Best Online RN to MSN Programs

As Americans live longer, our national healthcare system relies more on the dedication of nurses. Registered nurses, or RNs, take on many responsibilities, from gathering patient histories and administering medications, to assisting physicians in clinics and hospitals. For RNs with a bachelor’s degree (BSN), the number of jobs and average gross income is predicted to increase, opening up positions in management and administration. What distinguishes the master’s in science in nursing (MSN) from the BSN amounts to a higher level of specialization; degree holders pursue careers in areas such as anesthesiology or orthopedic care. These positions exponentially increase one’s earning potential, from the basic RN, whose average income is around $70,000, to those with an MSN, whose average income is around $110,930.

More advanced positions require additional certification through education. An RN to MSN online degree can help you achieve your goals.

1. Western Governors University

WGU is a fully online college that serves students around the country. It offers a master of science in nursing education featuring an RN-to-MSN pathway. The school uses an innovative course format in which students pay a flat tuition fee each academic term, rather than paying by credit or course. This enables online learners to complete the degree at their own pace, and the format offers monetary benefits to those who can allocate more time to their studies and complete a heavier course load each term.

WGU utilizes a professionally focused, competency-based education model, which allows students to skip course content they already know, completing the program faster. Nursing candidates work with academic advisers to determine a degree plan based on time or cost requirements, with most candidates taking 1-3 years to complete their RN-to-MSN online program.

Campus: Salt Lake City, Utah
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $9,750 for BSN to MSN and $13,000 for RN to MSN
Degree requirements: ADN or Diploma in Nursing, RN license, BSN if applicable, current relevant employment, criminal background check
Minimum time commitment: 18 months for BSN to MSN and 24 months for ADN to MSN
Programs: RN to MSN and BSN to MSN Nurse Educator
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

2. Grantham University

A professionally focused college based in Kentucky, Grantham offers one of the most affordable RN-to-MSN online programs in the country; it offers four specialization options: case management, nursing education, nursing informatics, and nursing management. Students complete 25 credits of bridge coursework and a competency exam (equivalent to a bachelor of science in nursing) before beginning graduate coursework. Depending on transfer credit and course load, students can complete the bridge to the master of science in nursing program in as few as eight months.

Candidates then complete 24 credits of core graduate coursework, including classes in population health, nursing leadership, and health assessment. Grantham offers a competitive tuition rate for nursing students, and online learners pay the same tuition regardless of state residency, making the program a cost-effective choice for students around the country. The school offers reduced tuition rates for active service military, veterans, and students from military families.

Campus: Lenexa, Kansas
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $250 per credit hour for military personnel and veterans; $265 per credit hour for the undergraduate element; $325 per credit hour for the graduate element
Degree requirements: ADN or ASN, CGPA of 2.5 minimum, RN license
Minimum time commitment: 21 credit hours
Programs: RN to MSN in Leadership and Management
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

3. Grand Canyon University

A Christian college in Phoenix, Arizona, GCU ranks among the country’s largest distance education providers in the country. The school offers several accelerated RN-to-MSN programs online, including a BSN-to-MSN fast-track program with a similar completion time to an RN-to-MSN program. Students can apply undergraduate elective credits toward their master’s degree, completing the program at a faster pace. Candidates choose from seven unique master’s options, including healthcare informatics, nursing education, public health nursing, and acute care nurse practitioner.

The school also offers a hybrid MSN-MBA dual degree program for nurses interested in advanced healthcare management positions. Though most program tracks require 36-53 credits, the dual MSN-MBA requires 66 credits. GCU’s nursing programs use convenient eight-week course blocks, with a primarily online format designed to support working nurses. Some degrees, such as acute care nurse practitioner, require short on-campus sessions that build clinical experience.

Campus: Phoenix, Arizona
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $465 per credit for undergraduate element and $495 per credit for graduate element
Degree requirements: ADN or Diploma in Nursing, RN license
Minimum time commitment: Varies depending on chosen specialization
Programs: MSN Bridge option – Leadership in Health Care Systems, Nursing Education, Public Health or Health Care Informatics; MSN/MBA dual degree; Acute Care Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

4. Drexel University

Drexel’s online RN-to-MSN programs serve professional nurses who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field and wish to pursue graduate studies in nursing. Students complete one bridge course — genetics and genomics: application to nursing practice — before beginning the graduate curriculum. The school offers six online concentration options for nursing students, including clinical nurse leader, innovation and entrepreneurship in advanced nursing practice, leadership in health systems management, and clinical trials research.

