The Best Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs in 2021

by NurseJournal Staff

Online degrees are a great option for nurses who want to continue working while going to school. Read on for the top online RN-to-MSN programs.

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The Best Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs in 2021

Registered nurses (RNs) who currently hold an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a nursing diploma can enhance their salary and career prospects by earning a master of science in nursing (MSN) through an RN-to-MSN bridge program. This guide to the top affordable RN-to MSN online programs provides prospective students with useful information about admission requirements, accreditation, costs, and employment options.

We use our data-driven methodology to rank the best Affordable Online RN-to-MSN 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.

The Top Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs in 2021

Rank School Location
1 University of St Francis Joliet, IL
2 Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health Omaha, NE
3 Gardner-Webb University Boiling Springs, NC
4 Spring Arbor University Spring Arbor, MI
5 Chatham University Pittsburgh, PA
6 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
7 Jacksonville University Jacksonville, FL
8 Tennessee Technological University Cookeville, TN
9 Bushnell University Eugene, OR
10 Robert Morris University Moon Township, PA

Featured Online Programs

What Can You Do With an MSN?

Earning an RN-to-MSN degree prepares graduates to enter some of the fastest growing nursing roles in the nation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which requires a graduate degree and includes certified nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, will experience an overall 45% growth rate between 2019 and 2029.

These APRN roles, which rank among the highest paying nursing careers, offer more independence and greater responsibilities than RN positions.

APRNs and other master's level RNs provide primary and preventive care in clinical settings such as hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, long-term care facilities, private practice, and public health clinics.

They may also find lucrative employment opportunities in nonclinical settings conducting research, teaching, and in administrative positions.

msn Required
High Demand

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

APRNs serve as primary care providers with the autonomy to diagnose and treat patients, prescribe medications, and supervise RNs. APRNs include four specializations: nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist, certified nurse midwife, and clinical nurse specialist. Some states require APRNs to work under a doctor's supervision.
Salary $115,800*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
msn Required
High Demand

Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

The CNS is an APRN who provides direct care and consultation in specialties such as family practice, adult-gerontology, neonatal, pediatrics, and women's health. Duties may include teaching healthcare staff, conducting research, leading evidence-based projects, and precepting nursing students.
Salary $91,300*
Job Outlook 45% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Clinical Nurse Specialists
adn or bsn Required

Forensic Nurse

Though an MSN is not required for forensic nursing, it can be highly desirable. Forensic nurses treat survivors of violence and abuse and advocate on their behalf with the criminal justice system. They assess and collect evidence of injury and trauma, refer them to the next level of treatment, gather evidence for criminal investigations, and sometimes testify in court cases.
Salary $59,000-$89,000*
Job Outlook 7% increase from 2019-2029
Learn More About Forensic Nurses
*SOURCES: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

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

Nurses should always research RN-to-MSN online programs before deciding to enroll. Learning about admission and curriculum requirements, accreditation, online delivery formats, and other considerations helps students find the best fit for their educational needs.

Admission Requirements

All programs have developed specific eligibility requirements for admission. These requirements tell prospective applicants about the program's academic expectations and whether they have the educational and work experience needed for acceptance.

Program Curriculum

The types of courses and concentrations available differ from one MSN program to another. Future students should choose a program that offers the specializations and nursing roles that will help them achieve their professional goals.

Clinical Experience

Some RN-to-MSN online programs allow students to complete their clinical placements close to their home communities. Students also need to consider how the number of required clinical hours may impact their existing work or personal commitments.

Accreditation

Accredited schools have met nationally established standards of academic quality. Accreditation assures employers that graduates possess the competency to practice. Doctoral programs and state nursing licensing boards require applicants to hold degrees from accredited programs.

School Graduation Rate

A high graduation rate can show if students finish their degree in a reasonable amount of time, indicating the level of teaching effectiveness and the overall quality of the program. Most schools provide graduation rates on their website.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

Many online degrees accommodate the needs of students with jobs or personal responsibilities, although some programs might include mandatory on-campus residencies and clinical experiences. Synchronous delivery formats require structured, real-time attendance, while programs that use asynchronous courses offer more flexibility.


Applying to an Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Program

Not all RN-to-MSN online programs have the same application and program requirements. However, most programs admit students with some nursing experience and a valid RN license. Accepted students must complete a criminal background check before they can enroll in courses. The following list describes what schools typically ask candidates to submit.

