The Best Online Master’s in Nursing Programs 2021

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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Online master of science in nursing (MSN) programs are a great option for working nurses looking for ways to advance in their nursing careers. Learn which online nursing master’s programs best meet your needs, how to apply, and how to succeed in an online MSN program.

Online Master’s in Nursing (MSN) Program Overview



We use our data-driven methodology to rank the top direct-entry master’s in nursing 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, program offerings, and online flexibility.

Read About Our Ranking Methodology

Top MSN Online Programs 2021

Rank School Location
1 Texas A & M University College Station, TX
2 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
3 University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
4 Ohio State University Columbus, OH
5 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
6 Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY
7 The University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, AL
8 Georgetown University Washington, DC
9 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
10 Georgia College and State University Milledgeville, GA

Keep reading to find out more about job opportunities and information on how to apply to an online MSN program, or click here to learn more about the best online master’s in nursing programs on our list.

Advertisement NurseJournal.org 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

What Can You Do With an MSN?

Many nurses enter MSN programs to become advanced practice nurses, but others enroll in on-campus or online nursing master’s programs to take on other leadership roles in nursing. Many of the highest paying and most in-demand nursing positions require at least an MSN.

msn or dnp Required

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators train new nurses, develop training curricula, and help nurses develop continuing education plans.
Salary $74,470*
Job Outlook 9% growth from 2019-29
Learn More About Nurse Educators

msn Required

Clinical Research Nurse

Clinical research nurses care for patients participating in research or clinical trials, advise research designers on patient needs, and monitor patients’ health to measure the quality of treatment.
Salary $71,709*
Job Outlook 10% increase over the next 10 years

msn Required
High Demand

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse

Types of APRNs include nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists. These roles can further be specialized by population, such as obstetrics or adult-gerontology.
Salary $115,800*
Job Outlook 45% growth from 2019-2029
Learn More About Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

What to Look For in an Online MSN Program

Picking the right master’s in nursing online program requires gathering information on different factors about the program and understanding their relative importance to you. For example, your schedule and existing commitments will shape what kind of clinical experience will work best for you.

Admission Requirements
Admission requirements not only tell you about your likelihood of being accepted to a program but about the school’s academic expectations.
Program Curriculum
Check to see if the courses in the online MSN cover the topics that most interest you and will prepare you for your preferred specialty. Also review who teaches them and how valuable their background would be for you.
Clinical Experience
Consider how the clinical experience logistics will work for you. Will you be able to find local placement, for example? Does the timing work for your other responsibilities?
Accreditation
Accreditation is perhaps the most important criterion, since most employers will not hire staff from programs that aren’t accredited. Accreditation confirms that a program meets educational quality guidelines.
School Graduation Rate
The school graduation rate indicates how challenging its program is and reflects student satisfaction with the program. A low graduation rate can be a warning sign.
Online Learning Format and Requirements
Be sure that the MSN online format and requirements match your needs. For example, if you are working while studying, can you be sure of attending any synchronous (real time) sessions?

Applying to an Online MSN Program

To apply to an online nursing master’s program, you will need copies of your transcripts, the names and contact information of former supervisors or professors who have agreed to serve as references, and usually an essay or personal statement about why you are pursuing an MSN.

Admission Requirements
Most programs require an unencumbered registered nurse (RN) license, an undergraduate degree from an accredited program, at least one year of clinical nursing experience, references, and the ability to pass a background/criminal record check.
Program Length
If you have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), you can usually complete an MSN in two years. If you have an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in another discipline, expect to take 3-4 years on average.
Clinical Requirements
Online MSN program clinical hour requirements vary, with nurse practitioner programs typically requiring more than 600 hours. Other programs usually require approximately 400 clinical hours.
GPA Requirement
The minimum required GPA for MSN programs is generally 3.0, though some programs require a 3.25

Why Is Online MSN Program Accreditation Important?

Accreditation is a critical factor in assessing the quality of a nursing program for the following reasons:

  • Accreditation ensures that the school’s program meets quality standards that prepare you for nursing practice.
  • Many employers, especially the highest paying or most prestigious ones, will only consider students from accredited MSN programs.
  • Online MSN programs that are accredited are more credible in the eyes of potential employers.
  • Unaccredited programs are rarely valid for transferring credit or proceeding to the next level of education.
  • Unaccredited schools may not be eligible for government financial aid.

Who Accredits Online MSN Programs?

Programs and institutions are accredited by different accreditation bodies. The following are key accrediting bodies for nursing programs and institutions:

How Do I Know an Online MSN Program Is Accredited?

To tell if an online nursing master’s program is accredited, you can check its website. Usually a program’s home page either says which body has accredited it or has a link to its accreditation information. You can also check the sites above to confirm that the program is accredited. Note that all schools listed on this page or on NurseJournal.org are accredited.

