Best Online RN-to-MSN Programs

By: Staff
Last Updated: March 2020

Many students pursuing master of science in nursing (MSN) degrees wonder if they can do so without getting their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degrees first. So, can you get your MSN without a BSN? Registered nurses (RNs) can do so by enrolling in online RN-to-MSN programs. A bridge program allows nursing students to complete their MSN degrees in less time than earning a BSN and MSN separately, saving them time and money while they advance their careers.

Rank University Degree
1 Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences RN to MSN
2 Capella University RN to MSN
3 South University RN to MSN
4 University of Cincinnati RN to MSN
5 Fort Hays State University RN to MSN
6 American Public University RN to MSN
7 Ball State University RN to MSN
8 Western Carolina University RN to MSN

While RNs earn an average salary of over $71,000 a year, nurse practitioners (NPs) can take home nearly $114,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to the RN-to-MSN salary increase, demand for advanced practice RNs ranks more than double the demand for RNs.

Earning an MSN gives nurses more responsibility as they can pursue roles as NPs, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists. Our list ranks the best online RN-to-MSN programs, covers what to expect during an RN-to-MSN degree, and provides scholarship opportunities for RNs pursuing their MSN.

Online RN to MSN Nursing Programs Ranked

Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences

The RN-to-MSN program at Simmons trains registered nurses to become family nurse practitioners (FNPs). The program admits licensed RNs who want to advance their clinical practice by earning a master's degree with an NP specialization. Simmons offers a part-time and full-time enrollment option, with full-time students completing their degree in 30 months.

Each MSN student at Simmons must complete 68 credits with a minimum of 836 clinical hours. The curriculum incorporates 10 foundational courses, three research courses, and 10 clinical courses, providing a balance of hands-on and classroom training for an FNP career.

  • Campus: Boston, MA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,410 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Current RN license; associate degree in nursing or a diploma or certificate from a hospital-based program; resume; personal statement; transcripts; three letters of recommendation
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 30 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Program: RN-to-MSN Family Nurse Practitioner
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Capella University

At Capella, the RN-to-MSN program trains experienced nurses for leadership roles in the field. The program offers a leadership and administration specialization, with graduates pursuing careers as nurse executives. Capella nursing students can complete an integrated capstone and a practice immersion to strengthen their training by solving real-world challenges.

The 66-credit MSN program incorporates courses in leadership for nurse executives, healthcare informatics, and operations management. Capella offers the FlexPath, a self-paced learning format that lets nursing degree-seekers complete unlimited courses each 12-week term. Enrollees can also choose the GuidedPath with a more structured schedule.

  • Campus: Minneapolis, MN
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $435 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Official transcripts; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Program: RN-to-MSN Nursing Leadership and Administration Specialization
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

South University

South University offers an online RN-to-MSN program with multiple specialization options. Students can pursue NP degrees in adult-gerontology primary care or as a family nurse practitioner (FNP). South University also offers specializations for nurse administrator, nurse educator, and nursing informatics.

The MSN programs at South University incorporate core nursing classes with practicum experience to gain hands-on training. The curriculum emphasizes clinical expertise for nurses in advanced practice and executive roles. The FNP concentration, for example, trains nursing students in the best practices for community-based nursing care, including a focus on clinical judgment, critical thinking, and leadership.

  • Campus: Savannah, GA
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Admission Requirements: Associate degree in nursing or diploma from an accredited institution; minimum 3.0 GPA; official transcripts; valid RN license; three references; goal statement; resume
  • Minimum Time Commitment: Varies
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: RN-to-MSN with specializations in adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner; family nurse practitioner; nurse administrator; nurse educator; nursing informatics
  • School Site: Financial aid

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati offers multiple online MSN degrees, with the option to complete an online RN-to-BSN before pursuing an MSN specialization. Nursing students can specialize in nurse midwifery, nursing administration, occupational health, or women's health. Students can also study to become adult-gerontology NPs or family nurse practitioners.

Each specialization sets different credit, clinical hour, and on-campus requirements. A nurse midwifery enrollee, for example, must complete 57 credits, 784 clinical hours, and two campus visits. The University of Cincinnati admits nursing students for fall, spring, or summer start dates.

