The Best RN to MSN Programs and Degrees

July 17, 2020 | Staff Writers

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Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Registered nurses (RNs) who do not have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) and want to earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree can take an RN-to-MSN online program to accelerate their studies. These bridge programs allow nursing students to complete their MSN degrees in less time than earning a BSN and MSN separately, and help learners gain employment as nurse practitioners (NP) or certified registered nurse anesthetists.

NPs, also known as advanced practice registered nurses, take on more responsibilities than RNs, including diagnosing health problems, prescribing medicines and treatments, and ordering diagnostic tests. They also frequently work in roles of leadership or management above other nursing staff.

NPs can work with patients of every age, but they typically specialize in a particular medical area (e.g., cardiothoracics, obstetrics) or specific population (e.g., geriatrics, women). Pursuing an online RN-to-MSN program allows working nurses to further their education while maintaining full-time employment.

This ranking presents degree-seekers with affordable programs, which can help them avoid exorbitant student loan debt. Lastly, learners should find accredited online RN-to-MSN programs, as this helps ensure they can transfer credits, seek licensure and certification, and qualify for employment. View our ranking methodology before checking out the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs.

Top 10 RN-to-MSN Programs 2020

Rank School Location
1 Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences Boston, MA
2 Capella University Minneapolis, MN
3 South University Savannah, GA
4 University of Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH
5 Fort Hays State University Hays, KS
6 American Public University System Charles Town, WV
7 Ball State University Muncie, IN
8 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC
Read about our ranking methodology here.

What to Expect From a Online RN-to-MSN Program

Online RN-to-MSN programs build on the foundational knowledge gained in an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN.) These programs explore topics such as community health and population-focused nursing, advanced professional roles and values, nursing care across the lifespan, and advanced health assessments for patients and populations.

The length of time it takes to graduate depends on each student’s past educational experience. Those who possess an ADN typically need four years, while those who already have a bachelor’s degree usually need two years to graduate. Outside of coursework, each learner must also complete a clinical practicum comprising 500-1,000 hours. To practice as an NP, graduates must meet all requirements laid out by their state board of nursing. This typically includes passage of certification and licensure exams.

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

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Career Outlook for Nurse Practitioners

NPs fill vital roles in hospitals and clinics, physician’s offices, assisted living and long-term care facilities, and inpatient and outpatient programs. They may also work for other state-run facilities, including prisons. They can provide nursing services to individuals of every age but most concentrate on a particular population.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that NPs earned an annual median wage of $115,800 in 2019, with those working at hospitals earning the most and those working in education earning the least. NPs in the top 10% of earners took home a median salary of $184,180 in the same time frame. The BLS projects that roles for these professionals will grow by 26% from 2018-2028, which is substantially higher than the national average for all occupations. Reasons for growth include increased access to preventative care and a growing elderly population.

Best RN to MSN Programs 2020

  1. Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences

    Boston, MA

    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 those enrolled part-time 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 recommendation letters, an up-to-date resume/CV, 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

    Minneapolis, MN

    Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Capella delivers four RN to MSN online programs, including one in nursing leadership and administration. Students can either pursue coursework through the GuidedPath, a structure that sets deadlines but enables learners to develop their own study habits. Or they can opt for the FlexPath, 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

    Savannah, GA

    South University operates five online RN to MSN programs, including a specialization in family nurse practitioner. Designed for RNs who do not hold 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 nursing, 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, with decreasing prices the more credits taken. The university provides institutional grants and scholarships to all students.

  4. University of Cincinnati

    Cincinnati, OH

    Founded in 1819, UC enrolls 11,000 post-graduate students annually. Many of whom earn their degrees through distance education programs like the online master of science in nursing. Available to RNs with bachelor's credentials, this program trains students in advanced nursing practices for diverse health settings. UC provides low online tuition, which students can pay per credit or by full-time term. All distance learners benefit from financial assistance.

    Students pick from five RN to MSN online programs: adult-gerontology primary care, women's health, nurse midwifery, neonatal nurse practitioner, and family nurse practitioner. Degree plans range from 44-57 credits and includes 42 lab hours. Students also complete up to 840 clinical hours. Coursework varies by specialization. Family nurse practitioner candidates take classes in healthcare policy, clinical management, and biostatistics for evidence-based practice. All degree candidates finish their graduate training with a practicum experience. With the exception of the hybrid neonatal program, MSN students can earn their degree entirely online through Blackboard Learn.

  5. Fort Hays State University

    Hays, KS

    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 also cut costs by earning up to six transfer credits from prior academics.

    Al 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 pursue topics like evidence-based project planning and administrative management. All degree candidates complete an apprenticeship.

  6. American Public University System

    Charles Town, WV

    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, with military personnel receiving a discount on the already low price. 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 active RN license, accredited bachelor of science in nursing, and a minimum 3.0 GPA.

  7. Ball State University

    Muncie, IN

    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 facilitates fall and spring admission, with varying deadlines based on concentration. To apply, candidates need an accredited bachelor of science in nursing earned 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 225; and those pursuing the family nurse practitioner concentration complete 690 supervised clinical hours.

  8. Western Carolina University

    Cullowhee, NC

    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 need a regionally accredited bachelor of science in nursing earned 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 to 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 clinical hours. To round out their academic training, students pursue capstone project/thesis and comprehensive examination. WCU facilitates fall and spring admission, with respective deadlines set for April and October 1.

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