Best Accredited Online MSN Degrees

By: NurseJournal.org Staff
Last Updated: December 2019

Best Online MSN Degree Programs

What Is an MSN?

What is an MSN? And what can you do with an MSN? A master of science in nursing prepares RNs for advanced practice roles, training them for lucrative specialties like nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, and nurse anesthetist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs earn a median salary of over $71,000. Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including nurse practitioners, earn nearly $114,000 per year on average.

APRNs benefit from much faster than average job growth. While the BLS projects 12% job growth for RNs between 2018 and 2028, the projected job growth for APRNs is a much higher 26%. Pursuing an MSN helps nurses advance their careers with higher earning potential, increased responsibilities, and stronger job growth.

During an online MSN program, nurses strengthen their clinical, research, and leadership skills. Nursing students also pursue specialties in fields like oncology, neonatal care, psychiatric care, and family care. Graduates work as family nurse practitioners, pediatric nurse practitioners, acute care nurse practitioners, and nurse anesthetists. Many programs also offer tracks for nurse educators and nurse administrators, which train nurses to take leadership roles in healthcare organizations.

If you are a nurse seeking information about online MSN degrees, this page covers the top-ranked online MSN programs, how to find the best accredited online MSN degrees, and what to expect during an MSN program. Learn how to advance your career with the flexibility and accessibility of an online MSN degree.

What Can You Do with an Online MSN?

Career Paths

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners act as primary care providers for patients of all ages. They examine patients to diagnose medical conditions, create treatment plans, and prescribe medications. Nurse practitioners often specialize in an area such as gerontology, neonatal, or family care. They work in doctor's offices, hospitals, and clinics.

Nurse Anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists administer anesthesia during medical procedures like surgery. They assess patients to determine their anesthesia dosages, monitor vital signs during procedures, and provide pain management care after procedures. Nurse anesthetists often work in hospitals and surgical clinics.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners care for patients with mental health disorders. They diagnose psychiatric conditions and create treatment plans, which can involve prescribing medication. They may also provide preventative care for patients with a family history of mental illness. Many work in hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities.

Family Nurse Practitioner

Family nurse practitioners provide primary care to patients from childhood through old age. Like a primary care doctor, family nurse practitioners can diagnose conditions, create treatment plans, and prescribe medication. They often work in a physician's office, treating patients during normal business hours.

Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Acute care nurse practitioners specialize in caring for acute injuries and illnesses. They provide short-term care for patients who require immediate treatment, including in hospitals and urgent care clinics. Intensive care units, emergency rooms, and neonatal intensive care units employ acute care nurse practitioners.

Nurse Midwife

Nurse midwives provide women's reproductive care for patients, including prenatal care. They monitor pregnant women during labor, deliver babies, and care for newborns immediately after birth. Nurse midwives also provide postpartum care for new mothers. Nurse midwives may work in a hospital, clinic, or private practice.

Common Employers for Professionals with an MSN

  • Hospitals

    Many advanced practice registered nurses work in hospital settings. For example, nurse anesthetists work in hospitals and surgical centers where patients require anesthesia. Most hospitals operate on a shift schedule, meaning nurses work beyond typical business hours. Nurses in hospitals provide acute and specialized care, and they may also work as nurse administrators or educators.

  • Long-Term Care Clinics

    Nurses with an MSN can work in long-term care clinics and other outpatient clinics, depending on their specializations. In these settings, nurses treat patients with chronic conditions or those who are at the end of their lives. Psychiatric nurse practitioners may work in long-term care clinics, for example.

  • Private Practice

    The majority of APRNs work in doctor's offices or other private practice settings. In private practice, nurses typically work business hours, unlike the shift schedule at a hospital. Children, adults, and elderly patients visit private practice facilities for primary care, acute care, and chronic condition treatments.