Paying for Online MSN Programs

In choosing from the online MSN programs that appeal to you, consider costs and financial factors beyond tuition. For example, can you work while in school? How long does the program last? If in-state tuition is significantly cheaper, is moving feasible for you? What will travel expenses for any on-campus requirements be?

Students in MSN programs have a variety of financial aid options:

  • Scholarships
  • Foundation and corporate grants
  • Government grants
  • Student loans
  • Employer subsidies

Learn More About the Top Online MSN Programs and Schools

  1. Texas A & M University
    Location

    College Station, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    This MSN in nursing education allows students to complete their master's degree in nursing online. The 36-credit curriculum explores teaching and learning theory in nursing education. The program is designed to let aspiring nurses remain employed while they study.

    Distance learners must attend a one-day introductory conference at the beginning of the program. In the advanced health assessment course, students spend 45 hours practicing their clinical skills on campus. The curriculum also requires one clinical and one teaching practicum.

    Graduates are qualified to take the certified nurse educator (CNE) exam from the National League of Nursing.

    • Program(s): MSN - nursing education
    • Campus: College Station, Texas
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $6,351 per year for Texas residents; $12,487 per year for non-residents
    • Admission Requirements: BSN in nursing; RN license; minimum 3.0 GPA in last 60 undergraduate credits; undergraduate statistics class with at least a "C"
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 28 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 99.28%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  2. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UCF Online offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including an online nursing master's program. The program features three emphasis areas:

    • Nursing leadership and management
    • Nurse educator
    • Nursing and healthcare simulation

    The curriculum includes 31-36 credits, depending on the specialization. Candidates who select the nursing leadership concentration learn to make critically informed decisions within healthcare administration roles. The nurse educator focus prepares students for teaching positions, and the nursing and healthcare simulation emphasis teaches nurses to use simulation programs.

    RNs with an associate degree may apply to this program, but they must add prerequisite courses to the MSN curriculum. Individuals with a non-nursing bachelor's degree may also apply.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Orlando, Florida
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $327/credit for Florida residents; $1,152/credit for non-residents
    • Admission Requirements: Either an ADN or BSN; RN licensure; GRE or GMAT scores
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.64%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  3. University of Virginia
    Location

    Charlottesville, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students who enroll in UVA's online MSN program can choose between several emphasis areas. The university offers both generalist and specialist concentrations in:

    • Adult-gerontology acute care (CNS or NP)
    • Clinical nurse leader (direct entry or for RNs)
    • Family NP
    • Neonatal NP
    • Pediatric NP (acute or primary care)
    • Psychiatric-mental health NP

    Specifications vary between emphasis areas. Most concentrations allow full-time students to graduate in two years and part-time learners in three years. However, the clinical nurse leader concentration features an accelerated option. Most focus areas require at least 500 clinical hours, and all prepare graduates to seek certification within their specialization. UVA incorporates mentorship opportunities into the online MSN program.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Charlottesville, Virginia
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $21,652 per year for Virginia residents; $34,054 per year for nonresidents
    • Admission Requirements: Varies for each specialization; generally speaking, a BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA, RN licensure, and sometimes one year of RN experience
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies, depending on specialization
    • On-Campus Requirements: Depends on concentration
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  4. Ohio State University
    Location

    Columbus, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Ohio State's MSN program prepares students to become advanced nurse practitioners in certain fields. The distance learning format includes synchronous courses in which students interact with their classmates and instructors at set times. Some courses also include asynchronous components.

    The program offers four tracks:

    • Family nurse practitioner
    • Neonatal nurse practitioner
    • Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner
    • Clinical nurse leader

    The curriculum may include some on-campus components, depending on the track. For instance, FNP students spend two days on campus for a clinical skills evaluation during one of their courses. While this program prepares students to seek Ohio licensure, candidates in other states may enroll as long as they fulfill their own state's licensure requirements.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Columbus, Ohio
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $46,568 in total for in-state students; $47,568 in total for out-of-state students
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA; RN licensure
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 32 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Depends on the emphasis area
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  5. Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    JHU offers multiple online nursing master's programs for graduate students with different academic backgrounds and career goals. Individuals with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing discipline can enroll in the full-time MSN entry to nursing program, which allows students to accelerate their pathway to nursing practice.

    RNs who possess an undergraduate nursing degree may pursue the MSN in healthcare organizational leadership or pursue a dual leadership MSN/MBA degree.

    While program details vary, all students can expect to complete didactic, clinical, and lab courses. Most supervised clinical placements occur at hospitals in or around Baltimore.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Baltimore, Maryland
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $48,872/year for full-time students
    • Admission Requirements: Bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. More specific requirements vary by program
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies, depending on program; at least four semesters
    • On-Campus Requirements: Depends on program
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.49%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  6. Stony Brook University
    Location

    Stony Brook, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students at Stony Brook can choose between multiple MSN specialities, all of which follow a distance learning format. These include:

    • Adult-gerontology primary care NP
    • Family NP
    • Women's health NP
    • Neonatal NP
    • Pediatric primary care NP
    • Psychiatric mental health NP
    • Nurse midwifery
    • Nursing education
    • Nursing leadership

    All emphasis areas include some on-campus requirements.