  • Campus: Cincinnati, OH
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditations: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE); Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME)
  • Tuition: $724 per credit for Ohio residents; $739 for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Official transcripts; minimum 2.5 GPA; associate degree or diploma in nursing; active RN license
  • On-Campus Requirements: The Nurse Midwifery and Occupational Health specializations require an on-campus visit
  • Programs: Adult-gerontology primary care; family nurse practitioner; nurse midwifery; nursing administration; occupational health; women's health
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Fort Hays State University

Fort Hays State University offers an MSN in nursing education and an MSN in nursing administration. A nursing student can also complete their RN-to-BSN online before enrolling in an MSN program. The MSN concentrations include foundational and practice courses to build nursing skills and clinical knowledge. Enrollees can also complete specialized courses in their tracks, such as teaching strategies in nursing and nursing evaluation.

Designed for working nurses, the MSN programs at Fort Hays State University provides personalized advising and small class sizes. Degree-seekers can arrange coursework around their schedules, with the ability to complete practicum requirements locally.

  • Campus: Hays, KS
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $288 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Current RN license; minimum 3.0 GPA
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: MSN Nursing Administration; MSN Nursing Education
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

American Public University

The online RN-to-MSN program at American Public University lets nursing students earn their BSNs and MSNs while saving time and money. During the program, each enrollee can complete nine BSN credits that count toward the MSN while paying the undergraduate tuition rate. APU offers tracks for nurse educators and nurse leaders in its MSN program.

Both MSN tracks include 27 credits of coursework, with classes in advanced health assessment, evidence-based practice, and leadership in nursing. Degree-seekers can complete practicums in their specialization to build hands-on experience during the MSN program. APU offers monthly course start dates.

  • Campus: Charles Town, West Virginia
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $270 per credit for undergraduate students; $350 per credit for graduate students
  • Admission Requirements: Associate degree or diploma in nursing; current RN license; minimum 3.0 GPA; resume; statement of purpose
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: Nurse Educator; Nurse Leader
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Ball State University

Ball State University offers an online MSN degree for the nurse who possesses an RN certification and a bachelor's degree in any field. At Ball State, nursing students choose from three options, including nurse educator, nurse administrator, and family nurse practitioner (FNP). Each track incorporates core classes and a 180-hour practicum to build clinical skills.

Each nurse administrator and nurse educator student must complete 36 credits, while an FNP must complete 37 credits. Ball State offers courses in an asynchronous format, affording enrollees more flexibility, with no set class times.

  • Campus: Muncie, IN
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $334 per credit for Indiana residents, $543 per credit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Associate degree in nursing and a bachelor's degree in any field
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: Nurse educator; nurse administrator; family nurse practitioner
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University offers an early-entry MSN program for students in the online RN-to-MSN program. During the program, each enrollee can complete a BSN and MSN, applying to the MSN program after earning 12 credits in the RN-to-MSN program. WCU offers tracks for nurse educators and nursing leadership.

Once admitted to the MSN program, each nursing student can complete 38-41 credits, with coursework in healthcare systems management, nursing informatics, and physical assessment. Each nursing education student must complete 120 practicum hours, with 180 clinical practicum hours required of a nursing leadership student. The practicum strengthens nursing skills and professional experience.

  • Campus: Cullowhee, NC
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $54 per credit for North Carolina residents; $189 per credit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: Completion of at least 12 credits in the WCU RN-to-BSN program; minimum 3.0 GPA; professional statement; resume; three professional recommendations; interview
  • On-Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: Nurse Educator; Nursing Leadership
  • School Site: Tuition | Financial aid

RN-to-MSN Programs Online: An Overview

Nurses can strengthen their clinical and leadership skills while enrolled in RN-to-MSN degrees. Online students complete practicums to build professional experience while enrolling in courses on providing patient-centered care, evidence-based practice, and healthcare leadership. While the specifics vary depending on the program, this section covers what to expect in an online RN-to-MSN program.

Admissions Requirements for an Online RN-to-MSN Program

Master of science nursing programs that admit RNs without BSNs typically evaluate candidates based on their educational and professional qualifications. Typically, programs require each applicant to provide proof of RN licensure and either an associate degree in nursing or a diploma in nursing. Many programs only admit students with accredited nursing degrees or diplomas. Programs also set a minimum GPA for admission, often a 3.0.