Admission Requirements: Schools typically require official transcripts, a personal essay, two or more reference letters, an ADN or nursing diploma, an RN license, and one or more years of nursing experience. Program Length: Most programs take 30-36 months to complete, depending on the nursing specialty and whether the student has earned transfer credits from another school. Clinical Requirements: This depends on the program and the clinical specialization chosen by the student. RN-to-MSN programs generally require between 500-1,000 clinical hours. GPA Requirement: Nurses who plan to earn an RN-to-MSN should have at least a 3.0 GPA or higher. However, some programs may accept lower GPAs if applicants have strong references and clinical experience.

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

An online RN-to-MSN program's accreditation matters for many reasons. These include:

  • An MSN from an accredited program meets nationally established standards of quality education and confirms that graduates have received the requisite training and skills to practice.
  • Most accredited MSN programs do not accept applicants from unaccredited schools.
  • Students who attend unaccredited programs do not receive federal financial aid.
  • Credits earned at an unaccredited school do not transfer to accredited programs.
  • State nursing boards and national certification associations require candidates to hold degrees from accredited programs.
  • Graduates of accredited programs will find more employment opportunities.

Who Accredits Affordable Online RN-to-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 Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Program Is Accredited?

Both campus-based and online degrees go through the same accreditation process ensuring that programs adhere to common standards of academic quality. Because of accreditation's importance, students should always check the accreditation status on a school's website before deciding to enroll. Be wary of programs that do not post their accreditation information.

The affordable RN-to-MSN programs in this guide and on all NurseJournal.org pages have been accredited by one or more of the major accrediting organizations.

Paying for Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Several factors shape the affordability of an RN-to-MSN program. Many online programs charge a flat tuition rate, while others offer lower tuition to in-state residents. When deciding on cost, prospective students should consider whether they can work while going to school and budget for other expenses like transportation for on-campus residencies or clinical placements. Learners can help offset educational costs by pursuing these financial aid options:

  • Federal or state government loans or grants
  • Private bank loans
  • School-sponsored or honor society scholarships (some targeted for nursing and healthcare students)
  • Nonprofit foundation or corporate awards (merit and nonmerit based)
  • Employer-sponsored tuition remission programs (offered by some healthcare organizations for RN-to-MSN programs)
  • Government-sponsored loan repayment or forgiveness plans
  • School-sponsored work study programs (usually not available for online students)

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

University of St Francis View School Profile Joliet, IL

USF offers one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs in the nation. Its flexible, rigorous curriculum allows learners to earn two degrees at once through a convenient, part-time format. An enrollee typically takes about 15 months to earn a bachelor's degree and an additional two years to satisfy the requirements for their master's degree.

Degree-seekers can enroll in an online degree-completion program or an on-campus bridge program with Joliet Junior College. The degree-completion option features an entirely online format and allows degree-seekers to focus on evidence-based nursing practice and research.

Coursework addresses current nursing topics, including informatics, environment, and health policy. Nursing courses emphasize real-world scenarios and experiences to prepare students for lucrative careers in settings such as hospitals, primary care clinics, and hospice care facilities. The esteemed program holds accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Nebraska Methodist College of Nursing & Allied Health View School Profile Omaha, NE

NMC operates one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs for nursing students in the country. Degree-seekers can pursue a nurse educator track, an executive track, or an informatics option. Enrollees can complete their coursework entirely online, enjoying flexible formats that allow them to continue working as they earn their degrees.

Students in the nurse educator track can complete their program in as little as 30 months. The program prepares degree-seekers to teach nursing students in clinical and educational settings. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Learners pursuing the executive track develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue careers as nurse executives and leaders. The informatics track -- the only MSN degree with a nursing informatics track in the region -- allows learners to earn their degrees in just 21 months.

Gardner-Webb University View School Profile Boiling Springs, NC

With one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs, Gardner-Webb features flexible opportunities for experienced nurses who hold associate degrees in nursing to earn bachelor and master of science in nursing degrees simultaneously.

Degree-seekers can complete their BSN requirements within 15 months and spend an additional two years earning MSN degrees. Learners complete their coursework online, satisfying the required clinical hours at local, school-approved sites. While the BSN program does not include clinical requirements, MSN students must complete clinical hours.

Nursing students can consider concentration opportunities in adult-gerontology primary care, nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, and nurse midwifery.

Students who pursue concentrations can tailor their program to align with their interests and career goals. Each applicant must hold an associate degree in nursing with a 3.0 minimum GPA from an accredited college or university. A prospective student should also hold an RN license and CPR certification. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Spring Arbor University View School Profile Spring Arbor, MI

SAU offers one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs in the country. The rigorous program, accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, is ideal for working nurses and remains rooted in Christian-centered philosophies.

