The Best Affordable Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Updated 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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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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.

Admission Requirements

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.

Program Curriculum

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 Experience

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.

Accreditation

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.

Program Length

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.

School NCLEX Pass Rate

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.

School Graduation Rate

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.

Online Learning Format and Requirements

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.

#1

The University of West Florida

School Information
Location Pensacola, Florida
Admission Rate 31%
Graduation Rate 46%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 66% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

UWF's accelerated BSN-to-MSN program ranks among the most affordable online MSN programs. The program features nursing education and nurse executive tracks.

The curriculum explores population health promotion and management, project evaluation and dissemination, and integration of evidence in advanced practice nursing. UWF accepts applications year round and offers six annual start dates.

Details:

  • Program(s): Accelerated BSN-to-MSN nursing education, accelerated BSN-to-MSN nurse executive
  • Campus: Pensacola, Florida
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $20,503 total
  • Admission Requirements: ADN in nursing, minimum 3.25 GPA, RN license, background check, fingerprint and drug screen
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 3-4 years
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 91.5% first-time pass rate
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#2

California State University-Dominguez Hills

School Information
Location Carson, California
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 44%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 51% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

One of the most affordable online MSN programs, CSUDH's master of science in nursing requires 30-48 graduate units. Students choose from specializations including nurse educator, nurse administrator, clinical nurse specialist, and family nurse practitioner.

Core coursework covers advanced nursing roles, nursing ethics, and healthcare policy and economics. Degree-seekers complete a culminating activity.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN nurse educator, MSN nurse administrator, MSN clinical nurse specialist (adult-gerontology), MSN clinical nurse specialist (pediatric), MSN family nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Carson, California
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $8,485 per year (full time), $5,473 per year (part time)
  • Admission Requirements: BSN, minimum 3.0 GPA in last 60 units, RN license, prerequisite courses, resume, letter of intent, residence in a state that allows online education from CSUDH
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes (family nurse practitioner track)
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $117,274 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#3

Johns Hopkins University

School Information
Location Baltimore, Maryland
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Johns Hopkins offers an MSN entry into nursing program for learners with a bachelor's degree in another discipline. The curriculum emphasizes global impact, leadership, and safety. Required classes explore pharmacology, ways to promote health in older adults, and community outreach to underserved communities in urban Baltimore.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN entry into nursing program
  • Campus: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,790 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Non-nursing bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, one essay, virtual interview, current resume, health professions prerequisites
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Five semesters
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.5% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $95,359 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#4

University of Central Florida

School Information
Location Orlando, Florida
Admission Rate 44%
Graduation Rate 72%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 59% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

UCF's master of science in nursing program ranks among the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs. Students choose from nurse educator, healthcare simulation, and leadership and management tracks. The curriculum explores health promotion, evidence-based nursing practice, and leadership strategies.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN nurse educator, MSN healthcare simulation, MSN leadership and management
  • Campus: Orlando, Florida
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $372 per credit (in state), $1,152 per credit (out of state)
  • Admission Requirements: AS or diploma in nursing, non-nursing bachelor's degree, RN license, residency in Florida or another Nurse Licensure Compact state
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 96.6% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $91,363 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#5

University of Virginia-Main Campus

School Information
Location Charlottesville, Virginia
Admission Rate 24%
Graduation Rate 95%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

UVA offers one of the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs with a specialization in clinical nurse leadership. The accelerated master's program accepts RNs interested in policy, nursing leadership, and healthcare administration. Graduates qualify to take the clinical nurse leader certification exam. The part-time program emphasizes resilience and compassion.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN clinical nurse leader
  • Campus: Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $799 per credit (in state), $1,304 per credit (out of state)
  • Admission Requirements: ADN, bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, RN license eligible to transfer to Virginia, statistics prerequisite, three recommendations, two essays, resume or CV
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $89,869 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#6

Appalachian State University

School Information
Location Boone, North Carolina
Admission Rate 77%
Graduation Rate 73%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 23% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

