The Best RN-to-MSN Online Programs in 2021

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.

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.

This guide prepares you to pick the best registered nurse-to-master of science in nursing (RN-to-MSN) online program for your needs and walks you through the factors to consider, including the importance of accreditation, what to look for in a program, how to apply, and financial aid options.

RN-to-MSN Online Program Overview

We use our data-driven methodology to rank the best RN-to-MSN online 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 10 RN-to-MSN Online Programs in 2021

Rank School Location
1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL
2 Gonzaga University Spokane, WA
3 Ohio University Athens, OH
4 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
5 The University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
6 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
7 Florida Atlantic University Boca Raton, FL
8 DePaul University Chicago, IL
9 Appalachian State University Boone, NC
10 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD

Keep reading to find out more about job opportunities and information on how to apply to an online RN-to-MSN program, or click here to learn more about the best online RN-to-MSN 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?

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), such as nurse practitioners, are among the highest paying nurse jobs that require an MSN. However, MSN programs provide valuable credentials for other high-level nursing jobs.

msn or dnp Required

Nurse Educator

Nurse educators advise on professional development and continuing education, train entry-level nurses and onboard new nurses, and develop curricula for staff nurses.
Salary $74,470*
Job Outlook 9% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Nurse Educators

msn, dnp, or ph.d. Required

Clinical Research Nurse

Clinical research nurses conduct testing and monitor patient outcomes during clinical trials, communicate with patients on what to expect in the research trial, and act as informed patient advocates when necessary.
Salary $81,500*
Job Outlook 6% increase from 2019-2029 (for medical scientists)
Learn More About Clinical Research Nurses

msn Required
High Demand

Advanced Practice Nurse

APRNs practice with minimal oversight as a nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or nurse anesthetist. Please note that soon a doctorate will be required for nurse anesthetists.
Salary $115,800*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Advanced Practice Nurses

*SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What to Look For in an Online RN-to-MSN Program

With RN-to-MSN online programs, location is now only a minor factor in picking the right program. You will want to consider accreditation, the program’s curriculum, the graduation rate, and whether that school’s online delivery works for your learning needs.

Admission Requirements
Admission requirements not only indicate how likely you are to be admitted, but how competitive the program is, the school’s academic expectations for its RN-to-MSN online program, and the likely background of your peers.
Program Curriculum
The program curriculum should fit your career goals, whether it is a specialty that leads to a specific certification, a nurse leadership position, or another objective. The descriptions and options can also reflect the RN-to-MSN program’s expectations.
Clinical Experience
Especially if you live far away from the school’s campus or in an area with few healthcare providers, you may want to contact the school to see if it has placed students in communities convenient to you. All students will want to consider how the hours are distributed and how that might affect other responsibilities.
Accreditation
Accreditation attests that a school meets objective standards for graduating students who are competent in their field and ready to practice. Many employers and doctoral programs will not consider hiring graduates from schools that are not accredited.
School Graduation Rate
The graduation rate is an indicator of teaching effectiveness and student satisfaction. While some students will leave a program for entirely personal reasons, a significantly higher dropout rate than comparable schools can be a warning sign about the program.
Online Learning Format and Requirements
Consider how the online format and requirements fit your needs and other responsibilities. Does the amount of structure work for your learning style and any current job or personal responsibilities? Would attending synchronous (real time) classes present challenges?

Applying to an Online RN-to-MSN Program

To apply to an RN-to-MSN online program, you will need your transcripts (most schools accept unofficial copies for applications), contact information for at least two references, and a personal statement or essay on why you want to earn the degree.