Most tracks require 45-48 credits and include a mixture of core courses, support courses, and track courses. All students complete a 15-credit core that covers major topics such as ethical decision making, research methods and biostatistics, and quality and safety in healthcare. Track courses focus on advanced skills and professional preparation, and most concentrations include a significant practicum component that requires students to apply their learning to a professional healthcare environment.

Campus: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $861 per credit
Degree requirements: Varies depending on chosen MSN specialization
Minimum time commitment: Varies depending on specialization, averaging four terms
Programs: RN to MSN Clinical Nurse Leader, Clinical Trials Research, Innovation and Intra/Entrepreneurship in Advanced Nursing Practice, Leadership and Health Systems Management, and Nursing Education and Faculty Role
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

5. University of Arizona

Based in Tucson, Arizona, U of A hosts one of the top RN-to-MSN online programs in the state. The school’s online master of science in nursing in clinical systems leadership offers an accelerated pathway for working nurses looking to advance in the field. Students complete a total of 11 courses that focus on topics in evidence-based practice improvement, healthcare technology, health promotion, quality and safety, and strategies for creating healing environments.

At the end of the program, candidates complete a capstone in which they design a patient care management plan under close faculty supervision. All courses use a fully online format that enables nurses to complete their degree without ever visiting campus, and candidates typically complete the program in about 24 months. Nurses who already possess a BSN can skip many courses and complete their degree in as few as 15 months.

Campus: Tuscon, Arizona
Type: Public
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $37,628
Degree requirements: RN license, ADN or BSN, GPA of 3.0, clinical work experience, transcripts
Minimum time commitment: 15 months for BSN, 2 years for ADN
Programs: RN to MSN or Bachelor’s to MSN in Clinical Systems Leadership
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

6. Frontier University

Based in Hyden, Kentucky, Frontier University concentrates exclusively on nursing education and offers one of the best online RN-to-MSN programs in the country. Open to working nurses with at least one year of professional experience, the program serves applicants who do not hold a bachelor’s degree in any field. Students first complete one year of bridge courses, followed by the standard MSN curriculum, which requires candidates to choose from four graduate tracks: nurse-midwife, family nurse practitioner, women’s healthcare nurse practitioner, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

Each track requires 61-64 credits to complete, and Frontier offers both full-time and part-time options. Along with coursework, all candidates complete 675 hours of clinical practice, building practical skills in a professional setting. Frontier offers most coursework online, but students must visit campus for two residency sessions — a four-day orientation at the beginning of the program and a five-day clinical skills intensive — after completing introductory coursework.

Campus: Hyden, Kentucky
Type: Private
Accreditation: ACME and CCNE
Tuition: $54,570 for nurse midwifery, $52,965 for family nurse practitioner
Degree requirements: RN license, GPA of 3.0, one year work experience minimum, three letters of reference, TOEFL if applicable
Minimum time commitment: 102 credits for nurse midwifery, 99 credits for nurse practitioner
Programs: ADN to MSN + DNP in Nurse Midwifery and Family Nurse Practitioner
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

7. Aspen University

Aspen’s fully online RN-to-MSN gives students the skills to enhance quality of life for individual patients, families, and communities; it prepares graduates for leadership positions in healthcare management, clinical practice, and nursing education. Aspen offers five specialization options, including forensic nursing, informatics, administration and management, nursing education, and public health. Offering maximum flexibility for working nurses, Aspen’s online RN-to-MSN programs feature start dates every two weeks and fully asynchronous courses with no required class meetings or log-in times.

Each specialization track requires a total of 57 credits spread across 19 courses. Candidates complete seven foundation courses that serve as a bridge to graduate study; they cover topics such as health assessment, nursing research, and community health nursing. After a proctored bridge exam, students complete 12 courses that explore advanced topics in nursing along with specialization knowledge.

Campus: Denver, Colorado
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $325 per credit
Degree requirements: Resume, goal statement, ADN, liberal arts courses, RN license, one year nursing experience minimum.
Minimum time commitment: 57 credits
Programs: RN to MSN Nursing Education or Nursing Administration and Management
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

8. South University

Based in Savannah, Georgia, South University offers an RN-to-MSN online with a specialization in family nurse practitioner. Training nurses to deliver care across the human lifespan, the degree builds skills in clinical judgment, communication, critical thinking, and leadership. The MSN curriculum requires a minimum of 62 credits, including 20 credits of core courses and 42 credits of family nurse practitioner courses. The program emphasizes experiential learning, and all candidates complete an extensive nursing practicum that covers four major areas of caregiving: adult and gerontology, women’s health, pediatrics, and primary care.