Focusing on one course at a time, full-time students spend between 15-20 hours on their coursework each week. Learners complete most of their coursework through an asynchronous format, rather than adhering to mandatory login times. Degree-seekers also enjoy a week off in between their classes, taking seven weeks to complete a course.

Students graduate prepared to pursue licensure in their chosen nursing specialty. Enrollees enjoy access to student success coaches who help them grow professionally, spiritually, and personally.

Chatham University View School Profile Pittsburgh, PA

Chatham's highly ranked online RN-to-MSN program includes the educator track, which prepares nurses to serve as instructors in clinical and academic settings. While learners focus on their bachelor's degree courses, they cultivate clinical management and decision-making skills.

During the MSN part of the program, students focus on building leadership skills to work as educators and leaders in many different healthcare settings Chatham features rolling admissions, which allow degree-seekers to begin the program in multiple start dates throughout the year. Each learner must complete 47 credits of coursework and a total of 260 experiential practice hours.

Combining the requirements of both BSN and MSN degrees allows degree-seekers to take advantage of lower program costs and shortened program lengths. The specialized curriculum explores curriculum design and evaluation in nursing education, teaching strategies and information technology for the nurse educator, and responsibilities of the nurse educator.

The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

University of Arizona View School Profile Tucson, AZ

UArizona offers one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs for busy nursing students. The flexible format allows degree-seekers to continue working while pursuing their degrees. The generalist master of science in nursing degree in clinical systems leadership boasts accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Each candidate must hold an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing. The streamlined curriculum allows degree-seekers to complete their degrees in the same time or less than some traditional bachelor's programs. During the rigorous curriculum, learners focus on evidence-based practice improvement, nurse leadership, systems management, and healthcare technology.

The affordable program features tuition rates of $680 per unit. All students must complete their FAFSA during the application process. Admitted candidates enjoy access to scholarship opportunities through the university's unique database. Prospective students must complete an admissions application and provide official transcripts to qualify.

Jacksonville University View School Profile Jacksonville, FL

Students who want to enroll in one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs in the nation should consider pursuing their degree at JU. The Brooks Rehabilitation College of Healthcare Science, Keigwin School of Nursing offers an entirely online using program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Graduates can pursue careers as clinical nurse educators, nurse informatics specialists, or nurse leaders. The innovative degree allows learners to earn their bachelor and master of science in nursing degrees simultaneously. Dual-degree enrollees complete between 141-144 total credits of coursework and waive nine bachelor's credits in the process.

A candidate can earn 30 credits for holding their RN license and enroll part time or full time, depending on their scheduling needs. The program offers manageable eight-week course sessions and asynchronous learning, allowing students added flexibility in completing their coursework.

Tennessee Technological University View School Profile Cookeville, TN

Tennessee Tech administers an affordable RN-to-MSN online program that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The rigorous program can be completed entirely online. Learners must complete 49 credit hours of coursework and can satisfy their program requirements within 2.5-3 years of study by completing two courses each semester.

In-state learners pay a tuition of about $724 per credit, while out-of-state students pay around $981 per credit hour. Coursework explores healthcare of communities, advanced pharmacology, and advanced pathophysiology.

Each candidate must hold an unencumbered RN license, an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor's degree in nursing with a 3.0 minimum GPA, and complete a statistics course. During the admissions process, each applicant must provide a completed application, a copy of their RN license, state-issued ID, a statement of purpose, a resume, transcripts, and three letters of recommendation.

Bushnell University View School Profile Eugene, OR

BU offers one of the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs in the nation. The program allows a registered nurse to complete a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing simultaneously in less time and at a lower cost than earning each degree separately. Once students complete nine bachelor's-level courses, they can begin with their master's-level coursework.

Learners can complete their degrees entirely online to maintain a balance between their life, work, and education. The program features an asynchronous format, which offers students added flexibility in completing their classes. Learners can consider multiple start dates each year, beginning their program at a time that is most convenient for them.

The unique program serves students who currently hold RN licenses and bachelor's degrees in disciplines other than nursing. The entirely online program features a supportive academic environment that puts students first and provides degree-seekers with access to project-based experiences they can complete within their local communities.

The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Robert Morris University View School Profile Moon Township, PA

RMU offers one of the top RN-to-MSN online programs and prepares learners to pursue roles as nurse educators in community, clinical, and academic settings. After completing the program, each degree-seeker earns a bachelor and a master of science in nursing with an emphasis on leadership or nursing education.