Salaries for Professionals with an MSN
  Entry Level
0-12 Months
Early Career
1-4 Years
Mid Career
5-9 Years
Experienced
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

Find the Best Accredited Online MSN Programs

Georgetown University

Georgetown University offers an accredited online MSN degree for nurse practitioners. Nursing students choose from specializations like family nurse practitioner or women's health nurse practitioner. The curriculum includes master's coursework, clinical hours, and on-campus intensives. Depending on the track, MSN students can choose part-time or full-time enrollment. Some students earn their degrees in 19 months.

  • Campus: Washington, D.C.
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $2,139 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN from an ACEN- or CCNE-accredited institution; current RN license; resume; official transcripts; three letters of recommendation; interview
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 19 months
  • On-Campus Requirements: Yes
  • Programs: Adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner; family nurse practitioner; nurse midwifery/women's health nurse practitioner; women's health nurse practitioner
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

University of San Francisco

The University of San Francisco offers an online MSN program for nurses with an associate degree or a bachelor's degree. Designed for working nurses, the MSN program takes two years. Nursing students complete coursework on an asynchronous schedule, meaning the program does not require set class times.

  • Campus: San Francisco, California
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $1,430 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Associate degree in nursing or bachelor's degree; minimum 3.0 GPA; personal statement; resume; two letters of recommendation
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On Campus Requirements: No
  • Program: Master of science in nursing
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Simmons School of Nursing and Health

The RN-to-MSN program at the Simmons School of Nursing and Health admits RNs to train as family nurse practitioners. The program incorporates 68 credits of coursework and 836 clinical hours. Students can choose full-time or part-time enrollment options, with full-time students graduating in 30 months.

  • Campus: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • 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: MSN family nurse practitioner
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

American Sentinel University

The online MSN programs at American Sentinel University give nurses a variety of concentration options, including case management, nursing informatics, and infection prevention and control. The fully online program, available in eight states, lets nurses work at their own paces without required login times. Nursing students must complete 585 clinical hours.

  • Campus: Denver, Colorado
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $545 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Active RN license; BSN degree; minimum 2.0 GPA
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On Campus Requirements:: No
  • Programs: Infection prevention and control; case management; nursing education; nursing informatics; nursing management and organizational leadership; adult gerontology primary care nurse practitioner; family nurse practitioner
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Capella University

At Capella University, nursing students can earn an online MSN degree in 12 months. Capella offers a flexible schedule wherein nurses take unlimited courses in a 12-week period. Nurses can also select a guided path for their degrees. Students choose tracks like nursing education, care coordination, and nursing administration.

  • Campus: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $435 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN from an accredited institution; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 12 months
  • On Campus Requirements: No
  • Program: Care coordination; nursing education; nursing informatics; nursing leadership and administration
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Jacksonville University

The online MSN program at Jacksonville University offers specializations in clinical nurse education, leadership in healthcare systems, and informatics. Nursing students can enroll part time or full time, taking courses in eight-week terms. Online students complete coursework fully online and meet practicum requirements in their local areas.

  • Campus: Jacksonville, Florida
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $650 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN from a CCNE-, NLN-, or ACEN-accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; GRE scores for applicants who do not meet the minimum GPA; three letters of recommendation; resume; statement of intent; valid RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: Clinical nurse education; leadership in healthcare systems; informatics specialization
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Sacred Heart University

Sacred Heart University offers an online MSN degree with options for family nurse practitioners, clinical nurse leaders, nursing educators, and nurse executives. Unlike most accredited online MSN degrees, Sacred Heart admits RNs with bachelor's degrees in non-nursing subjects. Nursing students build clinical, leadership, and educational competencies during the program.

  • Campus: Fairfield, Connecticut
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $695 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: Current RN license; bachelor's degree in nursing or another field; minimum 3.0 GPA; resume; statement of professional goals; two letters of recommendation
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: Clinical nurse leader; nursing management and executive leadership; nursing education; family nurse practitioner
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Saint Xavier University

Saint Xavier University offers an online MSN degree for nurses seeking leadership roles in the field. Nursing students choose from two leadership-focused specializations -- clinical leadership or executive leadership -- and a nurse educator track. This fully online program strengthens clinical and management skills to help nurses advance their careers.