The curriculum prepares graduates to sit for professional certification exams from both the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. While the school serves students from around the country, state licensing and practicum requirements prevent residents of certain states from enrolling online, including Alabama, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Campus: Savannah, Georgia
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: Varies depending on the South University campus
Degree requirements: Students are encouraged to contact the school to discuss requirements
Minimum time commitment: Varies depending on student
Programs: RN to MSN Family Nurse Practitioners
School Site: Program information | Financial Aid

9. Concordia University Wisconsin

A private Christian college based in the city of Mequon, CUW offers an RN-to-MSN online pathway that allows registered nurses to earn their bachelor’s degree in as few as 18 months before moving on to a master of science in nursing. Students choose from three fully online concentration options: family nurse practitioner, adult/gerontology nurse practitioner, and nurse educator.

The MSN curriculum requires 39-41 credits and includes a program core that covers topics such as pharmacotherapeutics, healthcare policy issues, and advanced pathophysiology across the lifespan. Students also select from several specialization courses depending on their chosen track. Most tracks take 3-4 years to complete. CUW offers start dates in both the fall and spring, providing flexibility for working students.

Campus: Mequon, Wisconsin
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $640 per credit
Degree requirements: ADN, GPA of 3.0 minimum, RN license, CPR certification, current nursing employment, certified background check
Minimum time commitment:
Programs: RN to BSN to MSN in Family Nurse Practitioner, Adult/Gerontology Nurse Practitioner or Nurse Educator
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

10. Vanderbilt University

A prestigious private college based in Nashville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt offers a hybrid RN-to-MSN program with built-in flexibility for working nurses. The program offers more than a dozen advanced specialization options, including neonatal nurse practitioner, nurse-midwifery, pediatric nurse care practitioner, and women’s health nurse practitioner. Vanderbilt nursing courses use a distributed learning format that mixes online learning with concentrated blocks of campus time, typically lasting just a few days.

While candidates do not need to reside in the Nashville area, they may need to visit campus up to four times each semester to fulfill learning requirements. Students who reside outside of Nashville can complete supervised practicum work near their homes. Vanderbilt offers full-time and part-time enrollment options, including an accelerated format that enables candidates to complete their RN-to-MSN online in as little as two years of full-time, year-round study.

Campus: Nashville, Tennessee
Type: Private
Accreditation: CCNE
Tuition: $1,195 per credit hour
Degree requirements: Transcripts, three letters of recommendation, GRE for the MSN element, answers to six application questions, prerequisite courses, RN license
Minimum time commitment: 39 credits
Programs: ASN to MSN in Healthcare Leadership
School Site: Tuition | Financial Aid

RN to MSN Online Programs: An Overview

RN to MSN online programs require a formal application to demonstrate your educational credentials and previous professional experience. Depending on the degree format — 100% online or hybrid or full-time or part-time enrollment — MSN completion times vary. The following sections detail some of the things to look for when searching for an online program.

Admission Requirements for an Online RN to MSN Program

To apply for online RN to MSN programs, you need to provide proof of previous education and certification. Most schools require an associate or bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Many schools expect applicants to have completed at least one course in statistics. You also need to supply proof of RN status and letters of recommendation. Additionally, some schools require GRE test scores, and international students, or those with English as a second language, need to submit TOEFL language competency scores.

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

The length of time needed to complete your MSN degree varies depending on your time commitment. As a full-time student, you can complete the degree in as little as 1.5 years in accelerated RN to MSN programs online, though typically MSNs take two full years to complete. As a part-time student, the degree takes longer, potentially extending into a third or fourth year. Degree length also depends on the type of program you choose. In a self-paced program, students complete courses asynchronously, allowing them to work and go to school. Cohort learning requires participants to submit assignments and complete exams on a semester or quarter schedule. While cohort learning restricts flexibility, a paced program maintains steady progression and can increase graduation potential.

Concentrations Offered for an Online MSN Degree

Nurse Anesthetist
Work in surgical theaters as an administrative assistant of anesthesia. Evaluate patients and procedural anesthetic needs, make decisions regarding patient programs, administer and monitor patients during procedures, and provide outpatient advice on pain management. This specialization prepares you to make key medical decisions.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Surgical nurse anesthetist (hospital), Hospital/clinical emergency room nurse, Dental anesthetist

 

Gerontology
Care for geriatric patients as a gerontological specialist. Address cognitive and mobility issues, as well as shifting emotions and daily restrictions. Record and monitor vital signs, administer medications, and assist with exercise to make daily chores more approachable.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Geriatric nurse in a hospital or clinic, Retirement home nurse, Residential care facility nurse

 

Midwife
Work with OBGYNs and pediatric physicians to assist expectant mothers. Administer prenatal care by helping mothers navigate medications, checkups, and general health, and assist or take the lead in home births.