In addition to educational and professional requirements, some institutions often ask each candidate to provide letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose. Most RN-to-MSN programs do not require test scores.

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

Earning a master's degree in nursing through an online RN-to-MSN program saves nurses time when compared with earning their BSNs and MSNs separately. Generally, an RN-to-MSN program takes at least two years for a full-time enrollee, while earning a BSN followed by an MSN takes at least three years.

Online RN-to-MSN programs appeal to working nurses because of their flexible schedule.

An MSN student will often complete 30 credits at the bachelor's level before moving onto graduate coursework, which typically requires an additional 30-40 credits. Some programs grant BSNs after the completion of the bachelor's coursework. A nursing student who chooses a part-time schedule may take up to five years to complete their degree.

Online RN-to-MSN programs appeal to working nurses because of their flexible schedule. Many programs follow an asynchronous schedule, meaning nurses complete coursework without set times to log in. The length of an MSN varies depending on the program type, the degree-seeker's enrollment option, and the specialty.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSN Degree

Online MSN programs offer a variety of specializations, which prepare nurses for advanced practice roles in their field. Many of these specialties, including NP, nurse midwifery, and nurse anesthesia, require graduate degrees. They also offer some of the highest salaries in nursing.


In a gerontology specialty, nursing students can learn to care for aging and elderly patients, with a focus on treating conditions related to the aging process itself.


Orthopedic nursing students can train to treat bone and muscle disorders, including patients with broken bones, joint conditions, or other orthopedic conditions.

Neonatal Nursing

A neonatal nursing specialization trains nurses to care for premature infants and newborns with medical conditions. Many neonatal nurses and NPs work in newborn intensive care units.

Nurse Anesthesia

In a nurse anesthesia concentration, students train to administer anesthesia, care for patients during and after surgery, and provide pain management treatments for patients.

Nurse Midwifery

Nurse midwifery students study women's prenatal and postpartum care, including labor and delivery, newborn care, and reproductive health.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing

A psychiatric mental health nursing specialty prepares graduates to treat mental health disorders and psychiatric conditions. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can prescribe medications to treat conditions.

Example Courses for Online RN-to-MSN Students

Online RN-to-MSN programs can 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 can 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

    By 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 can 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

    By emphasizing the importance of exploring principles of team dynamics, shared leadership, and interprofessional practice, the leadership for patient-centered care course touches on negotiation, mediation, collaboration, consultation, and conflict resolution.

  • Healing Environments and Practices

    Through examining evidence-based integrative approaches to support structural and human care processes, the healing environments and practices course evaluates models of optimal healing environments. Students can explore how to promote organizational and personal health and wellness.

Internship Component

During an RN-to-MSN degree, each nursing student must complete an internship or practicum to strengthen their training. In a nurse educator program, for example, nursing practicums include hours teaching nurses. Each enrollee must complete clinical hours under the supervision of a certified NP.

The clinical hour requirements vary depending on the specialty. Generally, clinical specialties require more clinical hours than tracks for nurse executives or nurse educators. Online students can typically complete the internship requirement at local Sites approved by their programs. Many working nurses complete clinical hours at their current places of employment.

Certifications an MSN Prepares Nurses For

Several nursing specializations require certification after completing a master's degree. For example, NPs must both hold a license and national certification to treat patients. With an MSN, nurses can pursue certification from an accredited certifying body.

Nurses can pursue certification from several organizations, depending on the specialization. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board (AANPCB), the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) all grant certifications to NPs.

During the certification process, nurses must meet educational and clinical hour requirements. They also take an examination, which typically costs between $250-$400. Certified NPs must recertify every five years by meeting continuing education requirements or by retaking the exam.

Nurses in other specialties, including critical care, case management, and nurse education, can also pursue certifications with their master's degrees. By pursuing certification, advanced practice nurses demonstrate their skills and qualifications.

Accreditation for Online RN-to-MSN Programs

A nurse considering an RN-to-MSN program should always ensure that it has received accreditation. Accredited programs meet the highest standards for nursing education. An accredited nursing degree fulfills the qualifications for professional certifications and licenses, including board certification, and many employers only hire nurses with accredited degrees.

