The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

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Updated December 14, 2022

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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Credit: FatCamera / E+ / Getty Images

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.


At a Glance: The Top 10 Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

  • 1. Stony Brook University
  • 2. George Washington University
  • 3. Texas A & M International University
  • 4. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • 5. Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences
  • 6. Allen College
  • 7. Western Governors University
  • 8. Liberty University
  • 9. Bethel University
  • 10. Purdue University Global-Indianapolis


Keep reading to learn more about the key factors to consider when choosing a program or go straight to our ranking of the best online MSN in nursing leadership programs.

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.

Featured Online MSN Programs

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

Stony Brook University

  • Stony Brook, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Stony Brook features a master's in nursing leadership degree, one of the top CCNE-accredited programs, students can complete mostly online in two years. 

Nursing students complete 36 credits to learn business skills for nurse leaders, healthcare policy and advocacy, and nursing research for an evidence-based practice. 

Stony Brook admits nursing students with a non-nursing bachelor's degree, granted they submit a clinical practice portfolio.

Average Tuition
In-state
$7,070
Out-of-state
$24,740
Retention Rate
89%
Admission Rate
44%
Students Enrolled
26,814
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#2 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

George Washington University

  • Washington, DC
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

George Washington University offers a flexible master's in nursing leadership degree that lets students study part time or full time. 

At GW, nursing students complete 36 credits over two years. Courses operate mostly online with one on-campus experience. 

Lessons focus on business acumen with courses in health economics and finance, healthcare enterprise, nursing leadership, and health policy and political processes. In the final two semesters, students complete clinical work experience. 

New students begin every fall.

Average Tuition
In-state
$54,453
Out-of-state
$54,453
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
41%
Students Enrolled
27,814
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
22% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#3 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Texas A & M International University

  • Laredo, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Texas A&M International University's fast and flexible online master's in nursing leadership only takes 10 months to complete. 

The 31-credit degree, which includes a 180-hour practicum, covers healthcare policy and social justice, research methods and statistical analysis, organizational behavior, leadership, and healthcare informatics.

TAMIU's MSN leadership degree offers six start dates, including summer options.

Average Tuition
In-state
$3,818
Out-of-state
$13,946
Retention Rate
79%
Admission Rate
54%
Students Enrolled
8,305
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#4 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

  • Edinburg, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley offers a master's in nursing leadership degree that merges health and social sciences disciplines. 

Online learners complete 36 credits in 16-week semesters. In the fall semester, online learners complete two 45-hour clinical experiences. The degree includes courses on evidence-based practice, advanced nursing informatics, and healthcare finance.

MSN leadership graduates use their leadership and ethical-decision making skills to work in human resources, education, and in management. Nursing students begin every fall.

Average Tuition
In-state
$6,664
Out-of-state
$16,792
Retention Rate
76%
Admission Rate
80%
Students Enrolled
29,113
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
51% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#5 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences

  • Lancaster, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences features a master's in nursing leadership that incorporates interdisciplinary studies and optional minors. 

Nursing students complete three courses at PA College's School of Nursing and three courses at any other school. Students can choose from five minors, including organizational dynamics in healthcare, global health, quality improvement and safety processes in healthcare, nursing and healthcare administration, and nursing education. They can also choose a certificate in healthcare innovation.

The MSN leadership degree operates mostly online with two in-person sessions.

Average Tuition
In-state
$28,540
Out-of-state
$28,540
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
78%
Students Enrolled
1,811
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
63% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#6 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Allen College

  • Waterloo, IA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Allen College's online master's in nursing leadership degree incorporates an optional business administration certificate from the University of Northern Iowa. 

Nursing students begin the 38-credit master's in nursing leadership program every spring and fall. Learners study core courses, such as population health, evidence-based practice, and healthcare informatics, as well as leadership in healthcare delivery administration.

Clinical practicums take place at acute care, long-term care, and community healthcare settings. 

Allen College offers MSN students a 25% tuition discount.

Average Tuition
In-state
$17,612
Out-of-state
$17,612
Retention Rate
Not provided
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
656
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
82% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#7 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Western Governors University

  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • 4 years
  • Online

Western Governors University features a master's in nursing leadership degree with concentrations in leadership and management. 

Terms last for six months. At the end of each term, students complete a research paper, project, or presentation to assess their understanding. Core courses teach students about value-based nursing practices, evidence-based practices, pathopharmacological, informatics, and advanced health assessments. 

The 36-credit degree curriculum prepares nursing students to earn a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality credential.

Average Tuition
In-state
$6,380
Out-of-state
$6,380
Retention Rate
73%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
136,139
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

#8 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Liberty University

  • Lynchburg, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Liberty University features a master's in nursing leadership degree that equips students to graduate in less than two years.

Full-time nursing students can complete the 36-credit MSN leadership degree in about 18 months. Each class takes eight weeks. The curriculum focuses on health policy and ethics, nursing theory and advanced practice, financial and resource management, and informatics and technology.

Liberty offers a generous transfer policy that lets students use up to 50% of their prior college credits.

Average Tuition
In-state
$15,417
Out-of-state
$15,417
Retention Rate
81%
Admission Rate
51%
Students Enrolled
85,586
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
92% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

#9 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Bethel University

  • Saint Paul, MN
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Bethel University offers a master's in nursing leadership with specialization tracks that prepare graduates to become educators and administrators in nursing. 

The education track teaches students about curriculum development, health assessments, and pathophysiology — topics that prepare students to take the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam. 

The nurse administrator track covers health policy, leadership, accounting, and human resource management. Both tracks include practicums in a student's chosen field. Students complete 33-34 credits.

According to data released by Bethel, 100% of MSN graduates secure jobs in education or administration within 12 months.

Average Tuition
In-state
$38,300
Out-of-state
$38,300
Retention Rate
83%
Admission Rate
79%
Students Enrolled
4,005
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
39% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

#10 The Best Online MSN in Nursing Leadership Programs

Purdue University Global-Indianapolis

  • West Lafayette, IN
  • 4 years
  • Online

Purdue University Global-Indianapolis features a master's in nursing leadership degree with executive leader and nurse educator concentrations. 

Online learners can complete the 60-90 required credits by studying 15 hours a week. They graduate in about two years, or 10 terms. 

Curriculum in healthcare policy, epidemiology and health promotion, and advanced evidence-based practice prepares graduates to take Certified Nurse Educators, Nurse Executive, or Executive Nursing Practice credential exams. 

Purdue Global features two learning methods: the ExcelTrack with deadline-driven work for independent learners or the standard online format with a preset degree plan.

Average Tuition
In-state
$7,920
Out-of-state
$13,356
Retention Rate
100%
Admission Rate
Not provided
Students Enrolled
38,138
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Accreditation

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.

4. 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.

5. 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:

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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. According to Payscale, the average base salary is $84,340 as of November 2022.
  • 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. The average annual base salary in November 2022 for a nurse administrator according to Payscale is $89,530.
  • 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. According to Payscale in November 2022, the average annual base salary is $78,910.

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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