Careers this concentration prepares for: Hospital midwife, Private practice midwife, Clinical nursery midwife

Example Courses for Online RN to MSN Students

  • Ethical Issues in Advanced Nursing: Examine the social, economic, legal, and political forces surrounding the field of nursing in this course on ethics. Learn about the role of nursing in social justice and the administration of safe and effective care. Study patient rights on a national and local level, as well as methods of maintaining evidence-based, unbiased healthcare.
  • Women’s Healthcare: Learn the history of and current issues regarding women’s health. This course introduces students to gynecology, family planning, midwifery, postpartum care, and menopausal/post-menopausal transition. This class focuses on phases of maternity, from pregnancy to child nursing and neonatal care.
  • Statistical Analysis in Nursing: Apply statistical research methods, including linear regression, model validation, discriminant function, principal components analysis, and variant models to effectively analyze data gathered from patients and test groups. Gain a deeper understanding of statistics in healthcare and mathematical analysis, and put these skills to work in subsequent coursework on quantitative analysis.
  • Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods: Analyze research projects and design new approaches in this course on the fundamentals of quantitative research. Integrate data analysis and methodological interpretation into one’s education on current healthcare practices.
  • Oncology Nursing Fundamentals: In this course, students learn about the extreme situations that occur in tandem with acute care. Gain information on current practices of prevention and risk assessment, detection and treatment, and symptoms management.

Internship Component

To complete your online RN to MSN program, you must complete in an internship practicum. This ensures that your online education translates into practical and demonstrable performance in the field. The supervised internship takes place in a hospital or clinic with a recognized preceptor (a medical professional qualified to take on interns), where you join a healthcare team for a school term (typically between two and five months). While some schools provide clinical placement specialists, many online students need to complete some independent research to find a registered preceptor. This internship allows you to collaborate on diagnostic assessment, healthcare implementation, and outpatient rehabilitation programs.

Certifications and Licenses This Program Prepares For

    • State Nursing Licensure: Each state in the U.S. maintains individual requirements for nursing licensure. Additionally, increasing national standards are shaping the nursing field, from nursing education and training to professional benchmarks and ongoing education. Be sure to check the requirements in your state before embarking on an MSN program, and make note of state differences in the event of relocation.
    • American Nursing Credentialing Certification: This certification requires successful scores on the ANCC exam and can be tailored toward your particula

r area of specialization, including clinical nurse specialist certifications and interprofessional certifications.

  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification: The AANP caters to family doctors, gerontological care, and emergency medical centers. An AANP certification in one of these three areas gives the holder a national certification demonstrating their ability to maintain a high level of healthcare standards.

Accreditation for Online RN to MSN Programs

No matter which nursing specialty you decide to pursue, a key factor in any MSN degree is school accreditation. Accreditation is a marker of approval: it declares the quality of your education to potential employers and colleagues and indicates that your training maps onto today’s healthcare system. Without accreditation, you can not qualify to sit for state licensure exams and will be barred from professional practice.

Nationwide, the Department of Education accredits post-secondary programs through six regional governing bodies, including the Higher Education Commission and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The American Nursing Association (ANA) accredits nursing education specifically. Find your school’s accreditation on its website, or search directly on the ED’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation website or the ANA’s accreditation page.

Job and Salary Outlook

What Can You Do With an MSN Degree?

Multiple career paths are possible with an RN to MSN degree online. Depending on the specialization you select, positions in clinical care, gerontology, women’s health, oncology, and anesthesiology all become possible avenues. The following table details some of the popular professions resulting from MSN degrees. Hone your skills in pain management and surgical administration as an anesthesiology nurse, work with expectant mothers and OBGYNs as a midwife, or increase mobility of temporarily or permanently impaired patients as an occupational therapist.

Nurse Anesthetist

 

Median Annual Salary: $160,270

Nurse anesthetists work with both patients and physicians to assess medications for procedures and chronic or ongoing issues. Perform diagnostic tests, administer anesthesia, and monitor procedures and post-op rehabilitation.


 

Physician Assistant

 

Median Annual Salary: $104,860

Work closely with a physician or a team of physicians and specialists to provide acute care. Research the latest in treatment therapies and surgical procedures and assess patient progress in a collaborative environment.


 

Nurse Educator

 

Median Annual Salary: $71,260

Train new nurses as a nurse educator or instructor. Teach patient care, quantitative research and analysis, medication administration, and outpatient therapies.


