Best Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Earning an RN-to-MSN online degree is particularly valuable right now. One of the in-demand careers individuals who pursue an RN-to-MSN program can seek after graduation is nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners can choose an area of specialty to pursue, including orthopedics, gerontology, family care, and mental health. The growth rate for these jobs is a staggering 31%, much higher than the average rate for U.S. professions. In addition to the promising growth rate and room for specialization, nurse practitioners experience high salary opportunities, earning an average annual salary of $110,930. Nursing careers require individuals to earn licensure before applying for jobs. Some students complete their BSN, then pursue an MSN, and then earn licensure. RN-to-MSN online bridge programs, however, allow students to earn licensure first, so they can jump into their career right after graduation.

1. Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences

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The Simmons online RN-to-MSN family nurse practitioner program prepares students for work as primary care providers, a rapidly growing profession due to improved healthcare access and the urgent needs of an aging baby boomer population. The degree plan totals 68 credits and 836 clinical hours. Students take foundational and clinical courses in areas like health assessment, advanced pathophysiology, and clinical decision-making. They also complete three research classes. Degree candidates fulfill clinical requirements with local hospitals and healthcare facilities. Full-time students earn their master’s in 30 months, while part-time learners obtain their credentials in 36.

This RN-to-MSN online program enrolls licensed registered nurses (RNs) who hold an associate or diploma in nursing. Professionals do not need to possess a bachelor’s degree. To apply, candidates submit academic transcripts, three letters of recommendation, an updated resume, and a personal statement. All distance learners benefit from the same affordable tuition rate. Simmons sets the final application deadline for November 16.

2. Capella University


Based in Minneapolis, Capella delivers four RN-to-MSN online programs, including one in nursing leadership and administration. Students can pursue coursework through the GuidedPath, a structure that sets deadlines but enables learners to develop their own study habits, or through the FlexPath, which provides an entirely self-paced learning method. While all Capella students benefit from low tuition prices, FlexPath candidates pay the least overall. Classes start December 3.

The 66-credit curriculum includes bridge and core classes like leadership for nursing practice, advanced biopsychosocial concepts, and healthcare law and policy. Students take five advanced classes in the specialization, including healthcare quality and safety management. Furthermore, degree candidates must pursue a research-based capstone experience. They also need to complete 100 practicum hours at their chosen site, under the guidance of a program-approved preceptor. To apply to a GuidePath program, candidates must be at least 24 years old. FlexPath students need a minimum 3.0 GPA. All students can earn up to 12 transfer credits through prior learning assessment.

3. South University


South University operates five online RN-to-MSN programs, including a specialization for family nurse practitioners. Designed for RNs without a bachelor’s degree, this comprehensive program emphasizes health promotion and positive health behaviors across an individual’s lifespan. Students can earn their credentials entirely online through Blackboard-powered classes, or they may pursue a hybrid learning experience by taking classes at one of the school’s eight campuses.

The 233-credit curriculum includes general education, foundational, undergraduate, and graduate nursing classes. Students can fulfill more than half the degree plan with transfer credits. Graduate coursework consists of nursing research methods, advanced pharmacology, and health and physical assessment. Degree candidates must also complete four practica, which comprise didactic instruction and a total of 720 clinical hours. Students round out their education with a capstone project. Distance learners pay tuition per quarter and rates vary depending on the number of credits students take. The university provides institutional grants and scholarships to all students.

4. University of Cincinnati

5. Fort Hays State University

Established in 1902, FHSU now offers 20 graduate degrees for distance learners, including two RN-to-MSN online programs in nursing education and nursing administration. To apply, candidates must hold an active RN license and an accredited bachelor of science in nursing, earned with a minimum 3.25 GPA. FHSU offers a remarkably low online tuition rate that ignores residency status. The university also provides financial aid, including nursing department scholarships. Students can cut costs by earning up to six transfer credits from prior academics.

All nursing students can earn their master’s entirely online through asynchronous classes powered by Blackboard. The degree plans total 36 credits and consist of core classes like advanced statistics, healthcare systems informatics, and nursing research methods. Nurse education candidates take advanced classes in teaching strategies and curriculum planning. Prospective nurse administrators study topics like evidence-based project planning and administrative management. All degree candidates complete an apprenticeship.