One of the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs, Appalachian's part-time master of science in nursing program requires 39 credits. Graduates often secure nurse educator and academic nursing roles. The two-year curriculum emphasizes leadership, research, and nursing practice. Learners complete a fieldwork practicum.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN
  • Campus: Boone, North Carolina
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $304 per credit (in state); $1,138 per credit (out of state)
  • Admission Requirements: ADN or diploma in nursing, bachelor's in any field, minimum 3.5 GPA or minimum 3.0 GPA with satisfactory GRE or MAT scores, RN license in North Carolina or another Nurse Licensure Compact state, undergraduate statistics and research courses, one year of nursing experience
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Two years
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 100% first-time pass rate
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#7

California State University-Chico

School Information
Location Chico, California
Admission Rate 72%
Graduation Rate 67%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 35% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Designed to serve nurses in rural areas, Chico State's MSN program ranks among the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs. The curriculum explores healthcare organizational systems, nursing research, and technology. The program offers two options in alternating years: nurse educator and nursing leadership.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN nurse educator, MSN nursing leadership
  • Campus: Chico, California
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $4,651 per semester (in state), $4,651 per semester plus $396 per credit (out of state)
  • Admission Requirements: BSN, current California RN license, minimum 3.0 GPA in last 60 credits, statistics prerequisite
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Five semesters
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 97.3% first-time pass rate
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#8

Florida Atlantic University

School Information
Location Boca Raton, Florida
Admission Rate 63%
Graduation Rate 50%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 49% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

FAU's Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing delivers an online MSN program with seven concentrations. Students gain leadership, teaching, and clinical skills. Learners can study part time or full time. Core courses explore evidence-based practice, the philosophy and theoretical foundations of advanced practice nursing roles, and nursing finance and policy.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN adult-gerontological nurse practitioner, MSN advanced holistic nursing, MSN clinical nurse leader, MSN family nurse practitioner, MSN nursing administration and financial leadership, MSN nurse educator, MSN psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Boca Raton, Florida
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $304 per credit (in state), $928 per credit (out of state)
  • Admission Requirements: BSN, minimum 3.0 GPA in last 60 credits or sufficient GRE or MAT scores, statistics course, bachelor's-level nursing research course, philosophy of nursing essay, resume, RN license, criminal background check
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies by concentration
  • School NCLEX-RN Pass Rate: 92% first-time pass rate
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $90,061 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#9

Georgetown University

School Information
Location Washington, District of Columbia
Admission Rate 14%
Graduation Rate 95%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

Georgetown's online MSN program features in-person classes and clinical placements. Students participate in objective clinical intensives in the District of Columbia metro area. The School of Nursing and Health Studies offers four online MSN concentrations. The curriculum includes core classes in advanced physiology and pathophysiology, biostatistics and epidemiology, and advanced health assessment.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner, MSN family nurse practitioner, MSN nurse-midwifery/women's health nurse practitioner, MSN women's health nurse practitioner
  • Campus: Washington, District of Columbia
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $2,278 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN or CNL/entry-level MSN, RN license, minimum 3.0 cumulative and science GPAs, statistics prerequisite, U.S. citizenship or permanent residency, one year of professional experience for the MSN adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner program
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies by concentration
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • Median Earnings Two Years After Graduation: $100,876 for master's graduates, according to College Scorecard
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#10

University of Southern California

School Information
Location Los Angeles, California
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Description:

USC offers one of the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs. Nursing degree-seekers study through the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The evidence-based curriculum prepares family nurse practitioners to deliver quality care to individuals and communities. Students can enroll part time or full time. Learners complete a clinical placement and two on-campus intensives.

Details:

  • Program(s): MSN
  • Campus: Los Angeles, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation(s): Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $2,035 per unit
  • Admission Requirements: RN license, BSN or MSN, minimum 3.0 GPA, three statistics credits, one year of clinical RN experience
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 21 months (full time), 33 months (part time)
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
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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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