  • Admission Requirements: Most RN-to-MSN online programs require an application that includes at least one essay question on your goals, at least two references from a supervisor or teacher, an active and unencumbered RN license, and 1-3 years of clinical experience as an RN.
  • Program Length: Depending on the specialty, most RN-to-MSN programs take 30-36 months. If you have college credits from another accredited bachelor’s or master’s program that can transfer, you may be able to finish sooner.
  • Clinical Requirements: The number of required clinical hours will vary based on the program. Most schools can help but do not guarantee placement in your community. If you live quite some distance from the school’s campus or in an area without many healthcare facilities, you may want to see if the school has placed students in your region before applying.
  • GPA Requirement: Most RN-to-MSN online programs require at least a 3.0 GPA and some require or strongly prefer a 3.25 or higher GPA. However, strong work experience or references may make up for a borderline GPA. You can also explain extenuating circumstances in your application.

Why Is RN-to-MSN Online Program Accreditation Important?

Not only can accreditation factor in future job employment, but it also allows for more financial aid opportunities. See below for additional benefits of accreditation.

  • Accreditation indicates that the school’s RN-to-MSN program meets objective standards set by experts in the profession to ensure that graduates will be prepared to practice as nurses.
  • Some unaccredited schools offer very inexpensive programs. However, since employers rarely hire graduates from unaccredited programs and accredited schools rarely accept transfer credits from unaccredited schools, it is not a bargain.
  • Federal grants and some other financial aid programs require that students attend an accredited program.
  • Accredited schools have stronger and better-placed alumni networks, making them more valuable when job hunting or looking for a mentor.

Who Accredits RN-to-MSN Online Programs?

How Do I Know an RN-to-MSN Online Program Is Accredited?

Because accreditation is important, schools and programs will proudly state their accreditation status, usually on the school or program’s home page or a prominent navigation link. Accreditation applies to both online and on-campus programs. If you cannot find accreditation information, that might be a warning sign. Check the accrediting agencies’ websites listed above to search their list of accredited programs. Please note that all programs listed here or elsewhere on NurseJournal.org are accredited.

Paying for RN-to-MSN Online Programs

How much an RN-to-MSN program will cost depends on many factors. Some online programs offer different rates for students living in their state, while others charge the same to all students. In planning your budget, consider whether you can work while attending school, any travel costs for on-campus requirements or clinical placements, and how long the program takes.

Financial aid is available from many sources, either as loans or grants.

  • Government grants or loans
  • Foundation or corporate scholarships
  • Student loans or scholarships from the school itself
  • School work-study programs (Not all schools have these for RN-to-MSN online students.)
  • Employer subsidies (Many healthcare employers will help pay for RN-to-MSN programs, though conditions may apply.)
  • Bank loans (for relatively small amounts)

Learn More About the Top RN-to-MSN Online Programs and Schools

  1. University of Central Florida
    Location

    Orlando, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Based in Orlando, UCF offers an online MSN degree comprising 31-36 credits. Online courses at the university may include both synchronous streaming lectures or asynchronous requirements.

    Students may choose between three tracks:

    • Nursing Leadership and Management
    • Nurse Educator
    • Nursing and Healthcare Simulation

    The nursing and healthcare simulation track equips degree-seekers to lead healthcare simulation programs, which teach students how to carry out clinical skills in controlled environments. The nursing leadership track prepares students for management positions in healthcare, while the nurse educator track prepares MSN candidates to work in teaching positions.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing
    • Campus: Orlando, Florida
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $327.32/credit for Florida residents; $1,152.72/credit for out-of-state residents
    • Admission Requirements: Associate or bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited institution; RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.67%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies depending on concentration
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  2. Gonzaga University
    Location

    Spokane, WA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The online RN-to-MSN degree at Gonzaga is a bridge program that offers graduate-level preparation courses in addition to MSN courses. The program offers students a nursing leadership in healthcare track, which prepares graduates for management-level positions in the nursing industry.

    Degree-seekers must complete 15 undergraduate and 30 graduate credits. The curriculum includes 180 hours in the undergraduate community health practicum course and 360 practicum hours at the graduate level. A nursing leadership in healthcare practicum includes a two-day immersion experience on campus. Many MSN candidates work while pursuing this degree.

