The Best Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs

March 4, 2022 , Modified on March 16, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Online MSN programs are a great way for RNs to increase their leadership skills and earn a higher salary. Learn more by exploring the best online RN-to-MSN programs.

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The Best Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs
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As the quality of care increases due to medical advancements, patients can experience better treatments and procedures. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nurses pursuing advanced degrees contribute to this success through lower mortality rates and fewer medication errors.

Registered nurses (RNs) who complete a master of science in nursing (MSN) program can provide first-rate care while gaining more leadership opportunities and increasing their earning potential.

This guide explores some of the cheapest RN-to-MSN online programs. It offers insight into the factors to consider that can help nurses decide if earning an advanced degree online is right for them.

We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best online RN-to-MSN, 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.

Keep reading to learn more about online RN-to-MSN programs, or go straight to our list of the best online RN-to-MSN programs.

What Can You Do With an MSN Degree?

After earning an MSN, nurses can focus on an MSN specialization, which provides more opportunities and a higher salary. Nurses with an MSN can take on additional responsibilities with professional autonomy.

Nurses who hold an MSN can also undertake more leadership roles, and many gain advanced medical training as nurse practitioners (NP). As an NP, nurses can work as family NPs, pediatric NPs, or gerontological NPs, among other specialties.

Family Nurse Practitioner

MSN required

Family NPs specialize in the primary and preventative care of patients of all ages. They conduct physicals, develop treatment plans for both acute and chronic illnesses, and order and interpret diagnostic tests.

  • Salary: $97,580 average annual salary (Payscale January 2022)
  • Job Outlook: Projected 45% increase from 2020-2030 (BLS)

Learn more about Family Nurse Practitioners


Pediatric Nurse Practitioner

MSN required

Pediatric NPs provide care to patients from birth until they transition into adulthood. They can either work in a primary or an acute care setting. Within a primary care setting, pediatric NPs complete developmental screenings, perform immunizations, and manage common childhood illnesses.

Those in an acute care setting evaluate therapies and manage ongoing intensive treatments using patient and family-centered approaches.

  • Salary: $92,710 average annual salary (Payscale January 2022)
  • Job Outlook: Projected 45% increase from 2020-2030 (BLS)

Learn more about Pediatric Nurse Practitioners


Geriatric or Gerontological Nurse Practitioner

MSN required

Gerontological NPs care for patients from later adulthood into advanced age. They diagnose health problems, develop and maintain treatment plans, and order and interpret diagnostic screenings.

The NP is also responsible for educating patients and their caregivers about how to manage acute and/or chronic conditions and illnesses.

Learn more about Gerontological NPs


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

While programs vary by institution, key requirements remain consistent. Identifying and examining the key factors can help determine if the program is right for you.

Online programs may require different criteria for acceptance compared to in-person, such as access to technology and a medical institution where students can complete their clinical rotation. When choosing a program, researching the specific requirements of each institution can help applicants make sure they meet the school's conditions for acceptance. While most online programs offer similar core classes, review each institution's curriculum. Applicants can explore and choose specialization options, such as anesthetics, midwifery, or family care. Clinical experiences for online nursing programs are typically organized through the school. Programs coordinate with a facility local to the student, as the clinical needs to be completed in person. This essential part of a student's education allows for hands-on experience within different specialties. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) evaluate programs to determine if they meet the highest set of standards.

Attending an accredited program ensures students receive the best education. Programs not accredited may impact a graduate's ability to continue their education or find the best employment opportunities. Read more about accreditation.
Online programs are often more flexible than those offered in person, allowing students to work at their own pace. Whether an RN holds an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's, RN-to-MSN programs typically require 36 credits within 2-3 years for completion. However, the total length can vary, especially if a student completes the program on a part-time basis. A program's National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) passing rate provides prospective students with insight into how successfully the school prepares its graduates for the exam. The ACEN and CCNE incorporate first-time student pass rates in accreditation status. The NCLEX pass rate can signal the program's strength. Graduation rates provide applicants with insight into how committed a school is to student success. These rates are calculated based on the number of students who graduated within a certain time period. While the flexibility of online programs may impact this calculation, it still indicates their students' success. Identify how the online nursing program works, such as whether the classes are synchronous, which take place in real time, asynchronous, which students complete on their own time, or a combination of both. In doing so, prospective students can determine if the program is flexible enough to fit their schedule.

The technology required for students enrolled in online programs consists of a computer, preferably a laptop, and a reliable internet connection.

Applying to an Online RN-to-MSN Program

Before applying to an online RN-to-MSN program, students should review the admission requirements to make sure they meet prerequisites. If they do, applicants must then gather the materials needed for their application.

Admission Materials

Most programs require an ADN or a bachelor of science in nursing, an unencumbered RN license, and a resume highlighting previous clinical nursing experience. Transcripts from previous academic programs, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation are also submitted.

GPA Requirement

Online MSN programs typically require a 3.0 GPA or higher.

Other Requirements

Some programs may require an interview with faculty members of the nursing program.

Top Online MSN Programs

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

Choosing an accredited online RN-to-MSN program provides benefits for both students and their future employers. Accreditation verifies that the program meets academic standards, guaranteeing students learn the best nursing practices.

Attending a school with an accredited nursing program provides many benefits.

  • The accrediting bodies (ACEN and CCNE) verify that a school's nursing program meets state and national standards. If these groups cannot verify that the program provides the appropriate training, it does not gain accreditation.
  • If a student wants to transfer from one school to another, most nursing programs do not accept transfer credits from institutions that are not accredited.
  • For students who want to continue their education, degrees earned from a program that is not accredited may not meet the institution's prerequisites.
  • Accredited degrees open nurses up to more employment positions and a higher earning potential.

Paying for Online RN-to-MSN Programs

When applying to an online RN-to-MSN program, the cost can determine a prospective student's choice. Online programs often cost less than in-person programs. Tuition still varies based upon the exclusivity of the school, the length of the program, and the enrollment status of the student (full time vs. part time).

There are many resources for those who need help paying for their nursing degree. Students can access financial aid resources for nurses, nursing scholarship opportunities, grants, and loans, all of which can decrease program costs.

Scholarships are awarded based on merit, talent, or academic performance; grants are provided based upon the financial need. Loans consist of borrowed money students will need to pay back. Student loan forgiveness programs for nurses might be a good option.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online RN-to-MSN


How much does it cost to go from RN to MSN?

Several factors can influence the cost of an online RN-to-MSN program, including the length of the program and whether the student completes the degree as a full- or part-time student. Overall, the average cost of earning an MSN online can range from $35,000-$60,000.

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

The length of an online RN-to-MSN program can vary by institution. Factors like specialization and attending the program on a full- or part-time basis can influence the length of the program. On average, it takes around two years to complete an MSN program.

How much do MSN RNs make a year?

Many different specializations are open to RNs with an MSN, each of which earns a different annual salary. On average, an RN with an MSN makes approximately $101,000 a year as per Payscale in January 2022. Some of the top-paying positions for nurses who hold an MSN include nurse anesthetists ($155,510), NPs ($99,830), and nurse midwives ($99,790).

Is getting an MSN worth it?

By earning an MSN, nurses open themselves up to additional opportunities that include increased leadership roles, along with a higher earning potential. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 45% increase in demand for NPs from 2020-2030, illustrating the need for more nurses who hold an MSN.

For those who have accumulated many years of experience, earning an MSN is well worth it. Newer RNs might want to delay additional education to build finances and experiences necessary to complete the program.

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