 

Midwife

 

Median Annual Salary: $100,590

Work with OBGYNs, expectant mothers, and independent women as a midwife. Assist with prenatal preparation and care, monitor mothers through the stages of pregnancy, participate in birth, and assist with postpartum issues and challenges.


 

Occupational Therapist

 

Median Annual Salary: $83,200

Help patients with disabilities or physical restrictions to live fuller, healthier lives as an occupational therapist. Monitor and prescribe solutions to everyday issues, recommend equipment, and keep up to date on the latest trends in physical assistance and advocacy.


Source: PayScale, Nov. 2018

How Much Do MSN Graduates Make?

Nursing continues to grow exponentially, and the financial potential of MSN degree holders is increasing dramatically, particularly in large states and urban areas. The following table lists employment opportunities and hourly and annual wages of nurse practitioners in the top five states.

State Employment Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
California 13,570 $60.95 $126,770
New York 13,450 $56.35 $112,210
Texas 10,730 $53.53 $111,330
Ohio 7,460 $48.90 $101,710
Florida 10,380 $48.04 $99,930

Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

Professional associations like those listed below offer you access to networking and ongoing education opportunities, job boards, and professional resource centers. Members present ongoing research and advocate for nursing issues at annual conferences and meetings and build networks that help them throughout their careers.

American Nursing Association: Join your state branch of the ANA for access to career development opportunities and breaking news in the field. The ANA certifies nurses with the ANCC exam and provides annual state and national networking opportunities for members.


American Association of Nurse Practitioners: Like the ANA, the AANP provides nurse practitioners nationwide with networking opportunities and publications, bringing them the latest information. The AANP also offers job search engines and advance notice job boards.


American College of Nurse-Midwives: This consortium of private practice midwives connects medical professionals with prospective patients. Members can advertise their practice on the Find-A-Midwife search engine and receive copies of the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health.

Financing Your Online RN to MSN Program

Once you decide to go back to school, the next question is how to finance your degree. First, fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to ensure that you get access to the federal funding you deserve. Beyond FAFSA, many scholarships and grants exist to encourage more people into the nursing profession. The following list details a few of the opportunities available. Look for local opportunities from nursing associations and local healthcare institutions as well.

Scholarships for RN to MSN Students

Global Health Nursing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: From Nursejournal.org, this merit-based scholarship covers medical professionals including nurses and public health administrators. Successful applicants will maintain at least a 3.2 GPA, have extracurricular pursuits, and boast a strong employment history. Applicants must already be enrolled in a program and must submit a personal statement and letters of support.

Amount: $3,000


Aises A. T. Anderson Memorial Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Specifically for Native American tribal members, this scholarship covers programs in medicine and the sciences. Applicants will complete an online application and supply a resume and essay if selected as a scholarship finalist (minimum 3.0 GPA and proof of tribal membership required).

Amount: $2,000


AACN/AfterCollege Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This opportunity is specifically for graduate studies and often prioritizes those seeking an MSN or a Ph.D. in nursing. All applicants must be members of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Amount: $2,500-$10,000


Fresenius Medical Care of North America Scholarship

Who Can Apply: For future nurses of nephrology, the study of kidney disease, the American Nephrology Nurses Association provides five yearly scholarships. Winners of the competition will be revealed at the ANNA’s yearly conference in Dallas, Texas, which provides recipients with key networking opportunities in the field.

Amount: $4,000


National Health Service Corps Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The NHSC seeks qualified RNs interested in working towards an MSN while also gaining real-world experience. Successful participants receive partial or full-year tuition assistance in exchange for a minimum of two years of work in the Service Corps. Applicants must be U.S. citizens and enrolled in an MSN program.

Amount: Full or partial year of scholarship support


Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Addiction Centers Association offers scholarships to students concerned with behavioral health. Applicants must be enrolled full- or part-time in an accredited MSN program, maintain at least a 3.2 GPA, and submit a personal essay.

Amount: $2,500-$5,000


AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The American Association on Health and Disability helps full-time undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities reach their educational and professional goals. Applicants must provide proof of a disability acknowledged by the American with Disabilities Act, focus on healthcare or disability studies, and boast a strong volunteer record.

Amount: $1,000


AAIA Graduate Scholarship

Who Can Apply: For members of Native American tribes from the continental U.S. and Alaska, the Association on American Indian Affairs provides funding of various forms for full-time undergraduate and graduate students continuing their education. Applicants must be enrolled in a full-time program, maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, and submit a copy of formal tribal enrollment.

Amount: Varies