  • Campus: Chicago, Illinois
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $750 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN from an accredited program; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; 3-5 years of relevant leadership or management experience for the executive nurse leadership track
  • On Campus Requirements: No
  • Programs: Clinical leadership; executive leadership; nurse educator
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Ball State University

At Ball State University, nursing students can earn a fully online MSN degree with tracks for nurse educators, nurse administrators, and family nurse practitioners. In each concentration, students complete nursing courses and a practicum to strengthen their clinical skills. Ball State offers a tuition discount for Indiana residents.

  • Campus: Muncie, Indiana
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $442 per credit for Indiana residents; $651 per credit for out-of-state students
  • Admission Requirements: BSN from an accredited nursing program; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On Campus Requirements: None
  • Programs: Nurse educator; nurse administrator; family nurse practitioner
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Saint Joseph's College of Maine

Saint Joseph's College of Maine offers an online MSN program with tracks for nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and nurse administrators. The fully online program prepares graduates for leadership roles by emphasizing patient-centered healthcare delivery. Nursing students can earn their MSNs in two years or choose a part-time enrollment option that takes longer. 

  • Campus: Standish, Maine
  • Type: Private
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education
  • Tuition: $644 per credit
  • Admission Requirements: BSN from an accredited institution; minimum 3.0 GPA; current RN license; official transcripts; resume; career statement; three references
  • Minimum Time Commitment: 24 months
  • On Campus Requirements: No, except for the adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner track
  • Programs: Adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner; family nurse practitioner/individual across the lifespan nurse practitioner; administration; education
  • School site: Tuition | Financial aid

Is an Online MSN Program the Right Choice for Me?

Benefits of Online Learning

  • Accessibility

    One benefit of online MSN programs is their accessibility. With any online program, lectures and course materials are available wherever there is an internet connection. Many online programs cater to working professionals and offer asynchronous courses, meaning coursework is available at any time.

  • Flexibility

    Online MSN programs offer flexibility; students can complete coursework on their own time and choose whether to attend part time or full time. Some nursing master's programs are cohort-based, in which students go through courses together, at the same speed. Other programs allow students to complete courses at their individual paces. Some also offer credit for experience and professional certifications.

  • School Options

    Location is not an issue with online nursing master's programs, which allows MSN students to choose the best programs for them in terms of available specializations, schedules, and price. Students should note on-campus course requirements, which could impact work schedule and incur additional travel costs. Some programs have restrictions on accepting students from certain states.

  • Diversity

    Earning an MSN online allows students to interact with nursing professionals from all over the country and across the world. The program's flexibility also attracts nurses with different work schedules, meaning students come from diverse professional backgrounds. This diversity can lead to extensive networking opportunities for online program graduates.

  • Technology

    Online MSN programs are delivered through various course management systems, which provide virtual environments with features found in on-campus classes. Most systems allow students to have in-depth discussions with classmates and teachers, take online tests from home, and access university resources, such as the library. Different programs have different course delivery formats. Asynchronous courses allow students to log in at any time, while synchronous courses require students to virtually attend live lectures.

Admissions Requirements for an Online MSN

Applicants must meet admission requirements to get a nursing MSN. Most programs require a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited program and proof of RN licensure. They often set a GPA minimum -- typically 3.0-- for full admission, though some programs consider candidates who do not meet the minimum threshold.

In addition to meeting educational and licensure requirements, applicants often must provide letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Most online MSN programs do not require test scores, though some accept the GRE for applicants with lower GPAs.

Accreditation for Online RN-to-MSN Programs

Nurses considering a master's program in nursing should always choose an accredited program. An accredited online MSN degree meets the highest standards for nursing education. Many employers only hire nurses with accredited degrees, and accredited nursing degrees meet the requirements for licenses and professional certifications, including board certification. As a result, nursing students should research a program's accreditation status before applying.

To earn accreditation, MSN programs voluntarily submit to review from an accrediting agency such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). These independent, nonprofit agencies evaluate programs based on their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, clinical requirements, and graduation requirements.