The rigorous program caters to students who hold associate degrees or diplomas in nursing and want to advance in the healthcare field. The program, with accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, allows students to complete both of their degrees one year sooner than if they pursued the programs separately.

The specialized curriculum explores nursing research, health policy and economics, and health promotion and assessment. Each prospective student must hold an active RN license, provide a current resume, along with official transcripts from an accredited nursing program with a 2.5 minimum GPA, and any other post-high school transcripts.

Thomas Edison State University View School Profile Trenton, NJ

The RN-to-BSN/MSN degree at TESU caters to experienced registered nurses who want to earn a quality education through a flexible and convenient format. Students enjoy rolling admissions, allowing them to begin their program during the time of year that works best for their schedule. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Degree-seekers complete self-paced schedules with no time limit for degree completion. As long as enrollees complete at least three credits during each 12-month period of enrollment, they can finish their degrees at their own pace. Learners can achieve maximum credit for prior learning, enabling them to save both money and time.

The rigorous program requires degree-seekers to complete an additional 27 credits of coursework beyond the 120 credits of bachelor's classes. Once students satisfy the credit requirements, they earn both a bachelor and master of science degrees in nursing, which prepare them for lucrative career opportunities as nurse administrators, nurse educators, and nursing informatics specialists.

Lamar University View School Profile Beaumont, TX

Degree-seekers interested in online RN-to-MSN programs can enroll in a flexible, convenient program at Lamar University. The affordable program allows degree-seekers to graduate in as little as 36 months, paying a total program cost of around $17,400. The rigorous curriculum prepares students for upper-management and leadership roles across healthcare settings.

Learners must complete 58 credit hours of coursework, taking nine fewer credit hours in the bridge program than they would if they earned BSN and MSN degrees separately. Students can choose from education or administration tracks. The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing-accredited program also allows students to pay their tuition by the course. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

The advanced program features multiple start dates throughout the year, allowing degree-seekers to enroll at a time that is most convenient for them.

Each candidate must submit an online application and provide transcripts from an associate degree or diploma in nursing program demonstrating a 3.0 GPA. Prospective students also need active RN licenses.

Drexel University View School Profile Philadelphia, PA

Drexel's online RN-to-MSN program is a bridge program that serves students who hold BSNs or bachelor's degrees in non-nursing fields. Learners must complete a synchronous bridge course in the MSN advanced role track.

The rigorous program features accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and tracks in nurse leadership; leadership in health systems management; nursing education; and quality, safety, and risk management in healthcare. During the program, learners explore topics in genomics, pharmacogenomics, genetics, and healthcare. Degree-seekers enjoy affordable tuition rates of $997 per credit.

Each candidate must provide a completed application, official transcripts demonstrating a 3.0 minimum GPA, and proof of an active RN license. Prospective students can also provide two letters of recommendation.

Roberts Wesleyan College View School Profile Rochester, NY

Students can enroll in one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs at Roberts. A candidate with a bachelor's degree in a discipline other than nursing or an associate degree in nursing can enroll in the entirely online program if they currently maintain employment for 20 hours each week as an RN. The flexible program allows each degree-seeker to earn both a bachelor and a master of science in nursing at the same time.

During the MSN portion of the program, learners can focus on nursing leadership and administration or nursing education, tailoring their degree to align with their interests and career goals. Learners typically satisfy their program requirements within 29 months, completing 56 credits of coursework.

The rigorous program holds accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and allows students to focus on one course at a time, following a cohort format that helps learners establish solid professional networks.

University of Rochester View School Profile Rochester, NY

The online RN-to-MSN program at Rochester prepares nurses to deliver quality healthcare and improve access to care across healthcare settings. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

The accelerated, flexible program provides students with access to experienced instructors who have backgrounds as researchers and clinicians. Throughout their coursework, learners focus on real-world applications of industry best practices. Degree-seekers can complete all of their clinical experience at the university's medical center.

Nursing students can tailor their degrees to their career goals and interests by pursuing specialties in adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, family nurse practitioner, family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, pediatric nurse practitioner, clinical nurse leader, and more.

Quinnipiac University View School Profile Hamden, CT

Learners who want to pursue affordable RN-to-MSN online programs can enroll at Quinnipiac. The RN-to-MSN in operational leadership program allows students to earn their degrees through an accelerated, fully online format. Learners can transfer in up to 90 credits of eligible coursework. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Degree-seekers can earn their BSNs in one year, followed by MSN degrees in as little as one additional year. The rigorous program, ideal for registered nurses looking to advance professionally, comprises 140 credits of coursework. Transfer students can enter the program with 68-90 credits.