    The curriculum features courses on research skills, pharmacology, health assessment, and pathophysiology. Degree-seekers also take clinical and advanced theory classes to hone their specialized skills.

    In addition, Stony Brook offers all of the above concentrations as advanced certificates for individuals who want to supplement their degree.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Stony Brook, New York
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $471 per credit for New York residents; $963 per credit for non-residents
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.0 GPA (applicants without BSNs may submit a clinical practice portfolio instead); current RN license; one year of nursing experience
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies by concentration
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  7. The University of Alabama
    Location

    Tuscaloosa, AL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Alabama's RN-to-BSN/MSN program lets nurses with an associate degree earn a master's degree at an accelerated pace. This particular program features a nurse administrator concentration. Students on this track take courses like nursing informatics, organization systems and leadership, and health policy and finance.

    Degree-seekers complete 540 clinical hours spanning three practicum experiences. Distance learners must secure their field placements within their own communities. They may also choose to pursue an optional thesis and carry out their own research. The full curriculum consists of 50-56 credits, depending on the chosen thesis option.

    • Program(s): RN-to-BSN/MSN
    • Campus: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $420/credit
    • Admission Requirements: RN licensure; ADN or nursing diploma; minimum 3.0 GPA
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 28 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 98.06%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  8. Georgetown University
    Location

    Washington, DC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Distance learners at Georgetown can earn a master's of nursing online that includes 2-3 campus intensive experiences, depending on their specialization. Learners can select a concentration in:

    • Adult gerontology acute care NP
    • Family NP
    • Nurse-midwifery/women's health nurse practitioner
    • Women's health nurse practitioner

    Students complete 40-49 credits of coursework and 600-1,000 clinical hours. As a dual specialization, the nurse-midwifery/women's health concentration demands the greatest time commitment from degree-seekers. Students enroll on a part-time basis for all programs, which last 23-27 months. All emphasis areas include synchronous streaming lectures. Graduates qualify to sit for their respective certification exams.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Washington, D.C.
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $2,214 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.0 GPA in last 60 credits; RN licensure; undergraduate statistics course with at least a "C" grade; one year of experience for acute care NP students
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 23 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  9. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    App State's 39-credit MSN includes a concentration in nursing education. The program is offered on a part-time basis through distance learning, so candidates can continue working while they study. Learners take 6-7 credits each semester.

    In addition to core courses, the curriculum includes electives, such as educational theories for nursing academic and practice settings, instructional strategies for nursing and informatics, and educational tests and measurement in nursing. Degree-seekers also take advanced clinical and nursing education practicum courses. They can either choose a thesis or research project. All students must orally defend their culminating experience to fulfill the comprehensive exam requirement.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Boone, North Carolina
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $266 per credit for North Carolina residents; $925 per credit for non-residents
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.5 GPA, or minimum 3.0 GPA with GRE or MAT scores; undergraduate statistics and research course; RN licensure
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid
  10. Georgia College and State University
    Location

    Milledgeville, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Distance learners who pursue an MSN at Georgia College can choose between five specialty areas:

    • Family NP
    • Nurse educator
    • Nurse midwifery
    • Psychiatric mental health NP
    • Women's health NP

    The requirements for each pathway differs, with students completing 39-45 credits of coursework. Some candidates attend a 45-hour lab week at the college's Milledgeville campus. All degree-seekers must complete their clinical hours at preceptor sites in Georgia.

    Students can also take advantage of the professional enrichment MSN opportunity. This program allows RNs with a bachelor's degree to take up to nine credits of graduate coursework without pursuing a degree.

    • Program(s): Master of science in nursing
    • Campus: Milledgeville, Georgia
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $543 per credit
    • Admission Requirements: BSN; RN licensure
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies by program
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 99.6%
    • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Online MSN Program FAQs


Are online MSN programs respected?

Online MSN programs are accredited by the same agencies and held to the same standards as on-campus programs. Many employers will conside online degrees that are accredited and require in-person clinicals.

Can I get my MSN online?

Many excellent schools have online MSN programs. Some are entirely online, while others require some time on campus. Online master’s in nursing programs have the same clinical requirements as on-campus programs, but most schools can help you find a clinical placement in your community.

Can you get an MSN without being an RN?

Some online MSN programs have what are called direct-entry programs in which students can enroll without a BSN or RN qualification. However, these programs generally require or strongly prefer coursework related to nursing or work experience in a healthcare setting.

What can I do with an MSN?

An MSN can lead to certification as an advanced practice nurse, a role in nursing administration or nurse education, or a supervisory or more advanced clinical role. It is also a stepping stone to the doctor of nursing practice degree, the terminal degree for nursing practice.

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