Specialized graduate programs in nursing may pursue accreditation from several other agencies. For example, the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education grants accreditation to nurse midwife programs, while the Council on Accreditation of Nurse Anesthesia Educational Programs accredits nurse anesthetist programs.

What to Expect from an Online Master's of Science in Nursing Program

About the Program

An online MSN program prepares nurses for advanced roles. During an MSN program, students complete curriculum requirements, which include coursework and clinical hours. Many programs incorporate an internship, practicum, or capstone to build career-ready skills. Nursing students also choose a specialization such as nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist.

The length of an online MSN varies, with most programs requiring at least 30 credits. Full-time students generally earn their degrees in two years, though accelerated programs may grant an MSN in one year. Students who enroll part time require additional time.

Several factors shape the experience of MSN students, including program type, clinical hour requirements, and specialty. Some specialties, such as nurse midwifery, require additional coursework and clinical hours. Many online programs offer an asynchronous schedule designed to fit the variable schedules of working nurses.

Typical Curriculum for an Online MSN Program

Students in an online MSN program complete a curriculum designed to build clinical skills and prepare graduates for advanced practice roles in nursing. While the curriculum varies depending on the program and specialization, nursing students often complete core courses in advanced health assessment, evidence-based practice, and patient-centered care. Some programs incorporate coursework in nursing informatics, nursing research, and healthcare administration.

Within a specialization, MSN students complete classes in nursing evaluation, nursing leadership, and patient care for nurse practitioners. Each specialty incorporates clinical hours, which vary depending on the state and specialty. Online nursing students typically complete their clinical hours at a local site under an approved preceptor.

Many MSN programs incorporate a capstone course in which students bring together their coursework and clinical training to research a topic and complete a project. For this project, nursing students analyze empirical evidence to address a problem in their specialty.

Types of MSN Degrees/Specializations

During an MSN program, nursing students choose a specialization to prepare for a specific career path after graduation. Common MSN nurse specializations include nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, nurse educator, and nurse anesthetist. Depending on the specialization, nursing students might need to complete additional clinical hours. For example, most nurse practitioners complete over 500 clinical hours, compared with nurse educator programs, which often require fewer practicum hours.

Nursing students should consider several factors when choosing a specialty. Nurses who prefer patient care and want greater responsibility may prefer a nurse practitioner specialty, such as family nurse practitioner or psychiatric nurse practitioner. Nurses interested in training and education can become nurse educators. Prospective MSN students should also consider their strengths, preferred work settings, and career goals when choosing a specialty.

  • Family Nurse Practitioner

    Family nurse practitioners act as primary care providers for patients across the lifespan. They diagnose and treat medical conditions, including prescribing medication, and perform annual wellness exams.

  • Nurse Educator

    Nurse educators train nurses in academic and clinical settings. They teach at colleges and universities or train nursing staff at hospitals or other healthcare locations.

  • Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    Psychiatric nurse practitioners treat patients struggling with mental health disorders. They diagnose psychiatric conditions and determine treatment plans, which can include prescribing medication.

  • Nurse Anesthetist

    Nurse anesthetists care for patients before, during, and after medical procedures that require anesthesia. They interview patients, monitor vital signs, and provide pain management support after a procedure.

  • Nurse Midwife

    Nurse midwives provide women's reproductive care, including prenatal care for pregnant women. They deliver babies, care for newborns, and treat postpartum women.

Certifications an MSN Prepares Nurses For

After completing a master's degree in nursing, graduates can pursue certification to demonstrate their skills. Several nursing specializations, including nurse practitioner, require national certification to treat patients. An accredited MSN meets the qualifications for a variety of certifications.

Nurse practitioners in several specialties pursue certification from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, or the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

To earn certification, candidates must meet educational requirements, complete supervised clinical hour requirements, and pass an examination. The exam generally costs $250-$400, depending on the specialization and certifying agency. Certified nurse practitioners maintain their credentials by recertifying every five years. The recertification process requires either continuing education or retaking the exam.

Several other nursing specialties also offer certification, including nurse education, nurse executive, and critical care nursing. Pursuing certification helps nurses demonstrate their advanced clinical skills and qualifications.