Top Online RN-to-MSN Programs 2020

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RN-to-MSN online programs prepare registered nurses (RNs) to become highly-trained nurse practitioners (NPs) through an accelerated format. RNs can earn their master of science in nursing (MSN) in 2-3 years through bachelor of science (BSN) and MSN coursework and in-person practicum experiences. Typical curricula explores evidence-based practice and statistics at the BSN level, as well as advanced pathophysiology and health assessment at the MSN level. Coursework may be delivered asynchronously or synchronously, depending upon the program

Most graduates work as NPs within a specialty area, such as adult-gerontology, family practice, mental health/psychiatric, pediatrics, or women’s health. As highly-paid advanced practice nurses, NPs earn a median annual base salary of $110,000 for full-time work. With nearly 70% of NPs providing primary care, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job openings to increase by 24,200 from 2019-29, particularly in inner cities and rural areas.

Read on for our rankings of the top online RN-to-MSN programs.

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

Featured Online Programs

Top 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.

Best Online RN-to-MSN Programs

  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.

Applying to an Online RN-to-MSN Program

Typical prerequisites for RN-to-MSN online programs include a current RN license and an associate degree or diploma in nursing. Applicants must also submit transcripts, 2-3 recommendation letters, resumes, and a personal statement that outlines their past experience, future career goals, and reasons for pursuing an MSN.

Some programs additionally require GRE scores, a minimum GPA of at least 3.0, and a year or two of clinical nursing experience.

Admission does not require a BSN, as students complete coursework needed for their BSN prior to beginning their MSN core requirements and specialty area training. RN-to-MSN bridge programs typically take less time to complete than do separate BSNs and MSNs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to complete an online RN-to-MSN program?

    RN-to-MSN online programs take 2-3 years to complete, depending on whether students enroll full- or part-time, their chosen specialty, and whether they can transfer applicable credits toward their BSN or MSN degrees. These accelerated bridge programs prepare graduates to become advanced practice nurses within a shorter time frame.

  • What is accreditation and why is it important?

    Licensure boards generally require candidates to hold a nursing degree from an accredited program. RN-to-MSN students should ensure they attend schools credentialed by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Accreditation also signifies to potential employers that a program meets stringent educational standards.

  • Is an online RN-to-MSN program as highly regarded as an in-person program?

    As long as an online RN-to-MSN program holds accreditation from the CCNE or ACEN, the degree is valued just as highly as an on-campus program. Clinical hours must be completed in person, whether students study through distance or traditional learning. Each program listed in this guide holds CCNE or ACEN accreditation.

  • What can I do with an MSN?

    An MSN paves the way for graduates to pursue licensing as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Most APRNs work as NPs in a variety of specialty areas providing primary care to specific patient populations. However, APRNs also include certified registered nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, and clinical nurse specialists.

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