you for employment in higher-paying advanced nursing positions.

How long do direct-entry MSNs take?

Students can typically complete a direct-entry MSN in 15-36 months. Most programs require full-time attendance but may offer accelerated formats or waive certain requirements based on prior coursework or transfer credits.


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Page Last Reviewed: October 10, 2022. Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.

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