6. American Public University System

Based in Charles Town, West Virginia, APUS delivers more than 35 graduate degree programs, including a 43-credit online master of science in nursing. The APUS option emphasizes patient-centered care and collaboration in interprofessional healthcare teams. Blackboard powers distance education at APUS. Classes start monthly and the university accepts applications on a rolling basis. All online students benefit from one tuition rate, though military personnel are eligible for a discount. APUS accepts up to 15 transfer credits.

The RN-to-MSN online curriculum includes fundamental classes like population-based healthcare, informatics and technology, and healthcare systems and health policy. Students take advanced coursework in either a nurse educator or nurse leader concentration. Both tracks include practicum. All MSN students round out their training with a capstone project, in which they create an evidence-based project proposal that tackles a relevant issue in professional nursing practice. Admission requirements include an active RN license, accredited bachelor of science in nursing, and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

7. Ball State University

As a leader in distance education, BSU provides more than 70 degree options through the Blackboard and Canvas management systems. The catalog includes an online master of science in nursing with concentrations in nurse educator, nurse administrator, and family nurse practitioner. BSU offers fall and spring admission, with varying deadlines based on concentration. To apply, candidates need an accredited bachelor of science in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also possess an unencumbered RN license in their state of practice. For active nurses with associate credentials, BSU offers an RN-to-MSN online bridge program.

The online MSN degree plan totals 36-47 credits and consists of core topics like nursing information technology, health promotion and disease prevention, and data analysis in nursing research. Students take 6-10 advanced classes in their concentration. The curricula also comprise extensive clinical training. Nurse administration students must complete 180 hours, prospective nurse educators need 22, and students pursuing the family nurse practitioner concentration complete 690 supervised clinical hours.

8. Western Carolina University

Based in Cullowhee, North Carolina, WCU delivers two online RN-to-MSN programs through Blackboard Learn. The nursing leadership track trains students to provide linguistically and culturally appropriate patient care services. The nurse educator option emphasizes competency areas in patient, staff, and academic education. To apply, candidates must hold a regionally accredited bachelor of science in nursing with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also possess an RN license and at least one year of clinical experience within the last five years.

The degree plans range from 38-41 semester credits, which students generally complete in three years. Core classes include pathophysiology, nursing research, and economics of healthcare organizations. On top of advanced coursework in their concentration, MSN candidates must complete at least 225 hours in clinical work. To finish their academic training, students complete a capstone project/thesis and comprehensive examination. WCU offers fall and spring admission, with respective deadlines set for April 1 and October 1.

RN-to-MSN Programs Online: An Overview

Courses, admissions requirements, prerequisites, program length, concentration options, and internship requirements are all elements of online RN-to-MSN programs that can vary significantly depending on the college or university. While there may be differences between schools, the outcome and goal remains the same: equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the nursing profession, and providing them with credentials to help them find employment.

Admission Requirements for an Online RN-to-MSN Program

Admission requirements vary for online RN-to-MSN programs. On average, students must meet the minimum 3.0 GPA requirement. Most programs require human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, statistics, nutrition, and ethics as prerequisites. While students usually do not need to submit standardized test scores, they do need to have their current registered nurse license and CPR certification to gain admission. Some programs also require students to submit their current resume, noting their field experience and qualifications. Other requirements may include letters of recommendation, essays, or personal statements.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online RN-to-MSN Program?

The length of online RN-to-MSN programs depends on several different variables. Enrollment often dictates program length, which means that students who choose part-time or full-time status. Students who enroll full time take about two years to complete their program, while those who enroll part time take closer to three years to finish. Some universities offer an accelerated format, which usually takes students between one year and 18 months to complete.

Online learning exists in different formats. Some programs promote individual learning in an asynchronous format, allowing students to finish coursework at their own pace. Others operate in a cohort, keeping one group of students together throughout the duration of the program, maintaining a set schedule for coursework and milestones. On average, online RN-to-MSN programs require students to complete around 48 credits of coursework.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSN Degree

Family Nurse Practitioner

Focusing on the care of both adults and children, the family nurse practitioner concentration teaches students how to interact with patients of all ages and backgrounds. They focus on how to discuss and analyze symptoms, how to run tests, and how to suggest and administer treatment.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Family nurse practitioner at a family practice office or smaller clinic


The gerontology concentration focuses on providing treatment to older adults. Students conduct in-depth studies on the effects of aging on both the mind and the body. They learn how to understand the social constructs that surround old age and how to effectively communicate with older patients and administer treatment to them.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Adult primary care nurse practitioner


Students pursuing their MSN with an orthopedic concentration learn how to work as specialized caregivers, providing treatment to athletes, workers with repetitive stress injuries, arthritic patients, and patients who have broken bones. Coursework reviews how to examine patients, recommend treatments, and help physicians administer treatment.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Orthopedic nurse practitioner

Example Courses for Online RN-to-MSN Students

Online RN-to-MSN programs equip students with the skills they need to be successful nurses: understanding evidence-based practice, promoting health and risk reduction, and how to evaluate and apply different healthcare technologies. Course topics vary depending on the college or university, but each program is specifically formatted to instill crucial skills within students.