The best online RN-to-MSN programs hold accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). As an independent, nonprofit accrediting agency, CCNE reviews nursing programs to determine whether to grant accreditation. Programs must meet high standards, including in their graduation requirements, faculty qualifications, and student learning outcomes, to maintain their accreditation.

In addition to CCNE accreditation, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) accredits graduate nursing programs. Some specialized nursing programs also hold accreditation from other agencies. For example, the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education (ACME) grants accreditation to nurse midwife programs.

Job and Salary Outlook

Job Opportunities for MSN Graduates

  • Nurse Practitioner

    NPs act as primary care providers, treating patients experiencing many different medical conditions. They work in doctor's offices, clinics, and hospitals, diagnosing conditions and determining treatment plans. These practitioners can also prescribe medication to patients. NPs typically specialize in fields such as family care, pediatrics, prenatal care, or acute care.

  • Nurse Anesthetist

    Nurse anesthetists care for patients before, during, and after surgery and other procedures that require anesthesia. They administer anesthesia to patients, monitor their vital signs, and discuss pain management with patients. Nurse anesthetists typically work in hospitals or surgical centers.

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    Psychiatric NPs treat patients suffering from mental health disorders. They diagnose conditions, discuss treatment options with patients, and prescribe medication. These NPs earn specialized master's degrees that provide training in mental health diagnosis and treatment. They may work in hospitals, doctor's offices, or private practice.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    FNPs provide primary care to patients of all ages, including children and adolescents. Like primary care doctors, FNPs diagnose medical conditions, create treatment plans for their patients, and prescribe medication. These practitioners work in doctor's offices, clinics, and hospitals.

  • Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

    Acute care NPs specialize in treating sudden illnesses and critical injuries. They work in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and in other hospital departments or clinics. These NPs also treat chronic conditions, including performing medical procedures or prescribing medication.

  • Nurse Midwife

    Nurse midwives provide gynecological care for women, including prenatal care. They perform deliveries for patients, including assisting surgeons in the case of a caesarian section. Nurse midwives also care for newborn infants and postpartum women. They often work in clinics, doctor's offices, and hospitals.

How Much Do MSN Graduates Make?
  Entry Level
0-12 Months
Early Career
1-4 Years
Mid Career
5-9 Years
10-19 Years
Nurse Practitioner $87,791 $91,598 $96,958 $100,724
Nurse Anesthetist $129,979 $137,637 $149,719 $161,144
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner $96,843 $100,237 $106,816 $112,722
Family Nurse Practitioner $88,847 $92,510 $97,562 $98,652
Acute Care Nurse Practitioner $94,639 $98,001 $105,924 $110,017
Nurse Midwife $88,028 $90,634 $96,875 $91,451

Financing Your RN-to-MSN Program

Students earning their MSNs can qualify for multiple scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid. Nursing students qualify for federal financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to the scholarships listed below, nursing students qualify for many nursing scholarships and grants.

Scholarships for RN-to-MSN Students

  • Geraldine "Polly" Bednash Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: The scholarship awards two $5,000 awards four times per year. An applicant must maintain a minimum 3.2 GPA and demonstrate enrollment or an admission offer from a BSN or higher program. An RN-to-MSN program meets the requirements.

    Amount: $5,000

  • Minority Nursing Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Applicants for the essay writing scholarship must be students of color enrolled full-time in a graduate-level nursing program. The competition requires a 250-word essay on the candidate's personal or professional goals.

    Amount: $2,000

  • HRSA NURSE Corps Scholarship Program

    Who Can Apply: The program covers tuition and fees for nurses who agree to work at a facility facing a critical shortage of nurses after graduation. Applicants must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment at accredited schools of nursing.

    Amount: Varies

  • Tylenol Future Care Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Each applicant must provide proof of enrollment in a graduate program in nursing with at least one year of school remaining on their degree. The scholarship prioritizes students pursuing degrees that involve actively treating patients.

    Amount: Varies

  • RN-to-BSN/MSN Challenge

    Who Can Apply: An applicant for the scholarship enrolled in an RN-to-MSN program can apply by filling out a form and providing a 500-700-word essay. The scholarship requires a minimum 3.5 GPA.

    Amount: $1,000