The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Gayle Morris, MSNNurseJournal Rankings Team
Updated November 30, 2023
Reviewed by
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MSN nursing leadership programs help advance careers and improve employment opportunities. Consider these factors when choosing your program.
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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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Nursing roles and responsibilities are expanding as the healthcare system changes. You can grow your leadership and management skills when you enroll in an online nursing leadership master of science in nursing (MSN) program.

Your career in bedside nursing can give you the foundation needed to lead nurses. It can also help you develop innovative strategies that support the profession. Online MSN leadership programs can offer you the opportunity to cost effectively complete advanced education while working.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online MSN in nursing leadership 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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Why Is Accreditation Important for an Online MSN in Nursing Leadership?

Two accreditation organizations help ensure that nursing programs meet state and national standards. These are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Nursing accreditation plays an important role in nursing education. There are many advantages to attending an accredited program, including:

  • Accreditation is necessary for a nursing license or certification.
  • Better employment opportunities as many healthcare institutions require a degree from an accredited program.
  • Most doctoral programs or other master’s programs do not accept applicants from an unaccredited program.
  • Accreditation validates the quality of education and that it meets state and national standards.
  • Federal financial aid is not offered to students in an unaccredited program.
  • Private foundations and companies that offer scholarships and grants may also require accreditation.
  • Students in an unaccredited program cannot transfer credits to an accredited program.
  • Nurse educator positions also require a degree from an accredited program.

Learn More About the Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs and Schools

See our methodology to learn more about how we create our rankings.
#1 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Mississippi College

  • Location-markerClinton, MS
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$18,200
  • Out-of-state$18,200
  • Retention Rate80%
  • Acceptance Rate29%
  • Students Enrolled4,667
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment42%
  • AccreditationYes
#2 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

University of Iowa

  • Location-markerIowa City, IA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,073
  • Out-of-state$30,036
  • Retention Rate88%
  • Acceptance Rate84%
  • Students Enrolled30,318
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment52%
  • AccreditationYes
#3 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Montana State University

  • Location-markerBozeman, MT
  • 4 year
  • Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$5,654
  • Out-of-state$25,087
  • Retention Rate78%
  • Acceptance Rate81%
  • Students Enrolled16,218
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment94%
  • AccreditationYes
#4 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Lander University

  • Location-markerGreenwood, SC
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$10,700
  • Out-of-state$20,300
  • Retention Rate75%
  • Acceptance Rate57%
  • Students Enrolled3,513
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment81%
  • AccreditationYes
#5 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Central Methodist University-College of Graduate and Extended Studies

  • Location-markerFayette, MO
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$5,950
  • Out-of-state$5,950
  • Retention Rate67%
  • Acceptance Rate100%
  • Students Enrolled3,429
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment59%
  • AccreditationYes
#6 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Spring Hill College

  • Location-markerMobile, AL
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$39,336
  • Out-of-state$39,336
  • Retention Rate81%
  • Acceptance Rate54%
  • Students Enrolled1,191
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment77%
  • AccreditationYes
#7 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Morningside College

  • Location-markerSioux City, IA
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$32,460
  • Out-of-state$32,460
  • Retention Rate69%
  • Acceptance Rate69%
  • Students Enrolled2,411
  • Institution TypePrivate
  • Percent Online Enrollment51%
  • AccreditationYes
#8 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

University of Southern Maine

  • Location-markerPortland, ME
  • 4 year
  • Campus + Online
Average Tuition
  • In-State$8,064
  • Out-of-state$21,532
  • Retention Rate70%
  • Acceptance Rate88%
  • Students Enrolled8,022
  • Institution TypePublic
  • Percent Online Enrollment88%
  • AccreditationYes

Using Our Rankings: What to Look For in an Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Program

The following key metrics contributed to the overall ranking of the best online nursing leadership master’s programs. Pay attention to these data points as you consider the MSN degree programs that could best meet your needs.

While each of our programs rank highly, take care to figure out which will be the best online MSN in nursing leadership program for you.

Admission Requirements

While many programs maintain similar admission requirements, some may request certain materials or expect students to complete prerequisites. Be sure you are qualified to attend a program before you apply.

Clinical Experience

Candidates must complete clinical experience to earn an MSN in nursing leadership. While many schools let distance learners fulfill their clinical requirements at a facility near the candidate’s home, others might expect online students to travel to a certain location.


Accreditation is a voluntary, peer-reviewed process by an established agency. It validates the program meets established quality standards. Each of the programs in our ranking is accredited.

Program Graduation Rate

This gives a student insight into how many students finish their degree in a given time. It is often expressed as a percentage. The program graduation rate is one measure of a program’s quality of education.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

Online programs do not use a consistent user interface or have consistent technological requirements. Students must evaluate the online learning format in light of their learning style and ensure they can meet the technological requirements.

How Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs Work

MSN leadership programs offer candidates a pathway to becoming effective nursing leaders. While most coursework is completed online, programs must also offer online nursing students as much hands-on clinical experience as possible to achieve their goals. Clinical experiences may also include real-time simulation and virtual reality training in nursing education.

Program length depends on whether the candidate is full time or part time. Many students can finish an online nursing leadership master’s program in 2-3 years. Some programs offer students the opportunity to complete the program in less than one year.

Coursework includes business case analysis, nursing leadership and management, strategic planning, and managing resources. At the completion of the MSN leadership program, candidates may earn a nurse executive board certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Applying to an an Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Program

Master’s in nursing leadership programs have admission requirements that candidates must meet to be accepted. Prospective students should compile the necessary admission material and request the necessary references. Typical MSN leadership programs requirements include:

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    Admission Requirements

    Before admission to a nursing leadership master’s program, a candidate must have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited program, an unencumbered registered nurse (RN) license, and completed an undergraduate statistics course.
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    Admission Materials

    Candidates must submit a copy of their nursing license, completed application, criminal background check and drug screening, official school transcripts, and letters of reference. Most administrative programs do not require RN work experience.
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    GPA Requirement

    Candidates are required to have a minimum GPA ranging from 2.5-3.2 depending on the MSN program.

Paying for an Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

The cost of a master’s in nursing leadership program varies depending on the program’s length, if the school is public or private, and if the candidate is an in-state or out-of-state student. While these programs can be costly, part-time, working students may be able to pay out of pocket. Consider the following financial aid options for nurses:

  • Student Loans: Students may take out a federal government or private loan to help finance an MSN nursing leadership program. These must be paid back. Some loans can be deferred while the student is in school.
  • Scholarships:Nursing scholarships are not repaid and are awarded based on meeting specific requirements. This often includes a minimum GPA. Some scholarships are designed for nursing students from specific populations.
  • Grants: Grants are usually awarded on a need basis. They do not require repayment. Some grants for nurses also have other requirements, such as location, GPA, or membership in an organization.
  • Tuition Reimbursement: Some employers offer tuition reimbursement benefits for nurses. However, candidates must often sign a work commitment. The length of the commitment may depend on how much assistance you accept.
  • Loan Forgiveness: Student loan forgiveness programs often come with requirements the candidate must meet. This can include a work commitment of at least two years and sometimes more. There are several loan forgiveness options for nurses.

What Can You Do With an Online MSN in Nursing Leadership?

Candidates graduating from an online MSN leadership program are qualified to work in healthcare institutions, home healthcare, and education. This includes roles as unit director, chief nursing officer, clinical nurse leader, patient care director, or dean of nursing.

Candidates must have an unencumbered RN license and employers may require relevant certification, such as a certified hospice and palliative care administrator or certified professional in health risk management.

Clinical Nurse Leader

These professionals oversee nursing teams and are responsible for coordinating care within a healthcare system. This can include clinics, urgent care settings, or independent practice.

Payscale, November 2022

Learn More About CNLs

Nurse Administrator

Nurse administrators are highly trained professionals who oversee nursing staff in healthcare institutions or within a physician- or nurse practitioner-led practice. It can take up to eight years to achieve this goal.

Payscale, November 2022

Learn More About Nurse Administrators

Nurse Educator

Nursing educators are vital to overcoming the nursing shortage. They may work in healthcare institutions and nursing programs; they may lead health seminars and coach wellness programs in business settings.

Payscale, November 2022

Learn More About Nurse Educators

An MSN degree is highly flexible and offers nurses unique opportunities within healthcare. You may want to consider other highly paid MSN career choices.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online MSN in Nursing Leadership

How long does it take to get an MSN in nursing leadership?

Depending on the path the candidate chooses, it can take 6-8 years. A BSN program takes four years to complete. MSN nursing leadership programs do not require clinical experience. Nurses can complete a BSN and enroll immediately in an MSN leadership program, completing it in 2-4 years part time or full time.

What are the best careers for nurses with an MSN in nursing leadership?

The best career is one that satisfies and fulfills the candidate. A degree in nursing leadership offers ample opportunities. Candidates can choose to work in healthcare institutions, business settings, or home healthcare.

What courses can you expect to take while earning an MSN in nursing leadership?

Candidates can expect to take classes in organizational and system leadership, policy and advocacy, healthcare and technology, business case analysis, and strategic planning.

How can I know if an MSN in nursing leadership is right for me?

Candidates should do an honest appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the type of work they enjoy. Nursing leaders are decision-makers, teachers, administrators, and strong communicators. Candidates who rather work with patients will be frustrated working in a nursing leadership role.

Page Last Reviewed: November 7, 2022. Note: The ranking list and school descriptions on this page were created and reviewed independently by our Rankings Team.

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