  • Health Promotion and Risk Reduction: In the health promotion and risk reduction course, students focus on analyzing and applying evidence for specific areas of clinical practice to facilitate ideal patient outcomes and use various forms of evidence to validate, develop, and endorse different strategies for systemwide practice improvements.
  • Evidence-Based Practice Improvement: Discussing different ways to analyze and apply evidence for specific areas of clinical practice, the evidence-based practice improvement course teaches students how to facilitate optimal patient outcomes by using evidence in their medical practice techniques. They learn the value of an evidence-based approach regarding the patient experience.
  • Health Information and Patient Care Technologies: The health information and patient care technologies course teaches students how to evaluate and apply different health care technologies, including point-of-care clinical support, electronic documentation, and telehealth and telemedicine. The course emphasizes the support of patient-provider communication and coordinated patient-care delivery.
  • Leadership for Patient-Centered Care: Emphasizing the importance of exploring principles of team dynamics, shared leadership, and interprofessional practice, the leadership for patient-centered care course touches on negotiation, meditation, collaboration, consultation, and conflict resolution.
  • Healing Environments and Practices: Teaching students how to examine evidence-based integrative approaches to support structural and human care processes, the healing environments and practices course evaluates models of optimal healing environments. Students learn how to promote organizational and personal health and wellness.

Internship Component

RN-to-MSN online programs may require students to complete an internship in addition to coursework. After graduation, licensing programs require students to complete a certain number of clinical hours to become certified. Internships during degree programs help students gain the clinical requirements they need to become licensed; typically, students must complete around 500 hours of clinical experience to gain certification, though some programs offer students a completely online experience with no clinical hour or internship requirement. For students pursuing clinical hours, their curriculum caters to their in-person requirements, cultivating a flexible, asynchronous format of online coursework, allowing students to work at a comfortable pace.

Certifications and Licenses This Program Prepares For

  • Nurse Practitioner License: MSN graduates with RN experience can pursue a nurse practitioner license after 500 to 600 clinical hours, depending on their selected specialty, and passing an exam. Individuals pursuing this license should have an interest in providing primary care to patients, promoting preventive health, and treating patient injuries and illnesses.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist License: The clinical nurse specialist license caters to MSN graduates with RN experience with a desire to care for patients in a specific population, work with other nurses to improve the delivery of care, conduct research and advocacy, and lead other nurses. Nurses must complete 500 or more clinical hours specific to the their chosen speciality and pass a corresponding exam to gain licensure.
  • Certified Nurse Midwife: Certified nurse midwife certification serves individuals who wish to dedicate their career to gynecological care, family planning, providing primary care, and delivering babies. No clinical requirement exists in the certification program through the certification board, although many programs feature clinical requirements similar to those of nurse practitioners. To gain licensure, individuals must have their MSN, RN experience, and they must pass an exam.

Accreditation for Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Students should look for regional accreditation when choosing their programs. Regional accreditation, which applies to an entire institution, is a certification for universities that demonstrates the school meets national standards of educational excellence. Nursing programs can also receive programmatic accreditation, which applies to specific degrees and certifies that the program prepares students professionally for their future careers. RN-to-MSN online students often see the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) as an accrediting agency for their program. CCNE maintains its official recognition from the U.S. Secretary of Education. Students can access the Department of Education’s website or Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s website to find a list of all accredited schools.

Job and Salary Outlook

Job Opportunities for MSN Graduates

MSN-holders enjoy a many career paths. Nursing professionals are in demand across the country in hospitals, adult care facilities, primary care offices, intensive care units, emergency rooms, and many other settings. Graduates can cater their career choice to fit their interests and professional strengths: if they thrive working with children, they can work in pediatrics. If they like helping patients in particularly fragile states, they might consider a nursing position in an intensive care unit.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners coordinate patient care and sometimes provide primary and specialty healthcare. To become a nurse practitioner, individuals must earn a master’s degree in nursing and achieve their registered nurse (RN) licensure.

