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The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs

Janice Monti, Ph.D.NurseJournal Rankings Team
Updated November 30, 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?

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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.

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Learn 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

Vanderbilt University

  • Location-markerNashville, TN
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$52,781
  • Out-of-state$52,781
  • Retention Rate96%
  • Acceptance Rate12%
  • Students Enrolled13,537
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment83%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs

Fairfield University

  • Location-markerFairfield, CT
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$50,550
  • Out-of-state$50,550
  • Retention Rate92%
  • Acceptance Rate56%
  • Students Enrolled5,513
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment36%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs

University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Location-markerBirmingham, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,568
  • Out-of-state$20,400
  • Retention Rate86%
  • Acceptance Rate81%
  • Students Enrolled22,563
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment65%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs

Samuel Merritt University

  • Location-markerOakland, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$49,125
  • Out-of-state$49,125
  • Retention Rate0%
  • Acceptance Rate0%
  • Students Enrolled2,050
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment15%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs

Methodist College

  • Location-markerPeoria, IL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$16,248
  • Out-of-state$16,248
  • Retention Rate75%
  • Acceptance Rate88%
  • Students Enrolled595
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment64%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 The Top Direct-Entry Master’s in Nursing Programs

California Baptist University

  • Location-markerRiverside, CA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$33,930
  • Out-of-state$33,930
  • Retention Rate76%
  • Acceptance Rate80%
  • Students Enrolled11,317
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment83%
  • AccreditationYes

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.


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 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.

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.

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.

Related Pages

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.