    • Program(s): RN-to-MSN
    • Campus: Spokane, Washington
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $965/credit
    • Admission Requirements: Accredited ADN; RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.44%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: About 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  3. Ohio University
    Location

    Athens, OH

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    OU offers an online MSN degree for registered nurses. The degree includes both asynchronous and synchronous course components, and some concentrations require on-campus visits.

    The program includes five MSN tracks:

    • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care
    • Family Nurse Practitioner
    • Nurse Educator
    • Nurse Leader
    • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

    Students can also earn master's certificates in all of the above concentrations.

    The number of required credits varies based on the specialization. Most tracks take at least two years to complete, and students may need to participate in 400-650 clinical hours. They may also need to participate in 2-4 in-person intensives, wherein they practice their skills on campus.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing
    • Campus: Athens, Ohio
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $601/credit for Ohio residents; $620/credit for nonresidents; $668/credit for Ohio residents on the FNP track; $687/credit for nonresidents on the FNP track
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.0 GPA; active RN licensure; at least two years of nursing work experience
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 80%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: Yes, except for the nurse leader track
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  4. University of Arkansas
    Location

    Fayetteville, AR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The online MSN at the U of A allows distance learners to enroll full or part time, and asynchronous courses enable degree-seekers to log on and complete coursework at their own convenience. Students can choose the nurse educator concentration or identify their own area of focus throughout the program. Distance learners must also engage in supervised practical experience in addition to completing their theoretical coursework.

    Students can choose a thesis or non-thesis option; thesis students carry out their own research, while non-thesis students participate in an independent study course. All degree-seekers must complete a scholarly project to meet a comprehensive exam requirement.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing
    • Campus: Fayetteville, Arkansas
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $574/credit
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 credits; active RN licensure; GRE scores
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 81.6%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 21 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  5. The University of West Florida
    Location

    Pensacola, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Students at UWF can complete this RN-to-MSN online. The program allows registered nurses with associate degrees to earn their bachelor's and master's in nursing at the same time. The 59-credit degree typically lasts 3-4 years.

    About 20 credits of the degree comprise undergraduate coursework, while the rest covers crossover-level and master's-level nursing. Courses last eight weeks and cover topics like evidence-based nursing practice and public health promotion.

    Degree-seekers may choose between two tracks: nursing education and nurse executive. For both concentrations, students must participate in 360 clinical hours. They must also complete an evidence-based project under the guidance of a faculty member.

    • Program(s): RN-to-MSN
    • Campus: Pensacola, Florida
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $282/credit for BSN courses; $425/credit for MSN courses; about $20,503 overall
    • Admission Requirements: ADN with minimum 3.25 GPA; statistics course with a minimum grade of C; active RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.45%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 36 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  6. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    This online MSN program at MSU prepares students to become adult gerontology clinical nurse specialists. The full program comprises 54 credits of coursework including supervised clinical practice. Although the program focuses on adult gerontology, degree-seekers also learn about nursing leadership and education.


    Distance learners pursue this degree entirely through online coursework. Courses include health informatics, clinical epidemiology for healthcare practice, and advanced pathophysiology. Graduates of the program qualify to take the Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist certification exam.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing - Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • Campus: East Lansing, Michigan
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $43,551 in total
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with a minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 93%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  7. Florida Atlantic University
    Location

    Boca Raton, FL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    FAU offers an online master's in nursing with several different emphasis areas for RNs looking for a specialization. The program's tracks include:

    • Adult/Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
    • Clinical Nurse Leader
    • Family Nurse Practitioner
    • Advanced Holistic Nursing
    • Nursing Administration and Financial Leadership
    • Nurse Educator
    • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

    The requirements for each track vary. Students must complete 33-39 credits. Most of the concentrations also integrate clinical hours into the curriculum. Degree-seekers may choose part- or full-time enrollment and can also participate in core classes through distance learning or on the university's Boca Raton campus.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing
    • Campus: Boca Raton, Florida
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $372/credit for Florida residents; $1,027/credit for nonresidents
    • Admission Requirements: BSN degree; active RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies, depending on the concentration
    • On-Campus Requirements: Optional
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  8. DePaul University
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    DePaul offers an online RN-to-MSN lasting 2-4 years, depending on whether students enroll part or full time. Incoming students can enter the program with an ADN or BSN.