The curriculum focuses on specialized topics, including research and evidence-based nursing practice, nursing science and information literacy, and community and public health nursing. Each candidate must complete an admissions application and pay the associated fee, along with submitting two letters of recommendation, proof of an active RN license, a current resume, and official transcripts.

University of Hawaii at Manoa View School Profile Honolulu, HI

UH Mānoa offers one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs in the country. Enrollees can select from three pathway options. RNs with bachelor's degrees in nursing can enroll, along with RNs who possess associate degrees in nursing with non-nursing bachelor's degrees. Non-nurses with a non-nursing bachelor's degree can follow the graduate entry program in nursing format.

Degree-seekers complete their coursework online and satisfy their fieldwork requirements in their local communities. Along with required coursework, each learner must complete a capstone project within their local community.The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Each student must satisfy between 30-39 credits of coursework, which they can complete in one year if they enroll full-time or two-years if they pursue part-time enrollment. Each applicant must hold a nursing degree with a 3.0 minimum GPA from an accredited college or university, along with an active RN license.

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh View School Profile Oshkosh, WI

UW-Oshkosh provides nursing students with access to one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs available. The university features a fast track that allows each learner to earn two degrees at the same time sooner and at a lower cost than if they pursued the BSN and MSN degree individually.

Degree-seekers can select nurse educator or clinical nurse leader tracks. Students who enroll full-time typically earn their BSNs and MSNs within four years. The curriculum allows students to explore topics such as healthcare systems policy and advocacy, pharmacotherapeutics for advanced nursing roles, and advanced health assessment.

To complete the program, each student must maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher while earning a "C" or higher in all undergraduate courses and a "B" or higher in all graduate courses. Graduate tuition rates apply to any graduate elective courses taken during the last semester of the bachelor's component. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

University of San Francisco View School Profile San Francisco, CA

Students can experience one of the top RN-to-MSN online programs in the country at USF. Registered nurses who already hold associate or bachelor's degrees can enroll in the program to advance their career opportunities within the healthcare field. Each enrollee must complete 35 credits of coursework if they already hold a BSN and 46 credits if they hold an associate degree.

The unique program features a comprehensive schedule of online or in-person instruction and evidence-based quality-improvement practicum courses. Students can earn their degrees through a fully online format or a hybrid option, where they attend one evening in-person course each week.

Online students complete their coursework through an asynchronous format, allowing them to work at any time and from any location. Each enrollee must satisfy 400 practicum hours at an approved site. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the rigorous program also boasts approval from the California State Board of Registered Nursing.

Southern New Hampshire University View School Profile Manchester, NH

SNHU offers one of the top RN-to-MSN online programs for registered nurses interested in advancing their education through an accelerated format. The affordable program features tuition rates of $320 per credit during the bachelor's portion of the degree and $627 per credit for the master's component.

A degree-seeker can transfer up to 90 credits, and they receive 45 credits for holding an unencumbered RN license. Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the program enables learners to save on time and tuition as they fulfill the requirements to pursue more advanced nursing careers.

Applicants interested in the RN-to-MSN option begin their enrollment in the RN-to-BSN program, where they need to each maintain a 3.5 GPA. Degree-seekers explore specialized course topics, including pathophysiology for nurses, healthcare management and finance, and community and population health.

Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Program FAQs


How much does an RN-to-MSN cost?

Affordable RN-to-MSN programs provide an appealing and accelerated pathway for RNs to enter advanced practice or other master's level nursing roles. Tuition rates vary considerably by type of school, number of credits required to graduate, and type of specialization.

Can you go straight from RN to MSN?

Designed specifically for students without a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), RN-to-MSN programs enable RNs to go straight into an MSN, completing advanced BSN courses in the program's first year followed by master's-level courses and clinical practice. Programs typically require a valid RN license and at least one year of clinical experience.

What is the best online RN-to-MSN program?

The answer to this question depends on whether the online program fits a student's personal learning style and provides the training needed to enter the student's intended specialization. Some of the factors that distinguish top programs from others include academic reputation, affordability, high graduation rates, and availability of in-demand specializations.

Can I get my MSN without a BSN?

RN-to-MSN programs have been designed precisely for RNs who have an ADN or nursing diploma. Applicants do not need a BSN but must have a valid and unencumbered nursing license and at least one year of clinical nursing experience. These bridge MSN degrees allow students to complete upper division bachelor's courses within their master's program.

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