Nurse Midwife

Responsible for coordinating and diagnosing all aspects of the birthing process, nurse midwives work independently or as part of a healthcare team. They also provide well-woman gynocological care to their patients.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners first become licensed registered nurses before they begin to provide care to patients of all ages. They often act as patients’ first point of contact in healthcare, helping diagnose and treat medical issues.

Adult Nurse Practitioner

In charge of providing healthcare to patients over the age of 21, adult nurse practitioners typically work with a supervisor and medical staff. Adult nurse practitioners deliver cost-effective healthcare to patients, consult with physicians to provide special care to chronic and acute conditions, and assess patients to determine any further care or testing they might need.

Intensive Care Nurse

ICU nurses work in intensive care units in hospitals, where patients have critical or rapidly worsening conditions. ICU nurses have to remain careful and conscientious with their work since their patients have a more fragile situation.

Source: PayScale, Nov. 2018

How Much Do MSN Graduates Make?

Earning an RN-to-MSN online unlocks a variety of career opportunities. After graduating and achieving registered nurse licensure, individuals can pursue a number of high-paying careers. The table below outlines five of the highest-paying nursing jobs for these graduates. Jobs in this realm range from a median overall salary of $70,940 all the way up to $141,892. The highest paid professionals in the field, nurse anesthetists, make an astounding $167,000 each year in their late career.

Job Title Overall Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Median Salary for Mid-Career Median Salary for Late-Career
Nurse Anesthetist $141,271 $133,000 $149,000 $167,000
General Nurse Practitioner $92,392 $90,000 $97,000 $105,000
Family Nurse Practitioner $91,604 $90,000 $96,000 $100,000
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $100,620 $97,000 $106,000 $115,000
Head Nurse $71,217 $69,000 $73,000 $87,000

Source: Payscale

Professional Organizations

RN-to-MSN online graduates can consider a variety of professional organizations to join. Many benefits await members of these organizations. Networking opportunities appear in almost every organization by way of events, seminars, and other situations that allow members to connect with one another. Annual conferences also benefit members, serving as a tool for professional development. Many organizations even boast career services and job boards to help members advance their careers.

American Nurses Association: The American Nurses Association focuses on advancing and protecting the nursing profession. ANA has members in all 50 states and U.S. territories, promoting safe, ethical work environments.

International Council of Nurses: Bringing together the brightest minds in nursing, the International Council of Nurses recognizes nurses for their accomplishments and creates a unified voice for the professional community.

Emergency Nurses Association: The Emergency Nurses Association values inclusion and contributions of nursing collaborating with healthcare partners to explore solutions to the challenges faced in emergency care delivery.

Financing Your Online RN-to-MSN Program

Scholarships, student loans, grants, and work-study opportunities offer funding to students pursuing their RN-to-MSN online. Filling out a FAFSA should remain a priority for all students. The FAFSA determines how much and what type of funding a student can receive. RN-to-MSN online students enjoy a variety of scholarship opportunities, catering to their field and allowing them to afford things like tuition, books, and fees.

Scholarships for RN-to-MSN Students

American Association of Colleges of Nursing Geraldine “Polly” Bednash Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Offering two $5,000 scholarships four times each year to the top nursing school applicants, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Geraldine “Polly” Bednash scholarship awards students with a 3.2 minimum GPA.

Amount: $5,000

Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde scholarship awards $1,000 to Hispanic students enrolled in nursing programs that offer licensure and become a member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses. Applicants must have a 3.0 minimum GPA and demonstrate strong leadership skills and financial need.

Amount: $1,000

American Red Cross Jane Delano Student Nurse Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Graduate and undergraduate nursing students who have contributed to or worked for an American Red Cross unit in the last five years can apply for the American Red Cross Jane Delano Student Nurse scholarship if they have good academic standing and complete one year of college credits.

Amount: $3,000

HRSA NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Open to nursing students enrolled in an associate, accredited diploma, baccalaureate, or graduate programs, the Health Resources and Services Administration NURSE Corps scholarship program assists nursing students with costs for tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and potentially work at an eligible organization featuring a critical shortage of nurses upon graduation.

Amount: Varies

Tylenol Future Care Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Tylenol’s Future Care scholarship provides funding to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree to actively treat patients. Applicants must live in the United States or Puerto Rico and have a minimum of one year of school remaining.

Amount: Varies