    Degree-seekers can specialize in four different tracks:

    • Adult-Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
    • Family Nurse Practitioner
    • Nursing Administration
    • Nursing Education

    For each concentration, students must complete a capstone course and clinical practicum experience. Adult-gerontology and family nurse practitioner students must complete 600 clinical hours; nursing education students participate in 225 clinical hours; and nursing administration students fulfill a 105-hour practicum.

    Distance learners who begin the program with an ADN take 26 credits that count toward a bachelor's in nursing and take the remainder of the credits at the master's level.

    • Program(s): RN-to-MS in Nursing
    • Campus: Chicago, Illinois
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $735/credit
    • Admission Requirements: ADN or BSN with minimum 2.75 GPA; statistics course with a minimum grade of C; active RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  9. Appalachian State University
    Location

    Boone, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At App State, the online MSN degree concentrates on preparing students for roles as nurse educators. Distance learners take 39 credits of coursework in total.

    Specialization courses cover topics like educational theories and instructional strategies for nursing and informatics. MSN candidates participate in two practicum courses, including one general advanced clinical and one nursing education practicum. Degree-seekers may complete a thesis or research project. In addition, all students must complete a comprehensive assessment comprising an oral defense of their project or research project presentation.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing
    • Campus: Boone, North Carolina
    • Type: Public
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $266/credit for North Carolina residents; $925/credit for nonresidents
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.5 GPA, OR BSN with minimum 3.0 GPA + GRE or MAT scores; active RN licensure; one year of nursing experience
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
    • On-Campus Requirements: No
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid
  10. Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At JHU, online MSN students may pursue two options: an MSN with a healthcare organizational leadership track or a dual MBA/MSN with the leadership concentration.

    The MSN degree requires 35 credits, while the MSN/MBA dual degree comprises 65 credits. Both programs require students to complete 504 clinical hours. The MSN degree follows a strict curriculum plan, while the MSN/MBA program allows students to choose from a variety of business electives.

    Degree-seekers can enroll either part or full time. They may also choose to participate in some on-campus opportunities, although they complete the majority of their coursework online.

    • Program(s): Master of Science in Nursing
    • Campus: Baltimore, Maryland
    • Type: Private
    • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
    • Tuition: $48,872 per year for healthcare organizational leadership track; $56,032 per year for organizational leadership/MBA dual degree
    • Admission Requirements: BSN with minimum 3.0 GPA; active RN licensure
    • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.49%
    • Minimum Time Commitment: 21 months for MSN degree; 36 months for MSN/MBA dual degree
    • On-Campus Requirements: Optional
    • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Online RN-to-MSN FAQs


Can you go straight from receiving an RN license to an MSN?

Most RN-to-MSN online programs require at least 1-3 years of clinical experience as an RN. (MSN programs typically require this also for students with a bachelor’s.) However, once you have clinical experience, RN-to-MSN programs will let you go straight from the RN to the MSN.

How long does it take to go from RN to MSN?

The exact time to complete your RN-to-MSN online program will vary based on the program (for example, advanced practice nursing programs take longer). Other factors include whether you have a degree in a field other than nursing and whether you have existing college credits that can transfer.

Can you get your MSN without a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)?

RN-to-MSN programs are designed to provide a pathway to the MSN degree specifically for students without a BSN. Approximately the first year of an RN-to-MSN program provides an intensive equivalent of the upper-level courses of a BSN degree.

How do I go from an RN to a nurse practitioner?

Many schools offer accredited RN-to-MSN nurse practitioner programs. These provide a pathway for RNs without a BSN to earn the required MSN to become a nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioner jobs are demanding but offer a higher level of professional autonomy and responsibility, along with higher salaries, than RN jobs.

Related Rankings